Dark Hollow, by Anna Katherine Green

28

The First Effort

LEAVES FROM ALANSON BLACK’S NOTE-BOOK, FOUND BY REUTHER SOME MONTHS LATER, IN A VERY QUEER PLACE, VIZ.: HER MOTHER’S JEWEL-BOX

At the New Willard. Awaiting two articles — Oliver’s picture and a few lines in the judge’s writing requesting his son’s immediate return. Meanwhile, I have made no secret of my reason for being here. All my inquiries at the desk have shown it to be particularly connected with a certain bill now before Congress, in which Shelby is vitally interested.

Perhaps I can further the interests of this bill in off minutes. I am willing to.

The picture is here, as well as the name of the hotel where the two women are staying. I have spent five minutes studying the face I must be able to recognise at first glance in any crowd. It’s not a bad face; I can see his mother’s looks in him. But it is not the face I used to know. Trouble develops a man.

There’s a fellow here who rouses my suspicions. No one knows him;- -I don’t myself. But he’s strangely interested in me. If he’s from Shelby — in other words, if he’s from the detective bureau there, I’ve led him a chase to-day which must have greatly bewildered him. I’m not slow, and I’m not above mixing things. From the Cairo where our present congressman lives, I went to the Treasury, then to the White House, and then to the Smithsonian — with a few newspaper offices thrown in, and some hotels where I took pains that my interviews should not be too brief. When quite satisfied that by these various and somewhat confusing peregrinations I had thrown off any possible shadower, I fetched up at the Library where I lunched. Then, as I thought the time had come for me to enjoy myself, I took a walk about the great building, ending up with the reading-room. Here I asked for a book on a certain abstruse subject. Of course, it was not in my line, but I looked wise and spoke the name glibly. When I sat down to consult it, the man who brought it threw me a short glance which I chose to think peculiar. “You don’t have many readers for this volume?” I ventured. He smiled and answered, “Just sent it back to the shelves. It’s had a steady reader for ten days. Before that, nobody.” “Is this your steady reader?” I asked, showing him the photograph I drew from my pocket. He stared, but said nothing. He did not have to. In a state of strange satisfaction I opened the book. It was Greek, if not worse, to me, but I meant to read a few paragraphs for the sake of appearances, and was turning over the pages in search of a promising chapter, when — Talk of remarkable happenings! — there in the middle of the book was a card — his card! — left as a marker, no doubt, and on this card, an address hastily scribbled in lead pencil. It only remained for me to find that the hotel designated in this address was a Washington one, for me to recognise in this simple but strangely opportune occurrence, a coincidence — or, as YOU would say — an act of Providence as startling as those we read of in books.

The first man I accosted in regard to the location of this hotel said there was none of that name in Washington. The next, that he thought there was, but that he could not tell me where to look for it. The third, that I was within ten blocks of its doors. Did I walk? No, I took a taxi. I thought of your impatience and became impatient too. But when I got there, I stopped hurrying. I waited a full half-hour in the lobby to be sure that I had not been followed before I approached the desk and asked to see Mr. Ostrander. No such person was in the hotel or had been. Then I brought out my photograph. The face was recognised, but not as that of a guest. This seemed a puzzle. But after thinking it over for awhile, I came to this conclusion: that the address I saw written on the card was not his own, but that of some friend he had casually met.

This put me in a quandary. The house was full of young men; how pick out the friend? Besides, this friend was undoubtedly a transient and gone long ago. My hopes seemed likely to end in smoke — my great coincidence to prove valueless. I was so convinced of this, that I started to go; then I remembered you, and remained. I even took a room, registering myself for the second time that day — which formality over, I sat down in the office to write letters.

Oliver Ostrander is in Washington. That’s something.

I cannot sleep. Indeed, I may say that this is the first time in my life when I failed to lose my cares the moment my head struck the pillow.

The cause I will now relate.

I had finished and mailed my letter to you and was just in the act of sealing another, when I heard a loud salutation uttered behind me, and turning, was witness to the meeting of two young men who had run upon each other in the open doorway. The one going out was a stranger to me and I hardly noticed him, but the one coming in was Oliver Ostrander (or his photograph greatly belied him), and in my joy at an encounter so greatly desired but so entirely unhoped for, I was on the point of rising to intercept him, when some instinct of precaution led me to glance about me first for the individual who had shown such a persistent interest in me from the moment of my arrival. There he sat, not a dozen chairs away, ostensibly reading, but with a quick eye ready for me the instant I gave him the slightest chance:— a detective, as certainly as I was Black, the lawyer.

What was I to do? The boy was leaving town — was even then on his way to the station as his whole appearance and such words as he let fall amply denoted. If I let him go, would another such chance of delivering his father’s message be given me? Should I not lose him altogether; while if I approached him or betrayed in any way my interest in him, the detective would recognise his prey and, if he did not arrest him on the spot, would never allow him to return to Shelby unattended. This would be to defeat the object of my journey, and recalling the judge’s expression at parting, I dared not hesitate. My eyes returned with seeming unconcern to the letter I was holding and the detective’s to his paper. When we both looked up again the two young men had quit the building and the business which had brought me to Washington was at an end.

But I am far from being discouraged. A fresh start with the prospect of Reuther’s companionship, inspires me with more hope for my next venture.

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Last updated Friday, February 28, 2014 at 13:34