Mr. Eberlings Son

Part 3 - Second Branching

Branch A1 Branch B1 Branch B2 Branch A2

VII

Flint strode forward, modeling his movements and posture on Jasper’s graceful bearing. He said, in Spanish, “Thank you for coming, my love. I’m so glad to see you.” Then he embraced Isabel in a warm hug.

She pulled back and grabbed Flints face so that she could inspect it more closely. She looked at him curiously, confusedly. His facial hair was new—no longer the thick scruffy beard she’d grown used to—not something she’d ever seen before. His stride wasn’t quite right too; it lacked its usual cultivated urbanity. He didn’t even seem to smell right. So much about him wasn’t quite right.

But when Horace said to her, in English, “Jasper has been looking forward to seeing you,” and Flint translated, she started to doubt herself. Horatio was apparently certain that this was Jasper. She started to think that perhaps she had simply become confused by the exhaustion of her long journey, and she pushed the doubts out of her mind.

She kissed Flint passionately on the lips. She started to cry with joy and kissed him more and more, kissing him all over his face and embracing him once again with all of her strength.

“I hadn’t realized how much I missed you until now,” she said.

“It’s been too long that I’ve been without you,” he said.

Jasper had been moved to the third story of the mansion. It was barely a story at all, a single, fairly spacious room that had been equipped with a bed. The room only had a few small windows, which made it dark. And the slanted ceiling also cut into the space, making sections of the room rather short.

As Isabel arrived, Jasper lay in his bed, weak and in agony from his worsening sickness.

He called in Patrice and asked her: “My wife arrived, did she?”

Patrice nodded in assent and Jasper smiled. “She’s doing well?” Jasper asked.

“I haven’t seen her sir,” Patrice admitted, embarrassedly as if she’d made a mistake.

Jasper said: “Patrice I need to ask some favor of you.”

“Yes, sir?” she asked.

“I need you to participate in a small act of honey-fogle,” Jasper said, “You need to pretend that Flint is me. And you need to prevent Isabel from finding out I’m here. Don’t worry about Horatio, he already knows.”

“Sir?” she asked confused.

“Flint is going to take my place,” Jasper explained, “permanently.”

“Jasper is going to pretend to be you?” Patrice asked, and Jasper nodded. “Like he did before?” she then asked and Jasper nodded. Patrice asked, quite devastated, “Then that means he is going to be her husband?” and Jasper nodded. “Permanently?” Patrice asked.

“So long as God leaves him above ground,” Jasper said, “But don’t you worry. Flint will be well taken care of. It ain’t not much of a sacrifice on his part really. You ought to see my wife, Isabel. Even though I’m hardly an impartial observer, I can assure that you my wife takes the shine off the angels. She’ll make him very happy. And she’ll be well taken care of too, because Flint’s a good feller; I trust him. It’s me who’s making the great sacrifice—for her. I just don’t want to drag her down with me, you see. I want her to live the rest of her life, with the happy marriage that she deserves. Do you understand what I mean?”

Patrice nodded in agreement, impatient to depart from the room. At the first opportunity, she hastily stepped out of the room and began to cry just outside where she could do so without being seen. She curled herself up on the floor and bawled into her knees with whispering sobs.

She probably would’ve sat there until morning if she hadn’t heard Jasper’s voice calling her. She wiped off her face, stood up and went into the room. Jasper asked her if she could bring him some soup, noting, with emphasis, “And be careful that Isabel doesn’t see you bringing the soup upstairs. As I said, do whatever you’re able to prevent her from learning about me.”

Patrice politely curtsied and was turning to leave when Jasper asked, “Is something wrong, Patrice? You look mighty unhappy.”

“No sir,” Patrice said, avoiding Jasper’s eyes, “Except it is upsetting to see you so terribly sick.”

“If even you’re affected, you can’t imagine how distraught my wife, who dearly loves me, would be,” Jasper said.

Patrice quickly left the room, and descended the stairs. Keeping her face down and looking at her feet as she walked, Patrice didn’t notice that she was about to run into Isabel, who was taking a tour of the house with Flint and Horatio.

Patrice almost jumped in fright when she saw Isabel. Then she caught herself, curtsied and said, “Excuse me, ma’am,” deferentially.

“No tiene que disculparse,” Isabel said with a pleasant smile.

Patrice could see immediately what Jasper had been talking about. Isabel had the broad, chiseled form of a strong and self-reliant woman, yet with the delicacy and softness of a fawning damsel.

“This is Isabel,” Flint said to Patrice. He said to Isabel, “Y esta es Patrice.”

Isabel said, “Encantado,” extending her hand and shaking it with Patrice.

Speaking directly into Flint’s ear she said, “Qué hermosa,” half whispering while she eyed Patrice, “la me gusta.” Isabel added, after she noticed that Flint wasn’t translating, “Tú puedes decirle que lo dije.”

Flint said to Patrice, “She says you’re beautiful,” adding with a smile, “And she’s right, you know.”

Patrice thanked both of them and was quickly away from them and into the kitchen.

She tried to prepare some soup for Jasper, pulling out some chicken stock, adding some onion and potato and letting it simmer until the onion and potatoes were soft.

She stealthily emerged from the kitchen with the soup on a tray. She peaked out of the kitchen looking and listening for any sign of Isabel and Flint. When she heard nothing, she continued towards the stairs.

She passed the drawing room and heard a giggling coming from inside. She leaned her ear to the door. She could clearly discern Isabel and Flint’s voices, though she didn’t know what they were saying. When she heard someone stand up and start walking within the room she continued walking to the stairs and ascended the two flights up to the third floor room where Jasper rested.

The third floor’s sole room was kept as a backup guest room, though it was seldom used, since the small windows made it dark. Jasper had moved himself up there specifically to avoid Isabel.

“Won’t she notice that it’s not him?” Patrice asked Jasper as he lay in bed, “Especially when she, you know, sees him naked.”

Jasper clenched his teeth and responded to her with great restraint, “She might notice the differences. But what would she make of them? She assumes she’s with me. She’ll explain them away. Wouldn’t you? Didn’t you when he first arrived? And you saw him unshucked too, I reckon.”

Patrice blushed when Jasper said this and didn’t reply.

She placed the soup on a tray in front of him and proceeded to carefully spoon it into his mouth. She had to feed him the soup, since he was barely able to even hold himself up in bed. He breathed heavily and swallowed the soup in difficult gulps. Earlier that day Doctor Brown had confidentially told Patrice that she needed to brace herself for the likelihood that Jasper wouldn’t live out the week.

“I just want Isabel to be happy,” Jasper broke the long silence, “It’s important that she be happy. And if Flint can be made happy too in the whole process, then all the better. I mean, she’s a good woman, so how could he not be happy with her?”

Patrice simply reassured Jasper with a nod, and Jasper asked, “Do you believe this will make Isabel happy? I know Flint and I are different people, but I reckon he’s a good man who could make someone happy.”

“He is a man that could make a woman happy,” Patrice said distractedly.

“That makes me feel better to hear you say it,” Jasper smiled pleasantly, “It’d be all around better if she could be with me, but that’s just not an option. It’s the best of all possible possibilities.”

That evening Isabel was moved into Flint’s room. She’d brought a large travelling bag that had seen many years, but not many miles.

When the door to their room was closed and the two of them were alone, she began to casually undress by candlelight, removing her dress and underwear, her beautiful body stepping out in the dim light. Her skin breathed perfume, which was released into the air as she undressed and her round curves swayed gracefully as she moved. Flint stared doggedly at her soft, sensual voluptuousness with the ever-growing stirrings of lust. And yet he could not step forward, since he didn’t really think she was his to take.

“Did you miss me that much?” she said, noticing how intensely he stared at her, “It’s been some time since you stared at me like that.” She smiled wholeheartedly. “You were never shy before. All of this is yours and yours alone. No man ever has or ever will touch me except you. Do what you will to me. It’s my wish. Please.”

Flint still hesitated, but he pushed himself forward and embraced her warm body for a kiss. He could feel the smoothness of her skin, and beneath it the toned strength of her taught muscles. Even when he reached out and felt the coarse texture of her body hair and the supple softness of her breasts she didn’t resist or push him away, but only urged him on with her heated breaths and intense eyes.

The next morning, Isabel strolled down the stairs glowing with happiness. She held onto Flint’s arm and smiled while she looked at him.

A knock was heard at the front door of the house and Horatio walked to it to open. He opened the door only partially to look through.

Horatio turned to Flint and nodded in the direction of the drawing room. Flint subtly nodded back towards him.

He pulled Isabel in the direction of the drawing room, telling her, “Let’s sit down in here.”

“Who’s at the door?” She asked, trying to look around it as Flint pulled him towards the drawing room.

“Something private for Horatio,” Flint said, “Please, let’s leave him alone. We don’t want to be nosy.”

Once within the drawing room, Flint closed the door. Horatio simultaneously pulled the front door fully open and admitted Doctor Brown into the house. He silently led the Doctor up the stairs to the third floor room.

Isabel listened to the sound of the two persons ascending the stairs. “Who is Horatio with? They sound like they’re going up to the third floor? What’s up on the third floor? You didn’t show me that part of the house.”

“Please, let him have his privacy,” Flint trying to pull her toward and seat her by the window, “You’re too curious. Too much curiosity is a sin, you know.”

She let Flint lead her to the window and she sat down beside him, sharing a conversation, but, convinced that there was some great secret at work, she continued devoting part of her attention to listening for any further auditory evidence that might illuminate the situation.

As Doctor Brown descended the stairs, he told Horatio that their patient had perhaps no more than a day to live and that Horatio and all of Jasper’s acquaintances should take this opportunity to give Jasper their final goodbyes.

After the doctor left, Flint emerged from the drawing room. Horatio approached him and whispered in his ear. Flint whispered back to him, and when they turned back to Isabel, she looked at the two of them suspiciously.

Flint told her: “I have some work to in the study. I’ve asked Horatio here to show you around town for a while. I hope you don’t mind. I just need you to give me an hour at most to complete my work.”

Horatio offered an arm to lead Isabel from the house. She followed Horatio compliantly, but as she walked towards the door, she moved slowly, watching Flint over her shoulder. He ascended the first set of stairs and walked towards his study. She watched him until she saw him enter his study and close the door. Only then did she permit Horatio to lead her out through the front door and away from the house.

Flint waited in the study for a few minutes before he exited the room and ascended the stairs to Jasper’s room.

Jasper was even paler and weaker than he’d been when he’d left him just the night before. Jasper was barely able to lift his arm to summon Flint towards him. Flint had to lean in close to Jasper’s ear to hear the words that he tried to speak.

“How is my wife?” Jasper asked.

“She’s good,” Flint said, “She’s happy. She thinks she’s with you.”

“Good,” Jasper whispered with a smile, “Take care of her. Promise me you’ll take care of her. And my son too. Bring them here. Bring the whole family here. Take care of them.”

Flint nodded his head, saying, “I will. I promise. I’ll take care of them.”

He touched Jasper’s hand and remained with him for a few minutes before he stood up and said, “I can’t remain here. I can’t have her find me here. Remember that we love you and we’re near. Just remember that you’re loved.”

Jasper gave Flint one last parting smile before he had to leave the room and return to the study in order to pretend to be working.

VIII

Horatio and Isabel returned to the mansion after their short tour of the town. Horatio had tried to stretch out this extended stroll as long as he could in order to keep her away from the house, but she repeatedly gestured that she wanted to return home, and the language barrier prevented Horatio from providing reasons why they should remain away any longer.

They entered the house and Horatio moved to lead her to the study where Flint was waiting. She dropped his arm and indicated that she didn’t need his help, dismissing him from her presence with a wave of her hand. Horatio gladly left her there, since their walking tour had prevented him from attending to his duties.

Isabel silently climbed to the top of the stairs as Horatio hastened to the kitchen. She looked around once at the top of the stairs and slowly leaned against the door of the study, putting her ear to the wood. After a few moments of listening, she heard the distinct sound of a person shifting in a chair and the sound of a few papers being shuffled about. She assumed it was Flint and stepped away, moving down the hall and gradually approaching the stairs up to the third level. She looked up into the shadows at the top of the stairs, where she suspected that answers awaited.

She heard the sound of someone at the ground floor ascending the stairs. She looked around for somewhere to hide and eventually pressed herself into an open door. Patrice reached the top of the stairs and immediately Flint emerged from his office.

He was disappointed when he saw Patrice carrying a tray of food and said, “Patrice, could you tell Isabel to get to my office?”

“Yes, sir,” Patrice said with a small bow, turning towards the hall and continuing her hike. She rounded a corner and began to ascend the set of stairs while Isabel watched.

Isabel heard the steps reach the top and a door be opened and closed. She decided to follow. With the same stealth as before, she began to ascend this new set of stairs. Once she reached the top, she again put her ear to the door. She could distinctly hear Patrice’s voice speaking to some unknown person with a weak voice.

Isabel grabbed the handle and flung open the door, exposing Patrice, who was leaning over the bed and feeding soup to a frail invalid in a bed.

“What’s going on here?” Isabel asked in Spanish.

Patrice was frozen and unable to speak. She understood the gist of what Patrice was saying, but didn’t know how to respond. “I’m… It’s just… I mean…” Patrice spoke, trying to think of what to say.

Jasper was trying to say something, but his words were too weak to hear.

Flint had heard Isabel opening the door and speaking, and he rushed up to stairs, soaring over the steps until he was at Isabel’s side.

She turned to Flint and said, “What is this? Who is this?” She was more confused than anything, still not quite sure what secret she had uncovered and why Flint had kept it a secret.

She leaned towards Jasper and examined his face. His sad eyes looked at her silently, and she was reminded of the way that Jasper would look at her when he was sorrowful.

“He looks like he could be you,” she said to Flint, the traces of suppressed doubt starting to reemerge. “Is he a relative of yours?” she asked, “He could be your brother.”

“He is,” Flint burst out, relieved that she’d inadvertently given him the plausible explanation he’d been looking for. The words then poured out of him like a person who’d been holding his breath for too long, and he said, “His name is Flint. My brother. We’ve been taking care of him. He’s mighty ill.”

“Why the secrecy?” Isabel asked, only partly assuaged, “Why go through all the trouble to hide this from me? I thought you had some big secret up here.”

“We didn’t want to distress you,” Flint suggested, his mind still searching for a better excuse. He added, “And my brother is proud. He didn’t want to be seen like this: so weak, so frail, so vulnerable. Only me, the two servants and the doctor have seen him. He’s the type of person who wants to be remembered as he was at his prime: a strong, sterling belvidere.”

“He is handsome,” Isabel said as she looked down at him, “In his own way.” She smiled, amending her statement as she turned to Flint, “Though not as handsome my husband.”

She gave Flint a quick kiss on the lips. Jasper’s hands clenched and he gripped the sheets of the bed, his face set into a hard stare, looking directly at the two of them.

Flint noticed Jasper’s vicious look and said to Isabel, “Not here. Not in front of others. It’s not the clean thing.” He pushed her towards the door and told her, “Let’s give him back his privacy.”

As Isabel started to leave, Jasper’s face changed. He weakly whispered, “Don’t go!” partially raising his hand to reach out for her. But no one heard his voice.

Isabel turned back to him as she left, noticing his plaintive stare. She said in English, with a polite smile, “Nice to meet you.” After she said it, she turned to Flint and asked, “Does he understand Spanish?” After Flint nodded, she added, “Despedida. Que se mejore pronto.”

She left the room with Flint and closed the door.

Patrice tried to recommence the feeding that Isabel had interrupted by leading another spoonful of soup into Jasper’s mouth, but he refused to open it. He clamped his mouth shut and shook his head as she continued to push him. When she saw the tears running down his cheeks, she stopped trying. She set down the soup, and she took Jasper’s hand and gently caressed it.

“Is it too late to take it all back?” Flint murmured, but she didn’t hear him.

“I still love you,” she said, “Don’t forget that.”

IX

Jasper died alone in his bed that night. Patrice was the first to discover his body when she arrived at his room to deliver his breakfast. She called Doctor Brown, but all he could do was confirm that Jasper had in fact died some time late during the night.

Jasper’s wake and burial was somber and cold. Publicly it was announced that it was Flint who had passed away. This was the name that appeared on the death certificate, and it was this name that appeared in the newspaper announcing the death. Dr. Brown was not easily persuaded to falsify the records, but Flint was able to pay him enough to overcome his reluctance. This had the effect of discouraging all but Jasper’s immediate acquaintances from attending the funeral. Flint, Isabel, Patrice and Horatio were the only persons in attendance at his wake, with only Father Harper, the priest of Deep Spring’s Episcopal Church, adding to their number. And even among these, Isabel exerted little emotion in response to the deceased, whom she regarded as little more than a stranger. She stood beside Flint and watched Father Harper without comprehension as he gave a short sermon for Jasper. After this, his body was lowered into the ground.

The next day, Isabel delicately inquired of Flint, “Are you ready to return home my love? I want to get back to my parents and our son. I trust you haven’t forgot about them during this long vacation of yours.”

“Why don’t we bring them here?” he asked her, “We have scads of space for all of them.” She didn’t immediately respond, and Flint continued to explain, “You are now the bride of a man who owns a large mining company, all its lands and this house and its estate. If we stay here, we have all that.”

She stared off into the distance as he said these words and responded, “We can sell this and buy something closer to home.”

“Maybe,” Flint said.

Flint would decide to reverse his decision later that day, when he was blessed by the presence of one further visitor. Mrs. Jane Prescott Marshall appeared at the front door the day after Jasper’s funeral. Horatio greeted her there and showed her into the drawing room.

Horatio led Flint to the room and introduced her to him as “Mrs. Marshall.” Isabel tried to enter with Flint, but Horatio told him, “She’d like to speak with you alone.”

Flint relayed this information to Isabel, who hesitantly recoiled backwards from the room. He was closed inside the drawing room with what he could only regard as a complete stranger.

He politely asked her, “May I help you?”

“Didn’t even have the decency to invite me to the reading of the will,” she complained without further introduction.

“I’m sorry,” Flint apologized, deducing that he was sufficiently close to this woman that she could dispense with formalities, “It was really up to my father who was invited to his will reading.”

“Yes, and he cut me off,” Mrs. Marshall said, brandishing her fiery eyes as she spoke, “Without a word of warning. I first thought the money might be late. Then I find out your father’s dead. And I realize, ‘Aha, the annuity died with that old philanderer.’ But his fortune didn’t die, now did it? It’s all yours. And so is your debt to me.”

“Mrs. Marshall I…” Flint started.

“Mrs Marshall?” she interrupted him with a laugh, “So formal.”

“I don’t believe I’m under any legal obligation to continue your annuity,” Flint said bluffing his way through the conversation.

“Any legal obligation?” she said with another laugh, “Of course you’re not under any legal obligation. Neither was your father. But he paid it. He paid it to protect you. But now that daddy’s no longer around to protect you, it’s up to you to protect you.”

“I reckon it’d be better for all of us if we simply ended the annuity and forgot all about this,” Flint tentatively suggested.

“Oh, I believe that’s a wonderful idea,” She said with a smile, “I couldn’t help noticing that woman there. Word around town is that you’re wife arrived recently after you did. A Hispanic beauty, who I can only assume is the woman that I just saw standing outsie. Do you think she would be disappointed if she found out about your pre-marital affair and how your father paid me and our child to go away?”

“I believe she would be forgiving,” Flint said.

“Oh, you really want to try? It was Isabel right?” she asked. She then started to call out loudly, “Isabel. Oh Isabel! If you’re waiting outside, please come in.”

Before Flint could stop Mrs. Marshall, the door opened and Isabel stepped inside asking, “Qué?”

Mrs. Marshall waited for a moment, giving Flint one last chance to concede. Then she started speaking in English to Isabel, “I’ve come all this way to tell you that your husband Jasper here is not all that he seems. He’s a liar and a womanizer. He impregnated me before we were married. He backed out on our engagement, and when I refused to disappear his father paid me a generous ransom to make me and his unborn child hold our tongue and leave town. Is that really the man you thought you knew? Is it really the type of man you want to be married to?”

Isabel didn’t understand the words and turned to Flint for interpretation. He completely mistranslated what Mrs. Marshall said. He told Isabel that Mrs. Marshall and himself were very good old friends and that she’d wished that Jasper would one day end up married with a beautiful and pleasant wife, and how she was so happy to discover that he in fact did.

Though there was a definite incongruity between Mrs. Marshall’s superficially cheerful but sarcastic tone and the very friendly and complimentary words that Flint translated, she took it as no more than Flint being diplomatic and trying to make Mrs. Marshall nicer than she actually was. She responded with a thickly accented, “Thank you,” in English.

When Mrs. Marshall realized that Flint hadn’t translated the words as she’d said them, she burst out in anger, “You can’t be the only person who speaks Spanish in this backwards town. I’ll be back. You can’t shelter your little wife from your filthy lies forever.”

She stomped out of the room and left through the front door, slamming it behind her.

Isabel was confused by this outburst, and asked Flint about it. He told her, “She’s angry that she wasn’t included in my father’s will. She was close to the family. She came here asking for money she thought she was owed. I refused.”

Isabel smiled and replied, “You shouldn’t give it to her. I don’t like her.”

Flint laughed and said, “I agree. By the way, I changed my mind. You were absolutely right. We ought to go home. We’ll leave in the morning. We’ll sell everything and buy a place close to your family.”

Isabel was pleasantly surprised and asked, “What made you change your mind?”

“This place has too many sad memories,” he said.

“I understand,” she said, consoling him.

“I miss home. My real home that is,” he said, “Come on. I have to pack.”

VII

Flint lowered the poker and reconsidered. He had hated killing Jasper, and now he was contemplating it again so soon and under such conspicuous circumstances: inside his house, with potential witnesses everywhere, with someone that would certainly be missed if she didn’t leave this house. No, he couldn’t do it. He set down the poker, returning it to its stand beside its brothers.

He turned around to look at Jane Marshall. Perhaps if he told her that he had just in this very moment spared her a savage death, she’d be thankful and forgive him some of his debts (wasn’t there something due to a person who gave you your life?), but he doubted it. Every part of her body seethed with bitterness and revulsion towards him. Even though he wasn’t really the Jasper she knew and hated, just that he represented and resembled this Jasper was enough grounds for her hatred.

“Your annuity will be continued then,” Flint capitulated.

“Thank God!” she intoned melodramatically, “You were holding me in such suspense for those few moments. As if there was some possibility you wouldn’t do something that completely benefits you. Now I can get out of this unpleasant hovel and away from your dreadful company.”

Flint led her up to his office on the second floor. He dug a checkbook from Mr. Eberling’s desk and began to draft a check for the funds from the Eberling bank account he’d inherited.

She stopped him and said, “No. Hard money.”

“Is that how it was done before?” Flint asked.

She smiled and giggled a little. “This time it's different,” she said, “This time the secret I'm hiding for you is a tinge more sensitive. You give me gold and then: no records, no third parties. I hardly think you would prefer that I announce this transaction from the rooftops.”

Flint made and annoyed grunt before he walked over to Mr. Eberling’s main safe. He opened the safe, which was stacked with coins and ingots of silver and gold.

Grabbing a handful of coins he tossed them in her direction, saying, “One year’s worth of silver for you.” The spray of coins clattered onto the desk and onto the carpet.

Jane Marshall sighed before she bent over and picked up the several coins that had landed on the floor. “Should I be surprised when you do something so childish?” she said.

After she stood back up, she added with a smile, “Cheer up. You got a fair shake. If all goes well, we won’t have to see each other for another year. And if you just send me the money next year and from then on by post, we won’t have to see each other ever again.”

She pulled a calling card from her reticule and set it down on his desk and transcribed her address onto the back using a dip pen on Mr. Eberling’s desk. “This is where you can send the money in the future,” she explained, pointing to the card, “I’ll be sure and write if that ever changes.”

Flint looked at the card but didn’t dare touch it.

Their business concluded, Jane Marshall said, “You needn’t bother escorting me. I can see myself out. Adieu.” She then turned around walked out of the room.

He pounded on his desk with anger, upsetting the inkpot that she had carelessly left open. Its contents leaked out, spreading a pool of black across the surface of the desk.

VIII

The next week passed without incident. During that time, Flint took the reins of Mr. Eberling’s Earth and Mineral Works. With a focus of purpose he devoted himself to learning the details of its operation and developing relations with the people whose labor maintained the profitability of this organization. Through the long period of Mr. Eberling’s infirmity, though the company had been neglected by its founder and principal owner, it had been maintained, even in the face of several small crises, by this staff. Only now, after many months, was an Eberling finally returning to take control of the company again, and Flint was determined to maintain Thurston Eberling’s legacy and make the company even more prosperous.

Most days Flint was working all day and into the evening at the company's offices. The mansion and the bed that he occupied there served as only a temporary station during his long days.

On the afternoon of one of these long days of endless work, the mansion was visited by another guest.

Horatio descended the stairs to open the front door upon the loud summoning of the heavy knocker that was being pounded against it.

When he opened the door, a Hispanic beauty in a simple, country dress stood at the entrance. She wasn’t from Deep Spring, and he didn't recognize her.

Her resplendent face was fiery with emotions, and, without any further formalities, she let out a torrent of words in a rapid and angry tone. She spoke in Spanish, and Horatio couldn’t understand a word of it. Once he was able to interrupt her diatribe, he tried to explain to her that he didn’t speak Spanish. She gathered the gist of what he was saying, and the two of them, only knowing a handful of words of the other’s language, clumsily attempted to communicate.

The woman asked, with her thick accent, “I look to Jasper.”

And Horatio responded, “He’s not here. El no aquí. Who are you? Nombre?”

“Isabel,” she replied, “Need him. Importante! Ahora Mismo!”

Horatio led her to the drawing room and was able to convey to her that she should wait and Jasper would be brought as soon as possible.

The message was delivered to Flint via courier. He was not easily persuaded that this was important enough for him to leave the office in the middle of the day. He was told the woman was Spanish-speaking, was apparently named Isabel, and appeared to know him. He read this and began to think he should prepare himself for another experience like that with Jane Marshall. He left with some alacrity, only hurrying in the interest of dispensing with the problem promptly, so that he might more quickly commence with important business.

Flint entered the house and Horatio led him to the drawing room. He opened the door and saw her looking out the window at the view of the town spread out below. She turned, and once she saw Flint, her eyes lit up, announcing excitedly, “Jasper!”

She nearly ran towards the door. She grabbed Flint so forcefully for a breath-stifling hug that he almost fell backwards. Flint returned the hug diffidently.

After a long, sustained embrace she pulled back and spouted a stream of Spanish words that Flint at first struggled to keep up with. She was elaborating the various steps and tribulations that her trip had involved and was unable to stop until all of it was out of her.

Caught off guard, Flint had to instantly scoop all of his Spanish knowledge out of the deep recesses of his mind. His ramblings had led him, for a time, far enough south that he’d been forced to learn fluent Spanish, but it had been several years since he’d used this knowledge. He stammered out the Spanish words in reply, “It’s nice to see you.”

He told Horatio in English, “Everything’s fine, you can go about your business. I’ve got it all taken care of.”

Horatio stepped out of the room and closed the door to give them privacy.

Isabel looked at Flint with her large, brown, beautiful eyes and inspected his face, saying, “You look so good. So handsome with your beard trimmed and your nice haircut. You remind me of the young aristocrat I first met and fell in love with so long ago. Why have I never been allowed to see you clean-shaven before?

“But here I am flattering you, when I instead should be reprimanding you. How could you go this long without putting a pen to paper? Not a word of writing, not a telegraph, not anything? You’re not using this trip as a means to leave me behind for good, are you? You haven't found another woman?”

Isabel, though she spoke rapidly and gave Flint no chance to speak, clearly expected answers to her questions. Flint timidly tried to answer all of them at once by saying, “My father has just died.”

Isabel’s face fell and she apologized, “I’m so sorry. You were so worried about him dying when you left. I really thought you had more time. You should’ve have written me as soon as there was any sign of illness. I could’ve been here in time to meet him, you know.”

Isabel touched Flint’s cheek in a tender gesture of consolation, all the while staring at his eyes. She added, “That explains why you seem so uncharacteristically meek. I was noticing it when I arrived. You're like a different person when you're down. I should have guessed. You must be so upset. I’m so very sorry.”

“It just happened of a sudden,” was all that Flint could say.

“Can I at least meet your mother?” she asked.

“She died before I arrived,” he said.

“Well, you can’t blame me for that one,” she said, “Though I’m very sorry too.” Isabel nestled her face in Flint’s neck and told him tenderly, “My poor husband, my poor, poor husband. Even big, strong men like you need to be comforted too sometimes.”

Jasper was relieved to discover that Isabel was not another demon from Jasper's past that he had to manage. What exactly she was, he wasn’t sure, but the relationship between Isabel and Jasper was gradually revealing itself. Though there was still far too much he didn’t know and would have to learn, he soaked up each new piece of information like a dry streambed. She must have been the one who Jasper was living with all this time. Jasper had married her, and Flint, thus, had widowed her. Did they have a child? More than one? Where’d they live? What’d they do?

It would take some careful effort for Flint to prevent this woman from realizing that Flint had arrived in Deep Spring probably many months before Jasper had departed from her. Should any of the parties that knew Flint had been in Deep Spring for nearly a year communicate this information to her, it would raise obvious incongruities and questions. This made the town a dangerous place for Flint with her in it.

Isabel requested the opportunity to rest, and Flint led her up to his bedroom, carrying a small travel bag she had brought. He led her inside and closed the door, cordoning her inside the room away from the servants.

He stood in front of the door, and for the first time since she’d arrived, he closely inspected the bride he had ensnared. Even though she wore no corset, her body curved as if it was molded. The simple, country dress she wore clasped those curves: its bust pressing tight against her plump breasts and its skirt hanging on her voluptuous waist. As she looked around the room, inspecting the fine articles she found on display and marveling at the wealth, he imagined her body out of that dress. He yearned to have her for his own.

It took him many long moments before the thought dawned on him that, if Jasper and she were married, it would stand to reason that they would be physically intimate. In other words, this woman was his. And not just his like some prostitute that he could rent the use of. This one was all his, a woman that belonged to him entirely, body and soul. She would be there not just for his pleasure but also for his love and comfort. Technically, she wasn’t actually his but Jasper’s, but since he was Jasper, it was all the same.

With her back to him, she casually told him, “Jasper, don’t think that you’re off the hook for not writing me. Just because your parents died that doesn’t negate your obligations to your wife. I’ll need a preeminent apology and explanation if you expect me to forget how you left me in the dark, worried about you for days and weeks.”

Flint walked up to her and grabbed her in his arms and firmly kissed her on the lips.

“I’ve missed you,” he said, “I want you.”

“I’ve missed you too,” she replied, though meaning the words in a different way. “But don’t think you can make me forget by distracting me.”

Flint ignored her and started undoing her dress from the front. He hurried forward, as if he was trying to finish before she realized that it wasn’t, in fact, Jasper there with her. He pulled the clothes off of her until he had her standing naked in front of him and he could look her body up and down and drink in her beauty. She was even more gorgeous to look at naked than clothed.

He pushed her onto the bed before he began to take off his own clothes and stretched himself on top of her.

Being with her was nothing like being with a prostitute. She cherished his presence and cherished his touch. It was like real love. It was like being with someone who was an extension of himself, and he savored in the enjoyment of it.

IX

The next morning Flint woke to the early morning light and rolled over in his bed. There, just in front of him was the beautiful face of Isabel, close enough that his nose was almost touching hers. She was woken from a light doze by this movement and smiled sleepily when she saw him looking at her with such an intense gaze.

“When’s the last time you looked at my morning complexion like that?” she said in Spanish.

Flint grabbed her and kissed her, ready again to indulge in the body of this woman he had acquired. Even after the two of them were finished, he sat on the edge of the bed and watched his beautiful wife’s naked body as she stood up and began to dress herself. He wanted to savor everything about her, like one consuming a fine meal slowly and in small bites in order to appreciate every flavor.

Once she was dressed, Flint thought about the husband that he had taken away from her. She hadn’t deserved such a fate. But if could fill the place of that husband, it could at least mitigate the sin. In fact, if he could make her happy, even happier than she would’ve been with Jasper, it could serve as restitution for his unwarranted murder. This meant that, along with raising Flint’s child, it would be his duty to make her happy. Even so, he also recognized that, in order for this to work, she must never find out the truth. There could never be true honesty between them.

Once the two of them were dressed, Flint led Isabel down the stairs to share her with the rest of the household. As they walked, she hung onto his arm and he led the way.

“I swear I’m not lying,” he said to Isabel in Spanish, “I’ll ask Patrice and she’ll tell you all about it. The letter I sent you must’ve gotten lost in the post. I really did send it.”

Flint saw Patrice at the bottom of the stair. She lowered her head when she saw Flint and seemed to be trying to avoid him by squeezing by him up the stairs.

But Flint stopped her on the stairs and he said to Isabel in Spanish, “I’ll ask Patrice about the letter.” He turned to Patrice and he asked her, “Isabel wanted to know about your history. Your mother was a servant in this very house, was she not?”

“Yes,” Patrice said, with a nod, “I told you all about that.”

“I know,” Flint said, “It was just for Isabel’s sake.”

Patrice looked at Isabel and nodded, saying, “Of course, ma’am.” She pushed by the two of them, walking up the stairs with head lowered.

“I told you,” Flint said to Isabel now in Spanish, “I’m sorry it didn’t arrive. I ought to have known something was wrong when you didn’t respond. I wasn’t paying close attention to the passing of time and didn’t think it had been that long.”

Flint led her further, moving towards the kitchen, where he expected to find Horatio. “In fact, I was talking about you so much while you were away that the servants grew tired of hearing it,” Flint said in Spanish, “Isn’t that right Horatio?”

Horatio was immersed in some cleaning duties in the kitchen and he set them down and turned to Flint when he heard him approach.

“Sir?” Horatio asked.

Flint asked in English, “I have a question for you on behalf of Isabel. Would you be able to call on the dry goods store and buy her some corn meal? We were thinking of preparing a local favorite of hers for dinner.”

“Of course sir. By all means” Horatio said with a nod. He turned to Isabel and added, “I’ll see to it immediately.”

“After you bring out the breakfast, of course,” Flint added.

“Of course,” Horatio said with another nod.

Flint turned to Isabel and said to her in Spanish, “As I told you. I couldn’t stop talking about you. You must know I’m absolutely infatuated with you.”

He led her to the dining her room and the two sat down for breakfast, which Horatio promptly served.

Later in the day, Flint led Isabel into town. He stepped inside the Bugle Post, a place into which Isabel only reluctantly followed.

“This is not an establishment in which a respectable lady would want to be found,” she said, looking around at the card tables and the dusty floor and the whores sitting in the corner, “I’m afraid to ask how many times you visited this place while I was away?”

“I only came in here because I’m friends with the owner. I used to frequent this place when I was young,” Flint admitted, “But I haven’t visited it once since I returned.”

They walked towards the bar and Isabel gave Sam, as the proprietor of such a dingy hole, a withering look.

Flint switched to English and said to Sam, “Hey Sam, how many girls in your lineup are still around since before I left.”

“Not a one,” Sam said proudly, shaking his head and holding up his fingers in a ring to indicate zero.

“As I told you,” Flint said to Isabel in Spanish. He turned back to Sam and said to him, “This is my wife, in case you were wondering. Name’s Isabel. I married her while I was away. She couldn’t come until recently, unfortunately, due to her parents being in poor health. But she did finally make it.”

“You never mentioned you had a wife,” Sam said, “And such a gorgeous one too. An exotic beauty. I never get ones as good as her in my lineup. If I did, I’d have men knocking each other over to piroot her until she couldn’t walk.”

Flint turned to Isabel and explained to her in Spanish, “He was saying some very flattering things about your beauty and saying that you’re lucky to have such a loving husband like me.”

“A wife like this is something you cherish,” Sam continued, “A woman like this you thank God you were so lucky to have. You never mistreat her. You’re kind to her. You never lie to her.” Sam winked and added, directing his words at Isabel in Spanish, “I was saying to Flint that you’re a woman to cherish, and that a poor scalawag like him is lucky to have you.”

“You speak Spanish?” Isabel asked, brightening up.

“You’ll forgive the accent,” he said.

“So, I’d like to ask you directly. I only know a few words of English and have to rely on Flint to translate. So, I never know if he’s translating accurately. I mean no offense to your place, but it is not a place that a wife would like to discover her husband frequenting. Has my husband been in here?”

“I can’t lie to you when I tell you that as a young man, he used to visit this place often, but” Sam said, his genial smile never faltering for a moment, “since he’s returned he hasn’t been in here. But once, when he briefly stepped in to greet me. But that was only for a few minutes and just because he was looking for a place to sleep. He’s a new man since he’s been back. Bad for business for me, but how can I complain. And I can only assume it’s been you who’s made him the man that he is. He used to be in here nearly every night of the week. Now, but for that one time, in all the months since he’s returned, he hasn’t been here but that once.”

“Did you say months?” Isabel asked, “But he just left me.”

“I believe he means weeks,” Flint interrupted her.

“Right. ‘Weeks,’” Sam said maintaining his smile, “Forgive my poor Spanish. There’re quite a number of words I mix up when I try to speak.”

“I reckon we have to be going now,” Flint said, “I’m showing Isabel around town. And there’re so many more places to see. Good day to you.”

“Good day to you too sir,” Sam said in English, adding in Spanish, “And a good day to you Mrs. Eberling.”

Flint led Isabel out the door and she waved goodbye to Sam and said, “Adios.” Flint turned to look at Sam one last time. The cheerful, friendly face that he usually wore had disappeared.

Sam’s mind was deep in thought as he puzzled over the lie that he had spoken on Flint’s behalf. How could Flint have been away from her for mere weeks when he’d been here for months absolutely wifeless? Either there had been a profound miscommunication or some great secret was afoot.

Flint and Isabel returned to the Eberling mansion after only a brief tour of the town.

Flint told her as they stepped inside, “I hope you don’t mind if we leave tomorrow. Now that you’re here, I genuinely want to return to our home. You wouldn’t object?”

“Of course not, my dear,” Isabel said, “We have family and a farm to return to. But we’re not going to leave all this wealth behind are we? I rather like it. I wouldn’t mind a house like this”

“Don’t you worry about that,” Flint said, “You won’t have to want for anything ever again.”

VII

Flint was amazed that he could hate a woman he barely knew so much. His hand now gripped the handle of the poker with white knuckles as he raised it into the air. He turned towards her, edging forward with implacable purpose.

Jane Marshall screamed as soon as she saw the poised weapon and the vicious rage in Flint’s eyes. She stumbled backward, fumbling on the carpet and bumping into furniture with overwhelming fear.

This fear was to be short-lived. Flint savagely clubbed her on the head with the poker, repeating the blows as she collapsed to the ground. She flailed about while he struck her and soon settled into stillness.

Sprays of blood were splashed across Flint’s jacket and the poker itself dripped with gore. When he could allow himself to calm down, he breathed heavily. Her terrified face still looked up at him, now cold and frozen into place.

Flint’s sense of calm evaporated as soon as he saw the growing puddle of red that flowed out of her and spread across his rug. His mind frantically thought over what to do. His first hasty decision was to wrap her up in the rug, and he proceeded to roll her up.

Flint noted with chagrin what a heavy-set, well-fed woman Jane Marshall was, as he awkwardly tried to pick her up, body and rug. She was too heavy to carry in his arms, and he was unable to lift her up on top of his shoulder. He was only able to drag her across the floor, the rug squeaking on the wooden floor.

Before he left the study, he peaked out of the room and checked the path from the study to the front door. Neither Patrice nor Horatio was present or visible. It was near the hour when they would retire for the evening, and he suspected they were in or very nearly in bed.

He dragged the body across the front hallway towards the front door as fast as he could, opening the door and kicking the body down the front steps. He looked behind him to see if anyone had seen him, and he closed the front door.

Dragging the body through the garden was another labor that further sapped Flint’s energy. By the time he was able set the body down next to Jasper’s grave, he was already sweating through his clothes.

The exertion of digging Isabel’s grave was even worse than Jasper’s grave—so fatigued and harried was Flint, so rushed now to get this body in the ground, so anxious and afraid.

After making a barely adequate hole, he dumped the body in, rug and all and covered it with dirt. He stumbled back to the house, perfunctorily wiping away the tracks that he had made dragging the body. He abandoned caution when stepped into the house drenched with sweat and covered with blood and dirt. He didn’t check to see if anyone was watching, heedlessly climbing up the stairs in the dark to his bedroom. After he undressed, he fell into his bed exhausted and feeling all around unpleasant.

The next morning while Deputy Peterson snoozed in the Sheriff’s office, he was visited by Sal Jenkins, owner of the Silver Hotel. Sal knocked on the window, and the deputy was roused from his sleep. He stumbled out of his chair and opened the window.

He saw Sal on the other side and heard him ask “Is Mrs. Jane Marshall here?”

“No, Sal. Our cages are empty tonight,” Peterson answered.

“Sorry to bother you then,” Sal said, “I was hoping I might find her here. That woman is a handful and who knows what type of trouble she might have been up to. I ask simply because she was planning on departing today and when I didn’t see her this morning, I had thought she’d taken the French leave. But my night clerk told me she hadn’t returned last night. When I looked in her room her traps were still there but she wasn’t. So, now I got a resident whose room I want to vacate and not a whisper of her anywhere.”

“Do you know where she went when she left last night?”

“Up to the Eberling place,” Sal said, looking up in that direction, “At least I believe so. She was here for the reading of the will and, after she returned from that, she told me she had to speak with Jasper Eberling.”

“Give it a couple hours,” Peterson answered, “It’s still early and she may yet still wake from whatever fuddled daze she put herself in last night. If she doesn’t show up by then, me and the sheriff will look into it. Let’s hope nothing happened to her. Knowing that woman from when she used to live here, I reckon it’s more likely to me she’s found a companion to lie beside, some thoroughbred she met last night, I imagine. I swear that woman’s more whore than any of Lady Grey’s. But, then again she has made more money out of whoring than any of them. So I guess she found her vocation, and ain’t no sin for a woman to labor in her vocation.”

Sal laughed, then said with some sarcasm, “One ought not talk of a respectable society lady like that. But I’ll ask Sam if he saw her last night.”

“As I said, if she don’t show up, come back. The sheriff will be by and we’ll be glad to help.”

“Thanks,” Sal said, and he departed with a hearty good bye.”

VIII

Flint rolled out of bed late in the morning. He felt dizzy and sore all over his body and the growing weight of the oppressive guilt bore down upon him such that he could barely breathe. Nonetheless, he tried to make himself look respectable and decent before leaving the room.

He exited his bedroom with hair combed and dressed in a nice suit, walking down the stairs to inspect the remnants of his previous night’s deeds. He first visited the drawing room. There were no clear signs of blood on the floor, but the absence of the rug was unmistakable. A dusty, slightly lighter-colored rectangle appeared in the center of the floor where it used to lie. When he picked up the poker, he also realized he had made no effort to clean it.

He pulled out a handkerchief and wiped away the blood from the poker, staining the cloth black and red. As he was doing this, Horatio entered the room so silently that it caused Flint to jump.

Horatio asked, quite unaffected: “Sir, I was wondering if you knew what happened to this room’s rug. I do remember it being present here when Mrs. Marshall arrived. Did you happen to see her out?”

“Yes, Horatio. I saw her out and I disposed of the rug last night since it had been badly stained. It had a gigantic red spot from some wine that I spilled.”

“Indeed, sir?” Horatio asked with evident surprise, “I’m sure whatever damage had been done would be mendable.”

“Not possible,” Flint responded, “Some things just can’t be wiped away. But never mind that. It’s my rug and I can dispense with it how I want.”

“Yes, sir,” Horatio then responded deferentially and departed.

Flint next began to trail inspect he’d make dragging the body. He looked at the floor between the drawing room and the front door. It looked like it had been cleaned this morning, probably by Horatio, and any marks that had been left were gone. The body had made a trail through the dirt on the front stop, and Flint wiped the steps clean.

From there, the body had been dragged through the dirt around the side of the house, and Flint could easily follow the trail. Though he’d partially obscured the tracks, he’d done a poor job. Flint pulled out a broom and tried to more carefully smooth out the dirt.

Horatio saw Flint in the midst of this task and emerged from the house, asking, “Sir, what are you doing?”

“Just tending the garden,” Flint told him.

“Sir, you can trust the gardening to us,” Horatio said, “If there is something that needs doing, we’ll be glad to do it.”

“No bother. Already done,” Flint said, picking up the broom and walking towards the house.

Sheriff Smith and Deputy Peterson appeared at the front gates. They called through to Flint just as he was about to enter his house, and he was again startled. He approached the sheriff, who waited on the other side of the locked gate.

“Mr. Eberling, we were wondering if we could ask you about Mrs. Jane Marshall,” the sheriff said, “She hasn’t been seen since last night, and she was reported to be planning to come visit this house. Did you happen to see her last night?”

“She did come here,” Flint responded.

“Did she depart last night?” the sheriff asked.

“She did depart,” Flint said, “At a late hour.”

“Where was she going to?”

“Home,” Flint said, “Or at least I assumed so much. She didn’t say she was going home. So, I guess I don’t really know.”

“In which direction did she go?”

“Down Clark Street, I believe.”

“Did she leave your house at all distraught or besotted,” the sheriff asked.

Flint shrugged his shoulders and said, “I didn’t give her any liquor, but she might have arrived a little slewed. And she definitely was distraught. Her and I had a real row last night.”

“Concerning?”

“Concerning the inheritance of my father’s wealth, which she wasn’t to receive a part of.”

The sheriff nodded and asked, “Do you mind if I speak with your staff? I’d like to ask if they saw anything.”

“I can’t imagine what they’d have seen that I haven’t,” Jasper objected, “Horatio saw her in, but I was the only one who saw her out. They were both asleep by that time.”

“We have to be thorough in cases like this, Mr. Eberling,” the sheriff said, “I really must insist.”

“I wasn’t trying to stop you,” Flint said defensively. He let Sheriff Smith and his deputy enter, saying, “Just trying to help save you some time.”

Once inside, the sheriff asked for a room where he could sit down and talk to them. Flint showed them to the drawing room and called down Horatio.

Once Horatio arrived and Flint was still standing in the room, the sheriff asked him, “And if you could also give us some privacy?” Flint conceded by stepping out of the room and closing the door.

While Horatio spoke with the sheriff and deputy, Flint waited in the hallway. He put his ear to the door and tried to listen in, but the sheriff and Horatio both spoke too softly to understand.

When Horatio was let out, Flint watched the Deputy and Sheriff closely. He was inspecting their faces for some sign of suspicion, but both of them looked at him impassively. Flint’s growing anxiety was allowed to subside. Apparently Horatio had neither seen nor heard anything out of the ordinary.

“And the maid?” Sheriff Smith asked casually.

“Isabel?” Flint replied, “She wasn’t even around at the time. I don’t what you expect to get out of her.”

“Please, Mr. Eberling,” the sheriff replied, “We don’t need your input.”

“Go fetch her,” Flint told Horatio.

Horatio returned, leading Patrice towards the drawing room. As she neared Flint, she shied away from him and watched him nervously. Flint didn’t wait around to see the results this time. He genuinely thought this time that the sheriff was wasting his time. He walked upstairs and entered Mr. Eberling’s study, sitting down at the desk to work. He felt confident at this point that he was safe.

Flint was unaware that Patrice had heard Jane Marshall scream and had seen him dragging something into the woods that previous night. She didn’t know what it was and had been afraid to inquire further, but she told Sheriff Smith what she had witnessed.

Once the sheriff was finished speaking with Patrice, he exited the study and ascended the stairs towards Flint’s office. He knocked on the door and Flint opened it to see the Sheriff with Deputy Peterson standing beside him.

“Gentlemen?” Flint asked.

“We’re taking you to the pokey,” the Sheriff said, “Deputy Peterson, if you’ll escort him. Lock him up and then send a few men up here with shovels.”

“On what grounds?” Flint asked.

“On suspicion of murder,” the Sheriff said.

After Flint and the Deputy left, the Sheriff had Patrice point him the direction she’d seen Flint dragging the rolled up carpet. He could see hints of the trail that Flint had been trying to hide. Once he reached the slope and the trees, the burial spot appeared to him as clearly as if it had been marked. Some tree branches were strewn over the spot in an attempt to conceal it, and the ground had been leveled.

When the men with shovels arrived, the sheriff took them to the spot and ordered them to dig. They uncovered Jasper’s body first.

When the dirt was wiped away from the face, the sheriff commented, “This ain’t no Jane Marshall. Looks like we might have a double murder. Keep digging.”

The men continued until they’d cleared away the carpet and were able to pull it out of the hole. The Sheriff unrolled it and saw the frozen face of Mrs. Marshall, dusty and pale, staring up at him.

“Looks like he beat her to death,” the Sheriff said to his Deputy as he looked at the fractured skull.

He had the men dig for a short while longer, to make sure there were no further bodies to be discovered.

It was only once he was confident that these were the only two that he examined the first body.

“Beaten too,” Sheriff Smith said to the Deputy after touching the back of the skull, “But who in blazes is this corpse?”

Putrefaction had not yet reached an advanced state, only partially distorting Jasper’s facial features. The face was familiar, but the Sheriff and Deputy didn’t see it. In fact, they probably would’ve realized that it was Jasper they were looking at if they hadn’t already assumed that Jasper was locked in their jail. Instead they looked at the face with confusion.

IX

Sheriff Smith and Deputy Peterson returned from the Eberling mansion and headed directly to the back of the sheriff’s office to find Flint seated in his cell.

The sheriff looked through the bars at Flint sitting on his cot, and he said, “When we dug up the ground behind your house we found two hunks of dead meat. One we know is Mrs. Jane Marshall? Now who’s the other?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Flint replied, “I never buried any bodies.”

“Horse shit,” the Sheriff said, “Look, you son of a bitch, we got a witness who spotted you dragging Mrs. Jane Marshall to the place where you buried her. We know you beefed her. It stands to reason you beefed the other feller too. Just tell us who he is and we won’t beat you all hollow.”

“I told you I don’t know,” Flint said, turning his face away from the Sheriff.

“I don’t know what you expect to get out of riling me?” the Sheriff shouted, “You’re going to hang for Mrs. Marshall. Guaranteed. And we only need to hang you but once. The only reason I want to know about the other feller is so I can tell his family that he’s dead.”

“Go to hell!” Flint told him.

The sheriff pulled out a set of keys and opened the door to the cell. Flint stood from his cot when he saw the sheriff approach and retreated into a corner. The sheriff loomed over the cowering man and began to punch him repeatedly. “You going to answer my questions now?” he asked several times.

It was to no avail. Flint refused to speak. The sheriff ultimately gave up.

Later that day, while the sheriff sat at his desk leaning back in his chair and smoking some tobacco, he heard a knock at the window. When he opened, he saw a beautiful Spanish woman standing next to Horatio.

“Sheriff, this woman just arrived and I believe she’s looking for Jasper,” Horatio said, “Isabel, I think her name is. I don’t understand her, since she doesn’t speak English. I thought perhaps you could show her to Jasper.”

“The son of a bitch hasn’t been cooperative,” the Sheriff said, “But maybe she can get something out of him. Com on.”

He let her inside and led her to the back. When she arrived at Flint’s cell and looked inside, she saw a bruised and bloodied face that the others appeared to be saying was that of her husband. She looked at it closely and, beneath it all, thought she saw her beloved Jasper.

“What happened to you, my love?” she asked him in Spanish.

Flint understood the words, but he didn’t respond.

After a prolonged and distressing silence, she said, “Jasper, do you know how hard it was to get here? I haven’t heard a thing from you. You have much explaining and apologizing to do. And now you’re just going to pretend like I’m not here?”

“I don’t know you,” Flint said, “I’m tired of lying. What’s the point? I’m dead anyways.”

“Jasper, whatever are you saying? What lying? What are you talking about? You have to explain to me why you’re here. What’s going on? Why didn’t you write?” she asked.

“I’m not Jasper!” Flint shouted.

It was loud enough that it startled the Sherrif, who’d been standing aloof in the background leaning against a wall. When he heard Flint shout, he took Isabel and led her to the front office.

As he was lowering the weeping woman into a seat, Deputy Peterson was entering the office with Sam.

Sam approached her and started speaking to her in Spanish, “Ma’am, the Sheriff wants me to act as translator while he asks you a few questions. He knows it might be hard, but he needs your cooperation if we’re to straighten this out.”

She nodded as she touched a handkerchief that Sherrif Smith had lent her to her eyes.

“How do you know Jasper?” the sheriff asked and Sam translated.

“He’s my husband,” she spoke, and Sam again translated.

“Why weren’t you with him when he arrived,” the sheriff asked.

“I would’ve come with him,” she said, “but we have a farm and a child and parents. I couldn’t just leave them behind. I was against even him coming alone. I only came now because I haven’t heard from him. It’s been over two weeks since he left, and I haven’t heard a thing.”

“I’m sorry,” the sheriff asked, “But did you say it was two weeks since you heard from him or it’s been two weeks since he left?”

“Two weeks since he left,” she said.

“Are you sure you’re translating this right, Sam? This doesn’t make sense,” the sheriff said, “Jasper has been here for months. Are you saying, Isabel, that he returned to visit you two weeks ago?”

“No, I’m saying he left a few weeks ago,” she said, “He hadn’t gone anywhere before that. Not for years. What’s so hard to understand? He was with me. He left. He came here. Is this man incapable of translating something so simple?”

Sam felt compelled to defend himself and told Isabel, “I have no difficulty understanding you. What’s confusing all of us is that Jasper has been here in Deep Spring for nearly a year. I distinctly remember the day when he arrived. It’s impossible he’s been here and with you up until about two weeks ago.” Sam repeated the words in English for the benefit of the others.

“Unless he…” the sheriff began to speak, “Unless he didn’t.”

The sheriff abruptly stood from his chair and said, “Isabel, I’m going to show you a body and I want to know if you can identify it.”

Isabel was confused by this request. “Identify whom? Whose body?” she asked. The sheriff wouldn’t answer. He urged her repeatedly to just follow him and trust him, assuring her that this would clear everything up.

Once Isabel agreed, the sheriff took her to a funeral home where the two recently discovered corpses were being measured for their caskets. The bodies had been laid out and set down on a table in the back of the funeral home. Jane Marshall had already been stripped of her clothes so that the undertaker could clean away the dirt that covered her skin. The undertaker respectfully threw a blanket over the body before Isabel was brought back to see them.

Jasper was still wearing the same ragged suit he’d been buried in. His hair and skin were dusty and the body was slightly bloated, making his face look round and corpulent.

“I’d like you to tell me if you can identify this body,” the sheriff said, pointing to Jasper’s corpse, “Particularly, look at the clothing. Do you recognize it?”

“Of course, these are my husband’s clothes,” she said as soon as she looked at his black jacket and pants and dark leather boots, “I swear it’s exactly what he was wearing when he left two weeks ago. But this doesn’t make any sense. Who is this man? He does sort of looks like my husband.”

“He is your husband,” the sheriff said. Sam and Deputy Peterson turned to the sheriff with shock. Sam translated it for Isabel and she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“What are you talking about?” Isabel said, “If this is my husband dead here, then who was the man in jail?”

“Does your husband have a brother? Or a similar-looking relative?” the sheriff asked.

“No. No!” Isabel shouted as soon as Sam translated the question. But the word wasn’t in answer to the question. It was a cry of shock as she put her hand to her mouth. “No, he can’t be dead. No,” she cried. She rushed to the body and grabbed his coat, repeating, “No, no, no.” She threw herself over the corpse while she continued to cry.

She turned back to the sheriff and said, “How could this happen? How could he die?”

“It wasn’t so much something that happened,” the sheriff said, “As it was something that was done.”

Sam translated for Isabel, and she asked, “Who killed him?”

When the four of them returned to the sheriff’s office, Isabel went directly to the jail. She stopped in front of Flint’s cell and looked straight at him through the bars. The hatred in her eyes burned. If she could’ve opened the cell, she would’ve hurt him in every way she could. Instead, she simply spat on him and walked away.

The deputy looked through the bars at Flint, who hunched over on the cot and wiped the spittle off his cheeks.

“What’s your name, boy?” the deputy asked. Flint looked up at the deputy cautiously, but didn’t say anything. The deputy said, “We know you ain’t Jasper. So come on. Tell us.”

“Flint,” he replied.

“Flint what?” the deputy asked.

“Eberling,” Flint said defiantly, “I’m an Eberling.”

The deputy didn’t believe him, but shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever you say.” Then the three men left him there.

Sam was heading out the door, in a hurry to return to his bar. Sheriff Smith stopped him before he exited, and he told him, in hearing of his deputy, “I want you two to keep what you heard and saw today between yourselves. We say nothing until the trial. Word gets around town that we got a feller who beefed Jasper Eberling and we’ll have an angry mob outside our door tonight screaming the name of Judge Lynch, and it’ll just be me and the deputy here to stand in their way. Are we understood?”

Sam and the deputy both nodded their head and said, “Understood.”

Despite this injunction, rumors did begin to trickle out. The two men who helped the sheriff dig up the body had not been sworn to secrecy, and they relished the attention they received when they were able to disclose how they’d dug up the murdered bodies of Mrs. Jane Marshall and a mysterious male stranger behind the Eberling residence. The assumption that Jasper must have been the culprit morphed into rumor and soon stories of Jasper killing the contemptible woman and her docile husband in a fit of rage were everywhere being spoke of.

These rumors were abruptly interrupted when the funeral and burial of Jasper Eberling himself was announced for the next day. Newspapermen were at the sheriff’s office demanding answers after they heard this announcement, but the sheriff was not forthcoming.

When the funeral service was conducted, people crowded the First Episcopal Church of Deep Spring to see the service and pay their last respects to Jasper. Father Harper delivered a thoughtful and thorough sermon about Japer. He’d known Jasper intimately as a youth and had tried unsuccessfully to guide him towards a more virtuous path. Despite this, the father’s speech was eulogistic when he spoke of Jasper, describing him as a wayward boy who’d begun to find God as he aged and who would’ve certainly grown into a pillar of the community.

Sam delivered a short speech on Isabel’s behalf, a short statement he’d translated for her, which described Jasper as a loving father and husband, a mature and reformed Jasper who was hard working, generous and loving. Sam read the words from a piece of paper while Isabel stood beside him and mutely looked over the sympathetic faces of the townsfolk.

After these speeches were finished and people were allowed to step forward and view the body, a huge line formed, with practically every person in town taking a chance to look at the body in the casket and speak to him some silent goodbye. Jasper’s corpse had been cleaned for the burial and looked once again the respectable gentleman in his fine suit.

Flint’s trial was scheduled a week later. Judge Mill’s cramped chambers were full to bursting. Most people were left standing in the hallway, receiving a live report on the proceedings by a few people who listened at the doors.

Inside, over the course of a few days, several people testified. Sheriff Smith and Deputy Peterson described digging up the two bodies behind the Eberling mansion; Dr. Brown explained the likely causes of death of the two victims based upon the skull fractures; Sam and Abe, among others, offered additional testimony on the strange circumstances of Flint’s arrival in Deep Spring; Horatio told about find strange flecks of red on the padlock to their outer gate that he couldn’t account for and that later disappeared; and Patrice described seeing Flint dragging the rolled-up rug around the side of the house to the slope behind it where the bodies were later found. Flint declined to testify.

After it was all over, it was only left to the prosecutor to offer a theory for the jury to explain all these details. In his closing argument, he described Flint arriving in Deep Springs, fully aware of Jasper’s disappearance and with the intent of deceiving the Eberling family about his identity in order to order to receive Thurston Eberling’s generous inheritance. All was going well until Flint’s plan was threated by the arrival of the real Jasper. Accordingly, Flint killed him and buried the body behind the mansion. When Jasper’s ex-fiancé confronted him after discovering his identity, he killed her too. He wrapped her body in a rug and buried her next to Jasper.

Few in the audience who watched the trial thought that conviction was anything but inevitable.

VII

“Allow me to introduce myself,” Flint said to Isabel in Spanish, “My name is Flint. I’m a close acquaintance of Jasper. I’m here to greet you on his behalf. If you could please sit down, I’ll give you the bad medicine.”

“I thought you were Jasper,” she said, growing concerned, “Where is he? Why isn’t he here to greet himself?”

“Please sit down,” Flint repeated.

After Isabel sat down at one of the chairs, Flint told her, “Your husband is dreadful sick. We’re hoping he’ll get better, and we’ve been doing everything we can to help him, but his condition is dire.”

Isabel leapt to her feet, intense worry spreading across her face, “Please, let me see him.”

“We don’t know if it’s a good idea for you to look-see up there, since his condition is dire.”

“Take me to him, now!” she ordered.

Flint led the way out of the room and up the first flight of stairs, then crossed the hall and led her up the second flight of stairs. At the top, behind a door, was Jasper, lying in his bed with his sheets pulled up to his chin, half-awake and dazedly staring towards the ceiling.

Isabel ran forward and grabbed him for an embrace, dousing his face in kisses and telling him again and again, “My poor love, my poor love.”

Coming out of his daze, Jasper looked up at his wife and asked, “Whatever are you doing here?” He looked at Flint added, “And you? What are you doing here?”

“I came to see you, like you asked,” Isabel replied.

“No, no, no,” Jasper said, his voice weak but his anger heating up, “That wasn’t what was supposed to happen. You were supposed to be with Flint. You weren’t supposed to meet me. Flint was supposed to pretend to be me. I wanted to save you all this agony.”

“Why would he do that?” Isabel asked, a little miffed.

“Because I’m dying,” Jasper proclaimed with heated passion, “I’m a deal away from passing in my chips. And Flint isn’t, and you aren’t. It just makes sense.”

“No, it doesn’t make sense,” Isabel shouted, though trying to temper her voice for the benefit of the sickly Jasper, “You want to trick me into thinking that he is you? You want me to be his wife? You think I’d be happy without you? And you think I wouldn’t notice? Sure, he does look so much like you, but I could tell. Just one long look at him, and I’d see the whole not-Jasperness of that man. How long do you think he could keep it up?”

“For the rest of your life, I’d hoped,” Jasper told her.

“Insane!” Isabel shouted, “Completely insane, that’s what that is. Even if it did work, I can’t believe you were condemning me to the rest of my life with some stranger. What? Would I share his bed? Bear another child for him? Is this what you want? You want me to leave you? You want to get rid of me, and this seemed like the easiest way?”

“I’m dying!” Jasper shouted back, “I did this for you. Don’t you see that I’m sick as a horse and going to die soon and you’re going to be drenched in sorrow? Don’t you see that I was trying to save you from that? Flint is like me in many ways, and he’s a good man. You would’ve been happy with him.”

Somewhat mollified Isabel asked, “Is he your brother or something?” Both Flint and Jasper shrugged their shoulders in turn.

Isabel spoke more calmly to Jasper: “And why do you get to make all these decisions for me? You gave me no say in this plan of yours. If I’d had a say, I’d tell you to commit it to the flames!” After she said this, she grabbed Jasper by the face and pointed his eyes directly at hers. She told him, “Even though I hate you sometimes, I’m staying with you until the end. No matter what.”

Flint still lingered quietly in the back of the room, trying to look invisible. Isabel turned around to look at Flint and said, “It looks like I should be thanking you, since it appears that you’re responsible for spoiling Jasper’s crazy scheme.”

Flint graciously bowed, telling her, “He made me swear to go along with it, but I was always uncomfortable about it. His plan seemed a bit cracked to me.” Flint saw this as an opportunity to leave the room, and he then quietly stepped out the door and closed it behind him.

“Go to him!” Jasper feebly ordered Isabel after Flint left, “Let me die alone and go to him. Please.”

Isabel now began to cry and buried her face in the sheets atop Jasper, shouting, “No, no, no. Don’t say that. You don’t know you’re going to die.”

“I’m buzzard food, my dear,” Jasper said, “The sooner you accept that and begin to forget me, the better.”

Isabel doggedly stayed by Jasper’s side and tried her best to nurse him back to health during the following days. Doctor Brown had already given up, and, though he continued treatment, he told the family to prepare for the worst. Even with the care and attention that Jasper was receiving, his condition continued to deteriorate.

Pushing against significant resistance, Jasper forced Isabel to promise that she would live with Flint after he died and take him as a husband, since Flint had already promised to take care of their child and would be a good husband to Isabel. She told him repeatedly that he was going to live and that he shouldn’t make her promise such a thing. But between these numerous protestations, she did promise as he wished.

After Jasper fell asleep, she would stay at his side, holding his hand as he wrestled through a fretful sleep. She would diligently apply moist clothes to his forehead to hold his fever down and hum softly to calm him.

In the evening Patrice once again joined Flint in his bed. She sidled up to side and she undressed for him while he watched, her straight, narrow form glowing in the moonlight.

After a passionate bout of lovemaking, Patrice turned to Flint and asked him in a quiet voice: “Flint? Why did you not do as Jasper said? Don’t you feel like you owe him a big favor after all he’s done for you? He’s dying, and it was his last request.”

“A big favor, yes. But not that big of a favor,” Flint replied, “His wife would have me for a whole life. I could never divorce. I’d raise her kids. I’d live with her. I’d grow old with her.”

“But she is beautiful,” Patrice said, “She is more beautiful than me. She is younger and has beautiful olive skin. She’s not lanky and straight like me but round and soft.”

“But she’s not you,” Flint said, “It’s not that she’s such a hard case that growing old with her would be a torture. It’s that she’s not you. It’s you I want to grow old with. You understand?”

“But I’m not…” Patrice began.

“You’re better than her,” Fint began, “Jasper could never win your love. He got the mitten, so he settled for her. I didn’t want to settle.”

Patrice giggled slightly when Flint said this. She halted herself mid-laughed and politely said, “Excuse me.” But Flint simply smiled back at her.

When Doctor Brown visited the next day, Flint intersected him on his way down from the third floor bedroom.

The Doctor gravely told Flint and Patrice, “If there is anything you need to tell him before he expires, I suggest you do it immediately. I’m not confident he can make it through the night.”

When Flint and Patrice arrived in the room, they found a pale and feeble creature, unable to sit up and barely even able to raise his hand. Isabel had maintained a continuous vigil at his bedside and showed no interest in leaving him now.

Jasper weakly gestured for Flint to approach. Flint stood by the bed and Jasper gestured closer, until Flint was nearly touching Jasper’s face.

Jasper whispered in his ear with the little strength he still possessed: “I forgive you.”

“For deceiving your father and almost taking your money? You forgive me for that?” Flint asked.

“I already forgave you for that,” Jasper said with a smile and a half cough, half laugh, “No, for not lying to Isabel like you promised. It’s better this way. She’ll mourn, but she deserves to know the truth. We all deserve to know the truth. It’s better that way.”

“I’m glad,” Flint said, patting Jasper’s hand, “It was a tough decision. I just wanted to do what was right. No matter the consequences.”

“You did right,” Jasper whispered, “But remember the other part of your promise. That you’ll take care of my wife and child.” Flint nodded and Jasper gave what would end up being a parting smile.

VIII

Jasper gave rich presents to Isabel as he lay in his bed dying that last day: fine jewelry, beautiful clothes and linens and excellent food. He gave her as much of what he could of his wealth to make her happy, but it wasn’t enough. She wanted him. She stayed by his bed, through the day and into the evening, unable to sleep through Jasper’s final hours.

Flint personally brought to the room a consistent supply of food, but most of it remained untouched. Isabel watched Jasper in his bed, watched his breath grow increasingly labored as the hours passed. She watched his deadening eyes staring upward into the air as he quietly struggled for life. And she watched him die. She watched his breath come to a stop, even as she was holding his hand. All movement stopped and his eyes froze in place.

Once Isabel realized that her husband was dead, in what would only amount to a few minutes, her emotions went through a whole rainbow of colors. She felt the grief of her loss, the guilt at not coming sooner, and the anger that someone so wonderful should be taken from this world so prematurely. It was enough to make a pious woman doubt her faith.

She looked across the dark room and saw a small dagger on the bedside table that Jasper had used for opening the correspondences that he had maintained up until the end. She picked it up and nonchalantly dragged it across her wrist as unfeelingly as if she were dragging it across a piece of meat. It proved sharp, opening up a small slit across her wrist, and she dispassionately watched a small drip of blood emerge from the wound, grow in size, roll down her wrist and drip to the floor.

She took the dagger, and she pressed it against her belly through her dress, holding it there in place as she meditated on her choices. She began to slowly pierce the fabric after a few moments, penetrating until she reached the bone-supported corset underneath. She navigated the blade through the corset’s fabric until the tip of the blade just touched her belly. She hesitated once again as the thought of her infant son came to mind. With her husband gone, he was the most important person in her life.

She reached over to her husband and felt his skin once more to make sure he was dead, picking up his hand and feeling the coldness as it limply drooped in hers. She took that limp hand and she wrapped it around the handle of the knife, holding it in place with her two hands.

In that position she waited, looking at the door as she held onto the knife. Flint was the first to enter the room, carrying a basin of cool water for Jasper. He nearly dropped it when he saw Isabel seated there with a knife to her stomach.

“Take care of my son,” she said in Spanish.

“What?” Flint asked, understanding her, but not believing it.

“Take care of my son,” she repeated, “Tell him that his mother couldn’t live without her father, but that she loved him very much. Will you do that?”

“What? Why? I don’t understand,” Flint said, the words stumbling out of his mouth.

“You promised!” she shouted, “You promised Jasper you’d take care of his son. You promised!”

“Alright, I promise,” Flint said.

In one thrust, Isabel pressed the knife through her skin. The deep gash awakened her from her numbness, and she felt the extreme pain with a sudden shock. It was the worst physical pain she’d experienced in her life, but she didn’t care. The misery was over.

Flint dropped the basin to the ground, and it crashed and spilled its contents all across the floor. He reached forward to stop her, grabbing the knife from her hand. But the knife he held had been pulled from her belly and was already bloodstained.

“You promised,” Isabel whispered one last time.

She turned away from him and crawled on top of her husband. She tried to touch his lips as a growing red circle blossomed on her stomach. She clawed her way towards his lips and planted one last kiss upon them. She stopped there, laying her body heavily upon his chest and waited, breathing with ever heavier and heavier breaths, her body growing cold and numb until the world blinked out in darkness.

Horatio and Patrice were immediately at the door, having been summoned by Isabel’s shouting. They looked inside and saw Flint holding the bloody knife.

He dropped it to the ground as tears poured from his eyes. He told them, “I tried to stop her, but I couldn’t. I tried. I really tried.”

Horatio ran to fetch the doctor, but it was pointless. Both of them were already dead.

IX

Since Flint was discovered in the room with Isabel when she died and was holding the knife with which she stabbed herself, a jury of inquest was convened to consider the deaths of Jasper and Isabel. Dr. Brown, Horatio, Patrice and Flint were all called as witnesses. They each individually sat down in front of the large group of people, who sat in the audience of Judge Mill’s courtroom, and they presented their version of events. Flint was totally honest about what had happened: Isabel’s grief, her suicide and her request that he take care of her son.

After hearing the testimony, the jury wrote up a short opinion which stated: “We, the jury of inquest concerning the deaths of Jasper Eberling find that he came to his death between midnight and one o’clock a.m. on September 9 at the Eberling residence in Deep Spring due to an unknown ailment. We find that Isabel Eberling came to her death at the same time and place due to injuries on her stomach inflicted with a dagger, and we believe there is sufficient evidence to suspect that said injuries were inflicted by one Flint Crowley, formerly Jasper Eberling.”

The jury had reached its conclusion based on three facts: first of all, that Flint was the first person to discover the body, secondly, that Flint had an established reputation as a confidence man and third, that Isabel had a surviving child. The jury couldn’t believe that a mother would kill herself when she had an infant child with no one else to take care of it.

The verdict of the Jury of Inquest was a shock to everyone, and it rippled through the town. Flint was placed in Jail with a full criminal trial scheduled the following week. The prosecutor decided to pursue a murder charge for both Jasper and for Isabel because he believed that the death of the former was sufficiently uncertain to warrant it.

A massive crowd of spectators attended the double burial of Jasper and his wife, who were laid side by side in the Yarrowdale Cemetery in the Eberling plot near Thurston and his wife. All of Jasper’s friends, family, acquaintances, and even people who included enemies and strangers attended the funeral. Father Harper sermonized over the funeral with all of his fiery energy and zeal, bringing the crowd to tears as they contemplated the sad fate of such a young and promising man brought down in his prime.

The trial commenced that next week in Judge Mill’s cramped courtroom within the Deep Spring town hall. Little room was available for spectators in the cold, wood-paneled room, where only a dim light flowed in through the small windows.

A number of witnesses were brought forth to elaborate in full detail all of the events of Flint’s story, from his first arrival in Deep Spring until his arrest. His history of deceit and his low background and immoral character became a consistent theme throughout this testimony. Flint was portrayed as a whoremonger, an alcoholic and a chronic liar. He was presented as an unstable man who flitted from place to place in search of work and who spent the money he had almost as soon as he received it.

To research Flint’s past, the prosecution hired a detective agency, who stumbled upon a rather adventitious discovery: Flint’s maternal aunt Sylvia Smith.

She was brought by train all the way from Denver to provide more detail on Flint’s past. She sat beside Judge Mill at the witness stand and was sworn in as usual while the prosecutor looked over his notes.

“Mrs. Sylvia Smith,” the prosecutor began, rising from his chair, “What relation do you have to Flint Crowley, the defendant?”

“He’s my nephew sir,” the prim and neatly dressed woman answered, “By my sister.” She’d worn her best outfit for her day in court, a billowing green dress with a corset around her torso and an elaborate hat on her head.

“Are you familiar with the circumstances of the birth of Mr. Crowley?” the prosecutor asked.

“Yes, sir,” she said.

“Could you enlighten the court, Mrs. Smith?”

“My sister was living in a small city just north of here called Holston when she had little Flint It was March, March 9, if I remember correctly. And I was there to support her because Flint had no father.”

“By saying that Flint had no father, are you saying that Flint was the miraculous product of some immaculate conception or simply that the father was absent?” the prosecutor asked, eliciting some laughter in the crowd of spectators.

“Absent,” Mrs. Smith replied.

“What had become of Flint’s father?” the prosecutor asked.

“The father was a married man and sent my sister away because of his wife,” Sylvia Smith said, “It made it all mighty hard for my sister, Mary and poor little Flint. We had to work hard to keep him and us clothed and fed and do what we could for the poor boy. I had to go work at a saloon. Mary continued as a maid with these people Flint’s father knew.”

“And who was Flint Crowley’s father?” the prosecutor asked.

“Mr. Thurston Eberling, he was. Mary’s former employer. She’d worked with him as a maid, cleaning and cooking and all that. She’d actually been working there for a while, and then almost of a sudden she’s pregnant and having to move and asking me to pick up sticks and move in with her in Holston. And you know I do what a sister must do. But it should’ve been that father taking his responsibility. It’s always like that when you get involved with men like that.”

“So, I want you to clarify,” the prosecutor said, “Flint Crowley’s father by birth was the deceased Mr. Thurston Eberling, the father of the deceased Mr. Jasper Eberling?”

“I don’t know Jasper, but yeah, that’s the man,” Sylvia said, “I heard about him dying just recently. That’s ripe tragedy if I ever heard it.”

“To further clarify, we are saying that Flint and Jasper were half-brothers, by the same father,” the prosecutor said, turning to the jury. He then asked Mrs. Smith, “Did Flint know the identity of his father?”

“My sister was earnest about keeping it a secret from him. I believe she resented the man and thus didn’t want to give him the satisfaction of knowing his son. She wouldn’t never have told him if she could help it. But he could’ve found out otherwise.”

“Objection,” the defense interjected, “The witness is speculating.”

“Sustained, “ Judge Mill said.

The prosecutor turned to Mrs. Smith, “Could you simply give us a yes or no answer based upon your direct knowledge.”

“I never told him and never heard my sister or anyone else tell him,” Mrs. Smith said.

“It is possible he could’ve divined the relation when he saw Jasper, who, as many can attest, looked so startlingly similar to Flint,” the prosecutor stated.

“Speculation again,” the defense said.

“Sustained,” the Judge repeated.

“I withdraw it,” the prosecutor, “Mrs. Smith, did Flint know anything about his father?”

“He knew his father was a rich man. I believe he knew that his mother used to live in Deep Spring. From there, he just had to put the pieces together. And he was a smart boy.”

“Thank you Mrs. Smith,” the prosecutor said, returning to his seat.

The defense put Flint on the stand and he contradicted the testimony of Silvia Smith. When asked what he knew about his father, he stated, “I knew nothing about my father. I certainly didn’t know he was rich. I had always assumed that he was a poor laborer like my mom and me. I didn’t know where he was from either. My mom didn’t tell me and I didn’t know where she’d lived when I was conceived.”

Flint further elaborated on his arrival in Deep Spring, and that the whole thing was simply a huge coincidence and that he’d only been led into pretending to be Jasper out of desperation. Unfortunately, because of Flint’s history of duplicity, the jury had a hard time believing him.

From the revelation that Flint was Thurston Eberling’s son, the prosecution was able to fill in the rest for the jury. The prosecutor told the jury that with Isabel dead, Flint was the nearest heir of Thurston Eberling. The prosecutor explained that, had Jasper and Isabel lived, they would’ve inherited Thurston Eberling’s fortune and passed it on to their son, but with them both dead and leaving no will, Flint had first claim, since he was the only male among Thurston Eberling’s illegitimate children. If the fortune reverted to Jasper’s son, then Flint, by claiming guardianship of the child, would be able to take control of the fortune until the child came of age.

Though the prosecution presented no evidence that Flint was aware of his relation, he was able to construct a persuasive narrative. In the prosecutor’s closing arguments, he described: Flint, knowing that he was Mr. Eberling’s son had insinuated himself into the family as legitimate son; then, upon Jasper showing up with his wife following and usurping this claim, Flint’s inheritance was in jeopardy; so he slowly poisoned Jasper via the food that he regularly delivered to the deceased, and he stabbed Isabel once Jasper was dead; thus securing his inheritance.

[Branches A1 and B1 merge into Branch 1][Branches A2 and B2 merge into Branch 2]

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