Nevertheless Mr. Gryce was proud of the gain he had made in his talk with Mrs. Duclos, and he smiled as he thought of his next interview with Sweetwater. Assurance will often accomplish much, it is true, but it sometimes needs age to make it effective. He could not imagine either Mrs. Duclos or her daughter yielding to the blandishments of one even as gifted in this special direction as Sweetwater. Authority was needed as well — the authority of long experience and an ineradicable sympathy with human nature.
Thus he gratified himself with a few complacent thoughts. But when he stopped to think what a great haystack New York was, and how elusive was the needle which had escaped them now these three times, his spirits sank a trifle, and by the time he had ridden a half-block on his way back to Headquarters, he was at that low ebb of disheartenment from which only some happy inspiration can effectually lift one. He was glad to be able to report that he had learned a few important facts in regard to Madame Duclos, but he equally hated to admit that for all his haste in following up the clue given him, he knew as little as ever of her present whereabouts; and hated even worse to have to give the cue which would lead to a surveillance, however secret, over a house which held a child of so sensitive and tremulous a nature as that of the little friend who had picked up his stick in front of the drug-store.
He was recalling to mind the pathetic spectacle presented by her agitated little figure, when his eyes chanced to fall upon a small shop he was then passing. It was devoted to ladies’ furnishings, and as he took in the contents of the window and such articles as could be seen on the shelves beyond, a happy thought came to him.
Madame Duclos had left her hotel in a hurry, carrying but few of her belongings with her. A lady of cultivated taste, she must have missed many articles necessary to her comfort; and having money would naturally buy them. Prevented by her fears from going downtown, or even from going anywhere in the daytime, what was left for her to do but to patronize some such small shop as this. Its nearness to her late refuge, as well as its neat and attractive appearance, made this seem all the more likely. A question or two would suffice to settle his mind on this point and perhaps lead to results which might prove invaluable in his present emergency.
Signaling to the chauffeur to stop, he got out in front of this little shop, toward which he immediately proceeded, with an uncertainty of step not altogether assumed. He did have some rheumatic twinges that day.
Entering, Mr. Gryce first cast a comprehensive glance at the shelves and counters, to make sure that he would find here the line of dress-goods in which he had decided to invest; then, approaching the middle-aged woman who seemed to be in charge, he engaged her in a tedious display of the goods, which led on to talk and finally to a casual remark from him, quite in keeping with the anxiety he had been careful to show.
“I am buying this for a woman to whom you have probably sold many odd little things within the past few days. Perhaps you knew her taste, and can help me choose what will please her. She lives down the street and buys always in the evening — a dark, genteel appearing Frenchwoman, with a strange way of looking down even when other people would be likely to look up. Do you remember her?”
Yes, she remembered her and recognized her perfectly from this description. He saw this at once, but he kept right on talking as he handled first one piece of goods and then another, seeming to hesitate between the gray and the brown.
“She went out of town yesterday, and wanted this material sent after her. Do you think you could do that for me, or shall I have to see to expressing it myself? I’ll do it if I must — only I’ve forgotten her exact address.” This he muttered self-reproachfully, “I’ve a shocking bad memory, and it’s growing worse every day. You don’t happen to know where she’s gone to, do you?”
The innocence of this appeal from one of his years and benevolent aspect did not appear to raise the woman’s suspicion; yet she limited her reply to this short statement:
“I’ll send the goods, if you will make your choice.” And it was not till long after that he learned that Madame Duclos, being very anxious for her mail and such newspapers as she wanted, had made arrangements with this woman to forward them.
Disappointed, but still hoping for some acknowledgment that would give him what he wanted, he continued to putter with the goods, when she broke in with harsh decision:
“I think she would prefer the gray.”
“Oh, do you?” said he, with just a hint of disapproval at the suggestion. “I like brown best, myself; but let it be the gray. Ten yards,” he ordered. “She was particular to say that she wanted ten yards, and that I was to be sure and purchase the dress at the shop adjoining the drug-store. You see I have obeyed her,” he added with a touch of senility in his quiet chuckle which threw the busy woman off her guard.
“I fear,” said she, “that the dress I sold her before will not prove very becoming. But gray is always good. That’s why I advised it.”
“I see, I see,” chattered away the old man, not without some slight compunction. “But in my opinion she’s too dark for such somber dresses. I’ve told her so a score of times.” Then as he watched the woman before him rolling up the goods he proceeded to ask with fussy importunity what she thought the express charges were likely to be, for he wanted to pay the whole bill and be done with it.
She was caught — caught fairly this time, though I doubt if she ever knew it.
“We don’t often send up the river,” said she. “But I should say that for a package of this size and weight the charges would be about forty cents. But that you can leave her to pay. She will be quite willing to do so, I am sure.”
“Of course, of course — I didn’t think of that. She’ll pay for it, of course she’ll pay for it.” And he continued to fuss and chat, with that curious mixture of native shrewdness and senile interest in little things which he thought most likely to impress the woman attending him, and trap her into giving him the complete address.
But she was too wary, or too much preoccupied with her own affairs, to let the cat any farther out of the bag, and he had to be content with her promise, that the package should be given to the expressman as early as possible the next morning.
The feebleness he showed while leaving the shop was in marked contrast, however, to the vigor with which he took down the telephone-receiver in the booth of the neighboring drug-store. But she was not there to see; nor anyone else who had the least interest in his movements. He could, therefore, give all the emphasis he desired to the demand he made upon Headquarters for a close watch to be set on the adjoining dry-goods shop, for the purpose of intercepting and obtaining the address of a certain package, on the point of being expressed from there to some place up the river.
Then he went home; for by now he was fully as tired as his years demanded.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50