Mr. Gryce possesses one faculty for which I envy him, and that is his skill in the management of people. He had not been in Miss Althorpe’s house five minutes before he had won her confidence and had everything he wished at his command. I had to talk some time before getting so far, but he— a word and a look did it.
Miss Oliver, for whom I hesitated to inquire, lest I should again find her gone or in a worse condition than when I left, was in reality better, and as we went up-stairs I allowed myself to hope that the questions which had so troubled us would soon be answered and the mystery ended.
But Mr. Gryce evidently knew better, for when we reached her door he turned and said:
“Our task will not be an easy one. Go in first and attract her attention so that I can enter unobserved. I wish to study her before addressing her; but, mind, no words about the murder; leave that to me.”
I nodded, feeling that I was falling back into my own place; and knocking softly entered the room.
A maid was sitting with her. Seeing me, she rose and advanced, saying:
“Miss Oliver is sleeping.”
“Then I will relieve you,” I returned, beckoning Mr. Gryce to come in.
The girl left us and we two contemplated the sick woman silently. Presently I saw Mr. Gryce shake his head. But he did not tell me what he meant by it.
Following the direction of his finger, I sat down in a chair at the head of the bed; he took his station at the side of it in a large arm-chair he saw there. As he did so I saw how fatherly and kind he really looked, and wondered if he was in the habit of so preparing himself to meet the eye of all the suspected criminals he encountered. The thought made me glance again her way. She lay like a statue, and her face, naturally round but now thinned out and hollow, looked up from the pillow in pitiful quiet, the long lashes accentuating the dark places under her eyes.
A sad face, the saddest I ever saw and one of the most haunting.
He seemed to find it so also, for his expression of benevolent interest deepened with every passing moment, till suddenly she stirred; then he gave me a warning glance, and stooping, took her by the wrist and pulled out his watch.
She was deceived by the action. Opening her eyes, she surveyed him languidly for a moment, then heaving a great sigh, turned aside her head.
“Don’t tell me I am better, doctor. I do not want to live.”
The plaintive tone, the refined accent, seemed to astonish him. Laying down her hand, he answered gently:
“I do not like to hear that from such young lips, but it assures me that I was correct in my first surmise, that it is not medicine you need but a friend. And I can be that friend if you will but allow me.”
Moved, encouraged for the instant, she turned her head from side to side, probably to see if they were alone, and not observing me, answered softly:
“You are very good, very thoughtful, doctor, but”— and here her despair returned again —“it is useless; you can do nothing for me.”
“You think so,” remonstrated the old detective, “but you do not know me, child. Let me show you that I can be of benefit to you.” And he drew from his pocket a little package which he opened before her astonished eyes. “Yesterday, in your delirium, you left these rings in an office down-town. As they are valuable, I have brought them back to you. Wasn’t I right, my child?”
“No! no!” She started up, and her accents betrayed terror and anguish, “I do not want them; I cannot bear to see them; they do not belong to me; they belong to them.”
“To them? Whom do you mean by them?” queried Mr. Gryce, insinuatingly.
“The — the Van Burnams. Is not that the name? Oh, do not make me talk; I am so weak! Only take the rings back.”
“I will, child, I will.” Mr. Gryce’s voice was more than fatherly now, it was tender, really and sincerely tender. “I will take them back; but to which of the brothers shall I return them? To”— he hesitated softly —“to Franklin or to Howard?”
I expected to hear her respond, his manner was so gentle and apparently sincere. But though feverish and on the verge of wildness, she had still some command over herself, and after giving him a look, the intensity of which called out a corresponding expression on his face, she faltered out:
“I— I don’t care; I don’t know either of the gentlemen; but to the one you call Howard, I think.”
The pause which followed was filled by the tap-tap of Mr. Gryce’s fingers on his knee.
“That is the one who is in custody,” he observed at last. “The other, that is Franklin, has gone scot-free thus far, I hear.”
No answer from her close-shut lips.
Still no answer.
“If you do not know either of these gentlemen,” he insinuated at last, “how did you come to leave the rings at their office?”
“I knew their names — I inquired my way — It is all a dream now. Please, please do not ask me questions. O doctor! do you not see I cannot bear it?”
He smiled — I never could smile like that under any circumstances — and softly patted her hand.
“I see it makes you suffer,” he acknowledged, “but I must make you suffer in order to do you any good. If you would tell me all you know about these rings ——”
She passionately turned away her head.
“I might hope to restore you to health and happiness. You know with what they are associated?”
She made a slight motion.
“And that they are an invaluable clue to the murderer of Mrs. Van Burnam?”
“How then, my child, did you come to have them?”
Her head, which was rolling to and fro on the pillow, stopped and she gasped, rather than uttered:
“I was there.”
He knew this, yet it was terrible to hear it from her lips; she was so young and had such an air of purity and innocence. But more heartrending yet was the groan with which she burst forth in another moment, as if impelled by conscience to unburden herself from some overwhelming load:
“I took them; I could not help it; but I did not keep them; you know that I did not keep them. I am no thief, doctor; whatever I am, I am no thief.”
“Yes, yes, I see that. But why take them, child? What were you doing in that house, and whom were you with?”
She threw up her arms, but made no reply.
“Will you not tell?” he urged.
A short silence, then a low “No,” evidently wrung from her by the deepest anguish.
Mr. Gryce heaved a sigh; the struggle was likely to be a more serious one than he had anticipated.
“Miss Oliver,” said he, “more facts are known in relation to this affair than you imagine. Though unsuspected at first, it has secretly been proven that the man who accompanied the woman into the house where the crime took place, was Franklin Van Burnam.”
A low gasp from the bed, and that was all.
“You know this to be correct, don’t you, Miss Oliver?”
“O must you ask?” She was writhing now, and I thought he must desist out of pure compassion. But detectives are made out of very stern stuff, and though he looked sorry he went inexorably on.
“Justice and a sincere desire to help you, force me, my child. Were you not the woman who entered Mr. Van Burnam’s house at midnight with this man?”
“I entered the house.”
“And with this man?”
“You do not speak, Miss Oliver.”
“It was Franklin who was with you at the Hotel D——?”
She uttered a cry.
“And it was Franklin who connived at your change of clothing there, and advised or allowed you to dress yourself in a new suit from Altman’s?”
“Oh!” she cried again.
“Then why should it not have been he who accompanied you to the Chinaman’s, and afterwards took you in a second hack to the house in Gramercy Park?”
“Known, known, all known!” was her moan.
“Sin and crime cannot long remain hidden in this world, Miss Oliver. The police are acquainted with all your movements from the moment you left the Hotel D——. That is why I have compassion on you. I wish to save you from the consequences of a crime you saw committed, but in which you took no hand.”
“O,” she exclaimed in one involuntary burst, as she half rose to her knees, “if you could save me from appearing in the matter at all! If you would let me run away ——”
But Mr. Gryce was not the man to give her hope on any such score.
“Impossible, Miss Oliver. You are the only person who can witness for the guilty. If I should let you go, the police would not. Then why not tell at once whose hand drew the hat-pin from your hat and ——”
“Stop!” she shrieked; “stop! you kill me! I cannot bear it! If you bring that moment back to my mind I shall go mad! I feel the horror of it rising in me now! Be still! I pray you, for God’s sake, to be still!”
This was mortal anguish; there was no acting in this. Even he was startled by the emotion he had raised, and sat for a moment without speaking. Then the necessity of providing against all further mistakes by fixing the guilt where it belonged, drove him on again, and he said:
“Like many another woman before you, you are trying to shield a guilty man at your own expense. But it is useless, Miss Oliver; the truth always comes to light. Be advised, then, and make a confidant of one who understands you better than you think.”
But she would not listen to this.
“No one understands me. I do not understand myself. I only know that I shall make a confidant of no one; that I shall never speak.” And turning from him, she buried her head in the bedclothes.
To most men her tone and the action which accompanied it would have been final. But Mr. Gryce possessed great patience. Waiting for just a moment till she seemed more composed, he murmured gently:
“Not if you must suffer more from your silence than from speaking? Not if men — I do not mean myself, child, for I am your friend — will think that you are to blame for the death of the woman whom you saw fall under a cruel stab, and whose rings you have?”
“I!” Her horror was unmistakable; so were her surprise, her terror, and her shame, but she added nothing to the word she had uttered, and he was forced to say again:
“The world, and by that I mean both good people and bad, will believe all this. He will let them believe all this. Men have not the devotion of women.”
“Alas! alas!” It was a murmur rather than a cry, and she trembled so the bed shook visibly under her. But she made no response to the entreaty in his look and gesture, and he was compelled to draw back unsatisfied.
When a few heavy minutes had passed, he spoke again, this time in a tone of sadness.
“Few men are worth such sacrifices, Miss Oliver, and a criminal never. But a woman is not moved by that thought. She should be moved by this, however. If either of these brothers is to blame in this matter, consideration for the guiltless one should lead you to mention the name of the guilty.”
But even this did not visibly affect her.
“I shall mention no names,” said she.
“A sign will answer.”
“I shall make no sign.”
“Then Howard must go to his trial?”
A gasp, but no words.
“And Franklin proceed on his way undisturbed?”
She tried not to answer, but the words would come. Pray God! I may never see such a struggle again.
“That is as God wills. I can do nothing in the matter.” And she sank back crushed and wellnigh insensible.
Mr. Gryce made no further effort to influence her.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09