It was late in the afternoon. The Inspector’s office had hummed for hours with messages and reports, and the lull which had finally come seemed grateful to him. With relaxed brow and a fresh cigar, he sat in quiet contemplation of the facts brought out by the afternoon’s inquiries. He was on the point of dismissing even these from his mind, when the door opened and Gryce came in.
Instantly his responsibilities returned upon him in full force. He did not wait for the expected report, but questioned the detective at once.
“You have been to the hotel,” he said, pointing out a chair into which the old man dropped with a sigh as eloquent of anxiety as of fatigue. “What more did you learn there?”
“Very little. No message has come; no persons called. For them and for us these two women, Madame Duclos and Miss Willetts, are still an unknown quantity. Their baggage, which arrived while I was there, supplied the only information I was able to obtain.”
“Their baggage! But that should tell us everything.”
“It may if you think best to go through it. It is not heavy — a trunk for each, besides the one they brought with them from the steamer. From the pasters to be seen on them, they have come from the Continental Hotel, Paris, by way of the Ritz, London. At this latter place their stay was short. This is proved by the fact that only the steamer-trunk is pasted with the Ritz label. And this trunk was the one I found in their room at the Universal. From it Miss Willetts had taken the dress she wore to the museum. Her other clothes — I mean those she wore on arriving — lay in disorder on the bed and chairs. I should say that they had been tossed about by a careless if not hasty hand, while the trunk ——”
“Stood open on the floor.”
“Yes, I went through it, of course.”
“And found nothing?”
“Nothing to help us to-day. No letters — no cards. Some clothing — some little trifles (bought in Paris, by the way) and one little book.”
“A name in it?”
“Yes —Angeline; and one line of writing from some poem, I judge. I put it back where I found it. When we know more, it may help us to find her friends.”
“And is that all?”
“Almost, but not quite. The young girl had a bag too. It stood on a table ——”
“Empty. Everything had been tumbled out — turned upside down and the contents scattered. I looked them carefully over. Nothing, positively nothing, but what you would be likely to find in any young girl’s traveling-bag. There’s but one conclusion to be drawn.”
“And what is that?”
“That all these things, such as they were, had been pushed hastily about after being emptied out on the table. That was not the young girl’s work.”
“You’ve hit it. She was in search of some one thing she wanted, and she took the quickest way of finding it. And ——”
“She was in a desperate hurry, or she wouldn’t have left the trunk open or all those dainty things lying about. Frenchwomen are methodical and very careful of their belongings. One other thing I noted. There was a loose nail in the lock of the trunk. Sticking to this nail was a raveling of brown wool. Here it is, sir. The woman — Madame Duclos — wore a dress of brown serge. If my calculations are not wrong and we succeed in getting a glimpse of that dress, we shall find a tear in the skirt — and what is more, one very near the hem.”
“Yes — another token of haste. She probably jerked at the skirt when she found herself caught. She could not have been herself to have done this — for which we may be glad.”
“You mean that by this thoughtless action she has left a clue in our hands?”
“That and something more. That tear in her decent skirt will bother her. She will either make an immediate attempt to mend it, or else do the other obvious thing — buy a new one. In either case it gives us something by which to trace her. I have put Sweetwater on that job. He never tires, never wearies, never lets go. No report in yet from the terminals?”
“Not a word. But she will not get far. Sooner or later we shall find her if she does not come forward herself after reading the evening papers.”
“She will never come forward.”
“I am not so sure. Something not a little peculiar happened at the museum after you left. We had Reynolds up, and he made a most careful examination of that bow for finger-prints. He did not find any. But fortune favored us in another way almost as good.”
“Now you interest me.”
“We had brought the bow into the Curator’s office, and it lay on the long table in the middle of the room. I had been looking it over (this was after Reynolds had gone, of course) and had already noted a certain defect in it, when on chancing to look up, my eyes fell on a mirror hanging in a closet the door of which stood wide open. A face was visible in it — a very white face which altered under my scrutiny into a semblance more natural. It was that of Correy — you remember Correy, one of the assistants, and an honest fellow enough, but more troubled at this moment than I had ever seen him. What could have happened?
“Wheeling quickly about, I caught him just as he started to go. He had openly declared that he did not know this bow; but it was evident that he did, and I did not hesitate to say so. Taken unawares, he could not hide his distress, which he proceeded to explain thus: He did remember the bow, now that he had the opportunity of seeing it closer. He pointed to the nick I had myself noticed and said that owing to this defect the bow had been cast aside, and the last time he had handled it —— Here he caught his breath and stopped. Another memory had evidently returned to embarrass him.”
“Did you succeed in getting him to acknowledge what it was?”
“Yes, after I had worked with him for some time. He didn’t want to talk. In a moment you will see why. Going back to the time he had seen it before, he said that he had found it in the cellar in an old box, the contents of which he had been pulling over in a search for something very different. Amazed to find it there, he had taken it out, examined it carefully, noted the nick I mentioned and tossed it back again into the box. This he told, but reluctantly.
“Why reluctantly, I was soon to find out. He was not alone in the cellar. The shadow of some person at his back had fallen across the lid of the box as he was closing it. He did not recognize the shadow and had not given it at the time a second thought, but the remembrance of it came back vividly when he saw the bow lying before him and realized the part it had played in the morning’s tragedy. Was it because he knew that only a person actively connected with the museum would have access to that part of the cellar? I asked. I did not expect an answer, and I did not get it. We looked at each other for a moment, then I let him go.”
A momentary silence, which the Inspector broke by saying:
“Later I called the Curator in, and he also recognized the bow as belonging to the museum. But he volunteered no explanations and in fact had little to say on the subject. He was evidently too much startled by the direct connection which had thus been made between the crime (or accident, if you will) and the personnel of the museum.”
“That was natural. He should be the first to see that the bow which shot the arrow must of necessity have been brought into the building by some other door than those at which the doormen stood guard. I had a talk with those men, and they both declared that no sticks or umbrellas or anything of that nature ever went by them or would be allowed to go by them, no matter how concealed or wrapped up. But to revert to the matter in hand. So Correy made absolutely no attempt to explain how this weapon had been carried from cellar to gallery without his knowledge?”
“No. He for one will have a sleepless night.”
“Not he alone. I must and will see a way through this maze. To-morrow may bring luck. Ah, I forgot to say that I spent an hour of the three you allowed me with the captain of the steamer which brought over these two women. As might be expected, he had no information of any significance to give me; nor could I obtain much from such members of the crew as I could get hold of. One steward remembered the Englishman, chiefly because he never showed himself unless the young lady was on deck. But he never saw them speak.”
“Which bears out Travis’ story to the last detail.”
“Exactly. I think we can depend upon him; otherwise we should be at sea.”
“Yet his story is a very strange one.”
“The whole affair is strange — the strangest I ever knew. But that isn’t against it. It’s the commonplace case which baffles. We shall get the key to the whole mystery yet.”
“I’ve no doubt. Is Mr. Travis to be detained?”
“Yes, as witness.”
“Does he object?”
“Not at all. Having spoken — told his whole story, as he says — he is rather glad than otherwise to be relieved from the common curiosity of strangers. He’s a rare bird, Gryce. If he stops to think, he must see that he stands in a more or less ticklish position. But he does not betray by look or action any doubt of our entire belief in the truth of all his statements. His only trouble seems to be that he has lost, by these inhuman means, the girl upon whom he had set his heart. To-morrow we will confront him with Mrs. Taylor. She should be able to say whether he did or did not stand out in the open gallery at the moment Miss Willetts fell.”
But Mr. Gryce had no encouragement to give him on this head.
“Mrs. Taylor is ill — very ill, as I take it. I stopped at her hotel to inquire. I was anxious about her for more than one reason and the report I got of her condition was far from favorable. She is suffering cruelly from shock. How occasioned, whether by the peculiar and startling death to which she was a witness or by the strangely coincident fancy to which she herself attributes her deep emotion, will have to be decided by further developments. Nothing which I was able to learn from doctor or nurse settled this interesting question. Meanwhile, no one is allowed to see her — or will be till she is on the direct road to recovery. Let us hope that this may be soon, or the inquest may be delayed indefinitely.”
“I don’t know as that is to be deplored. I imagine we shall find enough to fill in our time. . . . Any communications made by her before she collapsed? Did she send out or receive messages of any kind since her return from the museum?”
“She received none; but it is impossible to say whether or not she sent any out. There is a letter-chute very near her door. She may have dropped a letter in that any time before a watch was put upon her. You are thinking, of course, of the anxiety she expressed about her husband, and whether she took any measures for ascertaining if her fears for him had any foundation in fact?”
“I was, yes; but I presume this fancy had passed, or else she is too ill to remember her own aberrations. Were you able to effect an understanding with her nurse?”
“Yes; that’s fixed. I had a short talk, too, with the proprietor of the hotel. He thinks very highly of Mrs. Taylor. She has lived in the one apartment for years, and he cannot say enough of her discreet and uniform life. Though she made no secret of the fact that she does not live with her husband, her conduct has always been such as to insure universal respect. He did not even make mention of eccentricities. If she is crazy, it is a late development. She seemed to have been all right up to this morning. Whichever way you turn, you encounter mystery and a closed door.”
“The papers may spring the lock of that door at any moment. Publication does much in a case of this kind. To-morrow we may be in a much more favorable position. Meantime, let us recount the facts it is our business to clear up.”
“On what hypothesis?”
“On all hypotheses. We are not sure enough of our premises, as yet, to confine ourselves to one.”
“Very good, these are the ones which seem to me to be of the greatest importance:
“Whose hand carried the bow from cellar to gallery?
“Was it the same which carried the arrow from one gallery to the other?
“Is it possible for an arrow, shot through the loophole made by the curving-in of the vase, to reach the mark set for it by Mr. Travis’ testimony?
“Which one of the men or women known to be in the museum when this arrow was released has enough knowledge of archery to string a bow? A mark can be reached by chance; but only an accustomed hand can string a bow as unyielding as this one.
“Who telephoned to Madame Duclos; and of what nature was the message which sent her from the hotel so precipitately that she not only left the most important part of her baggage behind but went away without making adequate provision for the young girl confided to her charge?
“Does this mean that she had been made acquainted with the fate of the young girl; and if so, by whom?”
“Business enough for us all,” was the Inspector’s comment as Gryce paused in this enumeration. “As you put it, I am more and more convinced that the key you spoke of a short time ago will be found in this missing woman’s tightly shut hand.”
“Which brings us round full-circle to our first conclusion: that Miss Willetts’ death is not only a crime, but a premeditated one.”
“Carried out, not by the one benefited, but by an agent selected for the purpose.”
“An agent, moreover, who knew the ways and possibilities of the place.”
“A logical conclusion; but still too incredible for belief. I find it hard to trust to appearances in this case.”
“And I also. But as we have both said, time may clear away some of its incongruities. Meanwhile I have an experiment to propose.” And leaning close to the Inspector, notwithstanding the fact that there was nobody within hearing and he knew it, he whispered a few words in his ear.
The Inspector stared.
“To-night?” he asked.
The detective nodded.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09