An American Tragedy Chapter 8

The morrow dawned after an all but sleepless night, harrowed by the most torturesome dreams in regard to Roberta, men who arrived to arrest him, and the hike, until at last he arose, his nerves and eyes aching. Then, venturing to come downstairs about an hour later, he saw Frederick, the chauffeur who had driven him out the day before, getting one of the cars out. And thereupon instructing him to bring all the morning Albany and Utica papers. And about nine-thirty, when he returned, proceeding to his room with them, where, locking the door and spreading one of the papers before him, he was immediately confronted by the startling headlines:


And at once strained and white he sat down in one of the chairs near the window and began to read:

“Bridgeburg, N. Y., July 9.—The body of an unknown girl, presumably the wife of a young man who registered first on Wednesday morning at Grass Lake Inn, Grass Lake, N. Y., as Carl Graham and wife, and later, Thursday noon, at Big Bittern Lodge, Big Bittern, as Clifford Golden and wife was taken from the waters of the south end of Big Bittern just before noon yesterday. Because of an upturned boat, as well as a man’s straw hat found floating on the water in Moon Cove, dredging with hooks and lines had been going on all morning.… Up to seven o’clock last evening, however, the body of the man had not as yet been recovered, and according to Coroner Heit of Bridgeburg, who by two o’clock had been summoned to the scene of the tragedy, it was not considered at all likely that it would be. Several marks and abrasions found upon the dead girl’s head and face, as well as the testimony of three men who arrived on the scene while the search was still on and testified to having met a young man who answered to the description of Golden or Graham in the woods to the south of the lake the night before, caused many to conclude that a murder had been committed and that the murderer was seeking to make his escape.

The girl’s brown leather traveling bag, as well as a hat and coat belonging to her, were left, the bag in the ticket agent’s room at Gun Lodge, which is the railway station five miles east of Big Bittern, and the hat and coat in the coatroom of the inn at the Lake, whereas Graham or Golden is said to have taken his suitcase with him into the boat.

According to the innkeeper at Big Bittern, the couple on their arrival registered as Clifford Golden and wife of Albany. They remained in the inn but a few minutes before Golden walked to the boat-landing just outside and procured a light boat, in which, accompanied by the girl and his suitcase, he went out on the lake. They did not return, and yesterday morning the boat was found bottomside up in what is known as Moon Cove, a small bay or extension at the extreme south end of the lake, from the waters of which soon afterwards the body of the young woman was recovered. As there are no known rocks in the lake at that point, and the wounds upon the face are quite marked, suspicion was at once aroused that the girl might have been unfairly dealt with. This, together with the testimony of the three men, as well as the fact that a man’s straw hat found nearby contained no lining or other method of identification, has caused Coroner Heit to assert that unless the body of the man is found he will assume that murder has been committed.

Golden or Graham, as described by innkeepers and guests and guides at Grass Lake and Big Bittern, is not more than twenty-four or twenty-five years of age, slender, dark, and not more than five feet eight or nine inches tall. At the time he arrived he was dressed in a light gray suit, tan shoes, and a straw hat and carried a brown suitcase to which was attached an umbrella and some other object, presumably a cane.

The hat and coat left by the girl at the inn were of dark and light tan respectively, her dress a dark blue.

Notice has been sent to all railroad stations in this vicinity to be on the lookout for Golden, or Graham, in order that he may be arrested if he is alive and attempts to make his escape. The body of the drowned girl is to be removed to Bridgeburg, the county seat of this county, where an inquest is later to be held.”

In frozen silence he sat and pondered. For would not the news of such a dastardly murder as this now appeared to be, together with the fact that it had been committed in this immediate vicinity, stir up such marked excitement as to cause many—perhaps all—to scan all goers and comers everywhere in the hope of detecting the one who had thus been described? Might it not be better, therefore, since they were so close on his trail already, if he were to go to the authorities at Big Bittern or here and make a clean breast of all that had thus far occurred, the original plot and the reasons therefor, only explaining how at the very last he had not really killed her—had experienced a change of heart and had not been able to do as he had planned? But, no. That would be to give away to Sondra and the Griffiths all that had been going on between him and Roberta—and before it was absolutely certain that all was ended for him here. And besides, would they believe him now, after that flight—those reported wounds? Did it not really look as though he had killed her, regardless of how he might try to explain that he had not?

It was not unlikely also that at least some among all those who had seen him would be able to detect him from this printed description, even though he no longer wore the gray suit or the straw hat. God! They were looking for him, or rather for that Clifford Golden or Carl Graham who looked like him, in order to charge him with murder! But if he looked exactly like Clifford Golden and those three men came! He began to shiver. And worse yet. A new and horrible thought, this—and at this instant, and for the first time flashing upon his mind—the similarity of those initials to his own! He had never thought of them in an unfavorable light before, but now he could see that they were detrimental. Why was it that he had never thought of that before? Why was it? Why was it? Oh, God!

Just then a telephone call for him came from Sondra. It was announced as from her. Yet even so he was compelled to brace himself in order to make even an acceptable showing, vocally. How was her sick boy this morning? Any better? How dreadful that illness last night to come on him so suddenly. Was he really all right now? And was he going to be able to go on the trip all right? That was fine. She had been so frightened and so worried all night for fear he might be too sick to want to go. But he was going, so everything was all right again now. Darling! Precious baby! Did her baby boy love her so? She was just sure that the trip would do him a lot of good. But until noon, now, dear, she would be using all her spare time getting ready, but at one, or one-thirty, everybody would be at the Casino pier. And then—oh, my! Ho! for a great old time up there! He was to come with Bertine and Grant and whoever else was coming from there, and then at the pier he could change to Stuart’s launch. They were certain to have so much fun—just loads of it—but just now she would have to go. Bye-bye!

And once more like a bright-colored bird she was gone.

But three hours to wait before he could leave here and so avoid the danger of encountering any one who might be looking for Clifford Golden or Carl Graham! Still until then he could walk up the lake shore into the woods, couldn’t he?—or sit below, his bag all packed, and watch who, if anybody, might approach along the long-winding path from the road or by launch across the lake. And if he saw any one who looked at all suspicious, he could take flight, could he not? And afterwards doing just that—first walking away into the woods and looking back, as might a hunted animal. Then later returning and sitting or walking, but always watching, watching. (What man was that? What boat was that? Where was it going? Was it coming here, by any chance? Who was in it? Supposing an officer—a detective? Then flight, of course—if there was still time.)

But, at last one o’clock, and the Cranston launch, with Bertine and Harley and Wynette, as well as Grant and himself, setting out for the pier. And once there, joined by all who were going, together with the servants. And at Little Fish Inlet, thirty miles north, on the eastern shore, they were met by the cars of the Baggotts, Harriets and others, from where, with their goods and canoes, they were portaged forty miles east to Bear Lake, as lonely and as arresting almost as Big Bittern itself.

The joy of this trip if only that other thing were not hanging over him now. This exquisite pleasure of being near Sondra, her eyes constantly telling him how much she cared. And her spirit’s flame so high because of his presence here with her now. And yet Roberta’s body up! That search for Clifford Golden—Carl Graham. His identical description wired as well as published everywhere. These others—all of them in their boats and cars had probably read it. And yet, because of their familiarity with him and his connections—Sondra, the Griffiths—not suspecting him—not thinking of the description even. But if they should! If they should guess! The horror! The flight! The exposure! The police! The first to desert him—these—all save Sondra perhaps. And even she, too. Yes, she, of course. The horror in her eyes.

And then that evening at sundown, on the west shore of this same lake, on an open sward that was as smooth as any well-kept lawn, the entire company settled, in five different colored tents ranged about a fire like an Indian village, with cooks’ and servants’ tents in the distance. And the half dozen canoes beached like bright fish along the grassy shore of the lake. And then supper around an open fire. And Baggott and Harriet and Stuart and Grant, after furnishing music for the others to dance by, organizing by the flare of a large gasoline lamp, a poker game. And the others joining in singing ribald camping and college songs, no one of which Clyde knew, yet in which he tried to join. And shouts of laughter. And bets as to who would be the first to catch the first fish, to shoot the first squirrel or partridge, to win the first race. And lastly, solemn plans for moving the camp at least ten miles farther east, after breakfast, on the morrow where was an ideal beach, and where they would be within five miles of the Metissic Inn, and where they could dine and dance to their heart’s content.

And then the silence and the beauty of this camp at night, after all had presumably gone to bed. The stars! The mystic, shadowy water, faintly rippling in a light wind, the mystic, shadowy pines conferring in the light breezes, the cries of night birds and owls—too disturbing to Clyde to be listened to with anything but inward distress. The wonder and glory of all this—if only—if only he were not stalked after, as by a skeleton, by the horror not only of what he had done in connection with Roberta but the danger and the power of the law that deemed him a murderer! And then Sondra, the others having gone to bed—or off into the shadow,—stealing out for a few last words and kisses under the stars. And he whispering to her how happy he was, how grateful for all her love and faith, and at one point almost tempted to ask whether in case it should ever appear that he was not as good as she now seemed to imagine him, she would still love him a little—not hate him entirely—yet refraining for fear that after that exhibition of terror the preceding night she might connect his present mood with that, or somehow with the horrible, destructive secret that was gnawing at his vitals.

And then afterwards, lying in the four-cot tent with Baggott, Harriet and Grant, listening nervously for hours for any prowling steps that might mean—that might mean—God—what might they not mean even up here?—the law! arrest! exposure! Death. And waking twice in the night out of dread, destructive dreams,—and feeling as though—and fearing—that he had cried out in his sleep.

But then the glory of the morning once more—with its rotund and yellow sun rising over the waters of the lake—and in a cove across the lake wild ducks paddling about. And after a time Grant and Stuart and Harley, half-clad and with guns and a great show of fowling skill, foolishly setting forth in canoes in the hope of bagging some of the game with long distance shots, yet getting nothing, to the merriment of all the others. And the boys and girls, stealing out in bright-colored bathing suits and silken beach robes to the water, there to plunge gayly in and shout and clatter concerning the joy of it all. And breakfast at nine, with afterwards the gayety and beauty of the bright flotilla of canoes making eastward along the southern lake shore, banjos, guitars and mandolins strumming and voices raised in song, jest, laughter.

“Whatever matter wissum sweet to-day? Face all dark. Cantum be happy out here wis Sondra and all these nicey good-baddies?”

And Clyde as instantly realizing that he must pretend to be gay and care-free.

And then Harley Baggott and Grant and Harriet at about noon announcing that there—just ahead—was the fine beach they had in mind—the Ramshorn, a spit of land commanding from its highest point all the length and breadth of the lake. And with room on the shore below for all the tents and paraphernalia of the company. And then, throughout this warm, pleasant Sunday afternoon, the usual program of activities—lunching, swimming, dancing, walking, card-playing, music. And Clyde and Sondra, like other couples, stealing off—Sondra with a mandolin—to a concealed rock far to the east of the camp, where in the shade of the pines they could lie—Sondra in Clyde’s arms—and talk of the things they were certain to do later, even though, as she now announced, Mrs. Finchley was declaring that after this particular visit of Clyde’s her daughter was to have nothing more to do with him in any such intimate social way as this particular trip gave opportunity for. He was too poor—too nondescript a relative of the Griffiths. (It was so that Sondra, yet in a more veiled way, described her mother as talking.) Yet adding: “How ridiculous, sweetum! But don’t you mind. I just laughed and agreed because I don’t want to aggravate her just now. But I did ask her how I was to avoid meeting you here or anywhere now since you are as popular as you are. My sweetum is so good-looking. Everybody thinks so—even the boys.”


At this very hour, on the veranda of the Silver Inn at Sharon, District Attorney Mason, with his assistant Burton Burleigh, Coroner Heit and Earl Newcomb, and the redoubtable Sheriff Slack, paunched and scowling, yet genial enough in ordinary social intercourse, together with three assistants—first, second and third deputies Kraut, Sissel and Swenk—conferring as to the best and most certain methods of immediate capture.

“He has gone to Bear Lake. We must follow and trap him before news reaches him in any way that he is wanted.”

And so they set forth—this group—Burleigh and Earl Newcomb about Sharon itself in order to gather such additional data as they might in connection with Clyde’s arrival and departure from here for the Cranstons’ on Friday, talking with and subpÅ“naing any such individuals as might throw any light on his movements; Heit to Three Mile Bay on much the same errand, to see Captain Mooney of the “Cygnus” and the three men and Mason, together with the sheriff and his deputies, in a high-powered launch chartered for the occasion, to follow the now known course of the only recently-departed camping party, first to Little Fish Inlet and from there, in case the trail proved sound, to Bear Lake.

And on Monday morning, while those at Ramshorn Point after breaking camp were already moving on toward Shelter Beach fourteen miles east, Mason, together with Slack and his three deputies, arriving at the camp deserted the morning before. And there, the sheriff and Mason taking counsel with each other and then dividing their forces so that in canoes commandeered from lone residents of the region they now proceeded, Mason and First Deputy Kraut along the south shore, Slack and Second Deputy Sissel along the north shore, while young Swenk, blazing with a desire to arrest and handcuff some one, yet posing for the occasion as a lone young hunter or woodsman, paddled directly east along the center of the lake in search of any informing smoke or fires or tents or individuals idling along the shores. And with great dreams of being the one to capture the murderer—I arrest you, Clyde Griffiths, in the name of the law!—yet because of instructions from Mason, as well as Slack, grieving that instead, should he detect any signs, being the furthermost outpost, he must, in order to avoid frightening the prey or losing him, turn on his track and from some point not so likely to be heard by the criminal fire one single shot from his eight-chambered repeater, whereupon whichever party chanced to be nearest would fire one shot in reply and then proceed as swiftly as possible in his direction. But under no circumstances was he to attempt to take the criminal alone, unless noting the departure by boat or on foot of a suspicious person who answered the description of Clyde.

At this very hour, Clyde, with Harley Baggott, Bertine and Sondra, in one of the canoes, paddling eastward along with the remainder of the flotilla, looking back and wondering. Supposing by now, some officer or some one had arrived at Sharon and was following him up here? For would it be hard to find where he had gone, supposing only that they knew his name?

But they did not know his name. Had not the items in the papers proved that? Why worry so always, especially on this utterly wonderful trip and when at last he and Sondra could be together again? And besides, was it not now possible for him to wander off by himself into these thinly populated woods along the shore to the eastward, toward that inn at the other end of the lake—and not return? Had he not inquired most casually on Saturday afternoon of Harley Baggott as well as others as to whether there was a road south or east from the east end of the lake? And had he not learned there was?

And at last, at noon, Monday, reaching Shelter Beach, the third spot of beauty contemplated by the planners of this outing, where he helped to pitch the tents again while the girls played about.

Yet at the same hour, at the Ramshorn site, because of the ashes from their fires left upon the shore, young Swenk, most eagerly and enthusiastically, like some seeking animal, approaching and examining the same and then going on—swiftly. And but one hour later, Mason and Kraut, reconnoitering the same spot, but without either devoting more than a cursory glance, since it was obvious that the prey had moved farther on.

But then greater speed in paddling on the part of Swenk, until by four he arrived at Shelter Beach. And then, descrying as many as a half dozen people in the water in the distance, at once turning and retreating in the direction of the others in order to give the necessary signal. And some two miles back firing one shot, which in its turn was responded to by Mason as well as Sheriff Slack. Both parties had heard and were now paddling swiftly east.

At once Clyde in the water—near Sondra—hearing this was made to wonder. The ominous quality of that first shot! Followed by those two additional signals—farther away, yet seemingly in answer to the first! And then the ominous silence thereafter! What was that? And with Harley Baggott jesting: “Listen to the guys shooting game out of season. will you. It’s against the law, isn’t it?”

“Hey, you!” Grant Cranston shouted. “Those are my ducks down there! Let ’em alone.”

“If they can’t shoot any better than you, Granty, they will let ’em alone.” This from Bertine.

Clyde, while attempting to smile, looked in the direction of the sound and listened like a hunted animal.

What was it now that urged him to get out of the water and dress and run? Hurry! Hurry! To your tent! To the woods, quick! Until at last heeding this, and while most of the others were not looking, hurrying to his tent, changing to the one plain blue business suit and cap that he still possessed, then slipping into the woods back of the camp—out of sight and hearing of all present until he should be able to think and determine, but keeping always safely inland out of the direct view of the water, for fear—for fear—who could tell exactly what those shots meant?

Yet Sondra! And her words of Saturday and yesterday and to-day. Could he leave her in this way, without being sure? Could he? Her kisses! Her dear assurances as to the future! What would she think now—and those others—in case he did not go back? The comment which was certain to be made in the Sharon and other papers in regard to this disappearance of his, and which was certain to identify him with this same Clifford Golden or Carl Graham! was it not?

Then reflecting also—the possible groundlessness of these fears, based on nothing more, maybe, than the chance shots of passing hunters on the lake or in these woods. And then pausing and debating with himself whether to go on or not. Yet, oh, the comfort of these tall, pillared trees—the softness and silence of these brown, carpeting needles on the ground—the clumps and thickets of underbrush under which one could lie and hide until night should fall again. And then on—and on. But turning, none-the-less, with the intention of returning to the camp to see whether any one had come there. (He might say he had taken a walk and got lost in the woods.)

But about this time, behind a protecting group of trees at least two miles west of the camp, a meeting and conference between Mason, Slack and all the others. And later, as a result of this and even as Clyde lingered and returned somewhat nearer the camp, Mason, Swenk paddling the canoe, arriving and inquiring of those who were now on shore if a Mr. Clyde Griffiths was present and might he see him. And Harley Baggott, being nearest, replying: “Why, yes, sure. He’s around here somewhere.” And Stuart Finchley calling: “Eh-o, Griffiths!” But no reply.

Yet Clyde, not near enough to hear any of this, even now returning toward the camp, very slowly and cautiously. And Mason concluding that possibly he was about somewhere and unaware of anything, of course, deciding to wait a few minutes anyhow—while advising Swenk to fall back into the woods and if by any chance encountering Slack or any other to advise him that one man be sent east along the bank and another west, while he—Swenk—proceeded in a boat eastward as before to the inn at the extreme end, in order that from there word might be given to all as to the presence of the suspect in this region.

In the meanwhile Clyde by now only three-quarters of a mile east, and still whispered to by something which said: Run, run, do not linger! yet lingering, and thinking Sondra, this wonderful life! Should he go so? And saying to himself that he might be making a greater mistake by going than by staying. For supposing those shots were nothing—hunters, mere game shots meaning nothing in his case—and yet costing him all? And yet turning at last and saying to himself that perhaps it might be best not to return at present, anyhow at least not until very late—after dark—to see if those strange shots had meant anything.

But then again pausing silently and dubiously, the while vesper sparrows and woodfinches sang. And peering. And peeking nervously.

And then all at once, not more than fifty feet distant, out of the long, tall aisles of the trees before him, a whiskered, woodsman-like type of man approaching swiftly, yet silently—a tall, bony, sharp-eyed man in a brown felt hat and a brownish-gray baggy and faded suit that hung loosely over his spare body. And as suddenly calling as he came—which caused Clyde’s blood to run cold with fear and rivet him to the spot.

“Hold on a moment, mister! Don’t move. Your name don’t happen to be Clyde Griffiths, does it?” And Clyde, noting the sharp inquisitorial look in the eye of this stranger, as well as the fact that he had already drawn a revolver and was lifting it up, now pausing, the definiteness and authority of the man chilling him to the marrow. Was he really being captured? Had the officers of the law truly come for him? God! No hope of flight now! Why had he not gone on? Oh, why not? And at once he was weak and shaking, yet, not wishing to incriminate himself about to reply, “No!” Yet because of a more sensible thought, replying, “Why, yes, that’s my name.”

“You’re with this camping party just west of here, aren’t you?”

“Yes, sir, I am.”

“All right, Mr. Griffiths. Excuse the revolver. I’m told to get you, whatever happens, that’s all. My name is Kraut. Nicholas Kraut. I’m a deputy sheriff of Cataraqui County. And I have a warrant here for your arrest. I suppose you know what for, and that you’re prepared to come with me peaceably.” And at this Mr. Kraut gripped the heavy, dangerous-looking weapon more firmly even, and gazed at Clyde in a firm, conclusive way.

“Why—why—no—I don’t,” replied Clyde, weakly and heavily, his face white and thin. “But if you have a warrant for my arrest, I’ll go with you, certainly. But what—what—I don’t understand”—his voice began to tremble slightly as he said this—“is—is why you want to arrest me?”

“You don’t, eh? You weren’t up at either Big Bittern or Grass Lake by any chance on last Wednesday or Thursday, eh?”

“Why, no, sir, I wasn’t,” replied Clyde, falsely.

“And you don’t happen to know anything about the drowning of a girl up there that you were supposed to be with—Roberta Alden, of Biltz, New York, I believe.”

“Why, my God, no!” replied Clyde, nervously and staccatically, the true name of Roberta and her address being used by this total stranger, and so soon, staggering him. Then they knew! They had obtained a clue. His true name and hers! God! “Am I supposed to have committed a murder?” he added, his voice faint—a mere whisper.

“Then you don’t know that she was drowned last Thursday? And you weren’t with her at that time?” Mr. Kraut fixed a hard, inquisitive, unbelieving eye on him.

“Why, no, of course, I wasn’t,” replied Clyde, recalling now but one thing—that he must deny all—until he should think or know what else to do or say.

“And you didn’t meet three men walking south last Thursday night from Big Bittern to Three Mile Bay at about eleven o’clock?”

“Why, no, sir. Of course I didn’t. I wasn’t up there, I told you.”

“Very well, Mr. Griffiths, I haven’t anything more to say. All I’m supposed to do is to arrest you, Clyde Griffiths, for the murder of Roberta Alden. You’re my prisoner.” He drew forth—more by way of a demonstration of force and authority than anything else—a pair of steel handcuffs, which caused Clyde to shrink and tremble as though he had been beaten.

“You needn’t put those on me, mister,” he pleaded. “I wish you wouldn’t. I never had anything like that on before. I’ll go with you without them.” He looked longingly and sadly about at the trees, into the sheltering depths of which so recently he ought to have plunged. To safety.

“Very well, then,” replied the redoubtable Kraut. “So long as you come along peaceful.” And he took Clyde by one of his almost palsied arms.

“Do you mind if I ask you something else,” asked Clyde, weakly and fearsomely, as they now proceeded, the thought of Sondra and the others shimmering blindingly and reducingly before his eyes. Sondra! Sondra! To go back there an arrested murderer! And before her and Bertine! Oh, no! “Are you, are you intending to take me to that camp back there?”

“Yes, sir, that’s where I’m intending to take you now. Them’s my orders. That’s where the district attorney and the sheriff of Cataraqui County are just now.”

“Oh, I know, I know,” pleaded Clyde, hysterically, for by now he had lost almost all poise, “but couldn’t you—couldn’t you—so long as I go along just as you want—those are all my friends, you know, back there, and I’d hate… couldn’t you just take me around the camp somewhere to wherever you want to take me? I have a very special reason—that is—I—I, oh, God, I hope you won’t take me back there right now—will you please, Mr. Kraut?”

He seemed to Kraut very boyish and weak now—clean of feature, rather innocent as to eye, well-dressed and well-mannered—not at all the savage and brutal or murderous type he had expected to find. Indeed quite up to the class whom he (Kraut) was inclined to respect. And might he not after all be a youth of very powerful connections? The conversations he had listened to thus far had indicated that this youth was certainly identified with one of the best families in Lycurgus. And in consequence he was now moved to a slight show of courtesy and so added: “Very well, young man, I don’t want to be too hard on you. After all, I’m not the sheriff or the district attorney—just the arresting officer. There are others down there who are going to be able to say what to do about you—and when we get down to where they are, you can ask ’em, and it may be that they won’t find it necessary to take you back in there. But how about your clothes? They’re back there, ain’t they?”

“Oh, yes, but that doesn’t matter,” replied Clyde, nervously and eagerly. “I can get those any time. I just don’t want to go back now, if I can help it.”

“All right, then, come along,” replied Mr. Kraut.

And so it was that they walked on together now in silence, the tall shafts of the trees in the approaching dusk making solemn aisles through which they proceeded as might worshipers along the nave of a cathedral, the eyes of Clyde contemplating nervously and wearily a smear of livid red still visible through the trees to the west.

Charged with murder! Roberta dead! And Sondra dead—to him! And the Griffiths! And his uncle! And his mother! and all those people in that camp!

Oh, oh, God, why was it that he had not run, when that something, whatever it was, had so urged him?