“Elvira Brown? That the name on the package?”
“And the address?”
The name of a small town in the Catskills was given him.
“Thank you. Very good work.” And Mr. Gryce hung up the receiver. Then he stood thinking.
“Elvira Brown! A very fair alias — that is, the Brown end. But what am I to think of Elvira? And what am I to think of the Brown, now that I remember that the woman who has chosen to hide her identity under another name is a Frenchwoman. Something queer! Let me see if I can call up the station-master at the place she’s gone.”
A long-distance connection proving practicable, he found himself after a little while in communication with the man he wanted.
“I’m Gryce, of the New York police. A woman in whom we’re greatly interested has just entered your town under the name of Elvira Brown.”
Mr. Gryce was startled at the tone in which this was repeated, even making due allowance for the medium through which it came.
“Yes. What’s there strange about that?”
“Only this: That’s the name of a woman who has lived in these mountains for forty years, and who died here three days ago. To-day we’re going to bury her.”
This was a blow to the detective’s expectations. What awful mistake had he made? Or had it been made by the man detailed to steal the name from the package — or by the woman in the shop, or by all these combined? He could not stop to ask; but he caught at the first loose end which presented itself.
“Well, it isn’t she we’re after, that’s certain. The one we want is middle-aged, and plain in looks and dress. If she came into your town, it was yesterday or possibly the night before. You wouldn’t be apt to notice her, unless your attention was caught by her lameness. Do you remember any such person?”
“No, and I don’t think anyone like that passed through my station. We’re off the main road, and our travelers are few. I would have noticed the arrival of a woman like that.”
Mr. Gryce, with an exclamation of chagrin, hung up the receiver. He felt completely balked.
But old as he was, he still had some of the tenacity of youth. He was not willing to accept defeat without one more effort. Going downtown as usual, he wandered again into the little dry-goods shop to see if the package had been sent.
Yes, it had gone, but the expressman had had some trouble with a drunken man who actually took the package out of his hands and didn’t give it back without a squabble. Strange how men can drink till they can’t see, and so early in the morning, at that!
Mr. Gryce’s vigorous hunch dismissed summarily this expression of opinion as altogether feminine. But he had something to say about the package itself, which kept the good woman waiting, though a customer or two demanded her attention.
“You’ll think me a fussy old man,” said he, “but I’ve worried about that package all night. She needs a new dress so much, and I’m afraid you didn’t have the right address. I remember it now — it was — was ——”
“Barford on the Hudson,” she finished promptly. Evidently she begrudged the time she was wasting on his imbecilities.
“That’s it; that’s it. ‘Way up in the Catskills, isn’t it?”
“I don’t know. Those people are waiting, sir. I shall really ——”
“One moment! I want to buy something more for her. But I’ll send it myself this time; I won’t bother you again. Another dress, something bright and prettier than anything she has. She’ll forgive me. She’ll be glad to have it.”
“I don’t know, sir.” The woman was really very much embarrassed. She was honest to the core, and though she enjoyed seeing her goods disappear from the shelves, it wasn’t in her heart to take advantage of a man so old as this. “I’m afraid she wouldn’t be pleased. You see, it isn’t a fortnight since she bought and made up the one I sold her first, and she thought that a great extravagance. Now with the gray ——”
“Are you speaking of the blue one?”
“No, it wasn’t blue.”
“What color was it? Haven’t you a bit left to show me? I should know better what to do, then.”
She pointed to a bolt of striped wool — a little gaudy for a woman whose taste they had both been speaking of as inclined to the plain and somber.
“That? But that’s bright enough. I’ve never seen her in that.”
“She didn’t like it. But something made her take it. She wore it when she came in last.”
“She did! Then I’m satisfied. Thankee all the same. Just give me a pair of gloves for her, and I’ll be getting on.”
She picked out a pair for him, and he trotted away, mumbling cheerily to himself as he passed between the counters. But once in his taxi again, he concentrated all his thought on that bolt of striped dress-goods. The colors were crimson and black, with a dot here and there of some lighter shade! He took pains to fix it in his mind, for this was undoubtedly the dress she fled in — an important clue to him, if this hunt should resolve itself into a chase with doubling and redoubling of the escaping quarry.
He spent the next two hours in acquainting himself with the location and some of the conditions of the town he now meant to visit. Though he could not understand Madame Duclos’ reason for taking the name of a woman so well known as this Elvira Brown, there was something in this circumstance and the fact that the person so styled had been at that moment at the point of death, which called, as he felt, for personal investigation. He hardly felt fit for any such purely speculative expedition as this; especially as he must do without the companionship, to say nothing of the assistance, of Sweetwater, whom he hardly felt justified in withdrawing from the task he had given him. So he picked out a fellow named Perry; and together they took the West Shore into Greene County, where they stopped at a station from which a branch road ran to the small town whither the package addressed to Elvira Brown had preceded them.
Accidents frequently determine our course, as well as turn us from the one we had mapped out for ourselves. By accident I mean, in this case, an actual one which had occurred on the branch road I have mentioned, by which the trains were held up and further progress in that direction made impossible. When this came to the knowledge of Mr. Gryce, he found it necessary to choose between trusting himself to an automobile for the rest of the journey, or of remaining all night in the town where the train had stopped. A glance at the hills towering up between him and his goal decided him to wait for the running of the trains next day; and after an inquiry or two, he left the station on foot for the hotel to which he had been recommended.
A philosopher, in many regards, Mr. Gryce quieted himself, under the irritation of this annoyance, with the thought that in this world we do not always know just what is best for us; and that the few hours of rest thus forced upon him by the seemingly unfortunate break in his plans might prove in the end to be the best thing that could happen to him. He accordingly took a good room, enjoyed a good dinner and then sat down in the lobby to have an equally good smoke. He chose a chair which gave him a prospect of the river, and for a long time, while vaguely listening to the talk about him, he feasted his eyes on the view and allowed some of its calm to enter his perturbed spirit. But gradually, as he looked and smoked, he found his attention caught, first by what a man was saying in his rear, and secondly by something he saw intervening between himself and the flow of shining river which had hitherto filled his eye.
The sentence which had roused him was one quite foreign to his thoughts and seemingly of little importance to him or to anyone about. It was in connection with a factory on the other side of the river, which was running overtime, and had not help enough to fill its orders.
“It’s women we want,” he heard shouted out. “Young women, middle-aged women, any sort of women who are anxious for steady work and good wages.”
The emphasis with which this announcement was made perhaps gave it point; at all events this one brief sentence sank into Mr. Gryce’s ear just as he began to notice a woman who sat with her back to him on the hotel piazza.
He was not thinking of Madame Duclos at that moment; nor was there the least thing about this woman to recall his secret quarry to mind. Yet once his eyes had fallen on her, they remained there for several minutes.
Perhaps because she sat so unnaturally still. In all the time he stared at her simple bonnet and decently clothed shoulders, the silhouette she made against the silver band of the river did not change by an iota. He had been agaze upon the landscape too, but he was sure that he had not sat as still as this, and when, after an interval during which he had turned to see what kind of man it was who had spoken so vigorously, he wheeled back into place and glanced out again through his window, she was there yet, hat, shoulders and all, immovable as an image and almost as rigid.
Well, and what of it? There was surely nothing very remarkable in so commonplace a fact; yet during the ensuing half-hour, during which he gave, or tried to give, the greater part of his attention to the political talk which followed the statements he had heard made in regard to the needs of a certain factory, his eye would turn riverward from time to time and always with a view to see if this woman had moved. And not once did he detect the least change in her attitude.
“She will sit there all night,” he muttered to himself; and after a while his curiosity mounted to such a pitch that he got up and went out on the piazza for one of his short strolls.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55