Counsel for the defense, p.14
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       Counsel for the Defense, p.14

           Leroy Scott
 
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  CHAPTER XIV

  THE NIGHT WATCH

  The next morning Elijah Stone appeared in Katherine's office as perrequest. He was a thickly, if not solidly, built gentleman, inimminent danger of a double chin, and with that submerged blackness ofthe complexion which is the result of a fresh-shaven heavy beard. Hekept his jaw clinched to give an appearance of power, and his blackeyebrows lowered to diffuse a sense of deeply pondered mystery. Hiswife considered him a rarely handsome specimen of his sex, and hepermitted art to supplement the acknowledged gifts of nature so far asto perfume his glossy black hair, to wear a couple of large diamondrings, and to carry upon the watch chain that clanked heavily acrossthe broad and arching acreage of his waistcoat a begemmed lodge emblemin size a trifle smaller than a paper weight.

  He was an affable, if somewhat superior, being, and he listened toKatherine with a still further lowering of his impressive brows. Sheinformed him, in a perplexed, helpless, womanly way, that she wasinclined to believe that her father was "the victim of foul play"--theblack brows sank yet another degree--and that she wished him privatelyto investigate the matter. He of course would know far, far betterwhat to do than she, but she would suggest that he keep an eye uponBlake. At first Mr. Stone appeared somewhat sceptical and hesitant,but after peering darkly out for a long and ruminative period at thedusty foliage of the Court House elms, and after hearing thecomfortable fee Katherine was willing to pay, he consented to acceptthe case. As he left he kindly assured her, with manly pity for herwoman's helplessness, that if there was anything in her suspicion she"needn't waste no sleep now about gettin' the goods."

  In the days that followed, Katherine saw her Monsieur Lecoqueshadowing the movements of Blake with the lightness and generalunobtrusiveness of a mahogany bedstead ambling about upon its castors.She soon guessed that Blake perceived that he was being watched, andshe imagined how he must be smiling up his sleeve at her simplicity.Had the matters at stake not been so grave, had she been more certainof the issue, she might have put her own sleeve to a similar purpose.

  In the meantime, as far as she could do so without exciting suspicion,she kept close watch upon Blake. It had occurred to her that therewas a chance that he had an unknown accomplice whose discovery wouldmake the gaining of the rest of the evidence a simple matter. Therewas a chance that he might let slip some revealing action. At anyrate, till Mr. Manning came, her role was to watch with unsleeping eyefor developments. Her office window commanded the entrance to Blake'ssuite of rooms, and no one went up by day whom she did not see. Herbedroom commanded Blake's house and grounds, and every night she satat her darkened window till the small hours and watched for possiblesuspicious visitors, or possible suspicious movements on the part ofBlake.

  Also she did not forget Doctor Sherman. On the day of her departurefor New York, she had called upon Doctor Sherman, and in the privacyof his study had charged him with playing a guilty part in Blake'sconspiracy. She had been urged to this course by the slender chancethat, when directly accused as she had dared not accuse him in thecourt-room, he might break down and confess. But Doctor Sherman haddenied her charge and had clung to the story he had told upon thewitness stand. Since Katherine had counted but little on this chance,she had gone away but little disappointed.

  But she did not now let up upon the young minister. Regularattendance at church had of late years not been one of Katherine'svirtues, but after her return it was remarked that she did not miss asingle service at which Doctor Sherman spoke. She always tried to sitin the very centre of his vision, seeking to keep ever before hismind, while he preached God's word, the sin he had committed againstGod's law and man's. He visibly grew more pale, more thin, moredistraught. The changes inspired his congregation with concern; theybegan to talk of overwork, of the danger of a breakdown; and seeingthe dire possibility of losing so popular and pew-filling a pastor,they began to urge upon him the need of a long vacation.

  Katherine could not but also give attention to the campaign, since itwas daily growing more sensational, and was completely engrossing thetown. Blake, in his speeches, stood for a continuance of the rule thathad made Westville so prosperous, and dwelt especially upon animprovement in the service of the water-works, though as to the natureof the improvements he confined himself to language that was somewhatvague. Katherine heard him often. He was always eloquent, clever,forceful, with a manly grace of presence upon the platform--just whatshe, and just what the town, expected him to be.

  But the surprise of the campaign, to Katherine and to Westville, wasArnold Bruce. Katherine had known Bruce to be a man of energy; now, inher mind, a forceful if not altogether elegant phrase of Carlyleattached itself to him--"A steam-engine in pants." He was neverclever, never polished, he never charmed with the physical grace ofhis opponent, but he spoke with a power, an earnestness, and an energythat were tremendous. By the main strength of his ideas and hispersonality he seemed to bear down the prejudice against the principlefor which he stood. He seemed to stand out in the mid-current ofhostile opinion and by main strength hurl it back into its formercourse. The man's efforts were nothing less than herculean. He was abigger man, a more powerful man, than Westville had ever dreamed; andhis spirited battle against such apparently hopeless odds had acompelling fascination. Despite her defiantly critical attitude,Katherine was profoundly impressed; and she heard it whispered aboutthat, notwithstanding Blake's great popularity, his party's certaintyof success was becoming very much disturbed.

  Both Katherine and Bruce were fond of horseback riding--Doctor West'ssingle luxury, his saddle horse, was ever at Katherine's disposal--andat the end of one afternoon they met by chance out along the windingRiver Road, with its border of bowing willows and mottled sycamores,between whose browned foliage could be glimpsed long reaches of thebroad and polished river, steel-gray in the shadows, a flaming copperwhere the low sun poured over it its parting fire. Little by littleBruce began to talk of his ideals. Presently he was speaking with asimplicity and openness that he had not yet used with Katherine. Sheperceived, more clearly than before, that whereas he was dogmatic inhis ideas and brutally direct in their expression, he was a hot-souledidealist, overflowing with a passionate, even desperate, love ofdemocracy, which he feared was in danger of dying out in theland--quietly and painlessly suffocated by a narrowing oligarchy whichsought to blind the people to its rule by allowing them the exerciseof democracy's dead forms.

  His square, rude face, which she watched with a rising fascination,was no longer repellent. It had that compelling beauty, superior tomere tint and moulding of the flesh, which is born of great andglowing ideas. She saw that there was sweetness in his nature, thatbeneath his rough exterior was a violent, all-inclusive tenderness.

  Now and then she put in a word of discriminating approval, now andthen a word of well-reasoned dissent.

  "I believe you are even more radical than I am!" he exclaimed, lookingat her keenly.

  "A woman, if she is really radical, has got to be more radical than aman. She sees all the evils and dangers that he sees, and in additionshe suffers from injustices and restrictions from which man is whollyfree."

  He was too absorbed in the afterglow of what he had been saying totake in all the meanings implicated in her last phrase.

  "Do you know," he said, as they neared the town, "you are the firstwoman I have met in Westville to whom one could talk about real thingsand who could talk back with real sense."

  A very sly and pat remark upon his inconsistency was at her tongue'stip. But she realized that he had spoken impulsively, unguardedly, andshe felt that it would be little short of sacrilege to be even gentlysarcastic after the exalted revelation he had made of himself.

  "Thank you," she said quietly, and turned her face and smiled at thenow steel-blue reaches of the river.

  He dropped in several evenings to see her. When he was in anidealistic mood she was warmly responsive. When he was arbitrary andopinionated, she met him with chaffing and raillery, and at such timesshe was as
elusive, as baffling, as exasperating as a sprite. Onoccasions when he rather insistently asked her plans and her progressin her father's case, she evaded him and held him at bay. She feltthat he admired her, but with a grudging, unwilling admiration thatleft his fundamental disapproval of her quite unshaken.

  The more she saw of this dogmatic dreamer, this erratic man of action,the more she liked him, the more she found really admirable in him.But mixed with her admiration was an alert and pugnacious fear, so bigwas he, so powerful, so violently hostile to all the principlesinvolved in her belief that the whole wide world of action should injustice lie as much open to woman to choose from as to man.

  Without cessation Katherine kept eyes and mind on Blake. She searchedout and pondered over the thousand possible details and ramificationshis conspiracy might have. No human plan was a perfect plan. Bypatiently watching and studying every point there was a chance thatshe might discover one detail, one slip, one oversight, that wouldgive her the key to the case.

  One of the thousand possibilities was that he had an active partner inhis scheme. Since no such partner was visible in the open, it waslikely that his associate was a man with whom Blake wished to haveseemingly no relations. Were this conjecture true, then naturally hewould meet this confederate in secret. She began to think upon allpossible means and places of holding secret conferences. Such ameeting might be held there in Westville in the dead of night. Itmight be held in any large city in which individuals might losethemselves--Indianapolis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Chicago. It might beheld at any appointed spot within the radius of an automobile journey.

  Katherine analyzed every possible place of this last possibility. Shebegan to watch, as she watched other possibilities, the comings andgoings of the Blake automobile. It occurred to her that, if anythingwere in this conjecture, the meeting would be held at night; and then,a little later, it occurred to her to make a certain regularobservation. The Blake garage and the West stable stood side by sideand opened into the same alley. Every evening while Blake's car wasbeing cleaned--if it had been in use during the day--Katherine wentout to say good night to her saddle horse, and as she was on friendlyterms with Blake's man she contrived, while exchanging a word withhim, to read the mileage record of the speedometer. This observationshe carried on with no higher hope of anything resulting from it thanfrom any of a score of other measures. It was merely one detail of herall-embracing vigilance.

  Every night she sat on watch--the evening's earlier half usually inthe rustic summer-house in the backyard, the latter part at herbedroom window. One night after most of Westville was in bed, herlong, patient vigil was rewarded by seeing the Blake automobile slipout with a single vague figure at the wheel and turn into the backstreets of the town.

  Hours passed, and still she sat wide-eyed at her window. It was nottill raucous old muzzains of roosters raised from the watch-towers oftheir various coops their concatenated prophecy of the dawn, that shesaw the machine return with its single passenger. The next morning, assoon as she saw Blake's man stirring about his work, she slipped outto her stable. Watching her chance, she got a glimpse of Blake'sspeedometer. Then she quickly slipped back to her room and sat therein excited thought.

  The evening before the mileage had read 1437; this morning the readingwas 1459. Blake, in his furtive midnight journey, had travelledtwenty-two miles. If he had slipped forth to meet a secret ally, thenevidently their place of meeting was half of twenty-two miles distant.Where was this rendezvous?

  Almost instantly she thought of The Sycamores. That fitted therequirements exactly. It was eleven miles distant--Blake had a cabinthere--the place was deserted at this season of the year. Nothingcould be safer than for two men, coming in different vehicles, fromdifferent points perhaps, to meet at that retired spot at such aneyeless hour.

  Perhaps there was no confederate. Perhaps Blake's night trip wasnot to a secret conference. Perhaps The Sycamores was not therendezvous. But there was a chance that all three of these conjectureswere correct. And if so, there was a chance,--aye, more, aprobability--that there would be further midnight trysts.

  Bruce had fallen into the habit of dropping in occasionally for a fewminutes at the end of an evening's speaking to tell Katherine howmatters seemed to be progressing. When he called that night towardten he was surprised to be directed around to the summer-house. Hissurprise was all the more because the three months' drought had thatafternoon been broken, and the rain was now driving down in gusts andthere was a far rumbling of thunder that threatened a nearer and afiercer cannonading.

  Crouching beneath his umbrella, he made his way through the blacknessto the summer-house, in which he saw sitting a dim, solitary figure.

  "In mercy's name, what are you doing out here?" he demanded as heentered.

  "Watching the rain. I love to be out in a storm." Every clap ofthunder sent a shiver through her.

  "You must go right into the house!" he commanded. "You'll get wet.I'll bet you're soaked already!"

  "Oh, no. I have a raincoat on," she answered calmly. "I'm going tostay and watch the storm a little longer."

  He expostulated, spoke movingly of colds and pneumonia. But she kepther seat and sweetly suggested that he avoid his vividly pictureddangers of a premature death by following his own advice. He jerked arustic chair up beside her, growled a bit in faint imitation of thethunder, then ran off into the wonted subject of the campaign.

  As the situation now stood he had a chance of winning, so successfulhad been his fight to turn back public opinion; and if only he had andcould use the evidence Katherine was seeking, an overwhelming victorywould be his beyond a doubt. He plainly was chafing at her delays, andas plainly made it evident that he was sceptical of her gaining proof.But she did not let herself be ruffled. She evaded all his questions,and when she spoke she spoke calmly and with good-nature.

  Presently, sounding dimly through a lull in the rising tumult of thenight, they heard the Court House clock strike eleven. Soon after,Katherine's ear, alert for a certain sound, caught a muffled throbbingthat was not distinguishable to Bruce from the other noises of thestorm.

  She sprang up.

  "You must go now--good night!" she said breathlessly, and darted outof the summer-house.

  "Wait! Where are you going?" he cried, and tried to seize her, but shewas gone.

  He stumbled amazedly after her vague figure, which was running throughthe grape-arbour swiftly toward the stable. The blackness, hisunfamiliarity with the way, made him half a minute behind Katherine inentering the barn.

  "Miss West!" he called. "Miss West!"

  There was no answer and no sound within the stable. Just then a flashof lightning showed him that the rear door was open. As he felt hisway through this he heard Katherine say, "Whoa, Nelly! Whoa, Nelly!"and saw her swing into the saddle.

  He sprang forward and caught the bridle rein.

  "What are you going to do?" he cried.

  "Going out for a little gallop," she answered with an excited laugh.

  "What?" A light broke in upon him. "You've been sitting there allevening in your riding habit! Your horse has been standing saddled andbridled in the stall! Tell me--where are you going?"

  "For a little ride, I said. Now let loose my rein."

  "Why--why--" he gasped in amazement. Then he cried out fiercely: "Youshall not go! It's madness to go out in a storm like this!"

  "Mr. Bruce, let go that rein this instant!" she said peremptorily.

  "I shall do nothing of the sort! I shall not let you make an insanefool of yourself!"

  She bent downward. Though in the darkness he could not see her face,the tensity of her tone told him her eyes were flashing.

  "Mr. Bruce," she said with slow emphasis, "if you do not loosen thatrein, this second, I give you my word I shall never see you, neverspeak to you again."

  "All right, but I shall not let you make a fool of yourself," he criedwith fierce dominance. "You've got to yield to sense, even though Iuse force on you."


  She did not answer. Swiftly she reversed her riding crop and with allher strength brought its heavy end down upon his wrist.

  "Nelly!" she ordered sharply, and in the same instant struck thehorse. The animal lunged free from Bruce's benumbed grasp, and sprangforward into a gallop.

  "Good night!" she called back to him.

  He shouted a reply; his voice came to her faintly, wrathful anddefiant, but his words were whirled away upon the storm.

 
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