Five minutes later the Curator was at the ‘phone calling up Police Headquarters. A death had occurred at the museum. Would they send over a capable detective?
“What kind of death?” was the harsh reply. “We don’t send detectives in cases of heart-failure or simple accident. Is it an accident?”
“No — no — hardly. It looks more like an insane woman’s attack upon a harmless stranger. It’s the oddest sort of an affair, and we feel very helpless. No common officer will do. We have one of that kind in the building. What we want is a man of brains; he will need them.”
A muffled sound at the other end — then a different voice asking some half-dozen comprehensive questions — which, having been answered to the best of the Curator’s ability, were followed by the welcome assurance that a man on whose experience he could rely would be at the museum doors within five minutes.
With an air of relief Mr. Jewett stepped again into the court, and repelling with hasty gestures the importunities of the small group of men and women who had lacked the courage to follow the more adventurous ones upstairs, crossed to where the door-man stood on guard over the main entrance.
“Locked?” he asked.
“Yes, sir. Such were the orders. Didn’t you give them?”
“No, but I should have done so, had I known. No one’s to go out, and no one’s to come in but the detective whom I am expecting any moment.”
They had not long to wait. Before their suspense had reached fever-point, a tap was heard on the great door. It was opened, and a young man stepped in.
“Coast clear?” he sang out with a humorous twist of his jaw as he noted the Curator’s evident chagrin at his meager and unsatisfactory appearance. “Oh, I’m not your man,” he added as his eye ran over the whole place with a look which seemed to take in every detail in an instant. “Mr. Gryce is in the automobile. Wait till I help him up.”
He was gone before the Curator could utter a word, only to reappear in a few minutes with a man in his wake whom the former at first blush thought to be as much past the age where experience makes for efficiency as the other seemed to be short of it.
But this impression, if impression it were, was of short duration. No sooner had this physically weak but extremely wise old man entered upon the scene than his mental power became evident to every person there. Timorous hearts regained their composure, and the Curator — who in his ten years of service had never felt the burden of his position so acutely as in the last ten minutes — showed his relief by a volubility quite unnatural to him under ordinary conditions. As he conducted the detectives across the court, he talked not of the victim, as might reasonably be expected, but of the woman who had been found leaning over her with her hand on the arrow.
“We think her some escaped lunatic,” he remarked. “Only a demented woman would act as she does. First she denied all knowledge of the girl. Then when she was made to see that the arrow sticking in the girl’s breast had been taken from a quiver hanging within arm’s reach on the wall and used as lances are used, she fell a-moaning and crying, and began to whisper in the poor child’s senseless ear.”
“A common woman? One of a low-down type?”
“Not at all. A lady, and an impressive one, at that. You seldom see her equal. That’s what has upset us so. The crime and the criminal do not seem to fit.”
The detective blinked. Then suddenly he seemed to grow an inch taller.
“Where is she now?” he asked.
“In Room B, away from the crowd. She is not alone. A young lady detained with the rest of the people here is keeping her company, to say nothing of an officer we have put on guard.”
“And the victim?”
“Lies where she fell, in Section II on the upper floor. There was no call to move her. She was dead when we came upon the scene. She does not look to be more than sixteen years old.”
“Let’s go up. But wait — can we see that section from here?”
They were standing at the foot of the great staircase connecting the two floors. Above them, stretching away on either side, ran the two famous, highly ornamented galleries, with their row of long, low arches indicating the five compartments into which they were severally divided. Pointing to the second one on the southern side, the Curator replied:
“That’s it — the one where you see the Apache relics hanging high on the rear wall. We shall have to shift those to some other place just as soon as we can recover from this horror. I don’t want the finest spot in the whole museum made a Mecca for the morbid and the curious.”
The remark fell upon unheeding ears. Detective Gryce was looking, not in the direction named, but in the one directly opposite to it.
“I see,” he quietly observed, “that there is a clear view across. Was there no one in the right-hand gallery to see what went on in the left?”
“Not that I have heard of. It’s the dullest hour of the day, and not only this gallery but many of the rooms were entirely empty.”
“I see. And now, what about the persons who were here? How many of them have you let go?”
“Not one; the doors have been opened twice only — once to admit the officer you will find on guard, and the other to let in yourself.”
“Good! And how many have you here, all told?”
“I have not had time to count them, but I should say less than thirty. This includes myself, as well as two attendants.”
With a thoughtful air Mr. Gryce turned in the direction of the few persons he could see huddled together around one of the central statues.
“Where are the others?” he asked.
“Upstairs — in and about the place where the poor child lies.”
“They must be got out of there. Sweetwater!”
The young man who had entered with him was at his side in an instant.
“Clear the galleries. Then take down the name and address of every person in the building.”
Before the last word had left his lips, the busy fellow was halfway up the marble steps. “Lightning,” some of his pals called him, perhaps because he was as noiseless as he was quick. Meanwhile the senior detective had drawn the Curator to one side.
“We’ll take a look at these people as they come down. I have been said to be able to spot a witness with my eyes shut. Let’s see what I can do with my eyes open.”
“Young and old, rich and poor,” murmured the Curator as some dozen persons appeared at the top of the staircase.
“Yes,” sighed the detective, noting each one carefully as he or she filed down, “we sha’n’t make much out of this experiment. Not one of them avoids our looks. Emotion enough, but not of the right sort. Well, we’ll leave them to Sweetwater. Our business is above.”
The Curator offered his arm. The old man made a move to take it — then drew himself up with an air of quiet confidence.
“Many thanks,” said he, “but I can go alone. Rheumatism is my trouble, but these mild days loosen its grip upon my poor old muscles.” He did not say that the prospect of an interesting inquiry had much the same effect, but the Curator suspected it, possibly because he was feeling just a little bit spry himself.
Steeled as such experienced officers necessarily are to death in all its phases, it was with no common emotion that the aged detective entered the presence of the dead girl and took his first look at this latest victim of mental or moral aberration. So young! so innocent! so fair! A schoolgirl, or little more, of a class certainly above the average, whether judged from the contour of her features or the niceties of her dress. With no evidences of great wealth about her, there was yet something in the cut of her garments and the careful attention to each detail which bespoke not only natural but cultivated taste. On her breast just above the spot where the cruel dart had entered, a fresh and blooming nosegay still exhaled its perfume — a tragic detail accentuating the pathos of a death so sudden that the joy with which she had pinned on this simple adornment seemed to linger about her yet.
The detective, with no words for this touching spectacle, stretched out his hand and with a reverent and fatherly touch pressed down the lids over the unseeing eyes. This office done to the innocent dead, he asked if anything had been found to establish the young girl’s identity.
“Surely,” he observed, “she was not without a purse or handbag. All young ladies carry them.”
For answer the officer on guard thrust his hand into one of his capacious pockets, and drawing out a neat little bag of knitted beads, passed it over to the detective with the laconic remark:
And so it proved. It held only a pocket handkerchief — embroidered but without a monogram — and a memorandum-book without an entry.
“A blind alley, if ever there was one,” muttered Mr. Gryce; and ordering the policeman to replace the bag as nearly as possible on the spot from which it had been taken, he proceeded with the Curator to Room B.
Prepared to encounter a woman of disordered mind, the appearance presented by Mrs. Taylor at his entrance greatly astonished Mr. Gryce. There was a calmness in her attitude which one would scarcely expect to see in a woman whom mania had just driven into crime. Surely lunacy does not show such self-restraint; nor does lunacy awaken any such feelings of awe as followed a prolonged scrutiny of her set but determined features. Only grief of the most intense and sacred character could account for the aspect she presented, and as the man to whom the tragedies of life were of daily occurrence took in this mystery with all its incongruities, he realized, not without a sense of professional pleasure, no doubt, that he had before him an affair calling for the old-time judgment which, for forty or more years, had made his record famous in the police annals of the metropolis.
She was seated with no one near her but a young lady whom sympathetic interest had drawn to her side. Mr. Roberts stood in one of the windows, and not far from him a man in the museum uniform.
At the authoritative advance of the old detective, the woman, whose eye he had caught, attempted to struggle to her feet, but desisted after a moment of hopeless effort, and sank back in her chair. There was no pretense in this. Though gifted with a strong frame, emotion had so weakened her that she was simply unable to stand. Quite convinced of this, and affected in spite of himself by her look of lofty patience, Mr. Gryce prefaced his questions with an apology — quite an unusual proceeding for him.
Whether or no she heard it, he could not tell; but she was quite ready to answer when he asked her name and then her place of residence — saying in response to the latter query:
“I live at the Calderon, a family hotel in Sixty-seventh Street. My name”— here she paused for a second to moisten her lips —“is Taylor — Ermentrude Taylor. . . . Nothing else,” she speedily added in a tone which drew every eye her way. Then more evenly: “You will find the name on the hotel’s books.”
“Wife or widow?”
What a voice! how it reached every heart, waking strange sympathies there! As the word fell, not a person in the room but stirred uneasily. Even she herself started at its sound; and moved, perhaps, by the depth of silence which followed, she added in suppressed tones:
“A widow within the hour. That’s why you see me still in colors, but crushed as you behold — killed! killed!”
That settled it. There was no mistaking her condition after an expression of this kind. The Curator and Mr. Gryce exchanged glances, and Mr. Roberts, stepping from his corner, betrayed the effect which her words had produced on him, by whispering in the detective’s ear:
“What you need is an alienist.”
Had she heard? It would seem so from the quick way she roused and exclaimed with indignant emphasis:
“You do not understand me! I see that I must drink my bitter cup to the dregs. This is what I mean: My husband was living this morning — living up to the hour when the clock in this building struck twelve. I knew it from the joyous hopes with which my breast was filled. But with the stroke of noon the blow fell. I was bending above the poor child who had fallen so suddenly at my feet, when the vision came, and I saw him gazing at me from a distance so remote — across a desert so immeasurable — that nothing but death could create such a removal or make of him the ghastly silhouette I saw. He is dead. At that moment I felt his soul pass; and so I say that I am a widow.”
Ravings? No, the calm certainty of her tone, the grief, touching depths so profound it had no need of words, showed the confidence she felt in the warning she believed herself to have received. Though probably not a single person present put any faith in occultism in any of its forms, there was a general movement of sympathy which led Mr. Gryce to pass the matter by without any attempt at controversy, and return to the question in hand. With a decided modification of manner, he therefore asked her to relate how she came to be kneeling over the injured girl with her hand upon the arrow.
“Let me have a moment in which to recover myself,” she prayed, covering her eyes with her hand. Then, while all waited, she gave a low cry, “I suffer; I suffer!” and leaped to her feet, only to sink back again inert and powerless. But only for an instant: with that one burst of extreme feeling she recovered her self-control, answering with apparent calmness the detective’s question:
“I was passing through the gallery as any other visitor might, when a young lady rushed by me — stopped short — threw up her arms and fell backward to the floor, pierced to the heart by an arrow. In a moment I was on my knees at her side with hand outstretched to withdraw this dreadful arrow. But I was afraid — I had heard that this sometimes causes death, and while I was hesitating, that vision came, engulfing everything. I could think of nothing else.”
She was near collapsing again; but being a woman of great nerve, she fought her weakness and waited patiently for the next question. It was different, without doubt, from any she had expected.
“Then you positively deny any active connection with the strange death of this young girl?”
A pause, as if to take in what he meant. Then slowly, impressively, came the answer:
“Did you see the person who shot the arrow?”
“From what direction would it have had to come to strike her as it did?”
“From the opposite balcony.”
“Did you see anyone there?”
“But you heard the arrow?”
“An arrow shot from a bow makes a whizzing sound as it flies. Didn’t you hear that?”
“I don’t know.” She looked troubled and uncertain. “I don’t remember. I was expecting no such thing — I was not prepared. The sight of an arrow — a killing arrow — in that innocent breast overcame me with inexpressible grief and horror. If the vision of my husband had not followed, I might remember more. As it is, I have told all I can. Won’t you excuse me? I should like to go. I am not fit to remain. I want to return home — to hear from my husband — to learn by letter or telegram whether he is indeed dead.”
Mr. Gryce had let her finish. An inquiry so unofficial might easily await the moods of such a witness. Not till the last word had been followed by what some there afterward called a hungry silence, did he make use of his prerogative to say:
“I shall be pleased to release you and will do so just as soon as I can. But I must put one or two more questions. Were you interested in the Indian relics you had come among? Did you handle any of them in passing?”
“No. I had no interest. I like glass, bronzes, china — I hate weapons. I shall hate them eternally after this.” And she began to shudder.
The detective, with a quick bend of his head, approached her ear with the whispered remark:
“I am told that when your attention was drawn to these weapons, you fell on your knees and murmured something into the dead girl’s ears. How do you explain that?”
“I was giving her messages to my husband. I felt — strange as it may seem to you — that they had fled the earth together — and I wanted him to know that I would be constant, and other foolish things you will not wish me to repeat here. Is that all you wish to know?”
Mr. Gryce bowed, and cast a quizzical glance in the direction of the Curator. Certainly for oddity this case transcended any he had had in years. With this woman eliminated from the situation, what explanation was there of the curious death he was there to investigate? As he was meditating how he could best convey to her the necessity of detaining her further, he heard a muttered exclamation from the young woman standing near her, and following the direction of her pointing finger, saw that the strange silence which had fallen upon the room had a cause. Mrs. Taylor had fainted away in her chair.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55