The Woman in the Alcove by Anna Katharine Green
XVII. Sweetwater in a New Role
A few days later three men were closeted in the district attorney's office. Two of them were officials--the district attorney himself, and our old friend, the inspector. The third was the detective, Sweetwater, chosen by them to keep watch on Mr. Grey.
Sweetwater had just come to town,--this was evident from the gripsack he had set down in a corner on entering, also from a certain tousled appearance which bespoke hasty rising and but few facilities for proper attention to his person. These details counted little, however, in the astonishment created by his manner. For a hardy chap he looked strangely nervous and indisposed, so much so that, after the first short greeting, the inspector asked him what was up, and if he had had another Fairbrother-house experience.
He replied with a decided no; that it was not his adventure which had upset him, but the news he had to bring.
Here he glanced at every door and window; and then, leaning forward over the table at which the two officials sat, he brought his head as nearly to them as possible and whispered five words.
They produced a most unhappy sensation. Both the men, hardened as they were by duties which soon sap the sensibilities, started and turned as pale as the speaker himself. Then the district attorney, with one glance at the inspector, rose and locked the door.
It was a prelude to this tale which I give, not as it came from his mouth, but as it was afterward related to me. The language, I fear, is mostly my own.
The detective had just been with Mr. Grey to the coast of Maine. Why there, will presently appear. His task had been to follow this gentleman, and follow him he did.
Mr. Grey was a very stately man, difficult of approach, and was absorbed, besides, by some overwhelming care. But this fellow was one in a thousand and somehow, during the trip, he managed to do him some little service, which drew the attention of the great man to himself. This done, he so improved his opportunity that the two were soon on the best of terms, and he learned that the Englishman was without a valet, and, being unaccustomed to move about without one, felt the awkwardness of his position very much. This gave Sweetwater his cue, and when he found that the services of such a man were wanted only during the present trip and for the handling of affairs quite apart from personal tendance upon the gentleman himself, he showed such an honest desire to fill the place, and made out to give such a good account of himself, that he found himself engaged for the work before reaching C--.
This was a great stroke of luck, he thought, but he little knew how big a stroke or into what a series of adventures it was going to lead him.
Once on the platform of the small station at which Mr. Grey had bidden him to stop, he noticed two things: the utter helplessness of the man in all practical matters, and his extreme anxiety to see all that was going on about him without being himself seen. There was method in this curiosity, too much method. Women did not interest him in the least. They could pass and repass without arousing his attention, but the moment a man stepped his way, he shrank from him only to betray the greatest curiosity concerning him the moment he felt it safe to turn and observe him. All of which convinced Sweetwater that the Englishman's errand was in connection with a man whom he equally dreaded and desired to meet.
Of this he was made absolutely certain a little later. As they were leaving the depot with the rest of the arrivals, Mr. Grey said:
"I want you to get me a room at a very quiet hotel. This done, you are to hunt up the man whose name you will find written in this paper, and when you have found him, make up your mind how it will be possible for me to get a good look at him without his getting any sort of a look at me. Do this and you will earn a week's salary in one day."
Sweetwater, with his head in air and his heart on fire--for matters were looking very promising indeed--took the paper and put it in his pocket; then he began to hunt for a hotel. Not till he bad found what he wished, and installed the Englishman in his room, did he venture to open the precious memorandum and read the name he had been speculating over for an hour. It was not the one he had anticipated, but it came near to it. It was that of James Wellgood.
Satisfied now that he had a ticklish matter to handle, he prepared for it, with his usual enthusiasm and circumspection.
Sauntering out into the street, he strolled first toward the post-office. The train on which he had just come had been a mail-train, and he calculated that he would find half the town there.
His calculation was a correct one. The store was crowded with people. Taking his place in the line drawn up before the post-office window, he awaited his turn, and when it came shouted out the name which was his one talisman--James Wellgood.
The man behind the boxes was used to the name and reached out a hand toward a box unusually well stacked, but stopped half-way there and gave Sweetwater a sharp look.
"Who are you?" he asked.
"A stranger," that young man put in volubly, "looking for James Wellgood. I thought, perhaps, you could tell me where to find him. I see that his letters pass through this office."
"You're taking up another man's time," complained the postmaster. He probably alluded to the man whose elbow Sweetwater felt boring into his back. "Ask Dick over there; he knows him."
The detective was glad enough to escape and ask Dick. But he was better pleased yet when Dick--a fellow with a squint whose hand was always in the sugar--told him that Mr. Wellgood would probably be in for his mail in a few moments. "That is his buggy standing before the drug-store on the opposite side of the way."
So! he had netted Jones' quondam waiter at the first cast! "Lucky!" was what he said to himself, "still lucky!"
Sauntering to the door, he watched for the owner of that buggy. He had learned, as such fellows do, that there was a secret hue and cry after this very man by the New York police; that he was supposed by some to be Sears himself. In this way he would soon be looking upon the very man whose steps he had followed through the Fairbrother house a few nights before, and through whose resolute action he had very nearly run the risk of a lingering death from starvation.
"A dangerous customer," thought he. "I wonder if my instinct will go so far as to make me recognize his presence. I shouldn't wonder. It has served me almost as well as that many times before."
It appeared to serve him now, for when the man finally showed himself on the cross-walk separating the two buildings he experienced a sudden indecision not unlike that of dread, and there being nothing in the man's appearance to warrant apprehension, he took it for the instinctive recognition it undoubtedly was.
He therefore watched him narrowly and succeeded in getting one glance from his eye. It was enough. The man was commonplace,-- commonplace in feature, dress and manner, but his eye gave him away. There was nothing commonplace in that. It was an eye to beware of.
He had taken in Sweetwater as he passed, but Sweetwater was of a commonplace type, too, and woke no corresponding dread in the other's mind; for he went whistling into the store, from which he presently reissued with a bundle of mail in his hand. The detective's first instinct was to take him into custody as a suspect much wanted by the New York police; but reason assured him that he not only had no warrant for this, but that he would better serve the ends of justice by following out his present task of bringing this man and the Englishman together and watching the result. But how, with the conditions laid on him by Mr. Grey, was this to be done? He knew nothing of the man's circumstances or of his position in the town. How, then, go to work to secure his cooperation in a scheme possibly as mysterious to him as it was to himself? He could stop this stranger in mid-street, with some plausible excuse, but it did not follow that he would succeed in luring him to the hotel where Mr. Grey could see him. Wellgood, or, as he believed, Sears, knew too much of life to be beguiled by any open clap-trap, and Sweetwater was obliged to see him drive off without having made the least advance in the purpose engrossing him.
But that was nothing. He had all the evening before him, and reentering the store, he took up his stand near the sugar barrel. He had perceived that in the pauses of weighing and tasting, Dick talked; if he were guided with suitable discretion, why should he not talk of Wellgood?
He was guided, and he did talk and to some effect. That is, he gave information of the man which surprised Sweetwater. If in the past and in New York he had been known as a waiter, or should I say steward, he was known here as a manufacturer of patent medicine designed to rejuvenate the human race. He had not been long in town and was somewhat of a stranger yet, but he wouldn't be so long. He was going to make things hum, he was. Money for this, money for that, a horse where another man would walk, and mail--well, that alone would make this post-office worth while. Then the drugs ordered by wholesale. Those boxes over there were his, ready to be carted out to his manufactory. Count them, some one, and think of the bottles and bottles of stuff they stand for. If it sells as he says it will--then he will soon be rich: and so on, till Sweetwater brought the garrulous Dick to a standstill by asking whether Wellgood had been away for any purpose since he first came to town. He received the reply that he had just come home from New York, where he had been for some articles needed in his manufactory. Sweetwater felt all his convictions confirmed, and ended the colloquy with the final question:
"And where is his manufactory? Might be worth visiting, perhaps."
The other made a gesture, said something about northwest and rushed to help a customer. Sweetwater took the opportunity to slide away. More explicit directions could easily be got elsewhere, and he felt anxious to return to Mr. Grey and discover, if possible, whether it would prove as much a matter of surprise to him as to Sweetwater himself that the man who answered to the name of Wellgood was the owner of a manufactory and a barrel or two of drugs, out of which he proposed to make a compound that would rob the doctors of their business and make himself and this little village rich.
Sweetwater made only one stop on his way to Mr. Grey's hotel rooms, and that was at the stables. Here he learned whatever else there was to know, and, armed with definite information, he appeared before Mr. Grey, who, to his astonishment, was dining in his own room.
He had dismissed the waiter and was rather brooding than eating. He looked up eagerly, however, when Sweetwater entered, and asked what news.
The detective, with some semblance of respect, answered that he had seen Wellgood, but that he had been unable to detain him or bring him within his employer's observation.
"He is a patent-medicine man," he then explained, "and manufactures his own concoctions in a house he has rented here on a lonely road some half-mile out of town."
"Wellgood does? the man named Wellgood?" Mr. Grey exclaimed with all the astonishment the other secretly expected.
"Yes; Wellgood, James Wellgood. There is no other in town."
"How long has this man been here?" the statesman inquired, after a moment of apparently great discomfiture.
"Just twenty-four hours, this time. He was here once before, when he rented the house and made all his plans."
Mr. Grey rose precipitately. His manner had changed.
"I must see him. What you tell me makes it all the more necessary for me to see him. How can you bring it about?"
"Without his seeing you?" Sweetwater asked.
"Yes, yes; certainly without his seeing me. Couldn't you rap him up at his own door, and hold him in talk a minute, while I looked on from the carriage or whatever vehicle we can get to carry us there? The least glimpse of his face would satisfy me. That is, to-night."
"I'll try," said Sweetwater, not very sanguine as to the probable result of this effort.
Returning to the stables, he ordered the team. With the last ray of the sun they set out, the reins in Sweetwater's hands.
They headed for the coast-road.