The result of this attention can be best learned from the conversation I held with Mr. Gryce the next morning.
He came earlier than usual, but he found me up and stirring.
“Well,” he cried, accosting me with a smile as I entered the parlor where he was seated, “it is all right this time, is it not? No trouble in identifying the gentleman who entered your neighbor’s house last night at a quarter to twelve?”
Resolved to probe this man’s mind to the bottom, I put on my sternest air.
“I had not expected any one to enter there so late last night,” said I. “Mr. Van Burnam declared so positively at the inquest that he was the person we have been endeavoring to identify, that I did not suppose you would consider it necessary to bring him to the house for me to see.”
“And so you were not in the window?”
“I did not say that; I am always where I have promised to be, Mr. Gryce.”
“Well, then?” he inquired sharply.
I was purposely slow in answering him — I had all the longer time to search his face. But its calmness was impenetrable, and finally I declared:
“The man you brought with you last night — you were the person who accompanied him, were you not — was not the man I saw alight there four nights ago.”
He may have expected it; it may have been the very assertion he desired from me, but his manner showed displeasure, and the quick “How?” he uttered was sharp and peremptory.
“I do not ask who it was,” I went on, with a quiet wave of my hand that immediately restored him to himself, “for I know you will not tell me. But what I do hope to know is the name of the man who entered that same house at just ten minutes after nine. He was one of the funeral guests, and he arrived in a carriage that was immediately preceded by a coach from which four persons alighted, two ladies and two gentlemen.”
“I do not know the gentleman, ma’am,” was the detective’s half-surprised and half-amused retort. “I did not keep track of every guest that attended the funeral.”
“Then you didn’t do your work as well as I did mine,” was my rather dry reply. “For I noted every one who went in; and that gentleman, whoever he was, was more like the person I have been trying to identify than any one I have seen enter there during my four midnight vigils.”
Mr. Gryce smiled, uttered a short “Indeed!” and looked more than ever like a sphinx. I began quietly to hate him, under my calm exterior.
“Was Howard at his wife’s funeral?” I asked.
“He was, ma’am.”
“And did he come in a carriage?”
“He did, ma’am.”
“He thought he was alone; yes, ma’am.”
“Then may it not have been he?”
“I can’t say, ma’am.”
Mr. Gryce was so obviously out of his element under this cross-examination that I could not suppress a smile even while I experienced a very lively indignation at his reticence. He may have seen me smile and he may not, for his eyes, as I have intimated, were always busy with some object entirely removed from the person he addressed; but at all events he rose, leaving me no alternative but to do the same.
“And so you didn’t recognize the gentleman I brought to the neighboring house just before twelve o’clock,” he quietly remarked, with a calm ignoring of my last question which was a trifle exasperating.
“Then, ma’am,” he declared, with a quick change of manner, meant, I should judge, to put me in my proper place, “I do not think we can depend upon the accuracy of your memory;” and he made a motion as if to leave.
As I did not know whether his apparent disappointment was real or not, I let him move to the door without a reply. But once there I stopped him.
“Mr. Gryce,” said I, “I don’t know what you think about this matter, nor whether you even wish my opinion upon it. But I am going to express it, for all that. I do not believe that Howard killed his wife with a hat-pin.”
“No?” retorted the old gentleman, peering into his hat, with an ironical smile which that inoffensive article of attire had certainly not merited. “And why, Miss Butterworth, why? You must have substantial reasons for any opinion you would form.”
“I have an intuition,” I responded, “backed by certain reasons. The intuition won’t impress you very deeply, but the reasons may not be without some weight, and I am going to confide them to you.”
“Do,” he entreated in a jocose manner which struck me as inappropriate, but which I was willing to overlook on account of his age and very fatherly manner.
“Well, then,” said I, “this is one. If the crime was a premeditated one, if he hated his wife and felt it for his interest to have her out of the way, a man of Mr. Van Burnam’s good sense would have chosen any other spot than his father’s house to kill her in, knowing that her identity could not be hidden if once she was associated with the Van Burnam name. If, on the contrary, he took her there in good faith, and her death was the unexpected result of a quarrel between them, then the means employed would have been simpler. An angry man does not stop to perform a delicate surgical operation when moved to the point of murder, but uses his hands or his fists, just as Mr. Van Burnam himself suggested.”
“Humph!” grunted the detective, staring very hard indeed into his hat.
“You must not think me this young man’s friend,” I went on, with a well meant desire to impress him with the impartiality of my attitude. “I never have spoken to him nor he to me, but I am the friend of justice, and I must declare that there was a note of surprise in the emotion he showed at sight of his wife’s hat, that was far too natural to be assumed.”
The detective failed to be impressed. I might have expected this, knowing his sex and the reliance such a man is apt to place upon his own powers.
“Acting, ma’am, acting!” was his laconic comment. “A very uncommon character, that of Mr. Howard Van Burnam. I do not think you do it full justice.”
“Perhaps not, but see that you don’t slight mine. I do not expect you to heed these suggestions any more than you did those I offered you in connection with Mrs. Boppert, the scrub-woman; but my conscience is eased by my communication, and that is much to a solitary woman like myself who is obliged to spend many a long hour alone with no other companion.”
“Something has been accomplished, then, by this delay,” he observed. Then, as if ashamed of this momentary display of irritation, he added in the genial tones more natural to him: “I don’t blame you for your good opinion of this interesting, but by no means reliable, young man, Miss Butterworth. A woman’s kind heart stands in the way of her proper judgment of criminals.”
“You will not find its instincts fail even if you do its judgment.”
His bow was as full of politeness as it was lacking in conviction.
“I hope you won’t let your instincts lead you into any unnecessary detective work,” he quietly suggested.
“That I cannot promise. If you arrest Howard Van Burnam for murder, I may be tempted to meddle with matters which don’t concern me.”
An amused smile broke through his simulated seriousness.
“Pray accept my congratulations, then, in advance, ma’am. My health has been such that I have long anticipated giving up my profession; but if I am to have such assistants as you in my work, I shall be inclined to remain in it some time longer.”
“When a man as busy as you stops to indulge in sarcasm, he is in more or less good spirits. Such a condition, I am told, only prevails with detectives when they have come to a positive conclusion concerning the case they are engaged upon.”
“I see you already understand the members of your future profession.”
“As much as is necessary at this juncture,” I retorted. Then seeing him about to repeat his bow, I added sharply: “You need not trouble yourself to show me too much politeness. If I meddle in this matter at all it will not be as your coadjutor, but as your rival.”
“Yes, your rival; and rivals are never good friends until one of them is hopelessly defeated.”
“Miss Butterworth, I see myself already at your feet.”
And with this sally and a short chuckle which did more than anything he had said towards settling me in my half-formed determination to do as I had threatened, he opened the door and quietly disappeared.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09