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The hour of noon had just struck, and the few visitors still lingering among the curiosities of the great museum were suddenly startled by the sight of one of the attendants running down the broad, central staircase, loudly shouting: "Close the doors! Let no one out! An accident has occurred, and nobody's to leave the building." There was but one person near either of the doors, and as he chanced to be a man closely connected with the museum,—being, in fact, one of its most active directors,—he immediately turned about and in obedience to a gesture made by the attendant, ran up the marble steps, followed by some dozen others. At the top they all turned, as by common consent, toward the left-hand gallery, where in the section marked II, a tableau greeted them which few of them will ever forget.
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IN ROOM B
Five minutes later the Curator was at the 'phone calling up Police Headquarters. A death had occurred at the museum. Would they send over a capable detective?
"What kind of death?" was the harsh reply. "We don't send detectives in cases of heart-failure or simple accident. Is it an accident?"
"No—no—hardly. It looks more like an insane woman's attack upon a harmless stranger. It's the oddest sort of an affair, and we feel very helpless. No common officer will do. We have one of that kind in the building. What we want is a man of brains; he will need them."
A muffled sound at the other end—then a different voice asking some half-dozen comprehensive questions—which, having been answered to the best of the Curator's ability, were followed by the welcome assurance that a man on whose experience he could rely would be at the museum doors within five minutes.
With an air of relief Mr. Jewett stepped again into the court, and repelling with hasty gestures the importunities of the small group of men and women who had lacked the courage to follow the more adventurous ones upstairs, crossed to where the door-man stood on guard over the main entrance.
"Locked?" he asked.
"Yes, sir. Such were the orders. Didn't you give them?"
"No, but I should have done so, had I known. No one's to go out, and no one's to come in but the detective whom I am expecting any moment."
They had not long to wait. Before their suspense had reached fever-point, a tap was heard on the great door. It was opened, and a young man stepped in.
"Coast clear?" he sang out with a humorous twist of his jaw as he noted the Curator's evident chagrin at his meager and unsatisfactory appearance. "Oh, I'm not your man," he added as his eye ran over the whole place with a look which seemed to take in every detail in an instant. "Mr. Gryce is in the automobile. Wait till I help him up."
He was gone before the Curator could utter a word, only to reappear in a few minutes with a man in his wake whom the former at first blush thought to be as much past the age where experience makes for efficiency as the other seemed to be short of it.
But this impression, if impression it were, was of short duration. No sooner had this physically weak but extremely wise old man entered upon the scene than his mental power became evident to every person there. Timorous hearts regained their composure, and the Curator—who in his ten years of service had never felt the burden of his position so acutely as in the last ten minutes—showed his relief by a volubility quite unnatural to him under ordinary conditions. As he conducted the detectives across the court, he talked not of the victim, as might reasonably be expected, but of the woman who had been found leaning over her with her hand on the arrow.
"We think her some escaped lunatic," he remarked. "Only a demented woman would act as she does. First she denied all knowledge of the girl. Then when she was made to see that the arrow sticking in the girl's breast had been taken from a quiver hanging within arm's reach on the wall and used as lances are used, she fell a-moaning and crying, and began to whisper in the poor child's senseless ear."
"A common woman? One of a low-down type?"
"Not at all. A lady, and an impressive one, at that. You seldom see her equal. That's what has upset us so. The crime and the criminal do not seem to fit."
The detective blinked. Then suddenly he seemed to grow an inch taller.
"Where is she now?" he asked.
"In Room B, away from the crowd. She is not alone. A young lady detained with the rest of the people here is keeping her company, to say nothing of an officer we have put on guard."
"And the victim?"
"Lies where she fell, in Section II on the upper floor. There was no call to move her. She was dead when we came upon the scene. She does not look to be more than sixteen years old."
"Let's go up. But wait—can we see that section from here?"
They were standing at the foot of the great staircase connecting the two floors. Above them, stretching away on either side, ran the two famous, highly ornamented galleries, with their row of long, low arches indicating the five compartments into which they were severally divided. Pointing to the second one on the southern side, the Curator replied:
"That's it—the one where you see the Apache relics hanging high on the rear wall. We shall have to shift those to some other place just as soon as we can recover from this horror. I don't want the finest spot in the whole museum made a Mecca for the morbid and the curious."
The remark fell upon unheeding ears. Detective Gryce was looking, not in the direction named, but in the one directly opposite to it.
"I see," he quietly observed, "that there is a clear view across. Was there no one in the right-hand gallery to see what went on in the left?"
"Not that I have heard of. It's the dullest hour of the day, and not only this gallery but many of the rooms were entirely empty."
"I see. And now, what about the persons who were here? How many of them have you let go?"
"Not one; the doors have been opened twice only—once to admit the officer you will find on guard, and the other to let in yourself."
"Good! And how many have you here, all told?"
"I have not had time to count them, but I should say less than thirty. This includes myself, as well as two attendants."
With a thoughtful air Mr. Gryce turned in the direction of the few persons he could see huddled together around one of the central statues.
"Where are the others?" he asked.
"Upstairs—in and about the place where the poor child lies."
"They must be got out of there. Sweetwater!"
The young man who had entered with him was at his side in an instant.
"Clear the galleries. Then take down the name and address of every person in the building."
Before the last word had left his lips, the busy fellow was halfway up the marble steps. "Lightning," some of his pals called him, perhaps because he was as noiseless as he was quick. Meanwhile the senior detective had drawn the Curator to one side.
"We'll take a look at these people as they come down. I have been said to be able to spot a witness with my eyes shut. Let's see what I can do with my eyes open."
"Young and old, rich and poor," murmured the Curator as some dozen persons appeared at the top of the staircase.
"Yes," sighed the detective, noting each one carefully as he or she filed down, "we sha'n't make much out of this experiment. Not one of them avoids our looks. Emotion enough, but not of the right sort. Well, we'll leave them to Sweetwater. Our business is above."
The Curator offered his arm. The old man made a move to take it—then drew himself up with an air of quiet confidence.
"Many thanks," said he, "but I can go alone. Rheumatism is my trouble, but these mild days loosen its grip upon my poor old muscles." He did not say that the prospect of an interesting inquiry had much the same effect, but the Curator suspected it, possibly because he was feeling just a little bit spry himself.
Steeled as such experienced officers necessarily are to death in all its phases, it was with no common emotion that the aged detective entered the presence of the dead girl and took his first look at this latest victim of mental or moral aberration. So young! so innocent! so fair! A schoolgirl, or little more, of a class certainly above the average, whether judged from the contour of her features or the niceties of her dress. With no evidences of great wealth about her, there was yet something in the cut of her garments and the careful attention to each detail which bespoke not only natural but cultivated taste. On her breast just above the spot where the cruel dart had entered, a fresh and blooming nosegay still exhaled its perfume—a tragic detail accentuating the pathos of a death so sudden that the joy with which she had pinned on this simple adornment seemed to linger about her yet.
The detective, with no words for this touching spectacle, stretched out his hand and with a reverent and fatherly touch pressed down the lids over the unseeing eyes. This office done to the innocent dead, he asked if anything had been found to establish the young girl's identity.
"Surely," he observed, "she was not without a purse or handbag. All young ladies carry them."
For answer the officer on guard thrust his hand into one of his capacious pockets, and drawing out a neat little bag of knitted beads, passed it over to the detective with the laconic remark:
And so it proved. It held only a pocket handkerchief—embroidered but without a monogram—and a memorandum-book without an entry.
"A blind alley, if ever there was one," muttered Mr. Gryce; and ordering the policeman to replace the bag as nearly as possible on the spot from which it had been taken, he proceeded with the Curator to Room B.
Prepared to encounter a woman of disordered mind, the appearance presented by Mrs. Taylor at his entrance greatly astonished Mr. Gryce. There was a calmness in her attitude which one would scarcely expect to see in a woman whom mania had just driven into crime. Surely lunacy does not show such self-restraint; nor does lunacy awaken any such feelings of awe as followed a prolonged scrutiny of her set but determined features. Only grief of the most intense and sacred character could account for the aspect she presented, and as the man to whom the tragedies of life were of daily occurrence took in this mystery with all its incongruities, he realized, not without a sense of professional pleasure, no doubt, that he had before him an affair calling for the old-time judgment which, for forty or more years, had made his record famous in the police annals of the metropolis.
She was seated with no one near her but a young lady whom sympathetic interest had drawn to her side. Mr. Roberts stood in one of the windows, and not far from him a man in the museum uniform.
At the authoritative advance of the old detective, the woman, whose eye he had caught, attempted to struggle to her feet, but desisted after a moment of hopeless effort, and sank back in her chair. There was no pretense in this. Though gifted with a strong frame, emotion had so weakened her that she was simply unable to stand. Quite convinced of this, and affected in spite of himself by her look of lofty patience, Mr. Gryce prefaced his questions with an apology—quite an unusual proceeding for him.
Whether or no she heard it, he could not tell; but she was quite ready to answer when he asked her name and then her place of residence—saying in response to the latter query:
"I live at the Calderon, a family hotel in Sixty-seventh Street. My name"—here she paused for a second to moisten her lips—"is Taylor—Ermentrude Taylor.... Nothing else," she speedily added in a tone which drew every eye her way. Then more evenly: "You will find the name on the hotel's books."
"Wife or widow?"
What a voice! how it reached every heart, waking strange sympathies there! As the word fell, not a person in the room but stirred uneasily. Even she herself started at its sound; and moved, perhaps, by the depth of silence which followed, she added in suppressed tones:
"A widow within the hour. That's why you see me still in colors, but crushed as you behold—killed! killed!"
That settled it. There was no mistaking her condition after an expression of this kind. The Curator and Mr. Gryce exchanged glances, and Mr. Roberts, stepping from his corner, betrayed the effect which her words had produced on him, by whispering in the detective's ear:
"What you need is an alienist."
Had she heard? It would seem so from the quick way she roused and exclaimed with indignant emphasis:
"You do not understand me! I see that I must drink my bitter cup to the dregs. This is what I mean: My husband was living this morning—living up to the hour when the clock in this building struck twelve. I knew it from the joyous hopes with which my breast was filled. But with the stroke of noon the blow fell. I was bending above the poor child who had fallen so suddenly at my feet, when the vision came, and I saw him gazing at me from a distance so remote—across a desert so immeasurable—that nothing but death could create such a removal or make of him the ghastly silhouette I saw. He is dead. At that moment I felt his soul pass; and so I say that I am a widow."
Ravings? No, the calm certainty of her tone, the grief, touching depths so profound it had no need of words, showed the confidence she felt in the warning she believed herself to have received. Though probably not a single person present put any faith in occultism in any of its forms, there was a general movement of sympathy which led Mr. Gryce to pass the matter by without any attempt at controversy, and return to the question in hand. With a decided modification of manner, he therefore asked her to relate how she came to be kneeling over the injured girl with her hand upon the arrow.
"Let me have a moment in which to recover myself," she prayed, covering her eyes with her hand. Then, while all waited, she gave a low cry, "I suffer; I suffer!" and leaped to her feet, only to sink back again inert and powerless. But only for an instant: with that one burst of extreme feeling she recovered her self-control, answering with apparent calmness the detective's question:
"I was passing through the gallery as any other visitor might, when a young lady rushed by me—stopped short—threw up her arms and fell backward to the floor, pierced to the heart by an arrow. In a moment I was on my knees at her side with hand outstretched to withdraw this dreadful arrow. But I was afraid—I had heard that this sometimes causes death, and while I was hesitating, that vision came, engulfing everything. I could think of nothing else."
She was near collapsing again; but being a woman of great nerve, she fought her weakness and waited patiently for the next question. It was different, without doubt, from any she had expected.
"Then you positively deny any active connection with the strange death of this young girl?"
A pause, as if to take in what he meant. Then slowly, impressively, came the answer:
"Did you see the person who shot the arrow?"
"From what direction would it have had to come to strike her as it did?"
"From the opposite balcony."
"Did you see anyone there?"
"But you heard the arrow?"
"An arrow shot from a bow makes a whizzing sound as it flies. Didn't you hear that?"
"I don't know." She looked troubled and uncertain. "I don't remember. I was expecting no such thing—I was not prepared. The sight of an arrow—a killing arrow—in that innocent breast overcame me with inexpressible grief and horror. If the vision of my husband had not followed, I might remember more. As it is, I have told all I can. Won't you excuse me? I should like to go. I am not fit to remain. I want to return home—to hear from my husband—to learn by letter or telegram whether he is indeed dead."
Mr. Gryce had let her finish. An inquiry so unofficial might easily await the moods of such a witness. Not till the last word had been followed by what some there afterward called a hungry silence, did he make use of his prerogative to say:
"I shall be pleased to release you and will do so just as soon as I can. But I must put one or two more questions. Were you interested in the Indian relics you had come among? Did you handle any of them in passing?"
"No. I had no interest. I like glass, bronzes, china—I hate weapons. I shall hate them eternally after this." And she began to shudder.
The detective, with a quick bend of his head, approached her ear with the whispered remark:
"I am told that when your attention was drawn to these weapons, you fell on your knees and murmured something into the dead girl's ears. How do you explain that?"
"I was giving her messages to my husband. I felt—strange as it may seem to you—that they had fled the earth together—and I wanted him to know that I would be constant, and other foolish things you will not wish me to repeat here. Is that all you wish to know?"
Mr. Gryce bowed, and cast a quizzical glance in the direction of the Curator. Certainly for oddity this case transcended any he had had in years. With this woman eliminated from the situation, what explanation was there of the curious death he was there to investigate? As he was meditating how he could best convey to her the necessity of detaining her further, he heard a muttered exclamation from the young woman standing near her, and following the direction of her pointing finger, saw that the strange silence which had fallen upon the room had a cause. Mrs. Taylor had fainted away in her chair.
"I HAVE SOMETHING TO SHOW YOU"
Mr. Gryce took advantage of the momentary disturbance to slip from the room. He was followed by the Curator, who seemed more than ever anxious to talk.
"You see! Mad as a March hare!" was his hurried exclamation as the door closed behind them. "I declare I do not know which I pity more, her victim or herself. The one is freed from all her troubles; the other—Do you think we ought to have a doctor to look after her? Shall I telephone?"
"Not yet. We have much to learn before taking any decided steps." Then as he caught the look of amazement with which this unexpected suggestion of difficulties was met, he paused on his way to the stair-head to ask in a tentative way peculiarly his own: "Then you still think the girl died from a thrust given by this woman?"
"Of course. What else is there to think? You saw where the arrow came from. You saw that the only bow the place contained was hanging high and unstrung upon the wall, and you are witness to this woman's irresponsible condition of mind. The sight of those arrows well within her reach evidently aroused the homicidal mania often latent in one of her highly emotional nature; and when this fresh young girl came by, the natural result followed. I only hope I shall not be called upon to face the poor child's parents. What can I say to them? What can anybody say? Yet I do not see how we can be held responsible for so unprecedented an attack as this, do you?"
Mr. Gryce made no answer. He had turned his back toward the stair-head and was wondering if this easy explanation of a tragedy so peculiar as to have no prototype in all of the hundreds of cases he had been called upon to investigate in a long life of detective activity would satisfy all the other persons then in the building. It was his present business to find out—to search and probe among the dozen or two people he saw collected below, for the witness who had seen or had heard some slight thing as yet unrevealed which would throw a different light upon this matter. For his mind—or shall we say the almost unerring instinct of this ancient delver into human hearts?—would not accept without question this theory of sudden madness in one of Mrs. Taylor's appearance, strange and inexplicable as her conduct seemed. Though it was quite among the possibilities that she had struck the fatal blow and in the manner mentioned, it was equally clear to his mind that she had not done it in an access of frenzy. He knew a mad eye and he knew a despairing one. Fantastic as her story certainly was, he found himself more ready to believe it than to accept any explanation of this crime which ascribed its peculiar features to the irresponsibilities of lunacy.
However, he kept his impressions to himself and in his anxiety to pursue his inquiries among the people below, was on the point of descending thither, when he found his attention arrested, and that of the Curator's as well, by the sight of a young man hastening toward them through the northern gallery. (The tragedy, as you will remember, had occurred in the southern one.) He was dressed in the uniform of the museum, and moved so quickly and in such an evident flurry of spirits that the detective instinctively asked:
"Who's that? One of your own men?"
"Yes, that's Correy, our best-informed and most-trusted attendant. Looks as if he had something to tell us. Well, Correy, what is it?" he queried as the man emerged upon the landing where they stood. "Anything new? If there is, speak out plainly. Mr. Gryce is anxious for all the evidence he can get."
With an ingenuousness rather pleasing than otherwise to the man thus presented to his notice, the young fellow stopped short and subjected the famous detective to a keen and close scrutiny before venturing to give the required information.
Was it because of the importance of what he had to communicate? It would seem so, from the suppressed excitement of his tone, as after his brief but exceedingly satisfactory survey, he jerked his finger over his shoulder in the direction from which he had come, with the short remark:
"I have something to show you."
Something! Mr. Gryce had been asking for this something only a moment before. We can imagine, then, the celerity with which he followed this new guide into the one spot of all others which possessed for him the greatest interest. For if by any chance the arrow which had done such deadly work had been sped from a bow instead of having been used as a dart, then it was from this gallery and from no other quarter of the building that it had been so sped. Any proof of this could have but the one effect of exonerating from all blame the woman who had so impressed him. He had traversed the first section and had entered the second, when the Curator joined him; together they passed into the third.
For those who have not visited this museum, a more detailed description of these galleries may be welcome. Acting as a means of communication between the row of front rooms and those at the back, they also serve to exhibit certain choice articles which call for little space, and are of a nature more or less ornamental. For this purpose they are each divided into five sections connected by arches narrower but not less decorative than those which open in a direct row upon the court. Of these sections the middle one on either side is much larger than the rest; otherwise they do not differ.
It was in the midst of this larger section that Correy now stood, awaiting their approach. There had been show-cases filled with rare exhibits in the two through which they had just passed, but in this one there was nothing to be seen but a gorgeous hanging, covering very nearly the whole wall, flanked at either end by a pedestal upholding a vase of inestimable value and corresponding ugliness. A highly decorative arrangement, it is true, but in what lay its interest for the criminal investigator?
Correy was soon to show them. With a significant gesture toward the tapestry, he eagerly exclaimed:
"You see that? I've run by it several times since the accident sent me flying all over the building at everybody's call. But only just now, when I had a moment to myself, did I remember the door hid behind it. It's a door we no longer use, and I'd no reason for thinking it had anything to do with the killing of the young lady in the opposite gallery. But for all that I felt it would do no harm to give it a look, and running from the front, where I happened to be, I pulled out the tapestry and saw—but supposing I wait and let you see for yourselves. That will be better."
Leaving them where they stood face to face with the great hanging, he made a dive for the pedestal towering aloft at the farther end, and edging himself in behind it, drew out the tapestry from the wall, calling on them as he did so to come and look behind it. The Curator did not hesitate. He was there almost as soon as the young man himself.
But the detective was not so hasty. With a thousand things in mind, he stopped to peer along the gallery and down into the court before giving himself away to any prying eye. Satisfied that he might make the desired move with impunity, Mr. Gryce was about to turn in the desired direction when, struck by a new fact, he again stopped short.
He had noticed how the heavy tapestry shivered under Correy's clutch. Had this been observed by anyone besides himself? If by chance some person wandering about the court had been looking up—but no, the few people gathered there stood too far forward to see what was going on in this part of the gallery; and relieved from all further anxiety on this score, he joined Correy at the pedestal and at a word from him succeeded in squeezing himself around it into the small space they had left for him between the pushed-out hanging and the wall. An exclamation from the Curator, who had only waited for his coming to take his first look, added zest to his own scrutiny. It would take something more than the sight of a well-known door to give it such a tone of astonished discovery. What? Even he, with the accumulated surprises of years to give wings to his imagination, did not succeed in guessing. But when his eyes, once accustomed to the semi-darkness of the narrow space which Correy had thus opened out before him, saw not the door but what lay within its recess, he acknowledged to himself that he should have guessed—and that a dozen years before, he certainly would have done so.
It was a bow—not like the one hanging high in the Apache exhibit, but yet a bow strong of make and strung for use.
Here was a discovery as important as it was unexpected, eliminating Mrs. Taylor at once from the case and raising it into a mystery of the first order. By dint of long custom, Mr. Gryce succeeded in hiding his extreme satisfaction, but not the perplexity into which he was thrown by this complete change of base. The Curator appeared to be impressed in much the same way, and shook his head in a doubtful fashion when Correy asked him if he recognized the bow as belonging to the museum.
"I should have to see it nearer to answer that question with any sort of confidence," he demurred. "From such glimpses as I can get of it from here I should say that it has not been taken from any of our exhibits."
"I am sure it has not," muttered Correy. Then with a side glance at Mr. Gryce, he added: "Shall I slip in behind and get it?"
The detective, thus appealed to, hesitated a moment; then with an irrelevance perhaps natural to the occasion, he inquired where this door so conveniently hidden from the general view led to. It was the Curator who answered.
"To a twisting, breakneck staircase opening directly into my office. But this door has not been used in years. See! Here is the key to it on my own ring. There is no other. I lost the mate to it myself not long after my installation here."
The detective, working his way back around the pedestal, cast another glance up and down the gallery and over into the court. Still no spying eye, save that of the officer opposite.
"We will leave that bow where it is for the present," he decided, "a secret between us three." And motioning for Correy to let the tapestry fall, he stood watching it settle into place, till it hung quite straight again, with its one edge close to the wall and the other sweeping the floor. Had its weight been great enough to push the bow back again into its former place close against the door? Yes. No eye, however trained, would, from any bulge in the heavy tapestry, detect its presence there. He could leave the spot without fear; their secret would remain theirs until such time as they chose to disclose it.
As the three walked back the way they had come, the Curator glanced earnestly at the detective, who seemed to have fallen into a kind of anxious dream. Would it do to interrupt him with questions? Would he obtain a straight answer if he did? The old man moved heavily but the now fully alert Curator could not fail to see that it was with the heaviness of absorbed thought. Dare he disturb that thought? They had both reached the broad corridor separating the two galleries at the western end before he ventured to remark:
"This discovery alters matters, does it not? May I ask what you propose to do now? Anything in which we can help you?"
The detective may have heard him and he may not; at all events he made no reply though he continued to advance with a mechanical step until he stood again at the top of the marble steps leading down into the court. Here some of the uncertainty pervading his mind seemed to leave him, though he still looked very old and very troubled, or so the Curator thought, as pausing there, he allowed his glance to wander from the marble recesses below to the galleries on either side of him, and from these on to the seemingly empty spaces back of the high, carved railing guarding the great well. Would a younger man have served them better? It began to look so; then without warning and in a flash, as it were, the whole appearance of the octogenarian detective changed, and turning with a smile to the two men so anxiously watching him, he exclaimed with an air of quiet triumph:
"I have it. Follow and see how my plan works."
Amazed, for he looked and moved like another man,—a man in whom the almost extinguished spark of early genius had suddenly flared again into full blaze,—they hastily joined him in anticipation of they knew not what. But their enthusiasm received a check when at the moment of descent Mr. Gryce again turned back with the remark:
"I had forgotten. I have something to do first. If you will kindly see that the people down there are kept from growing too impatient, I will soon join you with Mrs. Taylor, who must not be left on this floor after we have gone below."
And with no further explanation of his purpose, he turned and proceeded without delay to Room B.
A STRATEGIC MOVE
He found the unhappy woman quite recovered from her fainting spell, but still greatly depressed and not a little incoherent. He set himself to work to soothe her, for he had a request to make which called for an intelligent answer. Relieved from all suspicion of her having been an active agent in the deplorable deed he was here to investigate, he was lavish in his promises of speedy release, and seeing how much this steadied her, he turned to Mr. Roberts, who was still in the room, and then to the young lady who had been giving her a woman's care, and signified that their attentions were no longer required and that he would be glad to have them join the people below.
When the door had closed and Mr. Gryce found himself for the first time alone with Mrs. Taylor, he drew up a chair to her side and remarked in his old benevolent way:
"I feel guilty of cruelty, madam, in repeating a question you have already answered. But the conditions are such that I must, and do it now. When this young lady fell so unexpectedly at your feet, was your first look at her or at the opposite gallery?"
For an instant her eyes held his—something which did not often happen to him.
"At her," she vehemently declared. "I never thought of looking anywhere else. I saw her at my feet, and fell on my knees at her side. Who wouldn't have done so! Who would have seen anything but that arrow—that arrow! Oh, it was terrible! Do not make me recall it. I have sorrows enough——"
"Mrs. Taylor, you have my utmost sympathy. But you must realize how important it is for me to make sure that you saw nothing in the place from which that arrow was sent which would help us to locate the author of this accident. The flitting of an escaping figure up or down the opposite gallery, even a stir in the great tapestry confronting you from that far-away wall, might give us a clue."
"I saw nothing," she replied coldly but with extreme firmness, "nothing but that lifeless child and the picture of desolation which rose in my own mind. Do not, I pray, make me speak again of that. It would sound like delirium, and it is my wish to impress you with my sanity, so that you will allow me to go home."
"You shall go, after the Coroner has had an opportunity to see you. We expect him any moment. Meanwhile, you will facilitate your release and greatly help us in what we have to do, if you will carry your fortitude to the point of showing me in your own person just where you were standing when this young girl dashed by you to her death."
"Do you mean for me to go back to that—that——"
"Yes, Mrs. Taylor. Surely you can do so if you will. When you have time to think, you will be as anxious as ourselves to know through whose carelessness (to call it nothing worse) this child came to her death. Though it may prove to be quite immaterial whether you stood in one place or another at that fatal moment, it is a question which will be sure to come up at the inquest. That you may be able to answer correctly I urge you to return with me to the exact spot, before your recollection of the same has had time to fade. After that we will go below and I will see that you are taken to some quiet place where you can remain undisturbed till the Coroner comes."
Had she been a weak woman she would have succumbed again at this. But she was a strong one, and after the first moment of recoil she rose tremulously to her feet and signified her willingness to follow him to the scene of death.
"Is—is she there alone?" was her sole question as they crossed the corridor separating the room they had been in from the galleries.
"No—you will find an officer there. We could not leave the place quite unguarded."
If she shuddered he did not observe it. Having summoned up all her forces to meet this ordeal, she followed him without further word, and re-entering the spot she had so lately left in great agony of mind, stopped for one look and for one look only at the sweet face of the dead girl smiling up at her from the cold floor, then she showed Mr. Gryce as nearly as she could just where she had paused in shock and horror when the poor child smitten by the fatal arrow fell back almost into her arms.
The detective, with a glance at the opposite gallery, turned and spoke to the officer who had stepped aside into the neighboring section.
"Take the place just occupied by this lady," he said, "and hold it till you hear from me again." Then offering his arm to Mrs. Taylor, he led her out.
"I see that you were approaching the railing overlooking the court when you were stopped in this fearful manner," he remarked when well down the gallery toward its lower exit. "What did you have in mind? A nearer glimpse of the tapestry over there and the two great vases?"
"No, no." She was wrought up by now to a tension almost unendurable. "It was the court—what I might see in the court. Oh!" she impulsively cried: "the child! the child! that innocent, beautiful child!" And breaking away from his arm, she threw herself against the wall in a burst of uncontrollable weeping.
He allowed her a moment of unrestrained grief, then he took her on his arm again and led her down into the court where he gave her into the charge of Correy. He had gone as far as he dared in her present hysterical condition. Besides, he could no longer defer the great experiment by means of which he hoped to reach the heart of this mystery.
Taking the slip of paper handed him by Sweetwater, he crossed the court to where the various visitors, detained, some against their will and some quite in accordance with it, stood about in groups or sat side by side on the long benches placed along the front for their comfort. As he confronted them, his face beamed with that benevolent smile which had done so much for him in days gone by. Raising his hand he called attention to himself; then, when he was quite sure of being heard by them all, he addressed them with a quiet emphasis which could not fail to gain and hold their attention:
"I am Detective Gryce, sent here from Police Headquarters to look into this very serious matter. Till the Coroner arrives, I am in authority here, and being so, will have to ask your indulgence for any discomfort you may experience in helping me with my investigation. A young girl, full of life an hour ago, lies dead in the gallery above. We do not know her name; we do not know who killed her. But there is some one here who does. The man or woman who, wittingly or unwittingly, launched that fatal shaft, is present with us in this building. This person has not spoken. If he will do so now, he will save us and himself, too, no end of trouble. Let him speak, then. I will give him five minutes in which to make this acknowledgment. Five minutes! If that man is wise—or can it be a woman?—he will not keep us waiting."
Silence. Heads moving, eyes peering, excitement visible in every face, but not a word from anybody. Mr. Gryce turned and pointed up at the clock. All looked—but still no word from man or woman.
One minute gone!
The silence had become portentous. The movement, involuntary and simultaneous, which had run through the crowd at first had stopped. They were waiting—each and all—waiting with eyes on the minute-hand creeping forward over the dial toward which the detective's glance was still turned.
The fourth minute passed—then the fifth—and no one had spoken.
With a sigh Mr. Gryce wheeled himself back and faced the crowd again.
"You see," he quietly announced, "the case is serious. Twenty-two of you, and not one to speak the half-dozen words which would release the rest from their present embarrassing position! What remains for us to do under circumstances like these? My experience suggests but one course: to narrow down this inquiry to those—you will not find them many—who from their nearness to the place of tragedy or from some other cause equally pertinent may be looked upon as possible witnesses for the Coroner's jury. That this may be done speedily and surely, I am going to ask you, every one of you, to retake the exact place in the building which you were occupying when you heard the first alarm. I will begin with the Curator himself. Mr. Jewett, will you be so good as to return to the room, and if possible to the precise spot, you were occupying when you first learned what had occurred here?"
The Curator, who stood at his elbow, made a quick bow and turned in the direction of the marble steps, which he hastily remounted. A murmur from the crowd followed this action and continued till he disappeared in the recesses of the right-hand gallery. Then, at a gesture from Mr. Gryce, it suddenly ceased, and with a breathless interest easy to comprehend, they one and all waited for his next word. It was a simple one.
"We are all obliged to Mr. Jewett for his speedy compliance with so unusual a request. He has made my task a comparatively easy one."
Then, glancing at the list of names and addresses which had been compiled for him by Sweetwater, he added:
"I will read off your names as recorded here. If each person, on hearing his own, will move quickly to his place and remain there till my young man can make a note of the same, we shall get through this matter in short order. And let me add"—as he perceived here and there a shoulder shrugged, or an eye turned askance—"that once the name is called, no excuse of non-recollection will be accepted. You must know, every one of you, just where you were standing when the cry of death rang out, and any attempt to mislead me or others in this matter will only subject the person making it to a suspicion he must wish to avoid. Remember that there are enough persons here for no one to be sure that his whereabouts at so exciting a moment escaped notice. Listen, then, and when your own name is spoken, step quickly into place, whether that place be on this floor or in the rooms or galleries above.—Mrs. Alice Lee!"
1—Ephraim Short.2—Mrs. Lynch.3—Director Roberts.4—Door-man.5—Copyist.6—Mrs. Alice Lee.7-8—Mr. and Mrs. Draper.9—Mr. Coit.10—Mr. Simpson.11—Prof. Turnbull.12—Second Door-man.13—Miss Hunsicker.14—Attendant.15—Miss Blake.16—Officer.
You can imagine the flurry, the excitement and the blank looks of the average men and women he addressed. But not one hesitated to obey. Mrs. Lee was on the farther side of one of the statues before her name had more than left his lips. Her example set the pace for those who followed. Like soldiers at roll-call, each one responded to the summons, going now in one direction and now in another until on reaching the proper spot he or she stopped.
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