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A TILT WITH MR. GRYCE.
At seven o'clock the next morning my patient was resting so quietly that I considered it safe to leave her for a short time. So I informed Miss Althorpe that I was obliged to go down-town on an important errand, and requested Crescenze to watch over the sick girl in my absence. As she agreed to this, I left the house as soon as breakfast was over and went immediately in search of Mr. Gryce. I wished to make sure that he knew nothing about the rings.
It was eleven o'clock before I succeeded in finding him. As I was certain that a direct question would bring no answer, I dissembled my real intention as much as my principles would allow, and accosted him with the eager look of one who has great news to impart.
"O, Mr. Gryce!" I impetuously cried, just as if I were really the weak woman he thought me, "I have found something; something in connection with the Van Burnam murder. You know I promised to busy myself about it if you arrested Howard Van Burnam."
His smile was tantalizing in the extreme. "Found something?" he repeated. "And may I ask if you have been so good as to bring it with you?"
He was playing with me, this aged and reputable detective. I subdued my anger, subdued my indignation even, and smiling much in his own way, answered briefly:
"I never carry valuables on my person. A half-dozen expensive rings stand for too much money for me to run any undue risk with them."
He was caressing his watch-chain as I spoke, and I noticed that he paused in this action for just an infinitesimal length of time as I said the word rings. Then he went on as before, but I knew I had caught his attention.
"Of what rings do you speak, madam? Of those missing from Mrs. Van Burnam's hands?"
I took a leaf from his book, and allowed myself to indulge in a little banter.
"O, no," I remonstrated, "not those rings, of course. The Queen of Siam's rings, any rings but those in which we are specially interested."
This meeting him on his own ground evidently puzzled him.
"You are facetious, madam. What am I to gather from such levity? That success has crowned your efforts, and that you have found a guiltier party than the one now in custody?"
"Possibly," I returned, limiting my advance by his. "But it would be going too fast to mention that yet. What I want to know is whether you have found the rings belonging to Mrs. Van Burnam?"
My triumphant tone, the almost mocking accent I purposely gave to the word you, accomplished its purpose. He never dreamed I was playing with him; he thought I was bursting with pride; and casting me a sharp glance (the first, by the way, I had received from him), he inquired with perceptible interest:
Instantly convinced that the whereabouts of these jewels was as little known to him as to me, I rose and prepared to leave. But seeing that he was not satisfied, and that he expected an answer, I assumed a mysterious air and quietly remarked:
"If you will come to my house to-morrow I will explain myself. I am not prepared to more than intimate my discoveries to-day."
But he was not the man to let one off so easily.
"Excuse me," said he, "but matters of this kind do not admit of delay. The grand jury sits within the week, and any evidence worth presenting them must be collected at once. I must ask you to be frank with me, Miss Butterworth."
"And I will be, to-morrow."
"To-day," he insisted, "to-day."
Seeing that I should gain nothing by my present course, I reseated myself, bestowing upon him a decidedly ambiguous smile as I did so.
"You acknowledge then," said I, "that the old maid can tell you something after all. I thought you regarded all my efforts in the light of a jest. What has made you change your mind?"
"Madam, I decline to bandy words. Have you found those rings, or have you not?"
"I have not," said I, "but neither have you, and as that is what I wanted to make sure of, I will now take my leave without further ceremony."
Mr. Gryce is not a profane man, but he allowed a word to slip from him which was not entirely one of blessing. He made amends for it next moment, however, by remarking:
"Madam, I once said, as you will doubtless remember, that the day would come when I should find myself at your feet. That day has arrived. And now is there any other little cherished fact known to the police which you would like to have imparted to you?"
I took his humiliation seriously.
"You are very good," I rejoined, "but I will not trouble you for any facts,--those I am enabled to glean for myself; but what I should like you to tell me is this: Whether if you came upon those rings in the possession of a person known to have been on the scene of crime at the time of its perpetration, you would not consider them as an incontrovertible proof of guilt?"
"Undoubtedly," said he, with a sudden alteration in his manner which warned me that I must muster up all my strength if I would keep my secret till I was quite ready to part with it.
"Then," said I, with a resolute movement towards the door, "that's the whole of my business for to-day. Good-morning, Mr. Gryce; to-morrow I shall expect you."
He made me stop though my foot had crossed the threshold; not by word or look but simply by his fatherly manner.
"Miss Butterworth," he observed, "the suspicions which you have entertained from the first have within the last few days assumed a definite form. In what direction do they point?--tell me."
Some men and most women would have yielded to that imperative tell me! But there was no yielding in Amelia Butterworth. Instead of that I treated him to a touch of irony.
"Is it possible," I asked, "that you think it worth while to consult me? I thought your eyes were too keen to seek assistance from mine. You are as confident as I am that Howard Van Burnam is innocent of the crime for which you have arrested him."
A look that was dangerously insinuating crossed his face at this. He came forward rapidly and, joining me where I stood, said smilingly:
"Let us join forces, Miss Butterworth. You have from the first refused to consider the younger son of Silas Van Burnam as guilty. Your reasons then were slight and hardly worth communicating. Have you any better ones to advance now? It is not too late to mention them, if you have."
"It will not be too late to-morrow," I retorted.
Convinced that I was not to be moved from my position, he gave me one of his low bows.
"I forgot," said he, "that it was as a rival and not as a coadjutor you meddled in this matter." And he bowed again, this time with a sarcastic air I felt too self-satisfied to resent.
"To-morrow, then?" said I.
At that I left him.
I did not return immediately to Miss Althorpe. I visited Cox's millinery store, Mrs. Desberger's house, and the offices of the various city railways. But I got no clue to the rings; and finally satisfied that Miss Oliver, as I must now call her, had not lost or disposed of them on her way from Gramercy Park to her present place of refuge, I returned to Miss Althorpe's with even a greater determination than before to search that luxurious home till I found them.
But a decided surprise awaited me. As the door opened I caught a glimpse of the butler's face, and noticing its embarrassed expression, I at once asked what had happened.
His answer showed a strange mixture of hesitation and bravado.
"Not much, ma'am; only Miss Althorpe is afraid you may not be pleased. Miss Oliver is gone, ma'am; she ran away while Crescenze was out of the room."
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