The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow, by Anna Katherine Green

xi

Footsteps

WANTED— A WOMAN CALLING HERSELF ANTOINETTE Duclos, just arrived from Europe on the steamer Castania, who after taking rooms at the Universal for herself and her steamer companion, Angeline Willetts, left the hotel in great haste late in the afternoon of May twenty-third and has not been heard of since.

In person she is of medium height, but stocky for a Frenchwoman. Dark hair, black eyes, with an affection of the lid which causes the left one to droop. Her dress consisted of skirt and jacket of a soft shade of brown. Hat indistinguishable. She carried, on leaving the hotel, a dark brown leather bag of medium size, long and narrow in shape. Her only peculiarity, saving the one drooping eyelid, is a hesitating walk. This is particularly obvious when she attempts to hasten.

It is to be hoped that this person on hearing of Miss Willetts’ death, will communicate at once with the clerk of the hotel.

If in two days this does not occur, a reward of five hundred dollars will be given to the man or woman who can give definite news of this Frenchwoman’s whereabouts.

Police Headquarters, Mulberry St.

This notice, appended to such particulars of the tragedy as appeared in all the morning papers, roused the city — I may even say the country — to even greater wonder and excitement than had followed the first details given in the journals of the evening before.

Would anything come of it?

Morning passed; no news of Antoinette Duclos.

Afternoon: messages of all kinds leading to much work, but bringing no result.

Five o’clock: a missive from the directors of the museum to the effect that under the peculiar circumstances and the seeming absence of any friends of the deceased, they would be glad to furnish the means necessary to the proper care and burial of the young woman killed in such an unhappy manner within their walls.

A half-hour later, Gryce, for whose appearance the Inspector had been anxiously waiting, came in with his report. A chair was pushed up for him, for he was an old man and had had a sleepless night, as we know, besides two days of continued work. But he did not drop into it, as the Inspector expected, or give any other signs of exceptional fatigue; yet when he had seated himself and they were left alone, he did not hasten to speak, though he evidently had much to say, but remained quiet, holding counsel, as it were, in his old way, with some small object he had picked up from the desk before him.

At last the Inspector spoke:

“You have been on the hunt; what did you find?”

“Not much, Inspector — and yet enough to disturb me in a way I was not looking for. Of course, in studying the situation carefully, you have asked yourself how the man who shot the arrow from behind the upper pedestal got away. He did not wait as Travis did till the first excitement had abated and the way was, in a manner, cleared for an escape into the court. For X, as we will call him, was certainly among those I saw lined up before me at the moment I bade them one and all to return and stand until released, in the exact spot occupied by them when the first alarm rang out. After the surprise Travis gave us we had the building searched from roof to cellar. Not another soul was found in it whose name was not registered on the chart. As I have already said, the guilty one had managed to escape immediately upon the flight of the arrow, though how, even then, he could have got below in the time he did is a mystery which trips me up every time I think of it. But letting that go for the present, he did get there and get there unnoticed. How? Now, there are three ways of escape from behind either of those pedestals. The way Travis took, that is, toward the front, and round through the suite of rooms headed by the one marked H, to the rear staircase; the more direct one of an immediate exit from the gallery through Sections VI and VII to this same staircase; and (the only one worth considering) a straight plunge for the door behind the tapestry and so down by the winding staircase beyond, into the Curator’s office. The unknown never went Travis’ way, and he couldn’t have gone the other without running into the arms of Correy; so he must have made use of the hidden door. So convinced was I of this, after last night’s discovery eliminated Travis as a suspect, that I made it my first duty this morning to examine this door and the mysterious little passageway back of it. When first notified of this door, we had been assured that it had not been opened in years, that the only key remaining to it was the one the Curator showed us hanging from the ring he drew from his own pocket; and acting upon these statements, which I would not allow myself to doubt for a moment, we decided to open the door in our own way, which we immediately did. The result was the instant discovery that some one had passed through this door and down these stairs very much later than years ago. We could see, without taking a step beyond the doorway, traces of a well-shod foot in the dust lying thickly on every tread. These traces were so many and so confused that I left them for Stevens’ experienced eye and deft manipulation to separate and make plain to us. He is making an examination of them now, and will be able to report to you before night.”

The Inspector was a man of little pretense. He felt startled and showed it.

“But this is a serious matter, Gryce.”

“Very serious.”

“No mere visitor to the museum would have presumed upon this venture.”

“No.”

“Which means ——”

“That some one actively connected with it had a guilty hand in this deplorable affair.”

“I am afraid so.”

“Some one well acquainted with the existence of this door and who had means of opening it. The question is — who?”

In saying this, Mr. Gryce studiously avoided the Inspector’s eye; while the Inspector in his turn looked up, then down — anywhere but in the detective’s direction. It was a moment of mutual embarrassment, broken, when it was broken, by a remark which manifestly avoided the issue.

“Possibly those traces you speak of were not made at the time you specify. They may have been made since, or they may have been made before. Perhaps the Curator was curious and tried his hand at a little detective work on his own account.”

“He hadn’t the chance. Every portion of the building has been very thoroughly guarded since first we entered it. He may have gone up prior to the shooting. That is open to dispute; but if he had done so, why did he not inform us of the fact when he showed us the key? The Curator is the soul of honor. He would hardly deceive us in so important a matter.”

The quick glance which this elicited from the Inspector awoke no corresponding flash in the eye of the imperturbable detective. He continued to shake his head over the small object he was twirling thoughtfully about between his thumb and finger, and only from his general seriousness could the Inspector gather that his mind was no more at rest than his fingers. Was this why his remark took the form of a question?

“Where was the Curator when you forced open that door behind the tapestry? Was he anywhere in the building?”

“No, sir; he has not been there to-day. He was ill last night, and he is ill to-day. He sent us his excuses. If he had been in the building, I doubt whether I would have given the order to burst open the door. I would simply have requested him to use his key. And he would have done so and kept his own counsel. I do not know as I can say as much for any of his subordinates. Happily, no spying eye was about at that time; and Stevens will be sure to see that he is not watched at his work if he has to lock the door upon the whole bunch of directors.”

“This is to be a secret investigation, then?”

“I would so advise.”

“With every reporter headed off, and anyone likely to report to a reporter headed off also?”

“Do not you advise this?”

“I do. Anything more?”

“Not till we hear from Stevens.”

They had not long to wait. Sooner than they expected the expert mentioned came in. He held a batch of papers in his hand, which at a gesture from the Inspector he spread out before them. Then he spoke:

“One man and one man only has passed down those stairs. But that man has passed down them twice — once with rubbers on and once without. There are signs equally plain of his having gone up them, but only once, and at the time he wore the rubbers. I took every pains possible to preserve and photograph the prints, but as you see, great confusion was caused by the second line of steps falling half on and half off the other. All I dare read there is this: A quick run up and a quick run down by a man in rubbers, and then a second run down by the same man in shoes. That’s the whole story. These other scraps of paper,” he went on as he saw the Inspector’s eye travel to some small bits lying on the side, “are what I have to show as the result of my search on and about the western pedestal for finger-prints. A gloved hand drew that bow. See here: this is an impression I obtained from the inner edge of the pedestal in question.”

He pulled forward a small square of paper; the sewing of a kid glove was plainly indicated there.

When Stevens had gone, the Inspector exclaimed meaningly:

“Gryce! Name your man; we shall get on faster.”

The aged detective rose.

“I dare not,” he said. “Give me one — two days. I must have time to think — to collect my evidence. A name once mentioned leaves an echo. When my echo rings, it must carry no false sound. Remember, I did not sleep last night. When I present this case to you as I see it, I must be at my best. I am not at my best to-day.”

This was doubtless true, but the Inspector had not discovered it.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14