"Talking of sudden disappearances the one you mention of Hannah in that Leavenworth case of ours, is not the only remarkable one which has come under my direct notice. Indeed, I know of another that in some respects, at least, surpasses that in points of interest, and if you will promise not to inquire into the real names of the parties concerned, as the affair is a secret, I will relate you my experience regarding it."
The speaker was Q, the rising young detective, universally acknowledged by us of the force as the most astute man for mysterious and unprecedented cases, then in the bureau, always and of course excepting Mr. Gryce; and such a statement from him could not but arouse our deepest curiosity. Drawing up, then, to the stove around which we were sitting in lazy enjoyment of one of those off-hours so dear to a detective's heart, we gave with alacrity the required promise; and settling himself back with the satisfied air of a man who has a good story to tell that does not entirely lack certain points redounding to his own credit, he began:
I was one Sunday morning loitering at the —— Precinct Station, when the door opened and a respectable-looking middle-aged woman came in, whose agitated air at once attracted my attention. Going up to her, I asked her what she wanted.
"A detective," she replied, glancing cautiously about on the faces of the various men scattered through the room. "I don't wish anything said about it, but a girl disappeared from our house last night, and"—she stopped here, her emotion seeming to choke her—"and I want some one to look her up," she went on at last with the most intense emphasis.
"A girl? what kind of a girl; and what house do you mean when you say our house?"
She looked at me keenly before replying. "You are a young man," said she; "isn't there some one here more responsible than yourself that I can talk to?"
I shrugged my shoulders and beckoned to Mr. Gryce who was just then passing. She at once seemed to put confidence in him. Drawing him aside, she whispered a few low eager words which I could not hear. He listened nonchalantly for a moment but suddenly made a move which I knew indicated strong and surprised interest, though from his face—but you know what Gryce's face is. I was about to walk off, convinced he had got hold of something he would prefer to manage himself, when the Superintendent came in.
"Where is Gryce?" asked he; "tell him I want him."
Mr. Gryce heard him and hastened forward. As he passed me, he whispered, "Take a man and go with this woman; look into matters and send me word if you want me; I will be here for two hours."
I did not need a second permission. Beckoning to Harris, I reapproached the woman. "Where do you come from," said I, "I am to go back with you and investigate the affair it seems."
"Did he say so?" she asked, pointing to Mr. Gryce who now stood with his back to us busily talking with the Superintendent.
I nodded, and she at once moved towards the door. "I come from No. —— Second Avenue: Mr. Blake's house," she whispered, uttering a name so well known, I at once understood Mr. Gryce's movement of sudden interest "A girl—one who sewed for us—disappeared last night in a way to alarm us very much. She was taken from her room—" "Yes," she cried vehemently, seeing my look of sarcastic incredulity, "taken from her room; she never went of her own accord; and she must be found if I spend every dollar of the pittance I have laid up in the bank against my old age."
Her manner was so intense, her tone so marked and her words so vehement, I at once and naturally asked if the girl was a relative of hers that she felt her abduction so keenly.
"No," she replied, "not a relative, but," she went on, looking every way but in my face, "a very dear friend—a—a—protegee, I think they call it, of mine; I—I—She must be found," she again reiterated.
We were by this time in the street.
"Nothing must be said about it," she now whispered, catching me by the arm. "I told him so," nodding back to the building from which we had just issued, "and he promised secrecy. It can be done without folks knowing anything about it, can't it?"
"What?" I asked.
"Finding the girl."
"Well," said I, "we can tell you better about that when we know a few more of the facts. What is the girl's name and what makes you think she didn't go out of the house-door of her own accord?"
"Why, why, everything. She wasn't the person to do it; then the looks of her room, and—They all got out of the window," she cried suddenly, "and went away by the side gate into ——— Street."
"They? Who do you mean by they?"
"Why, whoever they were who carried her off."
I could not suppress the "bah!" that rose to my lips. Mr. Gryce might have been able to, but I am not Gryce.
"You don't believe," said she, "that she was carried off?"
"Well, no," said I, "not in the sense you mean."
She gave another nod back to the police station now a block or so distant. "He did'nt seem to doubt it at all."
I laughed. "Did you tell him you thought she had been taken off in this way?"
"Yes, and he said, 'Very likely.' And well he might, for I heard the men talking in her room, and—"
"You heard men talking in her room—when?"
"O, it must have been as late as half-past twelve. I had been asleep and the noise they made whispering, woke me."
"Wait," I said, "tell me where her room is, hers and yours."
"Hers is the third story back, mine the front one on the same floor."
"Who are you?" I now inquired. "What position do you occupy in Mr. Blake's house?"
"I am the housekeeper."
Mr. Blake was a bachelor.
"And you were wakened last night by hearing whispering which seemed to come from this girl's room."
"Yes, I at first thought it was the folks next door,—we often hear them when they are unusually noisy,—but soon I became assured it came from her room; and more astonished than I could say,—She is a good girl," she broke in, suddenly looking at me with hotly indignant eyes, "a—a—as good a girl as this whole city can show; don't you dare, any of you, to hint at anything else o—"
"Come, come," I said soothingly, a little ashamed of my too communicative face, "I haven't said anything, we will take it for granted she is as good as gold, go on."
The woman wiped her forehead with a hand that trembled like a leaf. "Where was I?" said she. "O, I heard voices and was surprised and got up and went to her door. The noise I made unlocking my own must have startled her, for all was perfectly quiet when I got there. I waited a moment, then I turned the knob and called her: she did not reply and I called again. Then she came to the door, but did not unlock it. 'What is it?' she asked. 'O,' said I, 'I thought I heard talking here and I was frightened,' 'It must have been next door,' said she. I begged pardon and went back to my room. There was no more noise, but when in the morning we broke into her room and found her gone, the window open and signs of distress and struggle around, I knew I had not been mistaken; that there were men with her when I went to her door, and that they had carried her off—"
This time I could not restrain myself.
"Did they drop her out of the window?" I inquired.
"O," said she, "we are building an extension, and there is a ladder running up to the third floor, and it was by means of that they took her."
"Indeed! she seems at least to have been a willing victim," I remarked.
The woman clutched my arm with a grip like iron. "Don't you believe it," gasped she, stopping me in the street where we were. "I tell you if what I say is true, and these burglars or whatever they were, did carry her off, it was an agony to her, an awful, awful thing that will kill her if it has not done so already. You don't know what you are talking about, you never saw her—"
"Was she pretty," I asked, hurrying the woman along, for more than one passer-by had turned their heads to look at us. The question seemed in some way to give her a shock.
"Ah, I don't know," she muttered; "some might not think so, I always did; it depended upon the way you looked at her."
For the first time I felt a thrill of anticipation shoot through my veins. Why, I could not say. Her tone was peculiar, and she spoke in a sort of brooding way as though she were weighing something in her own mind; but then her manner had been peculiar throughout. Whatever it was that aroused my suspicion, I determined henceforth to keep a very sharp eye upon her ladyship. Levelling a straight glance at her face, I asked her how it was that she came to be the one to inform the authorities of the girl's disappearance.
"Doesn't Mr. Blake know anything about it?"
The faintest shadow of a change came into her manner. "Yes," said she, "I told him at breakfast time; but Mr. Blake doesn't take much interest in his servants; he leaves all such matters to me."
"Then he does not know you have come for the police?"
"No, sir, and O, if you would be so good as to keep it from him. It is not necessary he should know. I shall let you in the back way. Mr. Blake is a man who never meddles with anything, and—"
"What did Mr. Blake say this morning when you told him that this girl—By the way, what is her name?"
"That this girl, Emily, had disappeared during the night?"
"Not much of anything, sir. He was sitting at the breakfast table reading his paper, he merely looked up, frowned a little in an absent-minded way, and told me I must manage the servants' affairs without troubling him."
"And you let it drop?"
"Yes sir; Mr. Blake is not a man to speak twice to."
I could easily believe that from what I had seen of him in public, for though by no means a harsh looking man, he had a reserved air which if maintained in private must have made him very difficult of approach.
We were now within a half block or so of the old-fashioned mansion regarded by this scion of New York's aristocracy as one of the most desirable residences in the city; so motioning to the man who had accompanied me to take his stand in a doorway near by and watch for the signal I would give him in case I wanted Mr. Gryce, I turned to the woman, who was now all in a flutter, and asked her how she proposed to get me into the house without the knowledge of Mr. Blake.
"O sir, all you have got to do is to follow me right up the back stairs; he won't notice, or if he does will not ask any questions."
And having by this time reached the basement door, she took out a key from her pocket and inserting it in the lock, at once admitted us into the dwelling.