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Mr. Van Burnam and his sons had gone through the formality of a supper and were conversing in the haphazard way natural to men filled with a subject they dare not discuss, when the door opened and Mr. Gryce came in.
Advancing very calmly, he addressed himself to the father:
"I am sorry," said he, "to be obliged to inform you that this affair is much more serious than we anticipated. This young woman was dead before the shelves laden with bric-à-brac fell upon her. It is a case of murder; obviously so, or I should not presume to forestall the Coroner's jury in their verdict."
Murder! it is a word to shake the stoutest heart!
The older gentleman reeled as he half rose, and Franklin, his son, betrayed in his own way an almost equal amount of emotion. But Howard, shrugging his shoulders as if relieved of an immense weight, looked about with a cheerful air, and briskly cried:
"Then it is not the body of my wife you have there. No one would murder Louise. I shall go away and prove the truth of my words by hunting her up at once."
The detective opened the door, beckoned in the doctor, who whispered two or three words into Howard's ear.
They failed to awake the emotion he evidently expected. Howard looked surprised, but answered without any change of voice:
"Yes, Louise had such a scar; and if it is true that this woman is similarly marked, then it is a mere coincidence. Nothing will convince me that my wife has been the victim of murder."
"Had you not better take a look at the scar just mentioned?"
"No. I am so sure of what I say that I will not even consider the possibility of my being mistaken. I have examined the clothing on this body you have shown me, and not one article of it came from my wife's wardrobe; nor would my wife go, as you have informed me this woman did, into a dark house at night with any other man than her husband."
"And so you absolutely refuse to acknowledge her."
The detective paused, glanced at the troubled faces of the other two gentlemen, faces that had not perceptibly altered during these declarations, and suggestively remarked:
"You have not asked by what means she was killed."
"And I don't care," shouted Howard.
"It was by very peculiar means, also new in my experience."
"It does not interest me," the other retorted.
Mr. Gryce turned to his father and brother.
"Does it interest you?" he asked.
The old gentleman, ordinarily so testy and so peremptory, silently nodded his head, while Franklin cried:
"Speak up quick. You detectives hesitate so over the disagreeables. Was she throttled or stabbed with a knife?"
"I have said the means were peculiar. She was stabbed, but not--with a knife."
I know Mr. Gryce well enough now to be sure that he did not glance towards Howard while saying this, and yet at the same time that he did not miss the quiver of a muscle on his part or the motion of an eyelash. But Howard's assumed sang froid remained undisturbed and his countenance imperturbable.
"The wound was so small," the detective went on, "that it is a miracle it did not escape notice. It was made by the thrust of some very slender instrument through----"
"The heart?" put in Franklin.
"Of course, of course," assented the detective; "what other spot is vulnerable enough to cause death?"
"Is there any reason why we should not go?" demanded Howard, ignoring the extreme interest manifested by the other two, with a determination that showed great doggedness of character.
The detective ignored him.
"A quick stroke, a sure stroke, a fatal stroke. The girl never breathed after."
"But what of those things under which she lay crushed?"
"Ah, in them lies the mystery! Her assailant must have been as subtle as he was sure."
And still Howard showed no interest.
"I wish to telegraph to Haddam," he declared, as no one answered the last remark. Haddam was the place where he and his wife had been spending the summer.
"We have already telegraphed there," observed Mr. Gryce. "Your wife has not yet returned."
"There are other places," defiantly insisted the other. "I can find her if you give me the opportunity."
Mr. Gryce bowed.
"I am to give orders, then, for this body to be removed to the Morgue."
It was an unexpected suggestion, and for an instant Howard showed that he had feelings with the best. But he quickly recovered himself, and avoiding the anxious glances of his father and brother, answered with offensive lightness:
"I have nothing to do with that. You must do as you think proper."
And Mr. Gryce felt that he had received a check, and did not know whether to admire the young man for his nerve or to execrate him for his brutality. That the woman whom he had thus carelessly dismissed to the ignominy of the public gaze was his wife, the detective did not doubt.
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