“The way I look at it is this,” said Simon Basset one night in the village store. He raised the index-finger of his right hand, pointed it at the company, shook it authoritatively as he spoke, as if to call ocular attention also to his words. “Ef Abel Edwards did make ’way with himself any other way than by jumping into the Dead Hole, what did he do with his remains? He couldn’t bury himself nohow.” Simon Basset chuckled dryly and looked at the others with conclusive triumph. His face was full of converging lines of nose and chin and brows, which seemed to bring it to a general point of craft and astuteness. Even his grizzled hair slanted forward in a stiff cowlick over his forehead, and his face bristled sharply with his gray beard. Simon Basset was the largest land-owner in the village, and the dust and loam of his own acres seemed to have formed a gray grime over all his awkward homespun garb. Never a woman he met but looked apprehensively at his great, clomping, mud-clogged boots.
It was believed by many that Simon Basset never removed a suit of clothes, after he had once put it on, until it literally dropped from him in rags. He was also said to have argued, when taken to task for this most untidy custom, that birds and animals never shifted their coats until they were worn out, and it behooved men to follow their innocent and natural habits as closely as possible.
Simon Basset, sitting in an old leather-cushioned arm-chair in the midst of the lounging throng, waited for applause after his conclusive opinion upon Abel Edwards’s disappearance; but there were only affirmative grunts from a few. Many had their own views.
“I ain’t noways clear in my mind that Abel did kill himself,” said a tall man, with a great length of thin, pale whiskers falling over his breast. He had a vaguely elongated effect, like a shadow, and had, moreover, a way of standing behind people like one. When he spoke everybody started and looked around at him.
“I’d like to know what you think did happen to him, Adoniram Judd,” cried Simon Basset.
“I don’t think Abel Edwards ever killed himself,” repeated the tall man, solemnly. His words had weight, for he was a distant relative of the missing man.
“Do you know of anybody that had anything agin him?” demanded Simon Basset.
“No, I dun’no’ ’s I do,” admitted the tall man.
“Then what in creation would anybody want to kill him for? Guess they wouldn’t be apt to do it for anything they would get out of Abel Edwards.” Simon Basset chuckled triumphantly; and in response there was a loud and exceedingly bitter laugh from a man sitting on an old stool next to him. Everybody started, for the man was Ozias Lamb, Abel Edwards’s brother-in-law.
“What ye laughin’ at?” inquired Simon Basset, defiantly; but he edged his chair away a little at the same time. Ozias Lamb had the reputation of a very high temper.