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AMELIA BECOMES PEREMPTORY.
"Madam, I hope I see you satisfied?"
This was Mr. Gryce's greeting as he entered my parlor on that memorable morning.
"Satisfied?" I repeated, rising and facing him with what he afterwards described as a stony glare.
"Pardon me! I suppose you would have been still more satisfied if we had waited for you to point out the guilty man to us. But you must make some allowances for professional egotism, Miss Butterworth. We really could not allow you to take the initiatory step in a matter of such importance."
"Oh!" was my sole response; but he has since told me that there was a great deal in that oh; so much, that even he was startled by it.
"You set to-day for a talk with me," he went on; "probably relying upon what you intended to assure yourself of yesterday. But our discovery at the same time as yourself of the rings in Mr. Van Burnam's office, need not interfere with your giving us your full confidence. The work you have done has been excellent, and we are disposed to give you considerable credit for it."
I had no choice but to thus indulge in ejaculations. The communication he had just made was so startling, and his assumption of my complete understanding of and participation in the discovery he professed to have made, so puzzling, that I dared not venture beyond these simple exclamations, lest he should see the state of mind into which he had thrown me, and shut up like an oyster.
"We have kept counsel over what we have found," the wary old detective continued, with a smile, which I wish I could imitate, but which unhappily belongs to him alone. "I hope that you, or your maid, I should say, have been equally discreet."
"I see you are touched; but women find it so hard to keep a secret. But it does not matter. To-night the whole town will know that the older and not the younger brother has had these rings in his keeping."
"It will be nuts for the papers," I commented; then making an effort, I remarked: "You are a most judicious man, Mr. Gryce, and must have other reasons than the discovery of these rings for your threatened arrest of a man of such excellent repute as Silas Van Burnam's eldest son. I should like to hear them, Mr. Gryce. I should like to hear them very much."
My attempt to seem at ease under these embarrassing conditions must have given a certain sharpness to my tone; for, instead of replying, he remarked, with well simulated concern and a fatherly humoring of my folly peculiarly exasperating to one of my temperament: "You are displeased, Miss Butterworth, because we did not let you find the rings."
"Perhaps; but we were engaged in an open field. I could not expect the police to stand aside for me."
"Exactly! Especially when you have the secret satisfaction of having put the police on the track of these jewels."
"We were simply fortunate in laying our hands on them first. You, or your maid rather, showed us where to look for them."
I was so dumfounded by this last assertion, I did not attempt to reply. Fortunately, he misinterpreted my silence and the "stony glare" with which it was accompanied.
"I know that it must seem to you altogether too bad, to be tripped up at the moment of your anticipated triumph. But if apologies will suffice to express our sense of presumption, then I pray you to accept them, Miss Butterworth, both on my own part and on that of the Superintendent of Police."
I did not understand in the least what he was talking about, but I recognized the sarcasm of his final expression, and had spirit enough to reply:
"The subject is too important for any more nonsense. Whereabouts in Franklin Van Burnam's desk were these rings found, and how do you know that his brother did not put them there?"
"Your ignorance is refreshing, Miss Butterworth. If you will ask a certain young girl dressed in gray, upon what object connected with Mr. Van Burnam's desk she laid her hands yesterday morning, you will have an answer to your first question. The second one is still more easily answered. Mr. Howard Van Burnam did not conceal the rings in the Duane Street office for the reason that he has not been in that office since his wife was killed. Regarding this fact we are as well advised as yourself. Now you change color, Miss Butterworth. But there is no necessity. For an amateur you have made less trouble and fewer mistakes than were to be expected."
Worse and worse! He was patronizing me now, and for results I had done nothing to bring about. I surveyed him in absolute amazement. Was he amusing himself with me, or was he himself deceived as to the nature and trend of my late investigations. This was a question to settle, and at once; and as duplicity had hitherto proved my best weapon in dealing with Mr. Gryce, I concluded to resort to it in this emergency. Clearing my brow, I regarded with a more amenable air the little Hungarian vase he had taken up on entering the room, and into which he had been talking ever since he thought it worth while to compliment its owner.
"I do not wish," said I, "to be published to the world as the discoverer of Franklin Van Burnam's guilt. But I do want credit with the police, if only because one of their number has chosen to look upon my efforts with disdain. I mean you, Mr. Gryce; so, if you are in earnest"--he smiled at the vase most genially--"I will accept your apologies just so far as you honor me with your confidence. I know you are anxious to hear what evidence I have collected, or you would not be wasting time on me this busy morning."
"Shrewd!" was the short ejaculation he shot into the mouth of the vase he was handling.
"If that term of admiration is intended for me," I remarked, "I am sure I am only too sensible of the honor. But flattery has never succeeded in making me talk against my better judgment. I may be shrewd, but a fool could see what you are after this morning. Compliment me when I have deserved it. I can wait."
"I begin to think that what you withhold so resolutely has more than common value, Miss Butterworth. If this is so, I must not be the only one to listen to your explanations. Is not that a carriage I hear stopping? I am expecting Inspector Z----. If that is he you have been wise to delay your communications till he came."
A carriage was stopping, and it was the Inspector who alighted from it. I began to feel my importance in a way that was truly gratifying, and cast my eyes up at the portrait of my father with a secret longing that its original stood by to witness the verification of his prophecy.
But I was not so distracted by these thoughts as not to make one attempt to get something from Mr. Gryce before the Inspector joined us.
"Why do you speak to me of my maid in one breath and of a girl in gray in another? Did you think Lena----"
"Hush!" he enjoined, "we will have ample opportunities to discuss this subject later."
"Will we?" thought I. "We will discuss nothing till I know more positively what you are aiming at."
But I showed nothing of this determination in my face. On the contrary, I became all affability as the Inspector entered, and I did the honors of the house in a way I hope my father would have approved of, had he been alive and present.
Mr. Gryce continued to stare into the vase.
"Miss Butterworth,"--it was the Inspector who was speaking,--"I have been told that you take great interest in the Van Burnam murder, and that you have even gone so far as to collect some facts in connection with it which you have not as yet given to the police."
"You have heard correctly," I returned. "I have taken a deep interest in this tragedy, and have come into possession of some facts in reference to it which as yet I have imparted to no living soul."
Mr. Gryce's interest in my poor little vase increased marvellously. Seeing this, I complacently continued:
"I could not have accomplished so much had I indulged in a confidant. Such work as I have attempted depends for its success upon the secrecy with which it is carried on. That is why amateur work is sometimes more effective than professional. No one suspected me of making inquiries, unless it was this gentleman, and he was forewarned of my possible interference. I told him that in case Howard Van Burnam was put under arrest, I should take it upon myself to stir up matters; and I have."
"Then you do not believe in Mr. Van Burnam's guilt? Not even in his complicity, I suppose?" ventured the Inspector.
"I do not know anything about his complicity; but I do not believe the stroke given to his wife came from his hand."
"I see, I see. You believe it the work of his brother."
I stole a look at Mr. Gryce before replying. He had turned the vase upside down, and was intently studying its label; but he could not conceal his expectation of an affirmative answer. Greatly relieved, I immediately took the position I had resolved upon, and calmly but vigorously observed:
"What I believe, and what I have learned in support of my belief, will sound as well in your ears ten minutes hence as now. Before I give you the result of such inquiries as I have been enabled to make, I require to know what evidence you have yourself collected against the gentleman you have just named, and in what respect it is as criminating as that against his brother?"
"Is not that peremptory, Miss Butterworth? And do you think us called upon to part with all or any of the secrets of our office? We have informed you that we have new and startling evidence against the older brother; should not that be sufficient for you?"
"Perhaps so if I were an assistant of yours, or even in your employ. But I am neither; I stand alone, and although I am a woman and unused to this business, I have earned, as I think you will acknowledge later, the right to some consideration on your part. I cannot present the facts I have to relate in a proper manner till I know just how the case stands."
"It is not curiosity that troubles Miss Butterworth--Madam, I said it was not curiosity--but a laudable desire to have the whole matter arranged with precision," dropped now in his dryest tones from the detective's lips.
"Mr. Gryce has a most excellent understanding of my character," I gravely observed.
The Inspector looked nonplussed. He glanced at Mr. Gryce and he glanced at me, but the smile of the former was inscrutable, and my expression, if I showed any, must have betrayed but little relenting.
"If called as a witness, Miss Butterworth,"--this was how he sought to manage me,--"you will have no choice in the matter. You will be compelled to speak or show contempt of court."
"That is true," I acknowledged. "But it is not what I might feel myself called upon to say then, but what I can say now, that is of interest to you at this present moment. So be generous, gentlemen, and satisfy my curiosity, for such Mr. Gryce considers it, in spite of his assertions to the contrary. Will it not all come out in the papers a few hours hence, and have I not earned as much at your hands as the reporters?"
"The reporters are our bane. Do not liken yourself to the reporters."
"Yet they sometimes give you a valuable clue."
Mr. Gryce looked as if he would like to disclaim this, but he was a judicious soul, and merely gave a twist to the vase which I thought would cost me that small article of vertu.
"Shall we humor Miss Butterworth?" asked the Inspector.
"We will do better," answered Mr. Gryce, setting the vase down with a precision that made me jump; for I am a worshipper of bric-à-brac, and prize the few articles I own, possibly beyond their real value. "We will treat her as a coadjutor, which, by the way, she says she is not, and by the trust we place in her, secure that discretionary use of our confidence which she shows with so much spirit in regard to her own."
"Begin then," said I.
"I will," said he, "but first allow me to acknowledge that you are the person who first put us on the track of Franklin Van Burnam."
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