For the next three days the impatience of the public met with nothing but disappointment. The police were reticent — more reticent far than usual — and the papers, powerless to add to the facts already published, had little but conjectures to offer.
The hunt for Madame Duclos continued, joined in now by the general public. But for all the efforts made, aided by a careful search through her entire baggage, there was as little known concerning her as on the morning of her disappearance.
Nor did any better success follow the exhibition at the morgue of the poor little victim’s innocent body. The mystery covering the whole affair seemed to be impenetrable, and the rush made on the museum upon its first reopening to the public was such as to lead to its being closed again till some limit could be put upon the attendance.
And thus matters stood when one morning the country was startled, and the keenest interest again aroused in this remarkable case, by an announcement received from France to the effect that the young lady so unfortunately killed in one of the public buildings in New York City was, from the description sent, not the ward of the woman Antoinette Duclos, but her own child, Angeline Duclos. That the two were well known in St. Pierre sur Loire, where they had lived for many years in the relationship mentioned. At the convent where she was educated, she had been registered under the name of Duclos — also at the hotel where she and her mother had spent a few days before leaving for England. Though of pure French descent, the father being a Breton, they could not furnish her birth-certificate, as she had not been born in France. According to the records to be seen at the convent, the father, Achille Duclos, was a professor of languages, whom her mother had met in England and married in France before going to the States. So far as known, their story was a simple one, affording no reason, so far as could be learned, for any change of name on the part of the young woman, in her visit to America.
This was supplemented by a word from Scotland Yard, England, received a few hours after the other, to the effect that Madame Duclos and Miss Willetts arrived at the Ritz from Dover, on the morning of May 16th, and left the next morning for Southampton. They spent the evening at the theater with friends who called for them in a public automobile. These people had not been found, but they had been advertised for and might yet show up. Nothing more could be learned of either of them.
Now here was an astonishing discovery! That two women known and recognized as mother and daughter in France should pass for unrelated companions on leaving that country to enter ours. What were we Americans to think of this, especially in the light of the tragic event which so soon terminated this companionship.
That the French records, imperfect as they were, were to be relied upon as stating the truth as to the exact nature of the connection between these two, there could be no doubt. But granting this, what fresh complexities were thus brought into an affair already teeming with incongruities — nay, absolute contradictions.
Madame Duclos’ conduct, as shown toward her young charge, had seemed sufficiently strange and inconsistent when looked upon as that of governess or guardian. But for a mother, and a French mother at that, to allow a young and inexperienced girl to go alone to a strange museum on the very day of their arrival, and then, with or without knowledge of what had happened to her there, to efface herself by flight without promise of return, was inconceivable to anyone acquainted with the most ordinary of French conventions.
Some sinister secret, despite the seeming harmlessness of their lives, must hide behind such unnatural conduct! Was it one connected with or entirely dissociated from the tragedy which had terminated the poor child’s existence? This was the great question. This was what gave new zest to the search for the dark-skinned Frenchwoman, with her drooping eyelid and hesitating walk, and led Sweetwater to whisper into Gryce’s ear, as they stepped out that same day from Headquarters:
“No more nonsense now. We must find that woman or her dead body before the next twenty-four hours have elapsed. With our fingers on that end of the string ——”
“We will get hold of some family secret, but not of the immediate one which especially concerns us. Madame Duclos sent her daughter unattended to the museum, but she did not direct the shaft which killed her. That was the work of our friend X. Let us then make sure that we fit the right man to this algebraic symbol, and trust to her testimony to convict him.”
By this time they had reached the taxi which was to convey Mr. Gryce home. But though Sweetwater lent his arm to help the old man in, he did it with such an air of hesitation that it caused the other to remark:
“You have not ended your argument. There is something more you want to say. What is it? Speak up.”
“No, no. I am quite satisfied, so far as the Duclos matter is concerned. It is only — would you mind stepping aside for a moment till I tell you a bit of gossip which has just come to my ears? Thank you, sir. Forbes is all right” (Forbes was the chauffeur), “but confidences are sacred and this thing was told me in confidence.”
The humorous twist of his features as he said this quite transformed his very plain countenance. Mr. Gryce, noting it, began to stare at the first isolated object handy, which in this case happened to be the crooked end of his umbrella — a sign, to those who knew him well, of awakened interest.
“Well? Let’s hear,” he said.
“It doesn’t sound like much; but it will probably be news to you, as it certainly was to me. It’s this, Mr. Gryce: A certain gentleman we know has been contemplating matrimony; but since this accident happened at the museum — that is, within the last two days — the engagement has been broken off.”
“So! But I thought he had not got so far as an engagement. You mean young Correy ——”
“No, Mr. Gryce, I do not. I mean —the other.”
“The other! Well, that’s worth listening to. Engaged, eh, and now all of a sudden free again? At whose instance, Sweetwater, his or hers? Did you hear?”
“Not exactly, but — it’s quite a story, sir. I had it from his chauffeur and will tell it to you later if you are in a hurry to go home.”
“Home! Come back with me into Headquarters. I’ve got to sleep to-night.”
Sweetwater laughed, and together they retraced their steps.
“You see, sir,” the young detective began as they drew their chairs together in an unoccupied corner, “you gave me a task the other day which called for the help of a friend — one at court, I mean, a fellow who not only knows the gentleman but has access to his person and his wardrobe. X does not keep a man-servant — men of his intellectual type seldom do — but does own a limousine and consequently employs a chauffeur. To meet and make this chauffeur mine took me just two days. I don’t know how I did it. I never know how I do it,” he added with a sheepish smile as Mr. Gryce gave utterance to his old-fashioned “Umph!” “I don’t flatter and I don’t bring out my pocketbook or offer drinks or even cigars, but I get ’em, as you know, and get ’em strong, perhaps because I don’t make any great effort.
“After an evening spent in the garage with this man, he was ready to talk, and this is what slipped out, among a lot of nonsensical gossip. Mr. X, the real Mr. X this time, has, besides his apartment in New York, a place on Long Island. The latter has been recently bought and, though fine enough, is being added to and refitted as no man at his age would take the trouble of doing, if he hadn’t a woman in mind. The chauffeur — Holmes is his name — is no fool, and has seen for some time that Mr. X, for all his goings to and fro and the many calls he is in the habit of making on a certain young lady, did not expect him — that is, Holmes — to notice anything beyond the limits of his work, or to recognize in any way his employer’s secret intentions. But fortunately for us, this man Holmes is just one of those singularly meddlesome people whose curiosity grows with every attempt at repression; and when, coincident with that disastrous happening at the museum, all these loverlike attentions ceased and no calls were made and no presents sent, and gloom instead of cheer marked his employer’s manner, he made up his mind to sacrifice a portion of his dignity rather than endure the fret of a mystery he did not understand. This meant not only keeping his eyes open — this he had always done — but his ears as well.
“The young lady, whose name he never mentioned, lives not in the city but in that same Long Island village where Mr. X’s country-house is in the process of renovation. If he, Holmes, should ever be so fortunate as to be ordered to drive there again, he knew of a gravel walk running under the balcony where the two often sat. He would make the acquaintance of that gravel walk instead of sitting out the hour somewhere in the rear, as he had hitherto been accustomed to do. What’s the use of having ears if you don’t use them? Nobody would be any the worse, and his mind would be at rest.
“And do you know, sir, that he did actually carry this cowardly resolution through. There came a night — I think it was Tuesday — when the order came, and they took the road to Belport. Not a word did his employer utter the whole way. Solemn and still he sat, and when they arrived he descended without a word, rang the bell and entered the house. It was very warm, that night, Holmes said, and before long he heard the glass doors open onto the balcony, and knew that his wished-for chance had come. Leaving the limousine, he crept around to secure a place among the bushes, and what he heard while there seemed to compensate him for what he called his loss of dignity. The young girl was crying, and the man was talking to her kindly enough but in a way to end whatever hopes she may have had.
“Holmes heard him say: ‘It cannot be, now. Circumstances have changed for me lately, and much as I regret it I must ask you to be so good as to forgive me for giving up our plans.’ Then he offered her money — an annuity, I believe they call it — but she cried out at that, saying it was love she wanted, to be petted and cared for — money she could do without. When he showed himself again in front, he was stiffer and more solemn than ever, and said ‘Home,’ in a dreary way which made the chauffeur feel decidedly uncomfortable.
“Of course Holmes is quite blind to what this all means, but you may possibly see some connection between this sudden act of sacrifice on X’s part and the work of the arrow. At all events, I thought you ought to know that Mr. X’s closet holds a skeleton which he will doubtless take every pains to keep securely locked from general view. Holmes says that his last word to the disappointed girl was in the way of warning. No mention of this break in their plans was to be made without his sanction.”
“Good work, Sweetwater! You have strengthened my hands wonderfully. Does this fellow Holmes know you for a police-detective?”
“Indeed not, sir. That would be fatal to our friendship, I am sure. I haven’t even let him discover that what he was burning to tell had any especial interest for me. I let him ramble on with just a word here and there to show I wasn’t bored. He hasn’t an idea ——”
“Very good. Now, what do you propose to do next?”
“To take up my residence in Belport.”
“Because X proposes to move there, bag and baggage, this very week.”
“Before his house is done?”
“Yes. He hates the city. Wants to have an eye to the changes being made. Perhaps he thinks a little work of this kind may distract him.”
“Was a master carpenter once, you know.”
“And have a friend on the spot who promises to recommend me.”
“Are workmen wanted there?”
“A good one, very much.”
“I’m sure you’ll fill the bill.”
“I shall try to, sir.”
“But for the risk you run of being recognized, I should bet on you, Sweetwater.”
“I know; people will not forget the unfortunate shape of my nose.”
“You were up and down the museum for hours. He must know your face like a book.”
“It can’t be helped, I shall keep out of sight as much as possible whenever he is around. I am an expert workman in the line wanted. I understand my trade, and he will see that I do and doubt his eyes rather than stretch probabilities to the point of connecting me with the Force. Besides, I get quite another expression when my hands get in touch with the wood; and I can look a man in the eye, if I have to, without a quiver of self-consciousness. His will drop before mine will.”
“Your name as carpenter?”
“Jacob Shott. It’s the name by which Holmes already knows me.”
“Well, well, the game may be worth the candle. You can soon tell. I will keep you posted.”
The rest was business with which we need not concern ourselves.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09