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0105_001E II As Seen By Detective Sweetwater Anna Katharine Green

XX Confusion

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He did have Sweetwater at an advantage, and the detective knew it and disdained a struggle which would have only called up a crowd, friendly to the other but inimical to himself. Allowing Brotherson to drag him into the closet, he stood quiescent, while the determined man who held him with one hand, felt about with the other over the shelves and along the partitions till he came to the hole which had offered such a happy means of communication between the two rooms. Then, with a laugh almost as bitter in tone as that which rang from Brotherson's lips, he acknowledged that business had its necessities and that apologies from him were in order; adding, as they both stepped out into the rapidly darkening room:

"We've played a bout, we two; and you've come out ahead. Allow me to congratulate you, Mr. Brotherson. You've cleared yourself so far as I am concerned. I leave this ranch to-night."

The frown had come back to the forehead of the indignant man who confronted him.

"So you listened," he cried; "listened when you weren't sneaking under my eye! A fine occupation for a man who can dove-tail a corner like an adept. I wish I had let you join the brotherhood you were good enough to mention. They would know how to appreciate your double gifts and how to reward your excellence in the one, if not in the other. What did the police expect to learn about me that they should consider it necessary to call into exercise such extraordinary talents?

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"I'm not good at conundrums. I was given a task to perform, and I performed it," was Sweetwater s sturdy reply. Then slowly, with his eye fixed directly upon his antagonist, " I guess they thought you a man. And so did I until I heard you burn those letters. Fortunately we have copies."

"Letters!" Fury thickened the speaker's voice, and lent a savage gleam to his eye. "Forgeries! Make believes! Miss Challoner never wrote the drivel you dare to designate as letters. It was concocted at Police Headquarters. They made me tell my story and then they found some one who could wield the poetic pen. I'm obliged to them for the confidence they show in my credulity. I credit Miss Challoner with such words as have been given me to read here to-day? I knew the lady, and I know myself. Nothing that passed between us, not an event in which we were both concerned, has been forgotten by me, and no feature of our intercourse fits the language you have ascribed to her. On the contrary, there is a lamentable contradiction between facts as they were and the fancies you have made her indulge in. And this, as you must acknowledge, not only proves their falsity, but exonerates Miss Challoner from all possible charge of sentimentality."

"Yet she certainly wrote those letters. We had them from Mr. Challoner. The woman who brought them was really her maid. We have not deceived you in this."

"I do not believe you."

It was not offensively said; but the conviction it expressed was absolute. Sweetwater recognised the tone, as one of truth, and inwardly laid down his arms. He could never like the man; there was too much iron in his fibre; but he had to acknowledge that as a foe he was invulnerable and therefore admirable to one who had the good sense to appreciate him.

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