eBooks Cube
 
XXX


My brother, Henry Livingstone, was not a strong man," David
dictated. "He had the same heart condition I have, but it
developed earlier. After he left college he went to Arizona and
bought a ranch, and there he met and chummed with Elihu Clark,
who had bought an old mine and was reworking it. Henry loaned
him a small amount of money at that time, and a number of years
later in return for that, when Henry's health failed, Clark, who
had grown wealthy, bought him a ranch in Wyoming at Dry River, not
far from Clark's own property.

"Henry had been teaching in an Eastern university, and then taken
up tutoring. We saw little of him. He was a student, and he
became almost a recluse. I saw less of him than ever after Clark
gave him the ranch.

"In the spring of 1910 Henry wrote me that he was not well, and I
went out to see him. He seemed worried and was in bad shape
physically. Elihu Clark had died five years before, and left him
a fair sum of money, fifty thousand dollars, but he was living in
a way which made me think he was not using it. The ranch buildings
were dilapidated, and there was nothing but the barest necessities
in the house.

"I taxed Henry with miserliness, and he then told me that the money
was not his, but left to him to be used for an illegitimate son of
Clark's, born before his marriage, the child of a small rancher's
daughter named Hattie Burgess. The Burgess girl had gone to Omaha
for its birth, and the story was not known. In early years Clark
had paid the child's board through his lawyer to an Omaha woman
named Hines, and had later sent him to college. The Burgess girl
married a Swede named Thorwald. The boy was eight years older than
Judson, Clark's legitimate son.

"After the death of his wife Elihu Clark began to think about the
child, especially after Judson became a fair-sized boy. He had
the older boy, who went by the name of Hines, sent to college, and
in summer he stayed at Henry's tutoring school. Henry said the boy
was like the Burgess family, blonde and excitable and rather
commonplace. He did not get on well at college, and did not
graduate. So far as he knew, Clark never saw him.

"The boy himself believed that he was an orphan, and that the Hines
woman had adopted him as a foundling. But on the death of the
woman he found that she had no estate, and that a firm of New York
attorneys had been paying his college bills.

"He had spent considerable time with Henry, one way and another,
and he began to think that Henry knew who he was. He thought at
first that Henry was his father, and there was some trouble. In
order to end it Henry finally acknowledged that he knew who the
father was, and after that he had no peace. Clifton - his name
was Clifton Hines - attacked Henry once, and if it had not been
for the two men on the place he would have hurt him.

"Henry began to give him money. Clark had left the fifty thousand
for the boy with the idea that Henry should start him in business
with it. But he only turned up wild-cat schemes that Henry would
not listen to. He did not know how Henry got the money, or from
where. He thought for a long time that Henry had saved it.

"I'd better say here that Henry was fond of Clifton, although he
didn't approve of him. He'd never married, and the boy was like a
son to him for a good many years. He didn't have him at the
ranch much, however, for he was a Burgess through and through and
looked like them. And he was always afraid that somehow the story
would get out.

"Then Clifton learned, somehow or other, of Clark's legacy to
Henry, and he put two and two together. There was a bad time, but
Henry denied it and they went upstairs to bed. That night Clifton
broke into Henry's desk and found some letters from Elihu Clark
that told the story.

"He almost went crazy. He took the papers up to Henry's and
wakened him, standing over Henry with them in hand, and shaking
all over. I think they had a struggle, too. All Henry told me
was that he took them from him and them in the fire.

"That was a year before Henry died, and at the time young Jud
Clark's name was in all the newspapers. He had left college after
a wild career there, and although Elihu had tied up the property
until Jud was twenty-one, Jud had his mother's estate and a big
allowance. Then, too, he borrowed on his prospects, and he lost
a hundred thousand dollars at Monte Carlo within six weeks after
he graduated.

"One way and another he was always in the newspapers, and when he
saw how Jud was throwing money away Clifton went wild.

"As Henry had burned the letters he had no proofs. He didn't know
who his mother was, but he set to work to find out. He ferreted
into Elihu's past life, and he learned something about Hattie
Burgess, or Thorwald. She was married by that time, and lived on
a little ranch near Norada. He went to see her, and he accused
her downright of being his mother. It must have been a bad time
for her, for after all he was her son, and she had to disclaim him.
She had a husband and a boy by that husband, however, by that time,
and she was desperate. She threw him off the track somehow, lied
and talked him down, and then went to bed in collapse. She sent
for Henry later and told him.

"The queer thing was that as soon as she saw him she wanted him.
He was her son. She went to Henry one night, and said she had
perjured her soul, and that she wanted him back. She wasn't in
love with Thorwald. I think she'd always cared for Clark. She
went away finally, however, after promising Henry she would keep
Clark's secret. But I have a suspicion that later on she
acknowledged the truth to the boy.

"What he wanted, of course, was a share of the Clark estate. Of
course he hadn't a chance in law, but he saw a chance to blackmail
young Jud Clark and he tried it. Not personally, for he hadn't any
real courage, but by mail. Clark's attorneys wrote back saying
they would jail him if he tried it again, and he went back to Dry
River and after Henry again.

"That was in the spring of 1911. Henry was uneasy, for Clifton was
not like himself. He had spells of brooding, and he took to making
long trips on his horse into the mountains, and coming in with the
animal run to death. Henry thought, too, that he was seeing the
Thorwald woman, the mother. Thorwald had died, and she was living
with the son on their ranch and trying to sell it. He thought
Hines was trying to have her make a confession which would give him
a hold on Jud Clark.

"Henry was not well, and in the early fall he knew he hadn't long
to live. He wrote out the story and left it in his desk for me to
read after he had gone, and as he added to it from time to time,
when I got it it was almost up to date.

"Judson came back to the Clark ranch in September, bringing along
an actress named Beverly Carlysle, and her husband, Howard Lucas.
There was considerable talk, because it was known Jud had been
infatuated with the woman. But no one saw much of the party,
outside of the ranch. The Carlysle woman seemed to be a lady, but
the story was that both men were drinking a good bit, especially Jud.

"Henry wrote that Hines had been in the East for some months at
that time, and that he had not heard from him. But he felt that
it was only a truce, and that he would turn up again, hell bent
for trouble. He made a will and left the money to me, with
instructions to turn it over to Hines. It is still in the bank,
and amounts to about thirty-five thousand dollars. It is not mine,
and I will not touch it. But I have never located Clifton Hines.

"In the last entry in his record I call attention to my brother's
statement that he did not regard Clifton Hines as entirely sane on
this one matter, and to his conviction that the hatred Hines then
bore him, amounting to a delusion of persecution, might on his
death turn against Judson Clark. He instructed me to go to Clark,
tell him the story, and put him on his guard.

"Clark and his party had been at the ranch only a day or two when
one night Hines turned up at Dry River. He wanted the fifty
thousand, or what was left of it, and when he failed to move Henry
he attacked him. The two men on the place heard the noise and ran
in, but Hines got away. Henry swore them to secrecy, and told them
the story. He felt he might need help.

"From what the two men at the ranch told me when I got there, I
think Hines stayed somewhere in the mountains for the next day or
two, and that he came down for food the night Henry died.

"Just what he contributed to Henry's death I do not know. Henry
fell in one room, and was found in bed in another when the hands
had been taking the cattle to the winter range, and he'd been alone
in the house.

"When I got there the funeral was over. I read the letter he had
left, and then I talked to the two hands, Bill Ardary and Jake
Mazetti. They would not talk at first, but I showed them Henry's
record and then they were free enough. The autopsy had shown that
Henry died from heart disease, but he had a cut on his head also,
and they believed that Hines had come back, had quarreled with him
again, and had knocked him down.

"As Henry had in a way handed over to me his responsibility for the
boy, and as I wanted to transfer the money, I waited for three
weeks at the ranch, hoping he would turn up again. I saw the
Thorwald woman, but she protested that she did not know where he
was. And I made two attempts to see and warn Jud Clark, but failed
both times. Then one night the Thorwald woman came in, looking
like a ghost, and admitted that Hines had been hiding in the
mountains since Henry's death, that he insisted he had killed him,
and that he blamed Jud Clark for that, and for all the rest of his
troubles. She was afraid he would kill Clark. The three of us,
the two men at the ranch and myself, prepared to go into the
mountains and hunt for him, before he got snowed in.

"Then came the shooting at the Clark place, and I rode over that
night in a howling storm and helped the coroner and a Norada doctor
in the examination. All the evidence was against Clark, especially
his running away. But I happened on Hattie Thorwald outside on a
verandah - she'd been working at the house - and I didn't need any
conversation to tell me what she thought. All she said was:

"He didn't do it, doctor. He's still in the mountains."

"He's been here to-night, Hattie, and you know it. He shot the
wrong man."

"But she swore he hadn't been, and at the end I didn't know. I'll
say right now that I don't know. But I'll say, too, that I believe
that is what happened, and that Hines probably stayed hidden that
night on Hattie Thorwald's place. I went there the next day, but
she denied it all, and said he was still in the mountains. She
carried on about the blizzard and his being frozen to death, until
I began to think she was telling the truth.

"The next day I did what only a tenderfoot would do, started into
the mountains alone. Bill and Jake were out with a posse after
Clark, and I packed up some food and started. I'll not go into the
details of that trip. I went in from the Dry River Canyon, and I
guess I faced death a dozen times the first day. I had a map, but
I lost myself in six hours. I had food and blankets and an axe
along, and I built a shelter and stayed there overnight. I had to
cut up one of my blankets the next morning and tie up the horse's
feet, so he wouldn't sink too deep in the snow. But it stayed
cold and the snow hardened, and we got along better after that.

"I'd have turned back more than once, but I thought I'd meet up
with some of the Sheriff's party. I didn't do that, but I stumbled
on a trail on the third day, toward evening. It was the trail made
by John Donaldson, as I learned later. I followed it, but I
concluded after a while that whoever made it was lost, too. It
seemed to be going in a circle. I was in bad shape and had frozen
a part of my right hand, when I saw a cabin, and there was smoke
coming out of the chimney."

>From that time on David's statement dealt with the situation in the
cabin; with Jud Clark and the Donaldsons, and with the snow storm,
which began again and lasted for days. He spoke at length of his
discovery of Clark's identity, and of the fact that the boy had
lost all memory of what had happened, and even of who he was. He
went into that in detail; the peculiar effect of fear and mental
shock on a high-strung nature, especially where the physical
condition was lowered by excess and wrong-living; his early attempts,
as the boy improved, to pierce the veil, and then his slow-growing
conviction that it were an act of mercy not to do so. The
Donaldsons' faithfulness, the cessation of the search under the
conviction that Clark was dead, both were there, and also David's
growing liking for Judson himself. But David's own psychology was
interesting and clearly put.

"First of all," he dictated, in his careful old voice, "it must be
remembered that I was not certain that the boy had committed the
crime. I believed, and I still believe, that Lucas was shot by
Clifton Hines, probably through an open window. There were no
powder marks on the body. I believed, too, and still believe, that
Hines had fled after the crime, either to Hattie Thorwald's house
or to the mountains. In one case he had escaped and could not be
brought to justice, and in the other he was dead, and beyond
conviction.

"But there is another element which I urge, not in defense but in
explanation. The boy Judson Clark was a new slate to write on.
He had never had a chance. He had had too much money, too much
liberty, too little responsibility. His errors had been wiped
away by the loss of his memory, and he had, I felt, a chance for a
new and useful life.

"I did not come to my decision quickly. It was a long fight for
his life, for he had contracted pneumonia, and he had the drinker's
heart. But in the long days of his convalescence while Maggie
worked in the lean-to, I had time to see what might be done. If
in making an experiment with a man's soul I usurped the authority
of my Lord and Master, I am sorry. But he knows that I did it for
the best.

"I deliberately built up for Judson Clark a new identity. He was
my nephew, my brother Henry's son. He had the traditions of an
honorable family to carry on, and those traditions were honor,
integrity, clean living and work. I did not stress love, for that I
felt must be experienced, not talked about. But love was to be the
foundation on which I built. The boy had had no love in his life.

"It has worked out. I may not live to see it at its fullest, but
I defy the world to produce today a finer or more honorable
gentleman, a more useful member of the community. And it will last.
The time may come when Judson Clark will again be Judson Clark. I
have expected it for many years. But he will never again be the
Judson Clark of ten years ago. He may even will to return to the
old reckless ways, but as I lie here, perhaps never to see him, I
say this: he cannot go back. His character and habits of thought
are established.

"To convict Judson Clark of the murder of Howard Lucas is to convict
a probably or at least possibly innocent man. To convict Richard
Livingstone of that crime is to convict a different man, innocent
of the crime, innocent of its memory, innocent of any single impulse
to lift his hand against a law of God or the state."





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
Nabou.com: the big site