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- Agatha Webb - 20/53 -


here. It has simply been buried deeper than I thought. Ah! What did I tell you? See here! And see here!"

Bringing his hands into the full blaze of the light, he showed two rolls of new, crisp bills.

"They were lying under half a foot of earth," said he, "but if they had been buried as deep as Grannie Fuller's well, I'd have unearthed them."

Meantime Mr. Fenton was rapidly counting one roll and Knapp the other. The result was an aggregate sum of nine hundred and eighty dollars, just the amount Sweetwater had promised to show them.

"A good stroke of business," cried Mr. Fenton. "And now, Sweetwater, whose is the hand that buried this treasure? Nothing is to be gained by preserving silence on this point any longer."

Instantly the young man became very grave. With a quick glance around which seemed to embrace the secret recesses of the forest rather than the eager faces bending towards him, he lowered his voice and quietly said:

"The hand that buried this money under the roots of this old tree is the same which you saw pointing downward at the spot of blood in Agatha Webb's front yard."

"You do not mean Annabel Page!" cried Mr. Fenton, with natural surprise.

"Yes, I do; and I am glad it is you who have named her."

XVII

THE SLIPPERS, THE FLOWER, AND WHAT SWEETWATER MADE OF THEM

A half-hour later these men were all closeted with Dr. Talbot in the Zabel kitchen. Abel had rejoined them, and Sweetwater was telling his story with great earnestness and no little show of pride.

"Gentlemen, when I charge a young woman of respectable appearance and connections with such a revolting crime as murder, I do so with good reason, as I hope presently to make plain to you all.

"Gentlemen, on the night and at the hour Agatha Webb was killed, I was playing with four other musicians in Mr. Sutherland's hallway. From the place where I sat I could see what went on in the parlour and also have a clear view of the passageway leading down to the garden door. As the dancing was going on in the parlour I naturally looked that way most, and this is how I came to note the eagerness with which, during the first part of the evening, Frederick Sutherland and Amabel Page came together in the quadrilles and country dances. Sometimes she spoke as she passed him, and sometimes he answered, but not always, although he never failed to show he was pleased with her or would have been if something--perhaps it was his lack of confidence in her, sirs--had not stood in the way of a perfect understanding. She seemed to notice that he did not always respond, and after a while showed less inclination to speak herself, though she did not fail to watch him, and that intently. But she did not watch him any more closely than I did her, though I little thought at the time what would come of my espionage. She wore a white dress and white shoes, and was as coquettish and seductive as the evil one makes them. Suddenly I missed her. She was in the middle of the dance one minute and entirely out of it the next. Naturally I supposed her to have slipped aside with Frederick Sutherland, but he was still in sight, looking so pale and so abstracted, however, I was sure the young miss was up to some sort of mischief. But what mischief? Watching and waiting, but no longer confining my attention to the parlour, I presently espied her stealing along the passageway I have mentioned, carrying a long cloak which she rolled up and hid behind the open door. Then she came back humming a gay little song which didn't deceive me for a moment. 'Good!' thought I, 'she and that cloak will soon join company.' And they did. As we were playing the Harebell mazurka I again caught sight of her stealthy white figure in that distant doorway. Seizing the cloak, she wrapped it round her, and with just one furtive look backwards, seen, I warrant, by no one but myself, she vanished in the outside dark. 'Now to note who follows her!' But nobody followed her. This struck me as strange, and having a natural love for detective work, in spite of my devotion to the arts, I consulted the clock at the foot of the stairs, and noting that it was half-past eleven, scribbled the hour on the margin of my music, with the intention of seeing how long my lady would linger outside alone. Gentlemen, it was two hours before I saw her face again. How she got back into the house I do not know. It was not by the garden door, for my eye seldom left it; yet at or near half-past one I heard her voice on the stair above me and saw her descend and melt into the crowd as if she had not been absent from it for more than five minutes. A half-hour later I saw her with Frederick again. They were dancing, but not with the same spirit as before, and even while I watched them they separated. Now where was Miss Page during those two long hours? I think I know, and it is time I unburdened myself to the police.

"But first I must inform you of a small discovery I made while the dance was still in progress. Miss Page had descended the stairs, as I have said, from what I now know to have been her own room. Her dress was, in all respects, the same as before, with one exception--her white slippers had been exchanged for blue ones. This seemed to show that they had been rendered unserviceable, or at least unsightly, by the walk she had taken. This in itself was not remarkable nor would her peculiar escapade have made more than a temporary impression upon my curiosity if she had not afterward shown in my presence such an unaccountable and extraordinary interest in the murder which had taken place in the town below during the very hours of her absence from Mr. Sutherland's ball. This, in consideration of her sex, and her being a stranger to the person attacked, was remarkable, and, though perhaps I had no business to do what I did, I no sooner saw the house emptied of master and servants than I stole softly back, and climbed the stairs to her room. Had no good followed this intrusion, which, I am quite ready to acknowledge, was a trifle presumptuous, I would have held my peace in regard to it; but as I did make a discovery there, which has, as I believe, an important bearing on this affair, I have forced myself to mention it. The lights in the house having been left burning, I had no difficulty in finding her apartment. I knew it by the folderols scattered about. But I did not stop to look at them. I was on a search for her slippers, and presently came upon them, thrust behind an old picture in the dimmest corner of the room. Taking them down, I examined them closely. They were not only soiled, gentlemen, but dreadfully cut and rubbed. In short, they were ruined, and, thinking that the young lady herself would be glad to be rid of them, I quietly put them into my pocket, and carried them to my own home. Abel has just been for them, so you can see them for yourselves, and if your judgment coincides with mine, you will discover something more on them than mud."

Dr. Talbot, though he stared a little at the young man's confessed theft, took the slippers Abel was holding out and carefully turned them over. They were, as Sweetwater had said, grievously torn and soiled, and showed, beside several deep earth-stains, a mark or two of a bright red colour, quite unmistakable in its character.

"Blood," declared the coroner. "There is no doubt about it. Miss Page was where blood was spilled last night."

"I have another proof against her," Sweetwater went on, in full enjoyment of his prominence amongst these men, who, up to now, had barely recognised his existence. "When, full of the suspicion that Miss Page had had a hand in the theft which had taken place at Mrs. Webb's house, if not in the murder that accompanied it, I hastened down to the scene of the tragedy, I met this young woman issuing from the front gate. She had just been making herself conspicuous by pointing out a trail of blood on the grass plot. Dr. Talbot, who was there, will remember how she looked on that occasion; but I doubt if he noticed how Abel here looked, or so much as remarked the faded flower the silly boy had stuck in his buttonhole."

"--me if I did!" ejaculated the coroner.

"Yet that flower has a very important bearing on this case. He had found it, as he will tell you, on the floor near Batsy's skirts, and as soon as I saw it in his coat, I bade him take it out and keep it, for, gentlemen, it was a very uncommon flower, the like of which can only be found in this town in Mr. Sutherland's conservatory. I remember seeing such a one in Miss Page's hair, early in the evening. Have you that flower about you, Abel?"

Abel had, and being filled with importance too, showed it to the doctor and to Mr. Fenton. It was withered and faded in hue, but it was unmistakably an orchid of the rarest description.

"It was lying near Batsy," explained Abel. "I drew Mr. Fenton's attention to it at the time, but he scarcely noticed it."

"I will make up for my indifference now," said that gentleman.

"I should have been shown that flower," put in Knapp.

"So you should," acknowledged Sweetwater, "but when the detective instinct is aroused it is hard for a man to be just to his rivals; besides, I was otherwise occupied. I had Miss Page to watch. Happily for me, you had decided that she should not be allowed to leave town till after the inquest, and so my task became easy. This whole day I have spent in sight of Mr. Sutherland's house, and at nightfall I was rewarded by detecting her end a prolonged walk in the garden by a hurried dash into the woods opposite. I followed her and noted carefully all that she did. As she had just seen Frederick Sutherland and Miss Halliday disappear up the road together, she probably felt free to do as she liked, for she walked very directly to the old tree we have just come from, and kneeling down beside it pulled from the hole underneath something which rattled in her hand with that peculiar sound we associate with fresh bank-notes. I had approached her as near as I dared, and was peering around a tree trunk, when she stooped down again and plunged both hands into the hole. She remained in this position so long that I did not know what to make of it. But she rose at last and turned toward home, laughing to herself in a wicked but pleased way that did not tend to make me think any more of her. The moon was shining very brightly by this time and I could readily perceive every detail of her person. She held her hands out before her and shook them more than once as she trod by


Agatha Webb - 20/53

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