A Strange Disappearance by Anna Katharine Green
Chapter III. The Contents of a Bureau Drawer
Mr. Blake was standing in the centre of the room when I entered, carelessly following with his eyes the motion of Mr. Gryce's finger as that gentleman pointed with unwearying assiduity to the various little details that had struck us. His hat was still in his hand, and he presented a very formidable and imposing appearance, or so Mrs. Daniels appeared to think as she stood watching him from the corner, whither she had withdrawn herself.
"A forcible departure you see," exclaimed Mr. Gryce; "she had not even time to gather up her clothes;" and with a sudden movement he stooped and pulled out one of the bureau drawers before the eyes of his nonchalant listener.
Immediately a smothered exclamation struck our ears, and Mrs. Daniels started forward.
"I pray, gentlemen," she entreated, advancing in such a way as to place herself against the front of the bureau in a manner to preclude the opening of any more drawers, "that you will remember that a modest woman such as this girl was, would hardly like to have her clothing displayed before the eyes of strangers."
Mr. Gryce instantly closed the drawer.
"You are right," said he; "pardon the rough ways of a somewhat hardened officer of the law."
She drew up closer to the bureau, still protecting it with her meagre but energetic form while her eyes rested with almost a savage expression upon the master of the house as if he, and not the detective, had been the aggressor whose advances she feared.
Mr. Blake did not return the look.
"If that is all you can show me, I think I will proceed to my appointment," said he. "The matter does seem to be more serious than I thought, and if you judge it necessary to take any active measures, why, let no consideration of my great and inherent dislike to notoriety of any kind, interfere with what you consider your duty. As for the house, it is at your command, under Mrs. Daniels' direction. Good morning." And returning our bows with one singularly impressive for all its elegant carelessness, he at once withdrew.
Mrs. Daniels took one long deep breath and came from the bureau. Instantly Mr. Gryce stooped and pulled out the drawer she had so visibly protected. A white towel met our eyes, spread neatly out at its full length. Lifting it, we looked beneath. A carefully folded dress of dark blue silk, to all appearance elegantly made, confronted our rather eager eyes. Beside it, a collar of exquisite lace--I know enough of such matters to be a judge--pricked through by a gold breast-pin of a strange and unique pattern. A withered bunch of what appeared to have been a bouquet of red roses, surmounted the whole, giving to the otherwise commonplace collection the appearance of a relic from the tomb.
We both drew back in some amazement, involuntarily glancing up at Mrs. Daniels.
"I have no explanation to give," said that woman, with a calmness strangely in contrast to the agitation she had displayed while Mr. Blake had remained in the room. "That those things rich as they are, really belonged to the girl, I have no doubt. She brought them when she came, and they only confirm what I have before intimated: that she was no ordinary sewing girl, but a woman who had seen better days."
With a low "humph!" and another glance at the dark blue dress and delicate collar, Mr. Gryce carefully replaced the cloth he had taken from them, and softly closed the drawer without either of us having laid a finger upon a single article. Five minutes later he disappeared from the room.
I did not see him again till occasion took me below, when I beheld him softly issue from Mr. Blake's private apartment. Meeting me, he smiled, and I saw that whether he was conscious of betraying it or not, he had come upon some clue or at the least fashioned for himself some theory with which he was more or less satisfied.
"An elegant apartment, that," whispered he, nodding sideways toward the room he had just left, "pity you haven't time to examine it."
"Are you sure that I haven't?" returned I, drawing a step nearer to escape the eyes of Mrs. Daniels who had descended after me.
"Quite sure;" and we hastened down together into the yard.
But my curiosity once aroused in this way would not let me rest. Taking an opportunity when Mr. Gryce was engaged in banter with the girls below, and in this way learning more in a minute of what he wanted to know than some men would gather in an hour by that or any other method, I stole lightly back and entered this room.
I almost started in my surprise. Instead of the luxurious apartment I had prepared myself to behold, a plain, scantily-furnished room opened before me, of a nature between a library and a studio. There was not even a carpet on the polished floor, only a rug, which strange to say was not placed in the centre of the room or even before the fireplace, but on one side, and directly in front of a picture that almost at first blush had attracted my attention as being the only article in the room worth looking at. It was the portrait of a woman, handsome, haughty and alluring; a modern beauty, with eyes of fire burning beneath high piled locks of jetty blackness, that were only relieved from being too intense by the scarlet hood of an opera cloak, that was drawn over them. "A sister," I thought to myself, "it is too modern for his mother," and I took a step nearer to see if I could trace any likeness in the chiselled features of this disdainful brunette, to the more characteristic ones of the careless gentleman who had stood but a few moments before in my presence. As I did so, I was struck with the distance with which the picture stood out from the wall, and thought to myself that the awkwardness of the framing came near marring the beauty of this otherwise lovely work of art. As for the likeness I was in search of, I found it or thought I did, in the expression of the eyes which were of the same color as Mr. Blake's but more full and passionate; and satisfied that I had exhausted all the picture could tell me, I turned to make what other observations I could, when I was startled by confronting the agitated countenance of Mrs. Daniels who had entered behind me.
"This is Mr. Blake's room," said she with dignity; "no one ever intrudes here but myself, not even the servants."
"I beg pardon," said I, glancing around in vain for the something which had awakened that look of satisfaction in Mr. Gryce's eyes. "I was attracted by the beauty of this picture visible through the half open door and stepped in to favor myself with a nearer view. It is very lovely. A sister of Mr. Blake?"
"No, his cousin;" and she closed the door after us with an emphasis that proclaimed she was anything but pleased.
It was my last effort to obtain information on my own account. In a few moments later Mr. Gryce appeared from below, and a conversation ensued with Mrs. Daniels that absorbed my whole attention.
"You are very anxious, my man here tells me, that this girl should be found?" remarked Mr. Gryce; "so much so that you are willing to defray all the expenses of a search?"
She bowed. "As far as I am able sir; I have a few hundreds in the bank, you are welcome to them. I would not keep a dollar back if I had thousands, but I am poor, and can only promise you what I myself possess; though--" and her cheeks grew flushed and hot with an unnatural agitation--"I believe that thousands would not be lacking if they were found necessary. I--I could almost swear you shall have anything in reason which you require; only the girl must be found and soon."
"Have you thought," proceeded Mr. Gryce, utterly ignoring the wildness of these statements, "that the girl may come back herself if let alone?"
"She will come back if she can," quoth Mrs. Daniels.
"Did she seem so well satisfied with her home as to warrant you in saying that?"
"She liked her home, but she loved me," returned the woman steadily. "She loved me so well she would never have gone as she did without being forced. Yes," said she, "though she made no outcry and stopped to put on her bonnet and shawl. She was not a girl to make a fuss. If they had killed her outright, she would never have uttered a cry."
"Why do you say they?"
"Because I am confident I heard more than one man's voice in her room."
"Humph! Would you know those voices if you heard them again?"
There was a surprise in this last negative which Mr. Gryce evidently noticed.
"I ask," said he, "because I have been told that Mr. Blake lately kept a body servant who has been seen to look at this girl more than once, when she has passed him on the stairs."
Mrs. Daniels' face turned scarlet with rage and she hastily rose from the chair. "I don't believe it," said she; "Henry was a man who knew his place, and--I won't hear such things," she suddenly exclaimed; "Emily was--was a lady, and--"
"Well, well," interposed Mr. Gryce soothingly, "though the cat looks at the king, it is no sign the king looks at the cat. We have to think of everything you know."
"You must never think of anything like that."
Mr. Gryce softly ran his thumb around the brim of the hat he held in his hand. "Mrs. Daniels," observed he, "it would greatly facilitate matters if you would kindly tell us why you take such an interest in this girl. One glimpse at her real history would do more towards setting us on the right track than anything else you could offer."
Her face assumed an unmistakable frown. "Have I not told you," said she, "what is known of it? That she came to me about two years ago for work; that I liked her, and so hired her; that she has been with us ever since and--"
"Then you will not tell us?" exclaimed Mr. Gryce.
Her face fell and a look of hesitation crossed it.
"I doubt if we can do anything unless you do," continued he.
Her countenance settled again into a resolved expression.
"You are mistaken," said she; "if the girl had a secret--as nearly all girls have, brought low as she has evidently been--it had nothing to do with her disappearance, nor would a knowledge of it help you in any way. I am confident of this and so shall hold my peace."
She was not a woman to be frightened or cajoled into making revelations she did not think necessary, and seeing it, Mr. Gryce refrained from urging her further.
"However, you will at least tell me this," said he, "what were the knick-knacks she took away with her from her bureau drawer?"
"No," said she, "for they have nothing to do with her abduction. They were articles of positive value to her, though I assure you of little importance to any one else. All that is shown by their disappearance is the fact that she had a moment's time allowed her in which to collect what she most wanted."
Mr. Gryce arose. "Well," said he, "you have given us a hard sum to work out, but I am not the man to recoil from anything hard. If I can discover the whereabouts of this girl I will certainly do it, but you must help me."
"By inserting a personal in the Herald. You say she loves you; and would come back if she could. Now whether you believe it or not this is open to doubt; therefore I would advise that you take some such means as that to inform her of the anxiety of her friends and their desire to communicate with her."
"Impossible," she cried vehemently. "I should be afraid--"
"I might put it that Mrs. D---- ,anxious about Emily, desires information of her whereabouts--"
"Put it any way you like."
"You had better add," said I, speaking for the first time, "that you would be willing to pay for information."
Yes," said Mr Gryce, " add that."
Mrs. Daniels frowned, but made no objection, and after getting as minute a description as possible of the clothing worn by the girl the night before, we left the house.