Next morning Mr. Gryce left his home an hour earlier than usual. He wished to have a talk with Mrs. Taylor’s nurse before encountering the Inspector.
It was an inconvenient time for a nurse to leave the sick-bed; but the matter being so important, she was prevailed upon to give him a few moments, in the little reception room where he had seated himself. The result was meagre — that is, from her standpoint. All she had to add to what she had written him the day before was the fact that the two lines of verse quoted in the note she had sent him were Mrs. Taylor’s first coherent utterance, and that they had been spoken not only once but many times, in every kind of tone, and with ever-varying emphasis. That and a dreamy request for “The papers! the papers!” which had followed some action of her own this very morning comprised all she had to give in fulfillment of the promise she had made him at the beginning of this illness.
Mr. Gryce believed her and rose reluctantly to his feet.
“Then she is still very ill?”
“Very ill, but mending daily; or so the doctor says.”
“If she talks again, as she is liable to do at any moment, do not check her, but remember every word. The importance of this I cannot impress upon you too fully. But do not by any show of curiosity endanger her recovery. She seems to be one of the very best sort; I would not have her body or mind sacrificed on any account.”
“You may trust me, sir.”
He nodded, giving her his hand.
But as he was turning away, he looked back with the quiet remark: “I should like to ask a final question. You have been in constant attendance on this lady for some time and must have seen many of her friends, as well as taken charge of her mail and of any messages which may have been left for her. Has there been anything in this experience to settle the doubt as to whether her talk of a vision in which she saw her absent husband stricken simultaneously with the poor child lying at that very moment dead at her feet simply delirium or a striking instance of telepathy recording an accomplished fact? In other words, do you believe her husband to be living or not living at the present time?”
“That is a subject upon which I have not been able to form any opinion. I have heard nothing, seen nothing to influence my mind either way. Some other people have asked me this same question. If her mail contains any news, it is still in the hands of the proprietor of the hotel. He has refrained from sending it up. She has lived here, as you know, for a long while.”
“Has she no relative to share your watch or take such things in charge?”
“I have seen none. Friends she has in plenty, but no one who claims relationship with her, or who raises the least objection to anything I do.”
He seemed about to ask another question, but refrained and allowed her to depart after some final injunction as to what she should do in case of certain emergencies. Then he had a talk with the proprietor, which added little or nothing to his present knowledge; and these duties off his mind, he went downtown.
As he expected, he found the Chief Inspector awaiting him. The death of Madame Duclos had added still another serious complication to the many with which this difficult affair was already encumbered, and he was anxious to talk over the matter with one who had been on the spot and upon whose impressions he consequently could rely.
But when he heard all that Mr. Gryce had to say on the subject, he grew as serious as the detective himself could wish, even going so far as to propose an immediate ride over to the District Attorney’s office.
Fortunately, they found that gentleman in and ready to listen, though it was evident he expected little from the conference. But his temper changed as Mr. Gryce opened up his theory and began to substantiate it with facts. The looks which he exchanged with the Chief Inspector grew more and more earnest and inquiring, and when Mr. Gryce reached that portion of his report which connected Mr. Roberts so indisputably with the arrow, he called in his assistant and together they listened to what Mr. Gryce had further to say.
With this addition to his audience, the old man’s manner changed and became a trifle more formal. He related the fact, not generally known, of Mr. Roberts’ engagement to a young girl residing on Long Island, and how this was broken off immediately after the occurrence at the museum, seemingly from no other reason than the unhappy condition of mind in which he found himself, a condition added to if not explained by the pertinacity with which he had haunted the morgue and dwelt upon the image of the young girl who had perished under no random shot.
Here the old man paused, shrinking as much from what he had yet to say as they from the hearing of it. It was not till the Chief Inspector had made him an encouraging gesture that he found the requisite courage to proceed. He did so, in these words:
“I know that the evidence I have thus far advanced is of a purely circumstantial nature, capable, perhaps, of a more or less satisfactory explanation. But what I have to add cannot be so easily disposed of. Connections have developed between persons we thought strangers which have opened up a field of inquiry which brings the doubts and surmises of an old detective within the scope of this office. I do not know what to make of them; perhaps their full meaning can only be found out here. Of this only I am assured. The gentleman whom it seems presumptuous on my part to connect even in a casual way with crime has not gained but lost by what I have to tell of Madame Duclos’ suicidal death. To those who see no association between the two, it looks like the opening of a new lead, but when I tell you that they knew each other, or at all events that she knew him and in the way of actual hatred, it looks more like a deepening of the old one. See here, gentlemen.”
Opening a package he had hitherto held in hand, he showed them Fredericks’ fifteen-year-old photograph of Mr. Roberts, together with its mutilated counterpart, and explained how the latter came to be in its present mutilated condition.
“But this is not all,” he continued, as the remarks incident upon this proof of deadly hatred on the part of the mother of the victim for the man whom circumstances seemed to point out as her slayer subsided under the pressure of their interest in what he had further to impart. “As you will see after a moment’s consideration, this token of animosity does not explain Madame Duclos’ flight, and certainly not her death, which, as the unhappy witness of it, I am ready to declare was not the death of one driven to extremity from personal fear, but by some exalted feeling which we have yet to understand. All that I now wish to point out in its connection is the proof offered by this shattered photograph, that Mr. Roberts was in some manner and from some cause a party to this crime from which a superficial observation would completely dissociate him.
“Where is the connecting link? How can we hope to establish it? That is what it has now become my unfortunate duty to make plain to you. Carleton Roberts drawing a bow to shoot an innocent schoolgirl is incredible. In spite of all I have said and shown you, I do not believe him guilty of so inhuman an act. He drew the bow, he shot the arrow, but —— Here allow me to pause a moment to present another aspect of the case as surprising as any you have yet heard. You are aware — we all are aware — that the inquest we await has been held back for the purpose of giving Mrs. Taylor an opportunity to recover from the illness into which she has been thrown by what she saw and suffered that day. Gentlemen, this Mrs. Taylor whom we all — I will not even exclude myself from this category — regarded not only as a casual visitor to the museum, but a stranger to all concerned, is, on the contrary, as I think you will soon see, more closely allied to the seemingly dispassionate director than even Madame Duclos. The shock which laid her low was not that usually ascribed to her, or even the one she so fantastically offered to our acceptance; but the recognition of Carleton Roberts as the author of this tragedy — Carleton Roberts whom she not only knew well but had loved in days gone by, as sincerely as he had loved her. This I now propose to prove to you by what I cannot but regard as incontestable evidence.”
Taking from a small portfolio which he carried another photograph, unmounted this time and evidently the work of an amateur, he laid it out before them. The silence with which his last statement had been received, the kind of silence which covers emotions too deep for audible expression, remained unbroken save for an involuntary murmur or so, as the District Attorney and his assistant bent over this crude presentation of something — they hardly knew what — which this old but long trusted detective was offering them in substantiation of the well-nigh unbelievable statement he had just made.
“This, gentlemen,” he went on, as he pointed to the following, “is the copy of a label pasted on the back of a certain Swiss clock to be seen at this very moment on the wall of Mr. Roberts’ own bedroom in his home in Belport, Long Island. He prizes this clock. He has been heard to say that it goes where he goes and stays where he stays, and as it is far from a valuable one either from intrinsic worth or from any accuracy it displays in keeping time, the reason for this partiality must lie in old associations and the memories they invoke. A love token. Can you not see that it is such from the couplet scrawled across it? If not, just take a look at the initials appended to that couplet. May I ask you to read them?”
The District Attorney stooped, adjusted his glasses and slowly read out:
“C. C. R.”
“Carleton Clifton Roberts,” explained Mr. Gryce. Then slowly, “The other two if you will be so good.”
“Ermentrude Taylor,” declared the inexorable voice. “And written by herself. Here is her signature which I have obtained; and here is his. Compare them at your leisure with their initials inscribed according to the date there, sixteen years or more ago. Now where were these two — this man and this woman — at the time just designated? Alone, or together? Let us see if we can find out,” pursued the detective with a quiet ignoring of the effect he had produced, which revealed him as the master of a situation probably as difficult and disconcerting as the three officials hanging in manifest anxiety upon his words had ever been called upon to face. “Mr. Roberts was in Switzerland, as his housekeeper will be obliged to admit on oath, she being an honest woman and a domestic in his mother’s house at the time. And Ermentrude Taylor! I have a witness to prove where she was also! A witness I should be glad to have you interrogate. Here is her name and address.” And he slipped a small scrap of paper into the District Attorney’s hand. “What she will say is this, for I think I have very thoroughly sounded her: First, that she is Mrs. Taylor’s most intimate friend. This is conceded by all who know her. Secondly, that while her intimacy does not extend back to their girlhood days — Mrs. Taylor being an Englishwoman by birth and remarkably reticent as to her former life and experiences — she has one story to tell of that time which answers the question I have given you. She got it from Mrs. Taylor herself, and in this manner. They were engaged in talking one day about our Western mountains and the grandeur of scenery generally, when Mrs. Taylor let fall some remark about the Alps, which led this friend of hers to ask if she had ever seen them. Mrs. Taylor answered in the affirmative, but with such embarrassment and abrupt change of subject that it was plainly apparent she had no wish to discuss it. Indeed, her abruptness was so marked and her show of trouble so great, she was herself disturbed by what might very easily give offense, and being of a kindly, even loving disposition, took occasion when next they met to explain that it was as a girl she had visited Switzerland, and that her experiences there had been so unfortunate that any allusion which recalled those days distressed her. This is all that ever passed between these two on this subject, but is it not enough when we read this couplet, and mark the combined initials, and recognize them as those of Carleton Roberts and Ermentrude Taylor? But lest you should doubt even this evidence of an old-time friendship so intimate that it has almost the look of a betrothal, I must add one more item of corroborative fact which came to me as late as last night. In a moment of partial consciousness, while the nurse hung over her bed, Mrs. Taylor spoke her first coherent sentence since she fell into a state demanding medical assistance. And what was that sentence? A repetition of this couplet, gentlemen, spoken not once but over and over again, till even the nurse grew tired of listening to it.
‘I love but thee,
And thee will I love to eternity.’”
As the last word fell from Mr. Gryce’s lips, the District Attorney muttered a quick exclamation, and sat down heavily in his chair.
“No coincidence that,” he cried, with forced vivacity. “The couplet is too little known.”
“Exactly,” came from Mr. Gryce in dry confirmation. “Mrs. Taylor, as well as her friends can judge, is a woman of thirty-five or thirty-eight. If she went to Switzerland as a girl, this would make her visit coincident, so far as we can calculate from our present knowledge, with that of Carleton Roberts. For the surer advancement of our argument, let us say that it was. What follows? Let the inscription of this label speak for us. They met; they loved — as was natural when we remember the youth and good looks of both, and —they parted. This we must concede, or how could the experience have been one she could not recall without a heart-break. They parted, and he returned home, to marry within the year, while she — I do not think she married — though I have no doubt she looks upon herself as a wife and forever bound to the man who deserted her. Women of her kind think in this way of such matters, and act upon them too as is shown by the fact that, on following him here, she passed herself off as a woman separated from her husband. Changing the Miss before her name to Mrs., she lived under this assumption for twelve years at her present hotel. In all that time, so far as I can learn, she has never been visited by anyone of an appearance answering to that of her former lover; nor have I any reason to think she ever intruded herself on him, or made herself in any way obnoxious. He was married and settled, and contrary to the usual course of men who step with one stride into affluence, was living a life of usefulness which was rapidly making him a marked man in public esteem. Perhaps she had no right to meddle with what no longer concerned her. At all events, there is no evidence of her having done so in all these fourteen years. Even after Mrs. Roberts’ death, all went on as usual; but—” Here Mr. Gryce became emphatic —“when he turned his attention to a second marriage and that with a very young girl —(I can name her to you, gentlemen, if you wish) her patient soul may have been roused; she may have troubled him with importunities; may have threatened him with a scandal which would have interfered greatly with his political hopes if it had not ended them at once. I can conceive such an end to her long patience, can’t you, gentlemen? And what is more, if this were so, and the gentleman found the situation intolerable, it might account for the flight of that arrow as nothing else ever will.”
Both men had started to their feet.
“How! It was not she——”
“It was not she who was struck, but it was she who was aimed at. The young girl merely got in the way. But before I enlarge upon this point,” he continued in lower tones as the two officials slowly reseated themselves, “allow me to admit that any proof of correspondence between these old-time lovers would have added much to my present argument. But while I have no doubt that such an interchange of letters took place, and that in all probability some one or more of them still exist, Mrs. Taylor’s illness and Mr. Roberts’ high position prevent any substantiation of the same on our part. I must therefore ask you to assume that it was in obedience to some definite agreement between them that she came to the museum on that fatal morning and made her appearance in that especial section of the gallery marked II. If this strikes you as inconceivable and too presumptuous for belief, you must at least concede that we have ample proof of his entire readiness for her coming. The bow brought up so many days before from the cellar was within reach; the arrow under his coat; and his place of concealment so chosen as to make his escape feasible the moment that arrow flew from the bow. Had she entered that section alone — had the arrow found lodgment in her breast instead of in that of another — nay, I will go even further and say that had no cry followed his act, an expectation he had every right to count upon from the lightning-like character of the attack — he would have reached the Curator’s office and been out of the building before quick discovery of the deed made his completion of this attempt impossible.”
“But the girl did cry out,” remarked the Assistant District Attorney. “How do you account for that, since, as you say, it was not natural for one pierced to the heart without warning?”
“Ah, you see the big mistake we made — Correy and all the rest of us. Had Miss Willetts, or I should say, Mademoiselle Duclos, been the one to let out that dolorous cry, the man just behind the partition would have been there almost in time to see her fall. Correy, who started up the stairs at the first sound, would have been at the gallery entrance before the man of the arrow could have dropped the hanging over his retreating figure. But it was not from her lips, poor girl, that this gasping shriek went up, but from those of the woman who saw the deed and knew from whom the arrow came and for whom it was meant. How do I know this? Because of the time which elapsed, the few precious minutes which allowed Mr. Roberts to get as far away as the court. For she did not voice her agony immediately. Even she, with her own unwounded heart keeping up its functions, stood benumbed before this horror. Not till the full meaning of it all had penetrated her reluctant brain did she move or cry out. How long this interval was; whether three minutes were consumed by it, or five, we have no means of telling. She, in her despair, would take no note of time, nor would Mr. Travis, reeling in the opposite gallery under the shock of seeing all that he loved taken from him in one awful minute.”
Here the detective turned with great earnestness toward the two officials.
“This question of time has been, as I have repeatedly said, the greatest stumbling-block we have encountered in our consideration of this crime. How could the assassin, by any means possible, have got so far away from the pedestal, in the infinitesimal lapse of time between the cry that was heard and the quick alarm which followed. Now we know. Have you anything to say against this conclusion? Any other explanation to give which will account for every fact as this does?”
His answer came in a dubious gesture from the District Attorney and a half-hearted “No” from his Assistant. They were both either too awed by the circumstance or too fearful of mistake, to accept without a struggle an accusation of this grave and momentous character against one of Mr. Roberts’ stamp and consequence.
This was no more than Mr. Gryce had expected, and while he realized that his reputation as a detective of extraordinary insight in cases of an unusually baffling nature trembled in the balance, he experienced a sudden distaste of his work which almost drove him into renouncing the whole affair. But the habits of a lifetime are not parted with so easily; and when the Chief Inspector observed — evidently with the idea of goading him on —“This seems to be mainly a matter of conjecture, Gryce,” his old self reasserted itself, and he answered boldly:
“I acknowledge that; but conjecture is what in nine cases out of ten smoothes out many of our difficulties. I have here a short statement made by myself, after the most careful inquiries, of all that Mrs. Taylor and the untrapped director did and said in the few difficult moments when they met face to face over the body of his unfortunate victim. I will ask you to listen to a portion of it.
“‘She had not moved. After her one cry of horror which had brought a rush of witnesses upon the scene, she remained fixed on her knees in the absorbed introspection common to those brought suddenly face to face with a life and death crisis. He, finding that his own safety demanded action suitable to his position as a director, had entered with the crowd and now stood in her presence, in face of his own diabolical work, in an attitude of cold courage such as certain strong natures are able to assume under the pressure of great emergencies.
“‘So long as she was deaf to all appeal to rouse and explain the situation, he stood back, watchful and silent; but when she finally roused and showed a disposition to speak, his desperation drove him into questioning her in order to see how much she understood of an attack which had killed a harmless stranger and let herself go free.
“‘He asked her first if she could tell them from which direction came the arrow which ended this young girl’s life.
“‘She made no reply in words; but glanced significantly at the opposite gallery.
“‘This called from him the direct inquiry, “Did you see anyone over there at the moment this young girl fell?”
“‘She shook her head. Afterward she explained the denial by saying that she had been looking down into the court.
“‘But he did not cease his inquiries. Turning to the people crowding about him, he put the like question to them; but receiving no answer, a silence followed, during which a woman suggested in tones loud enough for all to hear, that there were no arrows on the other side of the court, but that the gallery where they stood was full of them.
“‘This seemed to alarm Mrs. Taylor. Turning to the director, she asked whether he was sure that the opposite gallery held no arrows and no bows; and when he replied that nothing of the kind was to be found along its entire length, she proceeded to inquire whether any such deed could be committed in a place so open to view, without attracting the observation of some one wandering in court or gallery.
“‘This, undoubtedly, to ascertain the full extent of his danger, before bestowing a thought upon herself. But at his answer, given with the cold precision of a thoroughly selfish man, that if anyone in the whole building had seen so much as a movement in a spot so under suspicion, that person would have been heard from by this time, she faltered and was heard to ask what he had in mind and why the people about her looked at her so. He did not respond directly, but made some remark about the police, which increased her alarm to the point of an attempted justification. She said that it was true about the arrows, as anyone could see by looking up at the walls. But where was the bow? No one could shoot an arrow without a bow, and when some one shouted that if an arrow was used as a dagger, one wouldn’t need a bow, a sort of frenzy seized her and she acted quite insane, falling at the young girl’s side and whispering sentence after sentence in her ear.
“‘What more was needed to stamp her as a mad woman in the eyes of the ordinary observer? Nothing. But to you and me, with the cue just given, it has another look. She had just seen the man whom she had herself spared from an accusation which would have been his ruin accept in the coldest fashion an explanation which left her own innocence in doubt. What wonder she succumbed to temporary aberration! As will be remembered, she soon became comparatively calm again, and so remained until in an interview I had with her a half hour or so later I urged her, possibly with too much insistence, for some explanation of the extreme agitation she had shown at the time, when she broke forth with the remarkable statement that it was not the child, but her husband, she was mourning, stricken to death, as she would have us believe, simultaneously with the young and innocent victim then lying dead at her feet.
“‘Of course, such a coincidence was much too startling not to be regarded by us all as the ravings of delirium; nor has anything occurred since in the way of communication from, or in regard to the absent one, to show that this so-called warning of death has been followed up by fact. But, if you test her action by the theory I have just advanced, viz., that the man she called husband was at that moment in the room with us and that these words were a plea to him — the last appeal of a broken-hearted woman for the support she felt to be her due — how the atmosphere of unreason and mystery clears itself. His suggestion that what was needed there was an alienist, and the pitiful efforts she made to exonerate herself without implicating him in the murderous event, fall naturally into place, as the action of a guilty man and the self-denying conduct of a devoted woman.’”
“Romantic! too romantic!” objected the District Attorney. “I should think we were listening to one of Dumas’ tales.”
“Dumas got his greatest effects from life, or so I have been told,” remarked the Chief Inspector.
Mr. Gryce sat silent.
Suddenly, the District Attorney observed with the slightest tinge of irony edging his tone:
“I presume you would find a like explanation for the messages she professed to be sending to her husband, when engaged in babbling fool words into the dead girl’s ear.”
“Certainly. He was there, mark you! He stood where he could both see and hear her. All she said and all she did was by way of appeal to him for some token of regret, some sign that he appreciated her reticence; and when she found that it was bringing her nothing, she fainted away.”
“Ingenious, very ingenious, Gryce. Had you failed to give us proofs connecting this idol of the Republican party with the actual shooting, it would have been simply ingenious and a quite useless expenditure of talent. But we have these proofs, and while they are mainly circumstantial, they undoubtedly call upon us for some recognition, and so we will hear you out whatever action we may take afterward.”
“But first I should like to ask Mr. Gryce one question,” interposed his assistant. Then addressing the detective: “Two mysteries are involved in this matter. You have given us a clever explanation of one of them, but how about the other? Will you, before going further, tell us what connection you find between the theory just advanced and the flight and ultimate suicide of Madame Duclos under circumstances which point to a desire to suppress evidence even at the cost of her life? It was not from consideration for Mr. Roberts, whom you have shown she hated. What was it then? Have you an equally ingenious explanation for that too?”
“I have an explanation, but I cannot say that it is altogether satisfactory. She died but yesterday, and my opportunities have been small for any work since. What I have learned was from her sister-in-law, whom I saw this morning. Realizing that she will be obliged to give full testimony at the inevitable inquest, she is at last ready to acknowledge that she has been aware for a long time of a secret in Madame’s life. That while she knew nothing of its nature, she had always thought that it was in some manner connected with her prolonged residence abroad. Whether it would also explain the meaning of her return at this time and the seemingly inexplicable change made in her daughter’s name while en route, must be left to our judgment. Madame had told her nothing. She had simply made use of their home, coming and going, not once, but twice, without giving them the least excuse for her inexplicable conduct. A hundred questions could not elicit more. But to one who like myself has had the opportunity of observing this wretched woman at the moment of her supreme distress an insight is given into her character, which suggests the only plausible explanation of her action. Her sacrifice was one of devotion! She perished in an exaltation of feeling. Love drove her to this desperate act. Not the love of woman for a man, but the love which women of her profound nature sometimes feel for one of their own sex. Mrs. Taylor was her friend — wait, I hope to prove it — and to save her from experiencing the extreme misery of seeing the man who was the joy as well as bane of her life suffer from the consequences of his own misdeeds, Antoinette Duclos felt willing to die and did. You smile, gentlemen. You think the old man is approaching senility. Perhaps I am, but if the contention is raised that no connection has been shown to exist between Mrs. Taylor and this foreign Madame, save such as was made by the death of Madame’s child, I must retort by asking who warned Madame Duclos of the fatal occurrence at the museum in time for her to flee before even our telephone messages reached her hotel? Gentlemen, there is but one person who could have done this — our chief witness, Ermentrude Taylor. She alone had not only the incentive, but the necessary opportunity. Coroner Price as well as myself made a great mistake when we allowed Mrs. Taylor to go home alone that day.”
“Very likely.” This from the Chief Inspector. “But if the information I have received on this point is correct, she seemed at that time to be so entirely dissociated with a deed whose origin had just been located in the opposite gallery, that you have no real cause to blame yourselves in this regard.”
“True; our minds were diverted. But you are waiting for me to explain what I mean by opportunity. Since my attention has been drawn to Mrs. Taylor again, I have been making inquiries. The chauffeur who drove her to her hotel has been found, and he admits that she stopped once on her way home, to buy some coffee. He watched her as she went into the store and he watched her as she came out; and he smelled the coffee. Happily, the interest he took in her as a sick woman intrusted to his care was strong enough for him to remember the store. It was one with two entrances, front and back; and next door to it there is a public building with a long row of telephone booths on the ground floor. If I read the incident aright, she bought her coffee, ordered it ground, slipped out at the rear door and into the adjoining building, where, unnoticed and unheard, she called up the Universal and got into communication with Madame Duclos. When she returned it was by the same route. She did not forget her coffee nor give way under the great strain to which she had subjected herself till she reached her own apartment.”
“And true, gentlemen; I will stake my reputation on it, unable as I am to explain every circumstance, and close up every gap. Have you any further questions to ask or shall I leave you to your deliberations?”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09