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Chapter 16

AN EGOTIST OF THE FIRST WATER


Had the control of affairs been mine at this moment I am quite positive that I should have found it difficult to deny these two the short interview which they appeared to crave and which would have been to them such an undeniable comfort. But a sterner spirit than mine was in charge, and the district attorney, into whose hands the affair had now fallen, was inexorable. Miss Tuttle was treated with respect, with kindness, even, but she was not allowed any communication with her brother-in-law beyond the formal "Good afternoon" incident upon their separation; while he, scorning to condemn his lips to any such trite commonplace, said nothing at all, only looked a haggard inquiry which called forth from her the most exalted look of patience and encouraging love it has ever been my good fortune to witness. Durbin was standing near and saw this look as plainly as I did, but it did not impose on him, he said. But what in the nature of human woe could impose on him? Durbin is a machine--a very reliable and useful machine, no doubt, yet when all is said, a simple contrivance of cogs and wheels; while I--well, I hope that I am something more than that; or why was I a changed man toward her from the moment I saw the smile which marked this accused woman's good by to Francis Jeffrey. No longer believing in her guilt, I went about my business with tumult in brain and heart, asking in my remorse for an opportunity to show her some small courtesy whereby to relieve the torture I felt at having helped the coroner in the inquiries which had brought about what looked to me now like a cruel and unwarranted result.

That it should be given to Durbin to hold such surveillance over her as her doubtful position demanded added greatly to my discomfort. But I was enabled to keep my lips firmly shut over any expression of secret jealousy or displeasure; and this was fortunate, as otherwise I might have failed to obtain the chance of aiding her later on, in other and deeper matters.

Meanwhile, and before any of us had left this room, one fact had become apparent. Mr. Jeffrey was not going to volunteer any fresh statement in face of the distinct disapproval of his sister-in-law. As his eye fell upon the district attorney, who had lingered near, possibly in the hope of getting something more from this depressed and almost insensible man, he made one remark, but it was an automatic one, calculated to produce but little effect on the discriminating ears of this experienced official.

"I do not believe that my wife was murdered." This was what he said. "It was a wicked verdict. My wife killed herself. Wasn't the pistol found tied to her?"

Either from preoccupation or a dazed condition of mind, he seemed to forget that Miss Tuttle had owned to tying on this pistol; and that nothing but her word went to prove that this was done before and not after the shot had been delivered in the Moore house library. I thought I understood him and was certain that I sympathized with his condition; but in the ears of those less amiably disposed toward him, his statements had lost force and the denial went for little.

Meanwhile a fact which all had noted and commented on had recurred to my mind and caused me to ask a brother officer who was walking out beside me what he thought of Mr. Moore's absence from an inquiry presumably of such importance to all members of this family.

The fellow laughed and said:

"Old Dave has lost none of his peculiarities in walking into his fortune. This is his day at the cemetery. Didn't you know that? He will let nothing on earth get in the way of his pilgrimage to that spot on the twenty-third of May, much less so trivial an occurrence as an inquest over the remains of his nearest relative."

I felt my gorge rise; then a thought struck me and I asked how long the old gentleman kept up his watch.

"From sunrise to sundown, the boys say. I never saw him there myself. My beat lies in an opposite direction."

I left him and started for Rock Creek Cemetery. There were two good hours yet before sundown and I resolved to come upon Uncle David at his post.

It took just one hour and a quarter to get there by the most direct route I could take. Five minutes more to penetrate the grounds to where a superb vehicle stood, drawn by two of the finest horses I had seen in Washington for many a long day. As I was making my way around this equipage I came upon a plot in a condition of upheaval preparatory to new sodding and the planting of several choice shrubs. In the midst of the sand thus exposed a single head-stone rose. On his knees beside this simple monument I saw the figure of Uncle David, dressed in his finest clothes and showing in his oddly contorted face the satisfaction of great prosperity, battling with the dissatisfaction of knowing that one he had so loved had not lived to share his elevation. He was rubbing away the mold from the name which, by his own confession, was the only one to which his memory clung in sympathy or endearment. At his feet lay an open basket, in which I detected the remains of what must have been a rather sumptuous cold repast. To all appearance he had foregone none of his ancient customs; only those customs had taken on elegance with his rise in fortune. The carriage and the horses, and most of all, the imperturbable driver, seemed to awaken some awe in the boys. They were still in evidence, but they hung back sheepishly and eyed the basket of neglected food as if they hoped he would forget to take it away. Meanwhile the clattering of chains against the harness, the pawing of the horses and the low exclamations of the driver caused me the queerest feelings. Advancing quite unceremoniously upon the watcher by the grave, I remarked aloud;

"The setting sun will soon release you, Mr. Moore. Are you going immediately into town?"

He paused in his rubbing, which was being done with a very tender hand, and as if he really loved the name he was endeavoring to bring into plainer view. Scowling a little, he turned and met me point-blank with a look which had a good deal of inquiry in it.

"I am not usually interrupted here," he emphasized; "except by the boys," he added more mildly. "They sometimes approach too closely, but I am used to the imps and scarcely notice them. Ah! there are some of my old friends now! Well, it is time they knew that a change has taken place in my fortunes. Hi, there! Hands up and catch this, and this, and this!" he shouted. "But keep quiet about it or next year you will get pennies again."

And flinging quarters right and left, he smiled in such a pompous, self-satisfied way at the hurrah and scramble which ensued, that it was well worth my journey there just to see this exhibition of combined vanity and good humor.

"Now go!" he vociferated; and the urchins, black and white, flew away, flinging up their heels in delight and shouting: "Bully for you, Uncle David! We'll come again next year, not for twenty-fives but fifties."

"I will make it dollars if I only live so long," he muttered. And deigning now to remember the question I had put to him, he grandly remarked:

"I am going straight into town. Can I do anything for you?"

"Nothing. I thought you might like to know what awaits you there. The city is greatly stirred up. The coroner's jury in the Jeffrey-Moore case has just brought in a verdict to the effect that suicide has not been proved. Naturally, this is equivalent to one of murder."

"Ah!" he ejaculated, slightly taken aback for one so invariably impassive.

"And to whom is the guilt of this crime ascribed?" he presently ventured.

"There was mention of no name; but the opprobrium naturally falls on Miss Tuttle."

"Miss Tuttle? Ah!"

"Since Mr. Jeffrey is proved to have been too far away at the time to have fired that shot, while she -"

"I am following you -"

"Was in the very house--at the door of the library in fact--and heard the pistol discharged, if she did not discharge it herself - which some believe, notably the district attorney. You should have been there, Mr. Moore."

He looked surprised at this suggestion.

"I never am anywhere but here on the twenty-third of May," he declared.

"Miss Tuttle needed some adviser."

"Ah, probably."

"You would have been a good one."

"And a welcome one, eh?"

I hardly thought he would have been a welcome one, but I did not admit the fact. Nevertheless he seized on the advantage he evidently thought he had gained and added, mildly enough, or rather without any display of feeling:

"Miss Tuttle likes me even less than Veronica did. I do not think she would have accepted, certainly she would not have desired, my presence in her counsels. But of one thing I wish her to be assured, her and the world in general. Any money she may need at this--at this unhappy crisis in her life, she will find amply supplied. She has no claims on me, but that makes little difference where the family honor is concerned. Her mother's husband was my brother--the girl shall have all she needs. I will write her so."

He was moving toward his carriage.

"Fine turnout?" he interrogatively remarked.

I assented with all the surprise,--with all the wonder even--which his sublime egotism seemed to invite.

"It is the best that Downey could raise in the time I allotted him. When I really finger the money, we shall see, we shall see."

His foot was on the carriage-step. He looked up at the west. The sun was almost down but not quite. "Have you any special business with me?" he asked, lingering with what I thought a surprising display of conscientiousness till the last ray of direct sunlight had disappeared.

I glanced up at the coachman sitting on his box as rigid as any stone.

"You may speak," said he; "Caesar neither hears nor sees anything but his horses when he drives me."

The black did not wink. He was as completely at home on the box and as quiet and composed in his service as if he had driven this man for years.

"He understands his duty," finished the master, but with no outward appearance of pride. "What have you to say to me?"

I hesitated no longer.

"Miss Tuttle is supposed to have secretly entered the Moore house on the night you summoned us. She even says she did. I know that you have sworn to having seen no one go into that house; but notwithstanding this, haven't you some means at your disposal for proving to the police and to the world at large that she never fired that fatal shot? Public opinion is so cruel. She will be ruined whether innocent or guilty, unless it can be very plainly shown that she did not enter the library prior to going there with the police."

"And how can you suppose me to be in a position to prove that? Say that I had sat in my front window all that evening, and watched with uninterrupted assiduity the door through which so many are said to have passed between sunset and midnight--something which I did not do, as I have plainly stated on oath--how could you have expected me to see what went on in the black interior of a house whose exterior is barely discernible at night across the street?"

"Then you can not aid her?" I asked.

With a light bound he leaped into the carriage. As he took his seat he politely remarked:

"I should be glad to, since, though not a Moore, she is near enough the family to affect its honor. But not having even seen her enter the house I can not testify in any way in regard to her. Home, Caesar, and drive quickly. I do not thrive under these evening damps."

And leaning back, with an inexpressible air of contentment with himself, his equipage and the prospect of an indefinite enjoyment of the same, the last representative of the great Moore family was quietly driven away.


Anna Katharine Green

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