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II As Seen By Detective Sweetwater Anna Katharine Green

XX Confusion

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In his interest in what was going on on the other side of the wall, Sweetwater had forgotten himself. Daylight had declined, but in the darkness of the closet this change had passed unheeded. Night itself might come, but that should not force him to leave his post so long as his neighbour remained behind his locked door, brooding over the words of love and devotion which had come to him, as it were from the other world.

But was he brooding? That sound of iron clattering upon iron! That smothered exclamation and the laugh which ended it! Anger and determination rang in that laugh. It had a hideous sound which prepared Sweetwater for the smell which now reached his nostrils. The letters were burning; this time the lid had been lifted from the stove with unrelenting purpose. Poor Edith Challoner's touching words had met, a different fate from any which she, in her ignorance of this man's nature, - a nature to which she had ascribed untold perfections - could possibly have conceived.

As Sweetwater thought of this, he stirred nervously in the darkness, and broke into silent invective against the man who could so insult the memory of one who had perished under the blight of his own coldness and misunderstanding. Then he suddenly started back surprised and apprehensive. Brotherson had unlocked his door, and was coming rapidly his way. Sweetwater heard his step in the hall and had hardly time to bound from his closet, when he saw his own door burst in and found himself face to face with his redoubtable neighbour, in a state of such rage as few men could meet without quailing, even were they of his own stature, physical vigour and prowess; and Sweetwater was a small man.

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However, disappointment such as he had just experienced brings with it a desperation which often outdoes courage, and the detective, smiling with an air of gay surprise, shouted out:

"Well, what's the matter now? Has the machine busted, or tumbled into the fire or sailed away to lands unknown out of your open window?"

"You were coming out of that closet," was the fierce rejoinder. "What have you got there? Something which concerns me, or why should your face go pale at my presence and your forehead drip with sweat? Don't think that you've deceived me for a moment as to your business here. I recognised you immediately. You've played the stranger well, but you've a nose and an eye nobody could forget. I have known all along that I had a police spy for a neighbour; but it didn't faze me. I've nothing to conceal, and wouldn't mind a regiment of you fellows if you'd only play a straight game. But when it comes to foisting upon me a parcel of letters to which I have no right, and then setting a fellow like you to count my groans or whatever else they expected to hear, I have a right to defend myself, and defend myself I will, by God! But first, let me be sure that my accusations will stand. Come into this closet with me. It abuts on the wall of my room and has its own secret, I know. What is it? I have you at an advantage now, and you shall tell."

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