A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green
Chapter XVII. The Capture
Promptly next morning at the designated hour, came the little note promised me by Mr. Gryce. It was put in my hand with many sly winks by the landlady herself, who developed at this crisis quite an adaptation for, if not absolute love of intrigue and mystery. Glancing over it--it was unsealed--and finding it entirely unintelligible, I took it for granted it was all right and put it by till chance, or if that failed, strategy, should give me an opportunity to communicate with Mrs. Blake. An hour passed; the doors of their rooms remained unclosed. A half hour more dragged its slow minutes away, and no sound had come from their precincts save now and then a mumbled word of parley between the father and son, a short command to the daughter, or a not-to-be-restrained oath of annoyance from one or both of the heavy-limbed brutes as something was said or done to disturb them in their indolent repose. At last my impatience was to be no longer restrained. Rising, I took a bold resolution. If the mountain would not come to Mahomet, Mahomet would go to the mountain. Taking my letter in the hand, I deliberately proceeded to the door marked with the ominous red cross and knocked.
A surprised snarl from within, followed by a sudden shuffling of feet as the two men leaped upright from what I presume had been a recumbent position, warned me to be ready to face defiance if not the fury of despair; and curbing with a determined effort the slight sinking of heart natural to a man of my make on the threshold of a very doubtful adventure, I awaited with as much apparent unconcern as possible, the quick advance of that light foot which seemed to be ready to perform all the biddings of these hardened wretches, much as it shrunk from following in the ways of their infamy.
"Ah miss," said I, as the door opened revealing in the gap her white face clouded with some new and sudden apprehension, "I beg your pardon but I am an old man, and I got a letter to-day and my eyes are so weak with the work I've been doing that I cannot read it. It is from some one I love, and would you be so kind as to read off the words for me and so relieve an old man from his anxiety."
The murmur of suspicion behind her, warned her to throw wide open the door. "Certainly," said she, "if I can," taking the paper in her hand.
"Just let me get a squint at that first," said a sullen voice behind her; and the youngest of the two Schoenmakers stepped forward and tore the paper out of her grasp.
"You are too suspicious," murmured she, looking after him with the first assumption of that air of power and determination which I had heard so eloquently described by the man who loved her. "There is nothing in those lines which concerns us; let me have them back."
"You hold your tongue," was the brutal reply as the rough man opened the folded paper and read or tried to read what was written within. "Blast it! it's French," was his slow exclamation after a moment spent in this way. "See," and he thrust it towards his father who stood frowning heavily a few feet off.
"Of course, it's French," cried the girl. "Would you write a note in English to father there? The man's friends are French like himself, and must write in their own language."
"Here take it and read it out," commanded her father; "and mind you tell us what it means. I'll have nothing going on here that I don't understand."
"Read me the French words first, miss," said I. "It is my letter and I want to know what my friend has to say to me."
Nodding at me with a gentle look, she cast her eyes on the paper and began to read:
"Thanks!" I exclaimed in a calm matter-of-fact way as I perceived the sudden tremor that seized her as she recognized the handwriting and realized that the words were for her. "My friend says he will pay my week's rent and bids me be at home to receive him," said I, turning upon the two ferocious faces peering over her shoulder, with a look of meek unsuspiciousness in my eye, that in a theatre would have brought down the house.
"Is that what those words say, you?" asked the father, pointing over her shoulder to the paper she held.
"I will translate for you word by word what it says," replied she, nerving herself for the crisis till her face was like marble, though I could see she could not prevent the gleam of secret rapture that had visited her, from flashing fitfully across it. "Calmez vous, mon amie. Do not be afraid, my friend. Il vous aime et il vous cherche. He loves you and is hunting for you. Dans quatre heures vous serez heureuse. In four hours you will be happy. Allons du courage, et surtout soyez maitre de vous meme. Then take courage and above all preserve your self-possession. It is the French way of expressing one's self," observed she. "I am glad your friend is disposed to help you," she continued, giving me back the letter with a smile. "I am afraid you needed it."
In a sort of maze I folded up the letter, bowed my very humble thanks to her and shuffled slowly back. The fact is I had no words; I was utterly dumbfounded. Half way through that letter, with whose contents you must remember I was unacquainted, I would have given my whole chance of expected reward to have stopped her. Read out such words as those before these men! Was she crazy? But how naturally at the conclusion did she with a word make its language seem consistent with the meaning I had given it. With a fresh sense of my obligation to her, I hurried to my room, there to count out the minutes of another long hour in anxious expectation of her making that endeavor to communicate with me, which her new hopes and fears must force her to feel almost necessary to her existence. At length, my confidence in her was rewarded. Coming out into the hall, she hurried past my door, her finger on her lip. I immediately rose and stood on the threshold with another paper in my hand, which I had prepared against this opportunity. As she glided back, I put it in her hand, and warning her with a look not to speak, resumed my usual occupation. The words I had written were as follows:
Her face while she read these lines, was a study, but I dared not soften toward it. Dropping the paper from her hand, she gave me one inquiring look. But I pointed determinedly to the words lying upward on the floor, and would listen to no appeal. My resolve had its effect. Bowing her head with a sorrowful gesture, she laid her hand on her heart, looked up and glided from the room. I took up that paper and tore it into bits.
And now for the first time since I had been in the house, I closed the door of my room. I had a part to perform that rendered the dropping of my disguise indispensable. The old French artist had finished his work, and henceforth must merge into Q. the detective. Shortly before two o'clock my assistants began to arrive. First, Mr. Gryce appeared on the scene and was stowed away in a large room on the other side of mine. Next, two of the most agile, as well as muscular men in the force who, thanks to having taken off their shoes in the lower hall, gained the same refuge without awakening the suspicions of those we were anxious to surprise. Lastly, the landlady who went into the closet to which I had bidden Mrs. Blake retire after leaving in my room the articles I had mentioned.
All was now ready and waiting for the departure of the youngest Schoenmaker. Would he disappoint us and remain at home that day? Had any suspicions been awakened in the stolid breasts of these men, that would serve to make them more watchful than usual against running unnecessary risks? No; at or near the time for the clock to strike two, their door opened and the tread of a lumbering foot was heard in the hall. On it came, passing my room with a rude stamping that gradually grew less distinct as the hardy rough went down the corridor, brushing the wall behind which Mr. Gryce and his men lay concealed with his thick cane, and even stopping to light his pipe in front of the small apartment where cowered our good landlady with her eternal basket of mending in her lap.
At length all was quiet, and throwing open my door, I withdrew into a small closet connected with my room, to wait with indescribable impatience, the appearance of Mrs. Blake. She came in a very few minutes, remained for an instant, and departed, leaving behind her as I had requested, the skirt and shawl in which she had left her father's presence. I at once endued myself in these articles of apparel--taking care to draw the shawl well over my head--and with a pocket handkerchief to my face, (a proceeding made natural enough by the sneeze which at that very moment I took care should assail me) walked boldly back to the room from which she had just come.
The door was of course ajar, and as I swung it open with as near a simulation of her manner as possible, the vision of her powerful father lolling on a bench directly before me, offered anything but an encouraging spectacle to my eyes. But doubling myself almost together with as ladylike an atch-ee as my masculine nostrils would allow, I succeeded in closing the door and reaching a low stool by the window without calling from him anything worse than a fretful "I hope you are not going to bark too."
I did not reply to this of course, but sat with my face turned towards the street in an attitude which I hoped would awaken his attention sufficiently to cause him to get up and come over to my side. For as he sat face to the door it would be impossible to take him by surprise, and that, now that I saw what a huge and muscular creature he was, seemed to me to be the only safe method before us. But, whether from the sullenness of his disposition or the very evident laziness of the moment, he manifested no disposition to move, and hearing or thinking I did, the stealthy advance of Mr. Gryce and his companions down the hall, I allowed myself to give way to a suppressed exclamation, and leaning forward, pressed my forehead against the pane of glass before me as if something of absorbing interest had just taken place in the street beneath.
His fears at once took alarm. Bounding up with a curse, he strode towards me, muttering,
"What's up now? What's that you are looking at?" reaching my side just as Mr. Gryce and his two men softly opened the door and with a quick leap threw their arms about him, closing upon him with a force he could not resist, desperate as he was and mighty in the huge strength of an unusually developed muscular organization.
"You, you girl there, are to blame for this!" came mingled with curses from his lips, as with one huge pant he submitted to his captors. "Only let me get my hand well upon you once--Damn it!" he suddenly exclaimed, dragging the whole three men forward in his effort to get his mouth down to my ear, "go and rub that sign out on the door or I'll--you know what I'll do well enough. Do you hear?"
Rising, still with face averted, I proceeded to do what he asked. But in another moment seeing that he had been effectually bound and gagged, I took out the piece of red chalk I had kept in my pocket, and deliberately chalked it on again, after which operation I came back and took my seat as before on the low stool by the window.
The object now was to secure the second rascal in the same way we had the first; and for this purpose Mr. Gryce ordered the now helpless giant to be dragged into the adjoining small room formerly occupied by Mrs. Blake, where he and his men likewise took up their station leaving me to confront as best I might, the surprise and consternation of the one whose return we now awaited.
I did not shrink. With that brave woman's garments drawn about me, something of her dauntless spirit seemed to invade my soul, and though I expected--But let that come in its place, I am not here to interest you in myself or my selfish thoughts.
A half hour passed; he had never lingered away so long before, or so it seemed, and I was beginning to wonder if we should have to keep up this strain of nerve for hours, when the heavy tread was again heard in the hall, and with a blow of the fist that argued anger or a brutal impatience, he flung open the door and came in, I did not turn my head.
"Where's father?" he growled, stopping where he was a foot or so from the door.
I shook my head with a slight gesture and remained looking out.
He brought his cane down on the floor with a thump. "What do you mean by sitting there staring out of the window like mad and not answering when I ask you a decent question?"
Still I made no reply.
Provoked beyond endurance, yet held in check by that vague sense of danger in the air,--which while not amounting to apprehension is often sufficient to hold back from advance the most daring foot,--he stood glaring at me in what I felt to be a very ferocious attitude, but made no offer to move. Instantly I rose and still looking out of the window, made with my hand what appeared to be a signal to some one on the opposite side of the way. The ruse was effective. With an oath that rings in my ears yet, he lifted his heavy cane and advanced upon me with a bound, only to meet the same fate as his father at the hands of the watchful detectives. Not, however, before that heavy cane came down upon my head in a way to lay me in a heap at his feet and to sow the seeds of that blinding head-ache, which has afflicted me by spells ever since. But this termination of the affair was no more than I had feared from the beginning; and indeed it was as much to protect Mrs. Blake from the wrath of these men, as from any requirements of the situation I had assumed the disguise I then wore. I therefore did not allow this mishap to greatly trouble me, unpleasant as it was at the time, but, as soon as ever I could do so, rose from the floor and throwing off my strange habiliments, proceeded to finish up to my satisfaction, the work already so successfully begun.