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XLIII


To Dick the last day or two had been nightmares of loneliness. He
threw caution to the winds and walked hour after hour, only to find
that the street crowds, people who had left a home or were going to
one, depressed him and emphasized his isolation. He had deliberately
put away from him the anchor that had been Elizabeth and had followed
a treacherous memory, and now he was adrift. He told himself that
he did not want much. Only peace, work and a place. But he had not
one of them.

He was homesick for David, for Lucy, and, with a tightening of the
heart he admitted it, for Elizabeth. And he had no home. He thought
of Reynolds, bent over the desk in his office; he saw the quiet
tree-shaded streets of the town, and Reynolds, passing from house
to house in the little town, doing his work, usurping his place in
the confidence and friendship of the people; he saw the very
children named for him asking: "Who was I named for, mother?" He
saw David and Lucy gone, and the old house abandoned, or perhaps
echoing to the laughter of Reynolds' children.

He had moments when he wondered what would happen if he took Beverly
at her word. Suppose she made her confession, re-opened the thing,
to fill the papers with great headlines, "Judson Clark Not Guilty.
A Strange Story."

He saw himself going back to the curious glances of the town, never
to be to them the same as before. To face them and look them down,
to hear whispers behind his back, to feel himself watched and
judged, on that far past of his. Suppose even that it could be kept
out of the papers; Wilkins amiable and acquiescent, Beverly's
confession hidden in the ruck of legal documents; and he stealing
back, to go on as best he could, covering his absence with lies,
and taking up his work again. But even that uneasy road was closed
to him. He saw David and Lucy stooping to new and strange
hypocrisies, watching with anxious old eyes the faces of their
neighbors, growing defiant and hard as time went on and suspicion
still followed him.

And there was Elizabeth.

He tried not to think of her, save as of some fine and tender thing
he had once brushed as he passed by. Even if she still cared for
him, he could, even less than David and Lucy, ask her to walk the
uneasy road with him. She was young. She would forget him and
marry Wallace Sayre. She would have luxury and gaiety, and the
things that belong to youth.

He was not particularly bitter about that. He knew now that he had
given her real love, something very different from that early
madness of his, but he knew it too late...

He looked up at Bassett and then sat up.

"What sort of news?" he asked, his voice still thick with sleep.

"Get up and put some cold water on your head. I want you to get
this."

He obeyed, but without enthusiasm. Some new clue, some hope
revived only to die again, what did it matter? But he stopped by
Bassett and put a hand on his shoulder.

"Why do you do it?" he asked, "Why don't you let me go to the
devil in my own way?"

"I started this, and by Heaven I've finished it," was Bassett's
exultant reply.

He sat down and produced a bundle of papers. "I'm going to read
you something," he said. "And when I'm through you're going to put
your clothes on and we'll go to the Biltmore. The Biltmore. Do
you get it?"

Then he began to read.

"I, the undersigned, being of sound mind, do hereby make the
following statement. I make the statement of my own free will, and
swear before Almighty God that it is the truth. I am an illegitimate
son of Elihu Clark. My mother, Harriet Burgess, has since married
and is now known as Hattie Thorwald. She will confirm the statements
herein contained.

"I was adopted by a woman named Hines, of the city of Omaha, whose
name I took. Some years later this woman married and had a
daughter, of whom I shall speak later.

"I attended preparatory school in the East, and was sent during
vacations to a tutoring school, owned by Mr. Henry Livingstone.
When I went to college Mr. Livingstone bought a ranch at Dry River,
Wyoming, and I spent some time there now and then.

"I learned that I was being supported and sent to college from
funds furnished by a firm of New York lawyers, and that aroused
my suspicion. I knew that Mrs. Hines was not my mother. I finally
learned that I was the son of Elihu Clark and Harriet Burgess.

"I felt that I should have some part of the estate, and I
developed a hatred of Judson Clark, whom I knew. I made one attempt
to get money from him by mail, threatening to expose his father's
story, but I did not succeed.

"I visited my mother, Hattie Thorwald, and threatened to kill Clark.
I also threatened Henry Livingstone, and his death came during a
dispute over the matter, but I did not kill him. He fell down and
hit his head. He had a weak heart.

"My foster-sister had gone on the stage, and Clark was infatuated
with her. I saw him a number of times, but he did not connect me
with the letter I had sent. My foster-sister's stage name is
Beverly Carlysle.

"She married Howard Lucas and they visited the Clark ranch at
Norada, Wyoming, in the fall of 1911. I saw my sister there
several times, and as she knew the way I felt she was frightened.
My mother, Hattie Thorwald, was a sort of maid to her, and together
they tried to get me to go away."

Bassett looked up.

"Up to that point," he said, "I wrote it myself before I saw him."
There was a note of triumph in his voice. "The rest is his."

"On the night Lucas was killed I was to go away. Bev had agreed
to give me some money, for the piece had quit in June and I was
hard up. She was going to borrow it from Jud Clark, and that set
me crazy. I felt it ought to be mine, or a part of it anyhow.

"I was to meet my mother in the grounds, but I missed her, and I
went to the house. I wasn't responsible for what I did. I was
crazy, I guess. I saw Donaldson on the side porch, and beyond him
were Lucas and Clark, playing roulette. It made me wild. I
couldn't have played roulette that night for pennies.

"I went around the house and in the front door. What I meant to do
was to walk into that room and tell Clark who I was. He knew me,
and all I meant to do was to call Bev down, and mother, and make
him sit up and take notice. I hadn't a gun on me.

"I swear I wasn't thinking of killing him then. I hated him like
poison, but that was all. But I went into the living-room, and I
heard Clark say he'd lost a thousand dollars. Maybe you don't get
that. A thousand dollars thrown around like that, and me living
on what Bev could borrow from him.

"That sent me wild. Lucas took a gun from him, just after that,
and said he was going to put it in the other room. He did it, too.
He put it on a table and started back. I got it and pointed it at
Clark. I'd have shot him, too, but Bev came into the room.

"I want to exonerate Bev. She has been better than most sisters
to me, and she has lied to try to save me. She came up behind me
and grabbed my arm. Lucas had heard her, and he turned. I must
have closed my hand on the trigger, for it went off and hit him.

"I was in the living-room when Donaldson ran in. I hid there until
they were all gathered around Lucas and had quit running in, and
then I got away. I saw my mother in the grounds later. I told her
where the revolver was and that they'd better put it in the billiard
room. I was afraid they'd suspect Bev.

"I have read the above statement and it is correct. I was legally
adopted by Mrs. Alice Ford Hines, of Omaha, and use that signature.
I generally use the name of Frederick Gregory, which I took when I
was on the stage for a short time.

"(Signed) Clifton HINES."


Bassett folded up the papers and put them in the envelope. "I got
that," he said, "at the point of a gun, my friend. And our friend
Hines departed for the Mexican border on the evening train. I
don't mind saying that I saw him off. He held out for a get-away,
and I guess it's just as well."

He glanced at Dick, lying still and rigid on the bed.

"And now," he said. "I think a little drink won't do us any harm."

Dick refused to drink. He was endeavoring to comprehend the
situation; to realize that Gregory, who had faced him with such
sneering hate a day or so before, was his half-brother.

"Poor devil!" he said at last. "I wish to God I'd known. He was
right, you know. No wonder - "

Sometime later he roused from deep study and looked at Bassett.

"How did you get the connection?"

"I saw Melis, and learned that Hines was in it somehow. He was the
connecting link between Beverly Carlysle and the Thorwald woman.
But I couldn't connect him with Beverly herself, except by a chance.
I wired a man I knew in Omaha, and he turned up the second marriage,
and a daughter known on the stage as Beverly Carlysle."

Bassett was in high spirits. He moved about the room immensely
pleased with himself, slightly boastful.

"Some little stroke, Dick!" he said. "What price Mr. Judson Clark
to-night, eh? It will be worth a million dollars to see Wilkins'
face when he reads that thing."

"There's no mention of me as Livingstone in it, is there?"

"It wasn't necessary to go into that. I didn't know - Look here,"
he exploded, "you're not going to be a damned fool, are you?"

"I'm not going to revive Judson Clark, Bassett. I don't owe him
anything. Let him die a decent death and stay dead."

"Oh, piffle!" Bassett groaned. "Don't start that all over again.
Don't pull any Enoch Arden stuff on me, looking in at a lighted
window and wandering off to drive a taxicab."

Suddenly Dick laughed. Bassett watched him, puzzled and angry,
with a sort of savage tenderness.

"You're crazy," he said morosely. "Darned if I understand you.
Here I've got everything fixed as slick as a whistle, and it took
work, believe me. And now you say you're going to chuck the whole
thing."

"Not at all," Dick replied, with a new ring in his voice. "You're
right. I've been ten sorts of a fool, but I know now what I'm
going to do. Take your paper, old friend, and for my sake go out
and clear Jud Clark. Put up a headstone to him, if you like, a
good one. I'll buy it."

"And what will you be doing in the meantime?"

Dick stretched and threw out his arms.

"Me?" he said. "What should I be doing, old man? I'm going home."





The Breaking Point by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Category:
General Fiction

Mystery and detective stories
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