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Never before had any event created such a sensation in the village of Rickwell. From the choir boy and his mother the news quickly spread. Also Giles had to call in the aid of the rector to have the body of the unfortunate girl carried to The Elms. In a short time the churchyard was filled with wondering people, and quite a cortege escorted the corpse. It was like the rehearsal of a funeral procession.
Mrs. Morley had gone to bed, thinking the two girls might be reconciled in church and come home together. Her husband, not so sanguine, had remained in the library till after midnight, ready to play the part of peace-maker should any fracas occur. He appeared in the hall when poor dead Daisy was carried through the door, and stared in surprise at the spectacle.
"Great heavens!" he cried, coming forward, his ruddy face pale with sudden emotion. "What is all this?"
Giles took upon himself the office of spokesman, which the rector, remembering that he had been engaged to the deceased, tacitly delegated to him.
"It's poor Daisy," he said hoarsely. "She has been--"
"Murdered! No. Don't say murdered!"
"Yes, we found her lying on her father's grave, dead; a knife-thrust under the left shoulder-blade. She must have died almost instantaneously."
"Dead!" muttered Morley, ghastly white. And he approached to take the handkerchief from the dead face. "Dead!" he repeated, replacing it. Then he looked at the haggard face of Ware, at the silent group of men and the startled women standing in the doorway, where the rector was keeping them back.
"Where is her murderess?" he asked sharply.
"Murderess!" repeated Giles angrily. "What do you mean?"
"Mean? Why, that Miss Denham has done this, and----"
"You are mad to say such a thing."
"I'll tax her with it to her face. Where is she? Not at home, for I have been waiting to see her."
"She's run way on Mr. Ware's motor-car," volunteered Trim, only to be clutched violently by his master.
"Don't say that, you fool. You can't be sure of that, Mr. Morley," he added, turning to the scared man. "Make no remark about this until we can have a quiet talk about it."
"But I say----"
"You can say it to the police officer in the morning."
"She'll have escaped by that time," whispered Trim to his master.
Giles saw the danger of Anne--supposing her to be guilty, as the groom thought her--and made up his mind at once.
"Go home, Trim, and saddle a couple of horses. We'll follow the track of the car, and when we find it----"
"You'll never find it," put in Morley, who had been listening with all his ears. "The falling snow must have obliterated any wheel-marks by this time. When did this occur?"
"I don't know," replied Giles coldly. "And instead of chattering there, you had better have the--the--" he stammered, "the body taken into some room and attended to. Poor Daisy," he sighed, "what an end to your bright young life!"
Here Mr. Drake, the rector, thought it necessary to assert himself, and waved aside the throng.
"All you men and women, go to your homes," he said. "Nothing can be done to-night, and----"
"The car might be followed," said a voice.
"And the car will be followed," said Giles, pushing his way to the door. "Come, Trim, we'll ride at once. Did no one see the car pass out of the village?"
No one had seen it, as most of the villagers had been inside the church and the rest in their homes.
There was some talk and suggestions, but Ware, with a nod to Morley, took a hasty departure and disappeared into the stormy night.
"He might track the car," said the rector.
"He won't," replied Morley bitterly; "he'll lead Trim on a wrong scent. He liked Miss Denham too well to let her drop into the hands of the police."
"Then you really think she did it?" asked Drake, horrified.
"I am perfectly certain," was the reply. "Come into the library, and I'll show you what evidence I have."
Meantime the hall was cleared of the eager listeners, and all present went to their homes less to sleep than to argue as to the guilt or innocence of Anne. The body of the girl was taken to her bedroom, and poor scared Mrs. Morley, roused from her bed to face this tragedy, did all that was needful, assisted by two old women, who remained behind to offer their services. This was all that could be done till dawn, and Mrs. Morley, thinking of the dead Daisy and the missing Anne, wept till the first streaks of daylight. As yet her limited understanding could not grasp the horror of the thing.
Morley conducted Mr. Drake to the library. He related how his wife had heard Anne threaten to kill Daisy, produced the anonymous letter, detailed Daisy's accusation that the governess was in love with Ware, and finally pointed out the damning fact of the flight. The rector was quite convinced by this reasoning that Anne was guilty.
"And now I come to think of it," he said, stroking his shaven chin, "Miss Kent was in church."
"Yes, so was Miss Denham; but I don't think they sat together, as they were on the worst possible terms. Did you see Daisy?"
Drake nodded. "She went out when I was half-way through my sermon. I remember that I felt a little annoyed that she should leave when I was doing my best to inculcate good habits for the year in my congregation. She must have gone to pray at her father's grave, and there----" Drake stopped with sudden terror in his eyes.
"And there Miss Denham stabbed her. Ware said the wound was beneath the left shoulder-blade. That looks as though Daisy was struck from behind. I can see it all," cried Morley, with a shudder. "The poor child praying by her father's grave, and the stealthy approach of that woman armed with a----"
"Ah!" interposed Drake, "there you are. We have not yet found the weapon; and after all, Morley, the evidence is purely circumstantial. We do not know for certain that Miss Denham is the guilty person."
"Why did she fly, then?" demanded Morley fiercely. "If she were innocent--if she had not left the church until the others did--she would have returned, and now been in bed. But from what Trim says she fled on Ware's motor-car."
"Humph! She can't get far on that. Such a night, too."
And the rector walked to the window to watch the still falling snow.
Morley shook his head. "Miss Denham knows the country for miles and miles, and Ware taught her how to drive the motor. I shouldn't be surprised if she got away after all, in spite of the weather."
Drake looked uneasy, and placed himself before the fire with a shiver. He rather admired Miss Denham, and could not yet bring himself to believe that she was guilty. Even if she were, he cherished a secret hope that she might escape the police. It was terrible to think that one woman should be dead, but it was more awful to look forward to the trial, condemnation, and hanging of the other.
"I blame Ware a good deal for this," continued Morley gloomily. "He openly admired Miss Denham, and encouraged her to flirt with him. A rash thing to do to one who has negro blood in her veins. I expect passion carried her beyond herself."
"How do you know she has negro blood?"
"She said so herself."
"Did you know that when you engaged her?"
"I never engaged her at all, Drake. My wife did. I must say that Miss Denham's credentials were good. She had been governess in an Italian family, and ha!----" He stopped suddenly, and started up. "In Italy she might have procured a stiletto. From the nature of the wound--which is small and deep--I should think it was inflicted with such a weapon."
"How do you know that the wound is small and deep?"
"My wife told me when she came to the door that time. You did not hear her. She says the wound is quite small. In that case it must be deep, or the death would not have occurred so suddenly."
Drake shook his head. "We don't know that it did occur suddenly."
Morley contradicted this angrily. "If Daisy had not died at once she would have had time to shriek, and the cry would have been heard in the church."
"I doubt it. The people were deeply interested in my sermon."
The other man shrugged his shoulders. It was scarcely worth while arguing this point with the rector. He relapsed into a brown study, until roused to reply to a question asked by his guest.
"Have you ever seen a stiletto?" asked Drake.
"I have one here," replied Morley, running his eye along the wall; "one that I got in Italy myself. It was said to have belonged to Lucrezia Borgia. I wonder where it is."
"Rather difficult to discover it amidst all these weapons, Mr. Morley. Good heavens! what is the matter?"
He might well ask. His host was clutching his arm in a vice-like hold, and was pointing to a certain part of the wall whereon hung a pair of ancient pistols, a crusader's shield, and an old helmet.
"The stiletto was there. It is gone!" gasped Morley.
"Impossible. Who can have taken it?"
"Miss Denham! Miss Denham! Oh, and you believe her to be innocent!" cried the other. "She came into this very room at nine o'clock, or a little after. I was outside on the terrace seeing a visitor off. She was alone in the room for a time. She must have taken the weapon."
"No, no; why should she have?"
"Because she intended to murder my poor Daisy. It was all arranged in her black heart. Drake," he added solemnly, "I have done my best to believe that woman innocent. I defended her against Daisy, and my wife defended her also. We tried to believe that she had no ill intention, and see--see what comes of it. She steals the stiletto, and kills the child in the most brutal manner. I swear to hunt her down. I swear----!"
The rector caught down the uplifted hand which Morley was raising to the heavens. "Be yourself," he said sternly; "there is no need for a man to call upon God to witness a blood-thirsty oath. If the woman is guilty, let her be punished. But give her the benefit of the doubt. Appearances are against her, I admit. All the same, she may be able to prove her innocence."
"You might as well talk to the wind as to me. She is a murderess; I'll do my best to have her hanged."
Morley spoke with such vehemence that Drake looked closely at him. He wondered if the man had any grudge against Anne Denham that he spoke of her with such bitterness. Certainly her crime was a terrible one, and she deserved to be condemned. But it would only be fair that she should be first tried. Morley, on the contrary, had already judged her, without waiting to hear what she had to say in her own favor.
"Well, Mr. Morley, there is nothing more to be said," he remarked coldly, for he disliked this melodrama; "we must wait till the police come in the morning. Meanwhile I shall go to my home and get some sleep."
"I can't sleep with that in the house," replied Morley, abruptly rising; "I'll go with you."
"To the churchyard--to the grave. I intend to look for the weapon. It may have been left there--tossed aside by the assassin after the crime."
"But the night is dark--the snow is falling. You will not be able to do anything. Be advised, and----"
"No. I'll come with you now. If I find nothing, it is all the better for her. If I do----" He shook his hand again fiercely.
Drake argued no longer, seeing that the man's brain was in such a state that it was best to humor him. They went out together, but at the church-gate Drake excused himself and retired to his home. He had no wish to see Morley groping amongst the graves like a ghost. Pausing until the little man disappeared into the gloom, the rector went to his house, wondering at the sudden change in Morley's character. He had been a light-hearted and rather frivolous creature; fond of gaiety and overflowing with the milk of human kindness. Now he was fierce and savage enough for a Caliban. "He must have loved that poor girl very dearly," sighed Drake, "but I can't believe that such a charming woman as Miss Denham committed so cruel a crime. There is some mystery about this," and in this last speech he was right. There was a mystery about the death, and a much deeper one than a shallow man like the rector could fathom.
All through the long night Mrs. Morley watched by the dead. She had placed candles on either side of the bed, and laid a cross on the poor child's breast. Drake was quite shocked when he saw this Papistical arrangement. But it afterwards came out that Mrs. Morley had been educated in a convent, and had imbibed certain notions of the Romish ritual for the dead that, her memory reviving, made her act thus, in spite of her openly confessed belief in the communion of the English Church. While she was thus sitting and weeping, Morley looked in. He was wild and haggard, but in his eyes glared a triumphant expression which terrified his wife. She did not dare to move. He crossed the room, and looked at the body. "You shall be avenged, my dear," he said solemnly, and before Mrs. Morley could recover from her surprise and denounce this ill-chosen moment for a visit, he wheeled round and disappeared.
He did not retire either, no more did the servants, who were collected in the kitchen steadying their nerves with tea. So it happened that when Giles, weary, wet, and worn, rode up to the door in the morning on a jaded beast, he was met by Morley.
"Have you caught her?" asked the man.
Giles dismounted and threw the reins to a groom. "No. Trim went one way and I another. Where he is I don't know, but my horse gave in, and I returned." He entered the house. "Where is the body?" he asked.
"Up in the room it occupied during life," said Morley; "but come into the library, I have something to show you."
Ware followed and sank wearily into a chair. He could scarcely keep his eyes open. Nevertheless he started up wide awake when his host spoke. "Miss Denham killed Daisy," said Morley. "She took a stiletto from the wall yonder, and here it is." He produced it with a dramatic wave.
"Where did you find it?"
"Beside the grave--on the spot of the murder."
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