“This, as God lives, is the truth concerning the wound found in the breast of this never-to-be-forgotten woman.”
The feeling, the pathos, the anguish even, to be found in his tone made this story, strange and incredible as it seemed, appear for the moment plausible.
“And Batsy?” asked the coroner.
“Must have fallen when we did, for I never heard her voice after the first scream. But I shall speak of her again. What I must now explain is how the money in Mrs. Webb’s drawer came into my possession, and how the dagger she had planted in her breast came to be found on the lawn outside. When I came to myself, and that must have been very soon, I found that the blow of which I had been such a horrified witness had not yet proved fatal. The eyes I had seen close, as I had supposed, forever, were now open, and she was looking at me with a smile that has never left my memory, and never will.
“‘There is no blood on you,’ she murmured. ’You did not strike the blow. Was it money only that you wanted, Frederick? If so, you could have had it without crime. There are five hundred dollars on that table. Take them and let them pave your way to a better life. My death will help you to remember.’ Do these words, this action of hers, seem incredible to you, sirs? Alas! alas! they will not when I tell you”—and here he cast one anxious, deeply anxious, glance at the room in which Mr. Sutherland was hidden—“that unknown to me, unknown to anyone living but herself, unknown to that good man from whom it can no longer be kept hidden, Agatha Webb was my mother. I am Philemon’s son and not the offspring of Charles and Marietta Sutherland!”
A WITNESS LOST
Like a wave suddenly lifted the whole assemblage rose in surprise if not in protest. But there was no outburst. The very depth of the feelings evoked made all ebullition impossible, and as one sees the billow pause ere it breaks, and gradually subside, so this crowd yielded to its awe, and man by man sank back into his seat till quiet was again restored, and only a circle of listening faces confronted the man who had just stirred a whole roomful to its depths. Seeing this, and realising his opportunity, Frederick at once entered into the explanations for which each heart there panted.
“This will be overwhelming news to him who has cared for me since infancy. You have heard him call me son; with what words shall I overthrow his confidence in the truth and rectitude of his long-buried wife and make him know in his old age that he has wasted years of patience upon one who was not of his blood or lineage? The wonder, the incredulity you manifest are my best excuse for my long delay in revealing the secret entrusted to me by this dying woman.”
An awed silence greeted these words. Never was the interest of a crowd more intense or its passions held in greater restraint. Yet Agnes’s tears flowed freely, and Amabel’s smiles—well, their expression had changed; and to Sweetwater, who alone had eyes for her now, they were surcharged with a tragic meaning, strange to see in one of her callous nature.