“Assurance does it, sir — a great deal of assurance. Not that I have much ——”
Here Mr. Gryce laughed, with the result that Sweetwater laughed also. A moment of fun was a welcome relief, and they both made the most of it.
“Not that I lack it entirely,” Sweetwater hastened to say. Then they laughed again — after which their talk proceeded on serious lines.
“Sweetwater, what is that you once told me about a family named Duclos?”
“Why, this, sir: There is one such family in town, as Peters discovered in looking up the name in the directory a day or two after Madame’s disappearance. But there’s nothing to be learned from them. Mr. and Mrs. Edward Duclos are a most respectable couple and have but one answer to every question. They know no one of their name outside their own family. Though the man of the house is Breton born, he has lived many years in this country, and in all that time has never met another Duclos.”
“And Peters let it go at that?”
“Had to. What else could he do? However, he did make this admission — that there was a child in the room who betrayed a nervousness under his questions which was not observable in her elders, a girl of twelve or so who put her hands behind her when she found she could not control their twitching. And I’ve an idea that if he could have got this child by herself, he might have heard something quite different from the plain denial he got from the mother. I’ve always thought so; but I’ve had too many other things to do to make an effort in this direction.
“Now, if you approve, I’ll see what I can do with this girl, for it stands to reason there must be some place in town where this woman, just off ship, found an immediate refuge and a change of clothing and effects. Nor should I be much surprised if we should discover that she is an inmate of this very house. What do you think, Mr. Gryce? Is it worth looking into?”
“It is worth my looking into. I have other work for you. Where does this Duclos family live?”
Sweetwater told him. It was in one of the Eighties, not a quarter of a mile from the Hotel Universal.
This settled, Mr. Gryce took from his pocket the mutilated photograph which had served as a target to the woman in Fifty-third Street.
“You see this,” said he. “The face is all gone; only a sweep of the hair on one side, and a bit of collar and the tip of a shoulder on the other, remain to act as a clue. Yet I expect you to find the negative from which this photograph was printed. It should not be so difficult — that is, if in the course of time it has not been destroyed — for look here.” And turning over what remained of the mutilated photograph he displayed the following:
Cor. 9th Street
“New York! The portrait was made here and — at Fredericks’. His studio was on the corner of Ninth Street up to a few years ago. It’s a trail after my own mind. If that negative is in existence, I’ll find it, if I have to ransack half the photograph-studios in town. About how old do you think this picture is?”
“Old enough to give you trouble. But that you’re used to. What we want to know — what we must know — is this: The name of the man who has incurred Madame’s enmity to such a degree that she spends the small hours of the night in knocking out his features from a fifteen-year-old photograph. If it should prove to be that of a public man, rich or otherwise, we might consistently lay it to social hatred; but if, on the contrary, it turns out to be that of a private individual — well, in that case, I shall have a task for you which may call for a little of that assurance of which we have just acknowledged you possess a limited share.”
That evening, just at dusk, a taxicab which had been wandering up and down a well-kept block in Eighty-seventh Street stopped suddenly in front of a certain drug-store to let an old man out. He seemed very feeble and leaned heavily on his cane while crossing the sidewalk toward the store. But his face was kindly, and his whole aspect that of one who takes the ills of life without bitterness or complaint. When halfway to his goal — for twenty steps are a journey to one who has to balance himself carefully with every one — he slipped or stumbled, and his cane flew out of his hand. Happily — because he seemed unable to reach it himself — a young girl just emerging from the drug-store saw his plight and stooping for the stick, handed it to him. He received it with a smile, and while it was yet in both of their hands, said in the most matter-of-fact way in the world:
“Thank you, little Miss Duclos.” Then suddenly: “Where’s your aunt?”
She did not stop to think. She did not stop to ask herself what this question meant or whether this old gentleman who seemed to know so much about her and the family’s secrets had a right to ask it, but blurted out in nervous haste as if she knew of nothing else to do, “She’s gone,” and then started to run away.
“Come back, little one.” His tone was very imperative, but for all that of a nature to win upon a frightened child. “I know she’s gone,” he added soothingly as she looked back, hesitating. “And I’m sorry, for I have something for her. I recognized you the moment you stepped out of the store; but I see that you don’t remember me. But why should you? Little girls don’t remember old men.”
Again that benevolent smile as he poked about in one of his pockets and finally drew out a little parcel which he held out toward her.
“This belongs to your aunt. See, it has her name on it, Madame Antoinette Duclos. It came to the lodging-house in Fifty-third Street just after she left, and I was asked to bring it to her. I was going to your house as soon as I had done my little errand at this store, but now that I have met you, I will ask you to see that she gets it.”
The girl looked down at the parcel, then up at him, and reaching out her hand, took it.
His old heart, which had almost stopped, beat again naturally and with renewed strength. He was on the correct trail. When Mrs. Duclos and the rest of them had said that they knew of no one of their name in this country but themselves, it was because the Madame of the Hotel Universal was of their family — the widow of their brother, as this child’s acknowledgment showed.
He was turning back to his taxi when the child, still trembling very much, took a step toward him and said:
“I don’t know where to find my aunt. She didn’t tell us where she was going; and — and I had rather not take this parcel back with me. Mother don’t like us to speak of Aunt Nettie; and — and I don’t believe Aunt Nettie would care to have this now. Won’t — won’t you forget about it, sir, if I promise to tell her some day that it was brought back and I wouldn’t take it?”
Mr. Gryce felt a qualm of conscience. The child really was too simple to be made game of. Besides, he felt sure that she had spoken the truth, so far as she herself was concerned. She didn’t know where her erratic aunt had gone; and any further questioning would only frighten her without winning him the knowledge he sought. He therefore took the parcel back, said some soothing words and made his way across the walk to his taxi. But the number he gave the chauffeur was that of the house where this little girl lived.
He arrived there first. To him, waiting in the parlor and very near the window, her shrinking little figure looked pathetic enough, as glancing in at the taxi, and finding it empty, she realized who might be awaiting her under her mother’s eye. He remembered his grandchild, and made up his mind, as she slid nervously in, that no matter what happened he would keep this innocent child out of trouble.
The lady who presently came in to receive him was one who called him instinctively to his feet in respect and admiration. She was an American and of the best type, a woman who, if she told a lie, would not tell it for her own comfort or gain, but to help some one else to whom she owed fealty or love. But would she lie for anyone? As he studied her longer, taking in, in his own way, the candid expression of her eye and the sweet but firm set of her lips, he began to think she would not, and the interest with which he proceeded to address her was as much due to herself as to the knowledge he hoped to gain from her.
“Mrs. Duclos?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. And you?”
“I am a member of the New York police. My errand is one which you can probably guess. You have a sister-in-law, the widow of your husband’s brother. As her testimony is of the utmost importance in the inquiry which is to be made into the cause and manner of her daughter’s death, I should be very glad to have a few minutes’ talk with her if, as we have every reason to believe, she is in this house at the present moment.”
Mrs. Edward Duclos was a strong and upright woman, but this direct address, this open attack, was too much for her. However, before replying, she had a question of her own to put, and she proceeded to ask it firmly, quietly and apparently with every expectation of its being answered:
“How did you learn that Mr. Duclos had a brother and that this brother had left a widow?”
“Not from you, madam,” he smiled. “Nor from your husband. I very much wish we had. We have been waiting for some such word ever since our advertisement appeared. It has not come.”
She gave him a quick interrogating glance, folded her hands and answered without further hesitation:
“We had our reasons for silence, reasons which we thought quite justifiable. But they don’t hold good if we are to be brought into conflict with the police. Mr. Duclos told me this morning that if we were driven to speak we must do so with complete honesty and without quibble. What do you want to know?”
“Everything. First, your sister-in-law’s story, then her reasons for sending her child alone to the museum, as well as the cause of her flight before she could have heard of that poor child’s fate. More hangs upon an understanding of these facts than I am at liberty to tell you. She herself would agree with me in this if I could have a few minutes’ conversation with her.”
“She is not in the house. She left us late last night without giving us the least hint as to where she was going. She is, as you can very well see, as little anxious to talk of her great trouble as you are to have her, and recognizing that attempts were being made to find her and make her speak, she fled before it was too late. I am sorry she did so, sorry for her and sorry for ourselves. We do not approve her course, whatever reasons she may have for it. At the same time, I feel bound to assure you that to her they are all-sufficient. She is a conscientious woman, with many fine qualities, and when she says as she did to us, ‘It is my duty to flee,’ and again as she bade us a final adieu, ‘I will die rather than speak a word of what is on my mind,’ I know that it is no small matter which sends her wandering about like this.”
“I should think not. A mother to leave her daughter to be exposed at the morgue, and never intervene to protect her from this ignominy or to see that she has proper burial after that dread display is over!”
“I know — it was dreadful — and we! Do you not think we felt the horror of this also?”
“Your own flesh and blood — that is, your husband’s. I wonder you could stand it.”
“We had promised. She made us promise the first day she came that we would keep still and make no move, whatever happened.”
“It was here she came then, directly from the hotel?”
“I am obliged to admit it.”
“With her torn dress and her little bag?”
“And you procured her different clothes and the suit-case in which she now lugs about her effects?”
“You seem to know it all.”
“Mrs. Duclos, I hope you will answer my next question as honestly as you have the previous ones. Had Madame Duclos heard of her daughter’s death when she first presented herself to you?”
“Since you ask me this, I must answer. She was in great distress, but did not tell me why, till I asked her where Angeline was. Then she broke down utterly and flinging herself face down on the sofa, sobbed and wailed and finally confided to us that a terrible accident had happened to the child and that she was lying dead in one of the city’s great museums.”
“Did she say what accident?”
“No; she was almost delirious with grief, and we couldn’t question her. After the papers came and we had read the dreadful news, we tried to get from her some explanation of what it all meant, but now she wouldn’t answer; before, she couldn’t.”
“Did you ask her how she came to know that Angeline was dead, before the news was circulated outside the museum?”
“Yes; but she did not answer, only looked at us. It was the most despairing look I ever saw in my life. It made it easier for us to promise her all she wanted, though we regretted having done this when we came to think the matter over.”
“So you positively do not know any more than this of what she has so religiously held secret?”
“No; and I have got to the point where I do not wish to.”
“Did you know she was coming to this country?”
“Yes — but not her reasons for doing so. She has been a little mysterious of late.”
“Did she say she was going to bring her daughter with her?”
“Yes, she mentioned Angeline. Also the name of the ship on which they expected to sail.”
“Was this letter mailed from Paris or London?”
“It came from Paris.”
“Did you understand that she was leaving France for good?”
“I got that idea, certainly.”
“But not her reasons for it?”
“No. The letter was very short and not very explicit. I really have given you all the information I have on this subject.”
“Mrs. Duclos, it is my duty to inform you that your sister-in-law had a deep and intense hatred for a man to us at present unknown. Can you name him? Is there anything in her early history or in what you know of her later life, here and abroad, to enlighten you as to his identity?”
With a steady look and a slow shake of her head, Mrs. Duclos denied any such knowledge, even showing a marked surprise at what was evidently a new development to her.
“Antoinette has had little to do with the men since our brother’s death,” she said. “I can hardly conceive of her being greatly interested either in favor of or against any of the opposite sex.”
“Yet she is — even to the point of wishing him dead.”
Mrs. Duclos rose quickly to her feet, but instantly sat again.
“How do you know?” she asked.
Should he tell her? At first he thought not; then he reconsidered his decision and spoke out plainly.
“Madam,” said he, “some day you will hear what I had rather you heard now and from me. Madame Duclos left the lodging-house where she was so safe because she was detected, or was suspicious of having been detected, shooting the face from a photograph she had set up before her as a target in the small hours of the night.”
“Impossible!” The woman thus exclaiming was quite sincere. “I cannot imagine Antoinette doing that.”
“Yet she did. We have the remains of the photograph.”
“And who was the man?”
“When we know that, we shall know all, or be in the way of knowing all.”
“You alarm me!” She certainly looked alarmed.
“Why, madam? Do you not think it better for the truth to be known in such a case?”
“You forget what I told you. Antoinette will not survive the betrayal of her secret. She said she would not, and she is a woman who weighs her words. There is a firm edge to her resolves. It has always worked for good till now. I cannot bear to think of its working in any way for evil.”
“Has she socialistic ideas? Can her hatred be for some of our plutocrats or supposed oppressors of the people?”
“Oh, no; she is of aristocratic descent and proud of her order. The Duclos are bourgeois, but Antoinette is a De Montfort.”
Mr. Gryce suppressed all token of his instinctive amazement. This fine American woman was not without a sense of reflected glory given by this fact. Her sister-in-law was a De Montfort! Expressing his thanks for her candor, he rose to depart.
“For all that,” said he, “she may be at heart a révolutionnaire.” Then, as he noticed the negation in her look, he added softly: “The least clue as to her present refuge would make me greatly your debtor.”
“I cannot give it; I do not know it.”
And somehow he believed her as absolutely as even she could desire. If he should yet be fortunate enough to find this elusive Madame, it would have to be through some other agency than these relatives of hers by marriage.
As he passed out, he heard a frightened gasp from somewhere back in the hall. Turning, he asked in the most natural manner whether there were children in the house.
Mrs. Duclos answered with some dignity that she had three daughters.
“You are fortunate, madame,” he remarked with his old-fashioned bow. “I live alone. My last grandchild left me a year ago for a man many years my junior.”
This brought the little one into his view. She was smiling, and he went away in a state of relief marred by but one regret:
He was as ignorant as ever where to look for the mother of Angeline.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55