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II As Seen By Detective Sweetwater Anna Katharine Green

XVII In Which A Book Plays Leading Part

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"Won't I?" was the gay retort, as the detective thus released, stooped for the book still lying on the floor. "Paolo and Francesca," he read, from the back, as he laid it on the table. "Poetry?" he queried.

"Rot," scornfully returned the other, as he moved to take down a bottle and some glasses from a cupboard let into another portion of the wall.

Sweetwater taking advantage of the moment, sidled towards the shelf where that empty space still gaped with the tell-tale hole at the back. He could easily have replaced the missing book before Mr. Brotherson turned. But the issue was too doubtful. He was dealing with no absent-minded fool, and it behooved him to avoid above all things calling attention to the book or to the place on the shelf where it belonged.

But there was one thing he could do and did. Reaching out a finger as deft as Brotherson's own, he pushed a second volume into the place of the one that was gone. This veiled the auger-hole completely; a fact which so entirely relieved his mind that his old smile came back like sunshine to his lips, and it was only by a distinct effort that he kept the dancing humour from his eyes as he prepared to refuse the glass which Brotherson now brought forward:

"None of that!" said he. "You mustn't tempt me. The doctor has shut down on all kinds of spirits for two months more, at least. But don't let me hinder you. I can bear to smell the stuff. My turn will come again some day."

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But Brotherson did not drink. Setting down the glass he carried, he took up the book lying near, weighed it in his hand and laid it down again, with an air of thoughtful inquiry. Then he suddenly pushed it towards Sweetwater. "Do you want it?" he asked.

Sweetwater was too taken aback to answer immediately. This was a move he did not understand. Want it, he? What he wanted was to see it put back in its place on the shelf. Did Brotherson suspect this? The supposition was incredible; yet who could read a mind so mysterious?

Sweetwater, debating the subject, decided that the risk of adding to any such possible suspicion was less to be dreaded than the continued threat offered by that unoccupied space so near the hole which testified so unmistakably of the means he had taken to spy upon this suspected man's privacy. So, after a moment of awkward silence, not out of keeping with the character he had assumed, he calmly refused the present as he had the glass.

Unhappily he was not rewarded by seeing the despised volume restored to its shelf. It still lay where its owner had pushed it, when, with some awkwardly muttered thanks, the discomfited detective withdrew to his own room.

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