A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green - HTML preview
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4. Thompson's Story
"An affair of some mystery," remarked Mr. Gryce, as we halted at the corner to take a final look at the house and its environs. "Why a girl should choose such a method of descent as that,"--and he pointed to the ladder down which we believed her to have come-- "to leave a house of which she had been an inmate for a year, baffles me, I can tell you. If it were not for those marks of blood which betray her track, I would be disinclined to believe any such hare-brained adventure was ever perpetrated by a woman. As it is, what would'nt I give for her photograph. Black hair, black eyes, white face and thin figure! what a description whereby to find a girl in this great city of New York. Ah!" said he with sudden gratification, "here is Mr. Blake again; his appointment must have been a failure. Let us see if his description will be any more definite." And hurrying towards the advancing figure of that gentleman, he put some questions to him.
Instantly Mr. Blake stopped, looked at him blankly for a moment, then replied in a tone sufficiently loud for me to hear:
"I am sorry, sir, if my description could have done you any good, but I have not the remotest idea how the girl looked. I did not know till this morning even, that there was such a person in my house as a sewing-woman. I leave all such domestic concerns entirely with Mrs. Daniels."
Mr. Gryce again bowed low and ventured another question. The answer came as before, distinctly to my ears.
"O, I may have seen her, I can not say about that; I very often run across the servants in the hall; but whether she is tall or short, light or dark, pretty or ugly, I know no more than you do, sir." Then with a dignified nod calculated to abash a man in Mr. Gryce's position, inquired,
"Is that all?"
It did not seem to be, Mr. Gryce put another question.
Mr. Blake give him a surprised stare before replying, then courteously remarked, "I do not concern myself with servants after they have left me. Henry was an excellent valet, but a trifle domineering, something which I never allow in any one who approaches me. I dismissed him and that was the end of it, I know nothing of what has become of him."
Mr. Gryce bowed and drew back, and Mr. Blake, with the haughty step peculiar to him, passed by him and reentered his house.
"I should not like to get into that man's clutches," said I, as my superior rejoined me; "he has a way of making one appear so small."
Mr. Gryce shot an askance look at his shadow gloomily following him along the pavement. "Yet it may happen that you will have to run the risk of that very experience."
I glanced towards him in amazement.
"If the girl does not turn up of her own accord, or if we do not succeed in getting some trace of her movements, I shall be tempted to place you where you can study into the ways of this gentleman's household. If the affair is a mystery, it has its centre in that house."
I stared at Mr. Gryce good and roundly. "You have come across something which I have missed," observed I, "or you could not speak so positively."
"I have come across nothing that was not in plain sight of any body who had eyes to see it," he returned shortly.
I shook my head slightly mortified.
"You had it all before you," continued he, "and if you were not able to pick up sufficient facts on which to base a conclusion, you mustn't blame me for it."
More nettled than I would be willing to confess, I walked back with him to the station, saying nothing then, but inwardly determined to reestablish my reputation with Mr. Gryce before the affair was over. Accordingly hunting up the man who had patrolled the district the night before, I inquired if he had seen any one go in or out of the side gate of Mr. Blake's house on ----- street, between the hours of eleven and one.
"No," said he, "but I heard Thompson tell a curious story this morning about some one he had seen."
"What was it?"
"He said he was passing that way last night about twelve o'clock when he remarked standing under the lamp on the corner of Second Avenue, a group consisting of two men and a woman, who no sooner beheld him than they separated, the men drawing back into Second Avenue and the woman coming hastily towards him. Not understanding the move, he stood waiting her approach, when instead of advancing to where he was, she paused at the gate of Mr. Blake's house and lifted her hand as if to open it, when with a wild and terrified gesture she started back, covering her face with her hands, and before he knew it, had actually fled in the direction from which she had come. A little startled, Thompson advanced and looked through the gate before him to see if possible what had alarmed her, when to his great surprise, he beheld the pale face of the master of the house, Mr. Blake himself, looking through the bars from the other side of the gate. He in his turn started back and before he could recover himself, Mr. Blake had disappeared. He says he tried the gate after that, but found it locked."
"Thompson tells you this story, does he?"
"Well," said I, "it's a pretty wild kind of a tale, and all I have got to say is, that neither you nor Thompson had better go blabbing it around too much. Mum is the word where such men as Mr. Blake are concerned." And I departed to hunt up Thompson.
But he had nothing to add to his statement, except that the girl appeared to be tall and thin, and was closely wrapped about in a shawl. My next move was to make such inquiries as I could with safety into the private concerns of Mr. Blake and his family, and discovered--well, such facts as these:
That Mr. Blake was a man who if he paid but little attention to domestic affairs was yet rarely seen out of his own house, except upon occasions of great political importance, when he was always to be found on the platform at meetings of his constituents. Though to the ordinary observer a man eminently calculated, from his good looks, fine position, and solid wealth to enjoy society, he not only manifested a distaste for it, but even went so far as to refuse to participate in the social dinners of his most intimate friends; the only table to which he would sit down being that of some public caterer, where he was sure of finding none but his political associates assembled.
To all appearance he wished to avoid the ladies, a theory borne out by the fact that never, even in church, on the street, or at any place of amusement, was he observed with one at his side. This fact in a man, young--he was not far from thirty-five at that time--rich, and marriageable, would, however, have been more noteworthy than it was if he had not been known to belong to a family eminent for their eccentricities. Not a man of all his race but had possessed some marked peculiarity. His father, bibliomaniac though he was, would never treat a man or a woman with decency, who mentioned Shakspeare to him, nor would he acknowledge to his dying day any excellence in that divine poet beyond a happy way of putting words together. Mr. Blake's uncle hated all members of the legal profession, and as for his grandfather--but you have heard what a mania of dislike he had against that simple article of diet, fish; now his friends were obliged to omit it from their bills of fare whenever they expected him to dinner. If then Mr. Blake chose to have any pet antipathy--as for women for instance--he surely had precedent enough in his own family to back him. However, it was whispered in my ear by one gentleman, a former political colleague of his who had been with him in Washington, that he was known at one time to show considerable attention to Miss Evelyn Blake, that cousin of his who has since made such a brilliant thing of it by marrying, and straightway losing by death, a wealthy old scapegrace of a French noble, the Count De Mirac. But that was not a matter to be talked about, Madame the Countess being free at present and in New York, though to all appearance upon anything but pleasant terms with her quondam admirer.
Remembering the picture I had seen in Mr. Blake's private apartment, I asked if this lady was a brunette, and being told she was, and of the most pronounced type, felt for the moment I had stumbled upon something in the shape of a clue; but upon resorting to Mr. Gryce with my information, he shook his head with a short laugh and told me I would have to dive deeper than that if I wanted to fish up the truth lying at the bottom of this well.