That Affair Next Door, by Anna Katherine Green

xxxix.

The Watchful Eye.

As I parted with Miss Oliver on Mrs. Desberger’s stoop and did not visit her again in that house, I will introduce the report of a person better situated than myself to observe the girl during the next few days. That the person thus alluded to was a woman in the service of the police is evident, and as such may not meet with your approval, but her words are of interest, as witness:

“Friday P.M.

“Party went out to-day in company with an elderly female of respectable appearance. Said elderly female wears puffs, and moves with great precision. I say this in case her identification should prove necessary.

“I had been warned that Miss O. would probably go out, and as the man set to watch the front door was on duty, I occupied myself during her absence in making a neat little hole in the partitions between our two rooms, so that I should not be obliged to offend my next-door neighbor by too frequent visits to her apartment. This done, I awaited her return, which was delayed till it was almost dark. When she did come in, her arms were full of bundles. These she thrust into a bureau-drawer, with the exception of one, which she laid with great care under her pillow. I wondered what this one could be, but could get no inkling from its size or shape. Her manner when she took off her hat was fiercer than before, and a strange smile, which I had not previously observed on her lips, added force to her expression. But it paled after supper-time, and she had a restless night. I could hear her walk the floor long after I thought it prudent on my part to retire, and at intervals through the night I was disturbed by her moaning, which was not that of a sick person but of one very much afflicted in mind.

“Saturday.

“Party quiet. Sits most of the time with hands clasped on her knee before the fire. Given to quick starts as if suddenly awakened from an absorbing train of thought. A pitiful object, especially when seized by terror as she is at odd times. No walks, no visitors to-day. Once I heard her speak some words in a strange language, and once she drew herself up before the mirror in an attitude of so much dignity I was surprised at the fine appearance she made. The fire of her eyes at this moment was remarkable. I should not be surprised at any move she might make.

“Sunday.

“She has been writing to-day. But when she had filled several pages of letter paper she suddenly tore them all up and threw them into the fire. Time seems to drag with her, for she goes every few minutes to the window from which a distant church clock is visible, and sighs as she turns away. More writing in the evening and some tears. But the writing was burned as before, and the tears stopped by a laugh that augurs little good to the person who called it up. The package has been taken from under her pillow and put in some place not visible from my spy-hole.

“Monday.

“Party out again to-day, gone some two hours or more. When she returned she sat down before the mirror and began dressing her hair. She has fine hair, and she tried arranging it in several ways. None seemed to satisfy her, and she tore it down again and let it hang till supper-time, when she wound it up in its usual simple knot. Mrs. Desberger spent some minutes with her, but their talk was far from confidential, and therefore uninteresting. I wish people would speak louder when they talk to themselves.

“Tuesday.

“Great restlessness on the part of the young person I am watching. No quiet for her, no quiet for me, yet she accomplishes nothing, and as yet has furnished me no clue to her thoughts.

“A huge box was brought into the room to-night. It seemed to cause her dread rather than pleasure, for she shrank at sight of it, and has not yet attempted to open it. But her eyes have never left it since it was set down on the floor. It looks like a dressmaker’s box, but why such emotion over a gown?

“Wednesday.

“This morning she opened the box but did not display its contents. I caught one glimpse of a mass of tissue paper, and then she put the cover on again, and for a good half hour sat crouching down beside it, shuddering like one in an ague-fit. I began to feel there was something deadly in the box, her eyes wandered towards it so frequently and with such contradictory looks of dread and savage determination. When she got up it was to see how many more minutes of the wretched day had passed.

“Thursday.

“Party sick; did not try to leave her bed. Breakfast brought up by Mrs. Desberger, who showed her every attention, but could not prevail upon her to eat. Yet she would not let the tray be taken away, and when she was alone again or thought herself alone, she let her eyes rest so long on the knife lying across her plate, that I grew nervous and could hardly restrain myself from rushing into the room. But I remembered my instructions, and kept still even when I saw her hand steal towards this possible weapon, though I kept my own on the bell-rope which fortunately hung at my side. She looked quite capable of wounding herself with the knife, but after balancing it a moment in her hand, she laid it down again and turned with a low moan to the wall. She will not attempt death till she has accomplished what is in her mind.

“Friday.

“All is right in the next room; that is, the young lady is up; but there is another change in her appearance since last night. She has grown contemptuous of herself and indulges less in brooding. But her impatience at the slow passage of time continues, and her interest in the box is even greater than before. She does not open it, however, only looks at it and lays her trembling hand now and then on the cover.

“Saturday.

“A blank day. Party dull and very quiet. Her eyes begin to look like ghastly hollows in her pale face. She talks to herself continually, but in a low mechanical way exceedingly wearing to the listener, especially as no word can be distinguished. Tried to see her in her own room to-day, but she would not admit me.

“Sunday.

“I have noticed from the first a Bible lying on one end of her mantel-shelf. To-day she noticed it also, and impulsively reached out her hand to take it down. But at the first word she read she gave a low cry and hastily closed the book and put it back. Later, however, she took it again and read several chapters. The result was a softening in her manner, but she went to bed as flushed and determined as ever.

“Monday.

“She has walked the floor all day. She has seen no one, and seems scarcely able to contain her impatience. She cannot stand this long.

“Tuesday.

“My surprises began in the morning. As soon as her room had been put in order, Miss O. locked the door and began to open her bundles. First she unrolled a pair of white silk stockings, which she carefully, but without any show of interest, laid on the bed; then she opened a package containing gloves. They were white also, and evidently of the finest quality. Then a lace handkerchief was brought to light, slippers, an evening fan, and a pair of fancy pins, and lastly she opened the mysterious box and took out a dress so rich in quality and of such simple elegance, it almost took my breath away. It was white, and made of the heaviest satin, and it looked as much out of place in that shabby room as its owner did in the moments of exaltation of which I have spoken.

“Though her face was flushed when she lifted out the gown, it became pale again when she saw it lying across her bed. Indeed, a look of passionate abhorrence characterized her features as she contemplated it, and her hands went up before her eyes and she reeled back uttering the first words I have been able to distinguish since I have been on duty. They were violent in character, and seemed to tear their way through her lips almost without her volition. ‘It is hate I feel, nothing but hate. Ah, if it were only duty that animated me!’

“Later she grew calmer, and covering up the whole paraphernalia with a stray sheet she had evidently laid by for the purpose, she sent for Mrs. Desberger. When that lady came in she met her with a wan but by no means dubious smile, and ignoring with quiet dignity the very evident curiosity with which that good woman surveyed the bed, she said appealingly:

“‘You have been so kind to me, Mrs. Desberger, that I am going to tell you a secret. Will it continue to remain a secret, or shall I see it in the faces of all my fellow-boarders to-morrow?’ You can imagine Mrs. Desberger’s reply, also the manner in which it was delivered, but not Miss Oliver’s secret. She uttered it in these words: ‘I am going out to-night, Mrs. Desberger. I am going into great society. I am going to attend Miss Althorpe’s wedding.’ Then, as the good woman stammered out some words of surprise and pleasure, she went on to say: ‘I do not want any one to know it, and I would be so glad if I could slip out of the house without any one seeing me. I shall need a carriage, but you will get one for me, will you not, and let me know the moment it comes. I am shy of what folks say, and besides, as you know, I am neither happy nor well, if I do go to weddings, and have new dresses, and ——’ She nearly broke down but collected herself with wonderful promptitude, and with a coaxing look that made her almost ghastly, so much it seemed out of accord with her strained and unnatural manner, she raised a corner of the sheet, saying, ‘I will show you my gown, if you will promise to help me quietly out of the house,’ which, of course, produced the desired effect upon Mrs. Desberger, that woman’s greatest weakness being her love of dress.

“So from that hour I knew what to expect, and after sending precautionary advices to Police Headquarters, I set myself to watch her prepare for the evening. I saw her arrange her hair and put on her elegant gown, and was as much startled by the result as if I had not had the least premonition that she only needed rich clothes to look both beautiful and distinguished. The square parcel she had once hidden under her pillow was brought out and laid on the bed, and when Mrs. Desberger’s low knock announced the arrival of the carriage, she caught it up and hid it under the cloak she hastily threw about her. Mrs. Desberger came in and put out the light, but before the room sank into darkness I caught one glimpse of Miss Oliver’s face. Its expression was terrible beyond anything I had ever seen on any human countenance.”

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