I gave a low cry and rushed down the steps.
“Don’t go!” I called out to the driver. “I shall want you in ten minutes.” And hurrying back, I ran up-stairs in a condition of mind such as I have no reason to be proud of. Happily Mr. Gryce was not there to see me.
“Gone? Miss Oliver gone?” I cried to the maid whom I found trembling in a corner of the hall.
“Yes, ma’am; it was my fault, ma’am. She was in bed so quiet, I thought I might step out for a minute, but when I came back her clothes were missing and she was gone. She must have slipped out at the front door while Dan was in the back hall. I don’t see how ever she had the strength to do it.”
Nor did I. But I did not stop to reason about it; there was too much to be done. Rushing on, I entered the room I had left in such high hopes a few hours before. Emptiness was before me, and I realized what it was to be baffled at the moment of success. But I did not waste an instant in inactivity. I searched the closets and pulled open the drawers; found her coat and hat gone, but not Mrs. Van Burnam’s brown skirt, though the purse had been taken out of the pocket.
“Is her bag here?” I asked.
Yes, it was in its old place under the table; and on the wash-stand and bureau were the simple toilet articles I had been told she had brought there. In what haste she must have fled to leave these necessities behind her!
But the greatest shock I received was the sight of the knitting-work, with which I had so inconsiderately meddled the evening before, lying in ravelled heaps on the table, as if torn to bits in a frenzy. This was a proof that the fever was yet on her; and as I contemplated this fact I took courage, thinking that one in her condition would not be allowed to run the streets long, but would be picked up and put in some hospital.
In this hope I began my search. Miss Althorpe, who came in just as I was about to leave the house, consented to telephone to Police Headquarters a description of the girl, with a request to be notified if such a person should be found in the streets or on the docks or at any of the station-houses that night. “Not,” I assured her, as we left the telephone and I prepared to say good-bye for the day, “that you need expect her to be brought back to this house, for I do not mean that she shall ever darken your doors again. So let me know if they find her, and I will relieve you of all further responsibility in the matter.”
Then I started out.
To name the streets I traversed or the places I visited that day, would take more space than I would like to devote to the subject. Dusk came, and I had failed in obtaining the least clue to her whereabouts; evening followed, and still no trace of the fugitive. What was I to do? Take Mr. Gryce into my confidence after all? That would be galling to my pride, but I began to fear I should have to submit to this humiliation when I happened to think of the Chinaman. To think of him once was to think of him twice, and to think of him twice was to be conscious of an irresistible desire to visit his place and find out if any one but myself had been there to inquire after the lost one’s clothes.
Accompanied by Lena, I hurried away to Third Avenue. The laundry was near Twenty-seventh Street. As we approached I grew troubled and unaccountably expectant. When we reached it I understood my excitement and instantly became calm. For there stood Miss Oliver, gazing like one under a spell through the lighted window-panes into the narrow shop where the owner bent over his ironing. She had evidently stood there some time, for a small group of half-grown lads were watching her with every symptom of being about to break into a mischievous display of curiosity. Her hands, which were without gloves, were pressed against the glass, and her whole attitude showed an intensity of fatigue which would have laid her on the ground had she not been sustained by an equal intensity of purpose.
Sending Lena for a carriage, I approached the poor creature and drew her forcibly from the window.
“Do you want anything here?” I asked. “I will go in with you if you do.”
She surveyed me with strange apathy, and yet with a certain sort of relief too. Then she slowly shook her head.
“I don’t know anything about it. My head swims and everything looks queer, but some one or something sent me to this place.”
“Come in,” I urged, “come in for a minute.” And half supporting her, half dragging her, I managed to get her across the threshold and into the Chinaman’s shop.
Immediately a dozen faces were pressed where hers had been.
The Chinaman, a stolid being, turned as he heard the little bell tinkle which announced a customer.
“Is this the lady who left the clothes here a few nights ago?” I asked.
He stopped and stared, recognizing me slowly, and remembering by degrees what had passed between us at our last interview.
“You tellee me lalee die; how him lalee when lalee die?”
“The lady is not dead; I made a mistake. Is this the lady?”
“Lalee talk; I no see face, I hear speak.”
“Have you seen this man before?” I inquired of my nearly insensible companion.
“I think so in a dream,” she murmured, trying to recall her poor wandering wits back from some region into which they had strayed.
“Him lalee!” cried the Chinaman, overjoyed at the prospect of getting his money. “Pletty speak, I knowee him. Lalee want clo?”
“Not to-night. The lady is sick; see, she can hardly stand.” And overjoyed at this seeming evidence that the police had failed to get wind of my interest in this place, I slipped a coin into the Chinaman’s hand, and drew Miss Oliver away towards the carriage I now saw drawing up before the shop.
Lena’s eyes when she came up to help me were a sight to see. They seemed to ask who this girl was and what I was going to do with her. I answered the look by a very brief and evidently wholly unexpected explanation.
“This is your cousin who ran away,” I remarked. “Don’t you recognize her?”
Lena gave me up then and there; but she accepted my explanation, and even lied in her desire to carry out my whim.
“Yes, ma’am,” said she, “and glad I am to see her again.” And with a deft push here and a gentle pull there, she succeeded in getting the sick woman into the carriage.
The crowd, which had considerably increased by this time, was beginning to flock about us with shouts of no little derision. Escaping it as best I could, I took my seat by the poor girl’s side, and bade Lena give the order for home. When we left the curb-stone behind, I felt that the last page in my adventures as an amateur detective had closed.
But I counted without my cost. Miss Oliver, who was in an advanced stage of fever, lay like a dead weight on my shoulder during the drive down the avenue, but when we entered the Park and drew near my house, she began to show such signs of violent agitation that it was with difficulty that the united efforts of Lena and myself could prevent her from throwing herself out of the carriage door which she had somehow managed to open.
As the carriage stopped she grew worse, and though she made no further efforts to leave it, I found her present impulses even harder to contend with than the former. For now she would not be pushed out or dragged out, but crouched back moaning and struggling, her eyes fixed on the stoop, which is not unlike that of the adjoining house; till with a sudden realization that the cause of her terror lay in her fear of re-entering the scene of her late terrifying experiences, I bade the coachman drive on, and reluctantly, I own, carried her back to the house she had left in the morning.
And this is how I came to spend a second night in Miss Althorpe’s hospitable mansion.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09