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A Strange Disappearance

16. The Mark Of The Red Cross
And what success did I meet? The best in the world. And by what means did I
attain it? By that of the simplest, prettiest clue I ever came upon. But let me
explain.
When after a wearisome day spent in an ineffectual search through the
neighborhood, I went home to my room, which as you remember was a front one
in a lodging-house on the opposite corner from Mr. Blake, I was so absorbed in
mind and perhaps I may say shaken in nerve, by the strain under which I had
been laboring for some time now, that I stumbled up an extra flight of stairs, and
without any suspicion of the fact, tried the door of the room directly over mine. It
is a wonder to me now that I could have made the mistake, for the halls were
totally dissimilar, the one above being much more cut up than the one below,
besides being flanked by a greater number of doors. But the intoxication of the
mind is not far removed from that of the body, and as I say it was not till I had
tried the door and found it locked, that I became aware of the mistake I had
made.
With the foolish sense of shame that always overcomes us at the committal of
any such trivial error, I stumbled hastily back, when my foot trod upon something
that broke under my weight. I never let even small things pass without some
notice. Stooping, then, for what I had thus inadvertently crushed, I carried it to
where a single gas jet turned down very low, made a partial light in the long hall,
and examining it, found it to be a piece of red chalk.
What was there in that simple fact to make me start and hastily recall one or two
half-forgotten incidents which, once brought to mind, awoke a train of thought
that led to the discovery and capture of those two desperate thieves? I will tell
you.
I don't remember now whether in my account of the visit I paid to the
Schoenmakers' house in Vermont, I informed you of the red cross I noticed
scrawled on the panel of one of the doors. It seemed a trivial thing at the time
and made little or no impression upon me, the chances being that I should never
have thought of it again, if I had not come upon the article just mentioned at a
moment when my mind was full of those very Schoenmakers. But remembered
now, together with another half-forgotten fact,--that some days previous I had
been told by the woman who kept the house I was in, that the parties over my
head (two men and a woman I believe she said) were giving her some trouble,
but that they paid well and therefore she did not like to turn them out,--it aroused
a vague suspicion in my mind, and led to my walking back to the door I had
endeavored to open in my abstraction, and carefully looking at it.
It was plain and white, rather ruder of make than those below, but offering no
inducements for prolonged scrutiny. But not so with the one that stood at right
angles to it on the left. Full in the centre of that, I beheld distinctly scrawled,
probably with the very piece of chalk I then held, a red cross precisely similar in
outline to the one I had seen a few days before on the panel of the
Schoenmakers' door at Granby.
 
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