He was surprised, for all his attempts to conceal it.
“No?” said he. “Who, then? You are becoming interesting, Miss Butterworth.”
This I thought I could afford to ignore.
“Yesterday,” I proceeded, “I would have declared it to be Silly Rufus, in the face of God and man, but after what I saw in William’s room during the hurried survey I gave it, I am inclined to doubt if the explanation we have to give to this affair is so simple as that would make it. Mr. Gryce, in one corner of that room, from which the victim had so lately been carried, was a pair of shoes that could never have been worn by any boy-tramp I have ever seen or known of.”
“They were Loreen’s, or possibly Lucetta’s.”
“No, Loreen and Lucetta both have trim feet, but these were the shoes of a child of ten, very dainty at that, and of a cut and make worn by women, or rather, I should say, by girls. Now, what do you make of that?”
He did not seem to know what to make of it. Tap, tap went his finger on his seasoned palm, and as I watched the slowness with which it fell, I said to myself, “I have proposed a problem this time that will tax even Mr. Gryce’s powers of deduction.”
And I had. It was minutes before he ventured an opinion, and then it was with a shade of doubt in his tone that I acknowledge to have felt some pride in producing.
“They were Lucetta’s shoes. The emotions under which you labored — very pardonable emotions, madam, considering the circumstances and the hour ——”
“Excuse me,” said I. “We do not want to waste a moment. I was excited, suitably and duly excited, or I would have been a stone. But I never lose my head under excitement, nor do I part with my sense of proportion. The shoes were not Lucetta’s. She never wore any approaching them in smallness since her tenth year.”
“Has Simsbury a daughter? Has there not been a child about the house some time to assist the cook in errands and so on?”
“No, or I should have seen her. Besides, how would the shoes of such a person come into William’s room?”
“Easily. Secrecy was required. You were not to be disturbed; so shoes were taken off that quiet might result.”
“Was Lucetta shoeless or William or even Mother Jane? You have not told me that you were requested to walk in stocking feet up the hall. No, Mr. Gryce, the shoes were the shoes of a girl. I know it because it was matched by a dress I saw hanging up in a sort of wardrobe.”
“Ah! You looked into the wardrobe?”
“I did and felt justified in doing so. It was after I had spied the shoes.”
“Very good. And you saw a dress?”
“A little dress; a dress with a short skirt. It was of silk too; another anomaly — and the color, I think, was blue, but I cannot swear to that point. I was in great haste and took the briefest glance. But my brief glances can be trusted, Mr. Gryce. That, I think, you are beginning to know.”
“Certainly,” said he, “and as proof of it we will now act upon these two premises — that the victim in whose burial I was an innocent partaker was a human being and that this human being was a girl-child who came into the house well dressed. Now where does that lead us? Into a maze, I fear.”
“We are accustomed to mazes,” I observed.
“Yes,” he answered somewhat gloomily, “but they are not exactly desirable in this case. I want to find the Knollys family innocent.”
“And I. But William’s character, I fear, will make that impossible.”
“But this girl? Who is she, and where did she come from? No girl has been reported to us as missing from this neighborhood.”
“I supposed not.”
“A visitor — But no visitor could enter this house without it being known far and wide. Why, I heard of your arrival here before I left the train on which I followed you. Had we allowed ourselves to be influenced by what the people about here say, we would have turned the Knollys house inside out a week ago. But I don’t believe in putting too much confidence in the prejudice of country people. The idea they suggested, and which you suggest without putting it too clearly into words, is much too horrible to be acted upon without the best of reasons. Perhaps we have found those reasons, yet I still feel like asking, Where did this girl come from and how could she have become a prisoner in the Knollys house without the knowledge of — Madam, have you met Mr. Trohm?”
The question was so sudden I had not time to collect myself. But perhaps it was not necessary that I should, for the simple affirmation I used seemed to satisfy Mr. Gryce, who went on to say:
“It is he who first summoned us here, and it is he who has the greatest interest in locating the source of these disappearances, yet he has seen no child come here.”
“Mr. Trohm is not a spy,” said I, but the remark, happily, fell unheeded.
“No one has,” he pursued. “We must give another turn to our suppositions.”
Suddenly a silence fell upon us both. His finger ceased to lay down the law, and my gaze, which had been searching his face inquiringly, became fixed. At the same moment and in much the same tone of voice we both spoke, he saying, “Humph!” and I, “Ah!” as a prelude to the simultaneous exclamation:
“The phantom coach!”
We were so pleased with this discovery that we allowed a moment to pass in silent contemplation of each other’s satisfaction. Then he quietly added:
“Which on the evening preceding your arrival came from the mountains and passed into Lost Man’s Lane, from which no one ever saw it emerge.”
“It was no phantom,” I put in.
“It was their own old coach bringing to the house a fresh victim.”
This sounded so startling we both sat still for a moment, lost in the horror of it, then I spoke:
“People living in remote and isolated quarters like this are naturally superstitious. The Knollys family know this, and, remembering the old legend, forbore to contradict the conclusions of their neighbors. Loreen’s emotion when the topic was broached to her is explained by this theory.”
“It is not a pleasant one, but we cannot be wrong in contemplating it.”
“Not at all. This apparition, as they call it, was seen by two persons; therefore it was no apparition but a real coach. It came from the mountains, that is, from the Mountain Station, and it glided — ah!”
“Mr. Gryce, it was its noiselessness that gave it its spectral appearance. Now I remember a petty circumstance which I dare you to match, in corroboration of our suspicions.”
I could not repress a slight toss of my head. “Yes, I do,” I repeated.
He smiled and made the slightest of deprecatory gestures.
“You have had advantages ——” he began.
“And disadvantages,” I finished, determined that he should award me my full meed of praise. “You are probably not afraid of dogs. I am. You could visit the stables.”
“And did; but I found nothing there.”
“I thought not!” I could not help the exclamation. It is so seldom one can really triumph over this man. “Not having the cue, you would not be apt to see what gives this whole thing away. I would never have thought of it again if we had not had this talk. Is Mr. Simsbury a neat man?”
“A neat man? Madam, what do you mean?”
“Something important, Mr. Gryce. If Mr. Simsbury is a neat man, he will have thrown away the old rags which, I dare promise you, cumbered his stable floor the morning after the phantom coach was seen to enter the lane. If he is not, you may still find them there. One of them, I know, you will not find. He pulled it off of his wheel with his whip the afternoon he drove me down from the station. I can see the sly look he gave me as he did it. It made no impression on me then, but now ——”
“Madam, you have supplied the one link necessary to the establishment of this theory. Allow me to felicitate you upon it. But whatever our satisfaction may be from a professional standpoint, we cannot but feel the unhappy nature of the responsibility incurred by these discoveries. If this seemingly respectable family stooped to such subterfuge, going to the length of winding rags around the wheels of their lumbering old coach to make it noiseless, and even tying up their horse’s feet for this same purpose, they must have had a motive dark enough to warrant your worst suspicions. And William was not the only one involved. Simsbury, at least, had a hand in it, nor does it look as if the girls were as innocent as we would like to consider them.”
“I cannot stop to consider the girls,” I declared. “I can no longer consider the girls.”
“Nor I,” he gloomily assented. “Our duty requires us to sift this matter, and it shall be sifted. We must first find if any child alighted from the cars at the Mountain Station on that especial night, or, what is more probable, from the little station at C., five miles farther back in the mountains.”
“And —” I urged, seeing that he had still something to say.
“We must make sure who lies buried under the floor of the room you call the Flower Parlor. You may expect me at the Knollys house some time to-day. I shall come quietly, but in my own proper person. You are not to know me, and, unless you desire it, need not appear in the matter.”
“I do not desire it.”
“Then good-morning, Miss Butterworth. My respect for your abilities has risen even higher than before. We part in a similar frame of mind for once.”
And this he expected me to regard as a compliment.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50