Just an ordinary woman, lost in a dream of some kind while awaiting her departure on an out-going train! — or such was Detective Gryce’s conclusion as he hobbled slowly past her.
Why should he give her a moment’s thought? Yet he did. He noticed her dress and the way she held her hands, and the fact, not suspected before, that she was not looking out at the landscape outspread before her eyes, but down into her lap at her own hands clasped together in an unnaturally tight grip. Then he straightway forgot her in the thought of that other woman whose track he was following with such poor promise of success. Madame Duclos’ image was in his mind as plainly as if she sat before him in place of this chance passenger. He knew the sort of hat she would wear (or thought he did). He also knew the color of her dress. Had he not been shown the piece of goods from which it had been taken? And had he not understood her choice, bizarre as it was, and for this very reason, that it was bizarre? Being a woman of subtle mind, she would reason that since the police were seeking one of plain exterior and simple dress, a gaudy frock would throw them off their guard and insure her immunity from any close inspection. Therefore this striped material rather than the plain black she so much preferred. Then her eyes! She would try to hide the defect which particularized them, by the use of glasses or, at least, by a very heavy veil. While her walk — well! she might successfully conceal her halting step if she were not hurried. But he promised himself that he would be very careful to see that any woman rousing his suspicion should be given some reason for hurrying.
While thus musing, he had reached the farther end of the piazza. In wheeling about to come back, the woman whose profile he now faced attracted his eye again, in spite of himself, and he gave her another idle thought. How absorbing was the subject upon which she was brooding, and how deeply it affected her!
It struck him as he quietly repassed her that he had never seen a sadder face. Then that impression passed from his mind, for he saw Perry coming toward him with a pencil and telegram-blank in hand. He had decided to let Sweetwater know where he could be reached that night, and Perry had come for the message.
It must have been fully two hours later that Mr. Gryce, sitting down in his former chair, looked up and found his view unobstructed to the river. The woman had gone.
Just for the sake of saying something to Perry, who had drawn up beside him, he remarked upon the fact, adding in explanation of his interest in so small a matter:
“It’s the thoughts and feelings of people which take hold of my curiosity now. Human nature is a big book, a great book. I have only begun to thumb it, and I’m an old man. Some people betray their emotions in one way, some in another. Some are loudest when most troubled, and some are so quiet one would think them dead. The woman I was watching there was one of the quiet ones; her trouble was deep; that was apparent from her outline — an outline which never varied.”
“Yes, she’s a queer duck. I saw her: I even did an errand for her — that was before you sat down here.”
“You did an errand for her?”
“Yes; she wanted a newspaper. Of course I was glad to get it for her, as she said she was lame.”
“Yes; I suppose she spoke the truth. I didn’t think of her being in any special trouble, but I did think her an odd one. She seemed to be wearing two dresses.”
Mr. Gryce started and turned sharply toward him.
“What’s that you say? What do you mean by that?”
“Why, this: when she stopped to get her money out of some hidden pocket, she pulled up the skirt of her dress, and I saw another one under it. Perhaps she thought that was the easiest way of carrying it. I noticed that her suit-case was a small one.”
“Describe that under-frock to me.” Mr. Gryce’s air and tone were unaccountably earnest. “What was its color?”
“Why, reddish, I think. No, it had stripes in it and something like spots. Do you suppose it was her petticoat?”
Mr. Gryce brought his hand down on his lame knee and did not seem to feel it. “Find out where she’s gone!” he cried. “No, I will do it myself.” And before the other could recover from his astonishment, he had started for the piazza where he had just seen the proprietor of the hotel take his seat.
“This comes from an old man’s folly in thinking he could manage an affair of this kind without help,” he mumbled to himself as he went stumping along. “Had I told Perry whom we were after and how he was to recognize her, I should have spent my time talking with this woman instead of staring at her. Two dresses! with the bright one under! Well, she’s even more subtle than I thought.”
And by this time, having reached the man he sought, he put his question:
“Can you tell me anything about the woman who was sitting here? Who she is and where she has gone?”
“The woman who was sitting here? Why, I should say she was a factory hand and has gone to her work on the other side of the river.”
“Her name? Do you know her name? I’m a detective from New York — one of the regular police force. I’m in search of a woman not unlike the one I saw here, though not, I am bound to state, a factory worker except on compulsion.”
“You are! A police detective, eh, and at your age! It must be a healthy employment. But about this woman! I’m sorry, but I can’t tell you anything except that she came on the same train you did and wanted a boat right away to take her across the river. You see, we’ve no ferry here, and I told her so, and the only way she could get across was to wait for Phil Jenkins, who was going over at five. She said she would wait, and sat down here, refusing dinner, or even to enter the house. Perhaps she wasn’t hungry, and perhaps she didn’t wish to register, eh?”
“Had her speech an accent? Did you take her for a foreign woman?”
“Yes, I did and I didn’t. She spoke very well. She’s not young, you know?”
“I’m not looking for a young woman.”
“Well, she’s gone and you can’t reach her to-night. There they are now, see! about a quarter of the way across. That small boat just slipping across the wake of the big one.”
Mr. Gryce looked and saw that she was in the way of escape for to-night.
“When can I get over?” he asked.
“Not till Phil crosses again to-morrow noon.”
“Meanwhile, she may go anywhere. I shall certainly lose her.”
“Hardly. She’s bound for the factory; you can just see the roof of it above the trees a little to the right. She asked me all sorts of questions about the work over there, and whether there were decent places to live in within walking distance of the factory.”
“Then she isn’t lame? My woman is a trifle lame.”
“So may this woman be, for all I know. I didn’t see her on her feet, but she carried no crutch — only a bag and an umbrella.”
“A brown bag, neat like herself in appearance?”
“No. It was light in color and old. She herself was neat enough.”
Mr. Gryce’s brows came together. He was in a quandary. He felt convinced, with a positiveness which surprised him, that in watching the withdrawal of this small boat farther and farther toward the opposite shore, he was watching the escape of Antoinette Duclos from his immediate interference.
Yet, circumstantial as were the proofs which had led him to this conclusion, he felt that he would gladly welcome some further corroboration of those proofs before risking the time and opportunity he might lose in following the person of two skirts to her destination on the other side of the Hudson. There were more reasons than one why he could not afford to lose one unnecessary minute. An extra twinge or two of rheumatism warned him that he was approaching the point of disablement.
Moreover, of Mr. Gryce’s secret fears there was one which loomed larger than the others and held an impulsive, unconsidered movement in check. He must have proof of her identity — which nevertheless he did not question — before hazarding himself and the success of his undertaking by a delay of so many additional hours. But what proof could he hope to obtain under the circumstances in which he found himself placed? Any appeal to Mrs. Edouard Duclos, by telephone or telegram, would certainly fail of its purpose. Even if the neat black dress in which her sister-in-law now traveled was one from her own wardrobe, he would find it impossible to establish the fact in time to make his own decision. The child — yes, he might worm that fact out of the child if he were where he could reach her; but he was miles away; and besides, something within him revolted from involving this child further in schemes honest enough from his standpoint, but certainly not helpful to her. No, he would have to trust his intuition, or —
He had thrown himself into a chair at the side of his host, but he rose quickly as his musings reached this point. The proof he had been looking for was his. In recalling the child to mind there had flashed upon his inner vision an instantaneous picture of her appearance as she stooped to pick up his stick in front of the drug-store. He saw again the bending figure, the flushed cheeks and the flaxen locks surmounted by a little hat. Ah! it was that little hat! The impression it had made upon him was greater than he thought. He found that he remembered not only its ribbons, but the bunches of curiously tinted flowers hanging down in front. And these bunches, or some precisely like them, had been the sole trimming of the hat he had been contemplating so long from the other side of the window. The woman was Madame Duclos. These flowers had been taken from the child’s hat and pinned upon the aunt’s; and it was their familiar look which had given him, without any recognition of the reason, his surety as to the latter’s identity.
Calmed immensely by this assurance, he turned back to have another word with the proprietor, now busily engaged with his newspaper.
“Will you be obliging enough to see that I’m given an opportunity for a few words with this Phil Jenkins on his return?” he asked. “And if you will be so good, respect my confidence till I am sure I have made no mistake in thinking what I have of his passenger.”
The proprietor nodded, and Mr. Gryce settled himself again inside to watch for the rowboat’s return.
What he learned that night from this man Jenkins calmed him still further. The woman had acknowledged, on leaving him, that she was going to seek work at the factory. “A little old for the job,” the man volunteered, “but spry. How she did clamber up that bank!”
It was enough; Mr. Gryce was satisfied, and engaged a seat in his small boat for the following day.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55