IV. From a Clear Sky
The inmates of the Oakley house had not been long in their beds before Hamilton was out of his and rousing his own little household.
"You, Joe," he called to his son, "git up f'om daih an' come right hyeah. You got to he'p me befo' you go to any shop dis mo'nin'. You, Kitty, stir yo' stumps, miss. I know yo' ma 's a-dressin' now. Ef she ain't, I bet I 'll be aftah huh in a minute, too. You all layin' 'roun', snoozin' w'en you all des' pint'ly know dis is de mo'nin' Mistah Frank go 'way f'om hyeah."
It was a cool Autumn morning, fresh and dew-washed. The sun was just rising, and a cool clear breeze was blowing across the land. The blue smoke from the "house," where the fire was already going, whirled fantastically over the roofs like a belated ghost. It was just the morning to doze in comfort, and so thought all of Berry's household except himself. Loud was the complaining as they threw themselves out of bed. They maintained that it was an altogether unearthly hour to get up. Even Mrs. Hamilton added her protest, until she suddenly remembered what morning it was, when she hurried into her clothes and set about getting the family's breakfast.
The good-humour of all of them returned when they were seated about their table with some of the good things of the night before set out, and the talk ran cheerily around.
"I do declaih," said Hamilton, "you all 's as bad as dem white people was las' night. De way dey waded into dat food was a caution." He chuckled with delight at the recollection.
"I reckon dat 's what dey come fu'. I was n't payin' so much 'tention to what dey eat as to de way dem women was dressed. Why, Mis' Jedge Hill was des' mo'n go'geous."
"Oh, yes, ma, an' Miss Lessing was n't no ways behin' her," put in Kitty.
Joe did not condescend to join in the conversation, but contented himself with devouring the good things and aping the manners of the young men whom he knew had been among last night's guests.
"Well, I got to be goin'," said Berry, rising. "There 'll be early breakfas' at de 'house' dis mo'nin', so 's Mistah Frank kin ketch de fus' train."
He went out cheerily to his work. No shadow of impending disaster depressed his spirits. No cloud obscured his sky. He was a simple, easy man, and he saw nothing in the manner of the people whom he served that morning at breakfast save a natural grief at parting from each other. He did not even take the trouble to inquire who the strange white man was who hung about the place.
When it came time for the young man to leave, with the privilege of an old servitor Berry went up to him to bid him good-bye. He held out his hand to him, and with a glance at his brother, Frank took it and shook it cordially. "Good-bye, Berry," he said. Maurice could hardly restrain his anger at the sight, but his wife was moved to tears at her brother-in-law's generosity.
The last sight they saw as the carriage rolled away towards the station was Berry standing upon the steps waving a hearty farewell and god-speed.
"How could you do it, Frank?" gasped his brother, as soon as they had driven well out of hearing.
"Hush, Maurice," said Mrs. Oakley gently; "I think it was very noble of him."
"Oh, I felt sorry for the poor fellow," was Frank's reply. "Promise me you won't be too hard on him, Maurice. Give him a little scare and let him go. He 's possibly buried the money, anyhow."
"I shall deal with him as he deserves."
The young man sighed and was silent the rest of the way.
"Whether I fail or succeed, you will always think well of me, Maurice?" he said in parting; "and if I don't come up to your expectations, well--forgive me--that 's all."
His brother wrung his hand. "You will always come up to my expectations, Frank," he said. "Won't he, Leslie?"
"He will always be our Frank, our good, generous-hearted, noble boy. God bless him!"
The young fellow bade them a hearty good-bye, and they, knowing what his feelings must be, spared him the prolonging of the strain. They waited in the carriage, and he waved to them as the train rolled out of the station.
"He seems to be sad at going," said Mrs. Oakley.
"Poor fellow, the affair of last night has broken him up considerably, but I 'll make Berry pay for every pang of anxiety that my brother has suffered."
"Don't be revengeful, Maurice; you know what brother Frank asked of you."
"He is gone and will never know what happens, so I may be as revengeful as I wish."
The detective was waiting on the lawn when Maurice Oakley returned. They went immediately to the library, Oakley walking with the firm, hard tread of a man who is both exasperated and determined, and the officer gliding along with the cat-like step which is one of the attributes of his profession.
"Well?" was the impatient man's question as soon as the door closed upon them.
"I have some more information that may or may not be of importance."
"Out with it; maybe I can tell."
"First, let me ask if you had any reason to believe that your butler had any resources of his own, say to the amount of three or four hundred dollars?"
"Certainly not. I pay him thirty dollars a month, and his wife fifteen dollars, and with keeping up his lodges and the way he dresses that girl, he can't save very much."
"You know that he has money in the bank?"
"Well, he has. Over eight hundred dollars."
"What? Berry? It must be the pickings of years."
"And yesterday it was increased by five hundred more."
"How was your brother's money, in bills?"
"It was in large bills and gold, with some silver."
"Berry's money was almost all in bills of a small denomination and silver."
"A poor trick; it could easily have been changed."
"Not such a sum without exciting comment."
"He may have gone to several places."
"But he had only a day to do it in."
"Then some one must have been his accomplice."
"That remains to be proven."
"Nothing remains to be proven. Why, it 's as clear as day that the money he has is the result of a long series of peculations, and that this last is the result of his first large theft."
"That must be made clear to the law."
"It shall be."
"I should advise, though, no open proceedings against this servant until further evidence to establish his guilt is found."
"If the evidence satisfies me, it must be sufficient to satisfy any ordinary jury. I demand his immediate arrest."
"As you will, sir. Will you have him called here and question him, or will you let me question him at once?"
Oakley struck the bell, and Berry himself answered it.
"You 're just the man we want," said Oakley, shortly.
Berry looked astonished.
"Shall I question him," asked the officer, "or will you?"
"I will. Berry, you deposited five hundred dollars at the bank yesterday?"
"Well, suh, Mistah Oakley," was the grinning reply, "ef you ain't de beatenes' man to fin' out things I evah seen."
The employer half rose from his chair. His face was livid with anger. But at a sign from the detective he strove to calm himself.
"You had better let me talk to Berry, Mr. Oakley," said the officer.
Oakley nodded. Berry was looking distressed and excited. He seemed not to understand it at all.
"Berry," the officer pursued, "you admit having deposited five hundred dollars in the bank yesterday?"
"Sut'ny. Dey ain't no reason why I should n't admit it, 'ceptin' erroun' ermong dese jealous niggahs."
"Uh huh! well, now, where did you get this money?"
"Why, I wo'ked fu' it, o' co'se, whaih you s'pose I got it? 'T ain't drappin' off trees, I reckon, not roun' dis pa't of de country."
"You worked for it? You must have done a pretty big job to have got so much money all in a lump?"
"But I did n't git it in a lump. Why, man, I 've been savin' dat money fu mo'n fo' yeahs."
"More than four years? Why did n't you put it in the bank as you got it?"
"Why, mos'ly it was too small, an' so I des' kep' it in a ol' sock. I tol' Fannie dat some day ef de bank did n't bus' wid all de res' I had, I 'd put it in too. She was allus sayin' it was too much to have layin' 'roun' de house. But I des' tol' huh dat no robber was n't goin' to bothah de po' niggah down in de ya'd wid de rich white man up at de house. But fin'lly I listened to huh an' sposited it yistiddy."
"You 're a liar! you 're a liar, you black thief!" Oakley broke in impetuously. "You have learned your lesson well, but you can't cheat me. I know where that money came from."
"Calm yourself, Mr. Oakley, calm yourself."
"I will not calm myself. Take him away. He shall not stand here and lie to me."
Berry had suddenly turned ashen.
"You say you know whaih dat money come f'om? Whaih?"
"You stole it, you thief, from my brother Frank's room."
"Stole it! My Gawd, Mistah Oakley, you believed a thing lak dat aftah all de yeahs I been wid you?"
"You 've been stealing all along."
"Why, what shell I do?" said the servant helplessly. "I tell you, Mistah Oakley, ask Fannie. She 'll know how long I been a-savin' dis money."
"I 'll ask no one."
"I think it would be better to call his wife, Oakley."
"Well, call her, but let this matter be done with soon."
Fannie was summoned, and when the matter was explained to her, first gave evidences of giving way to grief, but when the detective began to question her, she calmed herself and answered directly just as her husband had.
"Well posted," sneered Oakley. "Arrest that man."
Berry had begun to look more hopeful during Fannie's recital, but now the ashen look came back into his face. At the word "arrest" his wife collapsed utterly, and sobbed on her husband's shoulder.
"Send the woman away."
"I won't go," cried Fannie stoutly; "I 'll stay right hyeah by my husband. You sha'n't drive me away f'om him."
Berry turned to his employer. "You b'lieve dat I stole f'om dis house aftah all de yeahs I 've been in it, aftah de caih I took of yo' money an' yo' valybles, aftah de way I 've put you to bed f'om many a dinnah, an' you woke up to fin' all yo' money safe? Now, can you b'lieve dis?"
His voice broke, and he ended with a cry.
"Yes, I believe it, you thief, yes. Take him away."
Berry's eyes were bloodshot as he replied, "Den, damn you! damn you! ef dat 's all dese yeahs counted fu', I wish I had a-stoled it."
Oakley made a step forward, and his man did likewise, but the officer stepped between them.
"Take that damned hound away, or, by God! I 'll do him violence!"
The two men stood fiercely facing each other, then the handcuffs were snapped on the servant's wrist.
"No, no," shrieked Fannie, "you must n't, you must n't. Oh, my Gawd! he ain 't no thief. I 'll go to Mis' Oakley. She nevah will believe it." She sped from the room.
The commotion had called a crowd of curious servants into the hall. Fannie hardly saw them as she dashed among them, crying for her mistress. In a moment she returned, dragging Mrs. Oakley by the hand.
"Tell 'em, oh, tell 'em, Miss Leslie, dat you don't believe it. Don't let 'em 'rest Berry."
"Why, Fannie, I can't do anything. It all seems perfectly plain, and Mr. Oakley knows better than any of us, you know."
Fannie, her last hope gone, flung herself on the floor, crying, "O Gawd! O Gawd! he 's gone fu' sho'!"
Her husband bent over her, the tears dropping from his eyes. "Nevah min', Fannie," he said, "nevah min'. Hit 's boun' to come out all right."
She raised her head, and seizing his manacled hands pressed them to her breast, wailing in a low monotone, "Gone! gone!"
They disengaged her hands, and led Berry away.
"Take her out," said Oakley sternly to the servants; and they lifted her up and carried her away in a sort of dumb stupor that was half a swoon.
They took her to her little cottage, and laid her down until she could come to herself and the full horror of her situation burst upon her.