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The Woman in the Alcove Anna Katharine Green

X I Astonish The Inspector

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I was not the only one to tremble now. This man of infinite experience and daily contact with crime had turned as pale as ever I myself had done in face of a threatening calamity.

"I shall see about this," he muttered, crumpling the paper in his hand. "But this is a very terrible business you are plunging me into. I sincerely hope that you are not heedlessly misleading me."

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"I am correct in my facts, if that is what you mean," said I. "The stiletto is an English heirloom, and bears on its blade, among other devices, that of Mr. Grey's family on the female side. But that is not all I want to say. If the blow was struck to obtain the diamond, the shock of not finding it on his victim must have been terrible. Now Mr. Grey's heart, if my whole theory is not utterly false, was set upon obtaining this stone. Your eye was not on him as mine was when you made your appearance in the hall with the recovered jewel. He showed astonishment, eagerness, and a determination which finally led him forward, as you know, with the request to take the diamond in his hand. Why did he want to take it in his hand? And why, having taken it, did he drop it--a diamond supposed to be worth an ordinary man's fortune? Because he was startled by a cry he chose to consider the traditional one of his family proclaiming death? Is it likely, sir? Is it conceivable even that any such cry as we heard could, in this day and generation, ring through such an assemblage, unless it came with ventriloquial power from his own lips? You observed that he turned his back; that his face was hidden from us. Discreet and reticent as we have all been, and careful in our criticisms of so bizarre an event, there still must be many to question the reality of such superstitious fears, and some to ask if such a sound could be without human agency, and a very guilty agency, too. Inspector, I am but a child in your estimation, and I feel my position in this matter much more keenly than you do, but I would not be true to the man whom I have unwittingly helped to place in his present unenviable position if I did not tell you that, in my judgment, this cry was a spurious one, employed by the gentleman himself as an excuse for dropping the stone."

"And why should he wish to drop the stone?"

"Because of the fraud he meditated. Because it offered him an opportunity for substituting a false stone for the real. Did you not notice a change in the aspect of this jewel dating from this very moment? Did it shine with as much brilliancy in your hand when you received it back as when you passed it over?"

"Nonsense! I do not know; it is all too absurd for argument." Yet he did stop to argue, saying in the next breath: "You forget that the stone has a setting. Would you claim that this gentleman of family, place and political distinction had planned this hideous crime with sufficient premeditation to have provided himself with the exact counterpart of a brooch which it is highly improbable he ever saw? You would make him out a Cagliostro or something worse. Miss Van Arsdale, I fear your theory will topple over of its own weight."

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The Woman in the Alcove
Anna Katharine Green

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