A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green
Chapter XIX. Explanations
"I cannot endure this," came in one burst of feeling from the lips of Mr. Blake. "She don't know, she don't realize--Sir," cried he, suddenly becoming conscious of my presence in the room, "will you be good enough to see that this note," he hastily scribbled one, "is carried across the way to my house and given to Mrs. Daniels."
I bowed assent, routed up one of the men in the next room and despatched it at once.
"Perhaps she will listen to the voice of one of her own sex if not to me," said he; and began pacing the floor of the narrow room in which we were, with a wildness of impatience that showed to what depths had sunk the hope of gaining this lovely woman for his own.
Feeling myself no longer necessary in that spot, I followed where my wishes led and entered the room where Luttra was bidding good-bye to her father.
"I shall never forget," I heard her say as I crossed the floor to where Mr. Gryce stood looking out of the window, "that your blood runs in my veins together with that of my gentle-hearted, never-to-be- forgotten mother. Whatever my fate may be or wherever I may hide the head you have bowed to the dust, be sure I shall always lift up my hands in prayer for your repentance and return to an honest life. God grant that my prayers may be heard and that I may yet receive at your hands, a father's kindly blessing."
The only answer to this was a heavily muttered growl that gave but little promise of any such peaceful termination to a deeply vicious life. Hearing it, Mr. Gryce hastened to procure his men and remove the hardened wretches from the spot. All through the preparations for their departure, she stood and watched their sullen faces with a wild yearning in her eye that could scarcely be denied, but when the door finally closed upon them, and she was left standing there with no one in the room but myself she steadied herself up as one who is conscious that all the storms of heaven are about to break upon her; and turning slowly to the door waited with arms crossed and a still determination upon her brow, the coming of the feet of him whose resolve she felt must have, as yet been only strengthened by her resistance.
She had not long to wait. Almost with the closing of the street door upon the detectives and their prisoners, Mr. Blake followed by Mrs. Daniels and another lady whose thick veil and long cloak but illy concealed the patrician features and stately form of the Countess De Mirac, entered the room.
The surprise had its effect; Luttra was evidently for the moment thrown off her guard.
"Mrs. Daniels!" she breathed, holding out her hands with a longing gesture.
"My dear mistress!" returned that good woman, taking those hands in hers but in a respectful way that proved the constraint imposed upon her by Mr. Blake's presence. "Do I see you again and safe?"
"You must have thought I cared little for the anxiety you would be sure to feel," said that fair young mistress, gazing with earnestness into the glad but tearful eyes of the housekeeper. "But indeed, I have been in no position to communicate with you, nor could I do so without risking that to protect which I so outraged my feelings as to leave the house at all. I mean the life and welfare of its master, Mrs. Daniels."
"Ha, what is that?" quoth Mr. Blake. "It was to save me, you consented to follow them?"
"Yes; what else would have led me to such an action? They might have killed me, I would not have cared, but when they began to utter threats against you--"
"Mrs. Blake," exclaimed Mrs. Daniels, catching hold of her mistress's uplifted hand, and pointing to a scar that slightly disfigured her white arm a little above the wrist, "Mrs. Blake, what's that?"
A pink flush, the first I had seen on her usually pale countenance, rose for an instant to her cheeks, and she seemed to hesitate.
"It was not there when I last saw you, Mrs. Blake."
"No," was the slow reply, "I found myself forced that night to inflict upon myself a little wound. It is nothing, let it go."
"No, Luttra I cannot let it go," said her husband, advancing towards her with something like gentle command. "I must hear not only about this but all the other occurrences of that night. How came they to find you in the refuge you had attained?"
"I think," said she in a low tone the underlying suffering of which it would be hard to describe, "that it was not to seek me they first invaded your house. They had heard you were a rich man, and the sight of that ladder running up the side of the new extension was too much for them. Indeed I know that it was for purposes of robbery they came, for they had hired this room opposite you some days previous to making the attempt. You see they were almost destitute of money and though they had some buried in the cellar of the old house in Vermont, they dared not leave the city to procure it. My brother was obliged to do so later, however. It was a surprise to them seeing me in your house. They had reached the roof of the extension and were just lifting up the corner of the shade I had dropped across the open window--I always open my window a few minutes before preparing to retire--when I rose from the chair in which I had been brooding, and turned up the gas. I was combing my hair at the time and so of course they recognized me. Instantly they gave a secret signal I, alas, remembered only too well, and crouching back, bade me put out the light that they might enter with safety. I was at first too much startled to realize the consequences of my action, and with some vague idea that they had discovered my retreat and come for purposes of advice or assistance, I did what they bid. Immediately they threw back the shade and came in, their huge figures looming frightfully in the faint light made by a distant gas lamp in the street below. 'What do you want?' were my first words uttered in a voice I scarcely recognized for my own; 'why do you steal on me like this in the night and through an open window fifty feet from the ground? Aren't you afraid you will be discovered and sent back to the prison from which you have escaped?' Their reply sent a chill through my blood and awoke me to a realization of what I had done in thus allowing two escaped convicts to enter a house not my own. 'We want money and we're not afraid of anything now you are here.' And without heeding my exclamation of horror, they coolly told me that they would wait where they were till the household was asleep, when they would expect me to show them the way to the silver closet or what was better, the safe or wherever it was Mr. Blake kept his money. I saw they took me for a servant, as indeed I was, and for some minutes I managed to preserve that position in their eyes. But when in a sudden burst of rage at my refusal to help them, they pushed me aside and hurried to the door with the manifest intention of going below, I forgot prudence in my fears and uttered some wild appeal to them not to do injury to any one in the house for it was my husband's. Of course that disclosure had its natural effect.
"They stopped, but only to beset me with questions till the whole truth came out. I could not have committed a worse folly than thus taking them into my confidence. Instantly the advantages to be gained by using my secret connection with so wealthy a man for the purpose of cowering me and blackmailing him, seemed to strike both their minds at once, slow as they usually are to receive impressions. The silver- closet and money-safe sank to a comparatively insignificant position in their eyes, and to get me out of the house, and with my happiness at stake, treat with the honorable man who notwithstanding his non-approval of me as a woman, still regarded me as his lawfully wedded wife, became in their eyes a thing of such wonderful promise they were willing to run any and every risk to test its value. But here to their great astonishment I rebelled; astonishment because they could not realize my desiring anything above money and the position to which they declared I was by law entitled. In vain I pleaded my love; in vain I threatened exposure of their plans if not whereabouts. The mine of gold which they fondly believed they had stumbled upon unawares, promised too richly to be easily abandoned. 'You must go with us,' said they, 'if not peaceably then by force,' and they actually advanced upon me, upsetting a chair and tearing down one of the curtains to which I clung. It was then I committed that little act concerning which you questioned me. I wanted to show them I was not to be moved by threats of that character; that I did not even fear the shedding of my blood; and that they would only be wasting their time in trying to sway me by hints of personal violence. And they were a little impressed, sufficiently so at least to turn their threats in another direction, awakening fears at last which I could not conceal, much as I felt it would be policy to do so. Gathering up a few articles I most prized, my wedding ring, Mr. Blake, and a photograph of yourself that Mrs. Daniels had been kind enough to give me, I put on my bonnet and cloak and said I would go with them, since they persisted in requiring it. The fact is I no longer possessed motive or strength to resist. Even your unexpected appearance at the door, Mrs. Daniels, offered no prospect of hope. Arouse the house? what would that do? only reveal my cherished secret and perhaps jeopardize the life of my husband. Besides, they were my own near kin, remember, and so had some little claim upon my consideration, at least to the point of my not personally betraying them unless they menaced immediate and actual harm. The escape by the window which would have been a difficult task for most women to perform, was easy enough for me. I was brought up to wild ways you know, and the descent of a ladder forty feet long was a comparatively trivial thing for me to accomplish. It was the tearing away from a life of silent peace, the reentrance of my soul into an atmosphere of sin and deadly plotting, that was the hard thing, the difficult dreadful thing which hung weights to my feet, and made me well nigh mad. And it was this which at the sight of a policeman in the street led me to make an effort to escape. But it was not successful. Though I was fortunate enough to free myself from the grasp of my father and brother, I reached the gate on ----- street only to encounter the eyes of him whose displeasure I most feared, looking sternly upon me from the other side. The shock was too much for me in my then weak and unnerved condition. Without considering anything but the fact that he never had known and never must, that I had been in the same house with him for so long, I rushed back to the corner and into the arms of the men who awaited me. How you came to be there, Mr. Blake, or why you did not open the gate and follow, I cannot say."
"The gate was locked," returned that gentleman. "You remember it closes with a spring, and can only be opened by means of a key which I did not have."
"My father had it," she murmured; "he spent a whole week in the endeavor to get hold of it, and finally succeeded on the evening of the very day he used it. It was left in the lock I believe."
"So much for servants," I whispered to myself.
"The next morning," continued she, "they put the case very plainly before me. I was at liberty to return at once to my home if I would promise to work in their interest by making certain demands upon you as your wife. All they wanted, said they, was a snug little sum and a lift out of the country. If I would secure them these, they would trouble me no more. But I could not concede to anything of that nature, of course, and the consequence was these long weeks of imprisonment and suspense; weeks that I do not now begrudge, seeing they have brought me the assurance of your esteem and the knowledge, that wherever I go, your thoughts will follow me with compassion if not with love."
And having told her story and thus answered his demands, she assumed once more the position of lofty reserve that seemed to shut him back from advance like a wall of invincible crystal.