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A Strange Disappearance

The discovery sent a thrill over me that almost raised my hair on end. Was, then,
this famous trio to be found in the very house in which I had been myself living
for a week or more? over my head in fact? I could not withdraw my gaze from the
mysterious looking object. I bent near, I listened, I heard what sounded like the
suppressed snore of a powerful man, and almost had to lay hold of myself to
prevent my hand from pushing open that closed door and my feet from entering.
As it was I did finger the knob a little, but an extra loud snore from within
reminded me by its suggestion of strength that I was but a small man and that in
this case and at this hour, discretion was the better part of valor.
I therefore withdrew, but for the whole night lay awake listening to catch any
sounds that might come from above, and going so far as to plan what I would do
if it should be proved that I was indeed upon the trail of the men I was so anxious
to encounter.
With the breaking of day I was upon my feet. A rude step had gone up the stairs
a few minutes before and I was all alert to follow. But I presently considered that
my wisest course would be to sound the landlady and learn if possible with what
sort of characters I had to deal. Routing her out of the kitchen, where at that early
hour she was already engaged in domestic duties, I drew her into a retired corner
and put my questions. She was not backward in replying. She had conceived an
innocent liking for me in the short time I had been with her--a display of
weakness for which I was myself, perhaps, as much to blame as she--and was
only too ready to pour out her griefs into my sympathizing ear. For those men
were a grief to her, acceptable as was the money they were careful to provide
her with. They were not only always in the house, that is one of them, smoking
his old pipe and blackening up the walls, but they looked so shabby, and kept the
girl so close, and if they did go out, came in at such unheard of hours. It was
enough to drive her crazy; yet the money, the money--
"Yes," said I, "I know; and the money ought to make you overlook all the small
disagreeablenesses you mention. What is a landlady without patience." And I
urged her not to turn them out.
"But the girl," she went on, "so nice, so quiet, so sick-looking! I cannot stand it to
see her cooped up in that small room, always watched over by one or both of
those burly wretches. The old man says she is his daughter and she does not
deny it, but I would as soon think of that little rosy child you see cooing in the
window over the way, belonging to the beggar going in at the gate, as of her with
her lady-like ways having any connection with him and his rough-acting son. You
ought to see her--"
"That is just what I want to do," interrupted I. "Not because you have tempted my
fancy by a recital of her charms," I hastened to add, "but because she is, if I don't
mistake, a woman for whose discovery and rescue, a large sum of money has
been offered."
And without further disguise I acquainted the startled woman before me with the
fact that I was not, as she had always considered, the clerk out of employment
whose daily business it was to sally forth in quest of a situation, but a member of
the city police.
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