An American Tragedy Chapter 10

The effect of Mason’s re-appearance in the camp with the news, announced first to Frank Harriet, next to Harley Baggott and Grant Cranston, that Clyde was under arrest—that he actually had confessed to having been with Roberta at Big Bittern, if not to having killed her, and that he, Mason, was there with Swenk to take possession of his property—was sufficient to destroy this pretty outing as by a breath. For although amazement and disbelief and astounded confusion were characteristic of the words of all, nevertheless here was Mason demanding to know where were Clyde’s things, and asserting that it was at Clyde’s request only that he was not brought here to identify his own possessions.

Frank Harriet, the most practical of the group, sensing the truth and authority of this, at once led the way to Clyde’s tent, where Mason began an examination of the contents of the bag and clothes, while Grant Cranston, as well as Baggott, aware of Sondra’s intense interest in Clyde, departed first to call Stuart, then Bertine, and finally Sondra—moving apart from the rest the more secretly to inform her as to what was then occurring. And she, following the first clear understanding as to this, turning white and fainting at the news, falling back in Grant’s arms and being carried to her tent, where, after being restored to consciousness, she exclaimed: “I don’t believe a word of it! It’s not true! Why, it couldn’t be! That poor boy! Oh, Clyde! Where is he? Where have they taken him?” But Stuart and Grant, by no means as emotionally moved as herself, cautioning her to be silent. It might be true at that. Supposing it were! The others would hear, wouldn’t they? And supposing it weren’t—he could soon prove his innocence and be released, couldn’t he? There was no use in carrying on like this now.

But then, Sondra in her thoughts going over the bare possibility of such a thing—a girl killed by Clyde at Big Bittern—himself arrested and being taken off in this way—and she thus publicly—or at least by this group—known to be so interested in him,—her parents to know, the public itself to know—maybe——

But Clyde must be innocent. It must be all a mistake. And then her mind turning back and thinking of that news of the drowned girl she had first heard over the telephone there at the Harriets’. And then Clyde’s whiteness—his illness—his all but complete collapse. Oh, no!—not that! Yet his delay in coming from Lycurgus until the Friday before. His failure to write from there. And then, the full horror of the charge returning, as suddenly collapsing again, lying perfectly still and white while Grant and the others agreed among themselves that the best thing to be done was to break up the camp, either now or early in the morning, and depart for Sharon.

And Sondra returning to consciousness after a time tearfully announcing that she must get out of here at once, that she couldn’t “endure this place,” and begging Bertine and all the others to stay close to her and say nothing about her having fainted and cried, since it would only create talk. And thinking all the time of how, if this were all true, she could secure those letters she had written him! Oh, heavens! For supposing now at this time they should fall into the hands of the police or the newspapers, and be published? And yet moved by her love for him and for the first time in her young life shaken to the point where the grim and stern realities of life were thrust upon her gay and vain notice.

And so it was immediately arranged that she leave with Stuart, Bertine and Grant for the Metissic Inn at the eastern end of the Lake, since from there, at dawn, according to Baggott, they might leave for Albany—and so, in a roundabout way for Sharon.

In the meantime, Mason, after obtaining possession of all Clyde’s belongings here, quickly making his way west to Little Fish Inlet and Three Mile Bay, stopping only for the first night at a farmhouse and arriving at Three Mile Bay late on Tuesday night. Yet not without, en route, catechizing Clyde as he had planned, the more particularly since in going through his effects in the tent at the camp he had not found the gray suit said to have been worn by Clyde at Big Bittern.

And Clyde, troubled by this new development, denying that he had worn a gray suit and insisting that the suit he had on was the one he had worn.

“But wasn’t it thoroughly soaked?”


“Well, then, where was it cleaned and pressed afterward?”

“In Sharon.”

“In Sharon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“By a tailor there?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What tailor?”

Alas, Clyde could not remember.

“Then you wore it crumpled and wet, did you, from Big Bittern to Sharon?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And no one noticed it, of course.”

“Not that I remember—no.”

“Not that you remember, eh? Well, we’ll see about that later,” and deciding that unquestionably Clyde was a plotter and a murderer. Also that eventually he could make Clyde show where he had hidden the suit or had had it cleaned.

Next there was the straw hat found on the lake. What about that? By admitting that the wind had blown his hat off, Clyde had intimated that he had worn a hat on the lake, but not necessarily the straw hat found on the water. But now Mason was intent on establishing within hearing of these witnesses, the ownership of the hat found on the water as well as the existence of a second hat worn later.

“That straw hat of yours that you say the wind blew in the water? You didn’t try to get that either at the time, did you?”

“No, sir.”

“Didn’t think of it, I suppose, in the excitement?”

“No, sir.”

“But just the same, you had another straw hat when you went down through the woods there. Where did you get that one?”

And Clyde, trapped and puzzled by this pausing for the fraction of a second, frightened and wondering whether or not it could be proved that this second straw hat he was wearing was the one he had worn through the woods. Also whether the one on the water had been purchased in Utica, as it had. And then deciding to lie. “But I didn’t have another straw hat.” Without paying any attention to that, Mason reached over and took the straw hat on Clyde’s head and proceeded to examine the lining with its imprint—Stark & Company, Lycurgus.

“This one has a lining, I see. Bought this in Lycurgus, eh?”

“Yes, sir.”


“Oh, back in June.”

“But still you’re sure now it’s not the one you wore down through the woods that night?”

“No, sir.”

“Well, where was it then?”

And Clyde once more pausing like one in a trap and thinking: My God! How am I to explain this now? Why did I admit that the one on the lake was mine? Yet, as instantly recalling that whether he had denied it or not, there were those at Grass Lake and Big Bittern who would remember that he had worn a straw hat on the lake, of course.

“Where was it then?” insisted Mason.

And Clyde at last saying: “Oh, I was up here once before and wore it then. I forgot it when I went down the last time but I found it again the other day.”

“Oh, I see. Very convenient, I must say.” He was beginning to believe that he had a very slippery person to deal with indeed—that he must think of his traps more shrewdly, and at the same time determining to summon the Cranstons and every member of the Bear Lake party in order to discover, whether any recalled Clyde not wearing a straw hat on his arrival this time, also whether he had left a straw hat the time before. He was lying, of course, and he would catch him.

And so no real peace for Clyde at any time between there and Bridgeburg and the county jail. For however much he might refuse to answer, still Mason was forever jumping at him with such questions as: Why was it if all you wanted to do was to eat lunch on shore that you had to row all the way down to that extreme south end of the lake when it isn’t nearly so attractive there as it is at other points? And: Where was it that you spent the rest of that afternoon—surely not just there? And then, jumping back to Sondra’s letters discovered in his bag. How long had he known her? Was he as much in love with her as she appeared to be with him? Wasn’t it because of her promise to marry him in the fall that he had decided to kill Miss Alden?

But while Clyde vehemently troubled to deny this last charge, still for the most part he gazed silently and miserably before him with his tortured and miserable eyes.

And then a most wretched night spent in the garret of a farmhouse at the west end of the lake, and on a pallet on the floor, while Sissel, Swenk and Kraut, gun in hand, in turn kept watch over him, and Mason and the sheriff and the others slept below stairs. And some natives, because of information distributed somehow, coming toward morning to inquire: “We hear the feller that killed the girl over to Big Bittern is here—is that right?” And then waiting to see them off at dawn in the Fords secured by Mason.

And again at Little Fish Inlet as well as Three Mile Bay, actual crowds—farmers, store-keepers, summer residents, woodsmen, children—all gathered because of word telephoned on ahead apparently. And at the latter place, Burleigh, Heit and Newcomb, who, because of previously telephoned information, had brought before one Gabriel Gregg, a most lanky and crusty and meticulous justice of the peace, all of the individuals from Big Bittern necessary to identify him fully. And now Mason, before this local justice, charging Clyde with the death of Roberta and having him properly and legally held as a material witness to be lodged in the county jail at Bridgeburg. And then taking him, along with Burton, the sheriff and his deputies, to Bridgeburg, where he was promptly locked up.

And once there, Clyde throwing himself on the iron cot and holding his head in a kind of agony of despair. It was three o’clock in the morning, and just outside the jail as they approached he had seen a crowd of at least five hundred—noisy, jeering, threatening. For had not the news been forwarded that because of his desire to marry a rich girl he had most brutally assaulted and murdered a young and charming working-girl whose only fault had been that she loved him too well. There had been hard and threatening cries of “There he is, the dirty bastard! You’ll swing for this yet, you young devil, wait and see!” This from a young woodsman not unlike Swenk in type—a hard, destroying look in his fierce young eyes, leaning out from the crowd. And worse, a waspish type of small-town slum girl, dressed in a gingham dress, who in the dim light of the arcs, had leaned forward to cry: “Lookit, the dirty little sneak—the murderer! You thought you’d get away with it, didnja?”

And Clyde, crowding closer to Sheriff Slack, and thinking: Why, they actually think I did kill her! And they may even lynch me! But so weary and confused and debased and miserable that at the sight of the outer steel jail door swinging open to receive him, he actually gave vent to a sigh of relief because of the protection it afforded.

But once in his cell, suffering none the less without cessation the long night through, from thoughts—thoughts concerning all that had just gone. Sondra! the Griffiths! Bertine. All those people in Lycurgus when they should hear in the morning. His mother eventually, everybody. Where was Sondra now? For Mason had told her, of course, and all those others, when he had gone back to secure his things. And they knew him now for what he was—a plotter of murder! Only, only, if somebody could only know how it had all come about! If Sondra, his mother, any one, could truly see!

Perhaps if he were to explain all to this man Mason now, before it all went any further, exactly how it all had happened. But that meant a true explanation as to his plot, his real original intent, that camera, his swimming away. That unintended blow—(and who was going to believe him as to that)—his hiding the tripod afterwards. Besides once all that was known would he not be done for just the same in connection with Sondra, the Griffiths—everybody. And very likely prosecuted and executed for murder just the same. Oh, heavens—murder. And to be tried for that now; this terrible crime against her proved. They would electrocute him just the same—wouldn’t they? And then the full horror of that coming upon him,—death, possibly—and for murder—he sat there quite still. Death! God! If only he had not left those letters written him by Roberta and his mother in his room there at Mrs. Peyton’s. If only he had removed his trunk to another room, say, before he left. Why hadn’t he thought of that? Yet as instantly thinking, might not that have been a mistake, too, being seemingly a suspicious thing to have done then? But how came they to know where he was from and what his name was? Then, as instantly returning in mind to the letters in the trunk. For, as he now recalled, in one of those letters from his mother she had mentioned that affair in Kansas City, and Mason would come to know of that. If only he had destroyed them. Roberta’s, his mother’s, all! Why hadn’t he? But not being able to answer why—just an insane desire to keep things maybe—anything that related to him—a kindness, a tenderness toward him. If only he had not worn that second straw hat—had not met those three men in the woods! God! He might have known they would be able to trace him in some way. If only he had gone on in that wood at Bear Lake, taking his suit case and Sondra’s letters with him. Perhaps, perhaps, who knows, in Boston, or New York, or somewhere he might have hidden away.

Unstrung and agonized, he was unable to sleep at all, but walked back and forth, or sat on the side of the hard and strange cot, thinking, thinking. And at dawn, a bony, aged, rheumy jailer, in a baggy, worn, blue uniform, bearing a black, iron tray, on which was a tinful of coffee, some bread and a piece of ham with one egg. And looking curiously and yet somehow indifferently at Clyde, while he forced it through an aperture only wide and high enough for its admission, though Clyde wanted nothing at all.

And then later Kraut and Sissel and Swenk, and eventually the sheriff himself, each coming separately, to look in and say: “Well, Griffiths, how are you this morning?” or, “Hello, anything we can do for you?”, while their eyes showed the astonishment, disgust, suspicion or horror with which his assumed crime had filled them. Yet, even in the face of that, having one type of interest and even sycophantic pride in his presence here. For was he not a Griffiths—a member of the well-known social group of the big central cities to the south of here. Also the same to them, as well as to the enormously fascinated public outside, as a trapped and captured animal, taken in their legal net by their own superlative skill and now held as witness to it? And with the newspapers and people certain to talk, enormous publicity for them—their pictures in the papers as well as his, their names persistently linked with his.

And Clyde, looking at them between the bars, attempted to be civil, since he was now in their hands and they could do with him as they would.