Mary Roberts Rinehart
Part 2 out of 2
Somehow I had the feeling that Miss Emily would never reopen the
subject again. She had given me my chance, at who knows what cost,
and I had not taken it. There had been something in her good-by - I
can not find words for it, but it was perhaps a finality, an effect
of a closed door - that I felt without being able to analyze.
I walked back to the house, refusing the offices of Mr. Staley, who
met me on the road. I needed to think. But thinking took me
nowhere. Only one conclusion stood out as a result of a mile and a
half of mental struggle. Something must be done. Miss Emily ought
to be helped. She was under a strain that was killing her.
But to help I should know the facts. Only, were there any facts to
know? Suppose - just by way of argument, for I did not believe it -
that the confession was true; how could I find out anything about it?
Five years was a long time. I could not go to the neighbors. They
were none too friendly as it was. Besides, the secret, if there was
one, was not mine, but was Miss Emily's.
I reached home at last, and smuggled the shawl into the house. I
had no intention of explaining its return to Maggie. Yet, small
as it was in its way, it offered a problem at once. For Maggie
has a penetrating eye and an inquiring nature. I finally decided
to take the bull by the horns and hang it in its accustomed place
in the hail, where Maggie, finding it at nine o'clock that evening,
set up such a series of shrieks and exclamations as surpassed even
her own record.
I knitted that evening. It has been my custom for years to knit
bedroom-slippers for an old ladies' home in which I am interested.
Because I can work at them with my eyes shut, through long practise,
I find the work soothing. So that evening I knitted at Eliza
Klinordlinger's fifth annual right slipper, and tried to develop a
course of action.
I began with a major premise - to regard the confession as a real
one, until it was proved otherwise. Granted, then, that my little
old Miss Emily had killed a woman.
1st - Who was the woman?
2nd - Where is the body?
3rd - What was the reason for the crime?
Question two I had a tentative answer for. However horrible and
incredible it seemed, it was at least possible that Miss Emily had
substituted the body for the books, and that what Mrs. Graves
described as a rite had indeed been one. But that brought up a
picture I could not face. And yet-
I called up the local physician, a Doctor Lingard, that night and
asked him about Miss Emily's condition. He was quite frank with me.
"It's just a breaking up," he said. "It has come early, because she
has had a trying life, and more responsibility than she should have
"I have been wondering if a change of scene would not be a good
thing," I suggested. But he was almost scornful.
"Change!" he said. "I've been after her to get away for years. She
won't leave. I don't believe she has been twelve miles away in
"I suppose her brother was a great care," I observed.
It seemed to me that the doctor's hearty voice was a trifle less
frank when he replied. But when I rang off I told myself that I,
too, was becoming neurasthenic and suspicious. I had, however,
learned what I had wanted to know. Miss Emily had had no life
outside Bolivar County. The place to look for her story was here,
in the immediate vicinity.
That night I made a second visit to the basement. It seemed to me,
with those chaotic shelves before me, that something of the haste
and terror of a night five years before came back to me, a night
when, confronted by the necessity for concealing a crime, the box
upstairs had been hurriedly unpacked, its contents hidden here and
locked away, and some other content, inert and heavy, had taken the
place of the books.
Miss Emily in her high bed, her Bible and spectacles on the stand
beside her, her starched pillows, her soft and highbred voice? Or
another Miss Emily, panting and terror-stricken, carrying down her
armfuls of forbidden books, her slight figure bent under their
weight, her ears open for sounds from the silent house? Or that
third Miss Emily, Martin Sprague's, a strange wild creature, neither
sane nor insane, building a crime out of the fabric of a nightmare?
Which was the real Emily Benton?
Or was there another contingency that I had not thought of? Had
some secret enemy of Miss Emily's, some hysterical girl from the
parish, suffering under a fancied slight, or some dismissed and
revengeful servant, taken this strange method of retaliation, done
it and then warned the little old lady that her house contained such
a paper? I confess that this last thought took hold on me. It
offered a way out that I clutched at.
I had an almost frantic feeling by that time that I must know the
truth. Suspense was weighing on me. And Maggie, never slow to
voice an unpleasant truth, said that night, as she brought the
carafe of ice-water to the library, "You're going off the last few
days, Miss Agnes." And when I made no reply: "You're sagging around
the chin. There's nothing shows age like the chin. If you'd rub a
little lemon-juice on at night you'd tighten up some."
I ignored her elaborately, but I knew she was right. Heat and
sleepless nights and those early days of fear had told on me. And
although I usually disregard Maggie's cosmetic suggestions, culled
from the beauty columns of the evening paper, a look in the mirror
decided me. I went downstairs for the lemon. At least, I thought
it was for the lemon. I am not sure. I have come to be uncertain
of my motives. It is distinctly possible that, sub-consciously,
I was making for the cellar all the time. I only know that I landed
there, with a lemon in my hand, at something after eleven o'clock.
The books were piled in disorder on the shelves. Their five years
of burial had not hurt them beyond a slight dampness of the leaves.
No hand, I believe, had touched them since they were taken from the
box where Mrs. Graves had helped to pack them. Then, if I were
shrewd, I should perhaps gather something from their very disorder,
But, as a matter of fact, I did not.
I would, quite certainly, have gone away as I came, clueless, had I
not attempted to straighten a pile of books, dangerously sagging -
like my chin! - and threatening a fall. My effort was rewarded by
a veritable Niagara of books. They poured over the edge, a few
first, then more, until I stood, it seemed, knee-deep in a raging
sea of atheism.
Somewhat grimly I set to work to repair the damage, and one by one
I picked them up and restored them. I put them in methodically this
time, glancing at each title to place the volume upright. Suddenly,
out of the darkness of unbelief, a title caught my eye and held it,
"The Handwriting of God." I knew the book. It had fallen into bad
company, but its theology was unimpeachable. It did not belong.
I opened it. The Reverend Samuel Thaddeus had written his own name
in it, in the cramped hand I had grown to know. Evidently its
presence there was accidental. I turned it over in my hands, and
saw that it was closed down on something, on several things, indeed.
They proved to be a small black note-book, a pair of spectacles, a
I stood there looking at them. They might mean nothing but the
accidental closing of a book, which was mistakenly placed in bad
company, perhaps by Mrs. Graves. I was inclined to doubt her
knowledge of religious literature. Or they might mean something
more, something I had feared to find.
Armed with the volume, and the lemon forgotten - where the cook
found it the next day and made much of the mystery - I went upstairs
Viewed in a strong light, the three articles took on real
significance. The spectacles I fancied were Miss Emily's. They
were, to all appearances, the duplicates of those on her tidy
bedside stand. But the handkerchief was not hers. Even without
the scent, which had left it, but clung obstinately to the pages
of the book, I knew it was not hers. It was florid, embroidered,
and cheap. And held close to the light, I made out a laundry-mark
in ink on the border. The name was either Wright or Knight.
The note-book was an old one, and covered a period of almost twenty
years. It contained dates and cash entries. The entries were
nearly all in the Reverend Samuel Thaddeus's hand, but after the
date of his death they had been continued in Miss Emily's writing.
They varied little, save that the amounts gradually increased toward
the end, and the dates were further apart. Thus, in 1898 there were
six entries, aggregating five hundred dollars. In 1902-1903 there
were no entries at all, but in 1904 there was a single memorandum of
a thousand dollars. The entire amount must have been close to
twenty-five thousand dollars. There was nothing to show whether
it was money saved or money spent, money paid out or come in.
But across the years 1902 and 1903, the Reverend Thaddeus had written
diagonally the word "Australia." There was a certain amount of
enlightenment there. Carlo Benton had been in Australia during those
years. In his "Fifty Years in Bolivar County," the father had rather
naively quoted a letter from Carlo Benton in Melbourne. A record,
then, in all probability, of sums paid by this harassed old man to a
Only the handkerchief refused to be accounted for.
I did not sleep that night. More and more, as I lay wide-eyed
through the night, it seemed to me that Miss Emily must be helped,
that she was drifting miserably out of life for need of a helping
Once, toward morning, I dozed off, to waken in a state of terror
that I recognized as a return of the old fear. But it left me soon,
although I lay awake until morning.
That day I made two resolves - to send for Willie and to make a
determined effort to see the night telephone-operator. My letter
to Willie off, I tried to fill the day until the hour when the
night telephone-operator was up and about, late in the afternoon.
The delay was simplified by the arrival of Mrs. Graves, in white
silk gloves and a black cotton umbrella as a sunshade. She had
lost her air of being afraid I might patronize her, and explained
pantingly that she had come on an errand, not to call.
"I'm at my Christmas presents now," she said, "and I've fixed on
a bedroom set for Miss Emily. I suppose you won't care if I go
right up and measure the dresser-top, will you?"
I took her up, and her sharp eyes roved over the stairs and the
"That's where Carlo died," she said. "It's never been used since,
unless you - " she had paused, staring into Miss Emily's deserted
bedroom. "It's a good thing I came," she said. "The eye's no use
to trust to, especially for bureaus."
She looked around the room. There was, at that moment, something
tender about her. She even lowered her voice and softened it. It
took on, almost comically, the refinements of Miss Emily's own speech.
"Whose photograph is that?" she asked suddenly. "I don't know that
I ever saw it before. But it looks familiar, too."
She reflected before it. It was clear that she felt a sort of
resentment at not recognizing the young and smiling woman in the old
walnut frame, but a moment later she was measuring the dresser-top,
her mind set on Christmas benevolence.
However, before she went out, she paused near the photograph.
"It's queer," she said. "I've been in this room about a thousand
times, and I've never noticed it before. I suppose you can get so
accustomed to a thing that you don't notice it."
As she went out, she turned to me, and I gathered that not only the
measurement for a gift had brought her that afternoon.
"About those books," she said. "I run on a lot when I get to
talking. I suppose I shouldn't have mentioned them. But I'm sure
you'll keep the story to yourself. I've never even told Mr. Graves."
"Of course I shall," I assured her. "But - didn't the hackman see
you packing the books?"
"No, indeed. We packed them the afternoon after the funeral, and it
was the next day that Staley took them off. He thought it was old
bedding and so on, and he hinted to have it given to him. So Miss
Emily and I went along to see it was done right."
So I discovered that the box had sat overnight in the Benton house.
There remained, if I was to help Miss Emily, to discover what had
occurred in those dark hours when the books were taken out and
something else substituted.
The total result of my conversation that afternoon on the front
porch of the small frame house on a side street with the night
telephone-operator was additional mystery.
I was not prepared for it. I had anticipated resentment and possibly
insolence. But I had not expected to find fright. Yet the girl was
undeniably frightened. I had hardly told her the object of my visit
before I realized that she was in a state of almost panic.
"You can understand how I feel," I said. "I have no desire to
report the matter, of course. But some one has been calling the
house repeatedly at night, listening until I reply, and then
hanging up the receiver. It is not accidental. It has happened
"I'm not supposed to give out information about calls."
"But - just think a moment," I went on. "Suppose some one is
planning to rob the house, and using this method of finding out if
we are there or not?"
"I don't remember anything about the calls you are talking about,"
she parried, without looking at me. "As busy as I am - "
"Nonsense," I put in, "you know perfectly well what I am talking
about. How do I know but that it is the intention of some one to
lure me downstairs to the telephone and then murder me?"
"I am sure it is not that," she said. For almost the first time
she looked directly at me, and I caught a flash of something - not
defiance. It was, indeed, rather like reassurance.
"You see, you know it is not that." I felt all at once that she
did know who was calling me at night, and why. And, moreover, that
she would not tell. If, as I suspected, it was Miss Emily, this
girl must be to some extent in her confidence.
"But - suppose for a moment that I think I know who is calling me?"
I hesitated. She was a pretty girl, with an amiable face, and more
than a suggestion of good breeding and intelligence about her. I
made a quick resolve to appeal to her. "My dear child," I said, "I
want so very much, if I can, to help some one who is in trouble.
But before I can help, I must know that I can help, and I must be
sure it is necessary. I wonder if you know what I am talking about?"
"Why don't you go back to the city?" she said suddenly. "Go away
and forget all about us here. That would help more than anything."
"But - would it?" I asked gently. "Would my going away help - her?"
To my absolute amazement she began to cry. We had been sitting on
a cheap porch seat, side by side, and she turned her back to me and
put her head against the arm of the bench.
"She's going to die!" she said shakily. "She's weaker every day.
She is slipping away, and no one does anything."
But I got nothing more from her. She had understood me, it was
clear, and when at last she stopped crying, she knew well enough
that she had betrayed her understanding. But she would not talk.
I felt that she was not unfriendly, and that she was uncertain
rather than stubborn. In the end I got up, little better off
than when I came.
"I'll give you time to think it over," I said. Not so much about
the telephone calls, because you've really answered that. But
about Miss Emily. She needs help, and I want to help her. But
you tie my hands."
She had a sort of gift for silence. As I grew later on to know
Anne Bullard better, I realized that even more. So now she sat
silent, and let me talk.
"What I want," I said, "is to have Miss Emily know that I am
friendly - that I am willing to do anything to - to show my
"You see," she said, with a kind of dogged patience, "it isn't
really up to you, or to me either. It's something else." She
hesitated. "She's very obstinate," she added.
When I went away I was aware that her eyes followed me, anxious
and thoughtful eyes, with something of Miss Emily's own wide-eyed
Willie came late the next evening. I had indeed gone up-stairs to
retire when I heard his car in the drive. When I admitted him, he
drew me into the library and gave me a good looking over.
"As I thought!" he said. "Nerves gone, looks gone. I told you
Maggie would put a curse on you. What is it?"
So I told him. The telephone he already knew about. The confession
he read over twice, and then observed, characteristically, that he
would be eternally - I think the word is "hornswoggled."
When I brought out "The Handwriting of God," following Mrs. Graves's
story of the books, he looked thoughtful. And indeed by the end of
the recital he was very grave.
"Sprague is a lunatic," he said, with conviction. "There was a body,
and it went into the river in the packing-case. It is distinctly
possible that this Knight - or Wright - woman, who owned the
handkerchief, was the victim. However, that's for later on. The
plain truth is, that there was a murder, and that Miss Emily is
shielding some one else."
And, after all, that was the only immediate result of Willie's visit
- a new theory! So that now it stood: there was a crime. There was
no crime. Miss Emily had committed it. Miss Emily had not committed
it. Miss Emily had confessed it, but some one else had committed it.
For a few hours, however, our attention was distracted from Miss
Emily and her concerns by the attempted robbery of the house that
night. I knew nothing of it until I heard Willie shouting downstairs.
I was deeply asleep, relaxed no doubt by the consciousness that at
last there was a man in the house. And, indeed, Maggie slept for
the same reason through the entire occurrence.
"Stop, or I'll fire!" Willie repeated, as I sat up in bed.
I knew quite well that he had no weapon. There was not one in the
house. But the next moment there was a loud report, either a door
slamming or a pistol-shot, and I ran to the head of the stairs.
There was no light below, but a current of cool night air came up
the staircase. And suddenly I realized that there was complete
silence in the house.
"Willie!" I cried out, in an agony of fright. But he did not reply.
And then, suddenly, the telephone rang.
I did not answer it. I know now why it rang, that there was real
anxiety behind its summons. But I hardly heard it then. I was
convinced that Willie had been shot.
I must have gone noiselessly down the stairs, and at the foot I
ran directly into Willie. He was standing there, only a deeper
shadow in the blackness, and I had placed my hand over his, as
it lay on the newel-post, before he knew I was on the staircase.
He wheeled sharply, and I felt, to my surprise, that he held a
revolver in his hand.
"Willie! What is it?" I said in a low tone.
"'Sh," he whispered. "Don't move - or speak."
We listened, standing together. There were undoubtedly sounds
outside, some one moving about, a hand on a window-catch, and
finally not particularly cautious steps at the front door. It
swung open. I could hear it creak as it moved slowly on its
I put a hand out to steady myself by the comfort of Willie's presence
before me, between me and that softly-opening door. But Willie was
moving forward, crouched down, I fancied, and the memory of that
revolver terrified me.
"Don't shoot him, Willie!" I almost shrieked.
"Shoot whom?" said Willie's cool voice, just inside the door.
I knew then, and I went sick all over. Somewhere in the hall
between us crouched the man I had taken for Willie, crouched with
a revolver in his right hand. The door was still open, I knew,
and I could hear Willie fumbling on the hall-stand for matches.
I called out something incoherent about not striking a light; but
Willie, whistling softly to show how cool he was, struck a match.
It was followed instantly by a report, and I closed my eyes.
When I opened them, Willie was standing unhurt, staring over the
burning match at the door, which was closed, and I knew that the
report had been but the bang of the heavy door.
"What in blazes slammed that door?" he said.
"The burglar, or whatever he is," I said, my voice trembling in
spite of me. "He was here, in front of me. I laid my hand on his.
He had a revolver in it. When you opened the door, he slipped out
Willie muttered something, and went toward the door. A moment
later I was alone again, and the telephone was ringing. I felt my
way back along the hall. I touched the cat, which had been sleeping
on the telephone-stand. He merely turned over.
I have tried, in living that night over again, to record things as
they impressed me. For, after all, this is a narrative of motive
rather than of incidents, of emotions as against deeds. But at
the time, the brief conversation over the telephone seemed to me
both horrible and unnatural.
>From a great distance a woman's voice said, "Is anything wrong
That was the first question, and I felt quite sure that it was the
Bullard girl's voice. That is, looking back from the safety of
the next day, I so decided. At the time I had no thought whatever.
"There is nothing wrong," I replied. I do not know why I said it.
Sprely there was enough wrong, with Willie chasing an armed intruder
through the garden.
I thought the connection had been cut, for there was a buzzing on
the wire. But a second or so later there came an entirely different
voice, one I had never heard before, a plaintive voice, full, I
thought, of tears.
"Oh, please," said this voice, "go out and look in your garden, or
along the road. Please - quickly!"
"You will have to explain," I said impatiently. "Of course we will
go and look, but who is it, and why - "
I was cut off there, definitely, and I could not get "central's"
Willie's voice from the veranda boomed through the lower floor.
"This is I," he called, "No boiling water, please. I am coming in."
He went into the library and lighted a lamp. He was smiling when I
entered, a reassuring smile, but rather a sheepish one, too.
"To think of letting him get by like that!" he said. "The cheapest
kind of a trick. He had slammed the door before to make me think
he had gone out, and all the time he was inside. And you - why
didn't you scream?"
"I thought it was you," I told him.
The library was in chaos. Letters were lying about, papers, books.
The drawer of the large desk-table in the center of the room had
been drawn out and searched. "The History of Bolivar County," for
instance, was lying on the floor, face down, in a most ignoble
position. In one place books had been taken from a recess by the
fireplace, revealing a small wall cupboard behind. I had never
known of the hiding-place, but a glance into it revealed only
a bottle of red ink and the manuscript of a sermon on missions.
Standing in the disorder of the room, I told Willie about the
telephone-message. He listened attentively, and at first
"Probably a ruse to get us out of the house, but coming a trifle
late to be useful," was his comment. But I had read distress in
the second voice, and said so. At last he went to the telephone.
"I'll verify it," he explained. "If some one is really anxious,
I'll get the car and take a scout around."
But he received no satisfaction from the Bullard girl, who, he
reported, listened stoically and then said she was sorry, but she
did not remember who had called. On his reminding her that she
must have a record, she countered with the flat statement that
there had been no call for us that night.
Willie looked thoughtful when he returned to the library. "There's
a queer story back of all this," he said. "I think I'll get the car
and scout around."
"He is armed, Willie," I protested.
"He doesn't want to shoot me, or he could have done it," was his
answer. "I'll just take a look around, and come back to report."
It was half-past three by the time he was ready to go. He was, as
he observed, rather sketchily clad, but the night was warm. I saw
him off, and locked the door behind him. Then I went into the
library to wait and to put things to rights while I waited.
The dawn is early in August, and although it was not more than
half-past four when Willie came back, it was about daylight by that
time. I went to the door and watched him bring the car to a
standstill. He shook his head when he saw me.
"Absolutely nothing," he said. "It was a ruse to get me out of the
house, of course. I've run the whole way between here and town
"But that could not have taken an hour," I protested.
"No," he said. "I met the doctor - what's his name? - the local
M.D. anyhow - footing it out of the village to a case, and I took
him to his destination. He has a car, it seems, but it's out of
order. Interesting old chap," he added, as I led the way into the
house. "Didn't know me from Adam, but opened up when he found who
I had prepared the coffee machine and carried the tray to the
library. While I lighted the lamp, he stood, whistling softly, and
thoughtfully. At last he said:
"Look here, Aunt Agnes, I think I'm a good bit of a fool, but - some
time this morning I wish you would call up Thomas Jenkins, on the
Elmburg road, and find out if any one is sick there."
But when I stared at him, he only laughed sheepishly. "You can see
how your suspicious disposition has undermined and ruined my once
trusting nature," he scoffed.
He took his coffee, and then, stripping off his ulster, departed for
bed. I stopped to put away the coffee machine, and with Maggie in
mind, to hang up his motor-coat. It was then that the flashlight
fell out. I picked it up. It was shaped like a revolver.
I stopped in Willie's room on my way to my own, and held it out to
"Where did you get that?" I asked.
"Good heavens!" he said, raising himself on his elbow. "It belongs
to the doctor. He gave it to me to examine the fan belt. I must
have dropped it into my pocket."
And still I was nowhere. Suppose I had touched this flashlight at
the foot of the stairs and mistaken it for a revolver. Suppose that
the doctor, making his way toward the village and finding himself
pursued, had faced about and pretended to be leaving it? Grant, in
a word, that Doctor Lingard himself had been our night visitor - what
then? Why had he done it? What of the telephone-call, urging me to
search the road? Did some one realize what was happening, and take
this method of warning us and sending us after the fugitive?
I knew the Thomas Jenkins farm on the Elmsburg road. I had, indeed,
bought vegetables and eggs from Mr. Jenkins himself. That morning,
as early as I dared, I called the Jenkins farm. Mr. Jenkins himself
would bring me three dozen eggs that day. They were a little torn up
out there, as Mrs. Jenkins had borne a small daughter at seven A.M.
When I told Willie, he was evidently relieved. "I'm glad of it," he
said heartily. "The doctor's a fine old chap, and I'd hate to think
he was mixed up in any shady business."
He was insistent, that day, that I give up the house. He said it
was not safe, and I was inclined to agree with him. But although I
did not tell him of it, I had even more strongly than ever the
impression that something must be done to help Miss Emily, and that
I was the one who must do it.
Yet, in the broad light of day, with the sunshine pouring into the
rooms, I was compelled to confess that Willie's theory was more
than upheld by the facts. First of all was the character of Miss
Emily as I read it, sternly conscientious, proud, and yet gentle.
Second, there was the connection of the Bullard girl with the case.
And third, there was the invader of the night before, an unknown
quantity where so much seemed known, where a situation involving
Miss Emily alone seemed to call for no one else.
Willie put the matter flatly to me as he stood in the hall, drawing
on his driving gloves.
"Do you want to follow it up?" he asked. "Isn't it better to let
it go? After all, you have only rented the house. You haven't
taken over its history, or any responsibility but the rent."
"I think Miss Emily needs to be helped," I said, rather feebly.
"Let her friends help her. She has plenty of them. Besides, isn't
it rather a queer way to help her, to try to fasten a murder on her?"
I could not explain what I felt so strongly - that Miss Emily could
only be helped by being hurt, that whatever she was concealing, the
long concealment was killing her. That I felt in her - it is always
difficult to put what I felt about Miss Emily into words - that she
both hoped for and dreaded desperately the light of the truth.
But if I was hardly practical when it came to Miss Emily, I was
rational enough in other things. It is with no small pride - but
without exultation, for in the end it cost too much - that I point
to the solution of one issue as my own.
With Willie gone, Maggie and I settled down to the quiet tenure of
our days. She informed me, on the morning after that eventful night,
that she had not closed an eye after one o'clock! She came into the
library and asked me if I could order her some sleeping-powders.
"Fiddlesticks!" I said sharply. "You slept all night. I was up
and around the house, and you never knew it."
"Honest to heaven, Miss Agnes, I never slep' at all. I heard a
horse galloping', like it was runnin' off, and it waked me for good."
And after a time I felt that, however mistaken Maggie had been about
her night's sleep, she was possibly correct about the horse.
"He started to run about the stable somewhere," she said. "You can
smile if you want. That's the heaven's truth. And he came down
the drive on the jump and out onto the road."
"We can go and look for hoof-marks," I said, and rose. But Maggie
only shook her head.
"It was no real horse, Miss Agnes," she said. "You'll find nothing.
Anyhow, I've been and looked. There's not a mark."
But Maggie was wrong. I found hoof-prints in plenty in the turf
beside the drive, and a track of them through the lettuce-bed in
the garden. More than that, behind the stable I found where
a horse had been tied and had broken away. A piece of worn strap
still hung there. It was sufficiently clear, then, that whoever
had broken into the house had come on horseback and left afoot.
But many people in the neighborhood used horses. The clue, if
clue it can be called, got me nowhere.
For several days things remained in statu quo. Our lives went on
evenly. The telephone was at our service, without any of its past
vagaries. Maggie's eyes ceased to look as if they were being
pushed out from behind, and I ceased to waken at night and listen
for untoward signs.
Willie telephoned daily. He was frankly uneasy about my remaining
there. "You know something that somebody resents your knowing,"
he said, a day or two after the night visitor. "It may become
very uncomfortable for you."
And, after a day or two, I began to feel that it was being made
uncomfortable for me. I am a social being; I like people. In
the city my neighborly instincts have died of a sort of brick wall
apathy, but in the country it comes to life again. The instinct
of gregariousness is as old as the first hamlets, I daresay, when
prehistoric man ceased to live in trees, and banded together for
protection from the wild beasts that walked the earth.
The village became unfriendly. It was almost a matter of a night.
One day the postmistress leaned on the shelf at her window and
chatted with me. The next she passed out my letters with hardly
a glance. Mrs. Graves did not see me at early communion on Sunday
morning. The hackman was busy when I called him. It was intangible,
a matter of omission, not commission. The doctor's wife, who had
asked me to tea, called up and regretted that she must go to the
city that day.
I sat down then and took stock of things. Did the village believe
that Miss Emily must be saved from me? Did the village know the
story I was trying to learn, and was it determined I should never
find out the truth? And, if this were so, was the village right
or was I? They would save Miss Emily by concealment, while I felt
that concealment had failed, and that only the truth would do.
Did the village know, or only suspect? Or was it not the village
at all, but one or two people who were determined to drive me away?
My theories were rudely disturbed shortly after that by a visit
from Martin Sprague. I fancied that Willie had sent him, but he
evaded my question.
"I'd like another look at that slip of paper," he said. "Where do
you keep it, by the way?"
"In a safe place," I replied non-committally, and he laughed. The
truth was that I had taken out the removable inner sole of a slipper
and had placed it underneath, an excellent hiding-place, but one I
did not care to confide to him. When I had brought it downstairs,
he read it over again carefully, and then sat back with it in his
"Now tell me about everything," he said.
I did, while he listened attentively. Afterward we walked back to
the barn, and I showed him the piece of broken halter still tied
He surveyed it without comment, but on the way back to the house he
said: "If the village is lined up as you say it is, I suppose it is
useless to interview the harness-maker. He has probably repaired
that strap, or sold a new one, to whoever - It would be a nice clue
to follow up."
"I am not doing detective work," I said shortly. "I am trying to
help some one who is dying of anxiety and terror."
He nodded. "I get you," he said. But his tone was not flippant.
"The fact is, of course, that the early theory won't hold. There
has been a crime, and the little old lady did not commit it. But
suppose you find out who did it. How is that going to help her?"
"I don't know, Martin," I said, in a sort of desperation. "But I
have the most curious feeling that she is depending on me. The way
she spoke the day I saw her, and her eyes and everything; I know
you think it nonsense," I finished lamely.
"I think you'd better give up the place and go back to town," he
said. But I saw that he watched me carefully, and when, at last he
got up to go, he put a hand on my shoulder.
"I think you are right, after all," he said. "There are a good
many things that can't be reasoned out with any logic we have, but
that are true, nevertheless. We call it intuition, but it's
really subconscious intelligence. Stay, by all means, if you feel
In the doorway he said: "Remember this, Miss Agnes. Both a crime
of violence and a confession like the one in your hand are the
products of impulse. They are not, either of them, premeditated.
They are not the work, then, of a calculating or cautious nature.
Look for a big, emotional type."
It was a day or two after that that I made my visit to Miss Emily.
I had stopped once before, to be told with an air of finality that
the invalid was asleep. On this occasion I took with me a basket
of fruit. I had half expected a refusal, but I was admitted.
The Bullard girl was with Miss Emily. She had, I think, been
kneeling beside the bed, and her eyes were red and swollen. But
Miss Emily herself was as cool, as dainty and starched and fragile
as ever. More so, I thought. She was thinner, and although it
was a warm August day, a white silk shawl was wrapped around her
shoulders and fastened with an amethyst brooch. In my clasp her
thin hand felt hot and dry.
"I have been waiting for you," she said simply. She looked at
Anne Bullard, and the message in her eyes was plain enough. But
the girl ignored it. She stood across the bed from me and eyed
"My dear," said Miss Emily, in her high-bred voice, "if you have
anything to do, Miss Blakiston will sit with me for a little
"I have nothing to do," said the girl doggedly. Perhaps this is
not the word. She had more the look of endurance and supreme
patience. There was no sharpness about her, although there was
Miss Emily sighed, and I saw her eyes seek the Bible beside her.
But she only said gently: "Then sit down, dear. You can work at
my knitting if you like. My hands get very tired."
She asked me questions about the house and the garden. The
raspberries were usually quite good, and she was rather celebrated
for her lettuces. If I had more than I needed, would I mind
if Mr. Staley took a few in to the doctor, who was fond of them.
The mention of Doctor Lingard took me back to the night of the
burglary. I wondered if to tell Miss Emily would unduly agitate
her. I think I would not have told her, but I caught the girl's
eye, across the bed, raised from her knitting and fixed on me with
a peculiar intensity. Suddenly it seemed to me that Miss Emily
was surrounded by a conspiracy of silence, and it roused my
"There are plenty of lettuces," I said, "although a few were
trampled by a runaway horse the other night. It is rather a
So I told her of our night visitor. I told it humorously, lightly,
touching on my own horror at finding I had been standing with my
hand on the burglar's shoulder. But I was sorry for my impulse
immediately, for I saw Miss Emily's body grow rigid, and her hands
twist together. She did not look at me. She stared fixedly at the
girl. Their eyes met.
It was as if Miss Emily asked a question which the girl refused to
answer. It was as certain as though it had been a matter of words
instead of glances. It was over in a moment. Miss Bullard went
back to her knitting, but Miss Emily lay still.
"I think I should not have told you," I apologized. "I thought it
might interest you. Of course nothing whatever was taken, and no
damage done - except to the lettuces."
"Anne," said Miss Emily, "will you bring me some fresh water?"
The girl rose reluctantly, but she did not go farther than the top
of the staircase, just beyond the door. We heard her calling to
some one below, in her clear young voice, to bring the water, and
the next moment she was back in the room. But Miss Emily had had
the opportunity for
"I know now," she said quietly, "that you have found it."
Anne Bullard was watching from the doorway, and it seemed to me,
having got so far, I could not retreat. I must go on.
"Miss Bullard," I said. "I would like to have just a short
conversation with Miss Emily. It is about a private matter. I am
sure you will not mind if I ask you - "
"I shall not go out."
"Anne!" said Miss Emily sharply.
The girl was dogged enough by that time. Both dogged and frightened,
I felt. But she stood her ground.
"She is not to be worried about anything," she insisted. "And she's
not supposed to have visitors. That's the doctor's orders."
I felt outraged and indignant, but against the stone wall of the
girl's presence and her distrust I was helpless. I got up, with as
much dignity as I could muster.
"I should have been told that downstairs."
"The woman's a fool," said Anne Bullard, with a sort of suppressed
fierceness. She stood aside as, having said good-by to Miss Emily,
I went out, and I felt that she hardly breathed until I had got
safely to the street.
Looking back, I feel that Emily Benton died at the hands of her
friends. For she died, indeed, died in the act of trying to tell
me what they had determined she should never tell. Died of
kindness and misunderstanding. Died repressed, as she had lived
repressed. Yet, I think, died calmly and bravely.
I had made no further attempt to see her, and Maggie and I had
taken up again the quiet course of our lives. The telephone did
not ring of nights. The cat came and went, spending as I had
learned, its days with Miss Emily and its nights with us. I have
wondered since how many nights Miss Emily had spent in the low
chair in that back hall, where the confession lay hidden, that
the cat should feel it could sleep nowhere else.
The days went by, warm days and cooler ones, but rarely rainy ones.
The dust from the road settled thick over flowers and shrubbery.
The lettuces wilted, and those that stood up in the sun were strong
and bitter. By the end of August we were gasping in a hot dryness
that cracked the skin and made any but cold food impossible.
Miss Emily lay through it all in her hot upper room in the village,
and my attempt, through Doctor Lingard, to coax her back to the house
by offering to leave it brought only a negative. "It would be better
for her, you understand," the doctor said, over the telephone. "But
she is very determined, and she insists on remaining where she is."
And I believe this was the truth. They would surely have been glad
to get rid of me, these friends of Miss Emily's.
I have wondered since what they thought of me, Anne Bullard and the
doctor, to have feared me as they did. I look in the mirror, and I
see a middle-aged woman, with a determined nose, slightly
inquisitive, and what I trust is a humorous mouth, for it has no
other virtues. But they feared me. Perhaps long looking for a
danger affects the mental vision. Anyhow, by the doctor's order, I
was not allowed to call and see Miss Emily again.
Then, one night, the heat suddenly lifted. One moment I was sitting
on the veranda, lifeless and inert, and the next a cool wind, with
a hint of rain, had set the shutters to banging and the curtains to
flowing, like flags of truce, from the windows. The air was life,
energy. I felt revivified.
And something of the same sort must have happened to Miss Emily.
She must have sat up among her pillows, her face fanned with the
electric breeze, and made her determination to see me. Anne
Bullard was at work, and she was free from observation.
It must have been nine o'clock when she left the house, a shaken
little figure in black, not as neat as usual, but hooked and
buttoned, for all that, with no one will ever know what agony of
She was two hours and a half getting to the house, and the rain
came at ten o'clock. By half after eleven, when the doorbell rang,
she was a sodden mass of wet garments, and her teeth were chattering
when I led her into the library.
She could not talk. The thing she had come to say was totally
beyond her. I put her to bed in her own room. And two days later
I had made no protest when Anne Bullard presented herself at the
door the morning after Miss Emily arrived, and, walking into the
house, took sleepless charge of the sick room. And I made no
reference save once to the reason for the tragedy. That was the
night Miss Emily died. Anne Bullard had called to me that she
feared there was a change, and I went into the sickroom. There
was a change, and I could only shake my head. She burst out at
"If only you had never taken this house!" she said. "You people
with money, you think there is nothing you can not have. You came,
and now look!"
"Anne," I said with a bitterness I could not conceal, "Miss Emily
is not young, and I think she is ready to go. But she has been
killed by her friends. I wanted to help, but they would not allow
Toward morning there was nothing more to be done, and we sat
together, listening to the stertorous breathing from the bed.
Maggie, who had been up all night, had given me notice at three in
the morning, and was upstairs packing her trunk.
I went into my room, and brought back Miss Emily's confession.
"Isn't it time," I said, "to tell me about this? I ought to know,
I think, before she goes. If it is not true, you owe it to her, I
think." But she shook her head.
I looked at the confession, and from it to Miss Emily's pinched old
"To whom it may concern: On the 30th day of May, 1911, I killed a
woman here in this house. I hope you will not find this until I am
Anne was watching me. I went to the mantel and got a match, and
then, standing near the bed, I lighted it and touched it to the
paper. It burned slowly, a thin blue semicircle of fire that ate
its way slowly across until there was but the corner I held. I
dropped it into the fireplace and watched it turn to black ash.
I may have fancied it - I am always fancying things about Miss
Emily - but I will always think that she knew. She drew a longer,
quieter breath, and her eyes, fixed and staring, closed. I think
she died in the first sleep she had had in twenty-four hours.
I had expected Anne Bullard to show emotion, for no one could doubt
her attachment to Miss Emily. But she only stood stoically by the
bed for a moment and then, turning swiftly, went to the wall
opposite and took down from the wall the walnut-framed photograph
Mrs. Graves had commented on.
Anne Bullard stood with the picture in her hand, looking at it.
And suddenly she broke into sobs. It was stormy weeping, and I
got the impression that she wept, not for Miss Emily, but for many
other things - as though the piled-up grief of years had broken
out at last.
She took the photograph away, and I never saw it again.
Miss Emily was buried from her home. I obliterated myself, and
her friends, who were, I felt, her murderers, came in and took
charge. They paid me the tribute of much politeness, but no
cordiality, and I think they felt toward me as I felt toward them.
They blamed me with the whole affair.
She left her property all to Anne Bullard, to the astonished rage
of the congregation, which had expected the return of its dimes and
quarters, no doubt, in the shape of a new altar, or perhaps an organ.
"Not a cent to keep up the mausoleum or anything," Mrs. Graves
confided to me. "And nothing to the church. All to that
telephone-girl, who comes from no one knows where! It's enough to
make her father turn over in his grave. It has set people talking,
I can tell you."
Maggie's mental state during the days preceding the funeral was
curious. She coupled the most meticulous care as to the
preparations for the ceremony, and a sort of loving gentleness
when she decked Miss Emily's small old frame for its last rites,
with suspicion and hatred of Miss Emily living. And this suspicion
she held also against Anne Bullard.
Yet she did not want to leave the house. I do not know just what
she expected to find. We were cleaning up preparatory to going back
to the city, and I felt that at least a part of Maggie's enthusiasm
for corners was due to a hope of locating more concealed papers.
She was rather less than polite to the Bullard girl, who was staying
on at my invitation - because the village was now flagrantly
unfriendly and suspicious of her. And for some strange reason, the
fact that Miss Emily's cat followed Anne everywhere convinced
Maggie that her suspicions were justified.
"It's like this, Miss Agnes," she said one morning, leaning on the
handle of a floor brush. "She had some power over the old lady, and
that's how she got the property. And I am saying nothing, but she's
no Christian, that girl. To see her and that cat going out night
after night, both snooping along on their tiptoes - it ain't normal."
I had several visits from Martin Sprague since Miss Emily's death,
and after a time I realized that he was interested in Anne. She
was quite attractive in her mourning clothes, and there was
something about her, not in feature, but in neatness and in the
way her things had of, well, staying in place, that reminded me of
Miss Emily herself. It was rather surprising, too, to see the way
she fitted into her new surroundings and circumstances.
But I did not approve of Martin's attraction to her. She had
volunteered no information about herself, she apparently had no
people. She was a lady, I felt, although, with the exception of
her new mourning, her clothing was shabby and her linen even coarse.
She held the key to the confession. I knew that. And I had no
more hope of getting it from her than I had from the cat. So I
prepared to go back to the city, with the mystery unsolved. It
seemed a pity, when I had got so far with it. I had reconstructed
a situation out of such bricks as I had, the books in the cellar,
Mrs. Graves's story of the river, the confession, possibly the
note-book and the handkerchief. I had even some material left over
in the form of the night intruder, who may or may not have been
the doctor. And then, having got so far, I had had to stop for
lack of other bricks.
A day or two before I went back to the city, Maggie came to me
with a folded handkerchief in her hand.
"Is that yours?" she asked.
I disclaimed it. It was not very fine, and looked rather yellow.
"S'got a name on it," Maggie volunteered. "Wright, I think it is.
'Tain't hers, unless she's picked it up somewhere. It's just come
out of the wash."
Maggie's eyes were snapping with suspicion. "There ain't any Wrights
around here, Miss Agnes," she said. "I sh'd say she's here under a
false name. Wright's likely hers."
In tracing the mystery of the confession, I find that three
apparently disconnected discoveries paved the way to its solution.
Of these the handkerchief came first.
I was inclined to think that in some manner the handkerchief I had
found in the book in the cellar had got into the wash. But it was
where I had placed it for safety, in the wall-closet in the library.
I brought it out and compared the two. They were unlike, save in
the one regard. The name "Wright" was clear enough on the one
Maggie had found. With it as a guide, the other name was easily
seen to be the same. Moreover, both had been marked by the same
Yet, on Anne Bullard being shown the one Maggie had found, she
disclaimed it. "Don't you think some one dropped it at the funeral?"
But I thought, as I turned away, that she took a step toward me.
When I stopped, however, and faced about, she was intent on
something outside the window.
And so it went. I got nowhere. And now, by way of complication, I
felt my sympathy for Anne's loneliness turning to genuine interest.
She was so stoical, so repressed, and so lonely. And she was
tremendously proud. Her pride was vaguely reminiscent of Miss
Emily's. She bore her ostracism almost fiercely, yet there were
times when I felt her eyes on me, singularly gentle and appealing.
Yet she volunteered nothing about herself.
I intended to finish the history of Bolivar County before I left.
I dislike not finishing a book. Besides, this one fascinated me
- the smug complacence and almost loud virtue of the author, his
satisfaction in Bolivar County, and his small hits at the world
outside, his patronage to those not of it. And always, when I
began to read, I turned to the inscription in Miss Emily's hand,
the hand of the confession - and I wondered if she had really
believed it all.
So on this day I found the name Bullard in the book. It had
belonged to the Reverend Samuel Thaddeus's grandmother, and he
distinctly stated that she was the last of her line. He inferred,
indeed, that since the line was to end, it had chosen a fitting
finish in his immediate progenitor.
That night, at dinner, I said, "Anne, are there any Bullards in
this neighborhood now?"
"I have never heard of any. But I have not been here long."
"It is not a common name," I persisted.
But she received my statement in silence. She had, as I have said,
rather a gift for silence.
That afternoon I was wandering about the garden snipping faded roses
with Miss Emily's garden shears, when I saw Maggie coming swiftly
toward me. When she caught my eye, she beckoned to me. "Walk quiet,
Miss Agnes," she said, "and don't say I didn't warn you. She's in
So, feeling hatefully like a spy, I went quietly over the lawn
toward the library windows. They were long ones, to the floor, and
at first I made out nothing. Then I saw Anne. She was on her
knees, following the border of the carpet with fingers that examined
it, inch by inch.
She turned, as if she felt our eyes on her, and saw us. I shall
never forget her face. She looked stricken. I turned away. There
was something in her eyes that made me think of Miss Emily, lying
among her pillows and waiting for me to say the thing she was
dreading to hear.
I sent Maggie away with a gesture. There was something in her
pursed lips that threatened danger. For I felt then as if I had
always known it and only just realized I knew it, that somewhere
in that room lay the answer to all questions; lay Miss Emily's
secret. And I did not wish to learn it. It was better to go on
wondering, to question and doubt and decide and decide again. I
was, I think, in a state of nervous terror by that time, terror
While Miss Emily lived, I had hoped to help. But now it seemed too
hatefully like accusing when she could not defend herself. And
there is another element that I am bound to acknowledge. There was
an element of jealousy of Anne Bullard. Both of us had tried to
help Miss Emily. She had foiled my attempt in her own endeavor,
a mistaken endeavor, I felt. But there was now to be no blemish on
my efforts. I would no longer pry or question or watch. It was
In a curious fashion, each of us wished, I think, to prove the
quality of her tenderness for the little old lady who was gone
beyond all human tenderness.
So that evening, after dinner, I faced Anne in the library.
"Why not let things be as they are, Anne?" I asked. "It can do no
good. Whatever it is, and I do not know, why not let things rest?"
"Some one may find it," she replied. "Some one who does not care,
as I - as we care."
"Are you sure there is something?"
"She told me, near the last. I only don't know just where it is."
"And if you find it?"
"It is a letter. I shall burn it without reading. Although," she
drew a long breath, "I know what it contains."
"If in any way it comes into my hands," I assured her, "I shall let
you know. And I shall
not read it."
She looked thoughtful rather than grateful.
"I hardly know," she said. "I think she would want you to read it
if it came to you. It explains so much. And it was a part of her
plan. You know, of course, that she had a plan. It was a sort of
arrangement" - she hesitated - "it was a sort of pact she made with
God, if you know what I mean."
That night Maggie found the letter.
I had gone upstairs, and Anne was, I think, already asleep. I
heard what sounded like distant hammering, and I went to the door.
Some one was in the library below. The light was shining out into
the hall, and my discovery of that was followed almost immediately
by the faint splintering of wood. Rather outraged than alarmed, I
went back for my dressing-gown, and as I left the room, I confronted
Maggie in the hallway. She had an envelope in one hand, and a
hatchet in the other.
"I found it," she said briefly.
She held it out, and I took it. On the outside, in Miss Emily's
writing, it said, "To whom it may concern." It was sealed.
I turned it over in my hand, while Maggie talked.
"When I saw that girl crawling around," she said, "seems to me I
remembered all at once seeing Miss Emily, that day I found her,
running her finger along the baseboard. Says I to myself, there's
something more hidden, and she don't know where it is. But I do.
So I lifted the baseboard, and this was behind it."
Anne heard her from her room, and she went out soon afterward. I
heard her going down the stairs and called to her. But she did not
answer. I closed the door on Maggie and stood in my room, staring
at the envelope.
I have wondered since whether Miss Emily, had she lived, would have
put the responsibility on Providence for the discovery of her
pitiful story. So many of us blame the remorseless hand of destiny
for what is so manifestly our own doing. It was her own anxiety,
surely, that led to the discovery in each instance, yet I am certain
that old Emily Benton died, convinced that a higher hand than any
on earth had directed the discovery of the confession.
Miss Emily has been dead for more than a year now. To publish the
letter can do her no harm. In a way, too, I feel, it may be the
fulfilment of that strange pact she made. For just as discovery
was the thing she most dreaded, so she felt that by paying her
penalty here she would be saved something beyond - that sort of
spiritual book-keeping which most of us call religion. Anne Sprague
- she is married now to Martin has, I think, some of Miss Emily's
feeling about it, although she denies it. But I am sure that in
consenting to the recording of Miss Emily's story, she feels that
she is doing what that gentle fatalist would call following the
hand of Providence.
I read the letter that night in the library where the light was
good. It was a narrative, not a letter, strictly speaking. It
"I must set down this thing as it happened. I shall write it fully,
because I must get it off my mind. I find that I am always
composing it, and that my lips move when I walk along the street
or even when I am sitting in church. How terrible if I should some
day speak it aloud. My great-grandmother was a Catholic. She was a
Bullard. Perhaps it is from her that I have this overwhelming
impulse to confession. And lately I have been terrified. I must
tell it, or I shall shriek it out some day, in the church, during
the Litany. 'From battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good
Lord, deliver us.'"
(There was a space here. When the writing began again, time had
elapsed. The ink was different, the writing more controlled.)
"What a terrible thing hate is. It is a poison. It penetrates the
mind and the body and changes everything. I, who once thought I
could hate no one, now find that hate is my daily life, my getting
up and lying down, my sleep, my waking.
"'From hatred, envy, and malice, and all uncharitableness, Good
Lord, deliver us.'
"Must one suffer twice for the same thing? Is it not true that we
pay but one penalty? Surely we pay either here or beyond, but not
both. Oh, not both!
"Will this ever be found? Where shall I hide it? For I have the
feeling that I must hide it, not destroy it - as the Catholic buries
his sin with the priest. My father once said that it is the
healthful humiliation of the confessional that is its reason for
existing. If humiliation be a virtue - "
I have copied the confession to this point, but I find I can not go
on. She was so merciless to herself, so hideously calm, so exact
as to dates and hours. She had laid her life on the table and
dissected it - for the Almighty!
I heard the story that night gently told, and somehow I feel that
that is the version by which Miss Emily will be judged.
"If humiliation be a virtue - " I read and was about to turn the
page, when I heard Anne in the hall. She was not alone. I
recognized Doctor Lingard's voice.
Five minutes later I was sitting opposite him, almost knee to knee,
and he was telling me how Miss Emily had come to commit her crime.
Anne Bullard was there, standing on the hearth rug. She kept her
eyes on me, and after a time I realized that these two simple people
feared me, feared for Miss Emily's gentle memory, feared that I
- good heaven! - would make the thing public.
"First of all, Miss Blakiston," said the doctor, "one must have
known the family to realize the situation - its pride in its own
uprightness. The virtue of the name, what it stood for in Bolivar
County. She was raised on that. A Benton could do no wrong,
because a Benton would do no wrong.
"But there is another side, also. I doubt if any girl was ever
raised as Miss Emily was. She - well, she knew nothing. At fifty
she was as childlike and innocent as she was at ten. She had
practically never heard of vice. The ugly things, for her, did not
"And, all the time, there was a deep and strong nature underneath.
She should have married and had children, but there was no one here
for her to marry. I," he smiled faintly, "I asked for her myself,
and was forbidden the house for years as a result.
"You have heard of the brother? But of course you have. I know
you have found the books. Such an existence as the family life here
was bound to have its reactions. Carlo was a reaction. Twenty-five
years ago he ran away with a girl from the village. He did not
marry her. I believe he was willing at one time, but his father
opposed it violently. It would have been to recognize a thing he
refused to recognize. He turned suddenly to Anne. "Don't you think
this is going to be painful?" he asked.
"Why? I know it all."
"Very well. This girl - the one Carlo ran away with - determined
to make the family pay for that refusal. She made them actually
pay, year by year. Emily knew about it. She had to pinch to make
the payments. The father sat in a sort of detached position, in
the center of Bolivar County, and let her bear the brunt of it.
I shall never forget the day she learned there was a child. It
- well, it sickened her. She had not known about those things.
And I imagine, if we could know, that that was the beginning of
"And all the time there was the necessity for secrecy. She had
never known deceit, and now she was obliged to practice it
constantly. She had no one to talk to. Her father, beyond
making entries of the amounts paid to the woman in the case, had
nothing to do with it. She bore it all, year after year. And it
ate, like a cancer.
"Remember, I never knew. I, who would have done anything for her
- she never told me. Carlo lived hard and came back to die. The
father went. She nursed them both. I came every day, and I never
suspected. Only, now and then, I wondered about her. She looked
burned. I don't know any other word.
"Then, the night after Carlo had been buried, she telephoned for me.
It was eleven o'clock, She met me, out there in the hall, and she
said, 'John, I have killed somebody.'
"I thought she was out of her mind. But she opened the door, and -
He turned and glanced at Anne.
"Please!" she said.
"It was Anne's mother. You have guessed it about Anne by now, of
course. It seems that the funeral had taken the money for the
payment that was due, and there had been a threat of exposure.
And Emily had reached the breaking-point. I believe what she said
- that she had no intention even of striking her. You can't take
the act itself. You have to take twenty-five years into account.
Anyhow, she picked up a chair and knocked the woman down. And it
killed her." He ran his fingers through his heavy hair. "It
should not have killed her," he reflected. "There must have
been some other weakness, heart or something. I don't know. But
it was a heavy chair. I don't see how Emily - "
His voice trailed off.
"There we were," he said, with a long breath. "Poor Emily, and the
other poor soul, neither of them fundamentally at fault, both
"I know about the books," I put in hastily. I could not have him
going over that again.
"You knew that, too!" He gazed at me.
"Poor Emily," he said. "She tried to atone. She brought Anne here,
and told her the whole story. It was a bad time - all round. But
at last Anne saw the light. The only one who would not see the
light was Emily. And at last she hit on this confession idea. I
suspected it when she rented the house. When I accused her of it,
she said: "I have given it to Providence to decide. If the
confession is found, I shall know I am to suffer. And I shall not
lift a hand to save myself."
So it went through the hours. Her fear, which I still think was
the terror that communicated itself to me; the various clues, which
she, poor victim, had overlooked; the articles laid carelessly in
the book she had been reading and accidentally hidden with her
brother's forbidden literature; the books themselves, with all of
five years to destroy them, and left untouched; her own anxiety
about the confession in the telephone-box, which led to our finding
it; her espionage of the house by means of the telephone; the
doctor's night visit in search of the confession; the daily penance
for five years of the dead woman's photograph in her room - all of
these - and her occasional weakenings, poor soul, when she tried
to change her handwriting against discovery, and refused to allow
the second telephone to be installed.
How clear it was! How, in a way, inevitable! And, too, how really
best for her it had turned out. For she had made a pact, and she
died believing that discovery here had come, and would take the
place of punishment beyond.
Martin Sprague came the next day. I was in the library alone, and
he was with Anne in the garden, when Maggie came into the room with
a saucer of crab-apple jelly.
"I wish you'd look at this," she said. "If it's cooked too much, it
gets tough and - " She straightened suddenly and stood staring out
through a window.
"I'd thank you to look out and see the goings-on in our garden," she
said sharply. "In broad daylight, too. I - "
But I did not hear what else Maggie had to say. I glanced out, and
Martin had raised the girl's face to his and was kissing her, gently
and very tenderly.
And then - and again, as with fear, it is hard to put into words - I
felt come over me such a wave of contentment and happiness as made
me close my eyes with the sheer relief and joy of it. All was well.
The past was past, and out of its mistakes had come a beautiful
thing. And, like the fear, this joy was not mine. It came to me.
I picked it up - a thought without words.
Sometimes I think about it, and I wonder - did little Miss Emily know?
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