Lost Man’s Lane, by Anna Katharine Green

xxxii

Relief

The plan succeeded. Mr. Gryce’s plans usually do. William went immediately to his room, and in a little while came down and hastened into the cellar.

“I want to see what mischief they have done,” said he.

When he came back, his face was beaming.

“All right,” he shouted to his sisters, who had come into the hall to meet him. “Your secret’s out, but mine ——”

“There, there!” interposed Loreen, “you had better go up-stairs and prepare for supper. We must eat, William, or rather, Miss Butterworth must eat, whatever our sorrows or disappointments.”

He took the rebuke with a grunt and relieved us of his company. Little did he think as he went whistling up the stairs that he had just shown Mr. Gryce where to search for whatever might be lying under the broad sweep of that cellar-bottom.

That night — it was after supper, which I did not eat for all my natural stoicism — Hannah came rushing in where we all sat silent, for the girls showed no disposition to enlarge their confidences in regard to their mother, and no other topic seemed possible, and, closing the door behind her, said quickly and with evident chagrin:

“Those men are here again. They say they forgot something. What do you think it means, Miss Loreen? They have spades and lanterns and ——”

“They are the police, Hannah. If they forgot something, they have the right to return. Don’t work yourself up about that. The secret they have already found out was our worst. There is nothing to fear after that.” And she dismissed Hannah, merely bidding her let us know when the house was quite clear.

Was she right? Was there nothing worse for them to fear? I longed to leave these trembling sisters, longed to join the party below and follow in the track of the tiny impressions made by the tacks I had driven into William’s soles. If there was anything hidden under the cellar-bottom, natural anxiety would carry him to the spot he had most to fear; so they would only have to dig at the places where these impressions took a sharp turn.

But was there anything hidden there? From the sisters’ words and actions I judged there was nothing serious, but would they know? William was quite capable of deceiving them. Had he done so? It was a question.

It was solved for us by Mr. Gryce’s reappearance in the room an hour or so later. From the moment the light fell upon his kindly features I knew that I might breathe again freely. It was not the face he showed in the house of a criminal, nor did his bow contain any of the false deference with which he sometimes tries to hide his secret doubt or contempt.

“I have come to trouble you for the last time, ladies. We have made a double search through this house and through the stables, and feel perfectly justified in saying that our duty henceforth will lead us elsewhere. The secrets we have surprised are your own, and if possible shall remain so. Your brother’s propensity for vivisection and the return and death of your mother bear so little on the real question which interests this community that we may be able to prevent their spread as gossip through the town. That this may be done conscientiously, however, I ought to know something more of the latter circumstance. If Miss Butterworth will then be good enough to grant me a few minutes’ conference with these ladies, I may be able to satisfy myself to such an extent as to let this matter rest where it is.”

I rose with right good will. A mountain weight had been lifted from me, proof positive that I had really come to love these girls.

What they told him, whether it was less or more than they told me, I cannot say, and for the moment did not know. That it had not shaken his faith in them was evident, for when he came out to where I was waiting in the hall his aspect was even more encouraging than it had been before.

“No guile in those girls,” he whispered as he passed me. “The clue given by what seemed mysterious in this house has come to naught. To-morrow we take up another. The trinkets found in Mother Jane’s cottage are something real. You may sleep soundly to-night, Miss Butterworth. Your part has been well played, but I know you are glad that it has failed.”

And I knew that I was glad, too, which is the best proof that there is something in me besides the detective instinct.

The front door had scarcely closed behind him when William came storming in. He had been gossiping over the fence with Mr. Trohm, and had been beguiled into taking a glass of wine in his house. This was evident without his speaking of it.

“Those sneaks!” cried he. “I hear they’ve been back again, digging and stirring up our cellar-bottom like mad. That’s because you’re so dreadful shy, you girls. You’re afraid of this, you’re afraid of that. You don’t want folks to know that mother once — Well, well, there it is now! If you had not tried to keep this wretched secret, it would have been an old matter by this time, and my affairs would have been left untouched. But now every fool will cry out at me in this staid, puritanical old town, and all because a few bones have been found of animals which have died in the cause of science. I say it’s all your fault! Not that I have anything to be ashamed of, because I haven’t, but because this other thing, this d — d wicked series of disappearances, taking place, for aught we know, a dozen rods from our gates (though I think — but no matter what I think — you all like, or say you like, old Deacon Spear), has made every one so touchy in this pharisaical town that to kill a fly has become a crime even if it is to save oneself from poison. I’m going to see if I cannot make folks blink askance at some other man than me. I’m going to find out who or what causes these disappearances.”

This was a declaration to make us all stare and look a little bit foolish. William playing the detective! Well, what might I not live to see next! But the next moment an overpowering thought struck me. Might this Deacon Spear by any chance be the rich man whose animosity Althea Knollys had awakened?

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