That Affair Next Door, by Anna Katherine Green

xxxv.

A Ruse.

It was a new thing for me to enter into any scheme blindfold. But the past few weeks had taught me many lessons and among them to trust a little in the judgment of others.

Accordingly I was on hand with my patient at the hour designated, and, as I supported her trembling steps down the stairs, I endeavored not to betray the intense interest agitating me, or to awaken by my curiosity any further dread in her mind than that involved by her departure from this home of bounty and good feeling, and her entrance upon an unknown and possibly much to be apprehended future.

Mr. Gryce was awaiting us in the lower hall, and as he caught sight of her slender figure and anxious face his whole attitude became at once so protecting and so sympathetic, I did not wonder at her failure to associate him with the police.

As she stepped down to his side he gave her a genial nod.

“I am glad to see you so far on the road to recovery,” he remarked. “It shows me that my prophecy is correct and that in a few days you will be quite yourself again.”

She looked at him wistfully.

“You seem to know so much about me, doctor, perhaps you can tell me where they are going to take me.”

He lifted a tassel from a curtain near by, looked at it, shook his head at it, and inquired quite irrelevantly:

“Have you bidden good-bye to Miss Althorpe?”

Her eyes stole towards the parlors and she whispered as if half in awe of the splendor everywhere surrounding her:

“I have not had the opportunity. But I should be sorry to go without a word of thanks for her goodness. Is she at home?”

The tassel slipped from his hand.

“You will find her in a carriage at the door. She has an engagement out this afternoon, but wishes to say good-bye to you before leaving.”

“Oh, how kind she is!” burst from the girl’s white lips; and with a hurried gesture she was making for the door when Mr. Gryce stepped before her and opened it.

Two carriages were drawn up in front, neither of which seemed to possess the elegance of so rich a woman’s equipage. But Mr. Gryce appeared satisfied, and pointing to the nearest one, observed quietly:

“You are expected. If she does not open the carriage door for you, do not hesitate to do it yourself. She has something of importance to say to you.”

Miss Oliver looked surprised, but prepared to obey him. Steadying herself by the stone balustrade, she slowly descended the steps and advanced towards the carriage. I watched her from the doorway and Mr. Gryce from the vestibule. It seemed an ordinary situation, but something in the latter’s face convinced me that interests of no small moment depended upon the interview about to take place.

But before I could decide upon their nature or satisfy myself as to the full meaning of Mr. Gryce’s manner, she had started back from the carriage door and was saying to him in a tone of modest embarrassment:

“There is a gentleman in the carriage; you must have made some mistake.”

Mr. Gryce, who had evidently expected a different result from his stratagem, hesitated for a moment, during which I felt that he read her through and through; then he responded lightly:

“I made a mistake, eh? Oh, possibly. Look in the other carriage, my child.”

With an unaffected air of confidence she turned to do so, and I turned to watch her, for I began to understand the “scheme” at which I was assisting, and foresaw that the emotion she had failed to betray at the door of the first carriage might not necessarily be lacking on the opening of the second.

I was all the more assured of this from the fact that Miss Althorpe’s stately figure was very plainly to be seen at that moment, not in the coach Miss Oliver was approaching, but in an elegant victoria just turning the corner.

My expectations were realized; for no sooner had the poor girl swung open the door of the second hack, than her whole body succumbed to a shock so great that I expected to see her fall in a heap on the pavement. But she steadied herself up with a determined effort, and with a sudden movement full of subdued fury, jumped into the carriage and violently shut the door just as the first carriage drove off to give place to Miss Althorpe’s turn-out.

“Humph!” sprang from Mr. Gryce’s lips in a tone so full of varied emotions that it was with difficulty I refrained from rushing down the stoop to see for myself who was the occupant of the coach into which my late patient had so passionately precipitated herself. But the sight of Miss Althorpe being helped to the ground by her attendant lover, recalled me so suddenly to my own anomalous position on her stoop, that I let my first impulse pass and concerned myself instead with the formation of those apologies I thought necessary to the occasion. But those apologies were never uttered. Mr. Gryce, with the infinite tact he displays in all serious emergencies, came to my rescue, and so distracted Miss Althorpe’s attention that she failed to observe that she had interrupted a situation of no small moment.

Meanwhile the coach containing Miss Oliver had, at a signal from the wary detective, drawn off in the wake of the first one, and I had the doubtful satisfaction of seeing them both roll down the street without my having penetrated the secret of either.

A glance from Mr. Stone, who had followed Miss Althorpe up the stoop, interrupted Mr. Gryce’s flow of eloquence, and a few minutes later I found myself making those adieux which I had hoped to avoid by departing in Miss Althorpe’s absence. Another instant and I was hastening down the street in the direction taken by the two carriages, one of which had paused at the corner a few rods off.

But, spry as I am for one of my settled habits and sedate character, I found myself passed by Mr. Gryce; and when I would have accelerated my steps, he darted forward quite like a boy and, without a word of explanation or any acknowledgment of the mutual understanding which certainly existed between us, leaped into the carriage I was endeavoring to reach, and was driven away. But not before I caught a glimpse of Miss Oliver’s gray dress inside.

Determined not to be baffled by this man, I turned about and followed the other carriage. It was approaching a crowded part of the avenue, and in a few minutes I had the gratification of seeing it come to a standstill only a few feet from the curb-stone. The opportunity thus afforded me of satisfying my curiosity was not to be slighted. Without pausing to consider consequences or to question the propriety of my conduct, I stepped boldly up in front of its half-lowered window and looked in. There was but one person inside, and that person was Franklin Van Burnam.

What was I to conclude from this? That the occupant of the other carriage was Howard, and that Mr. Gryce now knew with which of the two brothers Miss Oliver’s memories were associated.

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