The Mill Mystery, by Anna Katherine Green

xxiii.

Too Late.

What fear is this, which startles in our ears?

ROMEO AND JULIET.

The conclusion which I drew from these sentences after a close and repeated perusal of them was to this effect:

That Mr. Pollard instead of possessing only two sons, as was generally supposed, had in reality been the father of three. That the eldest, born in all probability before Mr. Pollard’s removal to this country (he was an Englishman by birth), had, by some act of violence or fraud, incurred the penalty of the law, and was even now serving out a term of imprisonment in his native land. That this son had a daughter innocent and virtuous, whom he desired to commit to the care of her grandfather; that he had even sent her over here for that purpose, but that Mr. Pollard, taken down with the illness which afterwards ended in death, had not only failed to be on hand to receive her, but that, surrounded and watched by his wife and sons, who, in their selfish pride, were determined to ignore all claims of kinship on the part of one they despised, he had not even had the chance to take such measures for her safety and happiness as his love and regard for her lonely and desolate position seemed to demand. That the will, whose concealment in his desk he had managed to describe, had been made in recompense for this neglect, and that by it she would receive that competence and acknowledgment of her rights which the hatred of her unscrupulous relatives would otherwise deny her.

And this was the will I had weakly given up, and it was upon the head of this innocent child that the results of my weakness must fall.

When I first recognized this fact I felt stupefied. That I, David Barrows, should be the cause of misery and loss to a guileless and pure soul! I could not realize it, nor believe that consequences so serious and irremediable could follow upon an act into which I had been betrayed by mere cowardice. But soon, too soon, the matter became plain to me. I saw what I had done and was overwhelmed, for I could no longer doubt that the real will had been destroyed and that the one which had been returned to me was a substituted one, perhaps the very same which I had seen among the papers of Mr. Pollard’s desk.

The result of my remorse was an immediate determination on my part to search out the young girl, left in this remarkable manner to my care, and by my efforts in her behalf do what I could to remedy the great evil which, through my instrumentality, had befallen her.

The purpose was no sooner taken than I prepared to carry it out. S—— could hold no duty for me now paramount to this. I was a father and my child lingered solitary and uncared-for in a strange place. I took the first train the next morning for the “city of the east~wind.”

The hour at which I arrived at number — Charles Street, was one of deep agitation to me, I had thought so continually upon my journey of the young waif I was seeking. Would she be the embodiment of ingenuousness which her grandfather had evidently believed her to be? Should I find her forgiving and tractable; or were the expectations I had formed false in their character and founded rather upon Mr. Pollard’s wishes than any knowledge he had of her disposition and acquirements?

The house was, as far as I could judge from the exterior, of a most respectable character, and the lady who answered my somewhat impatient summons was one of those neat and intelligent-looking persons who inspire confidence at first glance. To my inquiries as to whether there was living in her house a young English lady by the name of Grace — I did not like to venture upon that of Pollard, there being some phrases in the communication I have shown you which led me to think that Mr. Pollard had changed his name on coming to this country — she gave me a look of such trouble and anxiety that I was instantly struck with dismay.

“Miss Merriam?” she exclaimed; then, as I bowed with seeming acquiescence, continued in a tone that conveyed still more disquiet than her face, “She was here; but she is gone, sir; a woman took her away.”

A woman! I must have grown pale, for she swung wide the door and asked me to come in.

“We can talk better in the hall,” she remarked, and pointed to a chair into which I half fell.

“I have a great interest in this young lady,” I observed; “in short, I am her guardian. Can you tell me the name of the person with whom she went away, or where she can be found now?”

“No sir,” she answered, with the same expression of trouble. “The woman gave us no name nor address, and the young lady seemed too much frightened to speak. We have felt anxious ever since she went, sir; for the letter she showed us from the captain of the ship which brought her over, told us to take great care of her. We did not know she had a guardian or we should not have let her go. The woman seemed very pleasant, and paid all the bills, but ——”

“But what?” I cried, too anxious to bear a moment’s delay.

“She did not lift her veil, and this seemed to me a suspicious circumstance.”

Torn with apprehension and doubt, I staggered to my feet.

“Tell me all about this woman,” I demanded. “Give me every detail you can remember. I have a dreadful fear that it is some one who should never have seen this child.”

“Well, sir, she came at about eleven in the morning ——”

“What day?” I interrupted her to ask.

“Thursday,” she replied, “a week ago yesterday.”

The very day after the will was returned to me. If she were the woman I feared, she had evidently lost no time.

“She asked for Miss Merriam,” the lady before me pursued, evidently greatly pitying my distress, “and as we knew no reason why our young boarder should not receive visitors, we immediately proceeded to call her down. But the woman, with a muttered excuse, said she would not trouble us; that she knew the child well, and would go right up to her room if we would only tell her where it was. This we did and should have thought no more of the matter, if in a little while she had not reappeared in the hall, and, inquiring the way to my room, told me that Miss Merriam had decided to leave my house; that she had offered her a home with her, and that they were to go immediately.

“I was somewhat taken aback by this, and inquired if I could not see Miss Merriam. She answered ‘What for?’ and when I hinted that money was owing me for her board, she drew out her pocket-book and paid me on the spot. I could say nothing after this, ‘But are you a relative, ma’am?’ to which her quick and angry negative, hidden, however, next moment, by a suave acknowledgment of friendship, gave me my first feeling of alarm. But I did not dare to ask her any further questions, much as I desired to know who she was and where she was going to take the young girl. There was something in her manner that overawed me, at the same time it filled me with dread. But if I could not speak to her I meant to have some words with Miss Merriam before she left the house. This the woman seemed to wish to prevent, for she stood close by me when the young girl came down, and when I stepped forward to say good-by, pushed me somewhat rudely aside and took Miss Merriam by the arm. ‘Come, my dear,’ she cried, and would have hurried her out without a word. But I would not have that. The sorrow and perplexity in Miss Merriam’s face were too marked for me to let her depart in silence. So I persisted in speaking, and after saying how sorry I was to have her go, asked her if she would not leave her new address with me in case any letters should come for her. Her answer was a frightened look at her companion who immediately spoke for her. ‘I have told you,’ said she, ‘that Miss Merriam goes home with me. It is not likely she will have any letters, but if she should, you can send them to the place mentioned on this card,’ and she pulled a visiting card from her bag and gave it to me, after which she immediately went away, dragging Miss Merriam after her.”

“And you have that card?” I cried. “Why did you not show it to me at once?”

“O, sir,” she responded with a sorrowful shake of her head, “it was a fraud, a deception. The card was not hers but another person’s, and its owner don’t even know Miss Merriam.”

“How do you know this?” I asked. “Have you seen this other person?”

“Yes, sir, I had occasion to, for a letter did come for Miss Merriam only a short time after she left. So thinking it a good opportunity to see where she had gone, I carried it to the address which was on the card given me, and found as I have told you that it was not the same lady at all who lived there, and that there was not only no Miss Merriam in the house but that her name was not even known there.”

“And you saw the lady herself?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And are you sure it was not the same as the one who was here?”

“Oh yes; she was short and stout and had a frank way of speaking, totally unlike that of the veiled woman.”

“And the latter? How was she shaped? You have not told me.”

I asked this in trembling tones. Though I was sure what the answer would be, I dreaded to have my fears confirmed.

“Well, sir, she was tall and had a full commanding figure, very handsome to look at. She was dressed all in gray and had a way of holding her head that made an ordinary sized woman like myself feel very small and insignificant. Yet she was not agreeable in her appearance; and I am sure that if I could have seen her face I should have disliked her still more, though I do not doubt it was in keeping with her figure, and very handsome.”

I could have no doubts as to whom this described, yet I made one final effort to prove my suspicions false.

“You have given me the description of a person of some pretensions to gentility,” I remarked, “yet from the first you have forborne to speak of her as a lady.”

“An involuntary expression of my distrust and dislike I suppose. Then her dress was very plain, and the veil she wore quite common.”

I thought of the dress and veil which my self-designated “sister” had worn in the visit she paid to my rooms and wondered if they would not answer to the description of these.

“What was the color of her veil?” I inquired.

“Dark blue.”

That was the color of the one which had been worn by my mysterious visitor, as I had found from subsequent questions put to my neighbor, and I could no longer have the least uncertainty as to who the woman was who had carried off Mr. Pollard’s grandchild. Sick at heart and fearing I scarcely knew what, I asked for the letter which had been left for Miss Merriam, and receiving it from the hand of this amiable woman in whom I appeared to have inspired as much confidence as her former visitor had alarm, I tore it open, and in my capacity of guardian read what it contained. Here it is:

MY DEAR MISS MERRIAM:

The gentleman, in the hope of whose protection you came to this country, is dead. I am his son and naturally feel it incumbent upon me to look after your interests. I am therefore, coming shortly to see you; but till I do so, remember that you are not to receive any one who may call, no matter what their name, sex, or apparent business. If you disobey me in this regard you may do yourself a permanent injury. Wait till my card is brought you, and then judge for yourself whether I am a person in whom you can trust. Hoping to find you in good health, and as happy as your bereaved condition will admit of, I remain sincerely yours,

DWIGHT GAYLORD POLLARD.

“Ah, he wrote a day too late!” I involuntarily exclaimed; then perceiving the look of curiosity which this unguarded expression had awakened on the face of my companion, folded the letter up and put it quietly in my pocket. “It is an unhappy piece of business,” I now observed, “but I shall hope to find Miss Merriam very soon, and place her where she will be both safe and happy.”

And feeling that I ought to know something of the appearance and disposition of one I so fully intended to befriend, I inquired whether she was a pretty girl.

The reply I received was almost enthusiastic.

“I do not know as you would call her pretty, sir, she is so pale and fragile; but if her features are not regular nor her color good, she has something unusually attractive in her face, and I have heard more than one gentleman here say, ‘Miss Merriam is lovely.’”

“And her manners?”

“Very modest, sir, and timid. She seems to have a secret sorrow, for I have often seen her eyes fill when she thought no one was looking at her.”

“Do you know her history or connections?”

“No, sir.”

“Then she never talked to you about herself?”

“No, sir; though so young, she was strangely like a woman in many things. An uncommonly sweet child, sir, an uncommonly sweet child.”

I felt the sting of a great reproach in my heart, and, anxious to hide the depth of my emotion, rose to leave. But the good woman, detaining me, Inquired what she should do with Miss Merriam’s trunk.

“What,” I exclaimed, “is that still here?” “Yes, sir; she took, as I noticed, a bag of some size with her, but she left her trunk. In the flurry of their departure I forgot to speak about it. I have expected an expressman after it every day, but none has come. That is another reason why I have felt anxious.”

“I do not wonder,” I exclaimed. “Sometimes,” she observed, “I have thought it was my duty to speak to the police about the matter; it would be such a dreadful thing if any harm had come to her.”

“I will speak to the police if necessary,” said I. And determined as I had never been before in my life, I left the house and proceeded directly to the depot, where I took the first train for S——.

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