The Circular Study, by Anna Katherine Green

Chapter 6

Suggestions from an Old Friend.

The look with which this amiable spinster met his eye was one which a stranger would have found it hard to understand. He found it hard to understand himself, perhaps because he had never before seen this lady when she was laboring under an opinion of herself that was not one of perfect complacency.

“Miss Butterworth! What does this mean? Have you ——”

“There!” The word came with some sharpness. “You have detected me at my old tricks, and I am correspondingly ashamed, and you triumphant. The gray parasol you have been good enough to send to my house is not mine, but I was in the room where you picked it up, as you have so cleverly concluded, and as it is useless for me to evade your perspicacity, I have come here to confess.”

“Ah!” The detective was profoundly interested at once. He drew a chair up to Miss Butterworth’s side and sat down. “You were there!” he repeated; “and when? I do not presume to ask for what purpose.”

“But I shall have to explain my purpose not to find myself at too great a disadvantage,” she replied with grim decision. “Not that I like to display my own weakness, but that I recognize the exigencies of the occasion, and fully appreciate your surprise at finding that I, a stranger to Mr. Adams, and without the excuse which led to my former interference in police matters, should have so far forgotten myself as to be in my present position before you. This was no affair of my immediate neighbor, nor did it seek me. I sought it, sir, and in this way. I wish I had gone to Jericho first; it might have meant longer travel and much more expense; but it would have involved me in less humiliation and possible publicity. Mr. Gryce, I never meant to be mixed up with another murder case. I have shown my aptitude for detective work and received, ere now, certain marks of your approval; but my head was not turned by them — at least I thought not — and I was tolerably sincere in my determination to keep to my own metier in future and not suffer myself to be allured by any inducements you might offer into the exercise of gifts which may have brought me praise in the past, but certainly have not brought me happiness. But the temptation came, not through you, or I might have resisted it, but through a combination of circumstances which found me weak, and, in a measure, unprepared. In other words, I was surprised into taking an interest in this affair. Oh, I am ashamed of it, so ashamed that I have made the greatest endeavor to hide my participation in the matter, and thinking I had succeeded in doing so, was congratulating myself upon my precautions, when I found that parasol thrust in my face and realized that you, if no one else, knew that Amelia Butterworth had been in Mr. Adams’s room of death prior to yourself. Yet I thought I had left no traces behind me. Could you have seen ——”

“Miss Butterworth, you dropped five small spangles from your robe. You wore a dress spangled with black sequins, did you not? Besides, you moved the inkstand, and — Well, I will never put faith in circumstantial evidence again. I saw these tokens of a woman’s presence, heard what the boy had to say of the well-dressed lady who had sent him into the drug-store with a message to the police, and drew the conclusion — I may admit it to you — that it was this woman who had wielded the assassin’s dagger, and not the deaf-and-dumb butler, who, until now, has borne the blame of it. Therefore I was anxious to find her, little realizing what would be the result of my efforts, or that I should have to proffer her my most humble apologies.”

“Do not apologize to me. I had no business to be there, or, at least, to leave the five spangles you speak of, behind me on Mr. Adams’s miserable floor. I was simply passing by the house; and had I been the woman I once was, that is, a woman who had never dipped into a mystery, I should have continued on my way, instead of turning aside. Sir, it’s a curious sensation to find yourself, however innocent, regarded by a whole city full of people as the cause or motive of a terrible murder, especially when you have spent some time, as I have, in the study of crime and the pursuit of criminals. I own I don’t enjoy the experience. But I have brought it on myself. If I had not been so curious — But it was not curiosity I felt. I will never own that I am subject to mere curiosity; it was the look on the young man’s face. But I forget myself. I am rambling in all directions when I ought to be telling a consecutive tale. Not my usual habit, sir; this you know; but I am not quite myself at this moment. I declare I am more upset by this discovery of my indiscretion than I was by Mr. Trohm’s declaration of affection in Lost Man’s Lane! Give me time, Mr. Gryce; in a few minutes I will be more coherent.”

“I am giving you time,” he returned with one of his lowest bows. “The half-dozen questions I long to ask have not yet left my lips, and I sit here, as you must yourself acknowledge, a monument of patience.”

“So you thought this deed perpetrated by an outsider,” she suddenly broke in. “Most of the journals — I read them very carefully this morning — ascribed the crime to the man you have mentioned. And there seems to be good reason for doing so. The case is not a simple one, Mr. Gryce; it has complications — I recognized that at once, and that is why — but I won’t waste another moment in apologies. You have a right to any little fact I may have picked up in my unfortunate visit, and there is one which I failed to find included in any account of the murder. Mr. Adams had other visitors besides myself in those few fatal minutes preceding his death. A young man and woman were with him. I saw them come out of the house. It was at the moment I was passing ——”

“Tell your story more simply, Miss Butterworth. What first drew your attention to the house?”

“There! That is the second time you have had to remind me to be more direct. You will not have to do so again, Mr. Gryce. To begin, then, I noticed the house, because I always notice it. I never pass it without giving a thought to its ancient history and indulging in more or less speculation as to its present inmates. When, therefore, I found myself in front of it yesterday afternoon on my way to the art exhibition, I naturally looked up, and — whether by an act of providence or not, I cannot say — it was precisely at that instant the inner door of the vestibule burst open, and a young man appeared in the hall, carrying a young woman in his arms. He seemed to be in a state of intense excitement, and she in a dead faint; but before they had attracted the attention of the crowd, he had placed her on her feet, and, taking her on his arm, dragged her down the stoop and into the crowd of passers-by, among whom they presently disappeared. I, as you may believe, stood rooted to the ground in my astonishment, and not only endeavored to see in what direction they went, but lingered long enough to take a peep into the time-honored interior of this old house, which had been left open to view by the young man’s forgetting to close the front door behind him. As I did so, I heard a cry from within. It was muffled and remote, but unmistakably one of terror and anguish: and, led by an impulse I may live to regret, as it seems likely to plunge me into much unpleasantness, I rushed up the stoop and went in, shutting the door behind me, lest others should be induced to follow.

“So far, I had acted solely from instinct; but once in that semi-dark hall, I paused and asked what business I had there, and what excuse I should give for my intrusion if I encountered one or more of the occupants of the house. But a repetition of the cry, coming as I am ready to swear from the farthest room on the parlor floor, together with a sharp remembrance of the wandering eye and drawn countenance of the young man whom I had seen stagger hence a moment before, with an almost fainting woman in his arms, drew me on in spite of my feminine instincts; and before I knew it, I was in the circular study and before the prostrate form of a seemingly dying man. He was lying as you probably found him a little later, with the cross on his breast and a dagger in his heart; but his right hand was trembling, and when I stooped to lift his head, he gave a shudder and then settled into eternal stillness. I, a stranger from the street, had witnessed his last breath while the young man who had gone out ——”

“Can you describe him? Did you encounter him close enough for recognition?”

“Yes, I think I would know him again. I can at least describe his appearance. He wore a checked suit, very natty, and was more than usually tall and fine-looking. But his chief peculiarity lay in his expression. I never saw on any face, no, not on the stage, at the climax of the most heart-rending tragedy, a greater accumulation of mortal passion struggling with the imperative necessity for restraint. The young girl whose blond head lay on his shoulder looked like a saint in the clutch of a demon. She had seen death, but he — But I prefer not to be the interpreter of that expressive countenance. It was lost to my view almost immediately, and probably calmed itself in the face of the throng he entered, or we would be hearing about him to-day. The girl seemed to be devoid of almost all feeling. I should not remember her.”

“And was that all? Did you just look at that recumbent man and vanish? Didn’t you encounter the butler? Haven’t you some definite knowledge to impart in his regard which will settle his innocence or fix his guilt?”

“I know no more about him than you do, sir, except that he was not in the room by the time I reached it, and did not come into it during my presence there. Yet it was his cry that led me to the spot; or do you think it was that of the bird I afterward heard shouting and screaming in the cage over the dead man’s head?”

“It might have been the bird,” admitted Mr. Gryce. “Its call is very clear, and it seems strangely intelligent. What was it saying while you stood there?”

“Something about Eva. ‘Lovely Eva, maddening Eva! I love Eva! Eva! Eva!’”

“Eva? Wasn’t it ‘Evelyn? Poor Evelyn?’”

“No, it was Eva. I thought he might mean the girl I had just seen carried out. It was an unpleasant experience, hearing this bird shriek out these cries in the face of the man lying dead at my feet.”

“Miss Butterworth, you didn’t simply stand over that man. You knelt down and looked in his face.”

“I acknowledge it, and caught my dress in the filagree of the cross. Naturally I would not stand stock still with a man drawing his last breath under my eye.”

“And what else did you do? You went to the table ——”

“Yes, I went to the table.”

“And moved the inkstand?”

“Yes, I moved the inkstand, but very carefully, sir, very carefully.”

“Not so carefully but that I could see where it had been sitting before you took it up: the square made by its base in the dust of the table did not coincide with the place afterwards occupied by it.”

“Ah, that comes from your having on your glasses and I not. I endeavored to set it down in the precise place from which I lifted it.”

“Why did you take it up at all? What were you looking for?”

“For clews, Mr. Gryce. You must forgive me, but I was seeking for clews. I moved several things. I was hunting for the line of writing which ought to explain this murder.”

“The line of writing?”

“Yes. I have not told you what the young girl said as she slipped with her companion into the crowd.”

“No; you have spoken of no words. Have you any such clew as that? Miss Butterworth, you are fortunate, very fortunate.”

Mr. Gryce’s look and gesture were eloquent, but Miss Butterworth, with an access of dignity, quietly remarked:

“I was not to blame for being in the way when they passed, nor could I help hearing what she said.”

“And what was it, madam? Did she mention a paper?”

“Yes, she cried in what I now remember to have been a tone of affright: ‘You have left that line of writing behind!’ I did not attach much importance to these words then, but when I came upon the dying man, so evidently the victim of murder, I recalled what his late visitor had said and looked about for this piece of writing.”

“And did you find it, Miss Butterworth? I am ready, as you see, for any revelation you may now make.”

“For one which would reflect dishonor on me? If I had found any paper explaining this tragedy, I should have felt bound to have called the attention of the police to it. I did notify them of the crime itself.”

“Yes, madam; and we are obliged to you; but how about your silence in regard to the fact of two persons having left that house immediately upon, or just preceding, the death of its master?”

“I reserved that bit of information. I waited to see if the police would not get wind of these people without my help. I sincerely wished to keep my name out of this inquiry. Yet I feel a decided relief now that I have made my confession. I never could have rested properly after seeing so much, and ——”

“Well?”

“Thinking my own thoughts in regard to what I saw, if I had found myself compelled to bridle my tongue while false scents were being followed and delicate clews overlooked or discarded without proper attention. I regard this murder as offering the most difficult problem that has ever come in my way, and, therefore ——”

“Yes, madam.”

“I cannot but wonder if an opportunity has been afforded me for retrieving myself in your eyes. I do not care for the opinion of any one else as to my ability or discretion; but I should like to make you forget my last despicable failure in Lost Man’s Lane. It is a sore remembrance to me, Mr. Gryce, which nothing but a fresh success can make me forget.”

“Madam, I understand you. You have formulated some theory. You consider the young man with the tell-tale face guilty of Mr. Adams’s death. Well, it is very possible. I never thought the butler was rehearsing a crime he had himself committed.”

“Do you know who the young man is I saw leaving that house so hurriedly?”

“Not the least in the world. You are the first to bring him to my attention.”

“And the young girl with the blonde hair?”

“It is the first I have heard of her, too.”

“I did not scatter the rose leaves that were found on that floor.”

“No, it was she. She probably wore a bouquet in her belt.”

“Nor was that frippery parasol mine, though I did lose a good, stout, serviceable one somewhere that day.”

“It was hers; I have no doubt of it.”

“Left by her in the little room where she was whiling away the time during which the gentlemen conversed together, possibly about that bit of writing she afterward alluded to.”

“Certainly.”

“Her mind was not expectant of evil, for she was smoothing her hair when the shock came ——”

“Yes, madam, I follow you.”

“And had to be carried out of the place after ——”

“What?”

“She had placed that cross on Mr. Adams’s breast. That was a woman’s act, Mr. Gryce.”

“I am glad to hear you say so. The placing of that cross on a layman’s breast was a mystery to me, and is still, I must own. Great remorse or great fright only can account for it.”

“You will find many mysteries in this case, Mr. Gryce.”

“As great a number as I ever encountered.”

“I have to add one.”

“Another?”

“It concerns the old butler.”

“I thought you did not see him.”

“I did not see him in the room where Mr. Adams lay.”

“Ah! Where, then?”

“Upstairs. My interest was not confined to the scene of the murder. Wishing to spread the alarm, and not being able to rouse any one below, I crept upstairs, and so came upon this poor wretch going through the significant pantomime that has been so vividly described in the papers.”

“Ah! Unpleasant for you, very. I imagine you did not stop to talk to him.”

“No, I fled. I was extremely shaken up by this time and knew only one thing to do, and that was to escape. But I carried one as yet unsolved enigma with me. How came I to hear this man’s cries in Mr. Adams’s study, and yet find him on the second floor when I came to search the house? He had not time to mount the stairs while I was passing down the hall.”

“It is a case of mistaken impression. Your ears played you false. The cries came from above, not from Mr. Adams’s study.”

“My ears are not accustomed to play me tricks. You must seek another explanation.”

“I have ransacked the house; there are no back stairs.”

“If there were, the study does not communicate with them.”

“And you heard his voice in the study?”

“Plainly.”

“Well, you have given me a poser, madam.”

“And I will give you another. If he was the perpetrator of this crime, how comes it that he was not detected and denounced by the young people I saw going out? If, on the contrary, he was simply the witness of another man’s blow — a blow which horrified him so much that it unseated his reason — how comes it that he was able to slide away from the door where he must have stood without attracting the attention and bringing down upon himself the vengeance of the guilty murderer?”

“He may be one of the noiseless kind, or, rather, may have been such before this shock unsettled his mind.”

“True, but he would have been seen. Recall the position of the doorway. If Mr. Adams fell where he was struck, the assailant must have had that door directly before him. He could not have helped seeing any one standing in it.”

“That is true; your observations are quite correct. But those young people were in a disordered state of mind. The condition in which they issued from the house proves this. They probably did not trouble themselves about this man. Escape was all they sought. And, you see, they did escape.”

“But you will find them. A man who can locate a woman in this great city of ours with no other clew than five spangles, dropped from her gown, will certainly make this parasol tell the name of its owner.”

“Ah, madam, the credit of this feat is not due to me. It was the initial stroke of a young man I propose to adopt into my home and heart; the same who brought you here to-night. Not much to look at, madam, but promising, very promising. But I doubt if even he can discover the young lady you mean, with no other aid than is given by this parasol. New York is a big place, ma’am, a big place. Do you know how Sweetwater came to find you? Through your virtues, ma’am; through your neat and methodical habits. Had you been of a careless turn of mind and not given to mending your dresses when you tore them, he might have worn his heart out in a vain search for the lady who had dropped the five spangles in Mr. Adams’s study. Now luck, or, rather, your own commendable habit, was in his favor this time; but in the prospective search you mentioned, he will probably have no such assistance.”

“Nor will he need it. I have unbounded faith in your genius, which, after all, is back of the skilfulness of this new pupil of yours. You will discover by some means the lady with the dove-colored plumes, and through her the young gentleman who accompanied her.”

“We shall at least put our energies to work in that direction. Sweetwater may have an idea ——”

“And I may have one.”

“You?”

“Yes; I indulged in but little sleep last night. That dreadful room with its unsolved mystery was ever before me. Thoughts would come; possibilities would suggest themselves. I imagined myself probing its secrets to the bottom and ——”

“Wait, madam; how many of its so-called secrets do you know? You said nothing about the lantern.”

“It was burning with a red light when I entered.”

“You did not touch the buttons arranged along the table top?”

“No; if there is one thing I do not touch, it is anything which suggests an electrical contrivance. I am intensely feminine, sir, in all my instincts, and mechanisms of any kind alarm me. To all such things I give a wide berth. I have not even a telephone in my house. Some allowance must be made for the natural timidity of woman.”

Mr. Gryce suppressed a smile. “It is a pity,” he remarked. “Had you brought another light upon the scene, you might have been blessed with an idea on a subject that is as puzzling as any connected with the whole affair.”

“You have not heard what I have to say on a still more important matter,” said she. “When we have exhausted the one topic, we may both feel like turning on the fresh lights you speak of. Mr. Gryce, on what does this mystery hinge? On the bit of writing which these young people were so alarmed at having left behind them.”

“Ah! It is from that you would work! Well, it is a good point to start from. But we have found no such bit of writing.”

“Have you searched for it? You did not know till now that any importance might be attached to a morsel of paper with some half-dozen words written on it.”

“True, but a detective searches just the same. We ransacked that room as few rooms have been ransacked in years. Not for a known clew, but for an unknown one. It seemed necessary in the first place to learn who this man was. His papers were consequently examined. But they told nothing. If there had been a scrap of writing within view or in his desk ——”

“It was not on his person? You had his pockets searched, his clothes ——”

“A man who has died from violence is always searched, madam. I leave no stone unturned in a mysterious case like this.”

Miss Butterworth’s face assumed an indefinable expression of satisfaction, which did not escape Mr. Gryce’s eye, though that member was fixed, according to his old habit, on the miniature of her father which she wore, in defiance of fashion, at her throat.

“I wonder,” said she, in a musing tone, “if I imagined or really saw on Mr. Adams’s face a most extraordinary expression; something more than the surprise or anguish following a mortal blow? A look of determination, arguing some superhuman resolve taken at the moment of death, or — can you read that face for me? Or did you fail to perceive aught of what I say? It would really be an aid to me at this moment to know.”

“I noted that look. It was not a common one. But I cannot read it for you ——”

“I wonder if the young man you call Sweetwater can. I certainly think it has a decided bearing on this mystery; such a fold to the lips, such a look of mingled grief and — what was that you said? Sweetwater has not been admitted to the room of death? Well, well, I shall have to make my own suggestion, then. I shall have to part with an idea that may be totally valueless, but which has impressed me so that it must out, if I am to have any peace to-night. Mr. Gryce, allow me to whisper in your ear. Some things lose force when spoken aloud.”

And leaning forward, she breathed a short sentence into his ear which made him start and regard her with an amazement which rapidly grew into admiration.

“Madam!” he cried, rising up that he might the better honor her with one of his low bows, “your idea, whether valueless or not, is one which is worthy of the acute lady who proffers it. We will act on it, ma’am, act at once. Wait till I have given my orders. I will not keep you long.”

And with another bow, he left the room.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37