A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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2. A Few Points
Mrs. Daniels, for that was her name, took me at once up stairs to the third story back room. As we passed through the halls, I could not but notice how rich, though sombre were the old fashioned walls and heavily frescoed ceilings, so different in style and coloring from what we see now-a-days in our secret penetrations into Fifth Avenue mansions. Many as are the wealthy houses I have been called upon to enter in the line of my profession, I had never crossed the threshold of such an one as this before, and impervious as I am to any foolish sentimentalities, I felt a certain degree of awe at the thought of invading with police investigation, this home of ancient Knicker-bocker respectability. But once in the room of the missing girl, every consideration fled save that of professional pride and curiosity. For almost at first blush, I saw that whether Mrs. Daniels was correct or not in her surmises as to the manner of the girl's disappearance, the fact that she had disappeared was likely to prove an affair of some importance. For, let me state the facts in the order in which I noticed them. The first thing that impressed me was, that whatever Mrs. Daniels called her, this was no sewing girl's room into which I now stepped. Plain as was the furniture in comparison with the elaborate richness of the walls and ceiling, there were still scattered through the room, which was large even for a thirty foot house, articles of sufficient elegance to make the supposition that it was the abode of an ordinary seamstress open to suspicion, if no more.
Mrs. Daniels, seeing my look of surprise, hastened to provide some explanation. "It is the room which has always been devoted to sewing," said she; "and when Emily came, I thought it would be easier to put up a bed here than to send her upstairs. She was a very nice girl and disarranged nothing."
I glanced around on the writing-case lying open on a small table in the centre of the room, on the vase half full of partly withered roses, on the mantel-piece, the Shakespeare, and Macaulay's History lying on the stand at my right, thought my own thoughts, but said nothing.
"You found the door locked this morning?" asked I, after a moment's scrutiny of the room in which three facts had become manifest: first, that the girl had not occupied the bed the night before; second, that there had been some sort of struggle or surprise,--one of the curtains being violently torn as if grasped by an agitated hand, to say nothing of a chair lying upset on the floor with one of its legs broken; third, that the departure, strange as it may seem, had been by the window.
"Yes," returned she; "but there is a passageway leading from my room to hers and it was by that means we entered. There was a chair placed against the door on this side but we easily pushed it away."
I stepped to the window and looked out. Ah, it would not be so very difficult for a man to gain the street from that spot in a dark night, for the roof of the newly- erected extension was almost on a level with the window."
"Well," said she anxiously, "couldn't she have been got out that way?"
"More difficult things have been done," said I; and was about to step out upon the roof when I bethought to inquire of Mrs. Daniels if any of the girl's clothing was missing.
She immediately flew to the closets and thence to bureau drawers which she turned hastily over. "No, nothing is missing but a hat and cloak and--" She paused confusedly.
"And what?" I asked.
"Nothing," returned she, hurriedly closing the bureau drawer; "only some little knick-knacks."
"Knick-knacks!" quoth I. "If she stopped for knick-knacks, she couldn't have gone in any very unwilling frame of mind." And somewhat disgusted, I was about to throw up the whole affair and leave the room. But the indecision in Mrs. Daniels' own face deterred me.
"I don't understand it," murmured she, drawing her hand across her eyes. "I don't understand it. But," she went on with even an increase in her old tone of heart- felt conviction, "no matter whether we understand it or not, the case is serious; I tell you so, and she must be found."
I resolved to know the nature of that must, used as few women in her position would use it even under circumstances to all appearance more aggravated than these.
Why, must?" said I. "If the girl went of her own accord as some things seem to show, why should you, no relative as you acknowledge take the matter so to heart as to insist she shall be followed and brought back?"
She turned away, uneasily taking up and putting down some little matters on the table before her. "Is it not enough that I promise to pay for all expenses which a search will occasion, without my being forced to declare just why I should be willing to do so? Am I bound to tell you I love the girl? that I believe she has been taken away by foul means, and that to her great suffering and distress? that being fond of her and believing this, I am conscientious enough to put every means I possess at the command of those who will recover her?"
I was not satisfied with this but on that very account felt my enthusiasm revive. "But Mr. Blake? Surely he is the one to take this interest if anybody."
"I have before said," returned she, paling however as she spoke, "that Mr. Blake takes very little interest in his servants."
I cast another glance about the room. "How long have you been in this house?" asked I.
"I was in the service of Mr. Blake's father and he died a year ago." "Since when you have remained with Mr. Blake himself?"
"And this Emily, when did she come here?"
"Oh it must be eleven months or so ago."
"An Irish girl?"
"O no, American. She is not a common person, sir,"
"What do you mean by that? That she was educated, lady-like, pretty, or what?"
"I don't know what to say. She was educated, yes, but not as you would call a lady educated. Yet she knew a great many things the rest of us did'nt. She liked to read, you see, and--O sir, ask the girls about her, I never know what to say when I am questioned."
I scanned the gray-haired woman still more intently than I had yet done. Was she the weak common-place creature she seemed, or had she really some cause other than appeared for these her numerous breaks and hesitations.
"Where did you get this girl?" I inquired. "Where did she live before coming here?"
"I cannot say, I never asked her to talk about herself. She came to me for work and I liked her and took her without recommendation."
"And she has served you well?"
"Been out much? Had any visitors?"
She shook her head. "Never went out and never had any visitors."
I own I was nonplussed, "Well," said I, "no more of this at present. I must first find out if she left this house alone or in company with others." And without further parley I stepped out upon the roof of the extension.
As I did so I debated with myself whether the case warranted me or not in sending for Mr. Gryce. As yet there was nothing to show that the girl had come to any harm. A mere elopement with or without a lover to help her, was not such a serious matter that the whole police force need be stirred up on the subject; and if the woman had money, as she said, ready to give the man who should discover the whereabouts of this girl, why need that money be divided up any more than was necessary. Yet Gryce was not one to be dallied with. He had said, send for him if the affair seemed to call for his judgment, and somehow the affair did promise to be a trifle complicated. I was yet undetermined when I reached the edge of the roof.
It was a dizzy descent, but once made, escape from the yard beneath would be easy. A man could take that road without difficulty; but a woman! Baffled at the idea I turned thoughtfully back, when I beheld something on the roof before me that caused me to pause and ask myself if this was going to turn out to be a tragedy after all. It was a drop of congealed blood. Further on towards the window was another, and yes, further still, another and another. I even found one upon the very window ledge itself. Bounding into the room, I searched the carpet for further traces. It was the worst one in the world to find anything upon of the nature of which I was seeking, being a confused pattern of mingled drab and red, and in my difficulty I had to stoop very low.
"What are you looking for?" cried Mrs. Daniels.
I pointed to the drop on the window sill. "Do you see that?" I asked.
She uttered an exclamation and bent nearer. "Blood!" cried she, and stood staring, with rapidly paling cheeks and trembling form. "They have killed her and he will never--"
As she did not finish I looked up.
"Do you think it was her blood?" she whispered in a horrified tone.
"There is every reason to believe so," rejoined I, pointing to a spot where I had at last discovered not only one crimson drop but many, scattered over the scarcely redder roses under my feet.
"Ah, it is worse than I thought," murmured she. "What are you going to do? What can we do?
"I am going to send for another detective," returned I; and stepping to the window I telegraphed at once to the man Harris to go for Mr. Gryce.
"The one we saw at the Station?" I bowed assent.
Her face lost something of its drawn expression. "O I am glad; He will do something."
Subduing my indignation at this back thrust, I employed my time in taking note of such details as had escaped my previous attention. They were not many. The open writing-desk--in which, however I found no letters or written documents of any kind, only a few sheets of paper, with pen, ink, etc.; the brush and hairpins scattered on the bureau as though the girl had been interrupted while arranging her hair (if she had been interrupted); and the absence of any great pile of work such as one would expect to see in a room set apart for sewing, were all I could discover. Not much to help us, in case this was to prove an affair of importance as I began to suspect.
With Mr. Gryce's arrival, however, things soon assumed a better shape. He came to the basement door, was ushered in by your humble servant, had the whole matter as far as I had investigated it, at his finger-ends in a moment, and was up- stairs and in that room before I, who am called the quickest man in the force as you all know, could have time to determine just what difference his presence would make to me in a pecuniary way in event of Mrs. Daniels' promises amounting to anything. He did not remain there long, but when he came down I saw that his interest was in no wise lessened.
"What kind of a looking girl was this?" he asked, hurrying up to Mrs. Daniels who had withdrawn into a recess in the lower hall while all this was going on. "Describe her to me, hair, eyes, complexion, etc.; you know."
"I--I--don't know as I can," she stammered reluctantly, turning very red in the face. "I am a poor one for noticing. I will call one of the girls, I--" She was gone before we realized she had not finished her sentence.
"Humph!" broke from Mr. Gryce's lips as he thoughtfully took down a vase that stood on a bracket near by and looked into it.
I did not venture a word.
When Mrs. Daniels came back she had with her a trim-looking girl of prepossessing appearance.
"This is Fanny," said she; "she knows Emily well, being in the habit of waiting on her at table; she will tell you what you want to hear. I have explained to her," she went on, nodding towards Mr. Gryce with a composure such as she had not before displayed; "that you are looking for your niece who ran away from home some time ago to go into some sort of service."
"Certainly, ma'am," quoth that gentleman, bowing with mock admiration to the gas-fixture. Then carelessly shifting his glance to the cleaning-cloth which Fanny held rather conspicuously in her hand, he repeated the question he had already put to Mrs. Daniels.
The girl, tossing her head just a trifle, at once replied:
"O she was good-looking enough, if that is what you mean, for them as likes a girl with cheeks as white as this cloth was afore I rubbed the spoons with it. As for her eyes, they was blacker than her hair, which was the Blackest I ever see. She had no flesh at all, and as for her figure--" Fanny glanced down on her own well developed person, and gave a shrug inexpressibly suggestive.
"Is this description true?" Mr. Gryce asked, seemingly of Mrs. Daniels, though his gaze rested with curious intentness on the girl's head which was covered with a little cap.
"Sufficiently so," returned Mrs. Daniels in a very low tone, however. Then with a sudden display of energy, "Emily's figure is not what you would call plump. I have seen her--" She broke off as if a little startled at herself and motioned Fanny to go.
"Wait a moment," interposed Mr. Gryce in his soft way. "You said the girl's hair and eyes were dark; were they darker than yours?"
"O, yes sir;" replied the girl simpering, as she settled the ribbons on her cap. "Let me see your hair."
She took off her cap with a smile.
"Ha, very pretty, very pretty. And the other girls? You have other girls I suppose?"
"Two, sir;" returned Mrs. Daniels.
"How about their complexions? Are they lighter too than Emily's?"
"Yes, sir; about like Fanny's."
Mr. Gryce spread his hand over his breast in a way that assured me of his satisfaction, and allowed the girl to go.
"We will now proceed to the yard," said he. But at that moment the door of the front room opened and a gentleman stepped leisurely into the hall, whom at first glance I recognized as the master of the house. He was dressed for the street and had his hat in his hand. At the sight we all stood silent, Mrs. Daniels flushing up to the roots of her gray hair.
Mr. Blake is an elegant-looking man as you perhaps know; proud, reserved, and a trifle sombre. As he turned to come towards us, the light shining through the windows at our right, fell full upon his face, revealing such a self-absorbed and melancholy expression, I involuntarily drew back as if I had unwittingly intruded upon a great man's privacy. Mr. Gryce on the contrary stepped forward.
"Mr. Blake, I believe," said he, bowing in that deferential way he knows so well how to assume.
The gentleman, startled as it evidently seemed from a reverie, looked hastily up. Meeting Mr. Gryce's bland smile, he returned the bow, but haughtily, and as it appeared in an abstracted way.
"Allow me to introduce myself," proceeded my superior. "I am Mr. Gryce from the detective bureau. We were notified this morning that a girl in your employ had disappeared from your house last night in a somewhat strange and unusual way, and I just stepped over with my man here, to see if the matter is of sufficient importance to inquire into. With many apoligies for the intrusion, I stand obedient to your orders."
With a frown expressive of annoyance, Mr. Blake glanced around and detecting Mrs. Daniels, said: "Did you consider the affair so serious as that?"
She nodded, seeming to find it difficult to speak.
He remained looking at her with an expression of some doubt. "I can hardly think," said he, "such extreme measures were necessary; the girl will doubtless come back, or if not--" His shoulders gave a slight shrug and he took out his gloves.
"The difficulty seems to be," quoth Mr. Gryce eyeing those gloves with his most intent and concentrated look, "that the girl did not go alone, but was helped away, or forced away, by parties who had previously broken into your house."
"That is a strange circumstance," remarked Mr. Blake, but still without any appearance of interest, "and if you are sure of what you say, demands, perhaps, some inquiry. I would not wish to put anything in the way of justice succoring the injured. But--" again he gave that slight shrug of the shoulders, indicative of doubt, if not indifference.
Mrs. Daniels trembled, and took a step forward. I thought she was going to speak, but instead of that she drew back again in her strange hesitating way.
Mr. Gryce did not seem to notice.
"Perhaps sir," said he, "if you will step upstairs with me to the room occupied by this girl, I may be able to show you certain evidences which will convince you that our errand here is not one of presumption."
"I am ready to concede that without troubling myself with proof," observed the master of the house with the faintest show of asperity. "Yet if there is anything to see of a startling nature, perhaps I had best yield to your wishes. Whereabouts in the house is this girl's room, Mrs. Daniels?"
"It is--I gave her the third story back, Mr. Blake;" replied that woman, nervously eyeing his face. "It was large and light for sewing, and she was so nice--"
He impatiently waved his hand on which he had by this time fitted his glove to a nicety, as if these details were an unnecessary bore to him, and motioned her to show the way. Instantly a new feeling appeared to seize her, that of alarm.
"I hardly think you need trouble Mr. Blake to go up-stairs," she murmured, turning towards Mr. Gryce. "I am sure when you tell him the Curtains were torn, and the chair upset, the window open and--"
But Mr. Gryce was already on the stairs with Mr. Blake, whom this small opposition seemed to have at once determined.
"O my God!" she murmured to herself, "who could have foreseen this." And ignoring my presence with all the egotism of extreme agitation, she hurried past me to the room above, where I speedily joined her.