Who spoke? Had any one spoken? Was there any sound in the air at all? She heard none, yet the sense of sound was in her ear, as though it had been and passed. When the glance she threw about her came back to her outstretched hand, she knew that the cry, if cry it were, had been within, and that the echoes of the room had remained undisturbed. The knife was lying open on her palm, and from one of the blades the end had been nipped, just enough of it to match—
Was she mad! She thought so for a moment; then she laid down the knife close against the cap and contemplated them both for more minutes than she ever reckoned.
And the stillness, which had been profound, became deeper yet. Not even Reuther’s clock sounded its small note.
The candle fluttering low in its socket roused her at last from her abstraction. Catching up the two articles which had so enthralled her, she restored the one to the closet, the other to the drawer, and, with swift but silent step, regained her own room where she buried her head in her pillow, weeping and praying until the morning light, breaking in upon her grief, awoke her to the obligations of her position and the necessity of silence concerning all the experiences of this night.
Silence. Yes, silence was the one and only refuge remaining to her. Yet, after a few days, the constant self-restraint which it entailed, ate like a canker into her peace, and undermined a strength which she had always considered inexhaustible. Reuther began to notice her pallor, and the judge to look grave. She was forced to complain of a cold (and in this she was truthful enough) to account for her alternations of feverish impulse and deadly lassitude.
The trouble she had suppressed was having its quiet revenge. Should she continue to lie inert and breathless under the threatening hand of Fate, or risk precipitating the doom she sought to evade, by proceeding with inquiries upon the result of which she could no longer calculate?
She recalled the many mistakes made by those who had based their conclusions upon circumstantial evidence (her husband’s conviction in fact) and made up her mind to brave everything by having this matter out with Mr. Black. Then the pendulum swung back, and she found that she could not do this because, deep down in her heart, there burrowed a monstrous doubt (how born or how cherished she would not question), which Mr. Black, with an avidity she could not combat, would at once detect and pounce upon. Better silence and a slow death than that.
But was there no medium course? Could she not learn from some other source where Oliver had been on the night of that old-time murder? Miss Weeks was a near neighbour and saw everything. Miss Weeks never forgot;—to Miss Weeks she would go.
With instructions to Reuther calculated to keep that diligent child absorbed and busy in her absence, she started out upon her quest. She had reached the first gate, passed it and was on the point of opening the second one, when she saw on the walk before her a small slip of brown paper. Lifting it, she perceived upon it an almost illegible scrawl which she made out to read thus:—