Chapter XXXIV. Mrs. Agatha Mitts
 

I could not help but wonder, as I sat in the parlor with my friend Mr. Harrison, waiting for the appearance of Mrs. Agatha Mitts, what kind of a person the keeper of the boarding-house would prove to be.

For some reason the name suggested to me a tall, gaunt female with sharp features; and I was taken by surprise when a short, dumpy woman, with a round face, came wobbling in and asked what was wanted.

"This is Mrs. Agatha Mitts?" asked Mr. Harrison, as he arose.

"Yes, sir. And you are Mr. Harrison, I suppose. I don't remember you."

"I didn't think you would," laughed my friend from Chicago. "I am from the West, and have never before been in Brooklyn."

"Yes? Then your business with me is-- ? Perhaps you desire board?" and she smiled; first at him and then at me.

"No; we do not wish board," was the quiet reply. "We come to see you on business."

"And what is it?"

"We would like to see you privately."

"Certainly. Pray take a seat. I will close the doors."

She shut the folding doors leading to the sitting room, and then the door to the hall.

"Now I am quite at your service," she said, and peered at us rather sharply.

There was an awkward pause for a moment, and then Mr. Harrison went on bluntly:--

"Has Mr. Aaron Woodward or Chris Holtzmann been here since yesterday, madam?"

Mrs. Mitts started at the mention of the two names. Then she recovered herself.

"Whom did you say, sir?" she queried innocently.

Mr. Harrison repeated his question.

"Why, I really haven't heard of those two gentlemen in so long a time I've nearly forgotten them," she said sweetly.

"They weren't here yesterday?" I put in.

"No." And this time her tone was a trifle cold.

"Do you expect them to-day?" I went on.

"No, I don't." She paused a second. "Is that all you wish to know?"

"No, ma'am," I replied promptly. "There is a good deal more I wish to know."

"Who are you, if I may ask?"

"My name is Strong."

She looked puzzled for a moment.

"I don't recognize the name," she said, and then she suddenly turned pale.

"I am the son of Carson Strong, who was sent to prison for alleged forgery and the passing of worthless checks," I continued. "I suppose you remember the case."

"Har-- hardly," she faltered. "I-- I heard something of it, but not the particulars."

"That is strange, when you were so interested in it."

"I?" she repeated, in pretended surprise.

"Yes, madam," said Mr. Harrison. "You were very much interested."

"Who says so?"

"I say so," said I.

"You! You are only a boy."

"I suppose I am, but that doesn't make any difference. You know all about the great wrong that has been done, and--"

"It is false! I know nothing!" she cried in anger.

"You know all, and we want you to tell as all you know before we leave this house."

Mrs. Agatha Mitts arose in a passion.

"I want you to get out of my house at once!" she ejaculated. "I won't stand your presence here another minute."

"Excuse me, madam; not so fast," said Mr. Harrison, calmly. "My young friend Strong is quite right in what he says."

"I don't care what you think about it," she snapped.

"Oh, yes, you do. Perhaps you don't know who I am," went on my Western friend, deliberately.

The sly insinuation had its effect. Evidently the woman had a swift vision of a detective in citizens' clothes before her mind's eye.

"You come in authority," she said faintly.

"We won't speak about that now," said Mr. Harrison. "All we want you to do is to make a complete confession of your knowledge of the affair."

"I haven't any knowledge."

"You have," I said. "You know everything. I have papers here belonging to Woodward, Holtzmann, and Ferguson to prove it. There is no use for you to deny it, and if you insist and make it necessary to call in the police--"

"No, no! Please don't do that, I beg of you," she cried.

"Then will you do as I wish?"

"But my reputation? It will be gone forever," she moaned.

"It will be gone anyway, if you have to go to prison," observed Mr. Harrison, sagely.

"And if I make a clean confession you will not prosecute me?" she asked eagerly.

"I'll promise you that," I said.

"You are not fooling me?"

"No, ma'am."

She sprang to her feet and paced the room several times.

"I'll do it," she cried. "They have never treated me right, and I do not care what becomes of them so long as I go clear. What do you wish me to do, gentlemen?"

I was nonplussed for an instant. Mr. Harrison helped me out.

"I will write out your confession and you can sign it," he said. "Have you ink and paper handy?"

"Yes."

Mrs. Mitts brought forth the material, and we all sat down again.

"Remember to give us only the plain facts," I said.

"I will," she returned sharply.

In a rather roundabout way she made her confession, if it could be called such. It filled several sheets of paper, and it took over half an hour. It contained but little more than what my readers already know or suspect. She knew positively that Mr. Aaron Woodward was the forger of the checks, Holtzmann had presented them, and Ferguson had so altered the daily reports that my father had unwittingly made a false showing on his books. About Weaver she knew nothing.

When once explained the whole matter was as clear as day.

When he had finished the writing, Mr. Harrison read the paper out loud, and after some hesitation the woman signed it, and then we both witnessed it.

"I guess our business here is at an end," said my Western friend.

"I think so," I replied. "But one thing more, Mrs. Mitts," I continued, turning to her. "If Mr. Woodward or Chris Holtzmann calls, I think you will find it advisable to keep this affair a secret."

"I will not be at home to them," she replied briefly.

"A good plan," said Mr. Harrison. "Now that you have done the right thing, the less you say about the matter the better for you."

A few minutes later, with the paper tucked safely in my pocket, we left the house. Mrs. Mitts watched us sharply from behind the half-closed blinds.

In half an hour we were down town and across the ferry once more.

"I suppose you wish to get home as soon as possible," said Mr. Harrison, as we boarded a street-car to take us to his hotel.

"Yes, sir. My sister and the rest will be anxious to hear how I've made out, and besides I'm anxious to learn how things have gone since I have been away."

"I've no doubt of it."

"What do you intend to do?"

"I hardly know. I have some business, but I am quite interested in your case, and--"

"Would you like to go along! You'll be heartily welcome, sir."

"Thank you, I will. I want to see how this drama ends," said Mr. Harrison.

A little later I procured my valise, and we set out for Darbyville.