In leaving the building Mr. Gryce almost ran into the arms of Perry. In his anxiety to be within call, the young detective had seated himself on the steps outside and now stood ready for any emergency.
Mr. Gryce’s spirits rose as he saw him there. The great door leading to the elevator opened not twenty feet to the left of him. Perhaps Perry had seen the woman and could tell which way she ran. Questions followed, rapid and to the purpose. Perry had seen a woman flash by. But she seemed to be in company with a man. He had not been able to see either clearly.
“Which way were they heading?” asked Mr. Gryce.
Perry told him.
It would look as though they were making for the station. Alarmed at the idea, Mr. Gryce stepped down into the road and endeavored to pierce the darkness in that direction. All he could see were the station lights. Everything else was in shadow. The night hung over all, and had it not been for the grinding of machinery in their rear, the silence would have been just as marked.
“Perry, is the way rough between here and the station — I mean, rough for me?”
“Not very, if you keep in the road.”
“Run ahead, then, and learn how soon the next train is due — any train, going north or going south — I don’t care which. If it is soon, look for a middle-aged woman in a striped dress, and if you can’t prevent her getting on, without a fracas, follow her yourself and never quit her — telegraphing me at the first opportunity. Run.”
Perry gave a leap and was soon swallowed up in the darkness which was intense as soon as he had passed beyond the glare from the factory. Mr. Gryce followed after, moving as quickly as he dared. It was not far to the station platform, but in his anxiety it seemed a mile; nor did he breathe with ease till he saw a flying shadow come between him and the station lights and knew that Perry had reached the platform.
It was just at the hour when the fewest trains pass, and Mr. Gryce was himself across the tracks and on the platform before a far-off whistle warned him that one was approaching. Looking hastily around, he saw Perry hurrying up behind him.
“No one,” said he. “No such person around.”
They waited. The train came in, stopped, took on two unimportant passengers and rushed away north.
“I’m afraid I shall have to ask you to stay here, Perry. It would be so easy for her to board one of these night trains and buy a ticket from the conductor.”
But as he spoke he paused, and gripping Perry’s arm, turned his ear to listen.
“A boat,” said he. “A small boat leaving shore.”
It was so. They could hear the dip of the oars distinctly in the quiet which had followed the departure of the train. No other sound but that was in the air, and it struck cold upon one old heart.
“It is she! I’m sure of it,” muttered Gryce.
“The man across the river has warned her — sent a boat for her, perhaps. Run down to the point and see if there is anyone there who saw her go.”
Perry slid into the night, and Mr. Gryce stood listening. The quiet dip of the oars was growing fainter every instant. The boat was rapidly withdrawing, carrying with it all hope of securing off-hand this desirable witness.
To be sure, there was nothing very serious in this. He had only to telephone across the river to have the woman detained till he could reach her himself in the early morning. Yet he felt unaccountably disturbed and anxious. For all his many experiences and a record which should have made him immune from the ordinary disappointments of life, he had never, or so it seemed to him, felt more thoroughly depressed or weary of the work which had given him occupation for more years than he liked to number, than in the few minutes of solitary waiting, with his face toward the river and the sense of some impending doom settling slowly over his aged heart.
But he was still too much the successful detective to allow his disheartenment to be seen by his admiring subordinate. As the latter approached, the old man’s countenance brightened, and nothing could have been more deceptive than the calmness he displayed when the fellow reported that he had just been talking to a man who had recognized the boat and the oarsman. It was the same boat and the same oarsman that had brought them over earlier in the day. He had made an extra trip at this most unusual hour, for the express purpose of taking this woman back.
“I suppose there is no possibility of your drumming up anyone to row us over in time to catch them?”
“None in the least. I have inquired.”
“Then follow me into the station. I have a few messages to send.”
Among these messages was a peremptory one to Sweetwater.
Morning! and an early crossing to the other side. Here a surprise awaited them. They found, on inquiry, that the man responsible for Madame’s flitting was not, as they had supposed, the hotel proprietor, but Phil himself, the good-natured, easily-imposed-upon ferryman, on whose sympathies she had worked during their first short passage from one shore to the other. Perhaps a little money had helped to deepen this impression; one never knows.
But this was not all. The woman was gone. She had fled the town on foot before they were able to locate Phil, who had not made shore at his usual place but at some point up the river about which they knew nothing. When he finally showed up, it was almost daybreak.
“Where is he now?”
“At home, or ought to be.”
“Show me the house.”
In ten minutes the two were face to face.
The result was not altogether satisfactory to the detective. Though he used all his skill in his manipulation of this kind-hearted ferryman, he got very little from him but the plain fact that the woman insisted upon taking to the road when she heard that the train-service had stopped; that he could not persuade her to wait till daylight or to listen for a moment to what he had to say of the danger and terrors awaiting her in the darkness, and the awful loneliness of the hills. She didn’t fear nature even at its worst, and she knew these hills better than many who had lived among them for years. She was bound to go, and she went.
This was six hours ago. Asked to explain the interest he had shown in her, it soon became evident that he was in complete ignorance of her identity. He had simply, on their first trip over, seen that she was middle-aged, suffering and much too good and kind to be followed up by enemies and wicked police officials. True, he had rowed them over in her pursuit in the early part of the day, but that was because he had not known their business. When on returning he had learned it, he made up his mind to help her out with a warning even if it kept him up all night. He had not expected to bring her back with him, but she had insisted upon his doing so, saying that she had friends in the mountains who would look after her. He saw that she was dreadfully in earnest, for she had not stopped to get her hat and would not have had so much as an extra stitch with her if she had not taken the precaution to hide a bag of things somewhere in the bushes near the factory, in anticipation of some such emergency. And he couldn’t resist her. She made him think of a sister of his who had had a dreadful time of it in the world and was now well out of it, thank God!
When the ferryman heard that a reward of hundreds of dollars was waiting for the man who succeeded in bringing her before the police officials in New York, he betrayed some chagrin, but even this did not last. He was soon declaring with heartfelt earnestness that he didn’t care anything about that. It was peace of mind he wanted, and not money.
When Mr. Gryce left him, it was with an even slower step than usual. Peace of mind! How about his own peace of mind? Was he trailing this poor unfortunate from pillar to post, for the reward it would bring him? No. With his advancing years money had lost much of its attraction. Nor, if he knew himself, was he particularly affected by the glory which attends success. Duty, and duty only, drove him on — to elucidate his problem and merit the confidence put in him by his superiors. If suffering followed, that was not his fault; his business was to go ahead.
It was in this frame of mind that he prepared himself for the automobile trip he saw before him.
There was no question in Mr. Gryce’s mind now, as to this woman’s destination or whither he should be obliged to go in order to find her. As he now saw into her mind, she had left New York with the intention of hiding herself in the remote village to which she had ordered her mail sent under the name of Elvira Brown, whom she evidently knew; but hearing, either on the car or in the hotel, where she was detained, the plea which was being made for workers in the factory on the east side of the river, she had modified her plans to the extent already known, only to return to her original intention as soon as the attempt to provide for herself in this independent way had proved a failure.
He would proceed then in her wake, conscious of the fresh disappointment which awaited her in the loss, through Miss Brown’s sudden death, of the asylum she counted upon. Could he have gone on foot like herself, he might have been tempted to do so, for a trail is best followed slowly and with ear and eye very close to the ground. But as this was beyond his strength, he must wait till an automobile could be procured, and possibly till Sweetwater should arrive — for Perry was no man for this job. There were no automobiles in this small town, and it might be necessary to send up or down the river some distance before one could be found capable of carrying them over the precipitous road they would be obliged to take in order to avoid the washout which had driven them to this extremity.
But all would come right in time; and with Sweetwater at his elbow, the journey would be made and the woman caught, soon enough for him no doubt, hard as he felt it to wait. Why so hard, he might have found it difficult to say, since hitherto he had found it easy enough when the goal seemed sure and it was only with time he had to reckon!
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55