THE HOUSE AT THE GRANBY CROSS ROADS
Why Mr. Blake should take a journey at all at this time, and why of all places in the world he should choose such an insignificant town as Putney for his destination, was of course the mystery upon which I brooded during the entire distance. But when somewhere near five in the afternoon I stepped from the cars on to the platform at Putney Station only to hear Mr. Blake making inquiries in regard to a certain stage running between that town and a still smaller village further east, I own I was not only surprised but well-nigh nonplussed. Especially as he seemed greatly disappointed to hear that it only ran once a day, and then for an earlier train in the morning.
“You will have to wait till to-morrow I fear,” said the ticket agent, “unless the landlord of the hotel down yonder, can harness you up a team. There is a funeral out west today and...”
I did not wait to hear more but hurried down to the hotel he had pointed out, and hunting up the landlord inquired if for love or money he could get me any sort of a conveyance for Melville that afternoon. He assured me it would be impossible, the livery stable as well as his own being entirely empty.
“Such a thing don’t happen here once in five years,” said he to me. “But the old codger who is dead, though a queer dick was a noted personage in these parts, and not a man, woman or child, who could find a horse, mule or donkey, but what availed himself of the privilege. Even the doctor’s spavined mare was pressed into service, though she halts on one leg and stops to get her breath half a dozen times in going up one short hill. You will have to wait for the stage, sir.”
“But I am in a hurry,” said I as I saw Mr. Blake enter. “I have business in Melville tonight, and I would pay anything in reason to get there.”
But the landlord only shook his head; and drawing back with the air of an abused man, I took up my stand in the doorway where I could hear the same colloquy entered into with Mr. Blake, with the same unsatisfactory termination. He did not take it quite as calmly as I did, though he was of too reserved a nature to display much emotion over anything. The prospect of a long tedious evening spent in a country hotel seemed almost unendurable to him, but he finally succumbed to the force of circumstances, as indeed he seemed obliged to do, and partaking of such refreshment as the rather poorly managed hotel afforded, retired without ceremony to his room, from which he did not emerge again till next morning. In all this he had somehow managed not to give his name; and by means of some inquiries I succeeded in making that evening, I found his person was unknown in the town.
By a little management I secured the next room to his, by which arrangement I succeeded in passing a sleepless night, Mr. Blake spending most of the wee sma’ hours in pacing the floor of his room, with an unremitting regularity that had anything but a soothing effect upon my nerves. Early the next morning we took the stage, he sitting on the back seat, and I in front with the driver. There were other passengers, but I noticed he never spoke to any of them, nor through all the long drive did he once look up from the corner where he had ensconced himself. It was twelve o’clock when we reached the end of the route, a small town of somewhat less than the usual pretensions of mountain villages; so insignificant indeed, that I found it more and more difficult to imagine what the wealthy ex-Congressman could find in such a spot as this, to make amends for a journey of such length and discomfort; when to my increasing wonder I heard him give orders for a horse to be saddled and brought round to the inn door directly after dinner. This was a move I had not expected and it threw me a little aback, for although I had thus far managed to hold myself so aloof from Mr. Blake, even while keeping him under my eye, that no suspicion of my interest in his movements had as yet been awakened, how could I thus for the third time follow his order with one precisely similar, without attracting an attention that would be fatal to my plans. Yet to let him ride off alone now, would be to drop the trail at the very moment the scent became of importance.
The landlord, a bustling, wiry little man all nervousness and questions, unwittingly helped me at this crisis.
“Are you going on to Perry, sir?” inquired he of that gentleman, “I have been expecting a man along these three days bound for Perry.”
“I am that man,” I broke in, stepping forward with some appearance of asperity, “and I hope you won’t keep me waiting. A horse as soon as dinner is over, do you hear? I am two days late now, and won’t stand any nonsense.”
And to escape the questions sure to follow, I strode into the dining-room with a half-fierce, half-sullen countenance, that effectually precluded all advances. During the meal I saw Mr. Blake’s eye roam more than once towards my face; but I did not return his gaze, or notice him in any way; hurrying through my dinner, and mounting the first horse brought around, as if time were my only consideration. But once on the road I took the first opportunity to draw rein and wait, suddenly remembering that I had not heard Mr. Blake give any intimation of the direction he intended taking. A few minutes revealed to me his elegant form well mounted and showing to perfection in his closely buttoned coat, slowly approaching up the road. Taking advantage of a rise in the ground, I lingered till he was almost upon me, when I cantered quickly on, fearing to arouse his apprehensions if I allowed him to pass me on a road so solitary as that which now stretched out before us: a move provocative of much embarassment to me, as I dared not turn my head for the same reason, anxious as I was to keep him in sight.
The roads dividing before me, at length gave me my first opportunity to pause and look back. He was some fifty paces behind. Waiting till he came up, I bowed with the surly courtesy I thought in keeping with the character I had assumed, and asked if he knew which road led towards Perry, saying I had come off in such haste I had forgotten to inquire my way. He returned my bow, pointed towards the left hand road and saying, “I know this does not,” calmly took it.
Now here was a dilemma. If in face of this curt response I proceeded to follow him, my hand was revealed at once; yet the circumstances would admit of no other course. I determined to compromise matters by pretending to take the right hand road till he was out of sight, when I would return and follow him swiftly upon the left. Accordingly I reined my horse to the right, and for some fifteen minutes galloped slowly away towards the north; but another fifteen saw me facing the west, and riding with a force and fury of which I had not thought the old mare they had given me capable, till I put her to the test. It was not long before I saw my fine gentleman trotting in front of me up a long but gentle slope that rose in the distance; and slackening my own rein, I withdrew into the forest at the side of the road, till he had passed its summit and disappeared, when I again galloped forward.
And thus we went on for an hour, over the most uneven country I ever traversed, he always one hill ahead; when suddenly, by what instinct I cannot determine, I felt myself approaching the end, and hastening to the top of the ascent up which I was then laboring, looked down into the shallow valley spread out before me.
What a sight met my eyes if I had been intent on anything less practical than the movements of the solitary horseman below! Hills on hills piled about a verdant basin in whose depths nestled a scanty collection of houses, in number so small they could be told upon the fingers of the right hand, but which notwithstanding lent an indescribable aspect of comfort to this remote region of hill and forest.
But the vision of Mr. Blake pausing half way down the slope before me, examining, yes examining a pistol which he held in his hand, soon put an end to all ideas of romance. Somewhat alarmed I reined back; but his action had evidently no connection with me, for he did not once glance behind him, but kept his eye on the road which I now observed took a short turn towards a house of so weird and ominous an appearance that I scarcely marvelled at his precaution.
Situated on a level track of land at the crossing of three roads, its spacious front, rude and unpainted as it was, presented every appearance of an inn, but from its moss-grown chimneys no smoke arose, nor could I detect any sign of life in its shutterless windows and closed doors, across which shivered the dark shadow of the one gaunt and aged pine, that stood like a guard beside its tumbled-down porch.
Mr. Blake seemed to have been struck by the same fact concerning its loneliness, for hurriedly replacing his pistol in his breast pocket, he rode slowly forward. I instantly conceived the plan of striking across the belt of underbrush that separated me from this old dwelling, and by taking my stand opposite its front, intercept a view of Mr. Blake as he approached. Hastily dismounting, therefore, I led my horse into the bushes and tied her to a tree, proceeding to carry out my plan on foot. I was so far successful as to arrive at the further edge of the wood, which was thick enough to conceal my presence without being too dense to obstruct my vision, just as Mr. Blake passed on his way to this solitary dwelling. He was looking very anxious, but determined. Turning my eyes from him, I took another glance at the house, which by this movement I had brought directly before me. It was even more deserted-looking than I had thought; its unpainted front with its double row of blank windows meeting your gaze without a response, while the huge old pine with half its limbs dismantled of foliage, rattled its old bones against its sides and moaned in its aged fashion like the solitary retainer of a dead race.
I own I felt the cold shivers creep down my back as that creaking sound struck my ears, though as the day was chill with an east wind I dare say it was more the effect of my sudden cessation from exercise, than of any superstitious awe I felt. Mr. Blake seemed to labor under no such impressions. Riding up to the front door he knocked without dismounting, on its dismal panels with his riding whip. No response was heard. Knitting his brows impatiently, he tried the latch: the door was locked. Hastily running his eye over the face of the building, he drew rein and proceeded to ride around the house, which he could easily do owing to the absence of every obstruction in the way of fence or shrubbery. Finding no means of entrance he returned again to the front door which he shook with an impatient hand that however produced no impression upon the trusty lock, and recognizing, doubtless, the futility of his endeavors, he drew back, and merely pausing to give one other look at its deserted front, turned his horse’s head, and to my great amazement, proceeded with sombre mien and clouded brow to retake the road to Melville.
This old inn or decayed homestead was then the object of his lengthened and tedious journey; this ancient house rotting away among the bleak hills of Vermont, the bourne towards which his steps had been tending for these past two days. I could not understand it. Rapidly emerging from the spot where I had secreted myself, I in my turn made a circuit of the house, if happily I should discover some loophole of entrance which had escaped his attention. But every door and window was securely barred, and I was about to follow his example and leave the spot, when I saw two or three children advancing towards me down the cross roads, gaily swinging their school books. I noticed they hesitated and huddled together as they approached and saw me, but not heeding this, I accosted them with a pleasant word or so, then pointing over my shoulder to the house behind, asked who lived there. Instantly their already pale faces grew paler.
“Why,” cried one, a boy, “don’t you know? That is where the two wicked men lived who stole the money out of the Rutland bank. They were put in prison, but they got away ”
Here, the other, a little girl, plucked him by the sleeve with such affright, that he himself took alarm and just giving me one quick stare out of his wide eyes, grasped his companion by the hand and took to his heels. As for myself I stood rooted to the ground in my astonishment. This blank, sleepy old house the home of the notorious Schoenmakers after whom half of the detectives of the country were searching? I could scarcely credit my own ears. True I now remembered they had come from these parts, still...
Turning round I eyed the house once more. How altered it looked to me! What a murderous aspect it wore, and how dismally secret were the tight shut windows and closely fastened doors, on one of which a rude cross scrawled in red chalk met the eye with a mysterious significance. Even the old pine had acquired the villainous air of the uncanny repositor of secrets too dreadful to reveal, as it groaned and murmured to itself in the keen east wind. Dark deeds and foul wrong seemed written all over the fearful place, from the long strings of black moss that clung to the worm-eaten eaves, to the worn stone with its great blotch of something, could it have been blood? that served as a threshold to the door. Suddenly with the quickness of lightning the thought flashed across me, what could Mr. Blake, the aristocratic representative of New York’s oldest family, have wanted in this nest of infamy? What errand of hope, fear, despair, avarice or revenge, could have brought this superior gentleman with his refined tastes and proudly reticent manners, so many miles from home, to the forsaken den of a brace of hardy villains whose name for two years now, had stood as the type of all that was bold, bad and lawless, and for whom during the last six weeks the prison had yawned, and the gallows hungered. Contemplation brought no reply, and shocked at my own thoughts, I put the question by for steadier brains than mine; and instead of trying further to solve it, cast about how I was to gain entrance into this deserted building; for to enter it I was more than ever determined, now that I had heard to whom it had once belonged.
Examining with a glance the several roads that branched off in every direction from where I stood, I found them all equally deserted. Even the school children had disappeared in some one of the four or five houses scattered in the remote distance.
If I was willing to enter upon any daring exploit, there was no one to observe or interrupt. I resolved to make the attempt with which my mind was full. This was to climb the old tree, and from one of the two or three branches that brushed against the house, gain entrance at an open garret window that stared at me from amid the pine’s dark needles. Taking off my coat with a sigh over the immaculate condition of my new cassimere trousers, I bent my energies to the task. A difficult one you will say for a city lad, but thanks to fortune I was not brought up in New York, and know how to climb trees with the best. With little more than a scratch or so, I reached the window of which I have spoken, and after a moment spent in regaining my breath, gave one spring and accomplished my purpose. I alighted upon a heap of broken glass in a large bare room. An ominous chill at once struck to my heart. Though I am anything but a sensitive man as far as physical impressions are concerned, there was something in the hollow echo that arose from the four blank walls about me as my feet alighted on that rough, uncarpeted floor, that struck a vague chill through my blood, and I actually hesitated for the moment whether to pursue the investigations I had promised myself, or beat a hasty retreat. A glance at the huge distorted limbs swaying across the square of the open window decided me. It was easy to enter by means of that unsteady support, but it would be extremely unsafe to venture forth in that way. If I prized life and limb I must seek some other method of egress. I at once put my apprehensions in my pocket and entered upon my self imposed task.
A single glance was sufficient to exhaust the resources of the empty garret in which I found myself. Two or three old chairs piled in one corner, a rusty stove or so, a heap of tattered and decaying clothing, were all that met my gaze. Taking my way, then, at once to the ladder, whose narrow ends projecting above a hole in the garret floor, seemed to proffer the means of reaching the rooms below, I proceeded to descend into what to my excited imagination looked like a gulf of darkness. It proved, however, to be nothing more nor less than an unlighted hall of small dimensions, with a stair-case at one end and a door at the other, which, upon opening I found myself in a large, square room whose immense four-post bedstead entirely denuded of its usual accompaniments of bed and bolster at once struck my eye and for a moment held it enchained. There were other articles in the room; a disused bureau, a rocking chair, even a table, but nothing had such a ghostly look as that antique bedstead with its curtains of calico tied back over its naked framework, like rags draped from the bare bones of a skeleton. Passing hurriedly by, I tried a closet door or so, finding little, however, to reward my search; and eager to be done with what was every moment becoming more and more drearisome, I hastened across the floor to the front of the house where I found another hall and a row of rooms that, while not entirely stripped of furniture, were yet sufficiently barren to offer little encouragement to my curiosity. One only, a small but not uncomfortable apartment, showed any signs of having been occupied within a reasonable length of time; and as I paused before its hastily spread bed, thrown together as only a man would do it, and wondering why the room was so dark, looked up and saw that the window was entirely covered by an old shawl and a couple of heavy coats that had been hastily nailed across it, I own I felt my hand go to my breast pocket almost as if I expected to see the wild faces of the dreaded Schoenmakers start up all aglare from one of the dim corners before me. Rushing to the window, I tore down with one sweep of my arm both coat and shawl, and with a start discovered that the window still possessed its draperies in the shape of a pair of discolored and tattered curtains tied with ribbons that must once have been brilliant and cheery of color.
Nor was this the only sign in the room of a bygone presence that had possessed a taste for something beyond the mere necessities of life. On the grim coarsely papered wall hung more than one picture; cut from pictorial newspapers to be sure, but each and every one, if I may be called a judge of such matters, possessing some quality of expression to commend it to a certain order of taste. They were all strong pictures. Vivid faces of men and women in daring positions; a hunter holding back a jaguar from his throat; a soldier protecting his comrade from the stroke; and most striking of all, a woman lissome as she was powerful, starting aghast and horror stricken from what? I could not tell; a rough hand had stripped the remainder of the picture from the wall.
A bit of candle and a half sheet of a newspaper lay on the floor. I picked up the paper. It was a Rutland Herald and bore the date of two days before. As I read I realized what I had done. If these daring robbers were not at this very moment in the house, they had been there, and that within two or three days. The broken panes of glass in the garret above were now explained. I was not the first one who had climbed that creaking pine tree this fall.
Something like a sensible dread of a very possible danger now seized hold of me. If I had stumbled upon these strangely subtile, yet devilishly bold creatures in their secret lair, the pistol I carried was not going to save me. Shut in like a fox in a hole, I had little to hope for, if they once made their appearance at the stairhead or came upon me from any of the dim halls of the crazy old dwelling, which I now began to find altogether too large for my comfort. Stealing cautiously forth from the room in which I had found so much to disconcert me, I crept towards the front staircase and listened. All was deathly quiet. The old pine tree moaned and twisted without, and from time to time the wind came sweeping down the chimney with an unearthly shrieking sound that was weirdly in keeping with the place. But within and below all was still as the tomb, and though in no ways reassured, I determined to descend and have the suspense over at once. I did so, pistol in hand and ears stretched to their utmost to catch the slightest rustle, but no sound came to disturb me, nor did I meet on this lower floor the sign of any other presence in the house but my own. Passing hastily through what appeared to be a sort of rude parlor, I stepped into the kitchen and tried one of the windows. Finding I could easily lift it from the inside, I drew my breath with ease for the first time since I had alighted among the broken glass above, and turning back, deliberately opened the door of the kitchen stove, and looked in. As I half expected, I found a pile of partly charred rags, showing where the wretches had burned their prison clothing, and proceeding further, picked up from the ashes a ring which whether or not they were conscious of having attempted to destroy in this way I cannot say, but which I thankfully put in my pocket against the day it might be required as proof.
Discerning nothing more in that quarter inviting interest, I asked myself if I had nerve to descend into the cellar. Finally concluding that that was more than could be expected from any man in my position, I gave one look of farewell to the damp and desolate walls about me, then with a breath of relief jumped from the kitchen window again into the light and air of day. As I did so I could swear I heard a door within that old house swing on its hinges and softly close. With a thrill I recognized the fact that it came from the cellar.
** ** **
My thoughts on the road back to Melville were many and conflicting. Chief above them all, however, rose the comfortable conclusion that in the pursuit of one mysterious affair, I had stumbled, as is often the case, upon the clue to another of yet greater importance, and by so doing got a start that might yet redound greatly to my advantage. For the reward offered for the recapture of the Schoenmakers was large, and the possibility of my being the one to put the authorities upon their track, certainly appeared after this day’s developements, open at least to a very reasonable hope. At all events I determined not to let the grass grow under my feet till I had informed the Superintendent of what I had seen and heard that day in the old haunt of these two escaped convicts.
Arrived at the public house in Melville, and learning that Mr. Blake had safely returned there an hour before, I drew the landlord to one side and asked what he could tell me about that old house of the two noted robbers Schoenmaker, I had passed on my way back among the hills.
“Wa’al now,” replied he, “this is curious. Here I’ve just been answering the gentleman up stairs a heap of questions concerning that self same old place, and now you come along with another batch of them; just as if that rickety old den was the only spot of interest we had in these parts.”
“Perhaps that may be the truth,” I laughed. “Just now when the papers are full of these rogues, anything concerning them must be of superior interest of course.” And I pressed him again to give me a history of the house and the two thieves who had inhabited it.
“Wa’al,” drawled he “‘taint much we know about them, yet after all it may be a trifle too much for their necks some day. Time was when nobody thought especial ill of them beyond a suspicion or so of their being somewhat mean about money. That was when they kept an inn there, but when the robbery of the Rutland bank was so clearly traced to them, more than one man about here started up and said as how they had always suspected them Shoenmakers of being villains, and even hinted at something worse than robbery. But nothing beyond that one rascality has yet been proved against them, and for that they were sent to jail for twenty years as you know. Two months ago they escaped, and that is the last known of them. A precious set, too, they are; the father being only so much the greater rogue than the son as he is years older.”
“And the inn? When was that closed?”
“Just after their arrest.”
“Has’nt it been opened since?”
“Only once when a brace of detectives came up from Troy to investigate, as they called it.”
“Who has the key?”
“Ah, that’s more than I can tell you.”
I dared not ask how my questions differed from those of Mr. Blake, nor indeed touch upon that point in any way. I was chiefly anxious now to return to New York without delay; so paying my bill I thanked the landlord, and without waiting for the stage, remounted my horse and proceeded at once to Putney where I was fortunate enough to catch the evening train. By five o’clock next morning I was in New York where I proceeded to carry out my programme by hastening at once to headquarters and reporting my suspicions regarding the whereabouts of the Schoenmakers. The information was received with interest and I had the satisfaction of seeing two men despatched north that very day with orders to procure the arrest of the two notable villains wherever found.
A WORD OVERHEARD
That evening I had a talk with Fanny over the area gate. She came out when she saw me approach, with her eyes staring and her whole form in a flutter.
“O,” she cried, “such things as I have heard this day!”
“Well,” said I, “what? let me hear too.” She put her hand on her heart. “I never was so frightened,” whispered she, “I thought I should have fainted right away. To hear that elegant lady use such a word as crime”
“What elegant lady?” interrupted I. “Don’t begin in the middle of your story, that’s a good girl; I want to hear it all.”
“Well,” said she, calming down a little, “Mrs. Daniels had a visitor to-day, a lady. She was dressed”
“O, now,” interrupted I for the second time, “you can leave that out. Tell me what her name was and let the fol-de-rols go.”
“Her name?” exclaimed the girl with some sharpness, “how should I know her name; she did’nt come to see me.”
“How did she look then? You saw her I suppose?”
“And was’nt that what I was telling you, when you stopped me. She looked like a queen, that she did; as grand a lady as ever I see, in her velvet dress sweeping over the floor, and her diamonds as big as...”
“Was she a dark woman?” I asked.
“Her hair was black and so were her eyes, if that is what you mean.”
“And was she very tall and proud looking?”
The girl nodded. “You know her?” whispered she.
“No,” said I, “not exactly; but I think I can tell who she is. And so she called to-day on Mrs. Daniels, did she.”
“Yes, but I guess she knew master would be home before she got away.”
“Come,” said I, “tell me all about it; I’m getting impatient.”
“And ain’t I telling you?” said she. “It was about three o’clock this afternoon, the time I go up stairs to dress, so I just hangs about in the hall a bit, near the parlor door, and I hear her gossiping with Mrs. Daniels almost as if she was an old friend, and Mrs. Daniels answering her mighty stiffly and as if she was’nt glad to see her at all. But the lady didn’t seem to mind, but went on talking as sweet as honey, and when they came out, you would have thought she loved the old woman like a sister to see her look into her face and say something about knowing how busy she was, but that it would give her so much pleasure if she would come some day to see her and talk over old times. But Mrs. Daniels was’nt pleased a bit and showed plain enough she did’nt like the lady, fine as she was in her ways. She was going to answer her too, but just then the front door opened and Mr. Blake with his satchel in his hand, came into the house. And how he did start, to be sure, when he saw them, though he tried to say something perlite which she did’nt seem to take to at all, for after muttering something about not expecting to see him, she put her hand on the knob and was going right out. But he stopped her and they went into the parlor together while Mrs. Daniels stood staring after them like one mad, her hand held out with his bag and umbrella in it, stiff as a statter in the Central Park. She did’nt stand so long, though, but came running down the hall, as if she was bewitched. I was dreadful flustered, for though I was hid behind the wall that juts out there by the back stairs, I was afraid she would see me and shame me before Mr. Blake. But she passed right by and never looked up. ‘There is something dreadful mysterious in this,’ thought I, and I just made up my mind to stay where I was till Mr. Blake and the lady should come out again from the parlor. I did’nt have to wait very long. In a few minutes the door opened and they stepped out, he ahead and she coming after. I thought this was queer, he is always so dreadful perlite in his ways, but I thought it was a deal queerer when I saw him go up the front stairs, she hurrying after, looking I cannot tell you how, but awful troubled and anxious, I should say.
“They went into that room of his he calls his studio and though I knew it might cost me my place if I was found out, I could’nt help following and listening at the keyhole.”
“And what did you hear?” I asked, for she paused to take breath.
“Well, the first thing I heard was a cry of pleasure from her, and the words, ‘You keep that always before you? You cannot dislike me, then, as much as you pretend.’ I don’t know what she meant nor what he did, but he stepped across the room and I heard her cry out this time as if she was hurt as well as awful surprised; and he talked and talked, and I could’nt catch a word, he spoke so low; and by and by she sobbed just a little, and I got scared and would have run away but she cried out with a kind of shriek, ‘O, don’t say any more; to think that crime should come into our family, the proudest in the land. How could you, Holman, how could you.’ Yes,” the girl went on, flushing in her excitement till she was as red as the cherry ribbons in her cap, “those were the very words she used: ‘To think that crime should come into our family! the proudest one in the land!’ And she called him by his first name, and asked him how he could do it.”
“And what did Mr. Blake say?” returned I, a little taken back myself at this result of my efforts with Fanny.
“O, I did’nt wait to hear. I did’nt wait for anything. If folks was going to talk about such things as that, I thought I had better be anywhere than listening at the keyhole. I went right up stairs I can tell you.”
“And whom have you told of what you heard in the half dozen hours that have gone by?”
“Nobody; how could you think so mean of me when I promised, and...”
It is not necessary to go any further into this portion of the interview.
The Countess De Mirac possessed to its fullest extent the present fine lady’s taste for bric-a-brac. So much I had learned in my inquiries concerning her. Remembering this, I took the bold resolution of profiting by this weakness of hers to gain admission to her presence, she being the only one sharing Mr. Blake’s mysterious secret. Borrowing a valuable antique from a friend of mine at that time in the business, I made my appearance the very next day at her apartments, and sending in an urgent request to see Madame, by the trim negress who answered my summons, waited in some doubt for her reply.
It came all too soon; Madame was ill and could see no one. I was not, however, to be baffled by one rebuff. Handing the basket I held to the girl, I urged her to take it in and show her mistress what it contained, saying it was a rare article which might never again come her way.
The girl complied, though with a doubtful shake of the head which was anything but encouraging. Her incredulity, however, must have been speedily rebuked, for she almost immediately returned without the basket, saying Madame would see me.
My first thoughts upon entering the grand lady’s presence, was that the girl had been mistaken, for I found the Countess walking the floor in an abstracted way, drying a letter she had evidently but just completed, by shaking it to and fro with an unsteady hand; the placque I had brought, lying neglected on the table.
But at sight of my respectful form standing with bent head in the doorway, she hurriedly thrust the letter into a book and took up the placque. As she did so I marked her well and almost started at the change I observed in her since that evening at the Academy. It was not only that she was dressed in some sort of loose dishabille that was in eminent contrast to the sweeping silks and satins in which I had hitherto beheld her adorned; or that she was laboring under some physical disability that robbed her dark cheek of the bloom that was its chiefest charm. The change I observed went deeper than that; it was more as if a light had been extinguished in her countenance. It was the same woman I had beheld standing like a glowing column of will and strength before the melancholy form of Mr. Blake, but with the will and strength gone, and with them all the glow.
“She no longer hopes,” thought I, and already felt repaid for my trouble.
“This is a very pretty article you have brought me,” said she with something of the unrestrained love of art which she undoubtedly possessed, showing itself through all her languor. “Where did it come from, and what recommendations have you, to prove it is an honest sale you offer me?”
“None,” returned I, ignoring with a reassuring smile the first question, “except that I should not be afraid if all the police in New York knew I was here with this fine placque for sale.”
She gave a shrug of her proud shoulder that bespoke the French Countess and softly ran her finger round the edge of the placque.
“I don’t need anything more of this kind,” said she languidly; “besides,” and she set it down with a fretful air, “I am in no mood to buy this afternoon.” Then shortly, “What do you ask for it?”
I named a fabulous price.
She started and cast me a keen glance. “You had better take it to some one else; I have no money to throw away.”
With a hesitating hand I lifted the placque towards the basket. “I would very much like to sell it to you,” said I. “Perhaps”
Just then a lady’s fluttering voice rose from the room beyond inquiring for the Countess, and hurriedly taking the placque from my hand with an impulsive “O there’s Amy,” she passed into the adjoining apartment, leaving the door open behind her.
I saw a quick interchange of greetings between her and a fashionably dressed lady, then they withdrew to one side with the ornament I had brought, evidently consulting in regard to its merits. Now was my time. The book in which she had placed the letter she had been writing lay on the table right before me, not two inches from my hand. I had only to throw back the cover and my curiosity would be satisfied. Taking advantage of a moment when their backs were both turned, I pressed open the book with a careful hand, and with one eye on them and one on the sheet before me, managed to read these words:
MY DEAREST CECILIA.
I have tried in vain to match the sample you sent me at Stewart’s, Arnold’s and McCreery’s. If you still insist upon making up the dress in the way you propose, I will see what Madame Dudevant can do for us, though I cannot but advise you to alter your plans and make the darker shade of velvet do. I went to the Cary reception last night and met Lulu Chittenden. She has actually grown old, but was as lively as ever. She created a great stir in Paris when she was there; but a husband who comes home two o’clock in the morning with bleared eyes and empty pockets, is not conducive to the preservation of a woman’s beauty. How she manages to retain
her spirits I cannot imagine. You ask me news of cousin Holman. I meet him occasionally and he looks well, but has grown into the most sombre man you ever saw. In regard to certain hopes of which you have sometimes made mention, let me assure you they are no longer practicable. He has done what...
Here the conversation ceased in the other room, the Countess made a movement of advance and I closed the book with an inward groan over my ill-luck.
“It is very pretty,” said she with a weary air; “but as I remarked before, I am not in the buying mood. If you will take half you mention, I may consider the subject, but...”
“Pardon me, Madame,” I interrupted, being in no wise anxious to leave the placque behind me, “I have been considering the matter and I hold to my original price. Mr. Blake of Second Avenue may give it to me if you do not.”
“Mr. Blake!” She eyed me suspiciously. “Do you sell to him?”
“I sell to anyone I can,” replied I; “and as he has an artist’s eye for such things”
Her brows knitted and she turned away. “I do not want it;” said she, “sell it to whom you please.”
I took up the placque and left the room.
A FEW GOLDEN HAIRS
When a few days from that I made my appearance before Mr. Gryce, it was to find him looking somewhat sober. “Those Schoenmakers,” said he, “are making a deal of trouble. It seems they escaped the fellows up north and are now somewhere in this city, but where”
An expressive gesture finished the sentence.
“Is that so?” exclaimed I. “Then we are sure to nab them. Given time and a pair of low, restless German thieves, I will wager anything, our hands will be upon them before the month is over. I only hope, when we do come across them, it will not be to find their betters too much mixed up with their devilish practices.” And I related to him what Fanny had told me a few evenings before.
“The coil is tightening,” said he. “What the end will be I don’t know. Crime, said she? I wish I knew in what blind hole of the earth that girl we are after lies hidden.”
As if in answer to this wish the door opened and one of our men came in with a letter in his hand. “Ha!” exclaimed Mr. Gryce, after he had perused it, “look at that.”
I took the letter from his hand and read:
The dead body of a girl such as you describe was found in the East
river off Fiftieth Street this morning. From appearance has been
dead some time. Have telegraphed to Police Headquarters for
orders. Should you wish to see the body before it is removed to
the Morgue or otherwise disturbed, please hasten to Pier 48 E. R.
“Come,” said I, “let’s go and see for ourselves. If it should be the one”
“The dinner party proposed by Mr. Blake for to-night, may have its interruptions,” he remarked.
I do not wish to make my story any longer than is necessary, but I must say that when in an hour or so later, I stood with Mr. Gryce before the unconscious form of that poor drowned girl I felt an unusual degree of awe stealing over me: there was so much mystery connected with this affair, and the parties implicated were of such standing and repute.
I almost dreaded to see the covering removed from her face lest I should behold, what? I could not have told if I had tried.
“A trim made body enough,” cried the official in charge as Mr. Gryce lifted an end of the cloth that enveloped her and threw it back. “Pity the features are not better preserved.”
“No need for us to see the features,” exclaimed I, pointing to the locks of golden red hair that hung in tangled masses about her. “The hair is enough; she is not the one.” And I turned aside, asking myself if it was relief I felt.
To my surprise Mr. Gryce did not follow.
“Tall, thin, white face, black eyes.” I heard him whisper to himself. “It is a pity the features are not better preserved.”
“But,” said I, taking him by the arm, “Fanny spoke particularly of her hair being black, while this girl’s - Good heavens!” I suddenly ejaculated as I looked again at the prostrate form before me. “Yellow hair or black, this is the girl I saw him speaking to that day in Broome Street. I remember her clothes if nothing more.” And opening my pocketbook, I took out the morsel of cloth I had plucked that day from the ash barrel, lifted up the discolored rags that hung about the body and compared the two. The pattern, texture and color were the same.
“Well,” said Mr. Gryce, pointing to certain contusions, like marks from the blow of some heavy instrument on the head and bared arms of the girl before us; “he will have to answer me one question anyhow, and that is, who this poor creature is who lies here the victim of treachery or despair.” And turning to the official he asked if there were any other signs of violence on the body.
The answer came deliberately, “Yes, she has evidently been battered to death.”
Mr. Gryce’s lips closed with grim decision. “A most brutal murder,” said he and lifting up the cloth with a hand that visibly trembled, he softly covered her face.
“Well,” said I as we slowly paced back up the pier, “there is one thing certain, she is not the one who disappeared from Mr. Blake’s house.”
“I am not so sure of that.”
“How!” said I. “You believed Fanny lied when she gave that description of the missing girl upon which we have gone till now?”
Mr. Gryce smiled, and turning back, beckoned to the official behind us. “Let me have that description,” said he, “which I distributed among the Harbor Police some days ago for the identification of a certain corpse I was on the lookout for.”
The man opened his coat and drew out a printed paper which at Mr. Gryce’s word he put into my hand. It ran as follows:
Look out for the body of a young girl, tall, well shaped but thin,
of fair complexion and golden hair of a peculiar bright and
beautiful color, and when found, acquaint me at once.
“I don’t understand,” began I.
But Mr. Gryce tapping me on the arm said in his most deliberate tones, “Next time you examine a room in which anything of a mysterious nature has occurred, look under the bureau and if you find a comb there with several long golden hairs tangled in it, be very sure before you draw any definite conclusions, that your Fannys know what they are talking about when they declare the girl who used that comb had black hair on her head.”
THE SECRET OF MR. BLAKE’S STUDIO
“Mr. Blake is at dinner, sir, with company, but I will call him if you say so.”
“No,” returned Mr. Gryce; “show us into some room where we can be comfortable and we will wait till he has finished.”
The servant bowed, and stepping forward down the hall, opened the door of a small and cosy room heavily hung with crimson curtains. “I will let him know that you are here,” said he, and vanished towards the dining-room.
“I doubt if Mr. Blake will enjoy the latter half of his bill of fare as much as the first,” said I, drawing up one of the luxurious arm-chairs to the side of my principal. “I wonder if he will break away from his guests and come in here?”
“No; if I am not mistaken we shall find Mr. Blake a man of nerve. Not a muscle of his face will show that he is disturbed.”
“Well,” said I, “I dread it.”
Mr. Gryce looked about on the gorgeous walls and the rich old fashioned furniture that surrounded him, and smiled one of his grimmest smiles.
“Well, you may,” said he.
The next instant a servant stood in the doorway, bearing to our great astonishment, a tray well set with decanter and glasses.
“Mr. Blake’s compliments, gentlemen,” said he, setting it down on the table before us. “He hopes you will make yourselves at home and he will see you as soon as possible.”
The humph! of Mr. Gryce when the servant had gone would have done your soul good, also the look he cast at the pretty Dresden Shepherdess on the mantel-piece, as I reached out my hand towards the decanter. Somehow it made me draw back.
“I think we had better leave his wine alone,” said he.
And for half an hour we sat there, the wine untouched between us, listening alternately to the sound of speech-making and laughter that came from the dining-room, and the solemn ticking of the clock as it counted out the seconds on the mantel-piece. Then the guests came in from the table, filing before us past the open door on their way to the parlors. They were all gentlemen of course Mr. Blake never invited ladies to his house and gentlemen of well known repute. The dinner had been given in honor of a certain celebrated statesman, and the character of his guests was in keeping with that of the one thus complimented.
As they went by us gaily indulging in the jokes and light banter with which such men season a social dinner, I saw Mr. Gryce’s face grow sober by many a shade; and when in the midst of it all, we heard the voice of Mr. Blake rise in that courteous and measured tone for which it is distinguished, I saw him reach forward and grasp his cane with an uneasiness I had never seen displayed by him before. But when some time later, the guests having departed, the dignified host advanced with some apology to where we were, I never beheld a firmer look on Mr. Gryce’s face than that with which he rose and confronted him. Mr. Blake’s own had not more character in it.
“You have called at a rather inauspicious time, Mr. Gryce,” said the latter, glancing at the card which he held in his hand. “What may your business be? Something to do with politics, I suppose.”
I surveyed the man in amazement. Was this great politician stooping to act a part, or had he forgotten our physiognomies as completely as appeared?
“Our business is not politics,” replied Mr. Gryce; “but fully as important. May I request the doors be closed?”
I thought Mr. Blake looked surprised, but he immediately stepped to the door and shut it. Then coming back, he looked at Mr. Gryce more closely and a change took place in his manner.
“I think I have seen you before,” said he.
Mr. Gryce bowed with just the suspicion of a smile. “I have had the honor of consulting you before in this very house,” observed he.
A look of full recognition passed over the dignified countenance of the man before us.
“I remember,” said he, shrugging his shoulders in the old way. “You are interested in some servant girl or other who ran away from this house a week or so ago. Have you found her?” This with no apparent concern.
“We think we have,” rejoined Mr. Gryce with some solemnity. “The river gives up its prey now and then, Mr. Blake.”
Still only that look of natural surprise.
“Indeed! You do not mean to say she has drowned herself? I am sorry for that, a girl who had once lived in my house. What trouble could she have had to drive her to such an act?”
Mr. Gryce advanced a step nearer the gentleman.
“That is what we have come here to learn,” said he with a deliberation that yet was not lacking in the respect due to a man so universally esteemed as Mr. Blake. “You who have seen her so lately ought to be able to throw some light upon the subject at least.”
“Mr....” he again glanced at the card, “Mr. Gryce, excuse me, I believe I told you when you were here before that I had no remembrance of this girl at all. That if such a person was in my house I did not know it, and that all questions put to me on that subject would be so much labor thrown away.”
Mr. Gryce bowed. “I remember,” said he. “I was not alluding to any connection you may have had with the girl in this house, but to the interview you were seen to have with her on the corner of Broome Street some days ago. You had such an interview, did you not?”
A flush, deep as it was sudden, swept over Mr. Blake’s usually unmoved cheek. “You are transgressing sir,” said he and stopped. Though a man of intense personal pride, he had but little of that quality called temper, or perhaps if he had, thought it unwise to display it on this occasion. “I saw and spoke to a girl on the corner of that street some days ago,” he went on more mildly, “but that she was the one who lived here, I neither knew at the time nor feel willing to believe now without positive proof.” Then in a deep ringing tone the stateliness of which it would be impossible to describe, he inquired, “Have the city authorities presumed to put a spy on my movements, that the fact of my speaking to a poor forsaken creature on the corner of the street should be not only noted but remembered?”
“Mr. Blake,” observed Mr. Gryce, and I declare I was proud of my superior at that moment, “no man who is a true citizen and a Christian should object to have his steps followed, when by his own thoughtlessness, perhaps, he has incurred a suspicion which demands it.”
“And do you mean to say that I have been followed,” inquired he, clenching his hand and looking steadily, but with a blanching cheek, first at Mr. Gryce then at me.
“It was indispensable,” quoth that functionary gently.
The outraged gentleman riveted his gaze upon me. “In town and out of town?” demanded he.
I let Mr. Gryce reply. “It is known that you have lately sought to visit the Schoenmakers,” said he.
Mr. Blake drew a deep breath, cast his eyes about the handsome apartment in which we were, let them rest for a moment upon a portrait that graced one side of the wall, and which was I have since learned a picture of his father, and slowly drew forward a chair. “Let me hear what your suspicions are,” said he.
I noticed Mr. Gryce colored at this; he had evidently been met in a different way from what he expected. “Excuse me,” said he, “I do not say I have any suspicions; my errand is simply to notify you of the death of the girl you were seen to speak with, and to ask whether or not you can give us any information that can aid us in the matter before the coroner.”
“You know I have not. If I have been as closely followed as you say, you must know why I spoke to that girl and others, why I went to the house of the Schoenmakers and, Do you know?” he suddenly inquired.
Mr. Gryce was not the man to answer such a question as that. He eyed the rich signet ring that adorned the hand of the gentleman before him and suavely smiled. “I am ready to listen to any explanations,” said he.
Mr. Blake’s haughty countenance became almost stern. “You consider you have a right to demand them; let me hear why.”
“Well,” said Mr. Gryce with a change of tone, “you shall. Unprofessional as it is, I will tell you why I, a member of the police force, dare enter the house of such a man as you are, and put him the questions I have concerning his domestic affairs. Mr. Blake, imagine yourself in a detective’s office. A woman comes in, the housekeeper of a respected citizen, and informs us that a girl employed by her as seamstress has disappeared in a very unaccountable way from her master’s house the night before; in fact been abducted as she thinks from certain evidences, through the window. Her manner is agitated, her appeal for assistance urgent, though she acknowledges no relationship to the girl or expresses any especial cause for her interest beyond that of common humanity. ‘She must be found,’ she declares, and hints that any sum necessary will be forthcoming, though from what source after her own pittance is expended she does not state. When asked if her master has no interest in the matter, she changes color and puts us off. He never noticed his servants, left all such concerns to her, etc.; but shows fear when a proposition is made to consult him. Next imagine yourself with the detectives in that gentleman’s house.You enter the girl’s room; what is the first thing you observe? Why that it is not only one of the best in the house, but that it is conspicuous for its comforts if not for its elegancies. More than that, that there are books of poetry and history lying around, showing that the woman who inhabited it was above her station; a fact which the housekeeper is presently brought to acknowledge. You notice also that the wild surmise of her abduction by means of the window, has some ground in appearance, though the fact that she went with entire unwillingness is not made so apparent. The housekeeper, however, insists in a way that must have had some special knowledge of the girl’s character or circumstances to back it, that she never went without compulsion; a statement which the torn curtains and the track of blood over the roof of the extension, would seem to emphasize. A few other facts are made known. First, a pen-knife is picked up from the grass plot in the yard beneath, showing with what instrument the wound was inflicted, whose drippings made those marks of blood alluded to. It was a pearl-handled knife belonging to the writing desk found open on her table, and its frail and dainty character proved indisputably, that it was employed by the girl herself, and that against manifest enemies; no man being likely to snatch up any such puny weapon for the purpose either of offence or defence. That these enemies were two and were both men, was insisted upon by Mrs. Daniels who overheard their voices the night before.
“Mr. Blake, such facts as these arouse curiosity, especially when the master of the house being introduced upon the scene, he fails to manifest common human interest, while his housekeeper betrays in every involuntary gesture and expression she makes use of, her horror if not her fear of his presence, and her relief at his departure. Yes,” he exclaimed, unheeding the sudden look here cast him by Mr. Blake, “and curiosity begets inquiry, and inquiry elucidated further facts such as these, that the mysterious master of the house was in his garden at the hour of the girl’s departure, was even looking through the bars of his gate when she, having evidently escaped from her captors, came back with every apparent desire to reenter her home, but seeing him, betrayed an unreasonable amount of fear and fled back even into the very arms of the men she had endeavored to avoid. Did you speak sir?” asked Mr. Gryce suddenly stopping, with a sly look at his left boot tip.
Mr. Blake shook his head. “No,” said he shortly, “go on.” But that last remark of Mr. Gryce had evidently made its impression.
“Inquiry revealed, also, two or three other interesting facts. First, that this gentleman qualified though he was to shine in ladies’ society, never obtruded himself there, but employed his leisure time instead, in walking the lower streets of the city, where he was seen more than once conversing with certain poor girls at street corners and in blind alleys. The last one he talked with, believed from her characteristics to be the same one that was abducted from his house”
“Hold there,” said Mr. Blake with some authority in his tone, “there you are mistaken; that is impossible.”
“Ah, and why?”
“The girl you allude to had bright golden hair, something which the woman who lived in my house did not possess.”
“Indeed. I thought you had never noticed the woman who sewed for you, sir, did not know how she looked?”
“I should have noticed her if she had had such hair as the girl you speak of.”
Mr. Gryce smiled and opened his pocketbook.
“There is a sample of her hair, sir,” said he, taking out a thin strand of brilliant hair and showing it to the gentleman before him. “Bright you see, and golden as that of the unfortunate creature you talked with the other night.”
Mr. Blake stooped forward and lifted it with a hand that visibly trembled. “Where did you get this?” asked he at last, clenching it to his breast with sudden passion.
“From out of the comb which the girl had been using the night before.”
The imperious man flung it hastily from him.
“We waste our time,” said he, looking Mr. Gryce intently in the face. “All that you have said does not account for your presence here nor the tone you have used while addressing me. What are you keeping back? I am not a man to be trifled with.”
Mr. Gryce rose to his feet. “You are right,” said he, and he gave a short glance in my direction. “All that I have said would not perhaps justify me in this intrusion, if...” he looked again towards me. “Do you wish me to continue?” he asked.
Mr. Blake’s intent look deepened. “I see no reason why you should not utter the whole,” said he. “A good story loses nothing by being told to the end. You wish to say something about my journey to Schoenmaker’s house, I suppose.”
Mr. Gryce gravely shook his head.
“What, you can let such a mystery as that go without a word?”
“I am not here to discuss mysteries that have no connection with the sewing-girl in whose cause I am interested.”
“Then,” said Mr. Blake, turning for the first time upon my superior with all the dignified composure for which he was eminent, “it is no longer necessary for us to prolong this interview. I have allowed, nay encouraged you to state in the plainest terms what it was you had or imagined you had against me, knowing that my actions of late, seen by those who did not possess the key to them, must have seemed a little peculiar. But when you say you have no interest in any mystery disconnected with the girl who has lived the last few months in my house, I can with assurance say that it is time we quitted this unprofitable conversation, as nothing which I have lately done, said or thought here or elsewhere has in any way had even the remotest bearing upon that individual; she having been a stranger to me while in my house, and quite forgotten by me, after her unaccountable departure hence.”
Mr. Gryce’s hand which had been stretched out towards the hitherto untouched decanter before him, suddenly dropped. “You deny then,” said he, “all connection between yourself and the woman, lady or sewing-girl, who occupied that room above our heads for eleven months previous to the Sunday morning I first had the honor to make your acquaintance.”
“I am not in the habit of repeating my assertions,” said Mr. Blake with some severity, “even when they relate to a less disagreeable matter than the one under discussion.”
Mr. Gryce bowed, and slowly reached out for his hat; I had never seen him so disturbed. “I am sorry,” he began and stopped, fingering his hat-brim nervously. Suddenly he laid his hat back, and drew up his form into as near a semblance of dignity as its portliness would allow.
“Mr. Blake,” said he, “I have too much respect for the man I believed you to be when I entered this house to-night, to go with the thing unsaid which is lying at present like a dead weight upon my lips. I dare not leave you to the consequence of my silence; for duty will compel me to speak some day and in some presence where you may not have the opportunity which you can have here, to explain yourself with satisfaction. Mr. Blake I cannot believe you when you say the girl who lived in this house was a stranger to you.”
Mr. Blake drew his proud form up in a disdain that was only held in check by the very evident honesty of the man before him. “You are courageous at least,” said he. “I regret you are not equally discriminating.” And raising Mr. Gryce’s hat he placed it in his hand.
“Pardon me,” said that gentleman, “I would like to justify myself before I go. Not with words,” he proceeded as the other folded his arms with a sarcastic bow. “I am done with words; action accomplishes the rest. Mr. Blake I believe you consider me an honest officer and a reliable man. Will you accompany me to your private room for a moment? There is something there which may convince you I was neither playing the fool nor the bravado when I uttered the phrase I did an instant ago.”
I expected to hear the haughty master of the house refuse a request so peculiar. But he only bowed, though in a surprised way that showed his curiosity if no more was aroused. “My room and company are at your disposal,” said he, “but you will find nothing there to justify you in your assertions.”
“Let me at least make the effort,” entreated my superior.
Mr. Blake smiling bitterly immediately led the way to the door. “The man may come,” he remarked carelessly as Mr. Gryce waved his hand in my direction. “Your justification if not mine may need witnesses.”
Rejoiced at the permission, for my curiosity was by this time raised to fever pitch, I at once followed. Not without anxiety. The assured poise of Mr. Blake’s head seemed to argue that the confidence betrayed by my superior might receive a shock; and I felt it would be a serious blow to his pride to fail now. But once within the room above, my doubts speedily fled. There was that in Mr. Gryce’s face which anyone acquainted with him could not easily mistake. Whatever might be the mysterious something which the room contained, it was evidently sufficient in his eyes to justify his whole conduct.
“Now sir,” said Mr. Blake, turning upon my superior with his sternest expression, “the room and its contents are before you; what have you to say for yourself.”
Mr. Gryce equally stern, if not equally composed, cast one of his inscrutable glances round the apartment and without a word stepped before the picture that was as I have said, the only ornamentation of the otherwise bare and unattractive room.
I thought Mr. Blake looked surprised, but his face was not one that lightly expressed emotion.
“A portrait of my cousin the Countess De Mirac,” said he with a certain dryness of tone hard to interpret.
Mr. Gryce bowed and for a moment stood looking with a strange lack of interest at the proudly brilliant face of the painting before him, then to our great amazement stepped forward and with a quick gesture turned the picture rapidly to the wall, when - Gracious heavens! what a vision started out before us from the reverse side of that painted canvas! No luxurious brunette countenance now, steeped in pride and languor, but a face...Let me see if I can describe it. But no, it was one of those faces that are indescribable. You draw your breath as you view it; you feel as if you had had an electric shock; but as for knowing ten minutes later whether the eyes that so enthralled you were blue or black, or the locks that clustered halo-like about a forehead almost awful in its expression of weird, unfathomable power, were brown or red, you could not nor would you pretend to say. It was the character of the countenance itself that impressed you. You did not even know if this woman who might have been anything wonderful or grand you ever read of, were beautiful or not. You did not care; it was as if you had been gazing on a tranquil evening sky and a lightning flash had suddenly startled you. Is the lightning beautiful? Who asks! But I know from what presently transpired, that the face was ivory pale in complexion, the eyes deeply dark, and the hair, strange and uncanny combination, of a bright and peculiar golden hue.
“You dare!” came forth in strange broken tones from Mr. Blake’s lips.
I instantly turned towards him. He was gazing with a look that was half indignant, half menacing at the silent detective who with eyes drooped and finger directed towards the picture, seemed to be waiting for him to finish.
“I do not understand an audacity that allows you to...to...” Was this the haughty gentleman we had known, this hesitating troubled man with bloodless lips and trembling hands?
“I declared my desire to justify myself,” said my principal with a respectful bow. “This is my justification. Do you note the color of the woman’s hair whose portrait hangs with its face turned to the wall in your room? Is it like or unlike that of the strand you held in your hand a few moments ago; a strand taken as I swear, hair by hair from the comb of the poor creature who occupied the room above. But that is not all,” he continued as Mr. Blake fell a trifle aback; “just observe the dress in which this woman is painted; blue silk you see, dark and rich; a wide collar cunningly executed, you can almost trace the pattern; a brooch; then the roses in the hand, do you see? Now come with me upstairs.”
Too much startled to speak, Mr. Blake, haughty aristocrat as he was, turned like a little child and followed the detective who with an assured step and unembarassed mien led the way into the deserted room above.
“You accuse me of insulting you, when I express disbelief of your assertion that there was no connection between you and the girl Emily,” said Mr. Gryce as he lit the gas and unlocked that famous bureau drawer. “Will you do so any longer in face of these?” And drawing off the towel that lay uppermost, he revealed the neatly folded dress, wide collar, brooch and faded roses that lay beneath. “Mrs. Daniels assures us these articles belonged to the sewing-woman Emily; were brought here by her. Dare you say they are not the ones reproduced in the portrait below?”
Mr. Blake uttering a cry sank on his knees before the drawer. “My God! My God!” was his only reply, “what are these?” Suddenly he rose, his whole form quivering, his eyes burning. “Where is Mrs. Daniels?” he cried, hastily advancing and pulling the bell. “I must see her at once. Send the house-keeper here,” he ordered as Fanny smiling demurely made her appearance at the door.
“Mrs. Daniels is out,” returned the girl, “went out as soon as ever you got up from dinner, sir.”
“Gone out at this hour?”
“Yes sir; she goes out very often nowadays, sir.”
Her master frowned. “Send her to me as soon as she returns,” he commanded, and dismissed the girl.
“I don’t know what to make of this,” he now said in a strange tone, approaching again the touching contents of that open bureau drawer with a look in which longing and doubt seemed in some way to be strangely commingled. “I cannot explain the presence of these articles in this room; but if you will come below I will see what I can do to make other matters intelligible to you. Disagreeable as it is for me to take anyone into my confidence, affairs have gone too far for me to hope any longer to preserve secrecy as to my private concerns.”
“Gentlemen,” said he as he ushered us once more into his studio, “you have presumed, and not without reason I should say, to infer that the original of this portrait and the woman who has so long occupied the position of sewing-woman in my house, are one and the same. You will no longer retain that opinion when I inform you that this picture, strange as it may appear to you, is the likeness of my wife.”
“Wife!” We both were astonished as I take it, but it was my voice which spoke. “We were ignorant you ever had a wife.”
“No doubt,” continued our host smiling bitterly, “that at least has evaded the knowledge even of the detectives.” Then with a return to his naturally courteous manner, “She was never acknowledged by me as my wife, nor have we ever lived together, but if priestly benediction can make a man and woman one, that woman as you see her there is my lawful wife.”
Rising, he softly turned the lovely, potent face back to the wall, leaving us once more confronted by the dark and glowing countenance of his cousin.
“I am not called upon,” said he, “to go any further with you than this. I have told you what no man till this hour has ever heard from my lips, and it should serve to exonerate me from any unjust suspicions you may have entertained. But to one of my temperament, secret scandal and the gossip it engenders is only less painful than open notoriety. If I leave the subject here, a thousand conjectures will at once seize upon you, and my name if not hers will become, before I know it, the football of gossip if not of worse and deeper suspicion than has yet assailed me. Gentleman I take you to be honest men; husbands, perhaps, and fathers; proud, too, in your way and jealous of your own reputation and that of those with whom you are connected. If I succeed in convincing you that my movements of late have been totally disconnected with the girl whose cause you profess solely to be interested in, may I count upon your silence as regards those actions and the real motive that led to them?”
“You may count upon my discretion as regards all matters that do not come under the scope of police duty,” returned Mr. Gryce. “I haven’t much time for gossip.”
“And your man here?”
“O, he’s safe where it profits him to be.”
“Very well, then, I shall count upon you.”
And with the knitted brows and clinched hands of a proudly reticent man who, perhaps for the first time in his life finds himself forced to reveal his inner nature to the world, he began his story in these words:
“Difficult as it is for me to introduce into a relation like this the name of my father, I shall be obliged to do so in order to make my conduct at a momentous crisis of my life intelligible to you. My father, then, was a man of strong will and a few but determined prejudices. Resolved that I should sustain the reputation of the family for wealth and respectability, he gave me to understand from my earliest years, that as long as I preserved my manhood from reproach, I had only to make my wishes known, to have them immediately gratified; while if I crossed his will either by indulging in dissipation or engaging in pursuits unworthy of my name, I no longer need expect the favor of his countenance or the assistance of his purse.
“When, therefore, at a certain period of my life, I found that the charms of my cousin Evelyn were making rather too strong an impression upon my fancy for a secured peace of mind, I first inquired how such a union would affect my father, and learning that it would be in direct opposition to his views, cast about in my mind what I should do to overcome my passion. Travel suggested itself, and I took a trip to Europe. But the sight of new faces only awakened in me comparisons anything but detrimental to the beauty of her who was at that time my standard of feminine loveliness. Nature and the sports connected with a wild life were my next resort. I went overland to California, roamed the orange groves of Florida, and probed the wildernesses of Canada and our Northern states. It was during these last excursions that an event occurred which has exercised the most material influence upon my fate, though at the time it seemed to me no more than the matter of a day.
“I had just returned from Canada and was resting in tolerable enjoyment of a very beautiful autumn at Lake George, when a letter reached me from a friend then loitering in the vicinity, urging me to join him in a certain small town in Vermont where trout streams abounded and what is not so often the case under the circumstances, fishers were few.
“Being in a somewhat reckless mood I at once wrote a consent, and before another day was over, started for the remote village whence his letter was postmarked. I found it by no means easy of access. Situated in the midst of hills some twenty miles or so distant from any railroad, I discovered that in order to reach it, a long ride in a stage-coach was necessary, followed by a somewhat shorter journey on horseback. Not being acquainted with the route, I timed my connections wrong, so that when evening came I found myself riding over a strange road in the darkest night I had ever known. As if this was not enough, my horse suddenly began to limp and presently became so lame I found it impossible to urge her beyond a slow walk. It was therefore with no ordinary satisfaction that I presently beheld a lighted building in the distance, which as I approached resolved itself into an inn. Stopping in front of the house, which was closed against the chill night air, I called out lustily for someone to take my horse, whereupon the door opened and a man appeared on the threshold with a lantern in his hand. I at once made my wishes known, receiving in turn a somewhat gruff,
“‘Well it is a nasty night and it will be nastier before it’s over;’ an opinion instantly endorsed by a sudden swoop of wind that rushed by at that moment, slamming the door behind him and awakening over my head a lugubrious groaning as from the twisting boughs of some old tree, that was almost threatening in its character.
“‘You had better go in,’ said he, ‘the rain will come next.’
“I at once leaped from my horse and pushing open the door with main strength, entered the house. Another man met me on the threshold who merely pointing over his shoulder to a lighted room in his rear, passed out without a word, to help the somewhat younger man, who had first appeared, in putting up my horse. I at once accepted his silent invitation and stepped into the room before me. Instantly I found myself confronted by the rather startling vision of a young girl of a unique and haunting style of beauty, who rising at my approach now stood with her eyes on my face and her hands resting on the deal table before which she had been sitting, in an attitude expressive of mingled surprise and alarm. To see a woman in that place was not so strange; but such a woman! Even in the first casual glance I gave her, I at once acknowledged to myself her extraordinary power. Not the slightness of her form, the palor of her countenance, or the fairness of the locks of golden red hair that fell in two long braids over her bosom, could for a moment counteract the effect of her dark glance or the vivid almost unearthly force of her expression. It was as if you saw a flame upstarting before you, waving tremulously here and there, but burning and resistless in its white heat. I took off my hat with deference.
“A shudder passed over her, but she made no effort to return my acknowledgement. As we cast our eyes dilating with horror, down some horrible pit upon whose verge we suddenly find ourselves, she allowed her gaze for a moment to dwell upon my face, then with a sudden lifting of her hand, pointed towards the door as if to bid me depart when it swung open with that shrill rushing of wind that involuntarily awakes a shudder within you, and the two men entered and came stamping up to my side. Instantly her hand sunk, not feebly as with fear, but calmly as if at the bidding of her will, and without waiting for them to speak, she turned away and quietly left the room. As the door closed upon her I noticed that she wore a calico frock and that her face did not own one perfect feature.
“‘Go after Luttra and tell her to make up the bed in the northwest room,’ said the elder of the two in deep gutteral tones unmistakably German in their accent, to the other who stood shaking the wet off his coat into the leaping flames of a small wood fire that burned on the hearth before us.
“‘O, she’ll do without my bothering,’ was the sullen return. ‘I’m wet through.’
“The elder man, a large powerfully framed fellow of some fifty years or so, frowned. It was an evil frown, and the younger one seemed to feel it. He immediately tossed his coat onto a chair and left the room.
“‘Boys are so obstropolous now-a-days,’ remarked his companion to me with what he evidently intended for a conciliatory nod. ‘In my time they were broke in, did what they were told and asked no questions.’
“I smiled to myself at his calling the broad shouldered six-footer who had just left us a boy, but merely remarking, ‘He is your son is he not!’ seated myself before the blaze which shot up a tongue of white flame at my approach, that irresistibly recalled to my fancy the appearance of the girl who had gone out a moment before.
“‘O, yes, he is my son, and that girl you saw here was my daughter; I keep this inn and they help me, but it is a slow way to live, I can tell you. Travel on these roads is slim.’
“‘I should think likely,’ I returned, remembering the half dozen or so hills up which I had clambered since I took to my horse. ‘How far are we from Pentonville?’
“‘O, two or three miles,’ he replied, but in a hurried kind of a way. ‘Not far in the daytime but a regular journey in a night like this?’
“Yes,’ said I, as the house shook under a fresh gust; ‘it is fortunate I have a place in which to put up.’
“He glanced down at my baggage which consisted of a small hand bag, an over-coat and a fishing pole, with something like a gleam of disappointment.
“Going fishing?’ he asked.
“Yes,’ I returned.
“Good trout up those streams and plenty of them,’ he went on. ‘Going alone?’
“I did not half like his importunity, but considering I had nothing better to do, replied as affably as possible. ‘No, I expect to meet a friend in Pentonville who will accompany me.”
“His hand went to his beard in a thoughtful attitude and he cast me what, with my increased experience of the world, I should now consider a sinister glance. ‘Then you are expected?’ said he.
“Not considering this worth reply, I stretched out my feet to the blaze and began to warm them, for I felt chilled through.
“Been on the road long?’ he now asked, glancing at the blue flannel suit I wore.
“All summer,’ I returned,
“I again thought he looked disappointed.
“From Troy or New York?’ he went on with a vague endeavor to appear good naturally off hand.
“A big place that,’ he continued. ‘I was there once, lots of money stored away in them big buildings down in Wall Street, eh?’
“I assented, and he drew a chair up to my side, a proceeding that was interrupted, however, by the reentrance of his son, who without any apology crowded into the other side of the fire-place in a way to sandwich me between them. Not fancying this arrangement which I, however, imputed to ignorance, I drew back and asked if my room was ready. It seemed it was not, and unpleasantly as it promised, I felt forced to reseat myself and join in, if not support, the conversation that followed.
“A half hour passed away, during which the wind increased till it almost amounted to a gale. Spurts of rain dashed against the windows with a sharp crackling sound that suggested hail, while ever and anon a distant roll as of rousing thunder, rumbled away among the hills in a long and reverberating peal, that made me feel glad to be housed even under the roof of these rude and uncongenial creatures. Suddenly the conversation turned upon the time and time-pieces, when in a low even tone I heard murmured behind me,
“The gentleman’s room is ready;’ and turning, I saw standing in the doorway the slight figure of the young girl whose appearance had previously so impressed me.
“I immediately arose. ‘Then I will proceed to it at once,’ said I, taking up my traps and advancing towards her.
“Do not be alarmed if you hear creaks and cracklings all over the house,’ observed the landlord as I departed. ‘The windows are loose and the doors ill-fitting. In such a storm as this they make noise enough to keep an army awake. The house is safe enough though and if you don’t mind noise’
“O I don’t mind noise,’ rejoined I, feeling at that moment tired enough to fall into a doze on the staircase. ‘I shall sleep, never fear,’ and without further ado followed the girl upstairs into a large clumsily furnished room whose enormous bed draped with heavy curtains at once attracted my attention.
“O I cannot sleep under those things,’ remarked I, with a gesture towards the dismal draperies which to me were another name for suffocation.
“With a single arm-sweep she threw them back. ‘Is there anything more I can do for you?’ asked she, glancing hastily about the room.
“I thanked her and said ‘no,’ at which she at once departed with a look of still determination upon her countenance that I found it hard to explain.
“Left alone in that large, bare and dimly lighted room, with the wind shrieking in the chimney and the powerful limbs of some huge tree beating against the walls without, with a heavy thud inexpressibly mournful, I found to my surprise and something like dismay, that the sleepiness which had hitherto oppressed me, had in some unaccountable way entirely fled. In vain I contemplated the bed, comfortable enough now in its appearance that the stifling curtains were withdrawn; no temptation to invade it came to arouse me from the chair into which I had thrown myself. It was as if I felt myself under the spell of some invisible influence that like the eye of a basilisk, held me enchained. I remember turning my head towards a certain quarter of the wall as if I half expected to encounter there the bewildering glance of a serpent. Yet far from being apprehensive of any danger, I only wondered over the weakness of mind that made such fancies possible.
“An extra loud swirl of the foliage without, accompanied by a quick vibration of the house, aroused me at last. If I was to lose the sense of this furious storm careering over my head, I must court sleep at once. Rising, I drew off my coat, unloosened my vest and was about to throw it off, when I bethought me of a certain wallet it contained. Going to the door in some unconscious impulse of precaution I suppose, I locked myself in, and then drawing out my wallet, took from it a roll of bills which I put into a small side pocket, returning the wallet to its old place.
“Why I did this I can scarcely say. As I have before intimated, I was under no special apprehension. I was at that time anything but a suspicious man, and the manner and appearance of the men below struck me as unpleasantly disagreeable but nothing more. But I not only did what I have related, but allowed the lamp to remain lighted, lying down finally in my clothes; an almost unprecedented act on my part, warranted however as I said to myself, by the fury of the gale which at that time seemed as if it would tumble the roof over our heads.
“How long I lay listening to the creakings and groanings of the rickety old house, I cannot say, nor how long I remained in the doze which finally seized me as I became accustomed to the sounds around and over me. Enough that before the storm had passed its height, I awoke as if at the touch of a hand, and leaping with a bound out of the bed, beheld to my incredible amazement, the alert, nervous form of Luttra standing before me. She had my coat in her hand, and it was her touch that had evidently awakened me.
“I want you to put this on,’ said she in a low thrilling tone totally new in my experience, ‘and come with me. The house is unsafe for you to remain in. Hear how it cracks and trembles. Another blast like that and we shall be roofless.’
“She was moving toward the door, which to my amazement stood ajar, but my hesitation stopped her.
“Won’t you come?’ she whispered, turning her face towards me with a look of such potent determination, I followed in spite of myself ‘I dare not let you stay here, your blood will be upon my head.’
“You exaggerate,’ I replied, shrinking back with a longing look at the comfortable bed I had just left. ‘These old houses are always strong. It will take many such a gust as that you hear, to overturn it, I assure you.’
“I exaggerate!’ she returned with a look of scorn impossible to describe. ‘Hark!’ she said, ‘hear that.’
“I did hear, and I must acknowledge that it seemed is if we were about to be swept from our foundations.
“Yes,’ said I, ‘but it is a fearful night to be out in.’
“I shall go with you,’ said she.
“In that case—’ I began with an ill-advised attempt at gallantry which she cut short with a gesture.
“Here is your hat,’ remarked she, ‘and here is your bag. The fishing-pole must remain, you cannot carry it.’
“But, I expostulated.
“Hush!’ said she with her ear turned towards the depths of the staircase at the top of which we stood. ‘My father and brother will think as you do that it is folly to leave the shelter of a roof for the uncertainties of the road on such a night as this, but you must not heed them. I tell you shelter this night is danger, and that the only safety to be found is on the stormy highway.’
“And without waiting for my reply, she passed rapidly down stairs, pushed open a door at the bottom, and stepped at once into the room we had left an hour or so before.
“What was there in that room that for the first time struck an ominous chill as of distinct peril through my veins? Nothing at first sight, everything at the second. The fire which had not been allowed to die out, still burned brightly on the ruddy hearthstone, but it was not that which awakened my apprehension. Nor was it the loud ticking clock on the mantel-piece with its hand pointing silently to the hour of eleven. Nor yet the heavy quiet of the scantily-furnished room with its one lamp burning on the deal table against the side of the wall. It was the sight of those two powerful men drawn up in grim silence, the one against the door leading to the front hall, the other against that opening into the kitchen.
“A glance at Luttra standing silent and undismayed at my side, however, instantly reassured me. With that will exercised in my favor, I could not but win through whatever it was that menaced me. Slinging my bag over my shoulder, I made a move towards the door and the silent figure of my host. But with a quick outreaching of her hand, she drew me back.
“Stand still!’ said she. ‘Karl,’ she went on, turning her face towards the more sullen but less intent countenance of her brother, ‘open the door and let this gentleman pass. He finds the house unsafe in such a gale and desires to leave it. At once!’ she continued as her brother settled himself more determinedly against the lock: ‘I don’t often ask favors.’
“The man is a fool that wants to go out in a night like this,’ quoth the fellow with a dogged move; ‘and so are you to encourage it. I think too much of your health to allow it.’
“She did not seem to hear. ‘Will you open the door?’ she went on, not advancing a step from the fire, before which she had placed herself and me.’
“No, I won’t,’ was the brutal reply. ‘Its been locked for the night and its not me nor one like me, that will open it.’
“With a sudden whitening of her already pale face, she turned towards her father. He was not even looking at her.
“Some one must open the house,’ said she, glancing back at her brother. ‘This gentleman purposes to leave and his whim must be humored. Will you unlock that door or shall I?’
“An angry snarl interrupted her. Her father had bounded from the door where he stood and was striding hastily towards her. In my apprehension I put up my arm for a shield, for he looked ready to murder her, but I let it drop again as l caught her glance which was like white flame undisturbed by the least breeze of personal terror.
“You will stop there,’ said she, pointing to a spot a few feet from where she stood. ‘Another step and I let that for which I have heard you declare you would peril your very soul, fall into the heart of the flames.’ And drawing from her breast a roll of bills, she stretched them out above the fire before which she was standing.
“You -’ broke from the gray-bearded lips of the old man, but he stopped where he was, eyeing those bills as if fascinated.
“I am not a girl of many words, as you know,’ continued she in a lofty tone inexpressibly commanding. ‘You may strangle me, you may kill me, it matters little; but this gentleman leaves the house this night, or I destroy the money with a gesture.’
“You -’ again broke from those quivering lips, but the old man did not move.
“Not so the younger. With a rush he left his post and in another instant would have had his powerful arms about her slender form, only that I met him half way with a blow that laid him on the floor at her feet. She said nothing, but one of the bills immediately left her hand and fluttered into the fire where it instantly shrivelled into nothing.
“With the yell of a mad beast wounded in his most vulnerable spot, the old man before us stamped with his heel upon the floor.
“Stop!’ cried he; and going rapidly to the front door he opened it. ‘There!’ shrieked he, ‘if you will be fools, go! and may the lightning blast you. But first give me the money.’
“Come from the door,’ said she, reaching out her left hand for the lantern hanging at the side of the fireplace, ‘and let Karl light this and keep himself out of the way.’
“It was all done. In less time than I can tell it, the old man had stepped from the door, the younger one had lit the lantern and we were in readiness to depart.
“Now do you proceed,’ said she to me, ‘I will follow.’
“No,’ said I, ‘we will go together.’
“But the money?’ growled the heavy voice of my host over my shoulder.
“I will give it to you on my return,’ said the girl.”
A WOMAN’S LOVE
“Shall I ever forget the blast of driving rain that struck our faces and enveloped us in a cloud of wet, as the door swung on its hinges and let us forth into the night; or the electric thrill that shot through me as that slender girl grasped my hand and drew me away through the blinding darkness. It was not that I was so much affected by her beauty as influenced by her power and energy. The fury of the gale seemed to bend to her will, the wind lend wings to her feet. I began to realize what intellect was. Arrived at the roadside, she paused and looked back. The two burly forms of the men we had left behind us were standing in the door of the inn; in another moment they had plunged forth and towards us. With a low cry the young girl leaped towards a tree where to my unbounded astonishment I beheld my horse standing ready saddled. Dragging the mare from her fastenings, she hung the lantern, burning as it was, on the pommel of the saddle, struck the panting creature a smart blow upon the flank, and drew back with a leap to my side.
“The startled horse snorted, gave a plunge of dismay and started away from us down the road.
“We will wait,’ said Luttra.
“The words were no sooner out of her mouth than her father and brother rushed by.
“They will follow the light,’ whispered she; and seizing me again by the hand, she hurried me away in the direction opposite to that which the horse had taken. ‘If you will trust me, I will bring you to shelter,’ she murmured, bending her slight form to the gusty wind but relaxing not a whit of her speed.
“You are too kind,’ I murmured in return. ‘Why should you expose yourself to such an extent for a stranger?’
“Her hand tightened on mine, but she did not reply, and we hastened on as speedily as the wind and rain would allow. After a short but determined breasting of the storm, during which my breath had nearly failed me, she suddenly stopped.
“Do you know,’ she exclaimed in a low impressive tone, ‘that we are on the verge of a steep and dreadful precipice? It runs along here for a quarter of a mile and it is not an uncommon thing for a horse and rider to be dashed over it in a night like this.’
“There was something in her manner that awakened a chill in my veins almost as if she had pointed out some dreadful doom which I had unwittingly escaped.
“This is, then, a dangerous road,’ I murmured.
“Very,’ was her hurried and almost incoherent reply.
“How far we travelled through the mud and tangled grasses of that horrible road I do not know. It seemed a long distance; it was probably not more than three quarters of a mile. At last she paused with a short ‘Here we are;’ and looking up, I saw that we were in front of a small unlighted cottage.
“No refuge ever appeared more welcome to a pair of sinking wanderers I am sure. Wet to the skin, bedrabbled with mud, exhausted with breasting the gale, we stood for a moment under the porch to regain our breath, then with her characteristic energy she lifted the knocker and struck a smart blow on the door.
“We will find shelter here,’ said she.
“She was not mistaken. In a few moments we were standing once more before a comfortable fire hastily built by the worthy couple whose slumbers we had thus interrupted. As I began to realize the sweetness of conscious safety, all that this young, heroic creature had done for me swept warmly across my mind. Looking up from the fire that was beginning to infuse its heat through my grateful system, I surveyed her as she slowly undid her long braids and shook them dry over the blaze, and almost started to see how young she was. Not more than sixteen I should say, and yet what an invincible will shone from her dark eyes and dignified her slender form; a will gentle as it was strong, elevated as it was unbending. I bowed my head as I watched her, in grateful thankfulness which I presently put into words.
“At once she drew herself erect. ‘I did but my duty,’ said she quietly. ‘I am glad I was prospered in it.’ Then slowly. ‘If you are grateful, sir, will you promise to say nothing of what took place at the inn?’
“Instantly I remembered a suspicion which had crossed my mind while there, and my hand went involuntarily to my vest pocket. The roll of bills was gone.
“She did not falter. ‘I would be relieved if you would,’ continued she.
“I drew out my empty hand, looked at it, but said nothing.
“Have you lost anything?’ asked she. ‘Search in your overcoat pockets.’
“I plunged my hand into the one nearest her and drew it out with satisfaction; the roll of bills was there. ‘I give you my promise,’ said I.
“You will find a bill missing,’ she murmured; ‘for what amount I do not know; the sacrifice of something was inevitable.’
“I can only wonder over the ingenuity you displayed, as well as express my appreciation for your bravery,’ returned I with enthusiasm. ‘You are a noble girl.’
“She put out her hand as if compliments hurt her. ‘It is the first time they have ever attempted anything like that,’ cried she in a quick low tone full of shame and suffering. ‘They have shown a disposition to take money sometimes, but they never threatened life before. And they did threaten yours. They saw you take out your money, through a hole pierced in the wall of the room you occupied, and the sight made them mad. They were going to kill you and then tumble you and your horse over the precipice below there. But I overheard them talking and when they went out to saddle the horse, I hurried up to your room to wake you. I had to take possession of the bills; you were not safe while you held them. I took them quietly because I hoped to save you without betraying them. But I failed in that. You must remember they are my father and my brother.’
“I will not betray them,’ said I.
“She smiled. It was a wintry gleam but it ineffably softened her face. I became conscious of a movement of pity towards her.
“You have a hard lot,’ remarked I. ‘Your life must be a sad one.’
“She flashed upon me one glance of her dark eye. ‘I was born for hardship,’ said she, ‘but...’ and a sudden wild shudder seized her, ‘but not for crime.’
“The word fell like a drop of blood wrung from her heart.
“Good heavens!’ cried I, ‘and must you’
“No,’ rang from her lips in a clarion-like peal; ‘some things cut the very bonds of nature. I am not called upon to cleave to what will drag me into infamy.’ Then calmly, as if speaking of the most ordinary matter in the world, ‘I shall never go back to that house we have left behind us, sir.’
“But,’ cried I, glancing at her scanty garments, ‘where will you go? What will you do? You are young’
“And very strong,’ she interrupted. ‘Do not fear for me.’ And her smile was like a burst of sudden sunshine.
“I said no more that night.
“But when in the morning I stumbled upon her sitting in the kitchen reading a book not only above her position but beyond her years, a sudden impulse seized me and I asked her if she would like to be educated. The instantaneous illumining of her whole face was sufficient reply without her low emphatic words,
“I would be content to study on my knees to know what some women do, whom I have seen.’
“It is not necessary for me to relate with what pleasure I caught at the idea that here was a chance to repay in some slight measure the inestimable favor she had done me; nor by what arguments I finally won her to accept an education at my hands as some sort of recompense for the life she had saved. The advantage which it would give her in her struggle with the world she seemed duly to appreciate, but that so great a favor could be shown her without causing me much trouble and an unwarrantable expense, she could not at once be brought to comprehend, and till she could, she held out with that gentle but inflexible will of hers. The battle, however, was won at last and I left her in that little cottage, with the understanding that as soon as the matter could be arranged, she was to enter a certain boarding-school in Troy with the mistress of which I was acquainted. Meanwhile she was to go out to service at Melville and earn enough money to provide herself with clothes.
“I was a careless fellow in those days but I kept my promise to that girl. I not only entered her into that school for a course of three years, but acting through its mistress who had taken a great fancy to her, supplied her with the necessities her position required. It was so easy; merely the signing of a check from time to time, and it was done. I say this because I really think if it had involved any personal sacrifice on my part, even of an hour of my time, or the labor of a thought, I should not have done it. For with my return to the city my interest in my cousin revived, absorbing me to such an extent that any matter disconnected with her soon lost all charm for me.
“Two years passed; I was the slave of Evelyn Blake, but there was no engagement between us. My father’s determined opposition was enough to prevent that. But there was an understanding which I fondly hoped would one day open for me the way of happiness. But I did not know my father. Sick as he was, he was at that time laboring under the disease which in a couple of months later bore him to the tomb, he kept an eye upon my movements and seemed to probe my inmost heart. At last he came to a definite decision and spoke.
“His words opened a world of dismay before me. I was his only child, as he remarked, and it had been and was the desire of his heart to leave me as rich and independent a man as himself. But I seemed disposed to commit one of those acts against which he had the most determined prejudice; marriage between cousins being in his eyes an unsanctified and dangerous proceeding, liable to consequences the most unhappy. If I persisted, he must will his property elsewhere. The Blake estate should never descend with the seal of his approbation to a race of probable imbeciles.
“Nor was this enough. He not only robbed me of the woman I loved, but with a clear insight into the future, I presume, insisted upon my marrying some one else of respectability and worth before he died. ‘Anyone whose appearance will do you credit and whose virtue is beyond reproach,’ said he. ‘I don’t ask her to be rich or even the offspring of one of our old families. Let her be good and pure and of no connection to us, and I will bless her and you with my dying breath.’
“The idea had seized upon him with great force, and I soon saw he was not to be shaken out of it. To all my objections he returned but the one word,
“I don’t restrict your choice and I give you a month in which to make it. If at the end of that time you cannot bring your bride to my bedside, I must look around for an heir who will not thwart my dying wishes.’”
“A month! I surveyed the fashionable belles that nightly thronged the parlors of my friends and felt my heart sink within me. Take one of them for my wife, loving another woman? Impossible. Women like these demanded something in return for the honor they conferred upon a man by marrying him. Wealth? they had it. Position? that was theirs also. Consideration? ah, what consideration had I to give? I turned from them with distaste.
“My cousin Evelyn gave me no help. She was a proud woman and loved my money and my expectations as much as she did me.
“If you must marry another woman to retain your wealth, marry, said she, ‘but do not marry one of my associates. I will have no rival in my own empire; your wife must be a plainer and a less aspiring woman than Evelyn Blake. Yet do not discredit your name, which is mine,’ she would always add.
“Meanwhile the days flew by. If my own conscience had allowed me to forget the fact, my father’s eagerly inquiring, but sternly unrelenting gaze as I came each evening to his bedside, would have kept it sufficiently in my mind. I began to feel like one in the power of some huge crushing machine whose slowly descending weight he in vain endeavors to escape.
“How or when the thought of Luttra first crossed my mind I cannot say. At first I recoiled at the suggestion and put it away from me in disdain; but it ever recurred and with it so many arguments in her favor that before long I found myself regarding it as a refuge. To be sure she was a waif and a stray, but that seemed to be the kind of wife demanded of me. She was allied to rogues if not villains, I knew; but then had she not cut all connection with them, dropped away from them, planted her feet on new ground which they would never invade? I commenced to cherish the idea. With this friendless, grateful, unassuming protegee of mine for a wife, I would be as little bound as might be. She would ask nothing, and I need give nothing, beyond a home and the common attentions required of a gentleman and a friend. Then she was not disagreeable, nor was her beauty of a type to suggest the charms of her I had lost. None of the graces of the haughty patrician lady whose lightest gesture was a command, would appear in this humble girl, to mock and constrain me. No, I should have a fair wife and an obedient one, but no vulgarized shadow of Evelyn, thank God, or of any of her fashionably dressed friends.
“Advanced thus far towards the end, I went to see Luttra. I had not beheld her since the morning we parted at the door of that little cottage in Vermont, and her presence caused me a shock. This, the humble waif with the appealing grateful eyes I had expected to encounter? this tall and slender creature with an aureola of golden hair about a face that it was an education to behold! I felt a half movement of anger as I surveyed her. I had been cheated; I had planted a grape seed and a palm tree had sprung up in its place. I was so taken aback, my salute lost something of the benevolent condescension I had intended to infuse into it. She seemed to feel my embarassment and a half smile fluttered to her lips. That smile decided me. It was sweet but above all else it was appealing.
“How I won that woman to marry me in ten days time I care not to state. Not by holding up my wealth and position before her. Something restrained me from that. I was resolved, and perhaps it was the only point of light in my conduct at that time, not to buy this young girl. I never spoke of my expectations, I never alluded to my present advantages yet I won her.
“We were married, there, in Troy in the quietest and most unpretending manner. Why the fact has never transpired I cannot say. I certainly took no especial pains to conceal it at the time, though I acknowledge that after our separation I did resort to such measures as I thought necessary, to suppress what had become gall and wormwood to my pride.
“My first move after the ceremony was to bring her immediately to New York and to this house. With perhaps a pardonable bitterness of spirit, I had refrained from any notification of my intentions, and it was as strangers might enter an unprepared dwelling, that we stepped across the threshold of this house and passed immediately to my father’s room.
“I can give you no wedding and no honeymoon,’ I had told her. ‘My father is dying and demands my care. From the altar to a death-bed may be sad for you, but it is an inevitable condition of your marriage with me.’ And she had accepted her fate with a deep unspeakable smile it has taken me long months of loneliness and suffering to understand.
“Father, I bring you my bride,’ were my first words to him as the door closed behind us shutting us in with the dread, invisible Presence that for so long a time had been relentlessly advancing upon our home.
“I shall never forget how he roused himself in his bed, nor with what eager eyes he read her young face and surveyed her slight form swaying towards him in her sudden emotion like a flame in a breeze. Nor while I live shall I lose sight of the spasm of uncontrollable joy with which he lifted his aged arms towards her, nor the look with which she sprang from my side and nestled, yes nestled, on the breast that never to my remembrance had opened itself to me even in the years of my earliest childhood. For my father was a stern man who believed in holding love at arm’s length and measured affection by the depth of awe it inspired.
“‘My daughter!’ broke from his lips, and he never inquired who she was or what; no, not even when after a moment of silence she raised her head and with a sudden low cry of passionate longing looked in his face and murmured,
“I never had a father.’
“Sirs, it is impossible for me to continue without revealing depths of pride and bitterness in my own nature, from which I now shrink with unspeakable pain. So far from being touched by this scene, I felt myself grow hard under it. If he had been disappointed in my choice, queried at it or even been simply pleased at my obedience, I might have accepted the wife I had won, and been tolerably grateful. But to love her, admire her, glory in her when Evelyn Blake had never succeeded in winning a glance from his eyes that was not a public disapprobation! I could not endure it; my whole being rebelled, and a movement like hate took possession of me.
“Bidding my wife to leave me with my father alone, I scarcely waited for the door to close upon the poor young thing before all that had been seething in my breast for a month, burst from me in the one cry,
“I have brought you a daughter as you commanded me. Now give me the blessing you promised and let me go; for I cannot live with a woman I do not love.’
“Instantly, and before his lips could move, the door opened and the woman I thus repudiated in the first dawning hour of her young bliss, stood before us. My God! what a face! When I think of it now in the night season when from dreams that gloomy as they are, are often elysian to the thoughts which beset me in my waking hours, I suddenly arouse to see starting upon me from the surrounding shadows that young fair brow with its halo of golden tresses, blotted, ay blotted by the agony that turned her that instant into stone, I wonder I did not take out the pistol that lay in the table near which I stood, and shoot her lifeless on the spot as some sort of a compensation for the misery I had caused her. I say I wonder now: then I only thought of braving it out.
“Straight as a dart, but with that look on her face, she came towards us. ‘Did I hear aright?’ were the words that came from her lips. ‘Have you married me, a woman beneath your station as I now perceive, because you were commanded to do so? Have you not loved me? given me that which alone makes marriage a sacrament or even a possibility? and must you leave this house made sacred by the recumbent form of your dying father if I remain within it?’
“I saw my father’s stiff and pallid lips move silently as though he would answer for me if he could, and summoning up what courage I possessed, I told her that I deeply regretted she had overheard my inconsiderate words. That I had never meant to wound her, whatever bitterness lay in my heart towards one who had thwarted me in my dearest and most cherished hopes. That I humbly begged her pardon and would so far acknowledge her claim upon me as to promise that I would not leave my home at this time, if it distressed her; my desire being not to injure her, only to protect myself.
“O the scorn that mounted to her brow at these weak words. Not scorn of me, thank God, worthy as I was of it that hour, but scorn of my slight opinion of her.
“Then I heard aright,’ she murmured, and waited with a look that would not be gainsaid.
“I could only bow my head, cursing the day I was born.
“Holman! Holman!’ came in agonized entreaty from the bed, ‘you will not rob me of my daughter now?’
“Startled, I looked up. Luttra was half way to the door.
“What are you going to do?’ cried I, bounding towards her.
“She stopped me with a look. ‘The son must never forsake the father,’ said she. ‘If either of us must leave the house this day, let it be I.’ Then in a softer tone, ‘When you asked me to be your wife, I who had worshipped you from the moment you entered my father’s house on the memorable night I left it, was so overcome at your condescension that I forgot you did not preface it by the usual passionate, ‘I love you,’ which more than the marriage ring binds two hearts together. In the glamour and glow of my joy, I did not see that the smile that was in my heart, was missing from your face. I was to be your wife and that was enough, or so I thought then, for I loved you. Ah, and I do now, my husband, love you so that I leave you. Were it for your happiness I would do more than that, I would give you back your freedom, but from what I hear, it seems that you need a wife in name and I will be but fulfilling your desire in holding that place for you. I will never disgrace the position high as it is above my poor deserts. When the day comes if the day comes that you need or feel you need the sustainment of my presence or the devotion of my heart, no power on earth save that of death itself, shall keep me from your side. Till that day arrives I remain what you have made me, a bride who lays no claim to the name you this morning bestowed upon her.’ And with a gesture that was like a benediction, she turned, and noiselessly, breathlessly as a dream that vanishes, left the room.
“Sirs, I believe I uttered a cry and stumbled towards her. Some one in that room uttered a cry, but it may be that it only rose in my heart and that the one I heard came from my father’s lips. For when at the door I turned, startled at the deathly silence, I saw he had fainted on his pillow. I could not leave him so. Calling to Mrs. Daniels, who was never far from my father in those days, I bade her stop the lady, I believe I called her my wife, who was going down the stairs, and then rushed to his side. It took minutes to revive him. When he came to himself it was to ask for the creature who had flashed like a beacon of light upon his darkening path. I rose as if to fetch her but before I could advance I heard a voice say, ‘She is not here,’ and looking up I saw Mrs. Daniels glide into the room.
“Mrs. Blake has gone, sir, I could not keep her.’”
A MAN’S HEART
“That was the last time my eyes ever rested upon my wife. Whither she went or what refuge she gained, I never knew. My father who had received in this scene a great shock, began to fail so rapidly, he demanded my constant care; and though from time to time as I ministered to him and noted with what a yearning persistency he would eye the door and then turn and meet my gaze with a look I could not understand, I caught myself asking whether I had done a deed destined to hang forever about me like a pall; it was not till after his death that the despairing image of the bright young creature to whom I had given my name, returned with any startling distinctness to my mind, or that I allowed myself to ask whether the heavy gloom which I now felt settling upon me was owing to the sense of shame that overpowered me at the remembrance of the past, or to the possible loss I had sustained in the departure of my young unloved bride.
“The announcement at this time of the engagement between Evelyn Blake and the Count De Mirac may have had something to do with this. Though I had never in the most passionate hours of my love for her, lost sight of that side of her nature which demanded as her right the luxury of great wealth; and though in my tacit abandonment of her and secret marriage with another I had certainly lost the right to complain of her actions whatever they might be, this manifest surrendering of herself to the power of wealth and show at the price of all that women are believed to hold dear, was an undoubted blow to my pride and the confidence I had till now unconsciously reposed in her inherent womanliness and affection. That she had but made on a more conspicuous scale, the same sacrifice as myself to the god of Wealth and Position, was in my eyes at that time, no palliation of her conduct. I was a man none too good or exalted at the best; she, a woman, should have been superior to the temptations that overpowered me. That she was not, seemed to drag all womanhood a little nearer the dust; fashionable womanhood I ought to say, for somehow even at that early day her conduct did not seem to affect the vivid image of Luttra standing upon my threshold, shorn of her joy but burning with a devotion I did not comprehend, and saying,
“I loved you. Ah, and I do yet, my husband, love you so that I leave you. When the day comes, if the day comes, you need or feel you need the sustainment of my presence or the devotion of my heart, no power on earth save that of death itself, shall keep me from your side.’
“Yes, with the fading away of other faces and other forms, that face and that form now began to usurp the chief place in my thoughts. Not to my relief and pleasure. That could scarcely be, remembering all that had occurred; rather to my increasing distress and passionate resentment. I longed to forget I was held by a tie, that known to the world would cause me the bitterest shame. For by this time the true character of her father and brother had been revealed and I found myself bound to the daughter of a convicted criminal.
“But I could not forget her. The look with which she had left me was branded into my consciousness. Night and day it floated before me, till to escape it I resolved to fasten it upon canvas, if by that means I might succeed in eliminating it from my dreams.
“The painting you have seen this night is the result. Born with an artist’s touch and insight that under other circumstances might, perhaps, have raised me into the cold dry atmosphere of fame, the execution of this piece of work, presented but few difficulties to my somewhat accustomed hand. Day by day her beauty grew beneath my brush, startling me often with its spiritual force and significance till my mind grew feverish over its work, and I could scarcely refrain from rising at night to give a touch here or there to the floating golden hair or the piercing, tender eyes turned, ah, ever turned upon the inmost citadel of my heart with that look that slew my father before his time and made me, yes me, old in spirit even in the ardent years of my first manhood.
“At last it was finished and she stood before me life-like and real in the very garments and with almost the very aspect of that never to be forgotten moment. Even the roses which in the secret uneasiness of my conscience I had put in her hand on our departure from Troy, as a sort of visible token that I regarded her as my bride, and which through all her interview with my father she had never dropped, blossomed before me on the canvas. Nothing that could give reality to the likeness, was lacking; the vision of my dreams stood embodied in my sight, and I looked for peace. Alas, that picture now became my dream.
“Inserting it behind that of Evelyn which for two years had held its place above my armchair, I turned its face to the wall when I rose in the morning. But at night it beamed ever upon me, becoming as the months passed, the one thing to hold to and muse over when the world grew a little noisy in my ears and the never ceasing conflict of the ages beat a trifle too loudly on heart and brain.
“Meanwhile no word of her, only of her villainous father and brother; no token that she had escaped evil or was removed from want. If I had loved her I could not have succored her, for I did not know where to find her. Her countenance illumined my wall, but her fair young self lay for all I knew sheltered within the darkness and silence of the tomb.
“At length my morbid broodings worked out their natural result. A dull melancholy settled upon me which nothing could break. Even the news that my cousin who had lost her husband a month after marriage, had returned to America with expectation to remain, scarcely caused a ripple in my apathy. Was I sinking into a hypochrondriac? or was my passion for the beautiful brunette dead? I determined to solve the doubt.
“Seeking her where I knew she would be found, I gazed again upon her beauty. It was absolutely nothing to me. A fair young face with high thoughts in every glance floated like sunshine between us and I left the haughty Countess, with the knowledge burned deep into my brain, that the love I had considered slain was alive and demanding, but that the object of it past recall, was my lost young wife.
“Once assured of this, my apathy vanished like mist before a kindled torch. Henceforth the future held a hope, and life a purpose. I would seek my wife throughout the world and bring her back if I found her in prison between the men whose existence was a curse to my pride. But where should I turn my steps? What golden thread had she left in my hand by which to trace her through the labyrinth of this world? I could think of but one, and that was the love which would restrain her from going away from me too far. The Luttra of old would not leave the city where her husband lived. If she was not changed, I ought to be able to find her somewhere within this great Babylon of ours. Wisdom told me to set the police upon her track, but pride bade me try every other means first. So with the feverish energy of one leading a forlorn hope, I began to pace the streets if haply I might see her face shine upon me from the crowd of passers by; a foolish fancy, unproductive of result! I not only failed to see her, but anyone like her.
“In the midst of the despair occasioned by this failure a thought flashed across me or rather a remembrance. One night not long since, being uncommonly restless, I had risen from my bed, dressed me and gone out into the yard back of my house for a little air. It was an unusual thing for me to do but I seemed to be suffocating where I was, and nothing else would satisfy me. As you already surmise, it was the night on which disappeared the sewing girl of which you have so often spoken, but I knew nothing of that, my thoughts were far from my own home and its concerns. You may judge what a state of mind I was in when I tell you that I even thought at one moment while I paused before the gate leading into Street that I saw the face of her with whom my thoughts were ever busy, peering upon me through the bars.
“You tell me that I did see a girl there, and that it was the one who had lived as sewing woman in my house; it may be so, but at the time I considered it a vision of my wife, and the remembrance of it, coming as it did after my repeated failures to encounter her in the street, worked a change in my plans. For regard it as weakness or not, the recollection that the vision I had seen wore the garments of a working-woman rather than a lady, acted upon me like a warning not to search for her any longer among the resorts of the well-dressed, but in the regions of poverty and toil. I therefore took to wanderings such as I have no heart to describe. Nor do I need to, if, as you have informed me, I have been followed.
“The result was almost madness. Though deep in my heart I felt a steadfast trust in the purity of her intentions, the fear of what she might have been driven to by the awful poverty and despair I every day saw seething about me, was like hot steel in brain and heart. Then her father and her brother! To what might they not have forced her, innocent and loving soul though she was! Drinking the dregs of a cup such as I had never considered it possible for me to taste, I got so far as to believe that her eyes would yet flash upon me from beneath some of the tattered shawls I saw sullying the forms of the young girls upon which I hourly stumbled. Yes, and even made a move to see my cousin, if haply I could so win upon her compassion as to gain her consent to shelter the poor creature of my dreams in case the necessity came. But my heart failed me at the sight of her cold face above the splendor she had bought with her charms, and I was saved a humiliation I might never have risen above.
“At last, one day I saw a girl, no, it was not she, but her hair was similar to hers in hue, and the impulse to follow her was irresistible. I did more than that, I spoke to her. I asked her if she could tell me anything of one whose locks were golden red like hers but I need not tell you what I said nor what she replied with a gentle delicacy that was almost a shock to me as showing from what heights to what depths a woman can fall. Enough that nothing passed between us beyond what I have intimated, and that in all she said she gave me no news of Luttra.
“Next day I started for the rambling old house in Vermont, if haply in the spot where I first saw her, I might come upon some clue to her present whereabouts. But the old inn was deserted, and whatever hope I may have had in that direction, perished with the rest.
“Concerning the contents of that bureau-drawer above, I can say nothing. If, as I scarcely dare to hope, they should prove to have been indeed brought here by the girl who has since disappeared so strangely, who knows but what in those folded garments a clue is given which will lead me at last to the knowledge for which I would now barter all I possess. My wife. But I can mention her name no more till the question that now assails us is set at rest. Mrs. Daniels must...”
But at that moment the door opened and Mrs. Daniels came in.
She still wore her bonnet and shawl and her face was like marble.
“You want me?” said she with a hurried look towards Mr. Blake that had as much fear as surprise in it.
“Yes,” murmured that gentleman moving towards her with an effort we could very well appreciate. “Mrs. Daniels, who was the girl you harbored in that room above us for so long? Speak; what was her name and where did she come from?”
The housekeeper trembling in every limb, cast us one hurried appeal.
“Speak!” reechoed Mr. Gryce; “the time for secrecy has passed.”
“O,” cried she, sinking into a chair from sheer inability to stand, “it was your wife, Mr. Blake, the young creature you...”
All the agony, the hopelessness, the love, the passion of those last few months flashed up in that word. She stopped as if she had been shot, but seeing the hand which he had hurriedly raised, fall slowly before him, went on with a burst,
“O sir, she made me swear on my knees I would never betray her, no matter what happened. When not two weeks after your father died she came to the house and asking for me, told me all her story and all her love; how she could not reconcile it with her idea of a wife’s duty to live under any other roof than that of her husband, and lifting off the black wig which she wore, showed me how altered she had made herself by that simple change in her case more marked by the fact that her eyes were in keeping with black hair, while with her own bright locks they always gave you a shock as of something strange and haunting, I gave up my will as if forced by a magnetic power, and not only opened the house to her but my heart as well; swearing to all she demanded and keeping my oath too, as I would preserve my soul from sin and my life from the knife of the destroyer.”
“But, when she went,” broke from the pallid lips of the man before her, “when she was taken away from the house, what then?”
“Ah,” returned the agitated woman, “what then! Do you not think I suffered? To be held by my oath, an oath I was satisfied she would wish kept even at this crisis, yet knowing all the while she was drifting away into some evil that you, if you knew who she was, would give your life to avert from your honor if not from her innocent head! To see you cold, indifferent, absorbed in other things, while she, who would have perished any day for your happiness, was losing her life perhaps in the clutches of those horrible villains! Do not ask me to tell you what I have suffered since she went; I can never tell you, innocent, tender, noble-hearted creature that she was.”
“Was?” His hand clutched his heart as if it had been seized by a deathly spasm. “Why do you say was?”
“Because I have just come from the Morgue where she lies dead.”
“No, no,” came in a low shriek from his lips, “that is not she; that is another woman, like her perhaps, but not she.”
“Would to God you were right; but the long golden braids! Such hair as hers I never saw on anyone before.”
“Mr. Blake is right,” I broke in, for I could not endure this scene any longer. “The woman taken out of the East river to-day has been both seen and spoken to by him and that not long since. He should know if it is his wife.”
“And isn’t it?”
“No, a thousand times no; the girl was a perfect stranger.”
The assurance seemed to lift a leaden weight from her heart. “O thank God,” she murmured dropping with an irresistible impulse on her knees. Then with a sudden return of her old tremble, “But I was only to reveal her secret in case of her death! What have I done, O what have I done! Her only hope lay in my faithfulness.”
Mr. Blake leaning heavily on the table before him, looked in her face.
“Mrs. Daniels,” said he, “I love my wife; her hope now lies in me.”
She leaped to her feet with a joyous bound. “You love her? O thank God!” she again reiterated but this time in a low murmur to her self. “Thank God!” and weeping with unrestrained joy, she drew back into a corner.
Of course after that, all that remained for us to do was to lay our heads together and consult as to the best method of renewing our search after the unhappy girl, now rendered of double interest to us by the facts with which we had just been made acquainted. That she had been forced away from the roof that sheltered her by the power of her father and brother was of course no longer open to doubt. To discover them, therefore, meant to recover her. Do you wonder, then, that from the moment we left Mr. Blake’s house, the capture of that brace of thieves became the leading purpose of our two lives?