Hand and Ring, by Anna Katharine Green

6. The Skill of an Artist.

A hit, a very palpable hit.

Hamlet.

HE found it occupied by some half-dozen men, one of whom immediately attracted his attention, by his high-bred air and total absorption in the paper he was reading. He was evidently a stranger, and, though not without some faint marks of a tendency to gentlemanly dissipation, was, to say the least, more than ordinarily good-looking, possessing a large, manly figure, and a fair, regular-featured face, above which shone a thick crop of short curly hair of a peculiarly bright blond color. He was sitting at a small table, drawn somewhat apart from the rest, and was, as I have said, engrossed with a newspaper, to the utter exclusion of any apparent interest in the talk that was going on at the other end of the room. And yet this talk was of the most animated description, and was seemingly of a nature to attract the attention of the most indifferent. At all events Mr. Byrd considered it so; and, after one comprehensive glance at the elegant stranger, that took in not only the personal characteristics I have noted, but also the frown of deep thought or anxious care that furrowed a naturally smooth forehead, he passed quietly up the room and took his stand among the group of loungers there assembled.

Mr. Byrd was not unknown to the habitués of that place, and no cessation took place in the conversation. They were discussing an occurrence slight enough in itself, but made interesting and dramatic by the unconscious enthusiasm of the chief speaker, a young fellow of indifferent personal appearance, but with a fervid flow of words and a knack at presenting a subject that reminded you of the actor’s power, and made you as anxious to watch his gesticulations as to hear the words that accompanied them.

“I tell you,” he was saying, “that it was just a leaf out of a play. I never saw its equal off the stage. She was so handsome, so impressive in her trouble or anxiety, or whatever it was that agitated her, and he so dark, and so determined in his trouble or anxiety, or whatever it was that agitated him. They came in at different doors, she at one side of the depot and he at another, and they met just where I could see them both, directly in the centre of the room. ‘You!’ was her involuntary cry, and she threw up her hands before her face just as if she had seen a ghost or a demon. An equal exclamation burst from him, but he did not cover his eyes, only stood and looked at her as if he were turned to stone. In another moment she dropped her hands. ‘Were you coming to see me?’ came from her lips in a whisper so fraught with secret horror and anguish that it curdled my blood to hear it. ‘Were you coming to see me?’ was his response, uttered in an equally suppressed voice and with an equal intensity of expression. And then, without either giving an answer to the other’s question, they both shrank back, and, turning, fled with distracted looks, each by the way they had come, the two doors closing with a simultaneous bang that echoed through that miserable depot like a knell. There were not many folks in the room just at that minute, but I tell you those that were looked at each other as they had not done before and would not be likely to do again. Some unhappy tragedy underlies such a meeting and parting, gentlemen, and I for one would rather not inquire what.”

“But the girl — the man — didn’t you see them again before you left?” asked an eager voice from the group.

“The young lady,” remarked the other, “was on the train that brought me here. The gentleman went the other way.”

“Oh!” “Ah!” and “Where did she get off?” rose in a somewhat deafening clamor around him.

“I did not observe. She seemed greatly distressed, if not thoroughly overcome, and observing her pull down her veil, I thought she did not relish my inquiring looks, and as I could not sit within view of her and not watch her, I discreetly betook myself into the smoking-car, where I stayed till we arrived at this place.”

“Hum!” “Ha!” “Curious!” rose in chorus once more, and then, the general sympathies of the crowd being exhausted, two or three or more of the group sauntered up to the bar, and the rest sidled restlessly out of the room, leaving the enthusiastic speaker alone with Mr. Byrd.

“A strange scene!” exclaimed the latter, infusing just enough of seeming interest into his usually nonchalant tone to excite the vanity of the person he addressed, and make him more than ever ready to talk. “I wish I had been in your place,” continued Mr. Byrd, almost enthusiastically. “I am sure I could have made a picture of that scene that would have been very telling in the gazette I draw for.”

“Do you make pictures for papers?” the young fellow inquired, his respect visibly rising.

“Sometimes,” the imperturbable detective replied, and in so doing told no more than the truth. He had a rare talent for off-hand sketching, and not infrequently made use of it to increase the funds of the family.

“Well, that is something I would like to do,” acknowledged the youth, surveying the other over with curious eyes. “But I hav’n’t a cent’s worth of talent for it. I can see a scene in my mind now — this one for instance — just as plain as I can see you; all the details of it, you know, the way they stood, the clothes they wore, the looks on their faces, and all that, but when I try to put it on paper, why, I just can’t, that’s all.”

“Your forte lies another way,” remarked Mr. Byrd. “You can present a scene so vividly that a person who had not seen it for himself, might easily put it on paper just from your description. See now!” And he caught up a sheet of paper from the desk and carried it to a side table. “Just tell me what depot this was in.”

The young fellow, greatly interested at once, leaned over the detective’s shoulder and eagerly replied: “The depot at Syracuse.”

Mr. Byrd nodded and made a few strokes with his pencil on the paper before him.

“How was the lady dressed?” he next asked.

“In blue; dark blue cloth, fitting like a glove. Fine figure, you know, very tall and unusually large, but perfect, I assure you, perfect. Yes, that is very like it,” he went on watching the quick, assured strokes of the other with growing wonder and an unbounded admiration. “You have caught the exact poise of the head, as I live, and — yes, a large hat with two feathers, sir, two feathers drooping over the side, so; a bag on the arm; two flounces on the skirt; a — oh! the face? Well, handsome, sir, very handsome; straight nose, large eyes, determined mouth, strong, violently agitated expression. Well, I will give up! A photograph couldn’t have done her better justice. You are a genius, sir, a genius!”

Mr. Byrd received this tribute to his skill with some confusion and a deep blush, which he vainly sought to hide by bending lower over his work.

“The man, now,” he suggested, with the least perceptible change in his voice, that, however, escaped the attention of his companion. “What was he like; young or old?”

“Well, young — about twenty-five I should say; medium height, but very firmly and squarely built, with a strong face, large mustache, brilliant eyes, and a look — I cannot describe it, but you have caught that of the lady so well, you will, doubtless, succeed in getting his also.”

But Mr. Byrd’s pencil moved with less certainty now, and it was some time before he could catch even the peculiarly sturdy aspect of the figure which made this unknown gentleman, as the young fellow declared, look like a modern Hercules, though he was far from being either large or tall. The face, too, presented difficulties he was far from experiencing in the case of the lady, and the young fellow at his side was obliged to make several suggestions such as:—“A little more hair on the forehead, if you please — there was quite a lock showing beneath his hat;” or, “A trifle less sharpness to the chin — so;” or, “Stay, you have it too square now; tone it down a hair’s breadth, and you will get it,” before he received even the somewhat hesitating acknowledgment from the other of: “There, that is something like him!”

But he had not expected to succeed very well in this part of the picture, and was sufficiently pleased to have gained a very correct notion of the style of clothing the gentleman wore, which, it is needless to state, was most faithfully reproduced in the sketch, even if the exact expression of the strong and masculine face was not.

“A really remarkable bit of work,” admitted the young fellow when the whole was completed. “And as true to the scene, too, as half the illustrations given in the weekly papers. Would you mind letting me have it as a souvenir?” he eagerly inquired. “I would like to show it to a chap who was with me at the time. The likeness to the lady is wonderful.”

But Mr. Byrd, with his most careless air, had already thrust the picture into his pocket, from which he refused to withdraw it, saying, with an easy laugh, that it might come in play with him some time, and that he could not afford to part with it. At which remark the young fellow looked disappointed and vaguely rattled some coins he had in his pocket; but, meeting with no encouragement from the other, forbore to press his request, and turned it into an invitation to join him in a social glass at the bar.

To this slight token of appreciation Mr. Byrd did not choose to turn a deaf ear. So the drinks being ordered, he proceeded to clink glasses with the youthful stranger, taking the opportunity, at the same time, of glancing over to the large, well-built man whose quiet absorption in the paper he was reading had so attracted his attention when he first came in.

To his surprise he found that person just as engrossed in the news as ever, not a feature or an eyelash appearing to have moved since the time he looked at him last.

Mr. Byrd was so astonished at this that when he left the room a few minutes later he took occasion in passing the gentleman, to glance at the paper he was studying so industriously, and, to his surprise, found it to be nothing more nor less than the advertising sheet of the New York Herald.

“A fellow of my own craft,” was his instantaneous conclusion. But a moment’s consideration assured him that this could not be, as no detective worthy the name would place so little value upon the understanding of those about him as to sit for a half-hour with his eyes upon a sheet of paper totally devoid of news, no matter what his purpose might be, or how great was his interest in the conversation to which he was secretly listening. No; this gentleman was doubtless what he seemed to be, a mere stranger, with something of a serious and engrossing nature upon his mind, or else he was an amateur, who for some reason was acting the part of a detective without either the skill or experience of one.

Whichever theory might be true, this gentleman was a person who at this time and in this place was well worth watching: that is, if a man had any reason for interesting himself in the pursuit of possible clues to the mystery of Mrs. Clemmens’ murder. But Mr. Byrd felt that he no longer possessed a professional right to such interest; so, leaving behind him this fine-looking gentleman, together with all the inevitable conjectures which the latter’s peculiar manner had irresistibly awakened, he proceeded to regain his room and enter upon that contemplation of the picture he had just made, which was naturally demanded by his regard for one of the persons there depicted.

It was a vigorous sketch, and the slow blush crept up and dyed Mr. Byrd’s forehead as he gazed at it and realized the perfection of the likeness he had drawn of Miss Dare. Yes, that was her form, her face, her expression, her very self. She it was and no other who had been the heroine of the strange scene enacted that day in the Syracuse depot; a scene to which, by means of this impromptu sketch, he had now become as nearly a witness as any one could hope for who had not been actually upon the spot. Strange! And he had been so anxious to know what had altered the mind of this lady and sent her back to Sibley before her journey was half completed — had pondered so long and vainly upon the whys and wherefores of an action whose motive he had never expected to understand, but which he now saw suggested in a scene that seriously whetted, if it did not thoroughly satisfy, his curiosity.

The moment he had chosen to portray was that in which the eyes of the two met and their first instinctive recoil took place. Turning his attention from the face of the lady and bestowing it upon that of the man, he perceived there the horror and shrinking which he had imprinted so successfully upon hers. That the expression was true, though the countenance was not, he had no doubt. The man, whatever his name, nature, calling, or history, recoiled from a meeting with Imogene Dare as passionately as she did from one with him. Both had started from home with a simultaneous intention of seeking the other, and yet, at the first recognition of this fact, both had started and drawn back as if death rather than life had confronted them in each other’s faces. What did it mean? What secret of a deep and deadly nature could lie between these two, that a scene of such evident import could take place between them? He dared not think; he could do nothing but gaze upon the figure of the man he had portrayed, and wonder if he would be able to identify the original in case he ever met him. The face was more or less a failure, of course, but the form, the cut of the clothes, the manner of carriage, and the general aspect of strong and puissant manhood which distinguished the whole figure, could not be so far from correct but that, with a hint from surrounding circumstances, he would know the man himself when he saw him. At all events, he meant to imprint the possible portrait upon his mind in case —— in case what? Pausing he asked himself this question with stern determination, and could find no answer.

“I will burn the sketch at once, and think of it and her no more,” he muttered, half-rising.

But he did not do it. Some remembrance crossed his mind of what the young fellow downstairs had said about retaining it as a souvenir, and he ended in folding it up and putting it away somewhat carefully in his memorandum-book, with a vow that he would leave Sibley and its troublous mystery at the first moment of release that he could possibly obtain. The pang which this decision cost him convinced him that it was indeed high time he did so.

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Last updated Friday, March 14, 2014 at 22:17