Initials Only

第4章 BOOK I:AS SEEN BY TWO STRANGERS(4)

They were all gentlemen and respected her as heartily as they appeared to admire her.To no living being,man or woman,could he point as possessing any motive for such a deed.She had been the victim of some mistake,his lovely and ever kindly disposed daughter,and while the loss was irreparable he would never make it unendurable by thinking otherwise.

Such was the father's way of looking at the matter,and I own that it made our duty a trifle hard.But George's mind,when once made up,was persistent to the point of obstinacy,and while he was yet talking he led me out of the room and down the hall to the elevator.

"Mr.Slater knows we have something to say,and will manage the interview before us in the very best manner,"he confided to me now with an encouraging air."We are to go to the blue reception room on the parlour floor."I nodded,and nothing more was said till we entered the place mentioned.Here we came upon several gentlemen,standing about,of a more or less professional appearance.This was not very agreeable to one of my retiring disposition,but a look from George brought back my courage,and I found myself waiting rather anxiously for the questions I expected to hear put.

Mr.Slater was there according to his promise,and after introducing us,briefly stated that we had some evidence to give regarding the terrible occurrence which had just taken place in the house.

George bowed,and the chief spokesman -I am sure he was a police-officer of some kind -asked him to tell what it was.

George drew himself up -George is not one of your tall men,but he makes a very good appearance at times.Then he seemed suddenly to collapse.The sight of their expectation made him feel how flat and childish his story would sound.I,who had shared his adventure,understood his embarrassment,but the others were evidently at a loss to do so,for they glanced askance at each other as he hesitated,and only looked back when I ventured to say:

"It's the peculiarity of the occurrence which affects my husband.

The thing we saw may mean nothing."

"Let us hear what it was and we will judge."

Then my husband spoke up,and related our little experience.If it did not create a sensation,it was because these men were well accustomed to surprises of all kinds.

"Washed his hands -a gentleman -out there in the snow -just after the alarm was raised here?"repeated one.

"And you saw him come out of this house?"another put in.

"Yes,sir;we noticed him particularly.

"Can you describe him?"

It was Mr.Slater who put this question;he had less control over himself,and considerable eagerness could be heard in his voice.

"He was a very fine-looking man;unusually tall and unusually striking both in his dress and appearance.What I could see of his face was bare of beard,and very expressive.He walked with the swing of an athlete,and only looked mean and small when he was stooping and dabbling in the snow."His clothes.Describe his clothes."There was an odd sound in Mr.Slater's voice.

"He wore a silk hat and there was fur on his overcoat.I think the fur was black."Mr.Slater stepped back,then moved forward again with a determined air.

"I know the man,"said he.

III

THE MAN

"You know the man?"

"I do;or rather,I know a man who answers to this description.He comes here once in a while.I do not know whether or not he was in the building to-night,but Clausen can tell you;no one escapes Clausen's eye.""His name."

"Brotherson.A very uncommon person in many respects;quite capable of such an eccentricity,but incapable,I should say,of crime.He's a gifted talker and so well read that he can hold one's attention for hours.Of his tastes,I can only say that they appear to be mainly scientific.But he is not averse to society,and is always very well dressed.""A taste for science and for fine clothing do not often go together.""This man is an exception to all rules.The one I'm speaking of,Imean.I don't say that he's the fellow seen pottering in the snow.""Call up Clausen."

The manager stepped to the telephone.

Meanwhile,George had advanced to speak to a man who had beckoned to him from the other side of the room,and with whom in another moment I saw him step out.Thus deserted,I sank into a chair near one of the windows.Never had I felt more uncomfortable.To attribute guilt to a totally unknown person -a person who is little more to you than a shadowy silhouette against a background of snow -is easy enough and not very disturbing to the conscience.But to hear that person named;given positive attributes;lifted from the indefinite into a living,breathing actuality,with a man's hopes,purposes and responsibilities,is an entirely different proposition.This Brotherson might be the most innocent person alive;and,if so,what had we done?Nothing to congratulate ourselves upon,certainly.And George was not present to comfort and encourage me.He was -Where was he?The man who had carried him off was the youngest in the group.What had he wanted of George?Those who remained showed no interest in the matter.They had enough to say among themselves.But I was interested -naturally so,and,in my uneasiness,glanced restlessly from the window,the shade of which was up.The outlook was a very peaceful one.This room faced a side street,and,as my eyes fell upon the whitened pavements,Ireceived an answer to one,and that the most anxious,of my queries.

Anna Katharine Green

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