“This finishes my usefulness as a detective. I have had my fill of horrors; all, in fact, that my old age can stand.”
Thus, Mr. Gryce, as hours afterward he and Sweetwater turned their faces back toward New York.
“I appreciate your feelings,” responded the latter, who had been strangely silent all day, speaking only when directly addressed. “I can assure you that in my way I’m as much cut up as you are. I wish now that I had made an attempt from the rear to head off this distracted woman, even if I had been obliged to scratch my hands to pieces tearing a board from the fence.”
“It would have done no good. She was determined to die rather than give up her secret. I remember the look with which her sister-in-law warned me that she would never survive a capture. But I thought that mere exaggeration.”
Then after a moment of conscious silence on the part of both, the weary old man added with bitter emphasis, “Her testimony might — I do not say would — have cleared away our suspicions of Director Roberts.”
Sweetwater, who was acting as chauffeur, slowed down his machine till it came to a standstill at the side of the road. Then wheeling quietly about till he faced his surprised companion, he remarked very gravely:
“Mr. Gryce, I hadn’t the heart to tell you this before, but the time has come for you to know that Mr. Roberts’ cause is not so favorably affected, as you seem to think, by this suicidal death of one who without doubt would have proved to be a leading witness against him. I am sure you will agree with me in this when I inform you that in pursuing the task you set me, I came upon this.”
Thrusting his hand into his pocket, he pulled out a large envelope from which he proceeded to draw forth first the tattered square of what had once been a cabinet portrait, and then a freshly printed proof of the same. Holding them both up, he waited for the word that was sure to follow.
It came with all the emphasis he expected.
“Roberts! Director Roberts!”
“The same, sir”; and the eyes of the two detectives met in what was certainly one of the most solemn moments of their lives.
They had paused for this short conference at a point where the road running for a few yards on a level gave them a view of slope on slope of varying verdure, with glimpses of the Hudson between. Glancing up, with a gesture of manifest shrinking from the portrait which Sweetwater still held, Mr. Gryce allowed his glance to run over the wonderful landscape laid out to his view, and said with breaks and halts bespeaking his deep emotion:
“If my death here and now, following fast upon that of this unhappy Frenchwoman, would avail to wipe out the evidence I have so laboriously collected against this man, I should welcome it with gratitude. I shrink from ending my career with the shattering of so fine an image, in the public eye. What lies back of this crime — what past memories or present miseries have led to an act which would be called dastardly in the most uninstructed and basest of our sex, I lack the imagination to conceive. Would to God I had never tried to find out! But no man standing where Roberts does to-day among the leaders of a great party can fall into such a pit of shame without weakening the faith of the young and making a travesty of virtue and honor.”
“Yet, if he is guilty ——”
“It is our business to pursue him to the end. Only, I like the man, Sweetwater. I had a long talk with him yesterday on indifferent matters and I came away liking him.”
This was certainly something Sweetwater had not expected to hear, and it threw him again into silence as he started up the machine and they pursued their course home.
Hard as the day had been for Mr. Gryce, its trials were not yet over. He had left it to Sweetwater to report the case to the New York authorities and had gone home to rest from the shock of the occurrence and to prepare for that interview with the Chief Inspector which he was satisfied would now lead to an even more exacting one with the District Attorney.
He was met by a messenger from downtown who handed him a letter. He opened it abstractedly and read the following:
“Mrs. Taylor is talking.”
He had forgotten Mrs. Taylor. To have her thus brought forcibly back to mind was a shock heightened, rather than diminished, by a perusal of the few connected words which the careful nurse had transcribed as falling from her delirious patient’s lips.
They were these:
I love but thee,
And thee will I love to eternity.
The exact lines, no more, no less, which Sweetwater had found written on the back of the Swiss clock cherished by Mr. Roberts.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55