THE CIRCULAR STUDY
BY ANNA KATHARINE GREEN
DOUBLEDAY, PAGE & COMPANY GARDEN CITY NEW YORK 1914
BOOK I.—A STRANGE CRIME.
III.—The Mute Servitor
IV.—A New Experience for Mr. Gryce
V.—Five Small Spangles
VI.—Suggestions From an Old Friend
VIII.—In the Round of the Staircase
IX.—High and Low
BOOK II.—REMEMBER EVELYN.
I.—The Secret of the Cadwaladers
V.—Why the Iron Slide Remained Stationary
A STRANGE CRIME
Mr. Gryce was melancholy. He had attained that period in life when the spirits flag and enthusiasm needs a constant spur, and of late there had been a lack of special excitement, and he felt dull and superannuated. He was even contemplating resigning his position on the force and retiring to the little farm he had bought for himself in Westchester; and this in itself did not tend to cheerfulness, for he was one to whom action was a necessity and the exercise of his mental faculties more inspiring than any possible advantage which might accrue to him from their use.
But he was not destined to carry out this impulse yet. For just at the height of his secret dissatisfaction there came a telephone message to Headquarters which roused the old man to something like his former vigor and gave to the close of this gray fall day an interest he had not expected to feel again in this or any other kind of day. It was sent from Carter's well-known drug store, and was to the effect that a lady had just sent a boy in from the street to say that a strange crime had been committed in ——'s mansion round the corner. The boy did not know the lady, and was shy about showing the money she had given him, but that he had money was very evident, also, that he was frightened enough for his story to be true. If the police wished to communicate with him, he could be found at Carter's, where he would be detained till an order for his release should be received.
A strange crime! That word "strange" struck Mr. Gryce, and made him forget his years in wondering what it meant. Meanwhile the men about him exchanged remarks upon the house brought thus unexpectedly to their notice. As it was one of the few remaining landmarks of the preceding century, and had been made conspicuous moreover by the shops, club-houses, and restaurants pressing against it on either side, it had been a marked spot for years even to those who knew nothing of its history or traditions.
And now a crime had taken place in it! Mr. Gryce, in whose ears that word "strange" rang with quiet insistence, had but to catch the eye of the inspector in charge to receive an order to investigate the affair. He started at once, and proceeded first to the drug store. There he found the boy, whom he took along with him to the house indicated in the message. On the way he made him talk, but there was nothing the poor waif could add to the story already sent over the telephone. He persisted in saying that a lady (he did not say woman) had come up to him while he was looking at some toys in a window, and, giving him a piece of money, had drawn him along the street as far as the drug store. Here she showed him another coin, promising to add it to the one he had already pocketed if he would run in to the telephone clerk with a message for the police. He wanted the money, and when he grabbed at it she said that all he had to do was to tell the clerk that a strange crime had been committed in the old house on —— Street. This scared him, and he was sliding off, when she caught him again and shook him until his wits came back, after which he ran into the store and delivered the message.
There was candor in the boy's tone, and Mr. Gryce was disposed to believe him; but when he was asked to describe the lady, he showed that his powers of observation were no better than those of most of his class. All he could say was that she was a stunner, and wore shiny clothes and jewels, and Mr. Gryce, recognizing the lad's limitations at the very moment he found himself in view of the house he was making for, ceased to question him, and directed all his attention to the building he was approaching.
Nothing in the exterior bespoke crime or even disturbance. A shut door, a clean stoop, heavily curtained windows (some of which were further shielded by closely drawn shades) were eloquent of inner quiet and domestic respectability, while its calm front of brick, with brownstone trimmings, offered a pleasing contrast to the adjoining buildings jutting out on either side, alive with signs and humming with business.
"Some mistake," muttered Gryce to himself, as the perfect calm reigning over the whole establishment struck him anew. But before he had decided that he had been made the victim of a hoax, a movement took place in the area under the stoop, and an officer stepped out, with a countenance expressive of sufficient perplexity for Mr. Gryce to motion him back with the hurried inquiry: "Anything wrong? Any blood shed? All seems quiet here."
The officer, recognizing the old detective, touched his hat. "Can't get in," said he. "Have rung all the bells. Would think the house empty if I had not seen something like a stir in one of the windows overhead. Shall I try to make my way into the rear yard through one of the lower windows of Knapp & Co.'s store, next door?"
"Yes, and take this boy with you. Lock him up in some one of their offices, and then break your way into this house by some means. It ought to be easy enough from the back yard."
The officer nodded, took the boy by the arm, and in a trice had disappeared with him into the adjoining store. Mr. Gryce remained in the area, where he was presently besieged by a crowd of passers-by, eager to add their curiosity to the trouble they had so quickly scented. The opening of the door from the inside speedily put an end to importunities for which he had as yet no reply, and he was enabled to slip within, where he found himself in a place of almost absolute quiet. Before him lay a basement hall leading to a kitchen, which, even at that moment, he noticed to be in trimmer condition than is usual where much housework is done, but he saw nothing that bespoke tragedy, or even a break in the ordinary routine of life as observed in houses of like size and pretension.
Satisfied that what he sought was not to be found here, he followed the officer upstairs. As they emerged upon the parlor floor, the latter dropped the following information:
"Mr. Raffner of the firm next door says that the man who lives here is an odd sort of person whom nobody knows; a bookworm, I think they call him. He has occupied the house six months, yet they have never seen any one about the premise but himself and a strange old servant as peculiar and uncommunicative as his master."
"I know," muttered Mr. Gryce. He did know, everybody knew, that this house, once the seat of one of New York's most aristocratic families, was inhabited at present by a Mr. Adams, noted alike for his more than common personal attractions, his wealth, and the uncongenial nature of his temperament, which precluded all association with his kind. It was this knowledge which had given zest to this investigation. To enter the house of such a man was an event in itself: to enter it on an errand of life and death—Well, it is under the inspiration of such opportunities that life is reawakened in old veins, especially when those veins connect the heart and brain of a sagacious, if octogenarian, detective.
The hall in which they now found themselves was wide, old-fashioned, and sparsely furnished in the ancient manner to be observed in such time-honored structures. Two doors led into this hall, both of which now stood open. Taking advantage of this fact, they entered the nearest, which was nearly opposite the top of the staircase they had just ascended, and found themselves in a room barren as a doctor's outer office. There was nothing here worth their attention, and they would have left the place as unceremoniously as they had entered it if they had not caught glimpses of richness which promised an interior of uncommon elegance, behind the half-drawn folds of a portiere at the further end of the room.
Advancing through the doorway thus indicated, they took one look about them and stood appalled. Nothing in their experience (and they had both experienced much) had prepared them for the thrilling, the solemn nature of what they were here called upon to contemplate.
Shall I attempt its description?
A room small and of circular shape, hung with strange tapestries relieved here and there by priceless curios, and lit, although it was still daylight, by a jet of rose-colored light concentrated, not on the rows and rows of books around the lower portion of the room, or on the one great picture which at another time might have drawn the eye and held the attention, but on the upturned face of a man lying on a bearskin rug with a dagger in his heart and on his breast a cross whose golden lines, sharply outlined against his long, dark, swathing garment, gave him the appearance of a saint prepared in some holy place for burial, save that the dagger spoke of violent death, and his face of an anguish for which Mr. Gryce, notwithstanding his lifelong experience, found no name, so little did it answer to a sensation of fear, pain, or surprise, or any of the emotions usually visible on the countenances of such as have fallen under the unexpected stroke of an assassin.
A moment of indecision, of awe even, elapsed before Mr. Gryce recovered himself. The dim light, the awesome silence, the unexpected surroundings recalling a romantic age, the motionless figure of him who so lately had been the master of the house, lying outstretched as for the tomb, with the sacred symbol on his breast offering such violent contradiction to the earthly passion which had driven the dagger home, were enough to move even the tried spirit of this old officer of the law and confuse a mind which, in the years of his long connection with the force, had had many serious problems to work upon, but never one just like this.
It was only for a moment, though. Before the man behind him had given utterance to his own bewilderment and surprise, Mr. Gryce had passed in and taken his stand by the prostrate figure.
That it was that of a man who had long since ceased to breathe he could not for a moment doubt; yet his first act was to make sure of the fact by laying his hand on the pulse and examining the eyes, whose expression of reproach was such that he had to call up all his professional sangfroid to meet them.
He found the body still warm, but dead beyond all question, and, once convinced of this, he forbore to draw the dagger from the wound, though he did not fail to give it the most careful attention before turning his eyes elsewhere. It was no ordinary weapon. It was a curio from some oriental shop. This in itself seemed to point to suicide, but the direction in which the blade had entered the body and the position of the wound were not such as would be looked for in a case of self-murder.
The other clews were few. Though the scene had been one of bloodshed and death, the undoubted result of a sudden and fierce attack, there were no signs of struggle to be found in the well-ordered apartment. Beyond a few rose leaves scattered on the floor, the room was a scene of peace and quiet luxury. Even the large table which occupied the centre of the room and near which the master of the house had been standing when struck gave no token of the tragedy which had been enacted at its side. That is, not at first glance; for though its large top was covered with articles of use and ornament, they all stood undisturbed and presumably in place, as if the shock which had laid their owner low had failed to be communicated to his belongings.
The contents of the table were various. Only a man of complex tastes and attainments could have collected and arranged in one small compass pipes, pens, portraits, weights, measures, Roman lamps, Venetian glass, rare porcelains, medals, rough metal work, manuscript, a scroll of music, a pot of growing flowers, and—and—(this seemed oddest of all) a row of electric buttons, which Mr. Gryce no sooner touched than the light which had been burning redly in the cage of fretted ironwork overhead changed in a twinkling to a greenish glare, filling the room with such ghastly tints that Mr. Gryce sought in haste another button, and, pressing it, was glad to see a mild white radiance take the place of the sickly hue which had added its own horror to the already solemn terrors of the spot.
"Childish tricks for a man of his age and position," ruminated Mr. Gryce; but after catching another glimpse of the face lying upturned at his feet he was conscious of a doubt as to whether the owner of that countenance could have possessed an instinct which was in any wise childish, so strong and purposeful were his sharply cut features. Indeed, the face was one to make an impression under any circumstances. In the present instance, and with such an expression stamped upon it, it exerted a fascination which disturbed the current of the detective's thoughts whenever by any chance he allowed it to get between him and his duty. To attribute folly to a man with such a mouth and such a chin was to own one's self a poor judge of human nature. Therefore, the lamp overhead, with its electric connection and changing slides, had a meaning which at present could be sought for only in the evidences of scientific research observable in the books and apparatus everywhere surrounding him.
Letting the white light burn on, Mr. Gryce, by a characteristic effort, shifted his attention to the walls, covered, as I have said, with tapestries and curios. There was nothing on them calculated to aid him in his research into the secret of this crime, unless—yes, there was something, a bent-down nail, wrenched from its place, the nail on which the cross had hung which now lay upon the dead man's heart. The cord by which it had been suspended still clung to the cross and mingled its red threads with that other scarlet thread which had gone to meet it from the victim's wounded breast. Who had torn down that cross? Not the victim himself. With such a wound, any such movement would have been impossible. Besides, the nail and the empty place on the wall were as far removed from where he lay as was possible in the somewhat circumscribed area of this circular apartment. Another's hand, then, had pulled down this symbol of peace and pardon, and placed it where the dying man's fleeting breath would play across it, a peculiar exhibition of religious hope or mad remorse, to the significance of which Mr. Gryce could not devote more than a passing thought, so golden were the moments in which he found himself alone upon this scene of crime.
Behind the table and half-way up the wall was a picture, the only large picture in the room. It was the portrait of a young girl of an extremely interesting and pathetic beauty. From her garb and the arrangement of her hair, it had evidently been painted about the end of our civil war. In it was to be observed the same haunting quality of intellectual charm visible in the man lying prone upon the floor, and though she was fair and he dark, there was sufficient likeness between the two to argue some sort of relationship between them. Below this picture were fastened a sword, a pair of epaulettes, and a medal such as was awarded for valor in the civil war.
"Mementoes which may help us in our task," mused the detective.
Passing on, he came unexpectedly upon a narrow curtain, so dark of hue and so akin in pattern to the draperies on the adjoining walls that it had up to this time escaped his attention. It was not that of a window, for such windows as were to be seen in this unique apartment were high upon the wall, indeed, almost under the ceiling. It must, therefore, drape the opening into still another communicating room. And such he found to be the case. Pushing this curtain aside, he entered a narrow closet containing a bed, a dresser, and a small table. The bed was the narrow cot of a bachelor, and the dresser that of a man of luxurious tastes and the utmost nicety of habit. Both the bed and dresser were in perfect order, save for a silver-backed comb, which had been taken from the latter, and which he presently found lying on the floor at the other end of the room. This and the presence of a pearl-handled parasol on a small stand near the door proclaimed that a woman had been there within a short space of time. The identity of this woman was soon established in his eyes by a small but unmistakable token connecting her with the one who had been the means of sending in the alarm to the police. The token of which I speak was a little black spangle, called by milliners and mantua-makers a sequin, which lay on the threshold separating this room from the study; and as Mr. Gryce, attracted by its sparkle, stooped to examine it, his eye caught sight of a similar one on the floor beyond, and of still another a few steps farther on. The last one lay close to the large centre-table before which he had just been standing.
The dainty trail formed by these bright sparkling drops seemed to affect him oddly. He knew, minute observer that he was, that in the manufacture of this garniture the spangles are strung on a thread which, if once broken, allows them to drop away one by one, till you can almost follow a woman so arrayed by the sequins that fall from her. Perhaps it was the delicate nature of the clew thus offered that pleased him, perhaps it was a recognition of the irony of fate in thus making a trap for unwary mortals out of their vanities. Whatever it was, the smile with which he turned his eye upon the table toward which he had thus been led was very eloquent. But before examining this article of furniture more closely, he attempted to find out where the thread had become loosened which had let the spangles fall. Had it caught on any projection in doorway or furniture? He saw none. All the chairs were cushioned and—But wait! there was the cross! That had a fretwork of gold at its base. Might not this filagree have caught in her dress as she was tearing down the cross from the wall and so have started the thread which had given him this exquisite clew?
Hastening to the spot where the cross had hung, he searched the floor at his feet, but found nothing to confirm his conjecture until he had reached the rug on which the prostrate man lay. There, amid the long hairs of the bearskin, he came upon one other spangle, and knew that the woman in the shiny clothes had stooped there before him.
Satisfied on this point, he returned to the table, and this time subjected it to a thorough and minute examination. That the result was not entirely unsatisfactory was evident from the smile with which he eyed his finger after having drawn it across a certain spot near the inkstand, and also from the care with which he lifted that inkstand and replaced it in precisely the same spot from which he had taken it up. Had he expected to find something concealed under it? Who can tell? A detective's face seldom yields up its secrets.
He was musing quite intently before this table when a quick step behind him made him turn. Styles, the officer, having now been over the house, had returned, and was standing before him in the attitude of one who has something to say.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Gryce, with a quick movement in his direction.
For answer the officer pointed to the staircase visible through the antechamber door.
"Go up!" was indicated by his gesture.
Mr. Gryce demurred, casting a glance around the room, which at that moment interested him so deeply. At this the man showed some excitement, and, breaking silence, said:
"Come! I have lighted on the guilty party. He is in a room upstairs."
"He?" Mr. Gryce was evidently surprised at the pronoun.
"Yes; there can be no doubt about it. When you see him—but what is that? Is he coming down? I'm sure there's nobody else in the house. Don't you hear footsteps, sir?"
Mr. Gryce nodded. Some one was certainly descending the stairs.
"Let us retreat," suggested Styles. "Not because the man is dangerous, but because it is very necessary you should see him before he sees you. He's a very strange-acting man, sir; and if he comes in here, will be sure to do something to incriminate himself. Where can we hide?"
Mr. Gryce remembered the little room he had just left, and drew the officer toward it. Once installed inside, he let the curtain drop till only a small loophole remained. The steps, which had been gradually growing louder, kept advancing; and presently they could hear the intruder's breathing, which was both quick and labored.
"Does he know that any one has entered the house? Did he see you when you came upon him upstairs?" whispered Mr. Gryce into the ear of the man beside him.
Styles shook his head, and pointed eagerly toward the opposite door. The man for whose appearance they waited had just lifted the portiere and in another moment stood in full view just inside the threshold.
Mr. Gryce and his attendant colleague both stared. Was this the murderer? This pale, lean servitor, with a tray in his hand on which rested a single glass of water?
Mr. Gryce was so astonished that he looked at Styles for explanation. But that officer, hiding his own surprise, for he had not expected this peaceful figure, urged him in a whisper to have patience, and both, turning toward the man again, beheld him advance, stop, cast one look at the figure lying on the floor and then let slip the glass with a low cry that at once changed to something like a howl.
"Look at him! Look at him!" urged Styles, in a hurried whisper. "Watch what he will do now. You will see a murderer at work."
And sure enough, in another instant this strange being, losing all semblance to his former self, entered upon a series of pantomimic actions which to the two men who watched him seemed both to explain and illustrate the crime which had just been enacted there.
With every appearance of passion, he stood contemplating the empty air before him, and then, with one hand held stretched out behind him in a peculiarly cramped position, he plunged with the other toward a table from which he made a feint of snatching something which he no sooner closed his hand upon than he gave a quick side-thrust, still at the empty air, which seemed to quiver in return, so vigorous was his action and so evident his intent.
The reaction following this thrust; the slow unclosing of his hand from an imaginary dagger; the tottering of his body backward; then the moment when with wide open eyes he seemed to contemplate in horror the result of his own deed;—these needed no explanation beyond what was given by his writhing features and trembling body. Gradually succumbing to the remorse or terror of his own crime, he sank lower and lower, until, though with that one arm still stretched out, he lay in an inert heap on the floor.
"It is what I saw him do upstairs," murmured Styles into the ear of the amazed detective. "He has evidently been driven insane by his own act."
Mr. Gryce made no answer. Here was a problem for the solution of which he found no precedent in all his past experience.
THE MUTE SERVITOR.
Meanwhile the man who, to all appearance, had just re-enacted before them the tragedy which had so lately taken place in this room, rose to his feet, and, with a dazed air as unlike his former violent expression as possible, stooped for the glass he had let fall, and was carrying it out when Mr. Gryce called to him:
"Wait, man! You needn't take that glass away. We first want to hear how your master comes to be lying here dead."
It was a demand calculated to startle any man. But this one showed himself totally unmoved by it, and was passing on when Styles laid a detaining hand on his shoulder.
"Stop!" said he. "What do you mean by sliding off like this? Don't you hear the gentleman speaking to you?"
This time the appeal told. The glass fell again from the man's hand, mingling its clink (for it struck the floor this time and broke) with the cry he gave—which was not exactly a cry either, but an odd sound between a moan and a shriek. He had caught sight of the men who were seeking to detain him, and his haggard look and cringing form showed that he realized at last the terrors of his position. Next minute he sought to escape, but Styles, gripping him more firmly, dragged him back to where Mr. Gryce stood beside the bearskin rug on which lay the form of his dead master.
Instantly, at the sight of this recumbent figure, another change took place in the entrapped butler. Joy—that most hellish of passions in the presence of violence and death—illumined his wandering eye and distorted his mouth; and, seeking no disguise for the satisfaction he felt, he uttered a low but thrilling laugh, which rang in unholy echo through the room.
Mr. Gryce, moved in spite of himself by an abhorrence which the irresponsible condition of this man seemed only to emphasize, waited till the last faint sounds of this diabolical mirth had died away in the high recesses of the space above. Then, fixing the glittering eye of this strange creature with his own, which, as we know, so seldom dwelt upon that of his fellow-beings, he sternly said:
"There now! Speak! Who killed this man? You were in the house with him, and should know."
The butler's lips opened and a string of strange gutturals poured forth, while with his one disengaged hand (for the other was held to his side by Styles) he touched his ears and his lips, and violently shook his head.
There was but one interpretation to be given to this. The man was deaf and dumb.
The shock of this discovery was too much for Styles. His hand fell from the other's arms, and the man, finding himself free, withdrew to his former place in the room, where he proceeded to enact again and with increased vivacity first the killing of and then the mourning for his master, which but a few moments before had made so suggestive an impression upon them. This done, he stood waiting, but this time with that gleam of infernal joy in the depths of his quick, restless eyes which made his very presence in this room of death seem a sacrilege and horror.
Styles could not stand it. "Can't you speak?" he shouted. "Can't you hear?"
The man only smiled, an evil and gloating smile, which Mr. Gryce thought it his duty to cut short.
"Take him away!" he cried. "Examine him carefully for blood marks. I am going up to the room where you saw him first. He is too nearly linked to this crime not to carry some trace of it away with him."
But for once even this time-tried detective found himself at fault. No marks were found on the old servant, nor could they discover in the rooms above any signs by which this one remaining occupant of the house could be directly associated with the crime which had taken place within it. Thereupon Mr. Gryce grew very thoughtful and entered upon another examination of the two rooms which to his mind held all the clews that would ever be given to this strange crime.
The result was meagre, and he was just losing himself again in contemplation of the upturned face, whose fixed mouth and haunting expression told such a story of suffering and determination, when there came from the dim recesses above his head a cry, which, forming itself into two words, rang down with startling clearness in this most unexpected of appeals:
Remember Evelyn! Who was Evelyn? And to whom did this voice belong, in a house which had already been ransacked in vain for other occupants? It seemed to come from the roof, and, sure enough, when Mr. Gryce looked up he saw, swinging in a cage strung up nearly to the top of one of the windows I have mentioned, an English starling, which, in seeming recognition of the attention it had drawn upon itself, craned its neck as Mr. Gryce looked up, and shrieked again, with fiercer insistence than before:
It was the last uncanny touch in a series of uncanny experiences. With an odd sense of nightmare upon him, Mr. Gryce leaned forward on the study table in his effort to obtain a better view of this bird, when, without warning, the white light, which since his last contact with the electrical apparatus had spread itself through the room, changed again to green, and he realized that he had unintentionally pressed a button and thus brought into action another slide in the curious lamp over his head.
Annoyed, for these changing hues offered a problem he was as yet too absorbed in other matters to make any attempt to solve, he left the vicinity of the table, and was about to leave the room when he heard Styles's voice rise from the adjoining antechamber, where Styles was keeping guard over the old butler:
"Shall I let him go, Mr. Gryce? He seems very uneasy; not dangerous, you know, but anxious; as if he had forgotten something or recalled some unfulfilled duty."
"Yes, let him go," was the detective's quick reply. "Only watch and follow him. Every movement he makes is of interest. Unconsciously he may be giving us invaluable clews." And he approached the door to note for himself what the man might do.
"Remember Evelyn!" rang out the startling cry from above, as the detective passed between the curtains. Irresistibly he looked back and up. To whom was this appeal from a bird's throat so imperatively addressed? To him or to the man on the floor beneath, whose ears were forever closed? It might be a matter of little consequence, and it might be one involving the very secret of this tragedy. But whether important or not, he could pay no heed to it at this juncture, for the old butler, coming from the front hall whither he had hurried on being released by Styles, was at that moment approaching him, carrying in one hand his master's hat and in the other his master's umbrella.
Not knowing what this new movement might mean, Mr. Gryce paused where he was and waited for the man to advance. Seeing this, the mute, to whose face and bearing had returned the respectful immobility of the trained servant, handed over the articles he had brought, and then noiselessly, and with the air of one who had performed an expected service, retreated to his old place in the antechamber, where he sat down again and fell almost immediately into his former dazed condition.
"Humph! mind quite lost, memory uncertain, testimony valueless," were the dissatisfied reflections of the disappointed detective as he replaced Mr. Adams's hat and umbrella on the hall rack. "Has he been brought to this state by the tragedy which has just taken place here, or is his present insane condition its precursor and cause?" Mr. Gryce might have found some answer to this question in his own mind if, at that moment, the fitful clanging of the front door bell, which had hitherto testified to the impatience of the curious crowd outside, had not been broken into by an authoritative knock which at once put an end to all self-communing.
The coroner, or some equally important person, was at hand, and the detective's golden hour was over.
A NEW EXPERIENCE FOR MR. GRYCE.
Mr. Gryce felt himself at a greater disadvantage in his attempt to solve the mystery of this affair than in any other which he had entered upon in years. First, the victim had been a solitary man, with no household save his man-of-all-work, the mute. Secondly, he had lived in a portion of the city where no neighbors were possible; and he had even lacked, as it now seemed, any very active friends. Though some hours had elapsed since his death had been noised abroad, no one had appeared at the door with inquiries or information. This seemed odd, considering that he had been for some months a marked figure in this quarter of the town. But, then, everything about this man was odd, nor would it have been in keeping with his surroundings and peculiar manner of living for him to have had the ordinary associations of men of his class.
This absence of the usual means of eliciting knowledge from the surrounding people, added to, rather than detracted from, the interest which Mr. Gryce was bound to feel in the case, and it was with a feeling of relief that a little before midnight he saw the army of reporters, medical men, officials, and such others as had followed in the coroner's wake, file out of the front door and leave him again, for a few hours at least, master of the situation.
For there were yet two points which he desired to settle before he took his own much-needed rest. The first occupied his immediate attention. Passing before a chair in the hall on which a small boy sat dozing, he roused him with the remark:
"Come, Jake, it's time to look lively. I want you to go with me to the exact place where that lady ran across you to-day."
The boy, half dead with sleep, looked around him for his hat.
"I'd like to see my mother first," he pleaded. "She must be done up about me. I never stayed away so long before."
"Your mother knows where you are. I sent a message to her hours ago. She gave a very good report of you, Jake; says you're an obedient lad and that you never have told her a falsehood."
"She's a good mother," the boy warmly declared. "I'd be as bad—as bad as my father was, if I did not treat her well." Here his hand fell on his cap, which he put on his head.
"I'm ready," said he.
Mr. Gryce at once led the way into the street.
The hour was late, and only certain portions of the city showed any real activity. Into one of these thoroughfares they presently came, and before the darkened window of one of the lesser shops paused, while Jake pointed out the two stuffed frogs engaged with miniature swords in mortal combat at which he had been looking when the lady came up and spoke to him.
Mr. Gryce eyed the boy rather than the frogs, though probably the former would have sworn that his attention had never left that miniature conflict.
"Was she a pretty lady?" he asked.
The boy scratched his head in some perplexity.
"She made me a good deal afraid of her," he said. "She had very splendid clothes; oh, gorgeous!" he cried, as if on this question there could be no doubt.
"And she was young, and carried a bunch of flowers, and seemed troubled? What! not young, and carried no flowers—and wasn't even anxious and trembling?"
The boy, who had been shaking his head, looked nonplussed.
"I think as she was what you might call troubled. But she wasn't crying, and when she spoke to me, she put more feeling into her grip than into her voice. She just dragged me to the drug-store, sir. If she hadn't given me money first, I should have wriggled away in spite of her. But I likes money, sir; I don't get too much of it."
Mr. Gryce by this time was moving on. "Not young," he repeated to himself. "Some old flame, then, of Mr. Adams; they're apt to be dangerous, very dangerous, more dangerous than the young ones."
In front of the drug-store he paused. "Show me where she stood while you went in."
The boy pointed out the identical spot. He seemed as eager as the detective.
"And was she standing there when you came out?"
"Oh, no, sir; she went away while I was inside."
"Did you see her go? Can you tell me whether she went up street or down?"
"I had one eye on her, sir; I was afraid she was coming into the shop after me, and my arm was too sore for me to want her to clinch hold on it again. So when she started to go, I took a step nearer, and saw her move toward the curbstone and hold up her hand. But it wasn't a car she was after, for none came by for several minutes."
The fold between Mr. Gryce's eyes perceptibly smoothed out.
"Then it was some cabman or hack-driver she hailed. Were there any empty coaches about that you saw?"
The boy had not noticed. He had reached the limit of his observations, and no amount of further questioning could elicit anything more from him. This Mr. Gryce soon saw, and giving him into the charge of one of his assistants who was on duty at this place, he proceeded back to the ill-omened house where the tragedy itself had occurred.
"Any one waiting for me?" he inquired of Styles, who came to the door.
"Yes, sir; a young man; name, Hines. Says he's an electrician."
"That's the man I want. Where is he?"
"In the parlor, sir."
"Good! I'll see him. But don't let any one else in. Anybody upstairs?"
"No, sir, all gone. Shall I go up or stay here?"
"You'd better go up. I'll look after the door."
Styles nodded, and went toward the stairs, up which he presently disappeared. Mr. Gryce proceeded to the parlor.
A dapper young man with an intelligent eye rose to meet him. "You sent for me," said he.
The detective nodded, asked a few questions, and seeming satisfied with the replies he received, led the way into Mr. Adams's study, from which the body had been removed to an upper room. As they entered, a mild light greeted them from a candle which, by Mr. Gryce's orders, had been placed on a small side table near the door. But once in, Mr. Gryce approached the larger table in the centre of the room, and placing his hand on one of the buttons before him, asked his companion to be kind enough to blow out the candle. This he did, leaving the room for a moment in total darkness. Then with a sudden burst of illumination, a marvellous glow of a deep violet color shot over the whole room, and the two men turned and faced each other both with inquiry in their looks, so unexpected was this theatrical effect to the one, and so inexplicable its cause and purpose to the other.
"That is but one slide," remarked Mr. Gryce. "Now I will press another button, and the color changes to—pink, as you see. This one produces green, this one white, and this a bilious yellow, which is not becoming to either of us, I am sure. Now will you examine the connection, and see if there is anything peculiar about it?"
Mr. Hines at once set to work. But beyond the fact that the whole contrivance was the work of an amateur hand, he found nothing strange about it, except the fact that it worked so well.
Mr. Gryce showed disappointment.
"He made it, then, himself?" he asked.
"Undoubtedly, or some one else equally unacquainted with the latest method of wiring."
"Will you look at these books over here and see if sufficient knowledge can be got from them to enable an amateur to rig up such an arrangement as this?"
Mr. Hines glanced at the shelf which Mr. Gryce had pointed out, and without taking out the books, answered briefly:
"A man with a deft hand and a scientific turn of mind might, by the aid of these, do all you see here and more. The aptitude is all."
"Then I'm afraid Mr. Adams had the aptitude," was the dry response. There was disappointment in the tone. Why, his next words served to show. "A man with a turn for mechanical contrivances often wastes much time and money on useless toys only fit for children to play with. Look at that bird cage now. Perched at a height totally beyond the reach of any one without a ladder, it must owe its very evident usefulness (for you see it holds a rather lively occupant) to some contrivance by which it can be raised and lowered at will. Where is that contrivance? Can you find it?"
The expert thought he could. And, sure enough, after some ineffectual searching, he came upon another button well hid amid the tapestry on the wall, which, when pressed, caused something to be disengaged which gradually lowered the cage within reach of Mr. Gryce's hand.
"We will not send this poor bird aloft again," said he, detaching the cage and holding it for a moment in his hand. "An English starling is none too common in this country. Hark! he is going to speak."
But the sharp-eyed bird, warned perhaps by the emphatic gesture of the detective that silence would be more in order at this moment than his usual appeal to "remember Evelyn," whisked about in his cage for an instant, and then subsided into a doze, which may have been real, and may have been assumed under the fascinating eye of the old gentleman who held him. Mr. Gryce placed the cage on the floor, and idly, or because the play pleased him, old and staid as he was, pressed another button on the table—a button he had hitherto neglected touching—and glanced around to see what color the light would now assume.
But the yellow glare remained. The investigation which the apparatus had gone through had probably disarranged the wires. With a shrug he was moving off, when he suddenly made a hurried gesture, directing the attention of the expert to a fact for which neither of them was prepared. The opening which led into the antechamber, and which was the sole means of communication with the rest of the house, was slowly closing. From a yard's breadth it became a foot; from a foot it became an inch; from an inch——
"Well, that is certainly the contrivance of a lazy man," laughed the expert. "Seated in his chair here, he can close his door at will. No shouting after a deaf servant, no awkward stumbling over rugs to shut it himself. I don't know but I approve of this contrivance, only——" here he caught a rather serious expression on Mr. Gryce's face—"the slide seems to be of a somewhat curious construction. It is not made of wood, as any sensible door ought to be, but of——"
"Steel," finished Mr. Gryce in an odd tone. "This is the strangest thing yet. It begins to look as if Mr. Adams was daft on electrical contrivances."
"And as if we were prisoners here," supplemented the other. "I do not see any means for drawing this slide back."
"Oh, there's another button for that, of course," Mr. Gryce carelessly remarked.
But they failed to find one.
"If you don't object," observed Mr. Gryce, after five minutes of useless search, "I will turn a more cheerful light upon the scene. Yellow does not seem to fit the occasion."
"Give us rose, for unless you have some one on the other side of this steel plate, we seem likely to remain here till morning."
"There is a man upstairs whom we may perhaps make hear, but what does this contrivance portend? It has a serious look to me, when you consider that every window in these two rooms has been built up almost under the roof."
"Yes; a very strange look. But before engaging in its consideration I should like a breath of fresh air. I cannot do anything while in confinement. My brain won't work."
Meanwhile Mr. Gryce was engaged in examining the huge plate of steel which served as a barrier to their egress. He found that it had been made—certainly at great expense—to fit the curve of the walls through which it passed. This was a discovery of some consequence, causing Mr. Gryce to grow still more thoughtful and to eye the smooth steel plate under his hand with an air of marked distrust.
"Mr. Adams carried his taste for the mechanical to great extremes," he remarked to the slightly uneasy man beside him. "This slide is very carefully fitted, and, if I am not mistaken, it will stand some battering before we are released."
"I wish that his interest in electricity had led him to attach such a simple thing as a bell."
"True, we have come across no bell."
"It would have smacked too much of the ordinary to please him."
"Besides, his only servant was deaf."
"Try the effect of a blow, a quick blow with this silver-mounted alpenstock. Some one should hear and come to our assistance."
"I will try my whistle first; it will be better understood."
But though Mr. Gryce both whistled and struck many a resounding knock upon the barrier before them, it was an hour before he could draw the attention of Styles, and five hours before an opening could be effected in the wall large enough to admit of their escape, so firmly was this barrier of steel fixed across the sole outlet from this remarkable room.
FIVE SMALL SPANGLES.
Such an experience could not fail to emphasize Mr. Gryce's interest in the case and heighten the determination he had formed to probe its secrets and explain all its extraordinary features. Arrived at Headquarters, where his presence was doubtless awaited with some anxiety by those who knew nothing of the cause of his long detention, his first act was to inquire if Bartow, the butler, had come to his senses during the night.
The answer was disappointing. Not only was there no change in his condition, but the expert in lunacy who had been called in to pass upon his case had expressed an opinion unfavorable to his immediate recovery.
Mr. Gryce looked sober, and, summoning the officer who had managed Bartow's arrest, he asked how the mute had acted when he found himself detained.
The answer was curt, but very much to the point.
"Surprised, sir. Shook his head and made some queer gestures, then went through his pantomime. It's quite a spectacle, sir. Poor fool, he keeps holding his hand back, so."
Mr. Gryce noted the gesture; it was the same which Bartow had made when he first realized that he had spectators. Its meaning was not wholly apparent. He had made it with his right hand (there was no evidence that the mute was left-handed), and he continued to make it as if with this movement he expected to call attention to some fact that would relieve him from custody.
"Does he mope? Is his expression one of fear or anger?"
"It varies, sir. One minute he looks like a man on the point of falling asleep; the next he starts up in fury, shaking his head and pounding the walls. It's not a comfortable sight, sir. He will have to be watched night and day."
"Let him be, and note every change in him. His testimony may not be valid, but there is suggestion in every movement he makes. To-morrow I will visit him myself."
The officer went out, and Mr. Gryce sat for a few moments communing with himself, during which he took out a little package from his pocket, and emptying out on his desk the five little spangles it contained, regarded them intently. He had always been fond of looking at some small and seemingly insignificant object while thinking. It served to concentrate his thoughts, no doubt. At all events, some such result appeared to follow the contemplation of these five sequins, for after shaking his head doubtfully over them for a time, he made a sudden move, and sweeping them into the envelope from which he had taken them, he gave a glance at his watch and passed quickly into the outer office, where he paused before a line of waiting men. Beckoning to one who had followed his movements with an interest which had not escaped the eye of this old reader of human nature, he led the way back to his own room.
"You want a hand in this matter?" he said interrogatively, as the door closed behind them and they found themselves alone.
"Oh, sir—" began the young man in a glow which made his more than plain features interesting to contemplate, "I do not presume——"
"Enough!" interposed the other. "You have been here now for six months, and have had no opportunity as yet for showing any special adaptability. Now I propose to test your powers with something really difficult. Are you up to it, Sweetwater? Do you know the city well enough to attempt to find a needle in this very big haystack?"
"I should at least like to try," was the eager response. "If I succeed it will be a bigger feather in my cap than if I had always lived in New York. I have been spoiling for some such opportunity. See if I don't make the effort judiciously, if only out of gratitude."
"Well, we shall see," remarked the old detective. "If it's difficulty you long to encounter, you will be likely to have all you want of it. Indeed, it is the impossible I ask. A woman is to be found of whom we know nothing save that she wore when last seen a dress heavily bespangled with black, and that she carried in her visit to Mr. Adams, at the time of or before the murder, a parasol, of which I can procure you a glimpse before you start out. She came from, I don't know where, and she went—but that is what you are to find out. You are not the only man who is to be put on the job, which, as you see, is next door to a hopeless one, unless the woman comes forward and proclaims herself. Indeed, I should despair utterly of your success if it were not for one small fact which I will now proceed to give you as my special and confidential agent in this matter. When this woman was about to disappear from the one eye that was watching her, she approached the curbstone in front of Hudson's fruit store on 14th Street and lifted up her right hand, so. It is not much of a clew, but it is all I have at my disposal, except these five spangles dropped from her dress, and my conviction that she is not to be found among the questionable women of the town, but among those who seldom or never come under the eye of the police. Yet don't let this conviction hamper you. Convictions as a rule are bad things, and act as a hindrance rather than an inspiration."
Sweetwater, to whom the song of the sirens would have sounded less sweet, listened with delight and responded with a frank smile and a gay:
"I'll do my best, sir, but don't show me the parasol, only describe it. I wouldn't like the fellows to chaff me if I fail; I'd rather go quietly to work and raise no foolish expectations."
"Well, then, it is one of those dainty, nonsensical things made of gray chiffon, with pearl handle and bows of pink ribbon. I don't believe it was ever used before, and from the value women usually place on such fol-de-rols, could only have been left behind under the stress of extraordinary emotion or fear. The name of the owner was not on it."
"Nor that of the maker?"
Mr. Gryce had expected this question, and was glad not to be disappointed.
"No, that would have helped us too much."
"And the hour at which this lady was seen on the curbstone at Hudson's?"
"Half-past four; the moment at which the telephone message arrived."
"Very good, sir. It is the hardest task I have ever undertaken, but that's not against it. When shall I see you again?"
"When you have something to impart. Ah, wait a minute. I have my suspicion that this woman's first name is Evelyn. But, mind, it is only a suspicion."
"All right, sir," and with an air of some confidence, the young man disappeared.
Mr. Gryce did not look as if he shared young Sweetwater's cheerfulness. The mist surrounding this affair was as yet impenetrable to him. But then he was not twenty-three, with only triumphant memories behind him.
His next hope lay in the information likely to accrue from the published accounts of this crime, now spread broadcast over the country. A man of Mr. Adams's wealth and culture must necessarily have possessed many acquaintances, whom the surprising news of his sudden death would naturally bring to light, especially as no secret was made of his means and many valuable effects. But as if this affair, destined to be one of the last to engage the powers of this sagacious old man, refused on this very account to yield any immediate results to his investigation, the whole day passed by without the appearance of any claimant for Mr. Adams's fortune or the arrival on the scene of any friend capable of lifting the veil which shrouded the life of this strange being. To be sure, his banker and his lawyer came forward during the day, but they had little to reveal beyond the fact that his pecuniary affairs were in good shape and that, so far as they knew, he was without family or kin.
Even his landlord could add little to the general knowledge. He had first heard of Mr. Adams through a Philadelphia lawyer, since dead, who had assured him of his client's respectability and undoubted ability to pay his rent. When they came together and Mr. Adams was introduced to him, he had been struck, first, by the ascetic appearance of his prospective tenant, and, secondly, by his reserved manners and quiet intelligence. But admirable as he had found him, he had never succeeded in making his acquaintance. The rent had been uniformly paid with great exactitude on the very day it was due, but his own visits had never been encouraged or his advances met by anything but the cold politeness of a polished and totally indifferent man. Indeed, he had always looked upon his tenant as a bookworm, absorbed in study and such scientific experiments as could be carried on with no other assistance than that of his deaf and dumb servant.
Asked if he knew anything about this servant, he answered that his acquaintance with him was limited to the two occasions on which he had been ushered by him into his master's presence; that he knew nothing of his character and general disposition, and could not say whether his attitude toward his master had been one of allegiance or antagonism.
And so the way was blocked in this direction.
Taken into the room where Mr. Adams had died, he surveyed in amazement the huge steel plate which still blocked the doorway, and the high windows through which only a few straggling sunbeams could find their way.
Pointing to the windows, he remarked:
"These were filled in at Mr. Adams's request. Originally they extended down to the wainscoting."
He was shown where lath and plaster had been introduced and also how the plate had been prepared and arranged as a barrier. But he could give no explanation of it or divine the purpose for which it had been placed there at so great an expense.
The lamp was another curiosity, and its varying lights the cause of increased astonishment. Indeed he had known nothing of these arrangements, having been received in the parlor when he visited the house, where there was nothing to attract his attention or emphasize the well-known oddities of his tenant.
He was not shown the starling. That loquacious bird had been removed to police headquarters for the special delectation of Mr. Gryce.
Other inquiries failed also. No clew to the owner of the insignia found on the wall could be gained at the pension office or at any of the G. A. R. posts inside the city. Nor was the name of the artist who had painted the portrait which adorned so large a portion of the wall a recognized one in New York City. Otherwise a clew might have been obtained through him to Mr. Adams's antecedents. All the drawers and receptacles in Mr. Adams's study had been searched, but no will had been found nor any business documents. It was as if this strange man had sought to suppress his identity, or, rather, as if he had outgrown all interest in his kind or in anything beyond the walls within which he had immured himself.
Late in the afternoon reports began to come in from the various tradesmen with whom Mr. Adams had done business. They all had something to say as to the peculiarity of his habits and the freaks of his mute servant. They were both described as hermits, differing from the rest of their kind only in that they denied themselves no reasonable luxury and seemed to have adopted a shut-in life from a pure love of seclusion. The master was never seen at the stores. It was the servant who made the purchases, and this by means of gestures which were often strangely significant. Indeed, he seemed to have great power of expressing himself by looks and actions, and rarely caused a mistake or made one. He would not endure cheating, and always bought the best.
Of his sanity up to the day of his master's death there was no question; but more than one man with whom he had had dealings was ready to testify that there had been a change in his manner for the past few weeks—a sort of subdued excitement, quite unlike his former methodical bearing. He had shown an inclination to testiness, and was less easily pleased than formerly. To one clerk he had shown a nasty spirit under very slight provocation, and was only endured in the store on account of his master, who was too good a customer for them to offend. Mr. Kelly, a grocer, went so far as to say he acted like a man with a grievance who burned to vent his spite on some one, but held himself in forcible restraint.
Perhaps if no tragedy had taken place in the house on —— Street these various persons would not have been so ready to interpret thus unfavorably a nervousness excusable enough in one so cut off from all communication with his kind. But with the violent end of his master in view, and his own unexplained connection with it, who could help recalling that his glance had frequently shown malevolence?
But this was not evidence of the decided character required by the law, and Mr. Gryce was about to regard the day as a lost one, when Sweetwater made his reappearance at Headquarters. The expression of his face put new life into Mr. Gryce.
"What!" he cried, "you have not found her?"
Sweetwater smiled. "Don't ask me, sir, not yet. I've come to see if there's any reason why I should not be given the loan of that parasol for about an hour. I'll bring it back. I only want to make a certain test with it."
"What test, my boy? May I ask, what test?"
"Please to excuse me, sir; I have only a short time in which to act before respectable business houses shut up for the night, and the test I speak of has to be made in a respectable house."
"Then you shall not be hindered. Wait here, and I will bring you the parasol. There! bring it back soon, my boy. I have not the patience I used to have."
"An hour, sir; give me an hour, and then——"
The shutting of the door behind his flying figure cut short his sentence.
That was a long hour to Mr. Gryce, or would have been if it had not mercifully been cut short by the return of Sweetwater in an even more excited state of mind than he had been before. He held the parasol in his hand.
"My test failed," said he, "but the parasol has brought me luck, notwithstanding. I have found the lady, sir, and——"
He had to draw a long breath before proceeding.
"And she is what I said," began the detective; "a respectable person in a respectable house."
"Yes, sir; very respectable, more respectable than I expected to see. Quite a lady, sir. Not young, but——"
"Her name, boy. Is it—Evelyn?"
Sweetwater shook his head with a look as naive in its way as the old detective's question.
"I cannot say, sir. Indeed, I had not the courage to ask. She is here——"
"Here!" Mr. Gryce took one hurried step toward the door, then came gravely back. "I can restrain myself," he said. "If she is here, she will not go till I have seen her. Are you sure you have made no mistake; that she is the woman we are after; the woman who was in Mr. Adams's house and sent us the warning?"
"Will you hear my story, sir? It will take only a moment. Then you can judge for yourself."
"Your story? It must be a pretty one. How came you to light on this woman so soon? By using the clew I gave you?"
Again Sweetwater's expression took on a touch of naivete.
"I'm sorry, sir; but I was egotistical enough to follow my own idea. It would have taken too much time to hunt up all the drivers of hacks in the city, and I could not even be sure she had made use of a public conveyance. No, sir; I bethought me of another way by which I might reach this woman. You had shown me those spangles. They were portions of a very rich trimming; a trimming which has only lately come into vogue, and which is so expensive that it is worn chiefly by women of means, and sold only in shops where elaborate garnitures are to be found. I have seen and noticed dresses thus trimmed, in certain windows and on certain ladies; and before you showed me the spangles you picked up in Mr. Adams's study could have told you just how I had seen them arranged. They are sewed on black net, in figures, sir; in scrolls or wreaths or whatever you choose to call them; and so conspicuous are these wreaths or figures, owing to the brilliance of the spangles composing them, that any break in their continuity is plainly apparent, especially if the net be worn over a color, as is frequently the case. Remembering this, and recalling the fact that these spangles doubtless fell from one of the front breadths, where their loss would attract not only the attention of others, but that of the wearer, I said to myself, 'What will she be likely to do when she finds her dress thus disfigured?' And the answer at once came: 'If she is the lady Mr. Gryce considers her, she will seek to restore these missing spangles, especially if they were lost on a scene of crime. But where can she get them to sew on? From an extra piece of net of the same style. But she will not be apt to have an extra piece of net. She will, therefore, find herself obliged to buy it, and since only a few spangles are lacking, she will buy the veriest strip.' Here, then, was my clew, or at least my ground for action. Going the rounds of the few leading stores on Broadway, 23d Street, and Sixth Avenue, I succeeded in getting certain clerks interested in my efforts, so that I speedily became assured that if a lady came into these stores for a very small portion of this bespangled net, they would note her person and, if possible, procure some clew to her address. Then I took up my stand at Arnold's emporium. Why Arnold's? I do not know. Perhaps my good genius meant me to be successful in this quest; but whether through luck or what not, I was successful, for before the afternoon was half over, I encountered a meaning glance from one of the men behind the counter, and advancing toward him, saw him rolling a small package which he handed over to a very pretty and rosy young girl, who at once walked away with it. 'For one of our leading customers,' he whispered, as I drew nearer. 'I don't think she is the person you want.' But I would take no chances. I followed the young girl who had carried away the parcel, and by this means came to a fine brownstone front in one of our most retired and aristocratic quarters. When I had seen her go in at the basement door, I rang the bell above, and then—well, I just bit my lips to keep down my growing excitement. For such an effort as this might well end in disappointment, and I knew if I were disappointed now—But no such trial awaited me. The maid who came to the door proved to be the same merry-eyed lass I had seen leave the store. Indeed, she had the identical parcel in her hand which was the connecting link between the imposing house at whose door I stood and the strange murder in —— Street. But I did not allow my interest in this parcel to become apparent, and by the time I addressed her I had so mastered myself as to arouse no suspicion of the importance of my errand. You, of course, foresee the question I put to the young girl. 'Has your mistress lost a parasol? One has been found—' I did not finish the sentence, for I perceived by her look that her mistress had met with such a loss, and as this was all I wanted to know just then, I cried out, 'I will bring it. If it is hers, all right,' and bounded down the steps.
"My intention was to inform you of what I had done and ask your advice. But my egotism got the better of me. I felt that I ought to make sure that I was not the victim of a coincidence. Such a respectable house! Such a respectable maidservant! Should she recognize the parasol as belonging to her mistress, then, indeed, I might boast of my success. So praying you for a loan of this article, I went back and rang the bell again. The same girl came to the door. I think fortune favored me to-day. 'Here is the parasol,' said I, but before the words were out of my mouth I saw that the girl had taken the alarm or that some grievous mistake had been made. 'That is not the one my mistress lost,' said she. 'She never carries anything but black.' And the door was about to close between us when I heard a voice from within call out peremptorily: 'Let me see that parasol. Hold it up, young man. There! at the foot of the stairs. Ah!'
"If ever an exclamation was eloquent that simple 'ah!' was. I could not see the speaker, but I knew she was leaning over the banisters from the landing above. I listened to hear her glide away. But she did not move. She was evidently collecting herself for the emergency of the moment. Presently she spoke again, and I was astonished at her tone: 'You have come from Police Headquarters,' was the remark with which she hailed me.
"I lowered the parasol. I did not think it necessary to say yes.
"'From a man there, called Gryce,' she went on, still in that strange tone I can hardly describe, sir.
"'Since you ask me,' I now replied, 'I acknowledge that it is through his instructions I am here. He was anxious to restore to you your lost property. Is not this parasol yours? Shall I not leave it with this young girl?'
"The answer was dry, almost rasping: 'Mr. Gryce has made a mistake. The parasol is not mine; yet he certainly deserves credit for the use he has made of it, in this search. I should like to tell him so. Is he at his office, and do you think I would be received?'
"'He would be delighted,' I returned, not imagining she was in earnest. But she was, sir. In less time than you would believe, I perceived a very stately, almost severe, lady descend the stairs. She was dressed for the street, and spoke to me with quite an air of command. 'Have you a cab?' she asked.
"'No,' said I.
"'Then get one.'
"Here was a dilemma. Should I leave her and thus give her an opportunity to escape, or should I trust to her integrity and the honesty of her look, which was no common one, sir, and obey her as every one about her was evidently accustomed to do?
"I concluded to trust to her integrity, and went for the cab. But it was a risk, sir, which I promise not to repeat in the future. She was awaiting me on the stoop when I got back, and at once entered the hack with a command to drive immediately to Police Headquarters. I saw her as I came in just now sitting in the outer office, waiting for you. Are you ready to say I have done well?"
Mr. Gryce, with an indescribable look of mingled envy and indulgence, pressed the hand held out to him, and passed out. His curiosity could be restrained no longer, and he went at once to where this mysterious woman was awaiting him. Did he think it odd that she knew him, that she sought him? If so, he did not betray this in his manner, which was one of great respect. But that manner suddenly changed as he came face to face with the lady in question. Not that it lost its respect, but that it betrayed an astonishment of a more pronounced character than was usually indulged in by this experienced detective. The lady before him was one well known to him; in fact, almost an associate of his in certain bygone matters; in other words, none other than that most reputable of ladies, Miss Amelia Butterworth of Gramercy Park.
SUGGESTIONS FROM AN OLD FRIEND.
The look with which this amiable spinster met his eye was one which a stranger would have found it hard to understand. He found it hard to understand himself, perhaps because he had never before seen this lady when she was laboring under an opinion of herself that was not one of perfect complacency.
"Miss Butterworth! What does this mean? Have you——"
"There!" The word came with some sharpness. "You have detected me at my old tricks, and I am correspondingly ashamed, and you triumphant. The gray parasol you have been good enough to send to my house is not mine, but I was in the room where you picked it up, as you have so cleverly concluded, and as it is useless for me to evade your perspicacity, I have come here to confess."
"Ah!" The detective was profoundly interested at once. He drew a chair up to Miss Butterworth's side and sat down. "You were there!" he repeated; "and when? I do not presume to ask for what purpose."
"But I shall have to explain my purpose not to find myself at too great a disadvantage," she replied with grim decision. "Not that I like to display my own weakness, but that I recognize the exigencies of the occasion, and fully appreciate your surprise at finding that I, a stranger to Mr. Adams, and without the excuse which led to my former interference in police matters, should have so far forgotten myself as to be in my present position before you. This was no affair of my immediate neighbor, nor did it seek me. I sought it, sir, and in this way. I wish I had gone to Jericho first; it might have meant longer travel and much more expense; but it would have involved me in less humiliation and possible publicity. Mr. Gryce, I never meant to be mixed up with another murder case. I have shown my aptitude for detective work and received, ere now, certain marks of your approval; but my head was not turned by them—at least I thought not—and I was tolerably sincere in my determination to keep to my own metier in future and not suffer myself to be allured by any inducements you might offer into the exercise of gifts which may have brought me praise in the past, but certainly have not brought me happiness. But the temptation came, not through you, or I might have resisted it, but through a combination of circumstances which found me weak, and, in a measure, unprepared. In other words, I was surprised into taking an interest in this affair. Oh, I am ashamed of it, so ashamed that I have made the greatest endeavor to hide my participation in the matter, and thinking I had succeeded in doing so, was congratulating myself upon my precautions, when I found that parasol thrust in my face and realized that you, if no one else, knew that Amelia Butterworth had been in Mr. Adams's room of death prior to yourself. Yet I thought I had left no traces behind me. Could you have seen——"
"Miss Butterworth, you dropped five small spangles from your robe. You wore a dress spangled with black sequins, did you not? Besides, you moved the inkstand, and—Well, I will never put faith in circumstantial evidence again. I saw these tokens of a woman's presence, heard what the boy had to say of the well-dressed lady who had sent him into the drug-store with a message to the police, and drew the conclusion—I may admit it to you—that it was this woman who had wielded the assassin's dagger, and not the deaf-and-dumb butler, who, until now, has borne the blame of it. Therefore I was anxious to find her, little realizing what would be the result of my efforts, or that I should have to proffer her my most humble apologies."
"Do not apologize to me. I had no business to be there, or, at least, to leave the five spangles you speak of, behind me on Mr. Adams's miserable floor. I was simply passing by the house; and had I been the woman I once was, that is, a woman who had never dipped into a mystery, I should have continued on my way, instead of turning aside. Sir, it's a curious sensation to find yourself, however innocent, regarded by a whole city full of people as the cause or motive of a terrible murder, especially when you have spent some time, as I have, in the study of crime and the pursuit of criminals. I own I don't enjoy the experience. But I have brought it on myself. If I had not been so curious—But it was not curiosity I felt. I will never own that I am subject to mere curiosity; it was the look on the young man's face. But I forget myself. I am rambling in all directions when I ought to be telling a consecutive tale. Not my usual habit, sir; this you know; but I am not quite myself at this moment. I declare I am more upset by this discovery of my indiscretion than I was by Mr. Trohm's declaration of affection in Lost Man's Lane! Give me time, Mr. Gryce; in a few minutes I will be more coherent."
"I am giving you time," he returned with one of his lowest bows. "The half-dozen questions I long to ask have not yet left my lips, and I sit here, as you must yourself acknowledge, a monument of patience."
"So you thought this deed perpetrated by an outsider," she suddenly broke in. "Most of the journals—I read them very carefully this morning—ascribed the crime to the man you have mentioned. And there seems to be good reason for doing so. The case is not a simple one, Mr. Gryce; it has complications—I recognized that at once, and that is why—but I won't waste another moment in apologies. You have a right to any little fact I may have picked up in my unfortunate visit, and there is one which I failed to find included in any account of the murder. Mr. Adams had other visitors besides myself in those few fatal minutes preceding his death. A young man and woman were with him. I saw them come out of the house. It was at the moment I was passing——"
"Tell your story more simply, Miss Butterworth. What first drew your attention to the house?"
"There! That is the second time you have had to remind me to be more direct. You will not have to do so again, Mr. Gryce. To begin, then, I noticed the house, because I always notice it. I never pass it without giving a thought to its ancient history and indulging in more or less speculation as to its present inmates. When, therefore, I found myself in front of it yesterday afternoon on my way to the art exhibition, I naturally looked up, and—whether by an act of providence or not, I cannot say—it was precisely at that instant the inner door of the vestibule burst open, and a young man appeared in the hall, carrying a young woman in his arms. He seemed to be in a state of intense excitement, and she in a dead faint; but before they had attracted the attention of the crowd, he had placed her on her feet, and, taking her on his arm, dragged her down the stoop and into the crowd of passers-by, among whom they presently disappeared. I, as you may believe, stood rooted to the ground in my astonishment, and not only endeavored to see in what direction they went, but lingered long enough to take a peep into the time-honored interior of this old house, which had been left open to view by the young man's forgetting to close the front door behind him. As I did so, I heard a cry from within. It was muffled and remote, but unmistakably one of terror and anguish: and, led by an impulse I may live to regret, as it seems likely to plunge me into much unpleasantness, I rushed up the stoop and went in, shutting the door behind me, lest others should be induced to follow.
"So far, I had acted solely from instinct; but once in that semi-dark hall, I paused and asked what business I had there, and what excuse I should give for my intrusion if I encountered one or more of the occupants of the house. But a repetition of the cry, coming as I am ready to swear from the farthest room on the parlor floor, together with a sharp remembrance of the wandering eye and drawn countenance of the young man whom I had seen stagger hence a moment before, with an almost fainting woman in his arms, drew me on in spite of my feminine instincts; and before I knew it, I was in the circular study and before the prostrate form of a seemingly dying man. He was lying as you probably found him a little later, with the cross on his breast and a dagger in his heart; but his right hand was trembling, and when I stooped to lift his head, he gave a shudder and then settled into eternal stillness. I, a stranger from the street, had witnessed his last breath while the young man who had gone out——"
"Can you describe him? Did you encounter him close enough for recognition?"
"Yes, I think I would know him again. I can at least describe his appearance. He wore a checked suit, very natty, and was more than usually tall and fine-looking. But his chief peculiarity lay in his expression. I never saw on any face, no, not on the stage, at the climax of the most heart-rending tragedy, a greater accumulation of mortal passion struggling with the imperative necessity for restraint. The young girl whose blond head lay on his shoulder looked like a saint in the clutch of a demon. She had seen death, but he—But I prefer not to be the interpreter of that expressive countenance. It was lost to my view almost immediately, and probably calmed itself in the face of the throng he entered, or we would be hearing about him to-day. The girl seemed to be devoid of almost all feeling. I should not remember her."
"And was that all? Did you just look at that recumbent man and vanish? Didn't you encounter the butler? Haven't you some definite knowledge to impart in his regard which will settle his innocence or fix his guilt?"
"I know no more about him than you do, sir, except that he was not in the room by the time I reached it, and did not come into it during my presence there. Yet it was his cry that led me to the spot; or do you think it was that of the bird I afterward heard shouting and screaming in the cage over the dead man's head?"
"It might have been the bird," admitted Mr. Gryce. "Its call is very clear, and it seems strangely intelligent. What was it saying while you stood there?"
"Something about Eva. 'Lovely Eva, maddening Eva! I love Eva! Eva! Eva!'"
"Eva? Wasn't it 'Evelyn? Poor Evelyn?'"
"No, it was Eva. I thought he might mean the girl I had just seen carried out. It was an unpleasant experience, hearing this bird shriek out these cries in the face of the man lying dead at my feet."
"Miss Butterworth, you didn't simply stand over that man. You knelt down and looked in his face."
"I acknowledge it, and caught my dress in the filagree of the cross. Naturally I would not stand stock still with a man drawing his last breath under my eye."
"And what else did you do? You went to the table——"
"Yes, I went to the table."
"And moved the inkstand?"
"Yes, I moved the inkstand, but very carefully, sir, very carefully."
"Not so carefully but that I could see where it had been sitting before you took it up: the square made by its base in the dust of the table did not coincide with the place afterwards occupied by it."
"Ah, that comes from your having on your glasses and I not. I endeavored to set it down in the precise place from which I lifted it."
"Why did you take it up at all? What were you looking for?"
"For clews, Mr. Gryce. You must forgive me, but I was seeking for clews. I moved several things. I was hunting for the line of writing which ought to explain this murder."
"The line of writing?"
"Yes. I have not told you what the young girl said as she slipped with her companion into the crowd."
"No; you have spoken of no words. Have you any such clew as that? Miss Butterworth, you are fortunate, very fortunate."
Mr. Gryce's look and gesture were eloquent, but Miss Butterworth, with an access of dignity, quietly remarked:
"I was not to blame for being in the way when they passed, nor could I help hearing what she said."
"And what was it, madam? Did she mention a paper?"
"Yes, she cried in what I now remember to have been a tone of affright: 'You have left that line of writing behind!' I did not attach much importance to these words then, but when I came upon the dying man, so evidently the victim of murder, I recalled what his late visitor had said and looked about for this piece of writing."
"And did you find it, Miss Butterworth? I am ready, as you see, for any revelation you may now make."
"For one which would reflect dishonor on me? If I had found any paper explaining this tragedy, I should have felt bound to have called the attention of the police to it. I did notify them of the crime itself."
"Yes, madam; and we are obliged to you; but how about your silence in regard to the fact of two persons having left that house immediately upon, or just preceding, the death of its master?"
"I reserved that bit of information. I waited to see if the police would not get wind of these people without my help. I sincerely wished to keep my name out of this inquiry. Yet I feel a decided relief now that I have made my confession. I never could have rested properly after seeing so much, and——"
"Thinking my own thoughts in regard to what I saw, if I had found myself compelled to bridle my tongue while false scents were being followed and delicate clews overlooked or discarded without proper attention. I regard this murder as offering the most difficult problem that has ever come in my way, and, therefore——"
"I cannot but wonder if an opportunity has been afforded me for retrieving myself in your eyes. I do not care for the opinion of any one else as to my ability or discretion; but I should like to make you forget my last despicable failure in Lost Man's Lane. It is a sore remembrance to me, Mr. Gryce, which nothing but a fresh success can make me forget."
"Madam, I understand you. You have formulated some theory. You consider the young man with the tell-tale face guilty of Mr. Adams's death. Well, it is very possible. I never thought the butler was rehearsing a crime he had himself committed."
"Do you know who the young man is I saw leaving that house so hurriedly?"
"Not the least in the world. You are the first to bring him to my attention."
"And the young girl with the blonde hair?"
"It is the first I have heard of her, too."
"I did not scatter the rose leaves that were found on that floor."
"No, it was she. She probably wore a bouquet in her belt."
"Nor was that frippery parasol mine, though I did lose a good, stout, serviceable one somewhere that day."
"It was hers; I have no doubt of it."
"Left by her in the little room where she was whiling away the time during which the gentlemen conversed together, possibly about that bit of writing she afterward alluded to."
"Her mind was not expectant of evil, for she was smoothing her hair when the shock came——"
"Yes, madam, I follow you."
"And had to be carried out of the place after——"
"She had placed that cross on Mr. Adams's breast. That was a woman's act, Mr. Gryce."
"I am glad to hear you say so. The placing of that cross on a layman's breast was a mystery to me, and is still, I must own. Great remorse or great fright only can account for it."
"You will find many mysteries in this case, Mr. Gryce."
"As great a number as I ever encountered."
"I have to add one."
"It concerns the old butler."
"I thought you did not see him."
"I did not see him in the room where Mr. Adams lay."
"Ah! Where, then?"
"Upstairs. My interest was not confined to the scene of the murder. Wishing to spread the alarm, and not being able to rouse any one below, I crept upstairs, and so came upon this poor wretch going through the significant pantomime that has been so vividly described in the papers."