Lost Man’s Lane, by Anna Katharine Green

xxix

In the Cellar

I had meanwhile stood silent. There was no reason for me to obtrude myself, and I was happy not to do so. This does not mean, however, that my presence was not noticed. Mr. Trohm honored me with more than one glance during these trying moments, in which I read the anxiety he felt lest my peace of mind should be too much disturbed, and when, in response to the undoubted dismissal he had received from Lucetta, he prepared to take his leave, it was upon me he bestowed his final look and most deferential bow. It was a tribute to my position and character which all seemed to feel, and I was not at all surprised when Lucetta, after carefully watching his departure, turned to me with childlike impetuosity, saying:

“This must be very unpleasant for you, Miss Butterworth, yet must we ask you to stand our friend. God knows we need one.”

“I shall never forget I occupied that position toward your mother,” was my straightforward reply, and I did not forget it, not for a moment.

“I shall begin with the cellar,” Mr. Gryce announced.

Both girls quivered. Then Loreen lifted her proud head and said quietly:

“The whole house is at your disposal. Only I pray you to be as expeditious as possible. My sister is not well, and the sooner our humiliation is over, the better it will be for her.”

And, indeed, Lucetta was in a state that aroused even Mr. Gryce’s anxiety. But when she saw us all hovering over her she roused herself with an extraordinary effort, and, waving us aside, led the way to the kitchen, from which, as I gathered, the only direct access could be had to the cellar. Mr. Gryce immediately followed, and behind him came Loreen and myself, both too much agitated to speak. At the Flower Parlor Mr. Gryce paused as if he had forgotten something, but Lucetta urged him feverishly on, and before long we were all standing in the kitchen. Here a surprise awaited us. Two men were sitting there who appeared to be strangers to Hannah, from the lowering looks she cast them as she pretended to be busy over her stove. This was so out of keeping with her usual good humor as to attract the attention even of her young mistress.

“What is the matter, Hannah?” asked Lucetta. “And who are these men?”

“They are my men,” said Mr. Gryce. “The job I have undertaken cannot be carried on alone.”

The quick look the two sisters interchanged did not escape me, or the quiet air of resignation which was settling slowly over Loreen.

“Must they go into the cellar too?” she asked.

Mr. Gryce smiled his most fatherly smile as he said:

“My dear young ladies, these men are interested in but one thing; they are searching for a clue to the disappearances that have occurred in this lane. As they will not find this in your cellar, nothing else that they may see there will remain in their minds for a moment.”

Lucetta said no more. Even her indomitable spirit was giving way before the inevitable discovery that threatened them.

“Do not let William know,” were the low words with which she passed Hannah; but from the short glimpse I caught of William’s burly figure standing in the stable door, under the guardianship of two detectives, I felt this injunction to be quite superfluous. William evidently did know.

I was not going to descend the cellar stairs, but the girls made me.

“We want you with us,” Loreen declared in no ordinary tones, while Lucetta paused and would not go on till I followed. This surprised me. I no longer seemed to have any clue to their motives; but I was glad to be one of the party.

Hannah, under Loreen’s orders, had furnished one of the men with a lighted lantern, and upon our descent into the dark labyrinth below, it became his duty to lead the way, which he did with due circumspection. What all this underground space into which we were thus introduced had ever been used for, it would be difficult to tell. At present it was mostly empty. After passing a small collection of stores, a wine-cellar, the very door of which was unhinged and lay across the cellar bottom, we struck into a hollow void, in which there was nothing worth an instant’s investigation save the earth under our feet.

This the two foremost detectives examined very carefully, detaining us often longer, I thought, than Mr. Gryce desired or Lucetta had patience for. But nothing was said in protest nor did the older detective give an order or manifest any special interest in the investigation till he saw the men in front stoop and throw out of the way a coil of rope, when he immediately hurried forward and called upon the party to stop.

The girls, who were on either side of me, crossed glances at this command, and Lucetta, who had been tottering for the last few minutes, fell upon her knees and hid her face in the hollow of her two hands. Loreen came around and stood by her, and I do not know which of them presented the most striking picture of despair, the shrinking Lucetta or Loreen with her quivering form uplifted to meet the shafts of fate without a droop of her eyelids or a murmur from her lips. The light of the one lantern which, intentionally or unintentionally, was concentrated on this pathetic group, made it stand out from the midst of the surrounding darkness in a way to draw the gaze of Mr. Gryce upon them. He looked, and his own brow became overcast. Evidently we were not far from the cause of their fears.

Ordering the candle lifted, he surveyed the ceiling above, at which Loreen’s lips opened slightly in secret dread and amazement. Then he commanded the men to move on slowly, while he himself looked overhead rather than underneath, which seemed to astonish his associates, who evidently had heard nothing of the hole which had been cut in the floor of the Flower Parlor.

Suddenly I heard a slight gasp from Lucetta, who had not moved forward with the rest of us. Then her rushing figure flew by us and took up its stand by Mr. Gryce, who had himself paused and was pointing with an imperious forefinger to the ground under his feet.

“You will dig here,” said he, not heeding her, though I am sure he was as well acquainted with her proximity as we.

“Dig?” repeated Loreen, in what we all saw was a final effort to stave off disgrace and misery.

“My duty demands it,” said he. “Some one else has been digging here within a very few days, Miss Knollys. That is as evident as is the fact that a communication has been made with this place through an opening into the room above. See!” And taking the lantern from the man at his side, he held it up toward the ceiling.

There was no hole there now, but there were ample evidences of there having been one, and that within a very short time. Loreen made no further attempt to stay him.

“The house is at your disposal,” she reiterated, but I do not think she knew what she said. The man with the bundle in his arms was already unrolling it on the cellar bottom. A spade came to light, together with some other tools. Lifting the spade, he thrust it smartly into the ground toward which Mr. Gryce’s inexorable finger still pointed. At the sight and the sound it made, a thrill passed through Lucetta which made her another creature. Dashing forward, she flung herself down upon the spot with lifted head and outstretched arms.

“Stop your desecrating hand!” she cried. “This is a grave — the grave, sirs, of our mother!”

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Last updated Friday, February 28, 2014 at 11:57