I was so moved by this discovery that I was not myself for several moments.
The reading of these words over the body which had been laid away under the Flower Parlor was in keeping with the knot of crape on the window-shutter and argued something more than remorse on the part of some one of the Knollys family. Who was this one, and why, with such feelings in the breast of any of the three, had the deceit and crime to which I had been witness succeeded to such a point as to demand the attention of the police? An impossible problem of which I dared seek no solution, even in the faces of these seemingly innocent girls.
I was, of course, in no position to determine what plan Mr. Gryce intended to pursue. I only knew what course I myself meant to follow, which was to remain quiet and sustain the part I had already played in this house as visitor and friend. It was therefore as such both in heart and manner that I hastened from my room late in the afternoon to inquire the meaning of the cry I had just heard issue from Lucetta’s lips. It had come from the front of the house, and, as I hastened thither, I met the two Misses Knollys, looking more openly anxious and distraught than at any former time of anxiety and trouble.
As they looked up and saw my face, Loreen paused and laid her hand on Lucetta’s arm. But Lucetta was not to be restrained.
“He has dared to enter our gates, bringing a police officer with him,” was her hoarse and almost unintelligible cry. “We know that the man with him is a police officer because he was here once before, and though he was kind enough then, he cannot have come the second time except to ——”
Here the pressure of Loreen’s hand was so strong as to make the feeble Lucetta quiver. She stopped, and Miss Knollys took up her words:
“Except to make us talk on subjects much better buried in oblivion. Miss Butterworth, will you go down with us? Your presence may act as a restraint. Mr. Trohm seems to have some respect for you.”
“Yes. It is his coming which has so agitated Lucetta. He and a man named Gryce are just coming up the walk. There goes the knocker. Lucetta, you must control yourself or leave me to face these unwelcome visitors alone.”
Lucetta, with a sudden fierce effort, subdued her trembling.
“If he must be met,” said she, “my anger and disdain may give some weight to your quiet acceptance of the family’s disgrace. I shall not accept his denunciations quietly, Loreen. You must expect me to show some of the feelings that I have held in check all these years.” And without waiting for reply, without waiting even to see what effect these strange words might have upon me, she dashed down the stairs and pulled open the front door.
We had followed rapidly, too rapidly for speech ourselves, and were therefore in the hall when the door swung back, revealing the two persons I had been led to expect. Mr. Trohm spoke first, evidently in answer to the defiance to be seen in Lucetta’s face.
“Miss Knollys, a thousand pardons. I know I am transgressing, but, I assure you, the occasion warrants it. I am certain you will acknowledge this when you hear what my errand is.”
“Your errand? What can your errand be but to ——”
Why did she pause? Mr. Gryce had not looked at her. Yet that it was under his influence she ceased to commit herself I am as convinced as we can be of anything in a world which is half deceit.
“Let us hear your errand,” put in Loreen, with that gentle emphasis which is no sign of weakness.
“I will let this gentleman speak for me,” returned Mr. Trohm. “You have seen him before — a New York detective of whose business in this town you cannot be ignorant.”
Lucetta turned a cold eye upon Mr. Gryce and quietly remarked:
“When he visited this lane a few days ago, he professed to be seeking a clue to the many disappearances which have unfortunately taken place within its precincts.”
Mr. Trohm’s nod was one of acquiescence. But Lucetta was still looking at the detective.
“Is that your business now?” she asked, appealing directly to Mr. Gryce.
His fatherly accents when he answered her were a great relief after the alternate iciness and fire with which she had addressed his companion and himself.
“I hardly know how to reply without arousing your just anger. If your brother is in ——”
“My brother would face you with less patience than we. Tell us your errand, Mr. Gryce, and do not think of calling in my brother till we have failed to answer your questions or satisfy your demands.”
“Very well,” said he. “The quickest explanation is the kindest in these cases. I merely wish, as a police officer whose business it is to locate the disappearances which have made this lane notorious, and who believes the surest way to do this is to find out once and for all where they did not and could not have taken place, to make an official search of these premises as I already have those of Mother Jane and of Deacon Spear.”
“And my errand here,” interposed Mr. Trohm, “is to make everything easier by the assurance that my house will be the next to undergo a complete investigation. As all the houses in the lane will be visited alike, none of us need complain or feel our good name attacked.”
This was certainly thoughtful of him, but knowing how much they had to fear, I could not expect Loreen or Lucetta to show any great sense either of his kindness or Mr. Gryce’s consideration. They were in no position to have a search made of their premises, and, serene as was Loreen’s nature and powerful as was Lucetta’s will, the apprehension under which they labored was evident to us all, though neither of them attempted either subterfuge or evasion.
“If the police wish to search this house, it is open to them,” said Loreen.
“But not to Mr. Trohm,” quoth Lucetta, quickly. “Our poverty should be our protection from the curiosity of neighbors.”
“Mr. Trohm has no wish to intrude,” was Mr. Gryce’s conciliatory remark; but Mr. Trohm said nothing. He probably understood why Lucetta wished to curtail his stay in this house better than Mr. Gryce did.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55