Joseph and His Friend
THE work at Coventry Forge was now so well organized that Philip could easily give the most of his time to Joseph’s vindication. He had secured the services of an excellent country lawyer, but he also relied much Upon the assistance of two persons, — his sister Madeline and Elwood Withers : Madeline, from her rapid, clear insight, her shrewd interpretation of circumstances; and Elwood as an active, untiring practical agent.
The latter, according to agreement, had ridden up from his section of the railway, and was awaiting Philip when he returned home.
Philip gave them the history of the day, — this time frankly, with all the signs and indications which he had so carefully kept from Joseph’s knowledge. Both looked aghast; and Elwood bent an ivory paper-cutter so suddenly in his hands that it snapped in twain. He colored like a girl.
“ It serves me right,” he said. “ Whenever my hands are idle, Satan finds mischief for ’em,— as the spelling-book says. But just so the people bend and twist Joseph Asten’s character, and just so unexpectedly his life may snap in their hands ! ”
“ Diiavertite omen ! ” Madeline cried. “ Put down the pieces, Mr. Withers ! You frighten me.”
“ No, it is reversed ! ” said Philip. “Just so Joseph’s friends will snap this chain of circumstances. If you begin to be superstitious, I must look out for other aids. The tracing of the poison is a more fortunate step than I hoped, at the start. I cannot at all guess to what it may lead, but there is a point beyond which even the most malignant fate has no further power over an innocent man. Thus far we have met nothing but hostile circumstances : there seems to be more than Chance in the game, and I have an idea that the finding of this paper will break the evil spell. Come now, Madeline, and you, Withers, give me your guesses as to what my discovery shall be to-morrow ! ”
After a pause, Madeline answered : “It must have been purchased — perhaps even by Mr. Asten — for rats or mice ; and she may have swallowed the drug in a fit of passion.”
“I think,” said Elwood, “ that she bought it for the purpose of poisoning Joseph ! Then, may be, the glasses were changed, as I ’ve heard tell of a man whose wife changed his coffee-cup because there was a fly in it, giving him hers, and thereby innocently killed him when he meant to ha’ killed her.”
“ Ha ! ” Philip cried ; “ the most incredible things, apparently, are sometimes the most natural! I had not thought of this explanation.”
“ O Philip!” said Madeline, “that would be a new horror ! Pray, let us not think of it: indeed, indeed, we must not guess any more.”
Philip strove to put the idea from his mind: he feared lest it might warp his judgment and mislead him in investigations which it required a cool, sharp intellect to prosecute. But the idea would not stay away : it haunted him precisely on account of its enormity, and he rode again to Magnolia the next day with a foreboding sense of some tragic secret about to be revealed.
But he never could have anticipated the actual revelation.
There was no difficulty in finding Ziba Linthicum’s drug-store. The proprietor was a lank, thin-faced man, with projecting, near-sighted eyes, and an exceedingly prim, pursed mouth. His words, uttered in the close, wiry twang peculiar to Southern Pennsylvania, seemed to give him a positive relish : one could fancy that his mouth watered slightly as he spoke. His long, lean lips had a settled smirk at the corner, and his skin was drawn so tightly over his broad, concave chinbone that it shone, as if polished around the edges.
He was waiting upon a little girl when Philip entered ; but he looked up from his scales, bowed, smiled and said : “ In a moment, if you please.”
Philip leaned upon the glass-case, apparently absorbed in the contemplation of the various soaps and perfumes under his eyes, but thinking only of the paper in his pocket-book.
“ Something in this line, perhaps ?”
Mr. Linthicum, with a still broader smile, began to enumerate : “ These are from the Society Hygiennick — ”
“ No,” said Philip, “ my business is especially private. I take it for granted that you have many little confidential matters intrusted to you.”
“ O, undoubtedly, sir! Quite as much so as a physician.”
“ You are aware, also, that mistakes sometimes occur in making up prescriptions, or in using them afterwards ?”
“ Not by me, I should hope. I keep a record of every dangerous ingredient which goes out of my hands.”
“Ah!” Philip exclaimed. Then he paused, uncertain how much to confide to Mr. Linthicunvs discretion. But, on mentioning his name and residence, he found that both himself and Mr. Hopeton were known — and favorably, it seemed — to the apothecary. He knew the class of men to which the latter belonged, — prim, fussy, harmlessly vain persons, yet who take as good care of their consciences as their cravats and shirt-bosoms. He produced the paper without further delay,
“ That was bought here, certainly,” said Mr. Linthicum. “The word ‘Arsenic ’ is written in my hand. The date when, and the person by whom, it was purchased, must be in my register. Will you go over it with me ?”
He took a volume from a drawer, and beginning at the last entry, they went slowly backward over the names, the apothecary saying : “ This is confidential ; I rely upon your seeing without remembering.”
They had not gone back more than two or three weeks before Philip came upon a name that made his heart stand still. There was a record in a single line :
He waited a few seconds, until he felt sure of his voice. Then he asked : “ Do you happen to know Miss Henderson ? ”
“ Not at all ! A perfect stranger.”
“ Can you, perhaps, remember her appearance ? ”
“ Let me see,” said Mr. Linthicum, biting the end of his forefinger ; “ that must have been the veiled lady. The date corresponds. Yes, I feel sure of it, as all the other poison customers are known to me.”
“ Pray describe her then ! ” Philip exclaimed.
“ Really, I fear that I cannot. Dressed in black, I think ; but I will not be positive. A soft, agreeable voice, I am sure.”
“ Was she alone ? Or was any one else present ? ”
“Now, I do recall one thing,” the apothecary answered. “ There was an agent of a wholesale city firm — a travelling agent, you understand — trying to persuade me into an order on his house. He stepped on one side as she came to the counter, and he perhaps saw her face more distinctly, for he laughed as she left, and said something about a handsome girl putting her lovers out of their misery.”
But Mr. Linthicum could remember neither the name of the agent nor that of the firm which he represented. All Philip’s questioning elicited no further particulars, and he was obliged to be satisfied with the record of the day and probable hour of the purchase, and with the apothecary’s promise of the strictest secrecy.
He rode immediately home, and after a hasty consultation with Madeline, remounted his horse and set out to find Lucy Henderson. He was fortunate enough to meet her on the highway, on her way to call upon a neighbor. Springing from his horse he walked beside her, and announced his discovery at once.
Lucy remembered the day when she had accompanied Julia to Magnolia, during Joseph’s absence from home. The time of the day, also, corresponded to that given by the apothecary.
“ Did you visit the drug-store ? ” Philip asked.
“ No,”she answered, “and I did not know that Julia had. I paid two or three visits to acquaintances, while she did her shopping, as she told me.”
“ Then, try and remember, not only the order of those visits, but the time occupied by each,” said Philip. “ Write to your friends, and ask them to refresh their memories. It has become an important point, for—the poison was purchased in your name ! ”
“Impossible!” Lucy cried. She gazed at Philip with such amazement that her innocence was then fixed in his mind, if it had not been so before.
“ Yes, I say ‘ impossible ! ’ too,” he answered. “ There is only one explanation. Julia Asten gave your name instead of her own, when she purchased it.”
“Oh ! ” Lucy’s voice sounded like a hopeless personal protest against the collective falsehood and wickedness of the world.
“ I have another chance to reach the truth,” said Philip. “ I shall find the stranger, — the travelling agent, — if it obliges me to summon every such agent of every wholesale drug house in the city ! It is at least a positive fortune that we have made this discovery now.”
He looked at his watch. “ I have just time to catch the evening train,” he said, hurriedly, “but I should like to send a message to Elwood Withers. If you pass through that wood on the right, you will see the track just below you. It is not more than half a mile from here ; and you are almost sure to find him at or near the unfinished tunnel. Tell him to see Rachel Miller, and if anything further has been found, to inform my sister Madeline at once. That is all. I make no apology for imposing the service on you: good by, and keep up your faith, Lucy? ”
He pressed her hand, sprang into the saddle, and cantered briskly away.
Lucy, infected by his haste, crossed the field, struggled through the undergrowth of the wild belt of wood, and descended to the railway track, without giving herself time to think. She met a workman near the mouth of the tunnel, and not daring to venture in, sent by him a summons to Elwood. It was not many minutes before he appeared.
“Something has happened, Lucy?” he exclaimed.
“ Philip thinks he has made a discovery,” she answered, “ and I come to you as his messenger.” She then repeated Philip’s words.
“Is that all ? ” Elwood asked, scanning her face anxiously. “ You do not seem quite like your real self, Lucy.”
Sim sat down upon the bank. “ I am out of breath,” she said ; “ I must have walked faster than I thought.”
“ Wait a minute ! ” said he. He ran up the track, to where a little side-glen crossed it, sprang down among the bushes, and presently reappeared with a tin cup, full of cold, pure spring water.
The draught seemed to revive her at once. “It is not all, Elwood,” she said. “Joseph is not the only one, now, who is implicated by the same circumstances.”
“Who else?— not Philip Held ! ”
“No,” she answered, very quietly, “it is a woman. Her name is Lucy Henderson.”
Before Elwood could speak, she told him all that she had heard from Philip. He could scarcely bring his mind to accept its truth.
“ O, the — ” he began; “but, no! I will keep the words to myself. There is something deeper in this than any of us has yet looked for ! Depend upon it, Lucy, she had a plan in getting you there ! ”
Lucy was silent. She fancied she knew Julia’s plan already.
“Did she mean to poison Joseph herself, and throw the suspicion on you ? And now by her own death, after all, she accomplishes her chief end ! It is a hellish tangle, whichever way I look; but they say that the truth will sooner or later put down any amount of lies, and so it must be, here. We must get at the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth ! Do you not say so, Lucy ? ”
“ Yes ! ” she answered firmly, looking him in the face.
“Ay, though all should come to light! We can’t tell what it may be necessary to say. They may go to work, and unravel Joseph’s life, and yours, and mine, and hold up the stuff for everybody to look at. Well, let ’em ! say I. If there are dark streaks in mine, I guess they’ll look tolerably fair beside that one black heart. We ’re here alone, Lucy ; there may not be a chance to say it soon again, so I ’ll say now, that if need comes to publish what I said to you one night a year ago, — to publish it for Joseph’s sake, or your sake, — don’t keep back a single word ! The worst would be, some men or women might think me conceited.”
“ No, Elwood ! ” she exclaimed : “that reproach would fall on me ! You once offered me your help, and I — I fear I spurned it; but I will take it now. Nay, I beg you to offer it to me again, and I will accept it with gratitude ! ”
She rose, and stretched out her hand.
Elwood clasped it tenderly, held it a moment, and seemed about to speak. But although his lips parted, and there was a movement of the muscles of his throat, he did not utter a word. In another moment he turned, walked a few yards up the track, and then came back to her.
“ No one could mistake you for Julia Asten,” he said. “ You are at least half a head taller than she was. Your voice is not at all the same : the apothecary will surely notice the difference ! Then an alibi, as they call it, can be proved.”
“ So Philip Held thought. But if my friends should not remember the exact time, — what should I then do ? ”
“ Lucy, don’t ask yourself the question, now ! It seems to me that the case stands this way : one evil woman has made a trap, fallen into it herself, and taken the secret of its make away with her. There is nothing more to be invented, and so we hold all that we gain. While we are mining, where’s the counter-mining to come from ? Who is to lie us out of our truth ? There is n’t much to stand on yet, I grant; but another step — the least little thing — may give us all the ground we want! ”
He spoke so firmly and cheerily, that Lucy’s despondent feeling was charmed away. Besides, nothing could have touched her more than Elwood’s heroic self-control. After the miserable revelation which Philip had made, it was unspeakably refreshing to be brought into contact with a nature so sound and sweet and strong. When he had led her by an easier path up the hill, and they had parted at the end of the lane leading to her father’s house, she felt, as never before, the comfort of relying so wholly on a faithful man friend.
Elwood took his horse and rode to the Asten farm. Joseph’s face brightened at his appearance, and they talked, as of old, avoiding the dark year that lay between their past intimacy and its revival. As in Philip’s case, it was difficult to communicate secretly with Rachel Miller; but Elwood, with great patience, succeeded in looking his wish to speak with her, and uniting her efforts with his own. She adroitly turned the conversation upon a geological work which Joseph had been reading.
“ I’ve been looking into the subject myself,” Elwood said. “Would you let me see the book : it may be the thing I want.”
“ It is on the book-shelf in your bedroom, Joseph,” Rachel remarked.
There was time enough for Elwood to declare his business, and for Rachel to answer: “ Mr. Held said every scrap, and it is but a scrap, with half a name on it. I found it behind and mostly under the lower drawer in the same box. I ’ll get it before you leave, and give it to you when we shake hands. Be careful, tor he may make something out of it, after all. Tell him there is n’t a stitch in a dress but I’ve examined, and a mortal work it was ! ”
It was late before Elwood could leave ; nevertheless, he rode to Coventry Forge. The scrap of paper had been successfully transferred, and his pressing duty was to deliver it into the hands of Madeline Held. He found her anxiously waiting, in accordance with Philip’s instructions.
When they looked at the paper, it seemed, truly, to be a worthless fragment. It had the character, also, of an apothecary’s label, but the only letters remaining were those forming the end of the name, apparently—ers, and a short distance under them—Sts.
“ ‘ Behind and mostly under the lower drawer’ of her jewel-case,” said Madeline, musingly. “ I think I might guess how it came there. She had seen the label, which had probably been forgotten, and then, as she supposed, had snatched it away and destroyed it, without noticing that this piece, caught behind the drawer, had been torn off. But there is no evidence — and perhaps none can be had — that the paper contained poison.”
“ Can you make anything out of the letters ? ” Elwood asked.
“ The ' Sts ’ certainly means ‘ Streets ' — now, I see! It is a corner house ! This makes the place a little more easy to be identified. If Philip cannot find it, I am sure a detective can. I will write to him at once.”
“ Then I ’ll wait and ride to the office with the letter,” said Elwood.
Madeline rose, and commenced walking up and down the room : she appeared to be suddenly and unusually excited.
“ I have a new suspicion,” she said, at last. “ Perhaps I am in too much of a hurry to make conjectures, because Philip thinks I have a talent for it, — and yet, this grows upon me every minute! I hope—oh, I hope I am right ! ”
She spoke with so much energy that Elwood began to share her excitement without knowing its cause. She noticed the eager, waiting expression of his face.
“ You must really pardon me, Mr. Withers. I believe I was talking to myself rather than to you ; I will not mention my fancy until Philip decides whether it is worth acting upon. There will be no harm if each of us finds a different clew, and follows it. Philip will hardly leave the city to-morrow. I shall not write, but go down with the first train in the morning ! ”
Elwood took his leave, feeling hopeful, and yet very restless.
It was a long while before Madeline encountered Philip. He was busily employed in carrying out his plan of tracing the travelling agent, —-not yet successful, but sanguine of success. He examined the scrap of paper which Madeline brought, listened to her reasons for the new suspicion which had crossed her mind, and compared them with the little evidence already collected.
“ Do not let us depend too seriously on this,” he then said ; “there is about an even chance that you are right. We will keep it as an additional and independent test, but we dare not lose sight of the fact that the law will assume Joseph’s guilt, and we must establish his innocence, first of all. Nay, if we can simply prove that Julia, and not Lucy, purchased the poison, we shall save both ! But, at the same time, I will try to find this —ers, who lives in a corner-house, and I will have a talk with old Blessing this very evening.”
“ Why not go now ? ”
“ Patience, you impetuous girl ! I mean to take no step without working out every possible result, in advance. If I were not here, in the city, I would consult with Mr. Pinkerton, before proceeding further. Now I shall take you to the train : you must return to Coventry, and watch and wait there.”
When Philip called at the Blessing mansion, in the evening, he found only Mrs. Blessing at home. She was rigid and dreary in her mourning, and her reception of him was almost repellent in its stiff formality.
“ Mr. Blessing is absent,” she explained, inviting Philip to a seat by a wave of her hand. “ His own interests rendered a trip to the Oil Regions imperative ; it is a mental distraction which I do not grudge him. This is a cheerless household, sir, — one daughter gone forever, and another about to leave us. How does Mr. Asten bear his loss ? ”
Philip, thereupon, as briefly and forcibly as possible, related all that had occurred. “ I wished to consult Mr. Blessing,” he concluded, “ in relation to the possibility of his being able to furnish any testimony on his son-inlaw’s side. Perhaps you, also — ”
“ No ! ” she interrupted, “ I know nothing whatever ! If the trial (which I think most unnecessary and shocking) gets into the city papers, it will be a terrible scandal for us. When will it come on, did you say ? ”
“ In two or three weeks.”
“ There will be barely time ! ” she cried.
“ For that reason,” said he, “ I wish to secure the evidence at once. All the preparations for the defence must be completed within that time.”
“ Clementina,” Mrs. Blessing continued, without heeding his words, “will be married about the first of October. Mr. Spelter has been desirous of making a bridal tour to Europe. She did not favor the plan ; but it seems to me like an interposition of Heaven ! ”
Philip rose, too disgusted to speak. He bowed in silence, and left the house.
As the day of trial drew nigh, the anxiety and activity of Joseph’s friends increased, so that even the quiet atmosphere wherein he lived was disturbed by it. He could not help knowing that they were engaged in collecting evidence, but inasmuch as Philip always said, “ You can do nothing ! ” he forced himself to wait with such patience as was possible. Rachel Miller, who had partly taken the hired man, Dennis, into her confidence, hermetically sealed the house to the gossip of the neighborhood; but her greatest triumph was in concealing her alarm, as the days rolled by and the mystery was not yet unravelled.
There was not much division of opinion in the neighborhood, however. The growing discord between husband and wife had not been generally remarked : they were looked upon as a loving and satisfied couple. Joseph’s integrity of character was acknowledged, and, even had it been doubted, the people saw no motive for crime. His action in demanding a legal investigation also operated favorably upon public opinion. Even Mr. Chaffinch, with all his belief in the natural depravity of the human heart, and his experience of Joseph’s hardness to conviction, was forced, in his own mind, to speak him free of the charge. Had he known all the circumstances, which Philip had detected, and was trying to conceal until he could present them with their explanation, he might have thought differently, and many of the neighbors with him.
The quiet and seclusion were beneficial to Joseph. His mind became calmer and clearer; he was able to survey the past without passion, and to contemplate his own faults with a sense of wholesome bitterness rather than pain. The approaching trial was not a pleasant thing to anticipate, but the worst which he foresaw was the probability of so much of his private life being laid bare to the world. Here, again, his own words returned to condemn him. Had he not said to Lucy, on the morning of that fatal day, “ I am sick of masks ! ” Had he not threatened to follow Julia with his own miserable story ? The system of checks which restrain impulse, and the whirl of currents and counter-currents which govern a man’s movement through life, began to arrange themselves in his mind. True wisdom, he now felt, lay in understanding these, and so employing them as to reach individual liberty of action through law and not outside of it. He had been shallow and reckless, even in his good impulses : it was now time to endure quietly for a season what their effect had been.
The day previous to the trial Philip had a long consultation with Mr. Pinkerton. He had been so far successful that the name and whereabouts of the travelling agent had been discovered : the latter had been summoned, but he could not possibly arrive before the next day. Philip had also seen Mr. Blessing, who entered with great readiness into his plans, promised his assistance in ascertaining the truth of Madeline’s suspicion, and would give his testimony as soon as he could return from New York, whither he had gone to say farewell to Mrs. Clementina Spelter, before her departure for Paris on a bridal journey. These were the two principal witnesses for the defence, and it was yet uncertain what kind of testimony they would be able to give.
“ We must finish the other witnesses,” Mr. Pinkerton said, “(who, in spite of all we can do, will strengthen the prosecution), by the time you reach here. If Spenham gives us trouble, as I am inclined to suspect, we cannot well spare you the first day, but I suppose it cannot be helped.”
“ I will send a telegram to Blessing, in New York, to make sure,” Philip answered. “ Byle and Glanders answer for their agent, and I can try him with the photograph on the way out. If that succeeds, Blessing’s failure will be of less consequence.”
“ If, only, they do not reach Linthicum in the mean time ! I will prolong the impanelling of the jury, and use every other liberty of delay allowed me ; yet I have to be cautious. This is Spenham’s first important case, and he is ambitious to make capital.”
Mr. Spenham was the prosecuting attorney, who had just been elected to his first term of service in that capacity. He had some shrewdness as a criminal lawyer, and a great deal of experience of the subterranean channels of party politics. This latter acquirement, in fact, was the secret of his election, for he was known to be coarse, unscrupulous, and offensive. Mr. Pinkerton was able to foresee his probable line of attack, and was especially anxious, for that reason, to introduce testimony which would shorten the trial.
When the hour came, and Joseph found that Philip was inevitably absent, the strength he had summoned to his heart seemed to waver for an instant. All his other friends were present, however: Lucy Henderson and Madeline came with the Hopetons, and Elwood Withers stood by his side so boldly and proudly that he soon recovered his composure.
The court-room was crowded, not only by the idlers of the town, but also many neighbors from the country. They were grave and silent, and Joseph’s appearance in the place allotted to the accused seemed to impress them painfully. The preliminaries occupied some time, and it was nearly noon before the first witness was called.
This was the physician. He stated, in a clear, business-like manner, the condition in which he found Julia, his discovery of the poison, and the unusual character of its operation, adding his opinion that the latter was owing to a long-continued nervous tension, culminating in hysterical excitement. Mr. Spenham questioned him very closely as to Joseph’s demeanor, and his expressions before and after the death. The point of attack which he selected was Julia’s exclamation : “Joseph, I will try to be different, but I must live for that! ”
“ These words,” he said, “ indicate a previous threat on the part of the accused. His helpless victim — ”
Mr. Pinkerton protested against the epithet. But his antagonist found numberless ways of seeming to take Joseph’s guilt for granted, and thus gradually to mould the pliant minds of a not very intelligent jury. The physician was subjected to a rigid cross-examination, in the course of which he was led to state that he, himself, had first advised that the fact of the poisoning should not be mentioned until after the funeral. The onus of the secrecy was thus removed from Joseph, and this was a point gained.
The next witness was the servant-woman, who had been present in the hall when Julia fell upon the landing of the staircase. She had heard the words, " Go away ! you have killed me ! ” spoken in a shrill, excited voice. She had already guessed that something was wrong between the two. Mr. Asten came home, looking quite wild and strange; he did n’t seem to speak in his usual voice ; he walked about in a restless way, and then went into the garden. Miss Lucy followed him and then Mrs. Asten ; but in a little while she came back, with her dress torn and her arms scratched ; she, the witness, noticed this as Mrs. Asten passed through the hall, tottering as she went and with her fists shut tight. Then Mr. Asten went up stairs to her bedroom ; heard them speaking, but not the words ; said to Sally, who was in the kitchen, ‘It’s a real tiff and no mistake,’ and Sally remarked, ' They ’re not used to each other yet, as they will be in a year or two.’ ”
The witness was with difficulty kept to a direct narrative. She had told the tale so often that every particular had its fixed phrases of description, and all the questioning on both sides called forth only repetitions. Joseph listened with a calm, patient air ; nothing had yet occurred for which he was not prepared. The spectators, however, began to be deeply interested, and a sharp observer might have noticed that they were already taking sides.
Mr. Pinkerton soon detected that, although the woman’s statements told against Joseph, she possessed no friendly feeling for Julia. He endeavored to make the most of this ; but it was not much.
When Lucy Henderson’s name was called, there was a stir of curiosity in the audience. They knew that the conference in the garden, from which Julia had returned in such an excited condition, must now be described. Mr. Spenham pricked up his red ears, ran his hand through his stubby hair, and , prepared himself for battle ; while Mr. Pinkerton, already in possession of all the facts, felt concerned only regarding the manner in which Lucy might give them. This was a case where so much depended on the impression produced by the individual!
By the time Lucy was sworn she appeared to be entirely composed ; her face was slightly pale, but calm, and her voice steady. Mrs. Hopeton and Madeline Held sat near her, and Elwood Withers, leaning against a high railing, was nearly opposite.
There was profound silence as she began, and the interest increased as she approached the time of Joseph’s return. She described his appearance, repeated the words she had heard, reproduced the scene in her own chamber, and so came, step by step, to the interview in the garden. The trying nature of her task now became evident. She spoke slowly, and with longer pauses ; but whichever way she turned, in her thought, the inexorable necessity of the whole truth stared her in the face.
“ Must I repeat everything ? ” she asked. “ I am not sure of recollecting the words precisely as they were spoken.”
“ You can certainly give the substance,” said Mr. Spenham. " And be careful that you omit nothing: you are on your oath, and you ought to know what that means.”
His words were loud and harsh. Lucy looked at the impassive face of the judge, at Elwood’s earnest features, at the attentive jurymen, and went on.
When she came to Joseph’s expression of the love that might have been possible she gave also his words : “ Had there been, I should have darkened the life of a friend.”
“ Ha ! ” exclaimed Mr. Spenham, “ we are coming upon the motive of the murder.”
Again Mr. Pinkerton protested, and was sustained by the court.
“ Tell the jury,” said Mr. Spenham, “ whether there had been any interchange of such expressions between you and the accused previous to his marriage ? ”
This question was objected to, but the objection was overruled.
“ None whatever ! ” was the answer.
Julia’s sudden appearance, the accusation she made, and the manner in which Joseph met it, seemed to turn the current of sympathy the other way. Lucy’s recollection of this scene was very clear and complete: had she wished it, she could not have forgotten a word or a look. In spite of Mr. Spenham’s angry objections, she was allowed to go on and relate the conversation between Joseph and herself after Julia’s return to the house. Mr. Pinkerton made the best use of this portion of the evidence, and it seemed that his side was strengthened, in spite of all unfavorable appearances.
“ This is not all! ” exclaimed the prosecuting attorney. “ A married man does not make a declaration of love — ”
“ Of a past possible love,” Mr. Pinkerton interrupted,
“A very fine hair-splitting indeed! A ‘ possible ’ love and a ‘ possible ’ return, followed by a ‘possible’ murder and a ‘possible’ remarriage! Our duty is to remove possibilities and establish facts. The question is, Was there no previous affection between the witness and the accused ? This is necessary to prove a motive. I ask then the woman—I beg pardon, the lady — what were her sentiments towards the husband of the poisoned before his marriage, at the time of the conversation in the garden, and now ?”
Lucy started, and could not answer. Mr. Pinkerton came to her aid. He protested strongly against such a question, though he felt that there was equal danger in answering it or leaving it unanswered. A portion of the spectators, sympathizing with Lucy, felt indignant at Mr. Spenham’s demand; another portion, hungry for the most private and intimate knowledge of all the parties concerned, eagerly hoped that it would be acceded to.
Lucy half turned, so that she caught a glimpse of Joseph. He was calm, but his eyes expressed a sympathetic trouble. Then she felt her gaze drawn to Elwood, who had become a shade paler, and who met her eyes with a deep, inscrutable expression. Was he thinking of his recent words to her, — “ If need comes to publish what I said to you, don’t keep back a single word ! ” She felt sure of it, for all that he said was in her mind. Her decision was made : for truth’s sake, and under the eye of God, she would speak. Having so resolved, she shut her mind to all else, for she needed the greatest strength of either woman or man.
The judge had decided that she was not obliged to answer the question. There was a murmur, here and there, among the spectators.
“ Then I will use my freedom of choice,” said Lucy, in a firm voice, “and answer it.”
She kept her eyes on Elwood as she spoke, and compelled him to face her. She seemed to forget judge, jury, and the curious public, and to speak only to his ear.
“ I am here to tell the whole truth, God helping me,” she said. “ I do not know how what I am required to say can touch the question of Joseph Asten’s guilt or innocence ; but I cannot pause to consider that. It is not easy for a woman to lay bare her secret heart to the world; I would like to think that every man who hears me has a wife, a sister, or a beloved girl of his choice, and that he will try to understand my heart through his knowledge of hers. I did cherish a tenderness which might have been love — I cannot tell — for Joseph Asten before his betrothal. I admit that his marriage was a grief to me at the time, for, while I had not suffered myself to feel any hope, I could not keep the feeling of disappointment out of my heart. It was both my blame and shame: I wrestled with it, and with God’s help I overcame it! ”
There was a simple pathos in Lucy’s voice, which pierced directly to the hearts of her hearers. She stood before them, as pure as Godiva in her helpful nakedness. She saw on Elwood’s cheek the blush which did not visit hers, and the sparkle of an unconscious tear. Joseph had hidden his face in his hands for a moment, but now looked up with a sadness which no man there could misinterpret.
Lucy had paused, as if waiting to be questioned, but the effect of her words had been so powerful and unexpected that Mr. Spenham was not quite ready. She went on : —
“ When I say that I overcame it, I think I have answered everything. I went to him in the garden against my own wish, because his wife begged me with tears and sobs to intercede for her: I could not guess that he had ever thought of me otherwise than as a friend. I attributed his expressions to his disappointment in marriage, and pardoned him when he asked me to forget them — ”
“ O, no doubt ! ” Mr. Spenham interrupted, looking at the jury; “ after all we have heard, they could not have been very disagreeable ! ”
Elwood made a rapid step forward ; then, recollecting himself, resumed his position against the railing. Very few persons noticed the movement.
“ They were very unwelcome,” Lucy replied: “ under any other circumstances, it would not have been easy to forgive them.”
“And this former — ‘tenderness,’ I think you called it,” Mr. Spenham persisted, “ — do you mean to say that you feel nothing of it at present? ”
There was a murmur of indignation all over the room. If there is anything utterly incomprehensible to a vulgar nature, it is the natural delicacy of feeling towards women, which is rarely wanting even to the roughest and most ignorant men. The prosecution had damaged itself, and now the popular sympathy was wholly and strongly with Lucy.
“ I have already answered that question,” she said. “ For the holy sake of truth, and of my own free will, I have opened my heart. I did it, believing that a woman’s first affection is pure, and would be respected; I did it, hoping that it might serve the cause of an innocent man : but now, since it has brought upon me doubt and insult, I shall avail myself of the liberty granted to me by the judge, and speak no word more ! ”
The spectators broke into applause, which the judge did not immediately check. Lucy’s strength suddenly left her; she dropped into her seat and burst into tears.
“ I have no further question to ask the witness,” said Mr. Pinkerton.
Mr. Spenham inwardly cursed himself for his blunder, — not for his vulgarity, for of that he was sublimely unconscious, —and was only too ready to be relieved from Lucy’s presence.
She rose to leave the court, Mrs. Hopeton accompanying her; but Elwood Withers was already at her side, and she leaned upon his arm as they passed through the crowd. The people fell back to make a way, and not a few whispered some honest word of encouragement. Elwood breathed heavily, and the veins on his forehead were swollen.
“Not a word was spoken until they reached the hotel. Then Lucy, taking Elwood’s hand, said: “Thank you, true, dear friend ! I can say no more now. Go back, for Joseph’s sake, and when the day is over come here and tell me, if you can, that I have not injured him in trying to help him.”
When Elwood returned to the courtroom, Rachel Miller was on the witness stand. Her testimony confirmed the interpretation of Julia’s character which had been suggested by Lucy Henderson’s. The sweet, amiable, suffering wife began to recede into the background, and the cold, false, selfish wife to take her place.
All Mr. Spenham’s cross-examination failed to give the prosecution any support until he asked the question : —
“ Have you discovered nothing whatever, since your return to the house, which will throw any light upon Mrs. Asten’s death ? ”
Mr. Pinkerton, Elwood, and Madeline all felt that the critical moment had come. Philip’s absence threatened to be a serious misfortune.
“ Yes,” Rachel Miller answered.
“Ah!” exclaimed the prosecuting attorney, rubbing his hair; “what was it ? ”
“ The paper in which the arsenic was put up.”
“ Will you produce that paper? ” he eagerly asked.
“ I cannot, now,” said Rachel; “ I gave it to Mr. Philip Held, so that he might find out something more.”
Joseph listened with a keen, undisguised interest. After the first feeling of surprise that such an important event had been kept from his knowledge, his confidence in Philip’s judgment reassured him.
“ Has Mr. Philip Held destroyed that paper ? ” Mr. Spenham asked.
“ He retains it, and will produce it before this court to-morrow,” Mr. Pinkerton replied.
“ Was there any mark, or label, upon it, which indicated the place where the poison had been procured ? ”
“ Yes,” said Rachel Miller.
“ State what it was.”
“ Ziba Linthicum’s drug-store. No. 77 Alain Street, Alagnolia,” she replied, as if the label were before her eyes.
“Let Ziba Linthicum be summoned at once ! ” Mr. Spenham cried.
Mr. Pinkerton, however, arose and stated that the apothecary’s testimony required that of another person who was present when the poison was purchased. This other person had been absent in a distant part of the country, but had been summoned, and would arrive, in company with Mr. Philip Held, on the following morning. He begged that Mr. Linthicum’s evidence might be postponed until then, when he believed that the mystery attending the poisoning would be wholly explained.
Mr. Spenham violently objected, but he again made the mistake of speaking for nearly half an hour on the subject, — an indiscretion into which he was led by his confirmed political habits. By the time the question was decided, and in favor of the defence, the afternoon was well advanced, and the court adjourned until the next day.
ELWOOD accompanied Joseph to the prison, where he was obliged to spend the night, and was allowed to remain with him until Mr. Pinkerton (who was endeavoring to reach Philip by telegraph) should arrive.
Owing to Rachel Miller’s forethought, the bare room was sufficiently furnished. There was a clean bed, a chair or two, and a table upon which stood a basket of provisions.
“ I suppose I must eat,” said Joseph, “as a matter of duty. If you will sit down and join me, Elwood, I will try.”
“ If I could have that fellow, Spenham, by the throat, for a minute,” Elwood growled, “it would give me a good appetite. But I will take my share, as it is : I never can think rightly, when I ’m hungry. Why, there is enough for a picnic! sandwiches, cold chicken, pickles, cakes, cheese, and two bottles of coffee, as I live ! Just think that we ’re in a hotel, Joseph ! It’s all in one’s notion, leastways for a single night; for you can go where you like to-morrow ! ”
“ I hope so,” said Joseph, as he took his seat. Elwood set the provisions before him, but he did not touch them. After a moment of hesitation, he stretched out his hand and laid it on Elwood’s shoulder.
“ Now, old boy ! ” Elwood cried : “ I know it. What you mean is unnecessary, and I won’t have it! ”
“ Let me speak ! ”
“ I don’t see why I should, Joseph. It’s no more than I guessed. She did n’t love me : you were tolerably near together once, and if you should now come nearer — ”
But he could not finish the sentence: the words stuck in his throat.
“ Great Heaven !” Joseph exclaimed, starting to his feet; “ what are you thinking of? Don’t you see that Lucy Henderson and I are parted forever by what has happened to-day? Didn’t you hear her say that she overcame the tenderness which might have become love, as I overcame mine for her ? Neither of us can recall that first feeling, any more than we can set our lives again in the past. I shall worship her as one of the purest and noblest souls that breathe ; but, love her ? make her my wife ? It could never, never be ! No, Elwood ! I was wondering whether you could pardon me the rashness which has exposed her to to-day’s trial.”
Elwood began to laugh strangely. “You are foolish, Joseph,” he said. “ Pshaw ! I can’t hold my knife. These sudden downs and then ups are too much for a fellow ! Pardon you ? Yes, on one condition, — that you empty your plate before you speak another word to me ! ”
They were both cheerful after this, and the narrow little room seemed freer and brighter to their eyes. It was late before Mr. Pinkerton arrived : he had waited in vain for an answer from Philip. Elwood’s presence was a relief to him, for he did not wish to excite Joseph by a statement of what he expected to prove, unless the two witnesses had been really secured. He adroitly managed, however, to say very little while seeming to say a great deal, and Joseph was then left to such rest as his busy memory might allow him.
Next morning there was an even greater crowd in the court-room. All Joseph’s friends were there, with the exception of Lucy Henderson, who, by Mr. Pinkerton’s advice, remained at the hotel. Philip had not arrived, but had sent a message saying that all was well, and he would come in the morning train.
Mr. Spenham, the evening before, had ascertained the nature of Mr. Linthicum’s evidence. The apothecary, however, was only able to inform him of Philip’s desire to discover the travelling agent, without knowing his purpose. In the name recorded as that of the purchaser of the poison Mr. Spenham saw a weapon which would enable him to repay Lucy for his discomfiture, and to indicate, if not prove, a complicity of crime, in which Philip Held also, he suspected, might be concerned.
The court opened at nine o’clock, and Philip could not be on hand before ten. Mr. Pinkerton endeavored to procure the examination of Dennis, and another subordinate witness, before the apothecary; but he only succeeded in gaining fifteen minutes’ time by the discussion. Mr. Ziba Linthicum was then called and sworn. He carried a volume under his arm.
As Philip possessed the label, Mr. Linthicum could only testify to the fact that a veiled lady had purchased so many grains of arsenic of him on a certain day ; that he kept a record of all sales of dangerous drugs ; and that the lady’s name was recorded in the book which he had brought with him. He then read the entry : —
“ Miss Henderson. Arsenic.”
Although Mr. Pinkerton had whispered to Joseph, “Do not be startled when he reads the name !” it was all the latter could do to suppress an exclamation. There was a murmur and movement through the whole court.
“We have now both the motive and the co-agent of the crime,” said Mr. Spenham, rising triumphantly. “ After the evidence which was elicited yesterday, it will not be difficult to connect the two. If the case deepens in enormity as it advances, we may be shocked, but we have no reason to be surprised. The growth of free-love sentiments, among those who tear themselves loose from the guidance of religious influences, naturally leads to crime ; and the extent to which this evil has been secretly developed is not suspected by the public. Testimony can be adduced to show that the accused, Joseph Asten, has openly expressed his infidelity ; that he repelled with threats and defiance a worthy minister of the Gospel, whom his own pious, murdered wife had commissioned to lead him into the true path. The very expression which the woman Lucy Henderson testified to his having used in the garden, — ‘ I am sick of masks,’ — what does it mean ? What but unrestrained freedom of the passions, — the very foundation upon which the free-lovers build up their pernicious theories ? The accused cannot complain if the law lifts the mask from his countenance, and shows his nature in all its hideous deformity. But another mask, also, must be raised : I demand the arrest of the woman, Lucy Henderson ! ”
Mr. Pinkerton sprang to his feet. In a measured, solemn voice, which contrasted strongly with the loud, sharp tones of the prosecuting attorney, he stated that Mr. Linthicum’s evidence was already known to him ; that it required an explanation which would now be given in a few minutes, and which would completely exonerate Miss Henderson from the suspicion of having purchased the poison, or even having any knowledge of its purchase. He demanded that no conclusion should be drawn from evidence which would mislead the minds of the jury: he charged the prosecuting attorney with most unjustly assailing the characters of both Joseph Asten and Lucy Henderson, and invoked, in the name of impartial justice, the protection of the court.
He spoke both eloquently and earnestly ; but the spectators noticed that he looked at his watch from minute to minute. Mr. Spenham interrupted him, but he continued to repeat his statements, until there came a sudden movement in the crowd, near the outer door of the hall. Then he sat down.
Philip led the way, pressing the Crowd to right and left in his eagerness. He was followed by a tall young man, with a dark mustache and an abundance of jewelry, while Mr. Benjamin Blessing, flushed and perspiring, brought up the rear. The spectators were almost breathless in their hushed, excited interest.
Philip seized Joseph’s hand, and bending nearer, whispered, “You are free ! ” His eyes sparkled and his face glowed.
Room was made for the three witnesses, and after a brief, whispered consultation between Philip and Mr. Pinkerton. Elwood was despatched to bring Lucy Henderson to the court.
“ May it please the court,” said Mr. Pinkerton, “ I am now able to fulfil that promise which I this moment made. The evidence which was necessary to set forth the manner of Mrs. Asten’s death, and which will release the court from any further consideration of the present case, is in my hands. I therefore ask leave to introduce this evidence without any further delay.”
After a little discussion the permission was granted, and Philip Held was placed upon the stand.
He first described Joseph’s genuine sorrow at his wife’s death and his selfaccusation of having hastened it by his harsh words to her in the morning. He related the interview at which Joseph, in learning of the reports concerning him, had immediately decided to ask for a legal investigation, and in a simple, straightforward way, narrated all that had been done up to the time of consulting Ziba Linthicum’s poison record.
“ As I knew it to be quite impossible that Miss Lucy Henderson could have been the purchaser,” he began —
Mr. Spenham instantly objected, and the expression was ruled out by the court.
“ Then,” Philip resumed, “ I determined to ascertain who had purchased the arsenic. Mr. Linthicum’s description of the lady was too vague to be recognized. It was necessary to identify the travelling agent who was present ; for this purpose I went to the city, ascertained the names and addresses of all the travelling agents of all the wholesale drug firms, and after much time and correspondence discovered the man, — Mr. Case, who is here present. He was in Persepolis, Iowa, when the summons reached him, and would have been here yesterday but for an accident on the Erie Railway.
“ In the mean time I had received the small fragment of another label, and by the clew which the few letters gave me I finally identified the place as the drug-store of Wallis and Erkers, at the corner of Fifth and Persimmon Streets. There was nothing left by which the nature of the drug could be ascertained, and therefore this movement led to nothing which could be offered as evidence in this court, — that is, by the druggists themselves, and they have not been summoned. It happened, however, by a coincidence which only came to light this morning, that — ”
Here Philip was again interrupted. His further testimony was of less consequence. He was sharply cross-2xamined by Mr. Spenham as to his relations with Joseph, and his object in devoting so much time to procuring evidence for the defence ; but he took occasion, in replying, to express his appreciation of Joseph’s character so emphatically, that the prosecution lost rather than gained. Then the plan of attack was changed. He was asked whether he believed in the Bible, in future rewards and punishments, in the views of the so-called free-lovers, in facile divorce and polygamy. He was too shrewd, however, to lay himself open to the least misrepresentation, and the moral and mental torture which our jurisprudence has substituted for the rack, thumb-screws, and Spanish boots of the Middle Ages finally came to an end.
Then the tall young man, conscious of his own elegance, took his place. He gave his name and occupation as Augustus Fitzwilliam Case, commercial traveller for the house of Byle and Glanders, wholesale druggists.
“ State whether you were in the drug-store of Ziba Linthicum, No. 77 Main Street, in this town, on the day of the entry in Mr. Linthicum’s book.”
“ I was.”
“ Did you notice the person who called for arsenic ? ”
“ I did.”
“ What led you specially to notice her ? ”
“ It is my habit,” said the witness. “ I am impressible to beauty, and I saw at once that the lady had what I call — style. I recollect thinking, ‘ More style than could be expected in these little places.’ ”
“ Keep your thoughts to yourself! ” cried Mr. Spenham.
“ Describe the lady as correctly as you can,” said Mr. Pinkerton.
“ Something under the medium size ; a little thin, but not bad lines, — what I should call jimp, natty, or ‘ lissome,’ in the Scotch dialect. A well-trained voice ; no uncertainty about it, — altogether about as keen and wide-awake a woman as you ’ll find in a day’s travel.”
“ You guessed all this from her figure ? ” Mr. Spenham asked, with a sneer.
“ Not entirely. I saw her face. I suppose something in my appearance or attitude attracted her attention. While Mr. Linthicum was weighing the arsenic she leaned over the counter, let her veil fall forward slightly, and gave me a quick side-look. I bent a little at the same time, as if to examine the soaps, and saw her face in a three-quarter position, as the photographers say.”
“ Can you remember her features distinctly ? ”
“ Quite so. In fact, it is difficult for me to forget a female face. Hers was just verging on the sharp, but still tolerably handsome. Hair quite dark, and worn in ringlets; eyebrows clean and straight ; mouth a little too thin for my fancy ; and eyes — well, I could n’t undertake to say exactly what color they were, for she seemed to have the trick — very common in the city — of letting the lids droop over them.”
“Were you able to judge of her age?”
“Tolerably, I should say. There is a certain air of preservation which enables a practised eye to distinguish an old girl from a young one. She was certainly not to be called young, — somewhere between twenty-eight and thirty-five.”
“You heard the name she gave Mr. Linthicum ? ”
“ Distinctly. Mr. Linthicum politely stated that it was his custom to register the names of all those to whom he furnished either poisons or prescriptions requiring care in being administered. She said, ‘ You are very particular, sir '; and, a moment afterwards, ' Pardon me, perhaps it is necessary.’ ‘ What name, then ? ’ he asked. I thought she hesitated a moment, but this I will not say positively ; whether or not, the answer was, ‘Miss Henderson.’ She went out of the store with a light, brisk step.”
“ You are sure you would be able to recognize the lady?” Mr. Pinkerton asked.
“ Quite sure.” And Mr. Augustus Fitzwilliam Case smiled patronizingly, as if the question were superfluous.
Mr. Pinkerton made a sign to Lucy, and she arose.
“ Look upon this lady ! ” he said to the witness.
The latter made a slight, graceful inclination of his head, as much as to say, “ Pardon me, I am compelled to stare.” Lucy quietly endured his gaze.
“ Consider her well,” said the lawyer, “and then tell the jury whether she is the person.”
“ No considerment is necessary. This lady has not the slightest resemblance to Miss Henderson. She is younger, taller, and modelled upon a wholly different style.”
“ Will you now look at this photograph ? ”
“ Ah ! ” the witness exclaimed ; “you can yourself judge of the correctness of my memory ! Plere is Miss Henderson, herself, and in three-quarter face as I saw her ! ”
“ That,” said Mr. Pinkerton, addressing the judge and jury, —“ that is the photograph of Mrs. Julia Asten.”
The spectators were astounded, and Mr. Spenham taken completely aback by this revelation. Joseph and Llwood both felt that a great weight had been lifted from their hearts. The testimony established Julia’s falsehood at the same time, and there was such an instant and complete revulsion of opinion that many persons present at once suspected her of a design to poison Joseph.
“ Before calling upon Mr. Benjamin Blessing, the father of the late Mrs. Asten, for his testimony,” said Mr. Pinkerton,— “ and I believe he will be the last witness necessary, — I wish to show that, although Miss Lucy Henderson accompanied Mrs. Asten to Magnolia, she could not have visited Mr. Linthicum’s drug-store at the time indicated ; nor, indeed, at any time during that day. She made several calls upon friends, each of whom is now in attendance, and their joint evidence will account for every minute of her stay in the place. The base attempt to blacken her fair name imperatively imposes this duty upon me.”
No objection was made, and the witnesses were briefly examined in succession. Their testimony was complete.
“ One mystery still remains to be cleared up,” the lawyer continued ; “ the purpose of Mrs. Asten in purchasing the poison, and the probable explanation of her death. I say ‘probable,’ because absolute certainty is impossible. But I will not anticipate the evidence. Mr. Benjamin Blessing, step forward, if you please ! ”
ON entering the court-room Mr. Blessing had gone to Joseph, given his hand a long, significant grasp, and looked in his face with an expression of triumph, almost of exultation. The action was not lost upon the spectators or the jury, and even Joseph felt that it was intended to express the strongest faith in his innocence.
When the name was called there was a movement in the crowd, and a temporary crush in some quarters, as the people thrust forward their heads to see and listen. Mr. Blessing, bland, dignified, serene, feeling that he was the central point of interest, waited until quiet had been restored, slightly turning his head to either side, as if to summon special attention to what he should say.
After being sworn, and stating his name, he thus described his occupation : —
“ I hold a position under government; nominally, it is a Deputy Inspectorship in the Custom-House, yet it possesses a confidential — I might say, if modesty did not prevent, an advisory— character.”
“In other words, a Ward Politician! ” said Mr. Spenham.
“ I must ask the prosecuting attorney,” Mr. Blessing blandly suggested, “ not to define my place according to his own political experiences.”
There was a general smile at these words; and a very audible chuckle from spectators belonging to the opposite party.
“ You are the father of the late Mrs. Julia Asten ? ”
“ I am — her unhappy father, whom nothing but the imperious commands of justice, and the knowledge of her husband’s innocence of the crime with which he stands charged, could have compelled to appear here, and reveal the painful secrets of a family, which — ”
Here Mr. Spenham interrupted him.
“ I merely wish to observe,” Mr. Blessing continued, with a stately wave of his hand towards the judge and jury, “ that the De Belsains and their descendants may have been frequently unfortunate, but were never dishonorable. I act in their spirit when I hold duty to the innocent living higher than consideration for the unfortunate dead.”
Here he drew forth a handkerchief, and held it for a moment to his eyes.
“ Do you know of any domestic discords between your daughter and her husband ? ”
“ I foresaw that such might be, and took occasion to warn my daughter, on her wedding-day, not to be too sure of her influence. There was too much disparity of age, character, and experience. It could not be called crabbed age and rosy youth, but there was difference enough to justify Shakespeare’s doubts. I am aware that the court requires ocular — or auricular — evidence. The only such I have to offer is my son-in-law’s own account of the discord which preceded my daughter’s death.”
“ Did this discord sufficiently explain to you the cause and manner of her death ? ”
“ My daughter’s nature — I do not mean to digress, but am accustomed to state my views clearly — my daughter’s nature was impulsive. She inherited my own intellect, but modified by the peculiar character of the feminine nervous system. Hence she might succumb to a depression which I should resist. She appeared to be sure of her control over my son-in-law’s nature, and of success in an enterprise, in which — I regret to say — my son-in-law lost confidence. I assumed, at the time, that her usually capable mind was unbalanced by the double disappointment, and that she had rushed, unaneled, to her last account. This, I say, was the conclusion forced upon me ; yet I cannot admit that it was satisfactory. It seemed to disparage my daughter’s intellectual power : it was not the act which I should have anticipated in any possible emergency.”
“Had you no suspicion that her husband might have been instrumental ? " Mr. Spenham asked.
“ He ? he is simply incapable of that, or any crime ! ”
“ We don’t want assertions,” said Mr. Spenham, sternly.
“ I beg pardon of the court,” remarked Mr. Blessing, “ it was a spontaneous expression. The touch of nature cannot always be avoided.”
“ Go on, sir ! ”
“ I need not describe the shock and sorrow following my daughter’s death,” Mr. Blessing continued, again applying his handkerchief. “ In order to dissipate it, I obtained a leave of absence from my post, — the exigencies of the government fortunately admitting of it, —and made a journey to the Oil Regions, in the interest of myself and my son-in-law. While there I received a letter from Mr. Philip Held, the contents of which— ”
“ Will you produce the letter ? ” Mr. Spenham exclaimed.
“It can be produced, if necessary. I will state nothing further, since I perceive that this would not be admissible evidence. It is enough to say that I returned to the city without delay, in order to meet Mr. Philip Held. The requirements of justice were more potent with me than the suggestions of personal interest. Mr. Held had already, as you will have noticed, from his testimony, identified the fragment of paper as having emanated from the drug-store of Wallis and Erkers, corner of Fifth and Persimmon Streets. I accompanied him to that drug-store, heard the statements of the proprietors, in answer to Mr. Held’s questions, — statements, which, I confess, surprised me immeasurably (but I could not reject the natural deductions to be drawn from them), and was compelled, although it overwhelmed me with a sense of unmerited shame, to acknowledge that there was plausibility in Mr. Held’s conjectures. Since they pointed to ray elder daughter, Clementina, now Mrs. Spelter, and at this moment tossing upon the ocean-wave, I saw that Mr. Held might possess a discernment superior to my own. But for a lamentable cataclysm, he might have been my son-in-law, and I need not say that I prefer that refinement of character which comes of good blood to the possession of millions — ”
Here Mr. Blessing was again interrupted, and ordered to confine himself to the simple statement of the necessary facts.
“ I acknowledge the justice of the rebuke,” he said. “ But the sentiment of the mens conscia recti will sometimes obtrude through the rigid formula of Themis. In short, Mr. Philip Held’s representations — ”
“ State those representations at once, and be done with them ! ” Mr. Spenham cried.
“ I am coming to them presently. The Honorable Court understands, I am convinced, that a coherent narrative, although moderately prolix, is preferable to a disjointed narrative, even if the latter were terse as Tacitus. Mr. Held’s representations, I repeat, satisfied me that an interview with my daughter Clementina was imperative. There was no time to be lost, for the passage of the nuptial pair had already been taken in the Ville de Paris. I started at once, sending a telegram in advance, and in the same evening arrived at their palatial residence in Fifth Avenue. Clementina’s nature, I must explain to the Honorable Court, is very different from that of her sister, — the reappearance, I suspect, of some lateral strain of blood. She is reticent, undemonstrative, — in short, frequently inscrutable. I suspected that a direct question might defeat my object ; therefore, when I was alone with her the next morning, — my son-in-law, Mr. Spelter, being called to a meeting of Erie of which he is one of the directors, — I said to her : ‘ My child, you are perfectly blooming ! Your complexion was always admirable, but now it seems to me incomparable ! ' ”
“ This is irrelevant! ” cried Mr. Spenham.
“ By no means ! It is the very corpus delicti, — the foot of Hercules, — the milk (powder would be more appropriate) in the cocoa-nut ! Clementina smiled in her serene way, and made no reply. ' How do you keep it up now ? ’ I asked, tapping her cheek ; ' you must be careful, here : all persons are not so discreet as Wallis and Erkers.’ She was astounded, stupefied, I might say, but I saw that I had reached the core of truth. ‘ Did you suppose I was ignorant of it ? ' I said, still very friendly and playfully. ‘Then it was Julia who told you ! ’ she exclaimed. ' And if she did,’ I answered, ' what was the harm ? I have no doubt that Julia did the same thing.’ ' She was always foolish,’ Clementina then said ; ' she envied me my complexion, and she watched me until she found out. I told her that it would not do for any except blondes, like myself, and her complexion was neither one thing nor the other. And I could n’t see that it improved much, afterwards.”
Mr. Pinkerton saw that the jurymen were puzzled, and requested Mr. Blessing to explain the conversation to them.
“ It is my painful duty to obey ; yet a father’s feelings may be pardoned if he shrinks from presenting the facts at once in their naked — unpleasantness. However, since the use of arsenic as a cosmetic is so general in our city, especially among blondes, as Wallis and Erkers assure me, my own family is not an isolated case. Julia commenced using the drug, so Clementina informed me, after her engagement with Mr. Asten, and only a short time before her marriage. To what extent she used it, after that event, I have no means of knowing ; but, I suspect, less frequently, unless she feared that the disparity of age between her and her husband was becoming more apparent. I cannot excuse her duplicity in giving Miss Henderson’s name instead of her own at Mr. Linthicum’s drug-store, since the result might have been so fearfully fatal ; yet I entreat you to believe that there may have been no inimical animus in the act. I attribute her death entirely to an over-dose of the drug, voluntarily taken, but taken in a moment of strong excitement.”
The feeling of relief from suspense, not only among Joseph’s friends, but throughout the crowded court-room, was clearly manifested: all present seemed to breathe a lighter and fresher atmosphere.
Mr. Blessing wiped his forehead and his fat cheeks, and looked benignly around. “There are a hundred little additional details,” he said, “which will substantiate my evidence ; but I have surely said sufficient for the ends of justice. The heavens will not fall because I have been forced to carve the emblems of criminal vanity upon the sepulchre of an unfortunate child, — but the judgment of an earthly tribunal may well be satisfied. However, I am ready,” he added, turning towards Mr. Spenham; " apply all the engines of technical procedure, and I shall not wince.”
The manner of the prosecuting attorney was completely changed. He answered respectfully and courteously, and his brief cross-examination was calculated rather to confirm the evidence for the defence than to invalidate it.
Mr. Pinkerton then rose and stated that he should call no other witnesses. The fact had been established that Mrs. Asten had been in the habit of taking arsenic to improve her complexion; also that she had purchased much more than enough of the drug to cause death, at the store of Mr. Ziba Linthicum, only a few days before her demise, and under circumstances which indicated a desire to conceal the purchase. There were two ways in which the manner of her death might be explained : either she had ignorantly taken an over-dose, or, having mixed the usual quantity before descending to the garden to overhear the conversation between Mr. Asten and Lucy Henderson, had forgotten the fact in the great excitement which followed, and thoughtlessly added as much more of the poison. Her last words to her husband, which could not be introduced as evidence, but might now be repeated, showed that her death was the result of accident, and not of design. She was thus absolved of the guilt of suicide, even as her husband of the charge of murder.
Mr. Spenham, somewhat to the surprase of those who were unacquainted with his true character, also stated that he should call no further witness for the prosecution. The testimonies of Mr. Augustus Fitzwilliam Case and Mr. Benjamin Blessing — although the latter was unnecessarily ostentatious and discursive — were sufficient to convince him that the prosecution could not make out a case. He had no doubt whatever of Mr, Joseph Asten’s innocence. Lest the expressions which he had been compelled to use, in the performance of his duty, might be misunderstood, he wished to say that he had the highest respect for the characters of Mr. Asten and also of Miss Lucy Henderson. He believed the latter to be a refined and virtuous lady, an ornament to the community in which she resided. His language towards her had been professional,-— by no means personal. It was in accordance with the usage of the most eminent lights of the bar ; the ends of justice required the most searching examination, and the more a character was criminated the more brightly it would shine forth to the world, after the test had been successfully endured. He was simply the agent of the law, and all respect of persons was prohibited to him while in the exercise of his functions.
The judge informed the jurymen that he did not find it necessary to give them any instructions. If they were already agreed upon their verdict, even the formality of retiring might be dispensed with.
There was a minute’s whispering back and forth among the men, and the foreman then rose and stated that they were agreed.
The words “Not Guilty!” spoken loudly and emphatically, were the signal for a stormy burst of applause from the audience. In vain the court-crier, aided by the constables, endeavored to preserve order. Joseph’s friends gathered around him, with their congratulations ; while Mr. Blessing, feeling that some recognition of the popular sentiment was required, rose and bowed repeatedly to the crowd. Philip led the way to the open air, and the others followed, but few words were spoken until they found themselves in the large parlor of the hotel.
Mr. Blessing had exchanged some mysterious whispers with the clerk, on arriving ; and presently two negro waiters entered the room, bearing wine, ice, and other refreshments. When the glasses had been filled, Mr. Blessing lifted his with an air which imposed silence on the company, and thus spake : “‘Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’ There may be occasions when silence is golden, but to-day we are content with the baser metal. A man in whom we all confide, whom we all love, has been rescued from the labyrinth of circumstances : he comes to us as a new Theseus, saved from the Minotaur of the Law! Although Mr. Held, with the assistance of his fair sister, was the Ariadne who found the clew, it has been my happy lot to assist in unrolling it; and now we all stand together, like our classic models on the free soil of Crete, to chant a pæan of deliverance. While I propose the health and happiness and good-fortune of Joseph Asten, I beg him to believe that ray words come ab imo pectore,— from my inmost heart: if any veil of mistrust, engendered by circumstances which I will not now recall, still hangs between him and myself, I entreat him to rend that veil, even as David rent his garments, and believe in my sincerity, if he cannot in my discretion ! ”
Philip was the only one, besides Joseph, who understood the last allusion. He caught hold of Mr. Blessing’s hand and exclaimed : “ Spoken like a man ! ” Joseph stepped instantly forward. “ I have again been unjust,” he said, “and I thank you for making me feel it. You have done me an infinite service, sacrificing your own feelings, bearing no malice against me for my hasty and unpardonable words, and showing a confidence in my character which — after what has passed between us — puts me to shame. I am both penitent and grateful: henceforth I shall know you and esteem you ! ” Mr. Blessing took the offered hand, held it a moment, and then stammered, while the tears started from his eyes : “ Enough ! Bury the past a thousand fathoms deep ! I can still say : foi de Belsain ! ”
“ One more toast!" cried Philip. “ Happiness and worldly fortune to the man whom misfortunes have bent but cannot break, — who has been often deceived, but who never purposely deceived in turn, — whose sentiment of honor has been to-day so nobly manifested,— Benjamin Blessing ! ”
While the happy company were pouring out, but not exhausting, their feelings, Lucy Henderson stole forth upon the upper balcony of the hotel. There was a secret trouble in her heart, which grew from minute to minute. She leaned upon the railing, and looked down the dusty street, passing in review the events of the two pregnant days, and striving to guess in what manner they would affect her coming life. She felt that she had done her simple duty: she had spoken no word which she was not ready to repeat; yet in her words there seemed to be the seeds of change.
After a while the hostler brought a light carriage from the stable, and Elwood Withers stepped into the street below her. He was about to take the reins, when he looked up, saw her, and remained standing. She noticed the intensely wistful expression of his face.
“Are you going, Elwood, — and alone ? ” she asked.
“ Yes,” he said, eagerly ; and waited.
“ Then I will go with you, — that is, if you will take me.” She tried to speak lightly and playfully.
In a few minutes they were out of town, passing between the tawny fields and under the russet woods. A sweet west wind fanned them with nutty and spicy odors, and made a crisp, cheerful music among the fallen leaves.
“ What a delicious change!’” said Lucy, “ after that stifling, dreadful room.”
“ Ay, Lucy, — and think how Joseph will feel it! And how near, by the chance of a hair, we came of missing the truth !
“ Elwood!” she exclaimed, “while I was giving my testimony, and I found your eyes fixed on me, were you thinking of the counsel you gave me, three weeks ago, when we met at the tunnel ? ”
“ I was ! ”
“ I knew it, and I obeyed. Do you now say that I did right ? ”
“ Not for that reason,”he answered. “It was your own heart that told you what to do. I did not mean to bend or influence you in anyway: I have no right.”
“ You have the right of a friend,” she whispered.
“ Yes,” said he, “ I sometimes take more upon myself than I ought. But it’s hard, in my case, to hit a very fine line.”
“ O, you are now unjust to yourself, Elwood. You are both strong and generous.”
“ I am not strong ! I am this minute spoiling my good luck. It was a luck from Heaven to me, Lucy, when you offered to ride home with me, and it is, now, — if I could only swallow the words that are rising into my mouth ! ”
She whispered again : “ Why should you swallow them ? ”
“ You are cruel! when you have forbidden me to speak, and I have promised to obey! ”
“ After all you have heard ? ” she asked.
“ All the more for what I have heard.”
She took his hand, and cried, in a trembling voice : “I have been cruel, in remaining blind to your nature. I resisted what would have been — what will be, if you do not turn away —my one happiness in this life ! Do not speak,— let me break the prohibition ! Elwood, dear, true, noble heart, — Elwood, I love you ! ”
“ Lucy ! ”
And she lay upon his bosom.