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One of My Sons By Anna Katharine Green Characters: 20535

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:02

eanwhile the child had started down the hall, and up the stairs, calling:

"Papa! Papa!"

Startled by this intimation of another person's presence in a house I had supposed to hold no one but ourselves, I hastily followed her till she reached the floor above and paused before a shut door. Here something seemed to restrain her.

"Papa's inside," she whispered.

If this was so, he was not alone. Laughter, quick exclamations, and the clink of glasses could plainly be heard through the door; and shocked at the contrast offered by this scene of mirth to the solemn occurrence which had just taken place below, I hesitated to enter, and looked about for some means of communicating with the servants who I now felt must be below. But here the terrified child, who was clinging to my knee, interposed:

"I do not think papa is there. Papa does not like cards. Uncle George does. Come, let's look for papa."

She dragged me toward the front of the house, entered another room, and seemed surprised to find the light turned down and her papa gone.

"Perhaps he is with Uncle Alph," she faltered, and, bounding up another flight of stairs, turned around to see if I was behind her.

There seemed no alternative left but to follow her till I came upon someone; so I hastened up this second staircase. She had already entered a room.

"O Uncle Alph!" I heard her cry. "Grandpa's lying on the floor downstairs. I cannot find papa. I'm so frightened," and she ran sobbing towards the young man, who rose to receive her in an abstraction which even these startling words failed to break.

For this and other reasons I noticed him particularly notwithstanding the embarrassment of my own position. He was a handsome man of the luxury-loving type, whose characteristics it would be useless to describe, since they were of a nature to suggest, rather than explain the extent of his attractions. I afterwards heard from such of my friends as were in the habit of walking the avenue with him, that he never failed to draw the attention of passers-by; something in his features, his carriage, or the turn of his head and shoulders stamping him as a man worth looking at, not only once, but twice. At this moment, however, I was not so much impressed by his good looks, as by his uneasy and feverish expression.

He had caught up a letter which he had been engaged in writing at our entrance, and as the child's appeal rang out, he crumpled it nervously in his hand, and dropped it into the waste-paper basket. As a certain furtive haste characterised this action, my attention was caught by it, and I found myself wondering whether it was a letter or memorandum he thus sacrificed to his surprise.

Meanwhile he seemed to be trying to take in what the little one wanted. Evidently he had not as yet noticed me standing in the doorway, and I thought it best to introduce myself.

"I beg your pardon," said I, "I am Arthur Outhwaite of the firm of Robinson & Outhwaite, lawyers. I was passing by the house when this child called me in to the assistance of her grandfather whom, I am sorry to say, I found in a very precarious condition in his study downstairs. If he is your father, you have my sympathy for his sudden demise. He died in my arms a moment ago; and having been the witness of his last moments, I could not leave the house without explaining my position to his relatives."

"Dead! Father?"

It was not grief, it was hardly astonishment which gave force to this brief and involuntary exclamation. It was something quite different, something which it shocked me to hear in his tones and see sparkle in his eye. But this expression, whatever it betokened, lasted but a moment. Catching up the child in his arms, he hid his face behind her and rushed towards the door. Me he hardly noticed.

"Where is he?" he asked, ignoring or forgetting what I had told him.

It was the child who answered.

"In the den, Uncle Alph. Don't take me there; I'm afraid. Set me down; I want to find Hope."

He hastily obeyed her, and the child ran away. Then, and only then, he seemed to take in my presence.

"You were called in from the street?" he wonderingly observed; "I don't understand it. Where were my brothers? They were near enough to render him assistance. Why should a stranger be called in?"

This was a question for which I had no answer, so I made none. He did not seem to be struck by the omission.

"Let us go down," said he.

I opened the door which the little one had closed behind her, and proceeded toward the stair-head. From certain indistinct noises which I had heard during the foregoing short interchange of words, I expected to find the house in a state of alarm and everyone alert. But the card-players were still at their game on the floor below, and I was not surprised to see my companion pause and give an admonitory kick to the door through which such incongruous noises issued.

"Father's ill!" he shouted in a voice hoarse with many passions; and waiting for no reply, he rushed ahead of me downstairs, followed by some half-dozen partially sobered men.

Among these latter I noticed one whom I took to be the elder brother of him whom the little one had addressed as Uncle Alph. He had the same commanding appearance, the same abstracted air, and woke, when he did wake, to the same curious condition of conflicting emotions. But I did not have time to dwell long upon this feature of the extraordinary affair in which I had become thus curiously involved.

The alarm which had been so slow in spreading above, had passed like wildfire through the lower part of the house, and we found some half-dozen servants standing in and about the small room where the master of the house lay stretched. Some were wringing their hands, some were crying, and some, rigid with terror, stared at the face they had so lately seen with the hue of health upon it.

At our approach they naturally withdrew to the hall, and I presently found myself standing between the group thus formed and the three or four young gentlemen visitors who had not followed the brothers into the room. Amongst the latter I saw one whose face was not altogether unfamiliar, and it was from him that I gained my first information concerning the man to whose dying passion I had been witness, and from whom I had received the strange commission which, unknown to those about me, made my continued presence in this house a necessity from which the embarrassment of the occasion could not release me.

The dead man was Archibald Gillespie, the well-known stockbroker and railroad magnate, whose name, as well as those of his three spendthrift sons, was in every man's mouth since that big deal by which he had made two millions in less than two months.

Meanwhile one of the gentlemen who had accompanied the two Gillespies into the room where their father lay, came out looking very pale. He was a doctor, though to all appearance not the family physician.

"Will one of you go for Dr. Bennett?" he asked. "Bring him at once and at any cost; Mr. Gillespie cannot be moved till he comes."

Dr. Bennett evidently was the family physician.

"Why can't he be moved?" called out a voice near me. "Is there anything wrong? Mr. Gillespie was violently sick a month ago. I suppose he got around too quickly."

But the young doctor, without replying, stepped back into the room, leaving us all agog, though few of us ventured upon open remonstrance.

In another minute one of the men near me slipped out in obedience to the request just made.

"Is Mrs. Gillespie living?" I asked, after a moment spent in more or less indecision.

"Where have you come from?" was the answer given, seasoned by a stare I bore with what equanimity I could. "Mrs. Gillespie has been dead these fifteen years."

So! the letter was not meant for his wife.

Here I caught an eye fixed on mine. It was that of one of the servants who stood huddled about the doorway of what appeared to be a large dining-room on the opposite side of the hall. When this man, for it was a male servant, saw that he had attracted my attention, he made me an imperceptible sign. As he was old and grey-haired, I heeded the sign he made and stepped towards him. Instantly he greeted me with the whisper:

"You seem to be the only sober man here. Don't let them do anything till Mr. Leighton comes in. He is the saint of the family, sir."

"Is he the little girl's father?" I asked.

The man nodded. "And a good man, too," he insisted. "A very good man."

Was this honest judgment or sarcasm? I had heard that each of Mr. Gillespie's sons had given his father no end of trouble.

Meantime a silence deeper than that of awe had spread throughout the house. Feeling myself out of place and yet strangely in place, I drew aside into as inconspicuous a corner as I could find, and waited as all the others did, for the family physician.

While doing so I caught stray glimpses of my first acquaintance, Alfred Gillespie, who, fretted by some anxiety he could not altogether conceal, came more than once into the hall and threw furtive glances up the stairway. Was it the little girl he was concerned about? If so, I shared his anxiety.

At last the bell rang. Instantly, so great was the strain upon us, we all moved, and one or two bounded towards the door. But it was opened by the butler with that mechanical habitude such old servants acquire, and, though nothing could shake the calm deference of this trained domestic, there was something in the bow with which he greeted the newcomer which assured us that the man we so anxiously expected had arrived.

I had seen Dr. Bennett more than once, but never before showing so much anxiety. Whether from shock or some secret cause not to be communicated to us, this old and capable physician seemed to be in a condition of as much agitation as ourselves, and obeyed the summons of the young doctor who stood beckoning to him from the threshold of the little den, with an appearance of alacrity that nevertheless had an odd element of hesitation in it. I might not have noticed this under other circumstances, and am quite sure that no one else detected any peculiarity in his manner, but to me, everything was impor

tant which offered anything like a clue to the proper understanding of a situation in which I found myself so deeply, yet so secretly involved.

Mr. Gillespie's physician remained for some minutes closeted with the sons of the deceased and their young medical friend; then he came out. Instantly I saw from his expression that our fears or rather, those of the young doctor, were not without foundation. Yet he was careful not to raise an alarm, and in addressing us, spoke in strictly professional tones:

"A sad case, gentlemen! Mr. Gillespie has taken an overdose of chloral. We will have to leave him where he is till the coroner can be called."

A gasp followed by the clink of breaking glass came from the dining-room behind me. The old butler had dropped a glass he had just lifted off the mantel-shelf of the dining-room.

The doctor was at his side in a moment.

"What is that?" he demanded.

The butler stooped for the pieces.

"Only the glass Mr. Gillespie drank out of. He asked for wine a half hour ago. Your words frightened me, sir."

He did not look frightened; but old servants of his stamp possess a strange immobility.

"I will pick up these pieces," said the doctor, stooping beside the man.

The butler drew back. Dr. Bennett picked up the pieces. They were all dry. Evidently the glass had been drained.

As he came out he cast a keen but not unkindly glance at the group of young men drawn up in the doorway.

"Which of you was the witness of Mr. Gillespie's death?" he asked.

I bowed. I dreaded his questions, yet saw no way of evading them. If only Mr. Gillespie had been able to articulate the one word which would have relieved me of all further responsibility in this matter!

"You are the person who was called into the house by Mr. Gillespie's grandchild?" the doctor now asked, meeting my eye with the same expression of instantaneous and complete confidence I had seen on the features of his unhappy patient.

"I am," I replied; and proceeded to relate the circumstances with all the simplicity the occasion required. Only I said nothing about the letter which had been entrusted to me for delivery to some unknown person. How could I? There had been no encouragement in Mr. Gillespie's expression when I asked him if the note I had taken from him was meant for his doctor.

The account I was able to give of the deceased broker's last moments seemed to deepen the impression which had been made upon the physician by the condition in which he found him. Taking up the pieces of glass he had collected from the dining-room hearth, he sniffed them carefully, during which act the two sons of Mr. Gillespie watched him with starting eyes. When he laid them down again, we could none of us conceal our curiosity.

"You have something dreadful to communicate," murmured the elder son.

The doctor hesitated; then he glanced from one to the other of the two handsome faces before him, and remarked:

"Your brother is not here. Do you know if he is likely to return soon?"

"Where is Mr. Leighton?" inquired Alfred, turning towards the servants. "I thought he meant to remain home to-night."

The butler respectfully advanced.

"Mr. Leighton went out an hour ago," said he. "He and Mr. Gillespie had a few words in the den, sir, after which he put on his hat and coat and went out."

"Did you see your master at that time?"

"No, sir, I only heard his voice."

"Did that sound natural?"

The old servant seemed loath to reply, but feeling the doctor's eye resting imperatively upon him, he hesitatingly admitted:

"It wasn't quiet, sir, if you mean that. Mr. Gillespie seemed to be angry or very much displeased. He spoke quite loud."

"Where were you?"

"In the dining-room, sir, putting away the last of the dinner dishes."

"Did you hear what your master said?"

"No, sir; it was something about religion; too much religion."

"My brother attends too many mission services to please my father," explained Alfred in a low tone.

The doctor heard, but did not take his eye from the old servant.

"Was this before he took the glass of wine you have just told us he asked for?"

"Yes, sir, just before. It was Mr. Leighton who came for it. He said his father looked tired."

"Ah, and how came the glass to be back then on the dining-room mantel-shelf?"

"I don't know, sir. Perhaps Mr. Gillespie put it there himself. He never liked any litter on his study table, sir."

At this statement the older brother opened his lips, but I noticed he did not speak. There were no traces of intoxication about him now.

"I wish you would show me the bottle from which you poured the wine."

The butler, whose name I afterwards learned to be Hewson, led the way to a large buffet extending half across the dining-room wall. From where I stood in the hall-way I could see him pointing out a bottle of what looked like sherry. Suddenly he gave a start.

"That isn't the one," he cried, loud enough for me to hear. "The bottle I took out for Mr. Leighton was half-empty. This is quite full."

Again I saw the lips of the elder brother move, and again he refrained from speaking.

"I should like to have that bottle found," said the physician; "but no one need look for it now. Indeed, it would be better for us to wait for Leighton's return before making any further movement. George, Alfred, may I ask you to leave me alone with your father for a few minutes. And let the dining-room be cleared. I don't want to have to make any excuses to the coroner when he arrives. Your father has not died a natural death."

It was an announcement for which we had been in a measure prepared by the serious manner of the young doctor, yet it seemed to me it ought to have occasioned a greater, or at least a different display of feeling on the part of the two most intimately concerned. I looked for an exchange of glances between them or at least some hurried words of sorrow or dismay. But though all evinced strong emotion, no looks passed between them, nor did they make the least attempt at mutual sympathy or encouragement. Were they not on confidential terms? The moment certainly was one to call out whatever brotherly feeling they possessed.

"I shall have to make use of the telephone," Dr. Bennett now announced. "You must pardon my seeming disrespect to the dead. The occasion demands it."

And with one hurried look to see that his commands had been obeyed, and that the dining-room had been cleared of the huddling servants, he stepped back into the so-called den and closed the door behind him.

Next moment we heard his voice rise in the inevitable "Hallo!"

"I don't understand Dr. Bennett's strange demeanour," I now heard uttered in remark near me. It was George speaking in a low tone to his brother.

But that brother, with one of his anxious looks up the stairs, failed to answer.

"Father was in the habit of taking chloral, but I thought he always waited until he got to his own room. I never knew him to take it downstairs before," George went on in a low tone between a whisper and a grumble.

This time Alfred answered.

"He made an exception to-night," said he. "When I ran down to your door at half-past eight, I met Claire coming out of father's room with a bottle in her hand. She had been sent up after the chloral, and was taking it down to him."

George gave his brother a suspicious look.

"Did she say so?" he asked.


"Poor child! She will miss her grandfather. I wonder if she knows?"

I felt that I had no right to listen. But I was standing where the doctor had left me, and hardly knew how to withdraw till I had received my dismissal from someone in authority. Yet I was thinking of going farther front when the doctor came out again and, approaching me, remarked:

"This delay is probably causing you great inconvenience. But I must ask you to remain a short time longer. I presume you can find a seat in the drawing-room."

With a glance at the young gentlemen, I expressed my obligations for his courtesy, but did not make a move towards the room he had indicated.

Instantly, and with an understanding of my feelings which surprised me, George took the hint I had given him, and stepping forward, raised a heavy plush curtain at the left and begged me to be seated in the richly appointed room within. But I had hardly taken a step towards it when a diversion was created by the entrance into the house of a gentleman whom I at once took to be the third brother for whose presence all waited with more or less suspense.

He was sufficiently prepossessing in appearance to awaken admiration, but he bore no resemblance to his brothers. He seemed to have more character and less-well, I find it difficult to say just what impression he made upon me at this moment. Enough that with my first glimpse of him I felt confident that no ordinary person had entered upon the scene, though just what special characteristic of his personality or disposition would prove the emphatic one it was not easy to judge, at a moment's notice.

He had a downcast air, and to my eyes looked weary to the point of collapse, but he roused at the sight of a stranger, and cast an inquiring look at the doctor and then at the servants crowding in the passage beyond.

He evidently took me for one of his brothers' boon companions.

"What's amiss?" he demanded in some irritation-an irritation I was fain to construe into a total lack of preparation for the fatal news awaiting him. "What's the matter, George? What's the matter, Alph?"

"The worst!" came in simultaneous reply.

"Father is dead!" cried George.

"Took too much chloral," added Alfred.

Leighton Gillespie stood stock-still for a moment, then threw off his hat and rushed down the hall. But at the door of what now might be called the chamber of death, he found the doctor standing in an attitude which compelled him to come to a sudden stop.

"Wait a moment," said that gentleman. "I have to correct an impression. Your father has not died from an overdose of chloral as I had at first supposed, but from a deadly dose of prussic acid. You have only to smell his lips to be certain of this fact. Now, Leighton, you may enter."

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