“Is this the place?”
“According to our instructions, yes. The first house after the first turn to the right. We took the first turn, and this is the first house. Romantic situation, eh? But a bit lonesome for a city chap? Shall I help you down?”
While talking, Sweetwater, who was already in the road, held up his elbow to Mr. Gryce, who slowly descended. It was early morning, and the glory of sunshine was everywhere misleading the eye from the ravages of the night before; yet neither of these two men wore an air in keeping with the freshness of renewed life and the joyous aspect of exultant nature. There seemed to be an oppression upon them both — a hesitation not common to either, and to all appearance without cause.
To end what he probably considered a weakness, Sweetwater approached the door staring somewhat blankly from the flat front of the primitive old house whose privacy they were about to invade, and rapped on its weather-beaten panels, first gently and then with quick insistence.
There was no response from within; no sound of movement; no token that he had been so much as heard. Sweetwater turned and consulted his companion before making another attempt.
“It’s early. Perhaps she’s not up yet,” rejoined the old detective as he painfully advanced. The storm of the preceding night had got into his bones.
“I don’t know. There’s something uncanny about this silence. She ought to be here; but I’m afraid she isn’t.” Sweetwater rapped again, this time with decided vehemence.
Suddenly in one of the uncurtained windows a face appeared. They saw it, and both drew a deep breath. The eyes were looking their way, but they were like ghost’s eyes. Without sight or speculation in them, they simply looked; then the face slowly withdrew, growing ghastlier every minute, and the window stared on, but the woman was gone. Yet the door did not open.
“I hate to use force,” objected Sweetwater.
Before answering, Mr. Gryce stepped to one side and cast a glance around the corner of the house in the direction of the gorge opening in the rear.
“There is something like a yard at the back,” he announced, “but the fence which shut it in is so high and so protected by means of prickly underbrush that you would have difficulty in climbing it.”
“Just so at this end,” called out Sweetwater after a short run to the left. “If we get in at all,” he remarked on coming back, “it will have to be by the window you see there with one pane knocked out.”
“I don’t like that; I don’t like any of it. But we can’t stay out here any longer. The looks of the woman herself forbid it. We sha’n’t forget that hollow stare.”
“They said the woman who lived here was dead.”
“Yes. It’s a bad business, Sweetwater. Rap once more, and then if she doesn’t come, throw up the window and climb in.”
Sweetwater did as he was bid, and meeting with no more response than before, thrust his hand through the hole made by the broken pane; and finding the window had been left unlocked, he pushed it up and entered. In another moment he appeared at the front door, where Mr. Gryce joined him, and together they took their first look at the small but surprisingly well-furnished interior.
The hall in which they stood was without staircase and had many of the appointments of a room. Doors opened here and there along its length, and in the rear they saw a closed one evidently leading into the yard. There was no one within sight. One would have said that with the death and carrying out of the owner of this little dwelling, all life had departed from it. Yet these two men knew that life was there; and raising his voice, Mr. Gryce called out in the least alarming way possible:
“Madame Duclos!” following this utterance of her name with an apology for the intrusion and a prayer for one minute’s interview.
Silence was his answer — no stir anywhere.
Apprehensive of they knew not what, the two detectives started simultaneously, one for the door on their right, the other for that on the left. When they met again in the ill-lighted hall, Mr. Gryce was shaking his head, but Sweetwater had lifted a beckoning finger. Unconsciously moderating his step, Mr. Gryce followed him through one room to the door of another which he saw standing partly open.
Through the crack thus made between the hinges, they could get a very fair glimpse of what was going on inside. They saw a bed, and a woman kneeling beside this bed, her eyes upraised in prayer. The look which had awed them at the window was gone, and in its place was one so high and so full of religious faith that for an instant they were conscious of the reversal of all their ideas.
But only for an instant; for while they waited, hesitating to break in upon her evidently sincere devotions, she started to her feet and with a half-insane look about her, disappeared from their view in the direction of the hall.
Sweetwater was after her in a twinkling; but by the time he and Mr. Gryce, each going his separate way, had themselves reached the hall, it was to see the end door — the one giving upon the plateau — closing behind her.
“Madame!” called out Sweetwater, bounding briskly in her wake.
Mr. Gryce said nothing but approached with hastening steps the door which Sweetwater had left open behind him, and took a quick survey of the fenced-in plateau, the bridge and the towering trees beyond, toward which she seemed to be making.
“She cannot escape,” was his ready conclusion; and he shouted to Sweetwater to go easy.
Sweetwater, who was in the act of setting foot upon the bridge down which she was running, slacked up at this command and presently stopped, for she had stopped herself and was looking back from a spot about halfway across, with the air of one willing, at last, to hear what they had to say.
“Who are you?” she cried. “And what do you want of me?”
“Are you not Madame Duclos?”
“Yes, I am Antoinette Duclos.”
“Then you must know why you are wanted by the police authorities of New York. Your daughter —”
Her hand went up.
“I’ve nothing to say — nothing. Will you take that for your answer and let me go?”
“Alas, madam, we cannot!” spoke up Mr. Gryce in his calm, benevolent way. “Miss Duclos’ death was of a nature demanding an inquest. Your testimony, hard as it may be for you to give it, is necessary for a righteous verdict. That is all we want —”
“It is too much!” she cried. And with a quick glance upward she took another step or two along the bridge till she had reached the broken rail; and before Sweetwater in his dismay could more than give a horrified bound in her direction, she had made the fatal leap and was gone from their sight into the gorge below.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:50