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- THE GOLD BAG - 40/45 -
precious newspaper clue," but his manner was indicative only of sadness and grief; he had no cringing air as of a murderer.
"However, I merely skimmed the news about the steamer, so interested was I in they stock market reports. I needn't now tell the details, but I knew that Joseph had a `corner' in X.Y. stock. I was myself a heavy investor in it, and I began to realize that I must see Joseph at once, and learn his intended actions for the next day. If he threw his stock on the market, there would be a drop of perhaps ten points and I should be a large loser, if, indeed, I were not entirely wiped out. So I went from the train straight to my brother's home. When I reached the gate, I saw there was a low light in his office, so I went round that way, instead of to the front door. As I neared the veranda, and went up the steps, I drew from my overcoat pocket the newspaper, and, feeling the gold bag there also, I drew that out, thinking to show it to Joseph. As I look back now, I think it occurred to me that the bag might be Florence's; I had seen her carry one like it. But, as you can readily understand, I gave no coherent thought to the bag, as my mind was full of the business matter. The French window was open, and I stepped inside."
Mr. Crawford paused here, but he gave way to no visible emotion. Ile was like a man with an inexorable duty to perform, and no wish to stop until it was finished.
But truth was stamped unmistakably in every word and every look.
"Only the desk light was turned on, but that gave light enough for me to see my brother sitting dead in his chair. I satisfied myself that he was really dead, and then, in a sort of daze, I looked about the room. Though I felt benumbed and half unconscious, physically, my thoughts worked rapidly. On the desk before him I saw his will."
An irrepressible exclamation from Mr. Randolph was the only sound that greeted this astonishing statement.
"Yes," and Mr. Crawford took a document from the same drawer whence he had taken the pistol; "there is Joseph Crawford's will, leaving all his property to Florence Lloyd."
Mechanically, Mr. Randolph took the paper his client passed to him, and, after a glance at it, laid it on the table in front of him.
"That was my crime," said Philip Crawford solemnly, "and I thank God that I can confess it and make restitution. I must have been suddenly possessed of a devil of greed, for the moment I saw that will, I knew that if I took it away the property would be mine, and I would then run no danger of being ruined by my stock speculations. I had a dim feeling that I should eventually give all, or a large part, of the fortune to Florence, but at the moment I was obsessed by evil, and I--I stole my brother's will."
It was an honest confession of an awful crime. But under the spell of that strong, low voice, and the upright bearing of that impressive figure, we could not, at the moment, condemn; we could only listen and wait.
"Then," the speaker proceeded, "I was seized with the terrific, unreasoning fear that I dare say always besets a malefactor. I had but one thought, to get away, and leave the murder to be discovered by some one else. In a sort of subconscious effort at caution, I took my pistol, lest it prove incriminating evidence against me, but in my mad frenzy of fear, I gave no thought to the gold bag or the newspaper. I came home, secreted the will and the revolver, and ever since I have had no doubts as to the existence of a hell. A thousand times I have been on the point of making this confession, and even had it not been brought about as it has, I must have given way soon. No mortal could stand out long under the pressure of remorse and regret that has been on me this past week. Now, gentlemen, I have told you all. The action you may take in this matter must be of your own choosing. But, except for the stigma of past sin, I stand again before the world, with no unconfessed crime upon my conscience. I stole the will; I have restored it. But my hands are clean of the blood of my brother, and I am now free to add my efforts to yours to find the criminal and avenge the crime."
He had not raised his voice above those low, even tones in which he had started his recital; he had made no bid for leniency of judgment; but, to a man, his three hearers rose and held out friendly hands to him as he finished his story.
"Thank you," he said simply, as he accepted this mute token of our belief in his word. "I am gratified at your kindly attitude, but I realize, none the less, what this will all mean for me. Not only myself but my innocent family must share my disgrace. However, that is part of the wrongdoer's punishment--that results fall not only on his own head, but on the heads and hearts of his loved ones."
"Mr. Goodrich," said Mr. Randolph, "I don't know how you look upon this matter from your official viewpoint, but unless you deem it necessary, I should think that this confidence of Mr. Crawford's need never be given to the public. May we not simply state that the missing will has been found, without any further disclosures?"
"I am not asking for any such consideration," said Philip Crawford. "If you decide upon such a course, it will be entirely of your own volition."
The district attorney hesitated.
"Speaking personally," he said, at last, "I may say that I place full credence in Mr. Crawford's story. I am entirely convinced of the absolute truth of all his statements. But, speaking officially, I may say that in a court of justice witnesses would be required, who could corroborate his words."
"But such witnesses are manifestly impossible to procure," said Mr. Randolph.
"Certainly they are," I agreed, "and I should like to make this suggestion: Believing, as we do, in Mr. Crawford's story, it becomes important testimony in the case. Now, if it were made public, it would lose its importance, for it would set ignorant tongues wagging, and give rise to absurd and untrue theories, and result in blocking our best-meant efforts. So I propose that we keep the matter to ourselves for a time--say a week or a fortnight--keeping Mr. Crawford under surveillance, if need be. Then we can work on the case, with the benefit of the suggestions offered by Mr. Crawford's revelations; and I, for one, think such benefit of immense importance."
"That will do," said Mr. Goodrich, whose troubled face had cleared at my suggestion. "You are quite right, Mr. Burroughs. And the `surveillance' will be a mere empty formality. For a man who has confessed as Mr. Crawford has done, is not going to run away from the consequences of his confession."
"I am not," said Mr. Crawford. "And I am grateful for this respite from unpleasant publicity. I will take my punishment when it comes, but I feel with Mr. Burroughs that more progress can be made if what I have told you is not at once generally known."
"Where now does suspicion point?"
It was Mr. Randolph who spoke. His legal mind had already gone ahead of the present occasion, and was applying the new facts to the old theories.
"To Gregory Hall," said the district attorney.
"Wait," said I. "If Mr. Crawford left the bag and the newspaper in the office, we have no evidence whatever that Mr. Hall came out on that late train."
"Nor did he need to," said Mr. Goodrich, who was thinking rapidly. "He might have come on an earlier train, or, for that matter, not by train at all. He may have come out from town in a motor car."
This was possible; but it did not seem to me probable. A motor car was a conspicuous way for a man to come out from New York and return, if he wished to keep his visit secret. Still, he could have left the car at some distance from the house, and walked the rest of the way.
"Did Mr. Hall know that a revolver was kept in Mr. Crawford's desk drawer?" I asked.
"He did," replied Philip Crawford. "He was present when I took my pistol over to Joseph."
"Then," said Mr. Goodrich, "the case looks to me very serious against Mr. Hall. We have proved his motive, his opportunity, and his method, or, rather, means, of committing the crime. Add to this his unwillingness to tell where he was on Tuesday night, and I see sufficient justification for issuing a warrant for his arrest."
"I don't know," said Philip Crawford, "whether such immediate measures are advisable. I don't want to influence you, Mr. Goodrich, but suppose we see Mr. Hall, and question him a little. Then, if it seems to you best, arrest him."
"That is a good suggestion, Mr. Crawford," said the district attorney. "We can have a sort of court of inquiry by ourselves, and perhaps Mr. Hall will, by his own words, justify or relieve our suspicions."
I went away from Mr. Crawford's house, and went straight to Florence Lloyd's. I did this almost involuntarily. Perhaps if I had stopped to think, I might have realized that it did not devolve upon me to tell her of Philip Crawford's confession. But I wanted to tell her myself, because I hoped that from her manner of hearing the story I could learn something. I still believed that in trying to shield Hall, she had not yet been entirely frank with me, and at any rate, I wanted to be the one to tell her of the important recent discovery.
When I arrived, I found Mr. Porter in the library talking with Florence. At first I hesitated about telling my story before him, and then I remembered that he was one of the best of
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