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- THE GOLD BAG - 10/45 -


Then she said slowly, but in an even, unemotional voice: "It was last night at dinner. After dinner was over, my uncle went out, and before he returned I had gone to my room."

"Was there anything unusual about his appearance or demeanor at dinner-time?"

"No; I noticed nothing of the sort."

"Was he troubled or annoyed about any matter, that you know of?"

"He was annoyed about one matter that has been annoying him for some time: that is, my engagement to Mr. Hall."

Apparently this was the answer the coroner had expected, for he nodded his head in a satisfied way.

The jurors, too, exchanged intelligent glances, and I realized that the acquaintances of the Crawfords were well informed as to Miss Lloyd's romance.

"He did not approve of that engagement?" went on the coroner, though he seemed to be stating a fact, rather than asking a question.

"He did not," returned Miss Lloyd, and her color rose as she observed the intense interest manifest among her hearers.

"And the subject was discussed at the dinner table?"

"It was."

"What was the tenor of the conversation?"

"To the effect that I must break the engagement."

"Which you refused to do?"

"I did."

Her cheeks were scarlet now, but a determined note had crept into her voice, and she looked at her betrothed husband with an air of affectionate pride that, it seemed to me, ought to lift any man into the seventh heaven. But I noted Mr. Hall's expression with surprise. Instead of gazing adoringly at this girl who was thus publicly proving her devotion to him, he sat with eyes cast down, and frowning--positively frowning--while his fingers played nervously with his watch-chain.

Surely this case required my closest attention, for I place far more confidence in deductions from facial expression and tones of the voice, than from the discovery of small, inanimate objects.

And if I chose to deduce from facial expressions I had ample scope in the countenances of these two people.

I was particularly anxious not to jump at an unwarrantable conclusion, but the conviction was forced upon me then and there that these two people knew more about the crime than they expected to tell. I certainly did not suspect either of them to be touched with guilt, but I was equally sure that they were not ingenuous in their testimony.

While I knew that they were engaged, having heard it from both of them, I could not think that the course of their love affair was running smoothly. I found myself drifting into idle speculation as to whether this engagement was more desired by one than the other, and if so, by which.

But though I could not quite understand these two, it gave me no trouble to know which I admired more. At the moment, Miss Lloyd seemed to me to represent all that was beautiful, noble and charming in womanhood, while Gregory Hall gave me the impression of a man crafty, selfish and undependable. However, I fully realized that I was theorizing without sufficient data, and determinedly I brought my attention back to the coroner's catalogue of questions.

"Who else heard this conversation, besides yourself, Miss Lloyd?"

"Mrs. Pierce was at the table with us, and the butler was in the room much of the time."

The purport of the coroner's question was obvious. Plainly he meant that she might as well tell the truth in the matter, as her testimony could easily be overthrown or corroborated.

Miss Lloyd deliberately looked at the two persons mentioned. Mrs. Pierce was trembling as with nervous apprehension, but she looked steadily at Miss Lloyd, with eyes full of loyalty and devotion.

And yet Mrs. Pierce was a bit mysterious also. If I could read her face aright, it bore the expression of one who would stand by her friend whatever might come. If she herself had had doubts of Florence Lloyd's integrity, but was determined to suppress them and swear to a belief in her, she would look just as she did now.

On the other hand the butler, Lambert, who stood with folded arms, gazed straight ahead with an inscrutable countenance, but his set lips and square jaw betokened decision.

As I read it, Miss Lloyd knew, as she looked, that should she tell an untruth about that talk at the dinner-table, Mrs. Pierce would repeat and corroborate her story; but Lambert would refute her, and would state veraciously what his master had said. Clearly, it was useless to attempt a false report, and, with a little sigh, Miss Lloyd seemed to resign herself to her fate, and calmly awaited the coroner's further questions.

But though still calm, she had lost her poise to some degree. The lack of responsive glances from Gregory Hall's eyes seemed to perplex her. The eager interest of the six jurymen made her restless and embarrassed. The coroner's abrupt questions frightened her, and I feared her self-enforced calm must sooner or later give way.

And now I noticed that Louis, the valet, was again darting those uncontrollable glances toward her. And as the agitated Frenchman endeavored to control his own countenance, I chanced to observe that the pretty-faced maid I had noticed before, was staring fixedly at Louis. Surely there were wheels within wheels, and the complications of this matter were not to be solved by the simple questions of the coroner. But of course this preliminary examination was necessary, and it was from this that I must learn the main story, and endeavor to find out the secrets afterward.

"What was your uncle's response when you refused to break your engagement to Mr. Hall?" was the next inquiry.

Again Miss Lloyd was silent for a moment, while she directed her gaze successively at several individuals. This time she favored Mr. Randolph, who was Mr. Crawford's lawyer, and Philip Crawford, the dead man's brother. After looking in turn at these two, and glancing for a moment at Philip Crawford's son, who sat by his side, she said, in a lower voice than she had before used

"He said he would change his will, and leave none of his fortune to me."

"His will, then, has been made in your favor?"

"Yes; he has always told me I was to be sole heiress to his estate, except for some comparatively small bequests."

"Did he ever threaten this proceeding before?"

"He had hinted it, but not so definitely."

"Did Mr. Hall know of Mr. Crawford's objection to his suit?"

"He did."

"Did he know of your uncle's hints of disinheritance?"

"He did."

"What was his attitude in the matter?"

Florence Lloyd looked proudly at her lover.

"The same as mine," she said. "We both regretted my uncle's protest, but we had no intention of letting it stand in the way of our happiness."

Still Gregory Hall did not look at his fiancee. He sat motionless, preoccupied, and seemingly lost in deep thought, oblivious to all that was going on.

Whether his absence from Sedgwick at the time of the murder made him feel that he was in no way implicated, and so the inquiry held no interest for him; or whether he was looking ahead and wondering whither these vital questions were leading Florence Lloyd, I had no means of knowing. Certainly, he was a man of most impassive demeanor and marvellous self-control.

"Then, in effect, you defied your uncle?"

"In effect, I suppose I did; but not in so many words. I always tried to urge him to see the matter in a different light."

"What was his objection to Mr. Hall as your husband?"

"Must I answer that?"

"Yes; I think so; as I must have a clear understanding of the whole affair."

"Well, then, he told me that he had no objection to Mr. Hall, personally. But he wished me to make what he called a more brilliant alliance. He wanted me to marry a man of greater wealth and social position."

The scorn in Miss Lloyd's voice for her uncle's ambitions was so unmistakable that it made her whole answer seem a compliment to Mr. Hall, rather than the reverse. It implied that the sterling worth of the young secretary was far more to be desired than the riches and rank advocated by her uncle. This time Gregory Hall looked at the speaker with a faint smile, that showed


THE GOLD BAG - 10/45

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