The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow, by Anna Katherine Green

xxx

The Creeping Shadow

Mrs. Taylor suffered a relapse, and the inquest which had been held back in anticipation of her recovery was again delayed. This led to a like postponement of an inquiry into the death of Madame Duclos; and a consequent let-up in public interest which thus found itself, for the nonce, deprived of further food on which to batten.

Meanwhile, Mr. Gryce was not idle. Anxious to determine just how and where Madame Duclos’ story fitted into the deeper and broader one of the museum crime, he made use of his fast waning strength to probe its mysteries and master such of its details as bore upon the serious investigation to which he was so unhappily committed. When he had done this — when he had penetrated, as it were, into the very heart of the matter to the elimination of all doubt and the full establishment of his own theory, it was felt that the time had come for some sort of positive action on the part of those interested in the cause of justice.

This they decided should take the form of a personal interview between certain officials and Mr. Roberts himself. A lesser man would have been asked to meet the District Attorney in his office; but in a case of such moment where the honor of one so prominent in many ways was involved it was thought best for them to visit him in his own home. To do this without exciting his apprehension while still making sure of his presence required some management. Various plans were discussed with the result that a political exigency was brought into play. The District Attorney asked Mr. Roberts for an interview for the purpose of introducing to him a man whose influence could not fail to play an important part in his future candidacy.

He did not name this man; but we will name him. It was the Chief Inspector.

The appointment was made and the day set. It was the following Monday. On Tuesday, Coroner Price was to open his inquest.

Did Carleton Roberts see any connection between these two events?

Who can tell? The secrets of such a brain are not to be read lightly. If we possessed Sweetwater’s interest, and were to follow in secret fashion every action of the director on the evening preceding this date, what conclusion should we draw in this regard? How would we characterize his anticipations, or measure in our own mind the possibilities of the future as felt by him?

He was very quiet. He ate his meal with seeming appetite. Then he took a look over his whole house. From the carefulness with which he noted everything, the changes which he had caused to be made in it were not without their interest for him. Not a young man’s interest, but yet an interest as critical and acute as though he had expected it to be shared by one whose comfort he sought and in whose happiness he would fain take part.

This, to Sweetwater, had he our vision, would have been incomprehensible from any point of view; especially, had he seen what followed when the owner of all this luxury returned to his library.

There was a picture there; a small framed photograph which occupied the post of honor on his desk.

It showed a young and pretty face, untouched, as yet, by the cares or troubles of this world. He spent a minute or so in looking at it; then he slowly lifted it, and taking the picture from the frame, gave it another look, during which a smile almost derisive gathered slowly on his lips. Before this smile had altogether vanished, he had torn the picture in two and thrown the fragments into the fire he had kindled early in the evening with his own hands.

If he stopped to watch these fragments burn, it was from abstraction rather than from interest; for his step grew lighter as he left the fireplace. Whatever this young girl’s face had meant to him in days gone by was now as completely dissipated as the little puff of smoke which had marked the end of her picture.

If he read the papers afterward it was mechanically. Night, and the one great planet sinking in the West, appeared to appeal to him much more strongly than his books or the more than usually stirring news of the day.

He must have stood an hour in his unlighted window, gazing out at the tumbling waves lapping the shore.

But of his thoughts, God wot, he gave no sign.

Later, he slept.

Slept! with his hand under his pillow! Slept, though there were others in the house awake! — or why this creeping shadow of a man outlined upon the wall wherever the moon shone in, and disappearing from sight whenever the way led through darkness.

It came from above; no noise accompanied it. Where the great window opened upon the sea, lighting up the main staircase, it halted — halted for several minutes; then passed stealthily down, a shadowy silhouette, descending now quickly, now slowly, as tread after tread is left behind and the great hall is reached.

Here there is no darkness. Open doors admit the light from many windows. A semi-obscurity is all, and through this the figure passes, but hesitatingly still, and with pause after pause, till a certain door is reached — a closed door — the only door which is closed in this part of the house.

Here it stands — stands with profile to the panels, one ear against the wood. One minute — two minutes — five minutes pass. Then a hand goes out and touches the knob. It yields; yields without a sound — and a small gap is seen between the door and its casing. This gap grows. Still no sound to disturb the tragic silence. Stop! What was that? A moan? Yes, from within. Another? Yes. Then all is quiet again. The dream has passed. Sleep has resumed its sway. The gap can safely be made wider. This is done, and the figure halting without, passes in.

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