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The Mayor's Wife

15. Hardly A Coincidence
The old lady's eyes met ours without purpose or intelligence. It was plain that she
did not see us; also plain that she was held back in her advance by some doubt
in her beclouded brain. We could see her hover, as it were, at her end of the dark
passage, while I held my breath and Mr. Steele panted audibly. Then gradually
she drew back and disappeared behind the door, which she forgot to shut, as we
could tell from the gradually receding light and the faint fall of her footsteps after
the last dim flicker had faded away.
When she was quite gone, Mr. Steele spoke:
"You must be satisfied now," he said. "Do you still wish to go on, or shall we
return and explain this accident to the girls whose voices I certainly hear in the
hall overhead?"
"We must go back," I reluctantly consented. A wild idea lead crossed my brain of
following out my first impulse and of charging Miss Charity in her own house with
the visits which had from time to time depopulated this house.
"I shall leave you to make the necessary explanations," said he. "I am really
rushed with business and should be down-town on the mayor's affairs at this very
"I am quite ready," said I. Then as I squeezed my way through between the
corner of the cabinet and the foundation wall, I could not help asking him how he
thought it possible for these old ladies to mount to the halls above from the
bottom of the four-foot hole in which we now stood.
"The same way in which I now propose that you should," he replied, lifting into
view the object we had seen at one side of the passage, and which now showed
itself to be a pair of folding steps. "Canny enough to discover or perhaps to open
this passage, they were canny enough to provide themselves with means of
getting out of it. Shall I help you?"
"In a minute," I said. "I am so curious. How do you suppose they worked this trap
from here? They did not press the spring in the molding."
He pointed to one side of the opening, where part of the supporting mechanism
was now visible.
"They worked that. It is all simple enough on this side of the trap; the puzzle is
about the other. How did they manage to have all this mechanism put in without
rousing any one's attention? And why so much trouble?"