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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

VI Suspense

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Opinions on this point were, as I have said, many and various. Some fixed upon the moment of exchange as that very critical and hardly appreciable one elapsing between the murder and Mr. Durand's appearance upon the scene. This theory, I need not say, was advanced by such as believed that while he was not guilty of Mrs. Fairbrother's murder, lie had been guilty of taking advantage of the same to rob the body of what, in the terror and excitement of the moment, he evidently took to be her great gem. To others, among whom were many eyewitnesses of the event, it appeared to be a conceded fact that this substitution had been made prior to the ball and with Mrs. Fairbrother's full cognizance. The effectual way in which she had wielded her fan between the glittering ornament on her breast and the inquisitive glances constantly leveled upon it might at the time have been due to coquetry, but to them it looked much more like an expression of fear lest the deception in which she was indulging should be discovered. No one fixed the time where I did; but then, no one but myself had watched the scene with the eyes of love; besides, and this must be remembered, most people, among whom I ventured to count the police officials, were mainly interested in proving Mr. Durand guilty, while I, with contrary mind, was bent on establishing such facts as confirmed the explanations he had been pleased to give us, explanations which necessitated a conviction, on Mrs. Fairbrother's part, of the great value of the jewel she wore, and the consequent advisability of ridding herself of it temporarily, if, as so many believed, the full letter of the warning should read: "Be warned, he means to be at the ball. Expect trouble if you are found wearing the great diamond."

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True, she may herself have been deceived concerning it. Unconsciously to herself, she may have been the victim of a daring fraud on the part of some hanger-on who had access to her jewels, but, as no such evidence had yet come to life, as she had no recognized, or, so far as could be learned, secret lover or dishonest dependent; and, moreover, as no gem of such unusual value was known to have been offered within the year, here or abroad, in public or private market, I could not bring myself to credit this assumption; possibly because I was so ignorant as to credit another, and a different one, -- one which you have already seen growing in my mind, and which, presumptuous as it was, kept my courage from failing through all those dreadful days of enforced waiting and suspense. For I was determined not to intrude my suggestions, valuable as I considered them, till all hope was gone of his being righted by the judgment of those who would not lightly endure the interference of such an insignificant mote in the great scheme of justice as myself.

The inquest, which might be trusted to bring out all these doubtful points, had been delayed in anticipation of Mr. Fairbrother's return. His testimony could not but prove valuable, if not in fixing the criminal, at least in settling the moot point as to whether the stone, which the estranged wife had carried away with her on leaving the house, had been the genuine one returned to him from Tiffany's or the well-known imitation now in the hands of the police. He had been located somewhere in the mountains of lower Colorado, but, strange to say, It had been found impossible to enter into direct communication with him; nor was it known whether he was aware as yet of his wife's tragic death. So affairs went slowly in New York and the case seemed to come to a standstill, when public opinion was suddenly reawakened and a more definite turn given to the whole matter by a despatch from Santa Fe to the Associated Press. This despatch was to the effect that Abner Fairbrother had passed through that city some three days before on his way to his new mining camp, the Placide; that he then showed symptoms of pneumonia, and from advices since received might be regarded as a very sick man.

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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