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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 7. Sly Work
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The Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 7. Sly Work Post by :Wayne_A. Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :3259

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The Filigree Ball - Book 1. The Forbidden Room - Chapter 7. Sly Work

BOOK I. THE FORBIDDEN ROOM
CHAPTER VII. SLY WORK

The next morning my duty led me directly in the way of that little friend of mine whom I have already mentioned. It is strange how often my duty did lead me in her way.

She is a demure little creature, with wits as bright as her eyes, which is saying a great deal; and while, in the course of our long friendship, I had admired without making use of the special abilities I saw in her, I felt that the time had now come when they might prove of inestimable value to me.

Greeting her with pardonable abruptness, I expressed my wishes in these possibly alarming words:

"Jinny, you can do something for me. Find out--I know you can, and that, too, without arousing suspicion or compromising either of us--where Mr. Moore, of Waverley Avenue, buys his groceries, and when you have done that, whether or not he has lately resupplied himself with candles."

The surprise which she showed had a touch of naivete in it which was very encouraging.

"Mr. Moore?" she cried, "the uncle of her who--who--"

"The very same," I responded, and waited for her questions without adding a single word in way of explanation.

She gave me a look--oh, what a look! It was as encouraging to the detective as it was welcome to the lover; after which she nodded, once in doubt, once in question and once in frank and laughing consent, and darted off.

I thanked Providence for such a self-contained little aide-decamp and proceeded on my way, in a state of great self-satisfaction.

An hour later I came upon her again. It is really extraordinary how frequently the paths of some people cross.

"Well?" I asked.

"Mr. Moore deals with Simpkins, just two blocks away from his house; and only a week ago he bought some candles there."

I rewarded her with a smile which summoned into view the most exasperating of dimples.

"You had better patronize Simpkins yourself for a little while," I suggested; and by the arch glance with which my words were received, I perceived that my meaning was fully understood.

Experiencing from this moment an increased confidence, not only in the powers of my little friend, but in the line of investigation thus happily established, I cast about for means of settling the one great question which was a necessary preliminary to all future action: Whether the marks detected by me in the dust of the mantel in the southwest chamber had been made by the hand of him who had lately felt the need of candles, albeit his house appeared to be fully lighted by gas?

The subterfuge by which, notwithstanding my many disadvantages, I was finally enabled to obtain unmistakable answer to this query was the fruit of much hard thought. Perhaps I was too proud of it. Perhaps I should have mistrusted myself more from the start. But I was a great egotist in those days, and reckoned quite above their inherent worth any bright ideas which I could safely call my own.

The point aimed at was this: to obtain without Moore's knowledge an accurate impression of his finger-tips.

The task presented difficulties, but these served duly to increase my ardor.

Confiding to the lieutenant of the precinct my great interest in the mysterious house with whose suggestive interior I had made myself acquainted under such tragic circumstances, I asked him as a personal favor to obtain for me an opportunity of spending another night there.

He was evidently surprised by the request, not cherishing, as I suppose, any great longings himself in this direction; but recognizing that for some reason I set great store on this questionable privilege,--I do not think that he suspected in the least what that reason was,--and being, as I have intimated, favorably disposed to me, he exerted himself to such good effect that I was formally detailed to assist in keeping watch over the premises that very night.

I think that it was at this point I began to reckon on the success which, after many failures and some mischances, was yet to reward my efforts.

As I prepared to enter the old house at nightfall, I allowed myself one short glance across the way to see if my approach had been observed by the man whose secret, if secret he had, I was laying plans to surprise. I was met by a sight I had not expected. Pausing on the pavement in front of me stood a handsome elderly gentleman whose appearance was so fashionable and thoroughly up to date, that I should have failed to recognize him if my glance had not taken in at the same instant the figure of Rudge crouching obstinately on the edge of the curb where he had evidently posted himself in distinct refusal to come any farther. In vain his master,--for the well-dressed man before me was no less a personage than the whilom butt of all the boys between the Capitol and the Treasury building,--signaled and commanded him to cross to his side; nothing could induce the mastiff to budge from that quarter of the street where he felt himself safe.

Mr. Moore, glorying in the prospect of unlimited wealth, presented a startling contrast in more ways than one to the poverty-stricken old man whose curious garb and lonely habits had made him an object of ridicule to half the town. I own that I was half amused and half awed by the condescending bow with which he greeted my offhand nod and the affable way in which he remarked:

"You are making use of your prerogatives as a member of the police, I see."

The words came as easily from his lips as if his practice in affability had been of the very longest.

"I wonder how the old place enjoys its present distinction," he went on, running his eye over the dilapidated walls under which we stood, with very evident pride in their vast proportions and the air of gloomy grandeur which signalized them. "If it partakes in the slightest degree of the feelings of its owner, I can vouch for its impatience at the free use which is made of its time-worn rooms and halls. Are these intrusions necessary? Now that Mrs. Jeffrey's body has been removed, do you feel that the scene of her demise need hold the attention of the police any longer?"

"That is a question to put to the superintendent and not to me," was my deprecatory reply. "The major has issued no orders for the watch to be taken off, so we men have no choice. I am sorry if it offends you. Doubtless a few days will end the matter and the keys will be given into your hand. I suppose you are anxious to move in?"

He cast a glance behind him at his dog, gave a whistle which passed unheeded, and replied with dignity, if but little heart:

"When a man has passed his seventh decade he is not apt to be so patient with delay as when he has a prospect of many years before him. I am anxious to enter my own house, yes; I have much to do there."

I came very near asking him what, but feared to seem too familiar, in case he was the cold but upright man he would fain appear, and too interested and inquiring if he were the whited sepulcher I secretly considered him. So with a nod a trifle more pronounced than if I had been unaffected by either hypothesis, I remounted the steps, carelessly remarking:

"I'll see you again after taking a turn through the house. If I discover anything--ghost marks or human marks which might be of interest to you--I'll let you know."

Something like a growl answered me. But whether it came from master or dog, I did not stop to inquire. I had serious work before me; very serious, considering that it was to be done on my own responsibility and without the knowledge of my superiors. But I was sustained by the thought that no whisper of murder had as yet been heard abroad or at headquarters, and that consequently I was interfering in no great case; merely trying to formulate one.

It was necessary, for the success of my plan, that some time should elapse before I reapproached Mr. Moore. I therefore kept my word to him and satisfied my own curiosity by taking a fresh tour through the house. Naturally, in doing this, I visited the library. Here all was dark. The faint twilight still illuminating the streets failed to penetrate here. I was obliged to light my lantern.

My first glance was toward the fireplace. Venturesome hands had been there. Not only had, the fender been drawn out and the grate set aside, but the huge settle had been wrenched free from the mantel and dragged into the center of the room. Rather pleased at this change, for with all my apparent bravado I did not enjoy too close a proximity to the cruel hearthstone, I stopped to give this settle a thorough investigation. The result was disappointing. To all appearance and I did not spare it the experiment of many a thump and knock--it was a perfectly innocuous piece of furniture, clumsy of build, but solid and absolutely devoid of anything that could explain the tragedies which had occurred so near it. I even sat down on its musty old cushion and shut my eyes, but was unrewarded by alarming visions, or disturbance of any sort. Nor did the floor where it had stood yield any better results to the inquiring eye. Nothing was to be seen there but the marks left by the removal of its base from the blackened boards.

Disgusted with myself, if not with this object of my present disappointment, I left that portion of the room in which it stood and crossed to where I had found the little table on the night of Mrs. Jeffrey's death. It was no longer there. It had been set back against the wall where it properly belonged, and the candelabrum removed. Nor was the kitchen chair any longer to be seen near the book shelves. This fact, small as it was, caused me an instant of chagrin. I had intended to look again at the book which I had examined with such unsatisfactory results the time before. A glance showed me that this book had been pushed back level with the others; but I remembered its title, and, had the means of reaching it been at hand, I should certainly have stolen another peep at it.

Upstairs I found the same signs of police interference. The shutter had been fastened in the southwest room, and the bouquet and wrap taken away from the bed. The handkerchief, also, was missing from the mantel where I had left it, and when I opened the closet door, it was to find the floor bare and the second candelabrum and candle removed.

"All gone," thought I; "each and every clue."

But I was mistaken. In another moment I came upon the minute filings I had before observed scattered over a small stand. Concluding from this that they had been passed over by Durbin and his associates as valueless, I swept them, together with the dust in which they lay, into an old envelope I happily found in my pocket. Then I crossed to the mantel and made a close inspection of its now empty shelf. The scratches which I had made there were visible enough, but the impressions for which they stood had vanished in the handling which everything in the house had undergone. Regarding with great thankfulness the result of my own foresight, I made haste to leave the room. I then proceeded to take my first steps in the ticklish experiment by which I hoped to determine whether Uncle David had had any share in the fatal business which had rendered the two rooms I had just visited so memorable.

First, satisfying myself by a peep through the front drawing-room window that he was positively at watch behind the vines, I went directly to the kitchen, procured a chair and carried it into the library, where I put it to a use that, to an onlooker's eye, would have appeared very peculiar. Planting it squarely on the hearthstone,--not without some secret perturbation as to what the results might be to myself,--I mounted it and took down the engraving which I have already described as hanging over this mantelpiece.

Setting it on end against one of the jambs of the fireplace, I mounted the chair once more and carefully sifted over the high shelf the contents of a little package which I had brought with me for this purpose.

Then, leaving the chair where it was, I betook myself out of the front door, ostentatiously stopping to lock it and to put the key in my pocket.

Crossing immediately to Mr. Moore's side of the street, I encountered him as I had expected to do, at his own gateway.

"Well, what now?" he inquired, with the same exaggerated courtesy I had noticed in him on a previous occasion. "You have the air of a man bringing news. Has anything fresh happened in the old house?"

I assumed a frankness which seemed to impose on him.

"Do you know," I sententiously informed him, "I have a wonderful interest in that old hearthstone; or rather in the seemingly innocent engraving hanging over it, of Benjamin Franklin at the Court of France. I tell you frankly that I had no idea of what would be found behind the picture."

I saw, by his quick look, that I had stirred up a hornets' nest. This was just what I had calculated to do.

"Behind it!" he repeated. "There is nothing behind it."

I laughed, shrugged my shoulders, and backed slowly toward the door.

"Of course, you should know," I retorted, with some condescension. Then, as if struck by a sudden remembrance: "Oh, by the way, have you been told that there is a window on that lower floor which does not stay fastened? I speak of it that you may have it repaired as soon as the police vacate. It's the last one in the hall leading to the negro quarters. If you shake it hard enough, the catch falls back and any one can raise it even from the outside."

"I will see to it," he replied, dropping his eyes, possibly to hide their curious twinkle. "But what do you mean about finding something in the wall behind that old picture? I've never heard--"

But though he spoke quickly and shouted the last words after me at the top of his voice, I was by this time too far away to respond save by a dubious smile and a semi-patronizing wave of the hand. Not until I was nearly out of earshot did I venture to shout back the following words:

"I'll be back in an hour. If anything happens--if the boys annoy you, or any one attempts to enter the old house, telephone to the station or summon the officer at the corner. I don't believe any harm will come from leaving the place to itself for a while." Then I walked around the block.

When I arrived in front again it was quite dark. So was the house; but there was light in the library. I felt assured that I should find Uncle David there, and I did. When, after a noiseless entrance and a careful advance through the hall, I threw open the door beyond the gilded pillars, it was to see the tall figure of this old man mounted upon the chair I had left there, peering up at the nail from which I had so lately lifted the picture. He started as I presented myself and almost fell from the chair. But the careless laugh I uttered assured him of the little importance I placed upon this evidence of his daring and unappeasable curiosity, and he confronted me with an enviable air of dignity; whereupon I managed to say:

"Really, Mr. Moore, I'm glad to see you here. It is quite natural for you to wish to learn by any means in your power what that picture concealed. I came back, because I suddenly remembered that I had forgotten to rehang it."

Involuntarily he glanced again at the wall overhead, which was as bare as his hand, save for the nail he had already examined.

"It has concealed nothing," he retorted. "You can see yourself that the wall is bare and that it rings as sound as any chimneypiece ever made." Here he struck it heavily with his fist. "What did you imagine that you had found?"

I smiled, shrugged my shoulders in tantalizing repetition of my former action upon a like occasion and then answered brusquely:

"I did not come back to betray police secrets, but to restore this picture to its place. Or perhaps you prefer to have it down rather than up? It isn't much of an ornament."

He scrutinized me darkly from over his shoulder, a wary gleam showing itself in his shrewd old eyes; and the idea crossed me that the moment might possess more significance than appeared. But I did not step backward, nor give evidence in any way that I had even thought of danger. I simply laid my hand on the picture and looked up at him for orders.

He promptly signified that he wished it hung, adding as I hesitated these words: "The pictures in this house are supposed to stay on the walls where they belong. There is a traditional superstition against removing them."

I immediately lifted the print from the floor. No doubt he had me at a disadvantage, if evil was in his heart, and my position on the hearth was as dangerous as previous events had proved it to be. But it would not do to show the white feather at a moment when his fate, if not my own, hung in the balance; so motioning him to step down, I put foot on the chair and raised the picture aloft to hang it. As I did so, he moved over to the huge settle of his ancestors, and, crossing his arms over its back, surveyed me with a smile I rather imagined than saw.

Suddenly, as I strained to put the cord over the nail he called out:

"Look out! you'll fall."

If he had intended to give me a start in payment for my previous rebuff he did not succeed; for my nerves had grown steady and my arm firm at the glimpse I had caught of the shelf below me. The fine brown powder I had scattered there had been displaced in five distinct spots, and not by my fingers. I had preferred to risk the loss of my balance, rather than rest my hand on the shelf, but he had taken no such precaution. The clue I so anxiously desired and for which I had so recklessly worked, was obtained.

But when half an hour later I found an opportunity of measuring these marks and comparing them with those upstairs, I did not enjoy the full triumph I had promised myself. For the two impressions utterly failed to coincide, thus proving that whoever the person was who had been in this house with Mrs. Jeffrey on the evening she died, it was not her uncle David.

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