“We’re certainly up against it this time,” were the words with which Dr. Price led the detective down the gallery. “What sort of an opinion can a man form of a fellow like that? Is he fool or knave?”
Mr. Gryce showed no great alacrity in answering. When he did speak it was to say:
“We shall have to go into the matter a little more deeply before we can trust our judgment as to his complete sincerity. But if you want to know whether I believe him to have loosed the arrow which killed that innocent child, I am ready from present appearances to say yes. Who else was there to do it? He and he only was on the spot. But it was a chance action, without intention or wish to murder. No man, even if he were a fool, would choose such a place or such a means for murder.”
“That’s true; but how does it help to call it accident? Accident calls for a bow in hand, an arrow within reach, an impulse to try one’s skill at a fancied target. Now the arrow — whatever may be said of the bow — was not within the reach of anyone standing in this gallery. The arrow came from the wall at the base of which this young woman died. It had to be brought from there here. That does not look like accident, but crime.”
Yet as the Coroner uttered this acknowledgment, he realized as plainly as Mr. Gryce how many incongruous elements lay in the way of any such solution of the mystery. If they accepted the foreigner’s account of himself — which for some reason neither seemed ready to dispute — into what a maze of improbabilities it at once led them! A stranger just off ship! The victim a mere schoolgirl! The weapon such an unusual one as to be outré beyond belief. Only a madman — But there! Travis had less the appearance of a lunatic than Mrs. Taylor. It must have been an accident as Gryce said; and yet —
If there is much virtue in an if, there is certainly a modicum of the same in a yet, and the Coroner, in full recognition of this stumbling-block, remarked with unusual dryness:
“I agree with you that some half-dozen questions are necessary before we wade deeper into this quagmire. Where shall we go to have it out?”
“The Curator will allow us to use his office. I will see that Mr. Travis joins us there.”
“See that he comes before he has a chance to fall into one of his reveries.”
But quickly as Mr. Gryce worked, he was not speedy enough to prevent the result mentioned. The man upon whose testimony so much hinged did not even lift his eyes when brought again into their presence.
The Coroner, in his determination to be satisfied on this point, made short work of rousing him from his abstraction. With a few leading questions he secured his attention and then without preamble or apology asked him with what purpose he had come to America and why he had been so anxious to visit the museum that he hastened directly to it from the steamer without making an effort to locate himself in some hotel.
The ease with which this apparently ingenuous stranger had managed to meet the opening queries of this rough-and-ready official was suddenly broken. He stammered and turned red and made so many abortive attempts to reply that the latter grew impatient and finally remarked:
“If the truth will incriminate you, you are quite justified in holding it back!”
“Incriminate me!” With the repetition of this alarming word, a change of the most marked character took place in young Travis’ manner. “What does that mean?” he asked. “I am not sure that I understand your use of that word incriminate.”
Dr. Price explained himself, to the seeming horror of the startled Englishman.
“You think that of me!” he cried, “of me, who ——”
But here indignation made him speechless, till some feeling stronger than the one subduing him to silence forced him again into speech, and he supplemented in broken tones: “I am only a stranger to you and consequently am willing to pardon your misconception of my character and the principles by which I regulate my life. I have a horror of crime and all violence; besides, the young lady — she awakened my deepest admiration and reverence. I,"— again he stopped; again he burst forth — “I would sooner have died myself than seen such angel graces laid low. Let my emotion be proof of what I say. It was a man of the hardest heart who killed her.”
“It would seem so.”
It was the Coroner who spoke. He was nonplussed; and Mr. Gryce no less so. Never had either of them been confronted by a blinder or more bewildering case. An incomprehensible crime and a suspect it was impossible to associate with a deed of blood! There must be some other explanation of the mournful circumstance they were considering. There had been twenty or more people in the building, but — and here was the rub — if the chart which they had drawn up was correct and the calculations which they had drawn from it were to be depended upon, this man was the only person who had been in this gallery when the arrow was shot.
With a side glance at Mr. Gryce, who seemed content to remain silent in the background, Dr. Price turned again to Mr. Travis.
“Your admiration of the young lady must have been as sudden as it was strong. Or possibly you had seen her before you hid behind the pedestal. Had you, Mr. Travis? She was a charming child; perhaps you had been attracted by her beauty before you even entered the galleries.”
Instantly the man was another being.
“You are right,” he acquiesced with undue alacrity. “I had seen her crossing the court. Her beauty was heavenly. I am a gentleman, but I followed her. When she moved, I moved; and when she went upstairs, I followed her. But I would not offend. I kept behind — far behind her — and when she entered the gallery on one side, I took pains to enter it on the other. This is how I came to be looking in her direction when she was struck down. You see, I speak with candor; I open my whole heart.”
Dr. Price, stroking his long beard, eyed the man with a thoughtful air which changed to one of renewed inquiry. Instead of being convinced by this outburst, he was conscious of a new and deepening distrust. The transition from a low state of feeling to one so feverishly eager had been too sudden. The avidity with which this man just off ship had made a grasp at the offered explanation had been too marked; it lacked sincerity and could impose on no one. Of this he seemed himself aware, for again the ready flush ran from forehead to neck, and with a deprecatory glance which included the silent detective he vehemently exclaimed:
“I am poor at a lie. I see that you will have the whole truth. It was on her account I crossed the ocean. It was by dogging her innocent steps that I came to the museum this morning. I am a man of means, and I can do as I please. When I said that I had never exchanged a word with her, I spoke the truth. I never have; yet my interest in her was profound. I have never seen any other girl or woman whom I was anxious to make my wife. I hoped to meet and woo her in this country. I had no opportunity for doing so in my own. I did not see her till a night or so before she sailed, and then it was at the theater, where she sat with some friends in an adjoining box. She talked, and I heard what she said. She was leaving England. She was going to America to live; and she mentioned the steamer on which she expected to sail. It may strike you as impetuous, unnatural in an Englishman, and all that, but next morning I secured my passage on that same ship. As I have just said, I am my own master and can do as I please, and I pleased to do that. But for all the opportunity which a voyage sometimes gives, I did not succeed in making her acquaintance on shipboard, much as I desired it. I was ill for the first three days and timorous the rest. I could only watch her moving about the decks and wait for the happy moment in which I might be able to do her some service. But that moment never came, and now it never will come.”
The mournfulness with which this was uttered seemed genuine. The Coroner was silenced by it, and it was left to Mr. Gryce to take up the conversation. This he did with the same show of respect evinced by Dr. Price.
“We are obliged to you for your confidence,” said he. “Of course you can tell us this young girl’s name.”
“Angeline — Angeline Willetts. I saw it in the list of passengers.”
“The Castania, from Southampton.”
“We are greatly obliged to you for this information. It gives us the much-wanted clue to her identity. Angeline Willetts! Whom was she with?”
“A Madame Duclos, a French lady. I once spoke to her.”
“You did? And what did you say?”
“I bade her good morning as we were passing on the main-deck stairs. But she did not answer, and I was not guilty of the impertinence again.”
“I see. Such, then, was the situation up to this morning. But since? How did it happen that a young girl, six hours after landing in this country, should come to a place like this without a chaperon?”
“I don’t know what brought her here; I can only tell you why I came. When she left the dock, I was standing near enough to hear the orders Madame Duclos gave on entering a cab. Naturally, mine were the same. I have been in New York before, and I knew the hotel. If you will consult the Universal’s register for the day, you will find my name in it under hers. You will understand why I shrank from confessing to this fact before. I held her in such honor — I was and am so anxious that no shadow should fall upon her innocence from my poor story of secret and unrecognized devotion. She knew nothing of what led me to follow every step she took. I was a witness of her fate, but that is all the connection between us. I hope you believe me.”
It would be difficult not to, in face of his direct gaze, from which all faltering had now vanished. Yet the matter not being completely thrashed out, Mr. Gryce felt himself obliged to say in answer to this last:
“We see no reason to doubt your word or your story, Mr. Travis. All that you have said is possible. But how about your following the young girl here? How did that come about?”
“That was occasioned by my anxiety for her — an anxiety which seems to have been only too well-founded.”
“How? What?” Both of the officials showed a greatly increased interest. “Please explain yourself, Mr. Travis. What reason had you for any such feeling in regard to a person with whom you had held no conversation? Anything which you saw or heard at the hotel?”
“Yes. I was sitting in the foyer. I knew that the ladies were in the house, but I had not seen them. I was anxious to do so (see, I am telling all) and was watching the door of the lift from behind my journal, when they both stepped out. Miss Willetts was dressed for the street, but Madame Duclos was not, which seemed very strange to me. But I felt no concern till I caught some fragments of what Madame said in passing me. She spoke in French, a language I understand, and she was exclaiming over her misfortune at not being allowed to accompany her young charge to whatever place she was going. It was bad, bad, she cried, and she would not have a moment’s peace till her dear Angeline got back. Anxiety of this kind was natural in a Frenchwoman not accustomed to see a young lady enter the streets alone; but the force with which she expressed it betrayed a real alarm — an alarm which communicated itself to me. Where could this unprotected girl be going, alone and in a hotel cab?
“I could not imagine, and when I saw Madame stop in the middle of her talk to buy some fresh flowers and pin them to Miss Willetts’ corsage, I got a queer feeling, and flinging my newspaper aside, I strolled to the door and so out in time to hear Madame’s orders to the chauffeur. The young lady was to be taken to a museum. To a museum, at this early hour! and alone, alone! Such a proceeding is not at all in accord with French ideas, and I feared a plot. Though it was far from being my affair, I determined to make it so; and as soon as I dared, I followed her just as I had followed her from the dock. But fruitlessly! Not knowing the danger, how could I avert it? I was in one gallery, she in the other. It was my evil fate to see her fall, but by whose hand I am as ignorant as yourselves. Now I have told it all. Will you let me go?”
“Not yet,” interposed the Coroner. “There are one or two questions more which you will undoubtedly answer with the same frankness. Were you standing in front of the pedestal or behind it when you saw Miss Willetts fall?”
“I was standing just where I said, somewhere near it in the open gallery.”
This seemed so open to question that the Coroner paused a moment to recall the exact situation and see if it were possible for a man as conspicuous in figure as Mr. Travis to have stood thus in full view of gallery and court, without attracting the attention of anyone in either place. He found, after a moment’s consideration, that it was possible. Mr. Gryce, for all his efforts and systematic inquiry into the position which each person had held at or near this time, had been able to find but one who chanced to be looking in the direction of this gallery, and he with a limited view which took in only the upper part of the tapestry.
A probe in a fresh direction might reach a more vulnerable spot.
“But you had been behind the pedestal?” Dr. Price suggested.
“Yes”— the quick flush coming again. “My old timidity led me to conceal myself where I could watch undetected her bright young figure pass from arch to arch along the opposite gallery. Not till she had got past my line of view did I step out, and then — then it was to see what I have already told you — her rush toward the front — the start she gave — the fall — that cruel arrow! I own that I shrank back into my narrow hiding-place when I realized that all was at an end — that she was dead.”
“Why? You had been witness to a deed of blood — a deed which must have recalled to you the anxiety expressed by the woman whom you regarded as the young girl’s guardian; and yet you shrank back — out of sight — away from those who had the right to make inquiries! How do you explain that, Mr. Travis?”
“I cannot, except that I was so dazed, so stricken, that I was hardly conscious of what I did. And, sirs, believe me or not, had it not been for the refuge afforded by that narrow space behind the pedestal, I think I should have fallen headlong to the floor. When I came again to myself, which was after some of the confusion had abated, I had only one thought in mind: to suppress myself and my story lest some shadow should fall across her sweet purity. Waiting till the attention of the man you had placed on guard over her body was attracted another way, I slid out and hastened to the front, where I managed to find a quiet room in which to sit down and brood again over my misfortune. Forewarned, as you have said, and on the spot, with every wish to protect her, I had failed to do so. I fear it will make me mad some day.”
Had it made him insane already? Was his story to be trusted? It was full of incongruities; were they those of a disordered mind? Such had been the excuse made for Mrs. Taylor when she had been thought guilty of this attack; why should it not be applied to this man who certainly had given evidences of not being of the usual type of young Englishman? With a sidelong look at Mr. Gryce, which that individual perfectly understood, Dr. Price thanked Mr. Travis for his candor and asked if he could point out the room in which he had sat while their young man had gone through the building checking off the position of everybody in it.
To his surprise, the Englishman answered quite simply, “I will try,” and rose when they rose.
The glances exchanged between the other two men were eloquent. Where was he about to take them? Sweetwater was no fool; how had this man of marked appearance and generous proportions managed to elude him?
As has happened before, it proved to be easily explainable when once the conditions were known. The room to which he led them was that on the upper story marked H on Chart Two. It was devoted, like one or two others near it, to a line of famous paintings at once the hope and despair of young girl copyists. The one most favored for this purpose hung just behind the door “X,” which, half-open as they found it, made with the easel, the canvas upon it and an apron hanging carelessly over all, an impromptu screen behind which a man crouched in misery on the copyist’s stool might easily remain unnoticed by anyone passing hurriedly by him.
And thus vanished one hindrance to a full belief in young Travis’ story.
But a greater one remained. The bow! the bow found behind the tapestry at the edge of which he had stood in timorous hiding! In the hope that a shock might startle him into some admission which would give a different aspect to the case, they now led him back to this place of first concealment. He was showing strain by this time, and no delay was made to press their point. Giving the tapestry a pull, the Coroner bade him tell what he saw behind it.
The answer came with much emotion.
“The bow! The bow which sped the arrow which killed Miss Willetts. I do not want to see it. It hurts me — hurts me physically. Let me go, I entreat.”
“Mr. Travis,” urged the Coroner as they again emerged upon the open gallery, “you have said that there was no one with you in the section where you stood. If that was so, how came this bow to be where you have just seen it?”
A bewildered look, a slow shake of the head and nothing more.
“Did you know it was there? Did you see it thrown there?”
“No, I saw nothing. I am an honest man. You may believe me.”
The Coroner scrutinized him closely but not unkindly.
“We shall know before night who handled that bow, Mr. Travis. It carries its own clue with it.”
A gleam of unmistakable joy lighted up the Englishman’s features.
“I am glad,” he cried. “I am glad.”
Coroner Price was a man of experience. He recognized the ring of truth in the Englishman’s tones, and saying no more, led the way from the gallery.
A few minutes later he was on the lower floor. He had a short conversation with the two doormen; then he proceeded to the telephone and called up the Universal.
The result was startling.
Asked if the name of Rupert Henry Travis, Hertfordshire, England, was on their register, the answer was yes.
“The date of his arrival?”
“Early this morning.”
“Any other arrivals to-day from the other side?”
“Yes, a Madame Duclos and a Miss Willetts.”
The Coroner’s tone altered. So much of the stranger’s story was true, then.
“Will you connect me with Madame Duclos. I have important news to give her. Some woman had better be with her when she receives it.”
“I am sorry, but I cannot do this. Madame Duclos has left.”
“Left? Gone out, you mean?”
“No, left the hotel. She’s been gone about half an hour. The young lady who came with her has gone out too, but we expect her back.”
“You do. And what took the older woman away? What excuse did she give, and where has she gone?”
“I cannot tell you where she has gone. She left after receiving a telephone message from some one in town. Came down to the desk looking extremely distressed, said that she had had bad news and must go at once. I made out her bill and, at her request, that of the young lady, whom she said would be called for by a friend on her return to the hotel. These bills she paid; after that she left the hotel on foot, carrying her own bag. The young lady has not returned ——”
“Enough. The young lady is dead, killed by chance here at the museum. A plain-clothes man will be with you shortly from Headquarters. Meanwhile keep your eyes and ears open. If a message comes for either Madame Duclos or Miss Willetts, notify me here; and if anyone calls, detain the party at all hazards. That’s all; no time to talk.”
And now Gryce entered the room. He was accompanied by an inspector. This was a welcome addition to their force. Coroner Price greeted him with cordiality:
“You’ve come in good time, Inspector. The death of this young girl struck down by an arrow shot by an unknown hand from the opposite side of the building bids fair to make a greater call on your resources than on mine. The woman who appears to have acted as companion to Miss Willetts has fled the hotel where they both took rooms immediately upon leaving the steamer. Either she has heard of the accident which has occurred here — and if so, how? — or she’s but carrying out some deep-laid plan which it is highly important for us to know. It looks now like a premeditated crime.”
“With this Englishman involved?”
“I doubt that; I seriously doubt that — don’t you, Gryce? A more subtle head than his planned this strange crime.”
“Yes; there can be little doubt about that. Shall I set the boys to work, Inspector? This Frenchwoman must be found.”
“At once — a general alarm. You can get a description of her from the clerk at the Universal. She must not be allowed to leave town.”
Mr. Gryce sat down before the telephone. Coroner Price proceeded to acquaint the Inspector with such details of the affair as were now known. The Curator moved restlessly about. Gloom had settled upon the museum. On only one face was there a smile to be seen, but that was a heavenly one, irradiating the countenance of her who had passed from the lesser to the larger world with the joy of earth still warm in her innocent heart.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09