The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow, by Anna Katherine Green

ix

While the City Slept

Night — the night of a great city with its myriad of garish lights and its many curious and incongruous activities.

Who has not felt his imagination stirred by the contrasts thus offered — contrasts never more apparent than at these hours of supposed rest? Grim walls, with dimpled children sleeping behind them! Places of merrymaking athrob with music and dazzling with jets of incandescent light, with grief in the heart of the dancer and despair making raucous the enforced laugh!

But nowhere in the great city of which we write on this night of May 23, 1913, was there to be found a scene of greater contradictions than in the court and galleries of its famous museum.

Lighted as for a reception, the architectural beauties of its Moorish arcades and carven balustrades flashed in full splendor. Gems of antique art, casts in which genius had stored its soul and caused to live before us the story of the ancients, pillars from desert sands, friezes from the Parthenon and bas-reliefs from Nineveh and Heliopolis, filled every corner, commanding the eye to satisfy itself in forms of deathless grace or superhuman power. And no one to heed! Not an eye to note that the Venus in one corner seemed to smile in the soft light with more than its accustomed allurement, or that the armor in which kings had fought wore a menacing sparkle exceeding that of other times and quieter days. Ghosts of vanished ages might parade at will among the chattels of their time or drain the iridescent beaker to their unknown gods — no one would have noticed or turned aside to see. For there was something else within these walls to-night for the men assembled there to look upon, and a story to be read which shut the imagination upon the past by amply filling it with the present.

What is this something? Let us follow the gaze of the half-dozen persons grouped in front of the tapestry hanging in the northern gallery, and see.

But first, of whom is this small and mystic group composed? Who are these men who in the middle of the night, in the security of a completely shuttered building, busy themselves, not with the inestimable treasures surrounding them, but with an odd and seemingly mountebank adventure totally out of keeping with the place and their absorbed demeanor? We will name them:

Mr. Roberts and a second director seen here for the first time, Inspector Jackson, Mr. Gryce, two lesser detectives, and a strange young man of undoubted Indian extraction who kept much in the background and yet stood always at attention like one awaiting orders.

Are these all? Yes, in the one gallery; but in the other, shadowy figures are visible among the arches at one end, with whose identity we shall probably soon be made acquainted.

At what are these various persons, in the one gallery as in the other, looking so intently that all are turned one way — the way of greatest interest — the way the fatal arrow had flown some fourteen hours before, carrying death to the innocent girl smiling upon life in youthful exuberance? Is it at some image of herself they see restored to hope and joy? An image is there, but alas! it is but a dummy taken from one of the exhibits and so set up as to present the same angle to the gallery-front as her young body had done, according to Mr. Travis’ reluctant declaration.

Why so placed, and why regarded with such concentrated interest by the men confronting it from the opposite gallery, will become apparent when, upon the Indian’s being summoned from his place of modest retirement, it can be seen that the bow he carries in one hand is offset by the arrow he holds in the other. A test is to be made which will settle, or so they hope, the truth of Mr. Travis’ story. If an arrow launched from before the pedestal or even from behind it through the loophole made by the curving-in of the vase toward its base can be made to reach its mark in the breast of this dummy, then they would feel some justification in doubting his statement that the arrow, whatever the appearances, was not shot from this gallery. If it could not, belief in his statements would be confirmed and their minds be cleared of a doubt which must hamper all their future movements.

The second director, whose name was Clayton, stood at the left of the Inspector and close against the tapestry. To him that official now turned with this explanation:

“The bow you see in Mr. La Flèche’s hand is similar in length and weight to the one found lying strung for use in the doorway back of where you are now standing. The arrow is from the same quiver as the one which entered Miss Willetts’ breast. . . . Did you speak?”

No, Mr. Clayton had not spoken; yet for some reason a thrill had passed through the small group surrounding him, which had heightened the consciousness of them all. Eyes and ears became alert; only the Indian showed stolidity.

“Mr. La Flèche, you will first stand here,” continued the Inspector, pointing to the spot which Mr. Travis had finally settled upon as the one where he had been standing at the moment he saw Miss Willetts fall.

The Indian took the place, sighted the figure diagonally opposite and laid his finger on the string.

“An inch to the left of the bunch of flowers pinned on the dummy’s breast,” murmured Mr. Gryce almost in his ear.

It was a breathless moment; even the two detectives showed excitement.

But the Indian failed to shoot. Instead, he looked around at the Inspector and quietly remarked:

“I will shoot standing, since you so request, but I think you will find that the arrow which caused death was delivered by a man kneeling.”

A flash of the eye between the two detectives, which only one man saw! All the others were watching the lightning flight of the arrow. It struck the dummy full and square. Everyone shuddered, even the Inspector; it brought the real tragedy so vividly to mind.

Meanwhile a movement had taken place in the small group of men watching from the other side. One of them stepped fully into view and approaching the figure thus attacked, drew out the arrow and made close examination of the hole it had made and shook his head. It was Coroner Price.

“Try again, and from behind the pedestal this time,” he called out across the intervening space as he stepped back into his former place of observation.

The Inspector motioned his wishes to the Indian, who with a subtle twist of his body slipped behind the pedestal.

“That’s better,” was the Inspector’s quick comment. “Can you handle the bow easily from where you now stand?”

“There is plenty of room.”

“Very well. But wait! Before we proceed further, there is a matter to which I wish to call the attention of these gentlemen. It must have been apparent to you all that a person standing where Mr. La Flèche did a moment ago would be easily visible to anyone looking up from the court or across from the opposite gallery, or even from the broad corridors at either end of the building. But would the same hold true if instead of being in front he had been behind the pedestal, as Mr. La Flèche is now? Run below, Barney; and, gentlemen, disperse yourselves in different directions and give me your opinion. Now!” he demanded after a few minutes’ wait, during which there had been a scattering to right and left along the galleries, “what do you say?”

“If anyone chanced to be looking directly there, yes,” was shouted up from below.

“What do you say, Coroner Price?”

“Ask the man to kneel.”

The Inspector gave the word.

“Ah, that’s different! The bulge of the vase hides the upper part of his head, and the pedestal itself the lower. He might shoot from his present position with impunity.”

“Do you all agree?”

“Yes, yes!” came from different parts of the building.

“Then, Mr. La Flèche, here’s another arrow from the same quiver. Take fresh aim and shoot.”

Another breathless moment — more breathless than the other; then a second arrow flew across the court and hung quivering in the breast of the dummy.

From both ends of the gallery men came running, and leaning eagerly over the gallery-rail they watched the Coroner as he stepped again into view to make a second examination.

This time he kept them several minutes in suspense, and when he had drawn out the arrow, he looked long at the hole it had made. Then, instead of shouting his decision across the court, he could be seen leaving the gallery and coming around their way.

What had he to say? As they waited, a clock struck from some neighboring steeple — three sonorous peals! The two directors glanced at each other. Doubtless they felt the weirdness of the hour as well as of the occasion. It was a new experience for these amateurs in police procedure.

Arrived on their side, the Coroner advanced quickly. When close upon the reassembled group, he remarked quickly but with great decision:

“Mr. Travis seems to have been correct in denying that the arrow flew either from before or behind this pedestal. The first arrow sent by Mr. La Flèche entered the dummy almost at a right angle; the last departed but a little from this same line. But the real wound which I probed and located to a hair was a decidedly slanting one. It must have been sent from a place further off.”

“From behind the other pedestal!” spoke up Mr. Gryce, all fire and interest at once. “Either the Englishman deceived us, or each pedestal had its man.”

“We’ll see! Another shot, and from behind the further pedestal, Mr. La Flèche!”

The Indian glided into view and started for the other end of the tapestry, followed by the Inspector, his detectives and the two directors. As they passed one by one across the face of the great hanging, they had the appearance not of living men but of a parade of specters, so silent their step and so somber their air. The dread of some development hitherto unacknowledged made their movements slow instead of hasty. The upper pedestal instead of the lower! Why should this possible fact make any difference in their feelings. Yet it did — perhaps because it meant deception on the part of one they had instinctively believed trustworthy, or —

But why pursue conjecture when actuality only is of moment? Let us proceed with our relation and await the result.

Arrived at the upper pedestal, Mr. La Flèche took his place, received the third arrow and presently delivered it. The Coroner, who had already started for the other side, hastily approached the dummy, made his examination and threw up his hand with the loud shout:

“The shot was made from there; the matter is settled!”

Question: Had Mr. Travis wilfully misled them, or had the presumption in his favor been strengthened by this proof that it had been shown possible for another hand than his to have shot the arrow from this same section of the gallery, without disturbing his belief that he was the only person in it at the time?

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