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- Agatha Webb - 6/53 -
The constable shook his head. Mr. Sutherland was one of those debonair men, whose very mildness makes them impenetrable.
A SPOT ON THE LAWN
The coroner, on leaving the house, was followed by Mr. Sutherland. As the fine figures of the two men appeared on the doorstep, a faint cheer was heard from the two or three favoured persons who were allowed to look through the gate. But to this token of welcome neither gentleman responded by so much as a look, all their attention being engrossed by the sight of the solitary figure of Miss Page, who still held her stand upon the lawn. Motionless as a statue, but with her eyes fixed upon their faces, she awaited their approach. When they were near her she thrust one hand from under her cloak, and pointing to the grass at her feet, said quietly:
They hastened towards her and bent down to examine the spot she indicated.
"What do you find there?" cried Mr. Sutherland, whose eyesight was not good.
"Blood," responded the coroner, plucking up a blade of grass and surveying it closely.
"Blood," echoed Miss Page, with so suggestive a glance that Mr. Sutherland stared at her in amazement, not understanding his own emotion.
"How were you able to discern a stain so nearly imperceptible?" asked the coroner.
"Imperceptible? It is the only thing I see in the whole yard," she retorted, and with a slight bow, which was not without its element of mockery, she turned toward the gate.
"A most unaccountable girl," commented the doctor. "But she is right about these stains. Abel," he called to the man at the gate, "bring a box or barrel here and cover up this spot. I don't want it disturbed by trampling feet."
Abel started to obey, just as the young girl laid her hand on the gate to open it.
"Won't you help me?" she asked. "The crowd is so great they won't let me through."
"Won't they?" The words came from without. "Just slip out as I slip in, and you'll find a place made for you."
Not recognising the voice, she hesitated for a moment, but seeing the gate swaying, she pushed against it just as a young man stepped through the gap. Necessarily they came face to face.
"Ah, it's you," he muttered, giving her a sharp glance.
"I do not know you," she haughtily declared, and slipped by him with such dexterity she was out of the gate before he could respond.
But he only snapped his finger and thumb mockingly at her, and smiled knowingly at Abel, who had lingered to watch the end of this encounter.
"Supple as a willow twig, eh?" he laughed. "Well, I have made whistles out of willows before now, and hallo! where did you get that?"
He was pointing to a rare flower that hung limp and faded from Abel's buttonhole.
"This? Oh, I found it in the house yonder. It was lying on the floor of the inner room, almost under Batsy's skirts. Curious sort of flower. I wonder where she got it?"
The intruder betrayed at once an unaccountable emotion. There was a strange glitter in his light green eyes that made Abel shift rather uneasily on his feet. "Was that before this pretty minx you have just let out came in here with Mr. Sutherland?"
"O yes; before anyone had started for the hill at all. Why, what has this young lady got to do with a flower dropped by Batsy?"
"She? Nothing. Only--and I have never given you bad advice, Abel-- don't let that thing hang any longer from your buttonhole. Put it into an envelope and keep it, and if you don't hear from me again in regard to it, write me out a fool and forget we were ever chums when little shavers."
The man called Abel smiled, took out the flower, and went to cover up the grass as Dr. Talbot had requested. The stranger took his place at the gate, toward which the coroner and Mr. Sutherland were now advancing, with an air that showed his great anxiety to speak with them. He was the musician whom we saw secretly entering the last-mentioned gentleman's house after the departure of the servants.
As the coroner paused before him he spoke. "Dr. Talbot," said he, dropping his eyes, which were apt to betray his thoughts too plainly, "you have often promised that you would give me a job if any matter came up where any nice detective work was wanted. Don't you think the time has come to remember me?"
"You, Sweetwater? I'm afraid the affair is too deep for an inexperienced man's first effort. I shall have to send to Boston for an expert. Another time, Sweetwater, when the complications are less serious."
The young fellow, with a face white as milk, was turning away.
"But you'll let me stay around here?" he pleaded, pausing and giving the other an imploring look.
"O yes," answered the good-natured coroner. "Fenton will have work enough for you and half a dozen others. Go and tell him I sent you."
"Thank you," returned the other, his face suddenly losing its aspect of acute disappointment. "Now I shall see where that flower fell," he murmured.
"BREAKFAST IS SERVED, GENTLEMEN!"
Mr. Sutherland returned home. As he entered the broad hall he met his son, Frederick. There was a look on the young man's face such as he had not seen there in years.
"Father," faltered the youth, "may I have a few words with you?"
The father nodded kindly, though it is likely he would have much preferred his breakfast; and the young man led him into a little sitting-room littered with the faded garlands and other tokens of the preceding night's festivities.
"I have an apology to make," Frederick began, "or rather, I have your forgiveness to ask. For years" he went on, stumbling over his words, though he gave no evidence of a wish to restrain them--"for years I have gone contrariwise to your wishes and caused my mother's heart to ache and you to wish I had never been born to be a curse to you and her."
He had emphasised the word mother, and spoke altogether with force and deep intensity. Mr. Sutherland stood petrified; he had long ago given up this lad as lost.
"I--I wish to change. I wish to be as great a pride to you as I have been a shame and a dishonour. I may not succeed at once; but I am in earnest, and if you will give me your hand--"
The old man's arms were round the young man's shoulders at once.
"Frederick!" he cried, "my Frederick!"
"Do not make me too much ashamed," murmured the youth, very pale and strangely discomposed. "With no excuse for my past, I suffer intolerable apprehension in regard to my future, lest my good intentions should fail or my self-control not hold out. But the knowledge that you are acquainted with my resolve, and regard it with an undeserved sympathy, may suffice to sustain me, and I should certainly be a base poltroon if I should disappoint you or her twice."
He paused, drew himself from his father's arms, and glanced almost solemnly out of the window. "I swear that I will henceforth act as if she were still alive and watching me."
There was strange intensity in his manner. Mr. Sutherland regarded him with amazement. He had seen him in every mood natural to a reckless man, but never in so serious a one, never with a look of awe or purpose in his face. It gave him quite a new idea of Frederick.
"Yes," the young man went on, raising his right hand, but not removing his eyes from the distant prospect on which they were fixed, "I swear that I will henceforth do nothing to discredit her memory. Outwardly and inwardly, I will act as though her eye were still upon me and she could again suffer grief at my failures or thrill with pleasure at my success."
A portrait of Mrs. Sutherland, painted when Frederick was a lad of ten, hung within a few feet of him as he spoke. He did not glance at it, but Mr. Sutherland did, and with a look as if he expected to behold a responsive light beam from those pathetic features.
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