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  The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

IV Explanations

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My love for Anson Durand died at sight of that crimson splash or I thought it did. In this spot of blood on the breast of him to whom I had given my heart I could read but one word--guilt-- heinous guilt, guilt denied and now brought to light in language that could be seen and read by all men. Why should I stay in such a presence? Had not the inspector himself advised me to go?

Yes, but another voice bade me remain. Just as I reached the door, Anson Durand found his voice and I heard, in the full, sweet tones I loved so well:

"Wait I am not to be judged like this. I will explain!"

But here the inspector interposed.

"Do you think it wise to make any such attempt without the advice of counsel, Mr. Durand?"

The indignation with which Mr. Durand wheeled toward him raised in me a faint hope.

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"Good God, yes!" he cried. "Would you have me leave Miss Van Arsdale one minute longer than is necessary to such dreadful doubts? Rita--Miss Van Arsdale--weakness, and weakness only, has brought me into my present position. I did not kill Mrs. Fairbrother, nor did I knowingly take her diamond, though appearances look that way, as I am very ready to acknowledge. I did go to her in the alcove, not once, but twice, and these are my reasons for doing so: About three months ago a certain well-known man of enormous wealth came to me with the request that I should procure for him a diamond of superior beauty. He wished to give it to his wife, and he wished it to outshine any which could now be found in New York. This meant sending abroad-- an expense he was quite willing to incur on the sole condition that the stone should not disappoint him when he saw it, and that it was to be in his hands on the eighteenth of March, his wife's birthday. Never before had I had such an opportunity for a large stroke of business. Naturally elated, I entered at once into correspondence with the best known dealers on the other side, and last week a diamond was delivered to me which seemed to fill all the necessary requirements. I had never seen a finer stone, and was consequently rejoicing in my success, when some one, I do not remember who now, chanced to speak in my hearing of the wonderful stone possessed by a certain Mrs. Fairbrother--a stone so large, so brilliant and so precious altogether that she seldom wore it, though it was known to connoisseurs and had a great reputation at Tiffany's, where it had once been sent for some alteration in the setting. Was this stone larger and finer than the one I had procured with so much trouble? If so, my labor had all been in vain, for my patron must have known of this diamond and would expect to see it surpassed.

"I was so upset by this possibility that I resolved to see the jewel and make comparisons for myself. I found a friend who agreed to introduce me to the lady. She received me very graciously and was amiable enough until the subject of diamonds was broached, when she immediately stiffened and left me without an opportunity of proffering my request. However, on every other subject she was affable, and I found it easy enough to pursue the acquaintance till we were almost on friendly terms. But I never saw the diamond, nor would she talk about it, though I caused her some surprise when one day I drew out before her eyes the one I had procured for my patron and made her look at it. 'Fine,' she cried, 'fine!' But I failed to detect any envy in her manner, and so knew that I had not achieved the object set me by my wealthy customer. This was a woeful disappointment; yet, as Mrs. Fairbrother never wore her diamond, it was among the possibilities that he might be satisfied with the very fine gem I had obtained for him, and, influenced by this hope, I sent him this morning a request to come and see it tomorrow. Tonight I attended this ball, and almost as soon as I enter the drawing-room I hear that Mrs. Fairbrother is present and is wearing her famous jewel. What could you expect of me? Why, that I would make an effort to see it and so be ready with a reply to my exacting customer when he should ask me to-morrow if the stone I showed him had its peer in the city. But was not in the drawing-room then, and later I became interested elsewhere"--here he cast a look at me--"so that half the evening passed before I had an opportunity to join her in the so-called alcove, where I had seen her set up her miniature court. What passed between us in the short interview we held together you will find me prepared to state, if necessary. It was chiefly marked by the one short view I succeeded in obtaining of her marvelous diamond, in spite of the pains she took to hide it from me by some natural movement whenever she caught my eyes leaving her face. But in that one short look I had seen enough. This was a gem for a collector, not to be worn save in a royal presence. How had she come by it? And could Mr. Smythe expect me to procure him a stone like that? In my confusion I arose to depart, but the lady showed a disposition to keep me, and began chatting so vivaciously that I scarcely noticed that she was all the time engaged in drawing off her gloves. Indeed, I almost forgot the jewel, possibly because her movements hid it so completely, and only remembered it when, with a sudden turn from the window where she had drawn me to watch the falling flakes, she pressed the gloves into my hand with the coquettish request that I should take care of them for her. I remember, as I took them, of striving to catch another glimpse of the stone, whose brilliancy had dazzled me, but she had opened her fan between us. A moment after, thinking I heard approaching steps, I quitted the room. This was my first visit."

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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