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Stories of Mystery edited by Rossiter Johnson
THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS by AMELIA B. EDWARDS.
"I was in Devonshire. I had three weeks' leave of absence--I appeal to Mr. Hunter--Mr. Hunter knows I had three weeks' leave of absence! I was in Devonshire all the time--I can prove I was in Devonshire!"
Seeing him so abject, so incoherent, so wild with apprehension, the directors began to whisper gravely among themselves; while one got quietly up, and called the porter to guard the door.
"What has your being in Devonshire to do with the matter?" said the chairman. "When were you in Devonshire?"
"Mr. Raikes took his leave in September," said the secretary; "about the time when Mr. Dwerrihouse disappeared."
"I never even heard that he had disappeared till I came back!"
"That must remain to be proved," said the chairman. "I shall at once put this matter in the hands of the police. In the mean while, Mr. Raikes, being myself a magistrate, and used to deal with these cases, I advise you to offer no resistance, but to confess while confession may yet do you service. As for your accomplice--"
The frightened wretch fell upon his knees.
"I had no accomplice!" he cried. "Only have mercy upon me,--only spare my life, and I will confess all! I didn't mean to harm him! I didn't mean to hurt a hair of his head. Only have mercy upon me, and let me go!"
The chairman rose in his place, pale and agitated. "Good heavens!" he exclaimed, "what horrible mystery is this? What does it mean?"
"As sure as there is a God in heaven," said Jonathan Jelf, "it means that murder has been done."
"No--no--no!" shrieked Raikes, still upon his knees, and cowering like a beaten hound. "Not murder! No jury that ever sat could bring it in murder. I thought I had only stunned him--I never meant to do more than stun him! Manslaughter--manslaughter--not murder!"
Overcome by the horror of this unexpected revelation, the chairman covered his face with his hand, and for a moment or two remained silent.
"Miserable man," he said at length, "you have betrayed yourself."
"You bade me confess! You urged me to throw myself upon the mercy of the board!"
"You have confessed to a crime which no one suspected you of having committed," replied the chairman, "and which this board has no power either to punish or forgive. All that I can do for you is to advise you to submit to the law, to plead guilty, and to conceal nothing. When did you do this deed?"
The guilty man rose to his feet, and leaned heavily against the table. His answer came reluctantly, like the speech of one dreaming.
"On the twenty-second of September!"
On the twenty-second of September! I looked in Jonathan Jelf's face, and he in mine. I felt my own paling with a strange sense of wonder and dread. I saw his blanch suddenly, even to the lips.
"Merciful heaven!" he whispered, "_what was it, then, that you saw in the train?_"
* * * * *
What was it that I saw in the train? That question remains unanswered to this day. I have never been able to reply to it. I only know that it bore the living likeness of the murdered man, whose body had then been lying some ten weeks under a rough pile of branches, and brambles, and rotting leaves, at the bottom of a deserted chalk-pit about half-way between Blackwater and Mallingford. I know that it spoke, and moved, and looked as that man spoke, and moved, and looked in life; that I heard, or seemed to hear, things related which I could never otherwise have learned; that I was guided, as it were, by that vision on the platform to the identification of the murderer; and that, a passive instrument myself, I was destined, by means of these mysterious teachings, to bring about the ends of justice. For these things I have never been able to account.