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Authors: Anna Katharine Green

Agatha Webb

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AGATHA WEBB

* * *

ANNA KATHARINE GREEN

 

*

Agatha Webb
First published in 1899
ISBN 978-1-62012-266-2
Duke Classics
© 2012 Duke Classics and its licensors. All rights reserved.
While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in this edition, Duke Classics does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. Duke Classics does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book.

Contents

*

BOOK I - THE PURPLE ORCHID
I - A Cry on the Hill
II - One Night's Work
III - The Empty Drawer
IV - The Full Drawer
V - A Spot on the Lawn
VI - "Breakfast is Served, Gentlemen!"
VII - "Marry Me"
VIII - "A Devil that Understands Men"
IX - A Grand Woman
X - Detective Knapp Arrives
XI - The Man with a Beard
XII - Wattles Comes
XIII - Wattles Goes
XIV - A Final Temptation
XV - The Zabels Visited
XVI - Local Talent at Work
XVII - The Slippers, the Flower, and What Sweetwater Made of Them
XVIII - Some Leading Questions
XIX - Poor Philemon
XX - A Surprise for Mr. Sutherland
BOOK II - THE MAN OF NO REPUTATION
XXI - Sweetwater Reasons
XXII - Sweetwater Acts
XXIII - A Sinister Pair
XXIV - In the Shadow of the Mast
XXV - In Extremity
XXVI - The Adventure of the Parcel
XXVII - The Adventure of the Scrap of Paper and the Three Words
XXVIII - "Who Are You?"
XXIX - Home Again
BOOK III - HAD BATSY LIVED!
XXX - What Followed the Striking of the Clock
XXXI - A Witness Lost
XXXII - Why Agatha Webb Will Never Be Forgotten in Sutherlandtown
XXXIII - Father and Son
XXXIV - "Not When They Are Young Girls"
XXXV - Sweetwater Pays His Debt at Last to Mr. Sutherland
Endnotes

BOOK I - THE PURPLE ORCHID

*

I - A Cry on the Hill

*

The dance was over. From the great house on the hill the guests
had all departed and only the musicians remained. As they filed
out through the ample doorway, on their way home, the first faint
streak of early dawn became visible in the east. One of them, a
lank, plain-featured young man of ungainly aspect but penetrating
eye, called the attention of the others to it.

"Look!" said he; "there is the daylight! This has been a gay night
for Sutherlandtown."

"Too gay," muttered another, starting aside as the slight figure
of a young man coming from the house behind them rushed hastily
by. "Why, who's that?"

As they one and all had recognised the person thus alluded to, no
one answered till he had dashed out of the gate and disappeared in
the woods on the other side of the road. Then they all spoke at
once.

"It's Mr. Frederick!"

"He seems in a desperate hurry."

"He trod on my toes."

"Did you hear the words he was muttering as he went by?"

As only the last question was calculated to rouse any interest, it
alone received attention.

"No; what were they? I heard him say something, but I failed to
catch the words."

"He wasn't talking to you, or to me either, for that matter; but I
have ears that can hear an eye wink. He said: 'Thank God, this
night of horror is over!' Think of that! After such a dance and
such a spread, he calls the night horrible and thanks God that it
is over. I thought he was the very man to enjoy this kind of
thing."

"So did I."

"And so did I."

The five musicians exchanged looks, then huddled in a group at the
gate.

"He has quarrelled with his sweetheart," suggested one.

"I'm not surprised at that," declared another. "I never thought it
would be a match."

"Shame if it were!" muttered the ungainly youth who had spoken
first.

As the subject of this comment was the son of the gentleman whose
house they were just leaving, they necessarily spoke low; but
their tones were rife with curiosity, and it was evident that the
topic deeply interested them. One of the five who had not
previously spoken now put in a word:

"I saw him when he first led out Miss Page to dance, and I saw him
again when he stood up opposite her in the last quadrille, and I
tell you, boys, there was a mighty deal of difference in the way
he conducted himself toward her in the beginning of the evening
and the last. You wouldn't have thought him the same man. Reckless
young fellows like him are not to be caught by dimples only. They
want cash."

"Or family, at least; and she hasn't either. But what a pretty
girl she is! Many a fellow as rich as he and as well connected
would be satisfied with her good looks alone."

"Good looks!" High scorn was observable in this exclamation, which
was made by the young man whom I have before characterised as
ungainly. "I refuse to acknowledge that she has any good looks. On
the contrary, I consider her plain."

"Oh! Oh!" burst in protest from more than one mouth. "And why does
she have every fellow in the room dangling after her, then?" asked
the player on the flageolet.

"She hasn't a regular feature."

"What difference does that make when it isn't her features you
notice, but herself?"

"I don't like her."

A laugh followed this.

"That won't trouble her, Sweetwater. Sutherland does, if you
don't, and that's much more to the point. And he'll marry her yet;
he can't help it. Why, she'd witch the devil into leading her to
the altar if she took a notion to have him for her bridegroom."

"There would be consistency in that," muttered the fellow just
addressed. "But Mr. Frederick—"

"Hush! There's some one on the doorstep. Why, it's she!"

They all glanced back. The graceful figure of a young girl dressed
in white was to be seen leaning toward them from the open doorway.
Behind her shone a blaze of light—the candles not having been yet
extinguished in the hall—and against this brilliant background
her slight form, with all its bewitching outlines, stood out in
plain relief.

"Who was that?" she began in a high, almost strident voice,
totally out of keeping with the sensuous curves of her strange,
sweet face. But the question remained unanswered, for at that
moment her attention, as well as that of the men lingering at the
gate, was attracted by the sound of hurrying feet and confused
cries coming up the hill.

"Murder! Murder!" was the word panted out by more than one harsh
voice; and in another instant a dozen men and boys came rushing
into sight in a state of such excitement that the five musicians
recoiled from the gate, and one of them went so far as to start
back toward the house. As he did so he noticed a curious thing.
The young woman whom they had all perceived standing in the door a
moment before had vanished, yet she was known to possess the
keenest curiosity of any one in town.

"Murder! Murder!" A terrible and unprecedented cry in this old,
God-fearing town. Then came in hoarse explanation from the
jostling group as they stopped at the gate: "Mrs. Webb has been
killed! Stabbed with a knife! Tell Mr. Sutherland!"

Mrs. Webb!

As the musicians heard this name, so honoured and so universally
beloved, they to a man uttered a cry. Mrs. Webb! Why, it was
impossible. Shouting in their turn for Mr. Sutherland, they all
crowded forward.

"Not Mrs. Webb!" they protested. "Who could have the daring or the
heart to kill HER?"

"God knows," answered a voice from the highway. "But she's dead—
we've just seen her!"

"Then it's the old man's work," quavered a piping voice. "I've
always said he would turn on his best friend some day. 'Sylum's
the best place for folks as has lost their wits. I—"

But here a hand was put over his mouth, and the rest of the words
was lost in an inarticulate gurgle. Mr. Sutherland had just
appeared on the porch.

He was a superb-looking man, with an expression of mingled
kindness and dignity that invariably awakened both awe and
admiration in the spectator. No man in the country—I was going to
say no woman was more beloved, or held in higher esteem. Yet he
could not control his only son, as everyone within ten miles of
the hill well knew.

At this moment his face showed both pain and shock.

"What name are you shouting out there?" he brokenly demanded.
"Agatha Webb? Is Agatha Webb hurt?"

"Yes, sir; killed," repeated a half-dozen voices at once. "We've
just come from the house. All the town is up. Some say her husband
did it."

"No, no!" was Mr. Sutherland's decisive though half-inaudible
response. "Philemon Webb might end his own life, but not Agatha's.
It was the money—"

Here he caught himself up, and, raising his voice, addressed the
crowd of villagers more directly.

"Wait," said he, "and I will go back with you. Where is
Frederick?" he demanded of such members of his own household as
stood about him.

No one knew.

"I wish some one would find my son. I want him to go into town
with me."

"He's over in the woods there," volunteered a voice from without.

"In the woods!" repeated the father, in a surprised tone.

"Yes, sir; we all saw him go. Shall we sing out to him?"

"No, no; I will manage very well without him." And taking up his
hat Mr. Sutherland stepped out again upon the porch.

Suddenly he stopped. A hand had been laid on his arm and an
insinuating voice was murmuring in his ear:

"Do you mind if I go with you? I will not make any trouble."

It was the same young lady we have seen before.

The old gentleman frowned—he who never frowned and remarked
shortly:

"A scene of murder is no place for women."

The face upturned to his remained unmoved.

"I think I will go," she quietly persisted. "I can easily mingle
with the crowd."

He said not another word against it. Miss Page was under pay in
his house, but for the last few weeks no one had undertaken to
contradict her. In the interval since her first appearance on the
porch, she had exchanged the light dress in which she had danced
at the ball, for a darker and more serviceable one, and perhaps
this token of her determination may have had its influence in
silencing him. He joined the crowd, and together they moved down-
hill. This was too much for the servants of the house. One by one
they too left the house till it stood absolutely empty. Jerry
snuffed out the candles and shut the front door, but the side
entrance stood wide open, and into this entrance, as the last
footstep died out on the hillside, passed a slight and resolute
figure. It was that of the musician who had questioned Miss Page's
attractions.

II - One Night's Work

*

Sutherlandtown was a seaport. The village, which was a small one,
consisted of one long street and numerous cross streets running
down from the hillside and ending on the wharves. On one of the
corners thus made, stood the Webb house, with its front door on
the main street and its side door on one of the hillside lanes. As
the group of men and boys who had been in search of Mr. Sutherland
entered this last-mentioned lane, they could pick out this house
from all the others, as it was the only one in which a light was
still burning. Mr. Sutherland lost no time in entering upon the
scene of tragedy. As his imposing figure emerged from the darkness
and paused on the outskirts of the crowd that was blocking up
every entrance to the house, a murmur of welcome went up, after
which a way was made for him to the front door.

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