The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow, by Anna Katherine Green

xxiii

Girls, Girls! Nothing but Girls!

The superintendent was puzzled and showed it. He listened to Mr. Gryce with a shrug, saying that so many women had been taken on that day, that he really couldn’t remember whether any one of them answered to the given description.

“There’s the time-keeper’s book. Look it over. All the names are there,” he said.

Mr. Gryce did as he advised, but of course without finding there the name of Antoinette Duclos or of anyone else of whom he had ever heard.

The next thing was for him to go through the factory itself and see if he could pick her out from those already at work. This he was greatly averse to doing; it would be too long and painful an effort for him, and he could not trust Perry with any such piece of nice discrimination. How he missed Sweetwater! How tempted he was to send for him! It was finally decided that when the hour came for the departure of the whole dayshift, he should take his stand where he could mark each employee as she filed out.

A sorry attempt followed by as sorry a failure! He did not see one among them who was over twenty-five years of age. But this did not mean the end of all hope. There was the nightshift. Might she not be put on that? A different man had charge at night. He would wait for this man’s appearance, present his cause to him and see what could be done.

Not much, he found, when the night superintendent finally entered the office and he had the chance of introducing himself. Newer to authority than the superintendent of the dayshift, he was also of a more active temperament and much more self-assertive. He was not impressed by the detective’s years or even by his errand. It was a busy night, a very busy night — new hands in every department. To take him through the building at present was quite out of the question. Perhaps later it might be done; but not now, not now.

With that the night superintendent bustled out. This was not very encouraging, but Mr. Gryce did not despair. He had seen with what ease he could look from the broad, rear window near which he stood, into the rooms where rows upon rows of girls were already at work. Only a narrow court divided him from these girls, and as the three stories of which the factory was composed were all brilliantly lighted, he should have little difficulty in picking out from among them the middle-aged woman who held in her closed and mysterious hand the key to that formidable affair threatening the honor of one of New York’s most prominent men.

Before doing this, Mr. Gryce stopped to locate himself and recall if possible the entire plan of the building. He was in what was called the outer office. The inner one, used only by the president of the concern, opened on his left. There was no one in the latter room at present, the president seldom showing up at night. Another door led to the platform outside, and a third one, located in the middle of the right-hand partition, to a large vestibule or locker-room belonging exclusively to the girls, which in its turn communicated with the work-rooms of the factory running in unbroken continuity around a narrow central court.

He had been through this locker-room in the late afternoon. It was here he had stood to watch the girls file out at the close of their day’s work. The exit for all employees was in one of the corners and out of this Antoinette Duclos would have to pass when it came her turn to leave the building — that is, if she were really in it, as he had every reason to believe.

However, certainty on this point would relieve him from much of his present impatience, and with this end in view he prepared to enter the room again in the hope of spying among the various hats with which the walls were hung the one with whose shape and trimming he was so well acquainted.

But promising as this attempt looked, it was destined to immediate failure. The room was not empty. He could hear girls whispering not a dozen steps away, and anxious as he always was not to attract any unnecessary attention to himself, he turned his back upon this door and returned to the window from the broad view of which he anticipated so much.

A brilliant scene awaited him. This building, built originally for other purposes, had been hastily reconstructed for its present use in a manner possibly open to criticism but which certainly gave those who worked in it an abundance of light and air. The narrow columns supporting its three stories were so inconspicuous at night when a blaze of electricity dominated the whole, that it presented the appearance of being made entirely of windows. One break and one only he observed in the double row of lights encircling the courtyard. This was in a spot diagonally opposite, where a space of several feet showed a dimness he failed to understand. But as no workers appeared to be there, he passed the matter over as one of no importance.

The task before him looked hopeless. In the first place there were the three floors, with no faces visible above the first one. Then of the long rectangle stretching out before him he could see but two sides, which fact was further complicated by there being as many of the workers’ faces turned toward the outside of the building as toward the court. Yet having determined upon his course, he was bound to see it through.

His position near the corner of the huge rectangle precluded his seeing anyone working at his own end. He was obliged to pass them over. But of those opposite, especially those directly so, he could take easy count. They were all girls of fifteen or so, and could be passed over also without more than a cursory glance. Further on he saw a row of older women, and student as he was of human nature, there were faces among them at which he was tempted to look twice, though once answered his purpose. There was no Madame there.

Continuing his examination, he next encountered the space so unaccountably darkened, and having skipped this, came upon a stretch of benches displaying great activity. Only old hands seemed to be at work in this section. Their method and despatch showed a training which made it useless to look among them for one who had probably never worked before amid the hum of machinery.

In the corner beyond he saw nobody, but when he came to look along the end connecting the opposite rooms with those on his side, a different scene awaited him. There every bench seemed occupied both back and front, and mostly by newcomers, as was apparent from the anxious way the superintendent moved about among them, explaining the work and directing them with a zeal which not only attested his interest in the task but showed how completely he had forgotten the man he had left behind him in his office. Well, well, such is the way of the world! The old man saw that he would have to depend upon himself, and realizing this, bent all his energies to his present far-off inspection of these women, hoping against hope that he would be able at least to tell the young from the old.

Yes, he could do that, but the older women seemed to be in the majority; and this perplexed him. It was all too distant for him to see clearly, but he took heart of grace as he observed how the faces and figures he was studying so closely were resolving themselves into mere silhouettes under his gaze. For as I have already said, he had a quick eye for outline, and felt sure that he could sufficiently recall that of the woman whose head and shoulders had been so long under his eye that day, to recognize it even among fifty others. But not one of them — not one of them all — had the precise narrowness and rigidity of Madame Duclos’; and after many painful minutes of renewed effort followed by renewed disappointment he moved back from the window and sat down. There was one thing you could always count on in Mr. Gryce, and that was his patience.

But it was a patience not without its breaks. Once he rose to look out front to make sure he had not miscalculated the distance of this factory from the river. Then after another period of waiting, he got thinking how much he might discover if he could get one glimpse into that far corner contiguous to that end of the rectangle where he had seen so many raw workers receiving the assistance of the night superintendent. There was a way of doing this of which he had not thought before. He had but to step outside, walk the length of the platform where the loading of shipments was going on, and look in at one of the great windows at the further end. But when he came to make the attempt, he found himself plunged into such a turmoil and the way so blocked by the loading of boxes and the backing up and driving off of horses that he retreated precipitately. Rather than encounter all this, he would await events from the inside. So he took his old seat again and for another half-hour listened to the thump of machinery and the squeak of a rusty elevator-brake which almost robbed him of thought. He was even inclined to doze, when he suddenly became aware of some change either in himself or in what lay about him.

Had the machinery stopped? No, it was not that.

The place seemed darker, yet it was still very light.

With a restless move, he rose heavily and peered again into the court. Immediately it was evident what had occurred. The whole string of lights in the third story had been shut off, and now those of the middle story were following suit. Only the ground floor remained active with all its lights at the maximum, and every belt moving.

At this unexpected narrowing down of his field of operations he felt greatly relieved. He had dreaded those long walks through innumerable rooms. He could manage circling the building once, but three times would have been too much. In a mood of increased contentment, he started to return to his seat, but found himself stayed by something he saw in what had been but a dimly lighted space when he looked there last. It was now as bright as the rest and showed him the figure of the superintendent stooping over a woman, explaining to her some intricate manipulation of the work in hand which was evidently quite new to her. He could see him very plainly, but her figure was more or less hidden. Not for long though. The superintendent passed on and she came into full view. It was Antoinette Duclos. He was confident of this even before he noted her dress. When his eyes fell on that, he was sure; there was no mistaking the stripes and the dots. Antoinette Duclos! and she was where he could reach her in five minutes — in fact as soon as the superintendent returned. As he stood and watched her working quite assiduously but in something like isolation, he felt as though ten years had slipped from his age, and trifled with his pleasure as the rest of us do when we behold a despaired-of goal loom suddenly in sight. Was she the woman he had pictured in his mind’s eye? Hardly. Yet there was an admirable directness in her movements. From the way she went about things, he could plainly see that she would master her duties in no time if Fate did not interpose to prevent. It certainly was hard to interrupt her in her work just when she was on the way to safety and competence. But there could be no question of his duty, or of the claims of Mr. Roberts to whatever help might accrue from an understanding of the relation of this woman to events threatening his reputation with such utter destruction. Her story might free him from all suspicion or it might actually determine his guilt. Therefore her story must be had, and at once — if possible, this very night.

But he must wait — wait for the coming of the superintendent. He felt safe to do this. Meanwhile he was determined not to let this woman out of his sight; so, drawing up a chair, he settled down within view of her active figure, from which all rigidity had vanished in the interest she was rapidly developing in her work. If he could have seen her countenance more clearly, he would have been glad. There seemed to be a veil between him and it, a hazy indistinctness which he found it difficult to understand; but remembering that he was looking through two windows and on a long diagonal, he accepted this slight drawback with equanimity and was about to indulge in the comfort of a cigar when he saw the scene he still held in view change, and change vividly, to the excitation of a fresh interest and a still more careful watch.

A girl had approached Madame Duclos from some place quite out of sight, and in passing her by, had slipped a note into her hand. The Frenchwoman had taken it, but in a way indicating shock. The ease which had given suppleness to her form and surety to all her movements was gone in an instant, and from the furtive way in which she sought to read the communication thus handed her Mr. Gryce saw that his own powers would soon be taxed to keep him even with a situation changing thus from moment to moment under his eye.

What did that note contain, and who could have taken advantage of the arrival of some late-comer to slip it into her hand? Mr. Gryce found this a very formidable question, and watched with ever-increasing anxiety to see what effect these unknown words would have upon their recipient when her opportunity came for reading them.

A startling one — of that he was presently a witness; for no sooner had she taken in their import than she cast a hurried look about her and left her place without fuss or flurry, but with an air of quiet determination which Mr. Gryce felt confident covered a resolution which nothing could balk.

She had not only left her bench but seemingly was in the act of leaving the building. This, of course, it was for him to prevent, and he rose to do so. It might be interesting to wait and watch her hurrying figure threading its way to the locker-room through the double row of girls on the opposite side of the court; but there were reasons why he wished to reach that last mentioned room before she did; reasons which seemed good enough to send him there without any further delay. If he could but discover her hat among the many he had seen hanging on pegs in one of the corners, how easy it would be for him to hold her back till he could make her listen to the few words which must be said before he could allow her to leave the building.

Quick of eye, if not of step, he had run in review the varying headgear depending from those isolated pegs, before he had half-circled the lockers. But hers he did not see. Could she have been given a locker on this her first night? He did not think so; and approaching closer, he looked again. The hat was there, but lying on the floor. Somebody had knocked it down; perhaps the late-comer who had given her the letter.

Greatly gratified by the advantage he now indisputably held over her, he picked up the hat and approached the door through which she must in another minute emerge.

She did not come.

He waited and waited, and still she did not come. At last, driven by impatience, he ventured to open the door he had previously hesitated to touch and took a quick look in. Girls, girls! nothing but girls! No Madame Duclos anywhere.

Something must have happened to interrupt her escape. Either she had been caught in the attempt by the superintendent or by some one else of equal authority. This, if bad for her, was also bad for him, as a quiet hold-up in the manner he had planned was certainly better than the public one which must now follow.

Sorry for her and sorry for himself, Mr. Gryce returned to the office just as the superintendent entered from the opposite door. He thought the latter looked a little queer, and in an instant he learned why.

“Was the woman you wanted a staid, elderly person, apparently a foreigner?”

“Yes — of French birth, I am told.”

“Well, I guess you were all right in distrusting her. She’s gone — took a notion that night work didn’t agree with her and left without so much as a ‘By your leave!’ She must have smelt you out in some uncanny way. Too bad! She bade fair to be just the woman we wanted for a very nice part of the work.”

“Do you mean she’s really out of the building — that you didn’t stop her ——”

“I didn’t know what she was up to, till she was gone. I——”

“But how did she get out? She didn’t go by the employees’ door for I stood there on the watch. I had seen her receive a note ——”

“A note? How? Who gave it to her?”

“Some girl.”

“And you saw this? How could you? Been through the work-rooms?”

“No. I saw her from this window, as I was looking diagonally across the court. She was in one of the opposite rooms over there ——”

The superintendent broke into a hearty laugh.

“Fooled!” he cried. “You police detectives are a smart crowd, but our old factory with its string of useless windows has led you astray for once. You weren’t looking into any one of the rooms over there. You were looking at a reflection in that useless old window behind which the elevator runs. That happens when the elevator running on that side is down. I’ve seen it often and laughed in my sleeve at the chance it gives me to observe on the sly how things are going on at certain benches. Many a girl has got her discharge — But no matter about that. Come here.

“The room you think you see over there — you will notice that nobody is at work in it now — is on this side of the building, and the woman you have in chase escaped by the south delivery-door. We are loading cars to-night from this side of the building, and she took a flying advantage of it. Men give way to a woman. Though there’s an order against any such use of that door, you can’t get one of them to hold onto a woman when she once gets it into her head to skip the premises. But she can’t have gone far. This is a place of few houses and no big buildings besides the factory. If you take pains to head her off at the station, you’ll be safe for to-night, and in the morning you can easily find her. Now I must go; but first, what was her offense? Theft, eh?”

“No. This woman whom we have let slip through our fingers is Madame Duclos, the mother of the girl shot in a New York museum. There is a big reward out for her recovery and detention, and ——”

The superintendent stood aghast.

“Why didn’t you say so? Why didn’t you say so at once? I’d have had the whole troop file out before you. I’d have had ——”

The detective caught at his hat.

“I wasn’t aware that I had reached an age when I couldn’t tell the difference between a reflection and a reality,” he growled, and hurried out.

The town was a small one; and Perry would see that she didn’t escape from the station. Besides, she had fled without her hat. Surely, with all this in his favor, he would soon be able to lay his hand upon her, if not to-night, certainly before another day was at an end.

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