X Y Z
A DETECTIVE STORY
ANNA KATHARINE GREEN
AUTHOR OF "THE LEAVENWORTH CASE," "A STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE," ETC.
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
27 & 29 WEST 23D STREET
G. P. PUTNAM'S SONS
X. Y. Z.
A STORY TOLD BY A DETECTIVE.
THE MYSTERIOUS RENDEZVOUS.
Sometimes in the course of his experience,
a detective, while engaged in
ferreting out the mystery of one crime, runs
inadvertently upon the clue to another. But
rarely has this been done in a manner more
unexpected or with attendant circumstances of
greater interest than in the instance I am now
about to relate.
For some time the penetration of certain
Washington officials had been baffled by the
clever devices of a gang of counterfeiters who
had inundated the western portion of Massachusetts
with spurious Treasury notes. Some
of the best talent of the Secret Service had been
expended upon the matter, but with no favorable
result, when, one day, notice was received
at Washington that a number of suspicious-looking
letters, addressed to the simple initials,
X. Y. Z., Brandon, Mass., were being daily
forwarded through the mails of that region;
and it being deemed possible that a clue had at
last been offered to the mystery in hand, I was
sent northward to investigate.
It was in the middle of June, 1881, and the
weather was simply delightful. As I stepped
from the cars at Brandon and looked up the
long straight street with its double row of
maple trees sparkling fresh and beautiful in the
noonday sun, I thought I had never seen a
prettier village or entered upon any enterprise
with a lighter or more hopeful heart.
Intent on my task, I went straight to the
post-office, and after coming to an understanding
with the postmaster, proceeded at once to
look over the mail addressed to the mysterious
X. Y. Z.
I found it to consist entirely of letters. They
were about a dozen in number, and were, with
one exception, similar in general appearance
and manner of direction, though inscribed in
widely different handwritings, and posted from
various New England towns. The exception
to which I allude had these few extra words
written in the lower left-hand corner of the
envelope: "To be kept till called for." As I
bundled up the letters preparatory to thrusting
them back into the box, I noticed that the latter
was the only one in a blue envelope, all the
others being in the various shades of cream-color
"Who is in the habit of calling for these
letters?" I asked of the postmaster.
"Well," said he, "I don't know his name.
The fact is nobody knows him around here.
He usually drives up in a buggy about nightfall,
calls for letters addressed to X. Y. Z., and
having got them, whips up his horse and is off
again before one can say a word."
"Describe him," said I.
"Well, he is very lean and very lank. In
appearance he is both green and awkward. His
complexion is pale, almost sickly. Were it
not for his eye, which is keen and twinkling, I
should call him an extremely inoffensive-looking
The type was not new to me. "I should like
to see him," said I.
"You will have to wait till nightfall, then,"
returned the postmaster. "He never comes
till about dusk. Drop in here, say at seven
o'clock, and I will see that you have the opportunity
of handing him his mail."
I nodded acquiescence to this and sauntered
out of the enclosure devoted to the uses of the
post-office. As I did so I ran against a young
man who was hurriedly approaching from the
other end of the store.
"Your pardon," he cried; and I turned to
look at him, so gentlemanly was his tone, and
so easy the bow with which he accompanied
this simple apology.
He was standing before the window of the
post-office, waiting for his mail; a good-looking,
well-made young man, of a fine countenance,
but with a restless eye, whose alert yet
anxious expression I could not but note even in
the casual glance I gave him. There appeared
to be some difficulty in procuring him his
mail, and each minute he was kept waiting
seemed to increase his impatience almost beyond
the bounds of endurance. I saw him lean
forward and gasp out a hurried word to the
postmaster, and was idly wondering over his
anxiety and its probable causes, when I heard
a hasty exclamation near me, and looking
around, saw the postmaster himself beckoning
to me from the door of the enclosure. I immediately
"I don't know what it means," he whispered;
"but here is a young man, different from any
who have been here before, asking for a letter
addressed to X. Y. Z."
"A letter?" I repeated.
"Yes, a letter."
"Give him the whole batch and see what he
does," I returned, drawing back where I could
myself watch the result of my instructions. The
postmaster did as I requested. In another
moment I saw the young man start with amazement
as a dozen letters were put in his hand.
"These are not all for me!" he cried, but even
as he made the exclamation, drew to one side,
and with a look of mingled perplexity and
concern, began opening them one after another,
his expression deepening to amazement as he
glanced at their contents. The one in the blue
envelope, however, seemed to awaken quite
different emotions. With an unconscious look
of relief, he hastily read the short letter it contained,
then with a quick gesture, folded it up
and thrust it back into the envelope he held,
together with the other letters, in his left hand.
"There must be another X. Y. Z.," said he,
approaching the window of the post-office and
handing back all the letters he had received, with
the exception of the one in the blue envelope,
which with a quick movement he had separated
from the rest and thrust into his coat-pocket.
"I can lay claim to none of these." And with
a repetition of his easy bow he turned away and
hurriedly quitted the store, followed by the eyes
of clerks and customers, to whom he was evidently
as much of a stranger as he was to me.
Without hesitation I went to the door and looked
after him. He was just crossing the street to
the tavern on the other side of the way. I saw
him enter, felt that he was safe to remain there
for a few minutes, and conscious of the great
opportunity awaiting me, hastened back to the
"Well," cried I, in secret exultation, "our
plan has worked admirably. Let me see the
letters. As they have been opened, and through
no fault of ours, a peep at them now in the cause
of justice will harm none but the guilty."
The postmaster demurred, but I soon overcame
his scruples; and taking down the letters
once more, hastily investigated their contents.
I own that I was considerably disappointed at
the result. In fact, I found nothing that pointed
toward the counterfeiters; only in each letter
a written address, together with fifty cents'
worth of stamps.
"Some common fraud," I exclaimed. "One
of those cheap affairs where, for fifty cents enclosed,
a piece of information calculated to insure
fortune to the recipient is promised by return
And disgusted with the whole affair I bundled
up the letters, and was about to replace them in
the box for the third time when I discovered
that it still held a folded paper. Drawing this
out, I opened it and started in fresh amazement.
If I was not very much mistaken in the
appearance of the letter in the blue envelope
which I had seen the young man read with so
much interest, this was certainly it. But how
came it here? Had I not seen him thrust it
back into its envelope and afterward put envelope
and all into his pocket? But here was no
envelope, and here was the letter. By what freak
of necromancy had it been transferred from its
legitimate quarters to this spot? I could not
imagine. Suddenly I remembered that his hand
had been full of the other letters when he put,
or endeavored to put, this special one back into
its envelope, and however unaccountable it may
seem, it must be that from haste or agitation he
had only succeeded in thrusting it between two
letters instead of into the envelope, as he supposed.
Whether or not this explanation be true,
there was no doubt about my luck being in the
ascendant. Mastering my satisfaction, I read
these lines written in what appeared to be a
"All goes well. The time has come; every
thing is in train, and success is certain. Be in
the shrubbery at the northeast corner of the
grounds at 9 P.M. precisely; you will be given
a mask and such other means as are necessary
to insure you the accomplishment of the end you
have in view. He cannot hold out against a
surprise. The word, by which you will know
your friends, is
"Ah, ha!" thought I, "this is more like it."
And moved by a sudden impulse, I hastily
copied the letter into my memorandum-book,
and then returning to the original, scratched out
with my penknife the word northeast and carefully
substituting that of southwest put the letter
back into the box, in the hope that when he
came to consult the envelope in his pocket (as
he would be sure to do sooner or later) he
would miss its contents and return to the post-office
in search of it.
Nor was I mistaken. I had scarcely accomplished
my task, when he reëntered the store,
asked to see the letters he had returned, and
finding amongst them the one he had lost,
disappeared with it back to the tavern. "If he
is surprised to read southwest this time instead
of northeast, he will think his memory played
him false in the first instance," cried I, in inward
comment over my last doubtful stroke of policy;
and turning to the postmaster, I asked him
what place there was in the vicinity which
could be said to possess grounds and a shrubbery.
"There is but one," he returned, "Mr. Benson's.
All the rest of the folks are too poor to
indulge in any such gimcracks."
"And who is Mr. Benson?"
"Well, he is Mr. Benson, the richest man in
these parts and the least liked as I take it. He
came here from Boston two years ago and
built a house fit for a king to live in. Why,
nobody knows, for he seems to take no pleasure
in it. His children do though, and that is all
he cares for I suppose. Young Mr. Benson
especially seems to be never tired of walking
about the grounds, looking at the trees and
tying up the vines. Miss Carrie is different;
all she wants is company. But little of that has
her father ever allowed her till this very day.
He seems to think nobody is good enough
to sit down in his parlors; and yet he don't
sit there himself, the strange man! but is
always shut up in his library or some other out-of-the-way
"A busy man?"
"I suppose so, but no one ever sees any
thing he does."
"I don't know; he never talks about himself."
"How did he get his money?"
"That we don't know. It seems to accumulate
without his help or interference. When he
came here he was called rich, but to-day he
is said to be worth three times what he was
"Perhaps he speculates?"
"If he does, it must be through his son, for
he never leaves home himself."
"Has two children, you say?"
"Yes, a son and a daughter: a famous young
man, the son; not so much liked, perhaps, as
universally respected. He is too severe and
reticent to be a favorite, but no one ever found
him doing any thing unworthy of himself. He
is the pride of the county, and if he were a bit
suaver in manner might have been in Congress
at this minute."
"Thirty, I should say."
"And the girl?"
"A mother living?"
"No; there were some strange stories of her
having died a year or so before they came here,
under circumstances of a somewhat distressing
nature, but they themselves say nothing
"It seems to me they don't say much about
"That's just it; they are the most reserved
people you ever saw. It isn't from them we
have heard there is another son floating somewhere
about the world. They never speak of
him, and what's more, they never write to him;
as who should know better than myself?"
An interruption here occurred, and I took the
opportunity to saunter out into the crowd of
idlers always to be found hanging around a
country store at mail-time. My purpose was,
as you may conceive, to pick up any stray bits
of information that might be floating about concerning
these Bensons. Not that I had as yet
discovered any thing definite connecting this respectable
family with the gang of counterfeiters
upon whose track I had been placed; but business
is business, and no clue, however slight or
unpromising in its nature, is to be neglected
when the way is as dark as that which lay before
me. With an easy smile, therefore, calculated
to allay apprehension and awaken confidence, I
took my stand among these loungers. But I soon
found that I need do nothing to start the wheel
of gossip on the subject of the Bensons. It was
already going, and that with a force and spirit
that almost took my breath away.
"A fancy ball!" were the first words I heard.
"The Bensons give a fancy ball, when they never
had three persons at a time in their house
"Yes, and what's more, they are going to
have folks over from Clayton and Lawrence and
Hollowell and devil knows where. It's to be a
smash up, a regular fandango, with masks and
all that kind of nonsense."
"They say Miss Carrie teased her father till
he had to give in in self-defence. It's her birthday
or something like that, and she would have
"But such a party! who ever heard the like in
a respectable town like this! It's wicked, that's
what I call it, downright wicked to cover up the
face God has given you and go strutting around
in clothes a Christian man might well think borrowed
from the Evil One if he had to wear them
in any decent company. All wrong, I say, all
wrong, and I am astonished at Mr. Benson. To
keep his doors shut as he has, and then to open
them in a burst to all sorts of folly. We are not
invited at our house."
"Nor we, nor we," shouted some half dozen.
"And I don't know of any one in this town
who is," cried a burly man, presumably a butcher
by trade. "We are not good enough for the
Bensons. They say he is even going to be
mean enough to shut the gates and not let a
soul inside who hasn't a ticket. And they are
going to light up the grounds too!"
"We can peep through the fence."
"Much we will see that way. If you had said
"We can't climb it. Big John is going to be
there and Tom Henshaw. They mean to keep
their good times to themselves, just as they have
kept every thing else. It's a queer set they are
anyway, and the less we have to do with them
"I should like to see Hartley Benson in masquerade
costume, I would."
"Oh, he won't wear any of the fol-de-rol; he's
too dignified." And with that there fell a sudden
hush over the crowd, for which I was at a
loss to account, till, upon looking up, I saw approaching
on horseback, a young man in whom
I had no difficulty in recognizing the subject of
the last remark.
Straight, slight, elegant in appearance, but
with an undoubted reserve of manner apparent
even at a distance, he rode up to where I stood,
and casting a slight glance around, bowed almost
imperceptibly, and alighted. A boy caught the
bridle of his horse, and Mr. Benson, without a
word or further look, passed quickly into the
office, leaving a silence behind him that was not
disturbed till he returned with what was evidently
his noonday mail. Remounting his horse,
he stopped a moment to speak to a man who
had just come up, and I seized the opportunity
to study his face. I did not like it. It was
handsome without doubt; the features were
regular, the complexion fair, the expression gentlemanly
if not commanding; but I did not like
it. It was too impenetrable perhaps; and to a
detective anxious to probe a man for his motives,
this is ever a most fatal defect. His smile was
without sunshine; his glance was an inquiry, a
rebuke, a sarcasm, every thing but a revelation.
As he rode away he carried with him the thought
of all, yet I doubt if the admiration he undoubtedly
inspired, was in a single case mixed with
any warmer feeling than that of pride in a fellow
townsman they could not understand.
"Ice," thought I; "ice in all but its transparency!"
So much for Benson the son.
The ball was to take place that very night;
and the knowledge of this fact threw a different
light over the letter I had read. The word mask
had no longer any special significance, neither the
word counterfeit, and yet such was the tenor of
the note itself, and such the exaggerated nature
of its phrases, I could not but feel that some
plot of a reprehensible if not criminal nature
was in the process of formation, which, as a rising
young detective engaged in a mysterious and
elusive search, it behooved me to know. And
moved by this consideration, I turned to a new
leaf in my memorandum-book, and put down in
black and white the following facts thus summarily
"A mysterious family with a secret.
"Rich, but with no visible means of wealth.
"Secluded, with no apparent reason for the
"A father who is a hermit.
"A son who is impenetrable.
"A daughter whose tastes are seldom gratified.
"The strange fact of a ball being given by this
family after years of reserve and non-intercourse
with their neighbors.
"The still stranger fact of it being a masquerade,
a style of entertainment which, from its
novelty and the opportunities it affords, makes
this departure from ordinary rules seem marked
"The discovery of a letter appointing a rendezvous
between two persons of the male sex,
in the grounds of the party giving this ball, in
which the opportunities afforded by a masquerade
are to be used for forwarding some long-cherished
At the bottom of this I wrote a deduction:
"Some connection between one or more
members of this family giving the ball, and the
person called to the rendezvous; the entertainment
being used as a blind if not as a means."
It was now four o'clock, five hours before the
time of rendezvous. How should I employ the
interval? A glance at the livery-stable hard by,
determined me. Procuring a horse, I rode out
on the road toward Mr. Benson's, for the purpose
of reconnoitring the grounds; but as I proceeded
I was seized by an intense desire to
penetrate into the midst of this peculiar household,
and judge for myself whether it was worth
while to cherish any further suspicions in regard
to this family. But how to effect such an
entrance? What excuse could I give for my
intrusion that would be likely to serve me on a
day of such tumult and preoccupation? I looked
up and down the road as if for inspiration. It did
not come. Meanwhile, the huge trees that surrounded
the house had loomed in sight, and
presently the beauties of lawn and parterre
began to appear beyond the high iron fence,
through which I could catch now and then
short glimpses of hurrying forms, as lanterns
were hung on the trees and all things put in
readiness for the evening's entertainment. Suddenly
a thought struck me. If Mr. Benson was
the man they said, he was not engaged in any
of these arrangements. Mr. Benson was a
hermit. Now what could I say that would
interest a hermit? I racked my brains; a
single idea came. It was daring in its nature,
but what of that! The gate must be passed,
Mr. Benson must be seen—or so my adventurous
curiosity decided,—and to do it, something
must be ventured. Taking out my card, which
was simply inscribed with my name, I wrote
on it, "Business private and immediate," and
assuming my most gentlemanly and inoffensive
manner, rode calmly through the gate to the
front of the house. If I had been on foot I
doubt if I would have been allowed to pass by
the servant lounging about in that region, but
the horse carried me through in more senses
than one, and almost before I realized it, I found
myself pausing before the portico, in full view of
a dozen or more busy men and boys.
Imitating the manner of Mr. Benson at the
post-office, I jumped from my horse and threw
the bridle to the boy nearest me. Instantly and
before I could take a step, a servant issued from
the open door, and with an expression of anxiety
somewhat surprising under the circumstances,
took his stand before me in a way to hinder my
"Mr. Benson does not receive visitors to-day,"
"I am not a visitor," replied I; "I have business
with Mr. Benson," and I handed him my
card, which he looked at with a doubtful expression.
"Mr. Benson's commands are not to be disobeyed,"
persisted the man. "My master sees
no one to-day."
"But this is an exceptional case," I urged, my
curiosity rising at this unexpected opposition.
"My business is important and concerns him.
He cannot refuse to see me."
The servant shook his head with what
appeared to me to be an unnecessary expression
of alarm, but nevertheless retreated a step,
allowing me to enter. "I will call Mr. Hartley,"
But that was just what I did not wish. It was
Benson the father I had come to see, and I was
not to be baffled in this way.
"Mr. Hartley won't do," said I, in my lowest
but most determined accents. "If Mr. Benson
is not ill, I must beg to be admitted to his
presence." And stepping inside the small reception
room at my right, I sat down on the
first chair I came to.
The man stood for a moment confounded at
my pertinacity, then with a last scrutinizing look,
that took in every detail of my person and apparel,
drew slowly off, shaking his head and
murmuring to himself.
Meanwhile the mingled splendor and elegance
of my surroundings were slowly making their
impression upon me. The hall by which I had
entered was spacious and imposing; the room
in which I sat, a model of beauty in design and
finish. I was allowing myself the luxury of
studying its pictures and numerous works of
art, when the sound of voices reached my ear
from the next room. A man and woman were
conversing there in smothered tones, but my
senses are very acute, and I had no difficulty in
overhearing what was said.
"Oh, what an exciting day this has been!" cried
the female voice. "I have wanted to ask you
a dozen times what you think of it all. Will
he succeed this time? Has he the nerve to
embrace his opportunity, or what is more, the
tact to make one? Failure now would be fatal.
"Hush!" broke in the other voice, in a masculine
tone of repressed intensity. "Do not
forget that success depends upon your prudence.
One whisper of what you are about, and the
whole scheme is destroyed."
"I will be careful; only do you think that all
is going well and as we planned it?"
"It will not be my fault if it does not," was the
reply, uttered with an accent so sinister I was
conscious of a violent surprise when, in the next
instant, the other, with a burst of affectionate
fervor, cried in an ardent tone:
"Oh, how good you are, and what a comfort
you are to me!"
I was just pondering over the incongruity
thus presented, when the servant returned with
"Mr. Benson wishes to know the nature of
your business," said he, in a voice I was uncomfortably
conscious must penetrate to the
next room and awake its inmates to a knowledge
of my proximity.
"Let me have the card," said I; and taking it,
I added to my words the simple phrase, "On
behalf of the Constable of the town," remembering
I had heard the postmaster say this position
was held by his brother. "There," said I,
"carry that back to your master."
The servant took the card, glanced down at
the words I had written, started and hastily
drew back. "You had better come," said he,
leading the way into the hall.
I was only too glad to comply; in fact, escape
from that room seemed imperative. But just
as I was crossing the threshold, a sudden, quick
cry, half joyful, half fearful, rose behind me, and
turning, I met the eyes of a young lady peering
upon me from a lifted portière, with an expression
of mingled terror and longing that would
have astonished me greatly, if it had not instantly
disappeared at the first sight of my face.
"Pardon me," she exclaimed, drawing back
with an embarrassed movement into the room
from which she had emerged. But soon recovering
herself, she stepped hastily forward,
and ignoring me, said to the servant at my side:
"Jonas, who is this gentleman, and where are
you taking him?"
With a bow, Jonas replied: "He comes on
business, miss, and Mr. Benson consents to see
"But I thought my father had expressly commanded
that no one was to be allowed to enter
the library to-day," she exclaimed, but in a
musing tone that asked for no response. And
hastily as we passed down the hall, I could not
escape the uneasy sense that her eager eyes
were following us as we went.
"Too much emotion for so small a matter,
and a strange desire on the part of every one to
keep Mr. Benson from being intruded upon to-day,"
was my mental comment. And I was
scarcely surprised when upon our arrival at the
library door we found it locked. However, a
knock, followed by a few whispered words on
the part of the servant, served to arouse the
hermit within, and with a quick turn of the key,
the door flew back on its hinges, and the master
of the house stood before me.
It was a moment to be remembered: first,
because the picture presented to my eyes was
of a marked and impressive character; and
secondly, because something in the expression
of the gentleman before me showed that he had
received a shock at my introduction which was
not to be expected after the pains which had
been taken to prepare his mind for my visit.
He was a tall, remarkable-looking man, with a
head already whitened, and a form which, if not
bowed, had only retained its upright carriage by
means of the indomitable will that betrayed
itself in his eyes. Seen against the rich background
of the stained-glass window that
adorned one end of the apartment, his stern,
furrowed face and eagerly repellant aspect imprinted
itself upon me like a silhouette, while
the strong emotion I could not but detect in his
bearing, lent to the whole a poetic finish that
made it a living picture which, as I have said, I
have never been able to forget.
"You have come from the constable of the
town," said he, in a firm, hard tone, impressive
as his look. "May I ask for what purpose?"
Looking around, I saw the servant had disappeared.
"Sir," said I, gathering up my
courage, as I became convinced that in this
case I had a thoroughly honest man to deal
with, "you are going to give a fancy ball to-night.
Such an event is a novelty in these
parts, and arouses much curiosity. Some of
the men about town have even been heard to
threaten to leap the fences and steal a look at
your company, whether you will or not. Mr.
White wants to know whether you need any
assistance in keeping the grounds clear of all
but your legitimate guests; if so, he is ready
to supply whatever force you may need."
"Mr. White is very kind," returned Mr. Benson,
in a voice which, despite his will-power,
showed that his agitation had in some unaccountable
way been increased by my communication.
"I had not thought of any such contingency,"
he murmured, moving over to a window
and looking out. "An invasion of rowdies would
not be agreeable. They might even find their
way into the house." He paused and cast a
sudden look at me. "Who are you?" he
The question took me by surprise, but I
answered bravely if not calmly: "I am a man
who sometimes assists Mr. White in the performance
of his duties, and in case you need it,
will be the one to render you assistance to-night.
A line to Mr. White, if you doubt
A wave of his meagre hand stopped me.
"Do you think you could keep out of my house
to-night, any one I did not wish to enter?" he
"I should at least like to try."
"A ticket is given to every invited guest;
but if men are going to climb the fences, tickets
will amount to but little."
"I will see that the fences are guarded," cried
I, gratified at the prospect of being allowed
upon the scene of action. "I can hinder any
one from coming in that way, if——" Here I
paused, conscious of something, I could hardly
say what, that bade me be cautious and weigh
my words well. "If you desire it and will give
me the authority to act for you," I added in a
somewhat more indifferent tone.
"I do desire it," he replied shortly, moving
over to the table and taking up a card. "Here
is a ticket that will insure you entrance into the
grounds; the rest you will manage without
scandal. I do not want any disturbance, but if
you see any one hanging about the house or
peering into the windows or attempting to enter
in any way except through the front door, you
are to arrest them, no matter who they are. I
have an especial reason for desiring my wishes
attended to in this regard," he went on, not
noticing the preoccupation that had seized me,
"and will pay well if on the morrow I find that
every thing has gone off according to my
"Money is a powerful incentive to duty," I
rejoined, with marked emphasis, directing a sly
glance at the mirror opposite, in whose depths I
had but a moment before been startled by the
sudden apparition of the pale and strongly
agitated face of young Mr. Benson, who was
peering from a door-way half hidden by a screen
at our back. "I will be on hand to-night."
And with what I meant to be a cynical look, I
made my bow and disappeared from the room.
As I expected, I was met at the front door by
Mr. Hartley. "A word with you," said he.
"Jonas tells me you are from the constable of
the town. May I ask what has gone amiss
that you come here to disturb my father on
a day like this?"
His tone was not unkind, his expression not
without suavity. If I had not had imprinted on
my memory the startling picture of his face as I
had seen it an instant before in the mirror, I
should have been tempted to believe in his
goodness and integrity at this moment. As it
was, I doubted him through and through, yet
replied with frankness and showed him the
ticket I had received from his father.
"And you are going to make it your business
to guard the grounds to-night?" he asked,
gloomily glancing at the card in my hand as if
he would like to annihilate it.
"Yes," said I.
He drew me into a small room half filled with
"Now," said he, "see here. Such a piece
of interference is entirely uncalled for, and you
have been alarming my father unnecessarily.
There are no rowdies in this town, and if one
or two of the villagers should get into the
grounds, where is the harm? They cannot get
into the house even if they wanted to, which
they don't. I do not wish this, our first show
of hospitality, to assume a hostile aspect, and
whatever my father's expectations may be, I
must request you to curtail your duties as much
as possible and limit them to responding by
your presence when called upon."
"But your father has a right to expect the
fullest obedience to his wishes," I protested.
"He would not be satisfied if I should do no
more than you request, and I cannot afford to
He looked at me with a calculating eye, and
I expected to see him put his hand in his pocket;
but Hartley Benson played his cards better
than that. "Very well," said he, "if you persist
in regarding my father's wishes as paramount,
I have nothing to say. Fulfil your duties as
you conceive them, but don't look for my support
if any foolish misadventure makes you
ashamed of yourself." And drawing back, he
motioned me out of the room.
I felt I had received a check, and hurried out
of the house. But scarcely had I entered upon
the walk that led down to the gate, when I
heard a light step behind me. Turning, I
encountered the pretty daughter of the house,
the youthful Miss Carrie.
"Wait," she cried, allowing herself to display
her emotion freely in face and bearing. "I
have heard who you are from my brother," she
continued, approaching me with a soft grace
that at once put me upon my guard. "Now,
tell me who are the rowdies that threaten to
invade our grounds?"
"I do not know their names, miss," I responded;
"but they are a rough-looking set
you would not like to see among your guests."
"There are no very rough-looking men in
our village," she declared; "you must be mistaken
in regard to them. My father is nervous
and easily alarmed. It was wrong to arouse
I thought of that steady eye of his, of force
sufficient to hold in awe a regiment of insurgents,
and smiled at her opinion of my understanding.
"Then you do not wish the grounds guarded,"
I said, in as indifferent a tone as I could assume.
"I do not consider it necessary."
"But I have already pledged myself to fulfil
your father's commands."
"I know," she said, drawing a step nearer,
with a most enchanting smile. "And that was
right under the circumstances; but we, his
children, who may be presumed to know more
of social matters than a recluse,—I, especially,"
she added, with a certain emphasis, "tell you it
is not necessary. We fear the scandal it may
cause; besides, some of the guests may choose
to linger about the grounds under the trees,
and would be rather startled at being arrested
"What, then, do you wish me to do?" I asked,
leaning toward her, with an appearance of
"To accept this money," she murmured,
blushing, "and confine yourself to-night to remaining
in the background unless called upon."
This was a seconding of her brother's proposition
with a vengeance. Taking the purse she
handed me, I weighed it for a moment in my
hand, and then slowly shook my head. "Impossible,"
I cried; "but"—and I fixed my eyes
intently upon her countenance—"if there is any
one in particular whom you desire me to ignore,
I am ready to listen to a description of his
person. It has always been my pleasure to
accommodate myself as much as possible to the
whims of the ladies."
It was a bold stroke that might have cost me
the game. Indeed, I half expected she would
raise her voice and order some of the men
about her to eject me from the grounds. But
instead of that she remained for a moment blushing
painfully, but surveying me with an unfaltering
gaze that reminded me of her father's.
"There is a person," said she, in a low, restrained
voice, "whom I am especially anxious
should remain unmolested, whatever he may or
may not be seen to do. He is a guest," she
went on, a sudden pallor taking the place of her
blushes, "and has a right to be here; but I
doubt if he at once enters the house, and I even
suspect he may choose to loiter awhile in the
grounds before attempting to join the company.
I ask you to allow him to do so."
I bowed with an appearance of great respect.
"Describe him," said I.
For a moment she faltered, with a distressed
look I found it difficult to understand. Then,
with a sudden glance over my person, exclaimed:
"Look in the glass when you get home and
you will see the fac-simile of his form, though
not of his face. He is fair, whereas you are
dark." And with a haughty lift of her head calculated
to rob me of any satisfaction I might
have taken in her words, she stepped slowly
I stopped her with a gesture. "Miss," said
I, "take your purse before you go. Payment
of any service I may render your father will
come in time. This affair is between you and
me, and I hope I am too much of a gentleman
to accept money for accommodating a lady in
so small a matter as this."
But she shook her head. "Take it," said
she, "and assure me that I may rely on you."
"You may rely on me without the money,"
I replied, forcing the purse back into her hand.
"Then I shall rest easy," she returned, and
retreated with a lightsome air toward the house.
The next moment I was on the highway with
my thoughts. What did it all mean? Was it,
then, a mere love affair across which I had
foolishly stumbled, and was I busying myself
unnecessarily about a rendezvous that might
mean no more than an elopement from under a
severe father's eye? Taking out the note which
had led to all these efforts on my part, I read it
for the third time.
"All goes well. The time has come; every
thing is in train, and success is certain. Be in
the shrubbery at the northeast corner of the
grounds at 9 P.M. precisely; you will be given
a mask and such other means as are necessary
to insure you the accomplishment of the end
you have in view. He cannot hold out against
a surprise. The word by which you will know
your friends is
A love-letter of course; and I had been a
fool to suppose it any thing else. The young
people are to surprise the old gentleman in the
presence of their friends. They have been
secretly married perhaps, who knows, and take
this method of obtaining a public reconciliation.
But that word "Counterfeit," and the
sinister tone of Hartley Benson as he said:
"It shall not fail through lack of effort on my
part!" Such a word and such a tone did not
rightly tally with this theory. Few brothers
take such interest in their sister's love affairs as
to grow saturnine over them. There was,
beneath all this, something which I had not yet
penetrated. Meantime my duty led me to remain
true to the one person of whose integrity
of purpose I was most thoroughly convinced.
Returning to the village, I hunted up Mr.
White and acquainted him with what I had
undertaken in his name; and then perceiving
that the time was fast speeding by, strolled over
to the tavern for my supper.
The stranger was still there, walking up and
down the sitting-room. He joined us at the
table, but I observed he scarcely tasted his food,
and both then and afterward manifested the same
anxious suspense that had characterized his
movements from the time of our first encounter.
THE BLACK DOMINO.
At half past eight I was at my post. The
mysterious stranger, still under my direct
surveillance, had already entered the grounds
and taken his stand in the southwest corner of
the shrubbery, thereby leaving me free to exercise
my zeal in keeping the fences and gates
free of intruders. At nine the guests were
nearly if not all assembled; and promptly at the
hour mentioned in the note so often referred to,
I stole away from my post and hid myself amid
the bushes that obscured the real place of rendezvous.
It was a retired spot, eminently fitted for a
secret meeting. The lamps, which had been
hung in profusion through the grounds, had
been studiously excluded from this quarter.
Even the broad blaze of light that poured from
the open doors and windows of the brilliantly
illuminated mansion, sent no glimmer through
the broad belt of evergreens that separated this
retreat from the open lawn beyond. All was
dark, all was mysterious, all was favorable to the
daring plan I had undertaken. In silence I
awaited the sound of approaching steps.
My suspense was of short duration. In a few
moments I heard a low rustle in the bushes near
me, then a form appeared before my eyes, and
a man's voice whispered:
"Is there any one here?"
My reply was to glide quietly into view.
Instantly he spoke again, this time with more
"Are you ready for a counterfeit?"
"I am ready for any thing," I returned, in
smothered tones, hoping by thus disguising my
voice, to lure him into a revelation of the true
purpose of this mysterious rendezvous.
But instead of the explanations I expected,
the person before me made a quick movement,
and I felt a domino thrown over my shoulders.
"Draw it about you well," he murmured;
"there are lynx eyes in the crowd to-night."
And while I mechanically obeyed, he bent down
to my ear and earnestly continued: "Now
listen, and be guided by my instructions. You
will not be able to enter by the front door, as it
is guarded, and you cannot pass without removing
your mask. But the window on the left-hand
balcony is at your service. It is open, and
the man appointed to keep intruders away, has
been bribed to let you pass. Once inside the
house, join the company sans céremonie; and do
not hesitate to converse with any one who
addresses you by the countersign. Promptly
at ten o'clock look around you for a domino in
plain black. When you see him move, follow
him, but with discretion, so that you may not
seem to others to be following. Sooner or later
he will pause and point to a closed door. Notice
that door, and when your guide has disappeared,
approach and enter it without fear or hesitation.
You will find yourself in a small apartment connecting
with the library.
"There is but one thing more to say. If the
wineglass you will observe on the library table
smells of wine, you may know your father has
had his nightly potion and gone to bed. But
if it contains nothing more than a small white
powder, you may be certain he has yet to return
to the library, and that by waiting, you will have
the long-wished-for opportunity of seeing him."
And pausing for no reply, my strange companion
suddenly thrust a mask into my hand
and darted from the circle of trees that surrounded
For a moment I stood dumbfounded at the
position in which my recklessness had placed
me. All the folly, the impertinence even, of the
proceeding upon which I had entered, was revealed
to me in its true colors, and I mentally
inquired what could have induced me to thus
hamper myself with the details of a mystery so
entirely removed from the serious matter I had
in charge. Resolved to abandon the affair, I
made a hasty attempt to disengage myself from
the domino in which I had been so unceremoniously
enveloped. But invisible hands
seemed to restrain me. A vivid remembrance
of the tone in which these final instructions had
been uttered returned to my mind, and while I
recognized the voice as that of Hartley Benson,
I also recognized the almost saturnine intensity
of expression which had once before imbued his
words with a significance both forcible and surprising.
The secret, if a purely family one, was
of no ordinary nature; and at the thought I felt
my old interest revive. All the excuses with
which I had hitherto silenced my conscience
recurred to me with fresh force, and mechanically
donning my mask, I prepared to follow out my
guide's instructions to the last detail.
The window to which I had been directed
stood wide open. Through it came the murmur
of music and the hum of gay voices. Visions of
a motley crowd decked in grotesque costumes
passed constantly before my eyes. Sight and
sound combined to allure me. Hurrying to the
window, I stepped carelessly in.
A low guttural "Hugh!" at once greeted me.
It was from a mask in full Indian costume, whom
I saw leaning with a warrior's well-known dignity
against the embrasure of the window by
which I had entered. Giving him a scrutinizing
glance, I came to the conclusion he was a young
and not inelegant man; and impelled by a
reasonable curiosity as to how I looked myself,
I cast my eyes down upon my own person. I
found my appearance sufficiently striking. The
domino, in which I was wrapped was of a brilliant
yellow hue, covered here and there with
black figures representing all sorts of fantastic
creatures, from hobgoblins of a terrible type, to
merry Kate Greenaway silhouettes. "Humph!"
thought I, "it seems I am not destined to glide
unnoticed amid the crowd."
The first person who approached me was a
gay little shepherdess.
"Ah, ha!" was the sportive exclamation with
which she greeted me. "Here is one of my
wandering sheep!" And with a laugh, she endeavored
to hook me to her side by means of
her silver crook.
But this blithesome puppet possessed no interest
for me. So with a growl and a bound I
assured her I was nothing more than a wolf in
sheep's clothing, and would eat her up if she
did not run away; at which she gayly laughed
and vanished, and for a moment I was left alone.
But only for a moment. A masked lady, whom
I had previously observed standing upright and
solitary in a distant corner of the room, now approached,
and taking me by the arm, led me
eagerly to one side.
"Oh, Joe!" she whispered, "is it you? How
glad I am to have you here, and how I hope we
are going to be happy at last!"
Fearing to address a person seemingly so
well acquainted with the young man whose
place I had usurped, I merely pressed, with most
perfidious duplicity, the little hand that was so
confidingly clasped in mine. It seemed to
satisfy her, for she launched at once into ardent
"Oh, Joe, I have been so anxious to have
you with us once again! Hartley is a good
brother, but he is not my old playmate. Then
father will be so much happier if you only
succeed in making him forget the past."
Seeing by this that it was Miss Carrie Benson
with whom I had to deal, I pressed the little
hand again, and tenderly drew her closer to my
side. That I felt all the time like a villain of the
blackest dye, it is quite unnecessary for me to
"Has Hartley told you just what you are to
do?" was her next remark. "Father is very
determined not to relent and has kept himself
locked in his library all day, for fear you should
force yourself upon his presence. I could never
have gained his consent to give this ball if I had
not first persuaded him it would serve as a
means to keep you at a distance; that if you
saw the house thronged with guests, natural
modesty would restrain you from pushing yourself
forward. I think he begins to distrust his
own firmness. He fears he will melt at the
sight of you. He has been failing this last
year and—" A sudden choke stopped her
I was at once both touched and alarmed;
touched at the grief which showed her motives
to be pure and good, and alarmed at the position
in which I had thrust myself to the apparent
detriment of these same laudable motives.
Moved by a desire to right matters, I ventured
"And do you think," I whispered, in purposely
smothered accents, "that if he sees me he will
"I am sure of it. He yearns over you, Joe;
and if he had not sworn never to speak to you
again, he would have sent for you long ago.
Hartley believes as well as I that the time for
reconciliation has come."
"And is Hartley," I ventured again, not without
a secret fear of the consequences, "really
anxious for reconciliation?"
"Oh, Joe! can you doubt it? Has he not
striven from the first to make father forget?
Would he encourage you to come here to-night,
furnish you with a disguise, and consent to act
both as your champion and adviser, if he did not
want to see you and father friends again? You
don't understand Hartley; you never have.
You would not have repelled his advances so
long, if you had realized how truly he had forgiven
every thing and forgotten it. Hartley has the
pride of a person who has never done wrong
himself. But even pride gives way before
brotherly affection; and you have suffered so
much and so long, poor Joe!"
"So, so," thought I, "Joe is then the aggressor!"
And for a moment, I longed to be the man
I represented, if only to clasp this dear little sister
in my arms and thank her for her goodness.
"You are a darling," I faintly articulated, inwardly
determined to rush forthwith into the garden,
hand over my domino to the person for whom
it was intended, and make my escape from a
scene which I had so little right to enjoy. But
at this instant an interruption occurred which
robbed me of my companion, but kept me effectually
in my place. A black domino swept by
us, dragging Miss Benson from my side, while
at the same time a harsh voice whispered in my
"To counterfeit wrong when one is right,
necessarily opens one to misunderstanding."
I started, recognizing in this mode of speech
a friend, and therefore one from whom I could
not escape without running the risk of awakening
"That is true," I returned, hoping by my
abrupt replies to cut short this fresh colloquy
and win a speedy release.
But something in my answer roused the interest
of the person at my side, and caused a
display of emotion that led to quite an opposite
result from what I desired.
"You awaken a thousand conjectures in my
mind by that reply," exclaimed my friend, edging
me a little farther back from the crowd. "I
have always had my doubts about—about—"
he paused, hunting for the proper phrase—"about
your having done what they said," he
somewhat lamely concluded. "It was so unlike
you. But now I begin to see the presence
of a possibility that might perhaps explain much
we never understood. Joe, my boy, you never
said you were innocent, but——"
"Who are you?" I asked boldly, peering into
the twinkling eyes that shone upon me from his
sedate mask. "In the discussion of such matters
as these, it would be dreadful to make a
"And don't you recognize your Uncle Joe?"
he asked, with a certain plaintive reproach somewhat
out of keeping with his costume of "potent,
grave, and reverend signior." "I came over
from Hollowell on purpose, because Carrie intimated
that you were going to make one final
effort to see your father. Edith is here too," he
murmured, thrusting his face alarmingly near
mine. "She would not stay away, though we
were all afraid she might betray herself; her
emotions are so quick. Poor child! she never
doubted you; and if my suspicions are correct——"
"Edith?" I interrupted,—"Edith?" An Edith
was the last person I desired to meet under these
circumstances. "Where is she?" I tremulously
inquired, starting aside in some dismay at the
prospect of encountering this unknown quantity
of love and devotion.
But my companion, seizing me by the arm,
drew me back. "She is not far away; of that
you may be sure. But it will never do for you
to try and hunt her up. You would not know
her in her mask. Besides, if you remain still
she will come to you."
That was just what I feared, but upon looking
round and seeing no suspicious-looking damsel
anywhere near me, I concluded to waive my
apprehensions on her account and proceed to
the development of an idea that had been
awakened by the old gentleman's words.
"You are right," I acquiesced, edging, in my
turn, toward the curtained recess of a window
near by. "Let us wait here, and meantime you
shall tell me what your suspicions are, for I feel
the time has come for the truth to be made
known, and who could better aid me in proclaiming
it than you who have always stood my
"That is true," he murmured, all eagerness
at once. Then in a lower tone and with a significant
gesture: "There is something, then,
which has never been made known? Edith
was right when she said you did not steal the
bonds out of your father's desk?"
As he paused and looked me in the face, I
was obliged to make some reply. I chose one
of the non-committal sort.
"Don't ask me!" I murmured, turning away
with every appearance of profound agitation.
He did not suspect the ruse.
"But, my boy, I shall have to ask you; if I
am to help you out of this scrape, I must know
the truth. Yet if it is as I suspect, I can see
why you should hesitate even now. You are a
generous fellow, Joe, but even generosity can be
carried past its proper limits."
"Uncle," I exclaimed, leaning over him and
whispering tremulously in his ear, "what are
your suspicions? If I hear you give utterance
to them, perhaps it will not be so hard for me
He hesitated, looked all about us with a
questioning glance, put his mouth to my ear,
"If I should use the name of Hartley in connection
with what I have to say, would you be
so very much surprised?"
With a quick semblance of emotion, I drew
"You think—" I tremulously commenced,
and as suddenly broke off.
"That it was he who did it, and that you,
knowing how your father loved him and built
his hopes upon him, bore the blame of it yourself."
"Ha!" I exclaimed, with a deep breath as of
relief. The suspicions of Uncle Joe were worth
He seemed to be satisfied with the ejaculation,
and with an increase of eagerness in his
tone, went quickly on:
"Am I not right, my boy? Is not this the
secret of your whole conduct from that dreadful
day to this?"
"Don't ask me," I again pleaded, taking care,
however, to draw a step nearer and exclaim in
almost the same breath: "Why should you
think it must necessarily have been one of us?
What did you know that you should be so positive
it was either he or I who committed this
"What did I know? Why, what everybody
else did. That your father, hearing a noise in
his study one night, rose up quietly and slipped
to the door of communication in time to hear a
stealthy foot leave the room and proceed down
the hall toward the apartment usually occupied
by you and your brother; that, alarmed and
filled with vague distrust, he at once lit the
lamp, only to discover his desk had been forcibly
broken into and a number of coupon bonds
taken out; that, struck to the heart, he went
immediately to the room where you and your
brother lay, found him lying quiet, and to all
appearance asleep, while you looked flushed
and with difficulty met his eye; that without
hesitation he thereupon accused you of theft,
and began to search the apartment; that he
found the bonds, as we both know, in a cupboard
at the head of your bed, and when you
were asked if you had put them there you
remained silent, and neither then nor afterward
made any denial of being the one who stole
A mournful "Yes" was all the reply I ventured
"Now it never seemed to occur to your
father to doubt your guilt. The open window
and the burglar's jimmy found lying on the floor
of the study, being only so many proofs, to his
mind, of your deep calculation and great duplicity.
But I could not help thinking, even on
that horrible morning, that your face did not
wear a look of guilt so much as it did that of
firm and quiet resolution. But I was far from
suspecting the truth, my boy, or I should never
have allowed you to fall a victim to your father's
curse, and be sent forth like a criminal from
home and kindred. If only for Edith's sake I
would have spoken—dear, trusting, faithful girl
that she is!"
"But—but—" I brokenly ejaculated, anxious
to gain as much of the truth as was possible in
the few minutes allotted me; "what has awakened
your suspicions at this late day? Why
should you doubt Hartley now, if you did not
"Well, I cannot really say. Perhaps Edith's
persistent aversion to your brother has had
something to do with it. Then he has grown
cold and hard, while you have preserved your
boyish freshness and affection. I—I don't like
him, that is the truth; and with my dislike
arose doubts, and—and—well, I cannot tell how
it is, but I will believe you if you say he was
the one to blame in this matter; and what is
more, your father will believe you too; for he
does not feel the same satisfaction in Hartley's
irreproachable character that he used to, and—and—"
A sudden movement in the crowd stopped
him. A tall, graceful-looking woman clad entirely
in white had just entered the room and
seemed to be making her way toward us.
"There is Edith!" he declared. "She is
hunting for the yellow domino ornamented with
black that she has been told conceals her lover.
Shall I go and fetch her here, or will you wait
until she spies you of her own accord?"
"I will wait," I uneasily replied, edging
nearer to the window with the determination of
using it as a means of escape if my companion
only gave me the chance. "See! she is in the
hands of an old Jew, who seems to be greatly
taken with the silver trimmings on her sleeves.
Suppose you improve the opportunity to slip
away," I laughingly suggested. "Lovers'
meetings are not usually of an order to interest
"Aren't they, you rogue!" retorted the old
gentleman, giving me a jocose poke in the ribs.
"Well, well, I suppose you are right. But you
have not told me—"
"I will tell you every thing in an hour," I
hastily assured him. "I am going to meet my
father in the library, and after he has heard the
truth, you shall be admitted and all will be
"That is only fair," he replied. "Your father
has the first rights, of course. But Joe, my
boy, remember I am not over and above patient
of disposition, and don't keep me waiting too
long." And with an affectionate squeeze of my
hand, he stepped out from the recess where we
stood and made his way once more into the
No sooner had he left my side than I threw
up the window. "Now is the time for the real
Joe to appear upon the scene," was my mental
decision. "I have done for him what he as a
gentleman would probably never do for himself—pumped
this old party and got every thing in
trim for Hartley's discomfiture. But the courting
business is another matter; also the interview
with the outraged father in the library.
That cannot be done by proxy; so here goes
for a change of actors."
And with reckless disregard of consequences,
I prepared to jump from the window, when
a sudden light flashed over the lawn beneath
and I saw I was at least twelve feet from the
"Well," I exclaimed, drawing hastily back;
"such a leap as that is too much to expect of
any man!" And with the humiliating consciousness
of being caught in a trap, I proceeded
to close the window.
'Twas a low whisper, but how thrilling!
Turning, I greeted, with the show of fervor I
considered necessary to the occasion, the white-veiled
lady who had glided into my retreat.
"Did you think I was never coming, Joe?
Everybody who could get in my way certainly
managed to do so. Then Hartley is so suspicious,
and followed me with his eyes so persistently,
I did not dare show my designs too
plainly. It is only this minute he left my side.
If you had been anywhere else I do not know
as I should have succeeded even now in getting
a word with you—oh!"
This exclamation was called forth by a sudden
movement that took place near us. The curtain
was drawn back and a tall man dressed in
a black domino glanced in, gave us a scrutinizing
look, bowed, and dropped the curtain
"Hartley," she whisperingly explained.
I took her by the hand; there was no help
for it; gesture and a lover-like demeanor must,
in this case, supply the place of speech.
"Hush!" she entreated. (Not that I had
spoken.) "I dare not stay. When you have
seen your father, perhaps I will have courage
to join you; but now it would be better for me
to go." And her eyes roamed toward the curtain,
while the little hand I held in mine grew
cold and slightly trembled.
I pressed that little hand, but, as you may well
believe, did not urge her to remain. Yet she
did not seem in a hurry to depart, and I do not
know what complications might have ensued, if
another movement in the curtain had not reawakened
her fears and caused her, notwithstanding
her evident reluctance, to start quickly
I did not linger long behind her. Scarcely
had the curtain fallen from her hand than I
stepped hastily forth. But alas for my hopes of
escape! No sooner had I joined the group of
merry-makers circling about the open door, than
I felt a touch on my arm, and looking up, saw
before me the Black Domino. The hour of ten
had struck and my guide to the library was at
hand. There was no alternative left me but
to follow him.
AN UNEXPECTED CALAMITY.
Five minutes passed, during which I
threaded more laughing groups and sauntered
down more mysterious passage-ways than
I would care to count. Still the mysterious
Black Domino glided on before me, leading me
from door to door till my patience was nearly
exhausted, and I had well-nigh determined to
give him the slip and make my way at once to
the garden, and the no-doubt-by-this-time-highly-impatient
But before I had the opportunity of carrying
out this scheme, the ominous Black Domino
paused, and carelessly pointing to a door at the
termination of a narrow corridor, bowed, and
"Now," said I, as soon as I found myself
alone, "shall I proceed with this farce, or shall
I end it? To go on means to interview Mr.
Benson, acquaint him with what has come to my
knowledge during the last half hour in which I
have so successfully personified his son, and by
these means perhaps awake him to the truth
concerning this serious matter of Joseph's innocence
or Hartley's guilt; while to stop now
implies nothing more nor less than a full explanation
with his son, a man of whose character,
manners, and disposition I know little or
Either alternative presented infinite difficulties,
but of the two the former seemed to me
more feasible and less embarrassing. At all
events, in talking with Mr. Benson, I should not
have the sensibilities of a lover to contend with,
and however unfortunate in its results our interview
might be, would be at the mercy of old
blood instead of young, a point always to be
considered in a case where one's presumption
has been carried beyond the bounds of decorum.
Unlocking the door, I stepped, as I had been
told I should, into a small room adjoining the
library. All around me were books. Even the
door by which I had entered was laden with
them, so that when it was closed, all vestige of
the door itself disappeared. Across the opening
into the library stood a screen, and it was
not until I had pushed this somewhat aside that
I was able to look into that room.
My first glance assured me it was empty.
Stark and bare of any occupant, the high-backed
chairs loomed in the funereal gloom, while on
the table, toward which I inadvertently glanced,
stood a decanter with a solitary wineglass at its
side. Instantly I remembered what had been
told me concerning that glass, and stepping forward,
I took it up and looked at it.
Immediately I heard, or thought I heard, an
exclamation uttered somewhere near me. But
upon glancing up and down the room and perceiving
no one, I concluded I was mistaken, and
deliberately proceeded to examine the wineglass
and assure myself that no wine had as yet
been poured upon the powder I found in it.
Satisfied at last that Mr. Benson had not yet
taken his usual evening potion, I put the glass
back and withdrew again to my retreat.
I do not think another minute could have
elapsed, before I heard a step in the room behind
me. A door leading into an adjoining apartment
had opened and Mr. Benson had come in.
He passed immediately to the table, poured out
the wine upon the powder, and drank it off without
a moment's hesitation. I heard him sigh as
he put the glass down.
With a turn of my hand I slipped off both
domino and mask, and prepared to announce
my presence by tapping on the lintel of the door
beside which I stood. But a sudden change in
Mr. Benson's lofty figure startled me. He was
swaying, and the arms which had fallen to his
side were moving with a convulsive action that
greatly alarmed me. But almost instantly he
recovered himself, and paced with a steady step
toward the hall door, which at that moment resounded
with a short loud knock.
"Who is there?" he asked, with every
appearance of his usual sternness.
"Hartley," was the reply.
"Are you alone?" the old gentleman again
queried, making a move as if to unlock the door.
"Carrie is with me; no one else," came in
smothered accents from without.
Mr. Benson at once turned the key, but no
sooner had he done so than he staggered back.
For an instant or two of horror he stood oscillating
from side to side, then his frame succumbed,
and the terrified eyes of his children
beheld his white head lying low, all movement
and appearance of life gone from the form that
but a moment before towered so proudly before
With a shriek, the daughter flung herself down
at his side, and even the cheek of Hartley
Benson grew white as he leaned over his father's
already inanimate body.
"He is dead!" came in a wild cry from her
lips. "See! he does not breathe. Oh! Hartley,
what could have happened? Do you think
"Hush!" he exclaimed, with a furtive glance
around him. "He may be here; let me look.
If Joe has done this—" He did not continue,
but rose, and with a rapid tread began to cross
the floor in my direction.
In a flash I realized my situation. To be
found by him now, without a domino, and in the
position of listener, would be any thing but
desirable. But I knew of no way of escape, or
so for the moment it seemed. But great emergencies
call forth sudden resources. In the
quick look I inadvertently threw around me, I
observed that the portière hanging between me
and the library was gathered at one side in very
heavy folds. If I could hide behind them perhaps
I might elude the casual glance he would
probably cast into my place of concealment. At
all events it was worth trying, and at the thought
I glided behind the curtain. I was not disappointed
in my calculations. Arrived at the
door, he looked in, perceived the domino lying
in a heap on the floor, and immediately drew
back with an exclamation of undoubted satisfaction.
"He is gone," said he, crossing back to his
sister's side. Then in a tone of mingled irony
and bitterness, hard to describe, cried aloud with
a glance toward the open door: "He has first
killed his father and then fled. Fool that I
was to think he could be trusted!"
A horrified "Hartley!" burst from his sister's
lips and a suppressed but equally vehement
"Villain!" from mine; but neither of us had
time for more, for almost at the same instant
the room filled with frightened guests, among
which I discerned the face and form of the old
servant Jonas, and the flowing robes and the
white garments of Uncle Joe and the graceful
To describe the confusion that followed would
be beyond my powers, especially as my attention
was at the time not so much directed to the
effect produced by this catastrophe, as to the
man whom, from the moment Mr. Benson fell to
the floor, I regarded as my lawful prey. He
did not quake and lose his presence of mind in
this terrible crisis. He was gifted with too much
self-control to betray any unseemly agitation
even over such a matter as his father's sudden
death. Once only did I detect his lip tremble,
and that was when an elderly gentleman (presumably
a doctor) exclaimed after a careful
examination of the fallen man:
"This is no case of apoplexy, gentlemen!"
Then indeed Mr. Hartley Benson shivered,
and betrayed an emotion for which I considered
myself as receiving a due explanation when, a
few minutes later, I observed the same gentleman
lay his hand upon the decanter and glass
that stood on the table, and after raising them
one after the other to his nose, slowly shake
his head, and with a furtive look around him,
lock them both in a small cupboard that opened
over the mantel-piece.
IN THE LIBRARY.
Mr. Benson was really dead. The fact
being announced, most of the guests
withdrew. In ten minutes after he fell, the
room was comparatively clear. Only the various
members of the family, together with the gentleman
I have already mentioned, remained
behind; and, even of these, the two ladies were
absent, they having followed the body into the
adjoining room, where it had been reverently
carried by the attached Jonas and another servant
whose face I did not see.
"A most unlooked-for catastrophe," burst
from the lips of Uncle Joe. "Did you ever
suspect he was a victim to heart disease?" he
now asked, this time with looks directed toward
"No," came from that gentleman in a short,
sharp way, which made Hartley Benson's pale
face flush, though his eye did not waver from
its steady solemn look toward the door through
which his father's form had just been carried.
"Mr. Benson was sound through and through a
month ago. I know, because I examined him
previous to his making his will. There was no
heart disease then; that I am ready to take my
Hartley Benson's rigid look unfastened itself
from the door and turned slowly toward the
sombre face of the speaker, while Uncle Joe,
with an increased expression of distress, looked
slowly around as if he half hoped, half feared to
behold his favorite nephew advance upon them
from some shadowy corner.
"My father consulted you, then?" said the
former, in his slow, reserved way. "Did not
that evince some suspicion of disease on his
"Possibly; a man in a despondent frame of
mind will often imagine he has some deadly
complaint or other. But he was quite sound;
too sound, he seemed to think. Your father
was not a happy man, Mr. Benson."
There was meaning in the tone, and I was
not surprised to observe Hartley draw back.
"Why," said he, "do you think—"
"I think nothing," broke in the doctor;
"only"—and here he brought down his hand
vigorously upon the table—"there has been
prussic acid in the glass from which Mr. Benson
drank this evening. The smell of bitter almonds
is not to be mistaken."
An interval of silent horror followed this announcement,
then a vehement "Great Heaven!"
broke from the lips of Uncle Joe, while Hartley
Benson, growing more and more rigid in his
bearing, fixed his eyes on the doctor's face and
"I say this," continued the doctor, too intent
upon his own theory to notice either the growth
of a terrible fear on the face of Uncle Joe,
or the equally remarkable expression of subdued
expectation on that of the son, "because
long experience has taught me the uselessness
of trying to hide such a fact as suicide, and also
because, being the coroner of the county, it is
my duty to warn you that an investigation will
have to take place which will require certain
precautions on my part, such as the sealing up
of his papers, etc."
"That is true," came from the lips of both
brother and son, over whom a visible change
had passed at the word "suicide."
"But I cannot think—" the former began in
an agitated voice.
"That my father would do such a deed,"
interposed the latter. "It does not seem probable,
and yet he was a very wretched man, and
grief will often drive the best of us to despair."
Uncle Joe gave his nephew a strange look,
but said no more. The doctor went quietly on:
"I do not know what your father's troubles
were, but that he committed suicide I greatly
fear, unless it can be proved the acid was taken
by mistake, a conclusion which does not seem
probable, for from the smell of the decanter it
is evident the acid was mixed with the wine, in
which I now remember advising him to take
the nightly powder I prescribed to him for quite
a trivial disorder a few days ago. The only
thing that puzzles me is, why, if he meditated
death, he should have troubled himself to take
this powder. And yet it is certain he did take
it, for there is still some of the sediment of it
remaining in the bottom of the glass."
"He took the powder because it was already
in the glass," broke in Hartley, in a heavy tone
of voice. "My sister put it there before she
went up stairs to dress. I think she was afraid
he would forget it. My father was very careless
about small matters."
"He was careful enough not to poison any
one else in the family," quoth the doctor.
"There was scarcely a drop left in the decanter;
he took the whole dose."
"I beg your pardon, sirs, but is it suicide
you are talking about?" cried a voice suddenly
over their shoulders, making them all start.
Jonas, the servant, had entered from the inner
room, and unseen by all but myself, had been
listening to the last few words as if his life
depended upon what they had to say. "If it
is, why I have a bit of an observation of my
own to make that may help you to settle the
"You! What have you to say?" quoth
the doctor, turning in surprise at the confident
tone of voice in which the man spoke.
"Not much, I am sure," cried Hartley, to
whom the appearance at that moment of his
father's old servant was evidently most unwelcome.
"That is for you to judge, gentlemen. I can
only tell you what I've seen, and that not ten
minutes ago. Mr. Hartley, do you mind the
man in the yellow dress that was flitting about
the parlors all the evening?"
"Good heavens!" burst in uncontrollable
agitation from Uncle Joe; and he caught his
nephew by the arm with a look that called
back the old rigid expression to the latter's
"Yes," was the quiet reply; "I remember
seeing such a person."
"Well, sirs, I don't know as you will think
any thing of it, but a little while ago I was
walking up and down the balcony outside
there, when I happened to look into this room,
and I saw that man in the yellow dress leaning
over this very table, looking into the wineglass
Miss Carrie had put there for master.
He had it in his hand, and his head was down
very close to it, but what he did to it or to the
decanter either, I am sure, sirs, I don't know,
for I was that frightened at seeing this spectre
in the room master had kept locked all day,
that I just slipped off the balcony and ran
round the house to find Mr. Hartley. But you
wasn't in the parlors, sir, nor Miss Carrie
neither, and when I got to this room, there
was master lying dead on the floor, and everybody
crowding around him horror-struck."
"Humph!" ejaculated the doctor, looking at
Uncle Joe, who had sunk in a heap into the
arm-chair his nephew abstractedly pushed toward
"You see, sirs," Jonas resumed, with great
earnestness, "Mr. Benson, for some reason or
other, had been very particular about keeping
his own room to-day. The library door was
locked as early as six this morning, and he
would let no one in without first asking who
was there. That's why I felt so dumbfoundered
at seeing this yellow man in the room;
But no sooner had the good man arrived at
this point than he stopped, with a gasp, and
after a quick look at Hartley, flushed, and
drew back in a state of great agitation and
embarrassment. Evidently a suspicion had
just crossed the mind of this old and attached
servant as to whom the Yellow Domino might
"Well, well," cried the doctor, "go on; let
us hear the rest."
"I—I have nothing more to say," mumbled
the man, while Hartley, with an equal display
of embarrassment, motioned the discomfited
servant to withdraw, and turned as if to hide
his face over some papers on the table.
"I think the man in the yellow domino had
better be found," quoth the physician, dryly,
glancing from Hartley to the departing form
of the servant, with a sharp look. "At all
events it would be well enough for us to know
who he is."
"I don't see—" began Uncle Joe, but stopped
as he perceived the face of Hartley Benson
slowly composing itself. Evidently he was as
much interested as myself in observing what
this not-easily-to-be-understood man would
say and do in this sudden crisis.
We were not long left in doubt.
"Doctor," he began, in a slow, hesitating
tone, well calculated to produce the effect he
desired, "we unfortunately already know who
wore a yellow domino this evening. My brother
"Hush!" implored his uncle, laying a hand
on his nephew's arm with a quick look of
distress not lost on the doctor.
"Brother?" repeated the latter. "Pardon
me, I did not know——Ah, but I do remember
now to have heard that Mr. Benson had
The face of Hartley grew graver and graver.
"My brother has been alienated from my
father for some time, so you have never seen
him here. But to-night he hoped, or made me
think he hoped, to effect a reconciliation; so I
managed, with my sister, to provide him with
the domino necessary to insure him an entrance
here. Indeed, I did more; I showed him a
private door by which he could find his way
into the library, never suspecting any harm
could come of son and father meeting even in
this surreptitious way. I—I loved my brother,
and notwithstanding the past, had confidence
in him. Nor can I think now he had any thing
to do with the——" Here the voice of this
inimitable actor broke in well-simulated distress.
He sank on a chair and put his hands
before his face.
The doctor had no reason to doubt this man.
He therefore surveyed him with a look of grave
"Mr. Benson," said he, "you have my profoundest
sympathy. A tragedy like this in a
family of such eminent respectability, is enough
to overwhelm the stoutest heart. If your brother
"Dr. Travis," broke in the other, rising and
grasping the physician's hand with an appearance
of manly impulse impressive in one usually
so stern and self contained, "you are, or
were, my father's friend; can you or will you
be ours? Dreadful as it is to think, my father
undoubtedly committed suicide. He had a
great dread of this day. It is the anniversary
of an occurrence harrowing for him to remember.
My brother—you see I shall have to
break the secrecy of years—was detected by
him in the act of robbing his desk three years
ago to-night, and upon each and every recurrence
of the day, has returned to his father's
house to beg for the forgiveness and restoration
to favor which he lost by that deed of crime.
Hitherto my father has been able to escape his
importunities, by absence or the address of his
servants, but to-day he seemed to have a premonition
that his children were in league against
him, notwithstanding Carrie's ruse of the ball,
and the knowledge may have worked upon him
to that extent that he preferred death to a sight
of the son that had ruined his life and made
him the hermit you have seen."
The doctor fell into the trap laid for him with
such diabolical art.
"Perhaps; but if that is so, why is your
brother not here? Only a few minutes could
have elapsed between the time that Jonas saw
him leaning over the table with the glass in his
hand and the moment when you and your
sister entered this room in face of your father's
falling form. He must have been present,
therefore, when your father came from his bedroom,
if not when he drank the fatal glass; why,
then, did he take such pains to escape, if
actuated by no keener emotion than horror at a
"I do not know, I cannot say; but that he
himself put the poison in the decanter I will not
believe. A thief is not necessarily a parricide.
Even if he were in great straits and needed
the money my father's will undoubtedly leaves
him, he would think twice before he ran the
risk of making Carrie and myself his natural
enemies. No, no, if my father has died from
poison, it was through a mistake, or by the
administration of his own hand, never by that
of Joe Benson's."
"Ah, and has anybody here present dared to
charge him with such a deed!"
With a start both gentlemen turned; an
accusing spirit stood before them.
"Edith!" broke from Hartley's lips. "This
is no place for you! Go back! go back!"
"My place is where the name of Joseph Benson
is uttered," she proudly answered, "whether
the words be for good or evil. I am his
betrothed wife as you know, and again I ask,
who has dared to utter an insinuation, however
light, that he, the tender son and generous
brother, has had a criminal hand in his father's
"No one! no one!" essayed Hartley, taking
her hand with a weak attempt at soothing. "I
was but saying——"
But she turned from him with a gesture of
repugnance, and taking a step toward the doctor,
looked him entreatingly in the face. "You
have not been expressing doubts of Mr. Benson's
youngest son, because he happened to
wear a disguise and be present when Mr. Benson
fell? You do not know Joe, sir; nobody
in this town knows him. His own father was
ignorant of his worth; but we know him,
Uncle Joe and I, and we know he could never
do a deed that could stamp him either as a
dishonorable or a criminal man. If Mr. Benson
has died from poison, I should as soon think
this man had a hand in it as his poor exiled
brother." And in a burst of uncontrollable
wrath and indignation, she pointed, with a sudden
gesture, at the startled Hartley.
But that worthy, though evidently taken
aback, was not to be caught so easily.
"Edith, you forget yourself," said he, with
studied self-possession. "The horrors of this
dreadful occurrence have upset you. I do not
wonder at it myself, but the doctor will not so
readily understand you. Miss Underhill has
been strangely attached to my brother," he
went on, turning to the latter with an apologetic
smile that made Uncle Joe grind his teeth in
silent wrath. "They were engaged previous to
the affair of which I have just made mention,
and naturally she could never bring herself to
consider him guilty of a crime which, once
acknowledged, must necessarily act as a bar of
separation between them. She calls him a
martyr, a victim, an exile, any thing but what
he actually is. Indeed, she seems really to
believe in his innocence, while we,"—he
paused and looked up at his sister Carrie who
had entered the room,—"while we," he went on
slowly and sadly, taking this new ally softly by
the hand, "know only too well that the unhappy
boy was in every respect guilty of the crime for
which his father exiled him. But that is neither
here nor there; the dreadful subject before us
is not what he once did, but whether his being
here to-night has had any thing to do with my
father's death. I cannot think it has, and
The subtle inflection of his voice spoke
volumes. This great actor had evidently been
driven to bay.
"O Hartley!" came in a terrified cry from
his sister; "what is this? You cannot think,
they cannot think, Joe could do any thing so
dreadful as that?" while over the face of
Edith passed a look of despair, as she saw the
countenance of the doctor slowly fill with the
gloom of suspicion, and even the faithful Uncle
Joe turn away as if he too had been touched
by the blight of a secret doubt.
"Ah, but I wish Joe were here himself!" she
cried with startling emphasis. "He should
speak, even if it brought ruin amongst us."
But the doctor was a man not to be moved
by so simple a thing as a woman's unreasoning
"Yes, the Yellow Domino would be very
welcome just now," he allowed, with grim decision.
"That he is not here is the most damning
fact of all," Hartley slowly observed. "He fled
when he saw our father fall."
"But he shall come back," Edith vehemently
"If he does, I shall need no further proof of
his innocence," said Uncle Joe.
"Nor I, so that he comes to-night," returned
"Then be satisfied, for here he is," I exclaimed
from my retreat; and drawing the mask over
my face, and hastily enveloping myself in the
yellow domino, I stepped forth into full view
of the crowd around the table.
THE YELLOW DOMINO.
A mingled sound of shrieks and exclamations
"Joe!" cried Edith, bounding forward.
But I waved her back, and turned with a
severe gesture toward Hartley Benson.
"What are your reasons," I demanded, "for
thinking the poisoning that has taken place
here was the work of the Yellow Domino?"
"Do you ask me?" he retorted, after a
moment's pause, during which my voice
echoed through the room, waking strange
gleams of doubt on the faces of more than
one person present. "You wish to dare me,
then?" he hissed, coming a step nearer.
"I wish to know what the Yellow Domino
has done that you or any one should consider
him as responsible for the tragedy that has
here taken place," I steadily replied.
"Are you not my brother, then?" he cried,
in mingled rage and anxiety. "Was it not you
I met under the evergreens and supplied with
a yellow domino, in order to give you the
opportunity of seeing our father to-night and
effecting the reconciliation which you had so
long desired? Are you not he who afterward
followed me to this room and hid himself in the
closet from which you have just come, all for
the purpose, as you said, of throwing yourself
at your father's feet and begging pardon for a
past of which you had long ago repented? Or
are you some reckless buffoon who has presumed
to step into the domino my brother left
behind him, and careless of the terrible trouble
that has overwhelmed this family, come here
with your criminal jests to puzzle and alarm
"I am the man to whom you gave the
domino, if that is what you wish to know,
Hartley Benson; and I am the man whom
you led into the ambush of this closet, for such
reasons as your own conscience must inform
you. If the Yellow Domino put poison into
Mr. Benson's wine, then upon me must lie the
burden of the consequences, for I alone have
worn the disguise of this mask from the
moment we met under the evergreens till
now, as I think may be proved by this gentleman
you call Uncle Joe, and this lady you
address as Edith."
This mode of attack had the desired effect.
"Who are you?" burst from Hartley's lips,
now blanched to the color of clay. "Unmask
him, doctor; let us see the man who dares to
play us tricks on such a night as this!"
"Wait!" cried I, motioning back not only the
doctor, but Uncle Joe and the ladies—the whole
group having started forward at Hartley's words.
"Let us first make sure I am the Yellow
Domino who has been paraded through the
parlors this evening. Miss Benson, will you
pardon me if I presume to ask you what were
the words of salutation with which you greeted
"Oh!" she cried, in a tremble of doubt and
dismay, "I do not know as I can remember;
something about being glad to see you, I
believe, and my hope that your plans for the
evening might succeed."
"To which," said I, "I made no audible
reply, but pressed your hand in mine, with the
certainty you were a friend though you had
not used the word 'Counterfeit.'"
"Yes, yes," she returned, blushing and wildly
disturbed, as she had reason to be.
"And you, Uncle Joe," I went on; "what
were your words? How did you greet the man
you had been told was your erring nephew?"
"I said: 'To counterfeit wrong when one is
right, necessarily opens one to a misunderstanding.'"
"To which ambiguous phrase I answered,
as you will remember, with a simple, 'That is
true,' a reply by the way that seemed to arouse
your curiosity and lead to strange revelations."
"God defend us!" cried Uncle Joe.
The exclamation was enough. I turned to
the trembling Edith.
"I shall not attempt," said I, "to repeat or
ask you to repeat any conversation which may
have passed between us, for you will remember
it was too quickly interrupted by Mr. Benson
for us to succeed in uttering more than a dozen
or so words. However, you will do me the
kindness to acknowledge your belief that I am
the man who stood with you behind the parlor
curtains an hour ago."
"I will," she replied, with a haughty lift of
her head that spoke more loudly than her
"It only remains, then, for Mr. Benson to assure
himself I am the person who followed him
to the closet. I know of no better way of his
doing this than to ask him if he remembers the
injunctions which he was pleased to give me,
when he bestowed upon me this domino."
"No,—that is,—whatever they were, they
were given to the man I supposed to be my
"Ha, then; it was to your brother," I rejoined,
"you gave that hint about the glass I
would find on the library table; saying that if
it did not smell of wine I would know your
father had not had his nightly potion and
would yet come to the library to drink it;—an
intimation, as all will acknowledge, which
could have but the one result of leading me to
go to the table and take up the glass and look into
it in the suspicious manner which has been reported
He was caught in his own toils and saw it.
Muttering a deep curse, he drew back, while a
startled "Humph!" broke from the doctor, followed
by a quick, "Is that true? Did you tell
him that, Mr. Benson?"
For reply the now thoroughly alarmed villain
leaped at my throat. "Off with that toggery!
Let us see your face! I shall and will know
who you are."
But I resisted for another moment while I
added: "It is, then, established to your satisfaction
that I am really the man who has worn the
yellow domino this evening. Very well, now
look at me, one and all, and say if you think I
am likely to be a person to destroy Mr. Benson."
And with a quick gesture I threw aside
my mask, and yielded the fatal yellow domino
to the impatient hands of Mr. Hartley Benson.
The result was a cry of astonishment from those
to whom the face thus revealed was a strange
one, and a curse deep and loud from him to
whom the shock of that moment's surprise must
have been nearly overwhelming.
"Villain!" he shrieked, losing his self-possession
in a sudden burst of fury; "spy! informer!
I understand it all now. You have been set
over me by my brother. Instructed by him, you
have dared to enter this house, worm yourself
into its secrets, and by a deviltry only equalled
by your presumption, taken advantage of your
position to poison my father and fling the dreadful
consequences of your crime in the faces of
his mourning family. It was a plot well laid;
but it is foiled, sir, foiled, as you will see when I
have you committed to prison to-morrow."
"Mr. Benson," I returned, shaking him loose
as I would a feather, "this is all very well; but
in your haste and surprise you have made a
slight mistake. You call me a spy; so I am;
but a spy backed by the United States Government
is not a man to be put lightly into prison.
I am a detective, sir, connected at present with
the Secret Service at Washington. My business
is to ferret out crime and recognize a rogue
under any disguise and in the exercise of any
vile or deceptive practices." And I looked him
steadily in the face.
Then indeed his cheek turned livid, and the
eye which had hitherto preserved its steadiness
sought the floor.
"A detective!" murmured Miss Carrie, shrinking
back from the cringing form of the brother
whom, but a few hours before, she had deemed
every thing that was noble and kind.
"A detective!" echoed Edith, brightening like
a rose in the sunshine.
"In government employ!" repeated Uncle
Joe, honoring me with a stare that was almost
comic in its mingled awe and surprise.
"Yes," I rejoined; "if any one doubts me,
I have papers with me to establish my identity.
By what means I find myself in this
place, a witness of Mr. Benson's death and the
of certain family secrets, it is not necessary
for me to inform you. It is enough that
I am here, have been here for a good hour,
posted behind that curtain; that I heard Jonas'
exclamation as he withdrew from the balcony,
saw Mr. Benson come in from his bedroom,
drink his glass of wine, and afterward fall at the
feet of his son and daughter; and that having
been here, and the witness of all this, I can swear
that if Mr. Benson drank poison from yonder
decanter, he drank poison that was put into
it before either he or the Yellow Domino entered
this room. Who put it there, it is for you to
determine; my duty is done for to-night." And
with a bow I withdrew from the group about
me and crossed to the door.
But Miss Carrie's voice, rising in mingled
shame and appeal, stopped me. "Don't go,"
said she; "not at least until you tell me where
my brother Joseph is. Is he in this town, or
has he planned this deception from a distance?
I—I am an orphan, sir, who at one blow has
lost not only a dearly beloved father but, as I
fear, a brother too, in whom, up to this hour,
I have had every confidence. Tell me, then, if
any support is left for a most unhappy girl, or
whether I must give up all hopes of even my
brother Joe's sympathy and protection."
"Your brother Joe," I replied, "has had
nothing to do with my appearance here. He
and I are perfect strangers; but if he is a tall,
broad-shouldered, young man, shaped something
like myself, but with a ruddy cheek and light
curling hair, I can tell you I saw such a person
enter the shrubbery at the southwest corner of
the garden an hour or so ago."
"No, he is here!" came in startling accents
over my shoulders. And with a quick leap
Joe Benson sprang by me and stood handsome,
tall, and commanding in the centre of the room.
"Hartley! Carrie! Edith! what is this I hear?
My father stricken down, my father dying or
dead, and I left to wander up and down through
the shrubbery, while you knelt at his bedside
and received his parting blessing? Is this the
recompense you promised me, Hartley? this
your sisterly devotion, Carrie? this your love
and attention to my interests, Edith?"
"O Joe, dear Joe, do not blame us!" Carrie
made haste to reply. "We thought you were
here. A man was here, that man behind you,
simulating you in every regard, and to him we
gave the domino, and from him we have
"What?" sprang in thundering tones from
the young giant's throat as he wheeled on his
heel and confronted me.
"That your brother Hartley is a villain," I
declared, looking him steadily in the eye.
"God!" was his only exclamation as he turned
slowly back and glanced toward his trembling
"Sir," said I, taking a step toward Uncle
Joe, who, between his eagerness to embrace the
new-comer and his dread of the consequences
of this unexpected meeting, stood oscillating
from one side to the other in a manner ridiculous
enough to see, "what do you think of
the propriety of uttering aloud and here, the
suspicions which you were good enough to
whisper into my ears an hour ago? Do you see
any reason for altering your opinion as to which
of the two sons of Mr. Benson invaded his desk
and appropriated the bonds afterward found in
their common apartment, when you survey the
downfallen crest of the one and compare it with
the unfaltering look of the other?"
"No," he returned, roused into sudden energy
by the start given by Hartley. And advancing
between the brothers, he looked first at
one and then at the other with a long, solemn
gaze that called out the color on Hartley's pale
cheek and made the crest of Joe rise still higher
in manly pride and assertion. "Joe," said
he, "for three years now your life has lain
under a shadow. Accused by your father of a
dreadful crime, you have resolutely refused to
exonerate yourself, notwithstanding the fact
that a dear young girl waited patiently for the
establishment of your innocence in order to
marry you. To your family this silence meant
guilt, but to me and mine it has told only a tale
of self-renunciation and devotion. Joe, was I
right in this? was Edith right? The father
you so loved, and feared to grieve, is dead.
Speak, then: Did you or did you not take the
bonds that were found in the cupboard at the
head of your bed three years ago to-night? The
future welfare, not only of this faithful child but
of the helpless sister, who, despite her belief in
your guilt, has clung to you with unwavering
devotion, depends upon your reply."
"Let my brother speak," was the young
man's answer, given in a steady and nobly
"Your brother will not speak," his uncle
returned. "Don't you see you must answer
for yourself? Say, then: Are you the guilty man
your father thought you, or are you not? Let
us hear, Joe."
"I am not!" avowed the young man, bowing
his head in a sort of noble shame that must
have sent a pang of anguish through the heart
of his brother.
"Oh, I knew it, I knew it!" came from Edith's
lips in a joyous cry, as she bounded to his side
and seized him by one hand, just as his sister
grasped the other in a burst of shame and
contrition that showed how far she was removed
from any participation in the evil machinations
of her elder brother.
The sight seemed to goad Hartley Benson to
madness. Looking from one to the other, he
uttered a cry that yet rings in my memory:
"Carrie! Edith! do you both forsake me, and
all because of a word which any villain might
have uttered? Is this the truth and constancy
of women? Is this what I had a right to expect
from a sister, a—a friend? Carrie, you at
least always gave me your trust,—will you take
it away because a juggling spy and a recreant
brother have combined to destroy me?"
But beyond a wistful look and a solemn
shake of the head, Carrie made no response,
while Edith, with her eyes fixed on the agitated
countenance of her lover, did not even seem to
hear the words of pleading that were addressed
The shock of the disappointment was too
much for Hartley Benson. Clenching his hand
upon his breast, he gave one groan of anguish
and despair and sank into a chair, inert and
helpless. But before we could any of us take a
step toward him, before the eyes of the doctor
and mine could meet in mutual understanding,
he had bounded again to his feet, and in a burst
of desperation seized the chair in which he sat,
and held it high above his head.
"Fools! dotards!" he exclaimed, his eyes
rolling in frenzy from face to face, but lingering
longest on mine, as if there he read the true
secret of his overthrow, as well as the promise
of his future doom. "You think it is all over
with me; that there is nothing left for you to
do but to stand still and watch how I take my
defeat. But I am a man who never acknowledges
defeat. There is still a word I have to
say that will make things a little more even
between us. Listen for it, you. It will not be
long in coming, and when you hear it, let my
brother declare how much enjoyment he will
ever get out of his victory."
And whirling the chair about his head, he
plunged through our midst into the hall
For an instant we stood stupefied, then
Carrie Benson's voice rose in one long, thrilling
cry, and with a bound she rushed toward the
door. I put out my hand to stop her, but it
was not necessary. Before she could cross the
threshold the sudden, sharp detonation of a
pistol-shot was heard in the hall, and we knew
that the last dreadful word of that night's
tragedy had been spoken.
The true secret of Hartley Benson's action in
this matter was never discovered. That he
planned his father's violent death, no one who
was present at the above interview ever doubted.
That he went further than that, and laid his
plans in such a manner that the blame, if blame
ensued, should fall upon his innocent brother,
was equally plain, especially after the acknowledgment
we received from Jonas, that he went
out on the balcony and looked in the window
at the special instigation of his young master.
But why this arch villain, either at his own risk
or at that of the man he hated, felt himself
driven to such a revolting crime, will never be
known; unless, indeed, the solution be found
in his undoubted passion for the beautiful Edith,
and in the accumulated pressure of certain
secret debts for whose liquidation he dared not
apply to his father.
I never revealed to this family the true
nature of the motives which actuated me in my
performance of the part I played that fatal
night. It was supposed by Miss Carrie and the
rest, that I was but obeying instructions given
me by Mr. Benson; and I never undeceived
them. I was too much ashamed of the curiosity
which was the mainspring of my action to publish
each and every particular of my conduct
abroad; though I could not but congratulate
myself upon its results when, some time afterward,
I read of the marriage of Joe and Edith.
The counterfeiters were discovered and taken,
but not by me.