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A STARTLING DECISION
Before Mr. Ransom and the lawyer had recovered from their astonishment, Hazen had slipped from the room. As Mr. Harper started to follow, he saw the other's head disappearing down the staircase leading to the office. He called to him, but Hazen declined to turn.
"No time," he shouted back. "I shall have to make use of somebody's automobile now, to get to the Ferry in time."
The lawyer did not persist, not at that moment; he went back to his client and they had a few hurried words; then Mr. Harper went below and took up his stand on the portico. He was determined that Hazen should not leave the place without some further explanation.
It was light where he stood and he very soon felt that this would not do, so he slipped back into the shade of a pillar, and seeing, from the bustle, that Hazen was likely to obtain the use of the one automobile stored in the stable, he waited with reasonable patience for his reappearance in the road before him.
Meanwhile he had confidence in Ransom, who he felt sure was watching them both from the window overhead. If he should fail in getting in the word he wanted, Ransom was pledged to shout it out without regard to appearances. But this was not likely to occur. He knew his own persistency to equal Hazen's. Nothing should stop the momentary interview he had promised himself.
Ah! A well-known whirr and clatter is heard. The automobile was leaving the stable. Hazen was already in it and the man who had come up from New York was with him. This was bad; they would flash by--No; he would not be balked thus. Stepping out into the road, he stopped full in the glare of the office lights and held up his hand. They could not but see him and they did. The chauffeur reversed the lever and the machine stopped to the accompaniment of low muttered oaths from Hazen, which were rather disagreeable than otherwise to Harper's ear.
"One word," said he, approaching to the side where Hazen sat. "I thought you ought to know before leaving that we can take no proceedings in the matter we were speaking of till we have undisputed proof that your sister is dead. That we may not get for a long time, possibly never. If you are interested in having this Auchincloss receive his inheritance, you had better prepare both yourself and him for a long wait. The river seems slow to give up its dead."
The quiver of impatience which had shaken Hazen at the first word had settled into a strange rigidity.
"One moment," he said in a command to the chauffeur at his side. Then in a low, strangely sounding whisper to Harper: "They think the body's in the Devil's Cauldron. Nothing can get it out if it is. Would some proof of its presence there be sufficient to settle the fact of her death?"
"That would depend. If the proof was unmistakable, it might pass in the Surrogate's Court. What is the matter, Hazen?"
"Nothing." The tone was hollow; the whole man sat like an image of death. "I--I'm thinking--weighing--" he uttered in scattered murmurs. Then suddenly, "You're not deceiving me, Harper. Some proof will be necessary, and that very soon, for this man Auchincloss to realize the money?"
"Yes," the monosyllable was as dry as it was short. Harper's patience with this unnatural brother was about at an end.
"And who will venture to obtain this proof for us? No one. Not even Ransom would venture down into that watery hole. They say it is almost certain death," babbled Hazen.
Harper kept silence. Strange forces were at work. The head of another gruesome tragedy loomed vaguely through the shadows of this already sufficiently tragic mystery.
"Go on!" suddenly shouted Hazen, leaning forward to the chauffeur. But the next instant his hand was on the man's sleeve. "No, I have changed my mind. Here, Staples," he called out as a man came running down the steps, "take my bag and ask the landlady to prepare me a room. I'll not try for the train to-night." Then as the man at his side leaped to the ground, he turned to Harper and remarked quietly, but in no common tone:
"The steamer must sail without me. I'll stay in this place a while and prove the death of Georgian Ransom myself."
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