Later, when the boards he had loosened in anticipation of this hour were all removed, they came upon a packet of closely written words hidden in the framework of the bed.
It read as follows:
Whosoever lays hands on this Ms. will already be acquainted with my crime. If he would also know its cause and the full story of my hypocrisy, let him read these lines written, as it were, with my heart’s blood.
I loved Algernon Etheridge; I shall never have a dearer friend. His odd ways, his lank, possibly ungainly figure crowned by a head of scholarly refinement, his amiability when pleased, his irascibility when crossed, formed a character attractive to me from its very contradictions; and after my wife’s death and before my son Oliver reached a companionable age, it was in my intercourse with this man I found my most solid satisfaction.
Yet we often quarrelled. His dogmatism frequently ran counter to my views, and, being myself a man of quick and violent temper, hard words sometimes passed between us, to be forgotten the next minute in a hand-shake, or some other token of mutual esteem. These dissensions—if such they could be called—never took place except in the privacy of his study or mine. We thought too much of each other to display our differences of opinion abroad or even in the presence of Oliver; and however heated our arguments or whatever our topic we invariably parted friends, till one fateful night.
O God! that years of repentance, self-hatred and secret immolation can never undo the deed of an infuriated moment. Eternity may console, but it can never make me innocent of the blood of my heart’s brother.
We had had our usual wordy disagreement over some petty subject in which he was no nearer wrong nor I any nearer right than we had been many times before; but for some reason I found it harder to pardon him. Perhaps some purely physical cause lay back of this; perhaps the nervous irritation incident upon a decision then pending in regard to Oliver’s future, heightened my feelings and made me less reasonable than usual. The cause does not matter, the result does. For the first time in our long acquaintance, I let Algernon Etheridge leave me, without any attempt at conciliation.
If only I had halted there! If, at sight of my empty study, I had not conceived the mad notion of waylaying him at the bridge for the hand-shake I missed, I might have been a happy man now, and Oliver—But why dwell upon these might-have-beens! What happened was this:
Disturbed in mind, and finding myself alone in the house, Oliver having evidently gone out while we two were disputing, I decided to follow out the impulse I have mentioned. Leaving by the rear, I went down the lane to the path which serves as a short cut to the bridge. That I did this unseen by anybody is not so strange when you consider the hour, and how the only person then living in the lane was, in all probability, in her kitchen. It would have been better for me, little as I might have recognised it at the time, had she been where she could have witnessed both my going and coming and faced me with the fact.