He proceeded immediately to town. A ship was preparing to sail that morning for the Brazils, and the wharves were alive with bustle. He stopped a moment to contemplate the great hulk rising and falling at her moorings, then he passed on and entered the building where he had every reason to expect to find Dr. Talbot and Knapp in discussion. It was very important to him that morning to learn just how they felt concerning the great matter absorbing him, for if suspicion was taking the direction of Frederick, or if he saw it was at all likely to do so, then would his struggle be cut short and all necessity for leaving town be at an end. It was to save Frederick from this danger that he was prepared to cut all the ties binding him to this place, and nothing short of the prospect of accomplishing this would make him willing to undergo such a sacrifice.
“Well, Sweetwater, any news, eh?” was the half-jeering, half-condescending greeting he received from the coroner.
Sweetwater, who had regained entire control over his feelings as soon as he found himself under the eye of this man and the supercilious detective he had attempted to rival, gave a careless shrug and passed the question on to Knapp. “Have you any news?” he asked.
Knapp, who would probably not have acknowledged it if he had, smiled the indulgent smile of a self-satisfied superior and uttered a few equivocal sentences. This was gall and wormwood to Sweetwater, but he kept his temper admirably and, with an air of bravado entirely assumed for the occasion, said to Dr. Talbot:
“I think I shall have something to tell you soon which will materially aid you in your search for witnesses. By to-morrow, at least, I shall know whether I am right or wrong in thinking I have discovered an important witness in quite an unexpected quarter.”
Sweetwater knew of no new witness, but it was necessary for him not only to have a pretext for the move he contemplated, but to so impress these men with an idea of his extreme interest in the approaching proceedings, that no suspicion should ever arise of his having premeditated an escape from them. He wished to appear the victim of accident; and this is why he took nothing from his home which would betray any intention of leaving it.
“Ha! indeed!” ejaculated the coroner with growing interest. “And may I ask——”
“Please,” urged Sweetwater, with a side look at Knapp, “do not ask me anything just yet. This afternoon, say, after I have had a certain interview with—What, are they setting sails on the Hesper already?” he burst out, with a quick glance from the window at the great ship riding at anchor a little distance from them in the harbour. “There is a man on her I must see. Excuse me—Oh, Mr. Sutherland!”
He fell back in confusion. That gentleman had just entered the room in company with Frederick.