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I never saw any good reason for my changing the opinion just expressed. Indeed, as time went on and a further investigation was made into the life and character of these two brothers, I came to think that not only had the unhappy Veronica mistaken the person of Wallace Pfeiffer for that of her husband William, but also the nature of the message he sent her and the motives which actuated it; that the interview he so peremptorily demanded before she descended to her nuptials would, had she but understood it properly, have yielded her an immeasurable satisfaction instead of rousing in her alarmed breast the criminal instincts of her race; that it was meant to do this; that he, knowing William's secret--a secret which the latter naturally would confide to him at a moment so critical as that which witnessed their parting in the desolate Klondike pass--had come, not to reproach her with her new nuptials, but to relieve her mind in case she cherished the least doubt of her full right to marry again, by assurances of her husband's death and of her own complete freedom. To this he may have intended to add some final messages of love and confidence from the man she had been so ready to forget; but nothing worse. Wallace Pfeiffer was incapable of anything worse, and if she had only resigned herself to her seeming fate and consented to see this man -
But to return to fact and leave speculation to the now doubly wretched Jeffrey.
On the evening of the day which saw our first recognition of this crime as the work of Veronica Moore, the following notice appeared in the Star and all the other local journals:
"Any person who positively remembers passing through Waverley Avenue between N and M Streets on the evening of May the eleventh at or near the hour of a quarter past seven will confer a favor on the detective force of the District by communicating the same to F. at the police headquarters in C street."
I was "F.," and I was soon deep in business. But I was readily able to identify those who came from curiosity, and as the persons who had really fulfilled the conditions expressed in my advertisement were few, an evening and morning's work sufficed to sift the whole matter down to the one man who could tell me just what I wanted to know. With this man I went to the major, and as a result we all met later in the day at Mr. Moore's door.
This gentleman looked startled enough when he saw the number and character of his visitors; but his grand air did not forsake him and his welcome was both dignified and cordial. But I did not like the way his eye rested on me.
But the slight venom visible in it at that moment was nothing to what he afterwards displayed when at a slight growl from Rudge, who stood in an attitude of offense in the doorway beyond, I drew the attention of all to the dog by saying sharply:
"There is our witness, sirs. There is the dog who will not cross the street even when his master calls him, but crouches on the edge of the curb and waits with eager eyes but immovable body, till that master comes back. Isn't that so, Mr. Moore? Have I not heard you utter more than one complaint in this regard?"
"I can not deny it," was the stiff reply, "but what--"
I did not wait for him to finish.
"Mr. Correan,'' I asked, "is this the animal you gassed between the hours of seven and eight on the evening of May the eleventh, crouching in front of this house with his nose to the curbstone?"
"It is; I noted him particularly; he seemed to be watching the opposite house."
Instantly I turned upon Mr. Moore.
"Is Rudge the dog to do that," I asked, "if his master were not there? Twice have I myself seen him in the self-same place and with the self-same air of expectant attention, and both times you had crossed to the house which you acknowledge he will approach no nearer than the curb on this side of the street."
"You have me," was the short reply with which Mr. Moore gave up the struggle. "Rudge, go back to your place. When you are wanted in the court-room I will let you know."
The smile with which he said this was sarcastic enough, but it was sarcasm directed mainly against himself. We were not surprised when, after some sharp persuasion on the part of the major, he launched into the following recital of his secret relation to what he called the last tragedy ever likely to occur in the Moore family.
"I never thought it wrong to be curious about the old place; I never thought it wrong to be curious about its mysteries. I only considered it wrong, or at all events ill judged, to annoy Veronica, in regard to them, or to trouble her in any way about the means by which I might effect an entrance into its walls. So I took the one that offered and said nothing.
"I have visited the old house many times during my sojourn in this little cottage. The last time was, as one of your number has so ably discovered on the most memorable night in its history; the one in which Mrs. Jeffrey's remarkable death occurred there. The interest roused in me by the unexpected recurrence of the old fatality attending the library hearthstone reached its culmination when I perceived one night the glint of a candle burning in the southwest chamber. I did not know who was responsible for this light, but I strongly suspected it to be Mr. Jeffrey; for who else would dare to light a candle in this disused house without first seeing that all the shutters were fast? I did not dislike Mr. Jeffrey or question his right to do this. Nevertheless I was very angry. Though allied to a Moore he was not one himself and the difference in our privileges affected me strongly. Consequently I watched till he came out and upon positively recognizing his figure vowed in my wrath and jealous indignation to visit the old house myself on the following night and make one final attempt to learn the secret which would again make me the equal of this man, if not his superior.
"It was early when I went; indeed it was not quite dark, but knowing the gloom of those old halls and the almost impenetrable nature of the darkness that settles over the library the moment the twilight set in, I put in my pocket two or three candles, sirs, about which you have made such a coil. My errand was twofold. I wanted first to see what Mr. Jeffrey had been up to the night before, and next, to spend an hour over a certain book of old memoirs which in recalling the past might explain the present. You remember a door leading into the library from the rear room. It was by this door I entered, bringing with me from the kitchen the chair you afterwards found there.
I knew where the volume of memoirs I speak of was to be found--you do, too, I see--for it was my hand which had placed it in its present concealment. Quite determined to reread such portions of it, as I had long before marked as pertinent to the very attempt I had in mind, I brought in the candelabrum from the parlor and drew out a table to hold it. But I waited a few moments before taking down the book itself. I wanted first to learn what Mr. Jeffrey had been doing upstairs the night before. So leaving the light burning in the library, I proceeded to the southwest chamber, holding an unlit candle in my hand, the light feebly diffused through the halls from some upper windows being sufficient for me to see my way. But in the chamber itself all was dark.
The wind had not yet risen and the shutter which a half-hour later moved so restlessly on its creaking hinges, hugged the window so tightly that I imagined Mr. Jeffrey had fastened it the night before. Looking for some receptacle in which to set the candle I now lit, I failed to find anything but an empty tumbler, so I made use of that. Then I glanced about me, but seeing nothing worth my attention --Mrs. Jeffrey's wedding fixings did not interest me, and everything else about the room looking natural except the overturned chair, which struck me as immaterial. I hurried downstairs again, leaving the candle burning behind me in case I should wish to return aloft after I had refreshed my mind with what had been written about this old room.
"Not a sound disturbed the house as I seated myself to my reading in front of the library shelves. I was as much alone under that desolate roof as mortal could be with men anywhere within reach of him. I enjoyed the solitude and was making a very pretty theory for myself on a scrap of paper I tore from another old book when a noise suddenly rose in front, which, slight as it was, was quite unmistakable to ears trained in listening. Some one was unlocking the front door.
"Naturally I thought it to be Mr. Jeffrey returning for a second visit to his wife's house, and knowing what I might expect if he surprised me on the premises, I restored the book hastily to its place and as hastily blew out the candle. Then, with every intention of flight, I backed toward the door by which I had entered. But some impulse stronger than that of escape made me stop just before I reached it. I could see nothing; the place was dark as Tophet; but I could listen. The person--Mr. Jeffrey, or some other--was coming my way and in perfect darkness. I could hear the faltering steps--the fingers dragging along the walls; then a rustle as of skirts, proving the intruder to be a woman--a fact which greatly surprised me--then a long drawn sigh or gasp.
"The last determined me. The situation was too intense for me to leave without first learning who the woman was who in terror and shrinking dared to drag her half resisting feet through these empty halls and into a place cursed with such unwholesome memories. I did not think of Veronica. No one looks for a butterfly in the depths of a dungeon. But I did think of Miss Tuttle--that woman of resolute will. Without attempting to imaging the reason for her presence, I stood my ground and harkened till the heavy mahogany door at the other end of the room began to swing in by jerks under the faint and tremulous push of a terrified hand. Then there came silence--a long silence--followed by a moan so agonized that I realized that whatever was the cause of this panting woman's presence here, it was due to no mere errand of curiosity. This whetted my purpose. Anything done in this house was in a way done to me; so I remained quiet and watched. But the sounds which now and then came from the remote corner upon which my attention was concentrated were very eloquent.
I heard sighs and bitter groans, with now and then a murmured prayer, broken by a low wailing, in which I caught the name of Francis. And still, possibly on account of the utterance of this name, I thought the woman near me to be Miss Tuttle, and even went so far as to imagine the cause of her suffering if not the nature of her retribution. Words succeeded cries and I caught phrases expressive of fear and some sort of agonized hesitation. Once these broken ejaculations were interrupted by a dull sound. Something had dropped to the bare floor. We shall never know what it was, but I have no doubt that it was the pistol, and that the marks of dust to be found on the connecting ribbon were made by her own fingers in taking it again in her hand. (You will remember that these same fingers had but a few minutes previous groped their way along the walls.) For her voice soon took a different tone, and such unintelligible phrases as these could be heard issuing from her partly paralyzed lips:
"'I must!--I can never meet his eye again alive. He would despise -- Brave enough to--to--another's blood--coward--when--own. Oh, God! forgive!' Then another silence during which I almost made up my mind to interfere, then a loud report and a flash so startling and unexpected that I recoiled, during which the room leaped into sudden view--she too--Veronica--with baby face drawn and set like a woman's--then darkness again and a heavy fall which shook the floor, if not my hard old heart. The flash and that fall enlightened me. I had just witnessed the suicide of the last Moore saving myself; a suicide for which I was totally unprepared and one which I do not yet understand.
"I did not go over to her. She was as dead when she fell as she ever would be. In the flash which lit everything, I had seen where her pistol was pointed. Why disturb her then? Nor did I return upstairs. I had small interest now in anything but my own escape from a situation more or less compromising.
Do you blame me for this? I was her heir and I was where I had no legal right to be. Do you think that I was called upon to publish my shame and tell how I lingered there while my own niece shot herself before my eyes? That shot made me a millionaire. This certainly was excitement enough for one day--besides, I did not leave her there neglected. I notified you later--after I had got my breath and had found some excuse. That wasn't enough? Ah, I see that you are all models of courage and magnanimity. You would have laid yourselves open to every reproach rather than let a little necessary perjury pass your lips. But I am no model. I am simply an old man who has been too hardly dealt with for seventy long years to possess every virtue. I made a mistake--I see it now--trusted a dog when I shouldn't--but if Rudge had not seen ghosts--well, what now?"
We had, one and all, with an involuntary impulse, turned our backs upon him.
"What are you doing?" he hotly demanded.
"Only what all Washington will do to-morrow, and afterwards the whole world," gravely returned the major. Then, as an ejaculation escaped the astonished millionaire, he impressively added: "A perjury which allows an innocent man and woman to remain under the suspicion of murder for five weeks is one which not only the law has a right to punish, but which all society will condemn. Henceforth you will find yourself under a ban, Mr. Moore."*
* Time amply verified this prophecy. Mr. Moore is living in great style in the Moore house, and drives horses which are conspicuous even in Washington. But no one accepts his invitations, and he is as much of a recluse in his present mansion as he ever was in the humble cottage in which his days of penury were spent.
My story ends here. The matter never came before the grand jury. Suicide had been proved, and there the affair rested. Of myself it is enough to add that I sometimes call in Durbin to help me in a big case.
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