This second disappointment was more than I could endure. Turning upon the doctor with undisguised passion, I hotly asked:
“Who has taken it? Describe the person at once. Tell what you know about the box, I did not finish the threat; but my looks must have been very fierce, for he edged off a bit, and cast a curious glance at the officer before he answered:
“You have, then, no ailing friend? Well, well; I expended some very good advice upon you. But you paid me, and so we are even.”
“The box!” I urged; “the box! Don’t waste words, for a man’s life is at stake.”
His surprise was marvelously assumed or very real.
“You are talking somewhat wildly, are you not?” he ventured, with a bland air. “A man’s life? I cannot believe that.”
“But you don’t answer me,” I urged.
He smiled; he evidently thought me out of my mind.
“That’s true; but there is so little I can tell you. I do not know what was in the box about which you express so much concern, and I do not know the names of its owners. It was brought here some six months ago and placed in the spot where you saw it this morning, upon conditions that were satisfactory to me, and not at all troublesome to my patients, whose convenience I was bound to consult. It has remained there till to-day, when ——”
Here the officer interrupted him.
“What were these conditions? The matter calls for frankness.”
“The conditions,” repeated the doctor, in no wise abashed, “were these: That it should occupy the large table in the window as long as they saw fit. That, though placed in my room, it should be regarded as the property of the society which owned it, and, consequently, free to the inspection of its members but to no one else. That I should know these members by their ability to open the box, and that so long as these persons confined their visits to my usual hours for patients, they were to be subject to no one’s curiosity, nor allowed to suffer from any one’s interference. In return for these slight concessions, I was to receive five dollars for every day I allowed it to stay here, payment to be made by mail.”
“Good business! And you cannot tell the names of the persons with whom you entered into this contract?”
“No; the one who came to me first and saw to the placing of the box and all that, was a short, sturdy fellow, with a common face but very brilliant eye; he it was who made the conditions; but the man who came to get it, and who paid me twenty dollars for opening my office door at an unusual hour, was a more gentlemanly man, with a thick, brown mustache and resolute look. He was accompanied ——”
“Why do you stop?”
The doctor smiled.
“I was wondering,” said he, “if I should say he was accompanied, or that he accompanied, a woman, of such enormous size that the doorway hardly received her. I thought she was a patient at first, for, large as she is, she was brought into my room in a chair, which it took four men to carry. But she only came about the box.”
“Madame!” I muttered; and being made still more eager by this discovery of her direct participation in its carrying off, I asked if she touched the box or whether it was taken away unopened.
The doctor’s answer put an end to every remaining hope I may have cherished.
“She not only touched but opened it. I saw the lid rise and heard a whirr. What is the matter, sir?”
“Nothing,” I made haste to say —“that is, nothing I can communicate just now. This woman must be followed,” I signified to the officer, and was about to rush from the room when my eye fell on the table where the box stood.
“See!” said I, pointing to a fine wire protruding from a small hole in the center of its upper surface; “this box had connection with some point outside of this room.”
The doctor’s face flushed, and for the first time he looked a trifle foolish.
“So I perceive now,” said he, “The workman who put up this box evidently took liberties in my absence. For that I was not paid.”
“This wire leads where?” asked the officer.
“Rip up the floor and see. I know no other way to find out.”
“But that would take time, and we have not a minute to lose,” said I, and was disappearing for the second time when I again stopped. “Doctor,” said I, “when you consented to harbor this box under such peculiar conditions and allowed yourself to receive such good pay for a service involving so little inconvenience to yourself, you must have had some idea of the uses to which so mysterious an article would be put. What did you suppose them to be?”
“To tell you the truth, I thought it was some new-fangled lottery scheme, and I have still to learn that I was mistaken.”
I gave him a look, but did not stop to undeceive him.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55