A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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14. Mrs. Daniels
She still wore her bonnet and shawl and her face was like marble.
"You want me?" said she with a hurried look towards Mr. Blake that had as much fear as surprise in it.
"Yes," murmured that gentleman moving towards her with an effort we could very well appreciate. "Mrs. Daniels, who was the girl you harbored in that room above us for so long? Speak; what was her name and where did she come from?"
The housekeeper trembling in every limb, cast us one hurried appeal. "Speak!" reechoed Mr. Gryce; "the time for secrecy has passed."
"O," cried she, sinking into a chair from sheer inability to stand, "it was your wife, Mr. Blake, the young creature you--"
All the agony, the hopelessness, the love, the passion of those last few months flashed up in that word. She stopped as if she had been shot, but seeing the hand which he had hurriedly raised, fall slowly before him, went on with a burst, "O sir, she made me swear on my knees I would never betray her, no matter what happened. When not two weeks after your father died she came to the house and asking for me, told me all her story and all her love; how she could not reconcile it with her idea of a wife's duty to live under any other roof than that of her husband, and lifting off the black wig which she wore, showed me how altered she had made herself by that simple change--in her case more marked by the fact that her eyes were in keeping with black hair, while with her own bright locks they always gave you a shock as of something strange and haunting--I gave up my will as if forced by a magnetic power, and not only opened the house to her but my heart as well; swearing to all she demanded and keeping my oath too, as I would preserve my soul from sin and my life from the knife of the destroyer."
"But, when she went," broke from the pallid lips of the man before her, "when she was taken away from the house, what then?"
"Ah," returned the agitated woman. "what then! Do you not think I suffered? To be held by my oath, an oath I was satisfied she would wish kept even at this crisis, yet knowing all the while she was drifting away into some evil that you, if you knew who she was, would give your life to avert from your honor if not from her innocent head! To see you cold, indifferent, absorbed in other things, while she, who would have perished any day for your happiness, was losing her life perhaps in the clutches of those horrible villains! Do not ask me to tell you what I have suffered since she went; I can never tell you,-- innocent, tender, noble- hearted creature that she was."
"Was?" His hand clutched his heart as if it had been seized by a deathly spasm. "Why do you say was?"
"Because I have just come from the Morgue where she lies dead."
"No, no," came in a low shriek from his lips, "that is not she; that is another woman, like her perhaps, but not she."
"Would to God you were right; but the long golden braids! Such hair as hers I never saw on anyone before."
"Mr. Blake is right," I broke in, for I could not endure this scene any longer. "The woman taken out of the East river to-day has been both seen and spoken to by him and that not long since. He should know if it is his wife."
"And isn't it?"
"No, a thousand times no; the girl was a perfect stranger."
The assurance seemed to lift a leaden weight from her heart. "O thank God," she murmured dropping with an irresistible impulse on her knees. Then with a sudden return of her old tremble, "But I was only to reveal her secret in case of her death! What have I done, O what have I done! Her only hope lay in my faithfulness."
Mr. Blake leaning heavily on the table before him, looked in her face. "Mrs. Daniels," said he, "I love my wife; her hope now lies in me."
She leaped to her feet with a joyous bound. "You love her? O thank God!" she again reiterated but this time in a low murmur to her self. "Thank God!" and weeping with unrestrained joy, she drew back into a corner.
Of course after that, all that remained for us to do was to lay our heads together and consult as to the best method of renewing our search after the unhappy girl, now rendered of double interest to us by the facts with which we had just been made acquainted. That she had been forced away from the roof that sheltered her by the power of her father and brother was of course no longer open to doubt. To discover them, therefore, meant to recover her. Do you wonder, then, that from the moment we left Mr. Blake's house, the capture of that brace of thieves became the leading purpose of our two lives?