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III The Heart Of Man Anna Katharine Green

XXXIX The Avenger

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"I cannot live in uncertainty;" such were finally Mr. Challoner's words. "What you have to say concerns Edith?" The pause he made was infinitesimal in length, but it was long enough for a quick disclaimer. But no such disclaimer came. "I will hear it," came in reluctant finish.

Mr. Brotherson took a step forward. His manner was as cold as the heart which lay like a stone in his bosom.

"Will you pardon me if I ask you to rise?" said he. "I have my weaknesses too. (He gave no sign of them.) "I cannot speak down from such a height to the man I am bound to hurt."

As if answering to the constraint of a will quite outside his own, Mr. Challoner rose. Their heads were now more nearly on a level and Mr. Brotherson's voice remained low, as he proceeded, with quiet intensity

"There has been a time - and it may exist yet, God knows - when you thought me in some unknown and secret way the murderer of your daughter. I do not quarrel with the suspicion; it was justified, Mr. Challoner. I did kill your daughter, and with this hand! I can no longer deny it."

The wretched father swayed, following the gesture of the hand thus held out; but he did not fall, nor did a sound leave his lips.

Brotherson went coldly on:

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I did it because I regarded her treatment of my suit as insolent. I have no mercy for any such display of intolerance on the part of the rich and the fortunate. I hated her for it; I hated her class, herself and all she stood for. To strike the dealer of such a hurt I felt to be my right. Though a man of small beginnings and of a stock which such as you call common, I have a pride which few of your blood can equal. I could not work, or sleep or eat with such a sting in my breast as she had planted there. To rid myself of it, I determined to kill her, and I did. How? Oh, that was easy, though it has proved a great stumbling-block to the detectives, as I knew it would! I shot her - but not with an ordinary bullet. My charge was a small icicle made deliberately for the purpose. It had strength enough to penetrate, but it left no trace behind it. 'A bullet of ice for a heart of ice,' I had said in the torment of my rage. But the word was without knowledge, Mr. Challoner. I see it now; I have seen it for two whole weeks. I did not misjudge her condemnation of me, but I misjudged its cause. It was not to the comparatively poor, the comparatively obscure man she sought to show contempt, but to the brother of Oswald whose claims she saw insulted. A woman I should have respected, not killed. A woman of no pride of station; a woman who loved a man not only of my own class but of my own blood - a woman, to avenge whose unmerited death I stand here before you a self-condemned criminal. That is but justice, Mr. Challoner. That is the way I look at things. Though no sentimentalist; and dead to all beliefs save the eternal truths of science, I have that in me which will not let me profit, now that I know myself unworthy, by the great success I have earned. Hence this confession, Mr. Challoner. It has not come easily, nor do I shut my eyes in the least to the results which must follow. But I can not do differently. To-morrow, you may telegraph to New York. Till then I desire to be left undisturbed. I have many things to dispose of in the interim."

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