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THE DEVIL'S CAULDRON
The solemnity of Hazen's whole manner impressed Mr. Harper strongly. As soon as the opportunity offered he cornered the young man in the office where he had taken refuge, and giving him to understand that further explanations must pass between them before either slept, he drew him apart and put the straight question to him:
"Who is Josiah Auchincloss?"
The answer was abrupt, almost menacing in its emphasis and tone.
"A trunk-maker in St. Louis. A man she was indebted to."
"How indebted to--a trunk-maker?"
"That I cannot, do not desire to state. It is enough that she felt she owed him the bulk of her fortune. Though this eliminates me from benefits of a wealth I had some rights to share, I make no complaint. She knew her business best, and I am disposed to accept her judgment in the matter without criticism."
"You are?" The tone was sharp, the sarcasm biting. "I can understand that. For Auchincloss, in this will, read Hazen; but how about her husband? How about her friends and the general community? Do you not think they will ask why a beautiful and socially well-placed young woman like your sister should leave so large a portion of her wealth to an obscure man in another town, of whom her friends and even her business agent have never heard? It would have been better if she had left you her thousands directly."
The smile which was Hazen's only retort was very bitter.
"You drew up her will," said he. "You must have reasoned with her on this very point as you are now trying to reason with me?"
The lawyer waved this aside.
"I didn't know at that time the social status of the legatee; nor did I know her brother then as well as I do now."
"You do not know me now."
"I know that you are very pale; that the determination you have just made has cost you more than you perhaps are willing to state. That there is mystery in your past, mystery in your present, and, possibly, mystery threatening your future, and all in connection with your great desire for this money."
Hazen made a forcible gesture, but whether of denial or depreciation, it was not easy to decide.
"Would it not then be better for all parties," pursued the lawyer, "for you to give me some idea of the great obligation under which your sister lay to this man, that I may have an answer ready when people ask me why she passed you so conspicuously by, in order to enrich this stranger?"
"The story is not mine. Had she wished you to know it, she would have confided it to you herself. I must decline--"
Mr. Harper interrupted the other impressively. "Do you realize what a shadow may be thrown upon your sister's memory by this reticence on your part? Her death was suggestive enough without the complications you mention. In justice to your relationship you should speak. If, as I think, the money is really meant for you, say so. The subterfuge may be difficult of explanation, but it will not hurt her memory as much as this extraordinary silence on your part."
"I am sorry," began Hazen. But Harper cut him short.
"You expect the money--you yourself," said he. "Nothing else would force you into an attempt so perilous. You would risk death. Risk something less final; risk your place in my esteem, your standing among men, and confess the full truth about this matter. If it involves crime--why, I'm a lawyer and can see you through better than you can win through by your own misdirected efforts. The truth, my lad, the truth, nothing else will serve you."
The look he received he will never forget.
"You are a man of limited experience, Mr. Harper," were the words which accompanied it. "You would not understand the truth, Georgian or me. Ransom might, but I shall not even risk Ransom's discretion. Now this is all I am going to say about this matter. Georgian's last will and testament, followed though it was by suicide, was a perfectly regular one. The only impediment to its being so recognized and acted upon is the doubt as to her actual decease. If the body of my poor young sister has become lodged in the Devil's Cauldron, I am going there to seek it. As the project calls for courage and, above all, a good condition of body and mind, I shall be obliged to you if you will allow me the benefit of the sleep I most certainly need. To-morrow I may have something more to say to you, and I may not. Perhaps I shall want to make my will, who knows?" And with a smile full of sarcastic meaning, he pushed Mr. Harper's arm aside and made for the staircase, up which he presently vanished without another attempt on the lawyer's part to hold him back.
A few minutes later the lawyer was getting what information he could about the so-called Devil's Cauldron.
It seems that this was a very deep hole in which, on account of the rocky formation surrounding it, the water swept in an eddy which had the force of a whirlpool. No one had ever sounded its depths and nothing had ever been seen again which had once been sucked into its deathly hollow. That Georgian's body had found its everlasting grave there, many had believed from the first, and if the conviction had not yet been publicly expressed it was out of consideration for Mr. Ransom, to whose hopes it could but ring a final knell.
"Where is the hole? How far from the waterfall?" queried Mr. Harper.
"A good mile," muttered one man. "Quite around the bend of the stream. It's a horrid place, sir. We've always been mortal careful about rowing down that side of the river. Children are never allowed to. Only a man's strength could get him free again if he once struck the eddy."
"Would anything floating down from the falls be apt to strike this eddy?"
"Very apt. It would be a miracle if it didn't. That is why we all turned out so willingly the first day. We knew that if Mrs. Ransom's body was to be found at all, it would be found then; another day it would be beyond our reach."
"You say that no one has ever sounded the depths of that hole. Has any one ever tried to?"
"More than once. Scientific men and others."
"Did they ever emerge--any of them?"
"Yes, one, a powerful sort of chap with Indian blood in him. But he didn't advise any one to try it; said the knowledge wasn't worth the strain to heart and muscle."
"What was the knowledge? We can imagine the strain."
"Oh, he said as how the walls of the vortex--didn't he call it a vortex--was all stone, and he spoke of a ledge--I didn't hear what else."
"To go down there a man would have to take his life in his hand, I see. Well, I don't think I will try," dryly observed the lawyer as he left the room.
He could no longer hide his excitement at the thought that Hazen meditated this undertaking.
"How he must want money!" thought he. That a man should face such a horror for another man's profit did not seem likely enough to engage his consideration for a moment.
Lawyer Harper knew the world--or thought he did.
Next day the whole town was thrown into a hubbub. Word had gone out through every medium possible to so small a place, that Alfred Hazen, Georgian's long-lost brother, was going to dare Death Eddy in a final attempt to recover his sister's body.
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