TWO DAYS' SOLITARY IMPRISONMENT
By Edward Bellamy
Mr. Joseph Kilgore was suffering from one of those spring influenzas which
make a man feel as if he were his own grandfather. His nose had acquired
the shape of a turnip and the complexion of a beet. All his bones ached as
if he had been soundly thrashed, and his eyes were weak and watery. Your
deadly disease is oftener than not a gentleman who takes your life without
mauling you, but the minor diseases are mere bruisers who just go in for
making one as uncomfortable and unpresentable as possible. Mr. Kilgore's
influenza had been coming on for several days, and when he woke up this
particular morning and heard the rain dripping on the piazza-roof just
under his bedroom-window, he concluded, like a sensible man, that he would
stay at home and nurse himself over the fire that day, instead of going to
the office. So he turned over and snoozed for an hour or two, luxuriating
in a sense of aches and pains just pronounced enough to make the warmth
and softness of the bed delightful.
Toward noon, the edge of this enjoyment becoming dulled, he got up,
dressed, and came downstairs to the parlor, where his brother's wife (he
was a bachelor, living with a married brother) had considerately kindled
up a coal-fire in the grate for his benefit.
After lying off in the rocking-chair till past dinner-time, he began to
feel better and consequently restless. Concluding that he would like to
read, he went rummaging about the bookcases for a likely-looking novel. At
length he found in the upper shelf of a closet a book called "Rôles of a
Detective," containing various thrilling accounts of crimes and the
entanglement of criminals in the meshes of law and evidence.
One story in particular made a strong impression on his mind. It was a
tale of circumstantial evidence, and about how it very nearly hung an
innocent man for a murder which he had no thought of committing. It struck
Joseph rather forcibly that this victim of circumstantial evidence was as
respectable and inoffensive a person as himself, and probably had never
any more thought of being in danger from the law. Circumstances had set
their trap for him while he was quite unconscious of peril, and he only
awoke to find himself in the toils. And from this he went on to reflect
upon the horrible but unquestionable fact that every year a certain
proportion, and perhaps a very considerable proportion, of those who
suffered the penalties of the law, and even the death-penalty, are
innocent men,—victims of false or mistaken evidence. No man, however
wise or virtuous, can be sure that he will not be taken in this fearful
conscription of victims to the blind deity of justice. "None can tell,"
thought Joseph, with a shudder, "that the word he is saying, the road he
is turning, the appointment he is making, or whatever other innocent act
he is now engaged in, may not prove the last mesh in some self-woven
death-net, the closing link in some damning chain of evidence whose
devilish subtlety shall half convince him that he must be guilty as it
wholly convinces others."
Timidity is generally associated with imaginativeness, if not its result,
and Joseph, although he concealed the fact pretty well under the mask of
reticence, was constitutionally very timid. He had an unprofitable habit
of taking every incident of possible embarrassment or danger that occurred
to his mind as the suggestion for imaginary situations of inconvenience or
peril, which he would then work out, fancying how he would feel and what
he would do, with the utmost elaboration, and often with really more
nervous excitement than he would be likely to experience if the events
supposed should really occur. So now, and all the more because he was a
little out of sorts, the suggestions of this story began to take the form
in his mind of an imaginary case of circumstantial evidence of which he
was the victim. His fancy worked up the details of a fictitious case
against himself, which he, although perfectly innocent, could meet with
nothing more than his bare denial.
He imagined the first beginnings of suspicion; he saw it filming the eyes
of his acquaintances, then of his friends, and at last sicklying over the
face even of his brother Silas. In fancy he made frantic attempts to
regain the confidence of his friends, to break through the impalpable,
impenetrable barrier which the first stir of suspicion had put between
their minds and his. He cried, he begged, he pleaded. But in vain, all in
vain. Suspicion had made his appeals and adjurations sound even to his
friends as strange and meaningless as the Babel-builders' words of a
sudden became to each other. The yellow badge of suspicion once upon him,
all men kept afar, as if he were a fever-ship in quarantine. No solitary
imprisonment in a cell of stone could so utterly exclude him from the
fellowship of men as the invisible walls of this dungeon of suspicion. And
at last he saw himself giving up the hopeless struggle, yielding to his
fate in dumb despair, only praying that the end might come speedily,
perhaps even reduced to the abject-ness of confessing the crime he had not
committed, in order that he might at least have the pity of men, since he
could not regain their confidence. And so strongly had this vision taken
hold on him that his breath came irregularly, and his forehead was damp as
he drew his hand across it.
As has been intimated, it was Mr. Joseph Kil-gore's very bad habit to
waste his nervous tissue in the conscientiously minute elaboration of such
painful imaginary situations as that above described, and in his present
experience there was nothing particularly novel or extraordinary for him.
It was the occurrence of a singular coincidence between this internal
experience and a wholly independent course of actual events, which made
that waking nightmare the beginning of a somewhat remarkable comedy, or,
more properly, a tragedy, of errors. For, as Joseph lay back in his chair,
in a state of nervous exhaustion and moral collapse, the parlor-door was
thrown open, and Mrs. Silas Kilgore, his sister-in-law, burst into the
room. She was quite pale, and her black eyes were fixed on Joseph's with
the eager intensity, as if seeking moral support, noticeable in those who
communicate startling news which they have not had time to digest.
The effect of this apparition upon Joseph in his unstrung condition may be
readily imagined. He sprang up, much paler than Mrs. Kilgore, his lips
apart, and his eyes staring with the premonition of something shocking.
These symptoms of extraordinary excitement even before she had spoken, and
this air as if he had expected a shocking revelation, recurred to her mind
later, in connection with other circumstances, but just now she was too
full of her intelligence to dwell on anything else.
"A man was murdered in our barn last night. They 've found the body!" she
As the meaning of her words broke on him, Joseph was filled with that sort
of mental confusion which one experiences when the scene or circumstances
of a dream recur in actual life. Was he still dreaming that ghostly vision
of suspicion and the death-trap of circumstances? Was this a mere
continuation of it? No, he was awake; his sister-in-law standing there,
with pallid face and staring eyes, was not an apparition. The horrid,
fatal reality which he had been imagining was actually upon him.
"I did not do it!" dropped from his ashen lips.
"You do it? Are you crazy? Who said anything about your doing it?" cried
the astounded woman.
The ring of genuine amazement in her voice was scarcely needed to recall
Joseph to the practical bearing of his surroundings, and break the spell
of superstitious dread. The sound of his own words had done it. With a
powerful effort he regained something like self-control, and said, with a
"What an absurd thing for me to say! I don't know what I could have been
thinking of. Very odd, was it not? But, dear me! a man murdered in our
barn? You don't tell me! How terrible!"
His constrained, overdone manner was not calculated to abate Mrs.
Kilgore's astonishment, and she continued to stare at him with an
expression in which a vague terror began to appear. There are few shorter
transitions than that from panic to anger. Seeing that her astonishment at
his reception of the news increased rather than diminished, he became
exasperated at the intolerable position in which he was placed. His face,
before so pale, flushed with anger.
"Damnation! What are you staring at me that way for?" he cried fiercely.
Mrs. Kilgore gave a little cry, half of indignation, half of fright, and
went out of the room, shutting the door after her.
Joseph had ample opportunity to review the situation before he was again
disturbed, which, indeed, was not till some hours later, at dusk, when
Silas came home, and the tea-table was set. Silas had been promptly
summoned from his shop when the discovery of the body was made, and had
been busy all the afternoon with the police, the coroner, and the crowds
of visitors to the scene of the tragedy.
The conversation at the tea-table ran entirely upon the various incidents
of the discovery, the inquest, and the measures of the police for the
apprehension of the criminal. Mrs. Kilgore was so full of questions that
she scarcely gave Silas time to answer, and Joseph flattered himself that
his comparative silence was not noticeable. Nevertheless, as they rose
from the table, Silas remarked:—
"You don't seem much interested in our murder, Joseph; you have n't asked
the first question about it."
Mrs. Kilgore was just leaving the room, and she turned her head to see how
he would answer. But he, too, turned off the matter by saying something
about Maria's loquaciousness having left him no chance. After tea the
little family circle was gathered in the parlor. Mrs. Kilgore was sewing;
Silas read the newspaper, and Joseph sat up by the fire. From time to
time, as he glanced around, he caught Mrs. Kilgore's eyes studying him
very intently. Her manner indicated that her indignation at his behavior
and language earlier in the afternoon had been quite neutralized by her
curiosity as to its cause.
"There 's nothing in the paper to-night but the murder, and I know that
already," exclaimed Silas, finally. "Maria, where's there something to
read? Hullo! what's this?"
He had taken up from the table the story of circumstantial evidence which
Joseph had been reading that morning.
"Why, Maria, here's that murder-book you wouldn't let me finish last
summer for fear I'd murder you some night. Who on earth hunted up that
book of all books, to-day of all days?"
"I did," replied Joseph, clearing his throat, in order to speak with a
"You did?" exclaimed Silas.
"You must have looked the house over to find it, for I hid it carefully,"
said Mrs. Kilgore, looking sharply at him. "What made you so anxious to
"I was not particularly anxious. I was merely looking for something to
read," said Joseph, making a pretense of yawning, as if the matter was a
very trivial one.
"I suppose the murder brought it to his mind," said Silas.
"Why, no!" exclaimed Mrs. Kilgore quickly. "You must have been reading it
before the murder. Now that I remember, I saw it in your hands."
"Before the murder, were you, Joseph? Why, that's almost enough to make
one feel superstitious," said Silas, turning around in his chair, so as to
look fairly at him.
Joseph had half a mind to make a clean breast of the matter then and
there, and explain to them how curiously the reading of that book had
affected him. But he reflected that Silas was rather unimaginative, and
would probably be more mystified than enlightened by his explanation.
"I do believe it was reading that book which made you act so queerly when
I brought you in the news of the murder," pursued Mrs. Kilgore.
"How is that? How did he act queerly?" asked Silas.
"I am not aware that I acted queerly at all," said Joseph doggedly.
He knew well enough he had acted queerly, and did not mean to deny that;
but, as children and confused persons often do, he answered to the
underlying motive rather than the language. He only thought of denying the
inference of suspicion that her words seemed to him to suggest. But to
Mrs. Kilgore he very naturally seemed to be prevaricating.
"Why, Joseph!" said she, in a raised voice, and with a slight asperity;
"you know how you jumped up, looking like a ghost, the moment I opened the
door, and the first thing you said after I 'd told you that they 'd found
a murdered man in the barn, was—Why, Joseph, what's the matter?"
But I must go back a little. When the conversation turned on the book and
Joseph's connection with it, a minute or so previous, Silas had quite
naturally glanced over at his brother, and, as the talk went on, his
glance had become a somewhat concentrated gaze, although expressive of
nothing but the curiosity and slight wonder which the circumstances
suggested. It would not do to have Silas think that he avoided his eyes,
and so Joseph had, as soon as he felt this gaze, turned his own face
rather sharply toward it. He had meant merely to meet his brother's look
in a natural and unaffected manner. But, although never more sensible of
just what such a manner would be, he was utterly unable to compass it. He
was perfectly aware that the expression of his eyes was much too serious
and challenging,—and yet he could not, for the soul of him, modify
it. Nor did he dare to withdraw his gaze after it had once met his
brother's, although knowing that it was fast becoming a fierce stare, and
perceiving that Silas had already noticed something peculiar in it. For to
drop his eyes would be utter discomfiture and rout. As Mrs. Kilgore
alluded to his queer demeanor when she told him the news, his face began
to flush with the anticipation of the revelation that was coming at this
most unfavorable moment, even while his eyes were locked with the already
startled ones of Silas. As she went on, the flush covered the lower part
of his face, and rose like a spring-tide up his cheeks, and lent a fierce,
congested glare to his eyes. He felt how woeful and irretrievable a thing
it would be for him just then to lose his countenance, and at the thought
the flush burned deeper and merged higher. It overspread his high, bald,
intellectual forehead, and incarnadined his sconce up to the very top of
it. At this moment it was that Mrs. Kilgore broke off her narrative with
the exclamation, "Why, Joseph, what's the matter?"
At her words it seemed as if every drop of blood in his body poured into
his face. He could endure it no longer. He rose abruptly, strode out of
the parlor, and went to his room, although it was but eight o'clock, and
he had no fire there. If he had staid another moment he must have brained
Silas and his wife with the poker, such an ungovernable anger boiled up in
him with the sense of his causeless, shameful discomfiture.
As Joseph left the parlor the eyes of Silas and his wife met each other,
—his dull with bewilderment and terror at a spectral fear; hers keen
with a definite suspicion. But even her loquacity was subdued by a real
fright. She had nothing to say. Her sensation was like that of one who,
hunting a hare, stumbles upon a wolf. She had been both offended and made
curious by Joseph's demeanor that afternoon, but the horrid idea that
within a moment had been suggested to both their minds had so little
occurred to her as a serious possibility that she was even on the point of
rallying Joseph on it before her husband. Some time after he had left the
parlor Silas asked, with averted face:—
"What was it that he said when you told him the news?" and then she
repeated his words.
And Joseph, sitting wild-eyed upon his bed in the darkness in the room
above, red no longer, but pale as death, heard the murmur of the voices,
and knew that she was telling him. No one of the household slept much that
night, except Mrs. Kil-gore. Whenever she awoke she heard her husband
tossing restlessly, but she dared not ask him what was the matter. In vain
did Silas rehearse to himself all through the night-hours how petty were
the trifles in Joseph's demeanor which had disturbed him. They were of the
sort of trifles which create that species of certainty known as moral
certainty,—the strongest of all in the mind it occupies, although so
incapable of being communicated to others. It mattered little how much
evidence there was, if it sufficed to lodge the faintest trace of
suspicion in his mind. For, like some poisons, an atom of suspicion is as
fatal as the largest quantity, Nay, perhaps, even more surely so, for
against great suspicion the mind often takes arms and makes valiant head;
but a little doubt, by its timid and hesitant demeanor, disarms
opposition, and is readily entertained. And all that night, lying awake,
and knowing that Silas was sleepless just the other side of the partition,
and that the fungus of suspicion was moment by moment overgrowing his
mind, he could hardly wait for morning, but would fain have rushed, even
now in the darkness, to his bedside to cry: "I did not do it! Believe me,
brother, I did not do it!"
In the morning, however, the sun shone brightly into his room, and last
night's events and misunderstandings seemed like a bad dream. He went
downstairs almost cheery. He did not find Silas, but Mrs. Kilgore was
about. He was rather startled to observe the entire change in her
demeanor. Yesterday she was constantly following him up with her sharp
black eyes and brisk questions and exclamations, but now she seemed
frightened, acted in a constrained manner, and avoided his eyes.
"Where is Silas?" he asked, as they sat down to table.
"He said that there was something he must see to at the shop before work
began, so he had an early breakfast," replied Mrs. Kilgore, with her eyes
on her plate.
Had she been looking up, she would have seen a piteous constriction in the
muscles of Joseph's face. His heart was sick, and all his regained courage
sank away. It was no bad dream. Silas was afraid to meet him. He left his
meal untasted, and went to the office. A dozen acquaintances stopped him
on his way down-street to ask about the murder; and all day long somebody
was dropping in to pester him on the same subject. He told them with a
dull, abstracted air all the fresh details he knew, but felt all the time
as if he cheated each auditor of the vital part of the matter, in that he
failed to shout after him:—
"Silas suspects me of it!"
Silas had, indeed, left the house early for the purpose of avoiding his
brother. He was in a condition of mind and nerve in which he did not dare
to meet him. At tea the brothers met for the first time since the night
previous. There was a constraint between them like that between strangers,
but stronger and more chilling far than ever that is. There is no chill
like that which comes between friends, and the nearer the friends the more
deathly the cold. Silas made a little effort to speak of business-matters,
but could not keep it up, and soon a silence settled over the party, only
broken by the words of table-service. Mrs. Kilgore sat pale and frightened
all through the meal without venturing a single phrase, and scarcely
looking up from her plate.
The silence was of that kind which all felt to be more expressive than the
loudest, most explicit language could be,—more merciless than any
form of verbal accusation. Such silence is a terribly perfect medium, in
which souls are compelled to touch each other, resent as they may the
contact. Several times Joseph was on the point of rising and rushing from
the table. How many more such meals could he stand or could they stand?
All of them recognized that the situation had become perceptibly more
serious and more pronounced on account of that silent tea-table.
There was in particular not the slightest allusion made by any one to the
murder, which, seeing that it had happened but yesterday, and would
naturally still have been an engrossing topic, was an omission so pointed
as to be an open charge of guilt. There is such a thing as emphasizing a
topic by suppressing it, as letters are sunk into stone. The omission
impressed Silas as it did Joseph, but, regarding it from his point of
view, it did not occur to him but that Joseph was the one solely
responsible for it. He, Silas, had refrained from reference to it because
his suspicions in regard to Joseph made the topic unendurable. But he
could not imagine that Joseph could have had any other motive for his
silence on the subject but a guilty conscience,—some secret
knowledge of the crime. Thus regarded, it was a terrible confirmation.
That a perception that he was suspected might cause an innocent man to act
very much as if he were conscious of guilt did not occur to Silas, as,
perhaps, it would have failed to occur to most persons in just his
After leaving the tea-table the brothers went together into the parlor,
according to the family custom. They took their accustomed seats on
opposite sides of the fireplace, but there was no conversation. A veil was
between them. Both were thinking of the same thing,—thinking of it
intensely,—and each knew that the other was thinking of it, and yet
neither for worlds could have commanded the courage to speak of it. The
suspicion had grown definite in Silas's mind, and yet, whenever he brought
himself to the point of putting it in words, it suddenly seemed
impossible, cruel, and absurd. But if Silas found it impossible to speak,
far more so it seemed to Joseph.
To charge another with suspecting us is half to confess ourselves worthy
of suspicion. It is demoralizing,—it is to abandon the pride of
conscious rectitude. To deny an accusation is to concede to it a
possibility, a color of reason; and Joseph shrank with unutterable
repugnance from that. He felt that he could be torn limb from limb sooner
than betray by a word that he recognized the existence of suspicion so
abominable. Besides, of what avail would be a denial without evidence to
disprove a suspicion which had arisen without evidence? It was a thing too
impalpable to contend with. As well fight a fog as seek to destroy by mere
denial suspicion so vague, unsubstantial, and subtile, as that which
enveloped him. Silas would, of course, eagerly accept his denial; he well
knew how he would spring to his side, how warm and firm would be his
hand-clasp, and how great, perhaps, his momentary relief. But he was,
after all, but human, and no man can control his doubts. Silas would still
be unable, when he thought the matter over, to help the feeling that there
was, after all, something very strange about his conduct from first to
last. It is the subtiler nature of doubt to penetrate the heart more
profoundly than confidence, and to underlie it. No generous St. George of
faith can reach the nether den where it lurks. Or, rather, is it like the
ineradicable witch-grass which, though it be hewed off at the surface,
still lives at the root, and springs forth luxuriantly again at the first
Moreover, Joseph hoped that some circumstance, the detection of the
murderer, or a healthier moral tone, might dissipate the cloud of
suspicion between them, and then it would be far better not to have
spoken, for, once put in words, the hateful thing would ever remain a
mutual memory, never again to be denied, and which might come up to their
minds whenever they looked each other in the eye thereafter. And so the
brothers sat opposite each other in silence, their faces growing grayer as
the clock ticked.
"The weather is growing cooler again," said Joseph, at last, rising to go
to his room.
It was at least two hours before his usual bedtime, but he could sit there
"Yes, I think we shall have a frost," replied Silas, and the brothers
After Joseph had gone, Mrs. Kilgore came into the parlor and sat down with
some sewing. She waited for her husband to speak and tell her if Joseph
had said anything. But he sat there staring at the wall, and took no
notice of her. Although she knew so well what had been preying upon his
mind since last evening, yet he had not once referred to the matter, and
she had not dared to do so. It was hard for a talkative little lady like
her to understand this reticence about a matter so deeply felt. She could
not comprehend that there may be griefs so ghastly that we dare not lift
from them the veil of silence. She wanted to "talk it over" a little. She
felt that would do Silas good, because she knew it would be a relief to
her. Nor was she insensible to the gratification it would afford her
vanity to discuss so serious a matter with her husband, whose general tone
with her was one of jest and pleasantry, to the disparagement of her
intellectual powers, as she thought. So, after glancing up several times
timidly at Silas's still set profile, she said, in a weighty little voice:—
"Don't you think Joseph behaves very strangely about the murder?" Her
words seemed to be several seconds in making an impression on Silas's
mind, and then he slowly turned his face full upon her. It was a terrible
look. The squared jaw, the drawn lips, the dull, distant stare, repulsed
her as one might repulse a stranger intermeddling with a bitter private
grief. Who was she, to come between him and his brother? He did not seem
to think it worth while to say anything to explain so eloquent a glance,
but immediately faced about again, as if dismissing the interruption from
his mind. Mrs. Kilgore did not try to make any more conversation, but went
to her bedroom and cried herself to sleep.
But Silas sat in his chair in the parlor, and took no note of the hours
till the lamp spluttered and went out. All through the evening, in
Joseph's room, which was directly above, he had heard him walking to and
fro, to and fro, sitting down awhile, and then starting again; and if the
pacing had not finally come to an end, Silas could not have gone to bed,
for his heart went out to his brother wrestling there alone with his
dreadful secret, and he could not rest till he thought that he, too, was
Indeed, for the very reason that Joseph was so dear to him, and he felt
nothing could change that, he actually hesitated the less to admit these
horrible suspicions. Love is impatient of uncertainly, and would rather
presume the guilt of a friend from its longing to pour itself out in pity
and tenderness, than restrain itself while judgment scrutinizes evidence
and decides by a straw's weight.
A practical reflection, moreover, had occurred to Silas.
If Joseph had really—he did not dare to say to himself what—then
it was of the utmost importance that they should quickly understand each
other, so as to take steps to place him in safety. His desire to share
Joseph's horrible secret was like the feeling with which one would fain
uncover a friend's loathsome disease in order to help him. Before he went
to sleep that night he resolved, therefore, that he would win his
confidence by letting him see in every possible way, short of actual
words, that he suspected the true state of things, and that Joseph might
still confide in him as a faithful brother who would stand by him in the
On first meeting him the following morning he began to carry out this
project so worthy of fraternal devotion. He sought occasion to shake hands
with Joseph, and gave a meaning pressure to his clasp. At breakfast he was
the only one who talked, and endeavored by his manner to let Joseph
understand that he perfectly comprehended the situation, and was talking
to cover his embarrassment and prevent Mrs. Kilgore from suspecting
anything. Several times also he managed to catch his brother's eye, and
give him a glance implying sympathy and mutual understanding. This
demeanor added the last touch to Joseph's exasperation.
Evading Silas's evident intention of walking down-street, he got away
alone, and took both dinner and tea at a restaurant, to put off meeting
his brother and sister-in-law as long as possible. He lingered long over
his tea in the darkest, loneliest corner of the eating-house, for the
prospect, no longer to be avoided, of returning home to confront his
sister-in-law's frightened face and Silas's pathetic glances appeared
intolerable. Wild ideas of flying from the city and returning never, or
not until the truth about the murder had come to light, occurred to him.
He even began to arrange what sort of a letter he should write to Silas.
But men of forty, especially of Joseph's temperament, who have moved in
the same business and domestic ruts all their lives, do not readily make
up their minds to bold steps of this sort. To endure suffering or
inconvenience is more natural than to change their settled habits. So it
all ended in his going home at about eight o'clock, and being greatly
relieved to find some callers there.
All three of this strangely stricken family, indeed, shared that feeling.
It was such a rest from the nervous strain whenever either or both were
left alone with Joseph! The earnestness with which Mrs. Kilgore pressed
her guests to stay a little longer was so unusual and apparently uncalled
for that I fancy Mr. and Mrs. Smith had a vague suspicion that they were
being made game of. But they would have been disabused of that impression
could they have appreciated the sinking of heart with which their hosts
heard the frontdoor close, and realized that they were again left to
themselves. Only one thing had occurred to mar the relief which the call
had afforded. The topic of the murder had been exhausted before Joseph
entered, but, just as she was leaving, Mrs. Smith made a return to it,
"Mrs. Kilgore, I was telling my husband I should think you must be scared
to be in the house, for fear the murderer might still be hanging around."
Mrs. Kilgore shuddered, and cast an instantaneous, wholly involuntary
glance at Joseph. Her husband intercepted it, and, catching his eye, she
saw an expression in it as if he could strangle her for what was really
only the fault of her nerves. She stammered something, and the bustle of
the retiring guests covered her confusion well enough.
Unfortunately, Joseph, too, had caught that sudden, terrified glance of
his sister-in-law's at him, and it affected him more than anything that
had occurred in either of the two days since the murder. As the guests
took their leave, his head dropped on his breast, and his arms fell by the
sides of his chair. Mr. Kilgore wanted to send his wife from the room, but
his voice stuck in his throat, his tongue refused to move. They waited a
moment, and then Joseph said:—
"Send for the police! For God's sake, take me out of this! I can't stand
it any longer!"
It was not yet nine o'clock, and a boy came by in the street crying:—
"Extra! The Kilgore barn murderer captured! Full confession!"
Although the words were perfectly audible through the lowered windows to
all in the room, Mrs. Kilgore was the only one who took any mental
cognizance of them. Nor did either of the men, who sat there like stones,
take note of her as she left the room. A minute later they heard her
scream, and she ran back with the open paper in her hands.
"He did not do it! He is crazy! They have found the murderer!"
Silas fixed an incredulous, questioning stare upon his wife, and then
turned quickly toward his brother. As for Joseph, at first and for several
moments, he gave no sign that he had heard at all. Then he slowly raised
his eyes to his brother's face with a deliberate, cruel gaze of
contemptuous sarcasm and cold aversion. The first effect of this great
relief was to flood his mind with bitter wrath at those who had done him
the great wrong from which, no thanks to them, he had been rescued.
Mrs. Kilgore hastily read aloud, in a breathless voice, the newspaper
account It seemed that two tramps had taken refuge in the barn from the
storm that had raged the night of the murder, and getting into some
quarrel before morning, one had stabbed the other and fled, only to be
captured two days later and confess everything. When Mrs. Kilgore ceased
reading, Joseph said:—
"It must be a great disappointment for you that they are not going to hang
me for it. I sincerely condole with you."
Mrs. Kilgore cried, "Oh, don't!" and Silas made a gesture of deprecation,
but both felt that Joseph had a right to revile them as he chose, and they
had no right to complain. But he, even while he could not deny himself the
gratification of a little cruel reproach, knew that they were not to be
blamed, that they had been as much the victims of a fatality as himself,
and that this was one of those peculiarly exasperating wrongs which do not
leave the sufferer even the satisfaction of being angry. Soon he got up
and walked across the room, stretched himself, drew his hand over his
forehead, and said:—
"I feel as if I had just been dug up after being buried alive."
At this sign of returning equanimity, Silas took courage and ventured to
"I know we 've been a pair of crazy fools, Joe, but you 're a little to
blame. What's made you act so queerly? You won't deny that you have acted
Joseph smiled,—one does n't appreciate the pure luxury of a smile
until he has been deprived of it for a while,—lit a cigar, sat down
with his legs over the arm of his arm-chair,—he had not indulged in
an unconstrained posture for two days,—and told his side of the
story. He explained how, thanks to that tale he was reading, and the
ghastly reverie it suggested, his nerves were all on edge when Mrs.
Kilgore burst in with a piece of news whose extraordinary coincidence with
his train of thought had momentarily thrown him off his balance; and he
tried to make them see that, after that first scene, all the rest was a
Mrs. Kilgore, by virtue of her finer feminine nervous organization,
understood him so readily that he saw he had made a mistake in not
unbosoming himself to her at first. But Silas evidently did not so easily
take his idea.
"But why did n't you just tell us that you had n't done it, and end the
misunderstanding at one blow?" he asked.
"Why, don't you see," replied Joseph, "that to deny a thing before you are
distinctly suspected of it is to suggest suspicion; while to deny it
afterward, unless you have proof to offer, is useless?"
"What should we have come to but for the capture of the real murderer?"
cried Mrs. Kilgore, with a shudder. cried Mrs. Kilgore, with a shudder.