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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Millionaire Baby - Chapter 3. A Charming Woman
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The Millionaire Baby - Chapter 3. A Charming Woman Post by :65794 Category :Long Stories Author :Anna Katharine Green Date :May 2012 Read :2503

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The Millionaire Baby - Chapter 3. A Charming Woman

CHAPTER III. A CHARMING WOMAN

Stopping only long enough to send a telegram to my partner in New York, (for which purpose I had to walk along the tracks to the main station) I returned by the short cut to Homewood. My purpose in doing this was twofold. I should have a chance of seeing if the men were still at work in the river, and I should also have the added opportunity of quietly revisiting the bungalow, on the floor of which I had noted some chalk-marks, which I felt called for a closer examination than I had given them. As I came in view of the dock, I saw that the men were still busy, but at a point farther out in the river, as if all hope had been abandoned of their discovering anything more inshore. But the chalk-marks in the bungalow were almost forgotten by me in the interest I experienced in a certain adventure which befell me on my way there.

I had just reached the opening in the hedge communicating with Mrs. Carew's grounds, when I heard steps on the walk inside and a woman's rich voice saying:

"There, that will do. You must play on the other side of the house, Harry. And Dinah, see that he does so, and that he does not cross the hall again till I come back. The sight of so merry a child might kill Mrs. Ocumpaugh if she happened to look this way."

Moved by the tone, which was one in a thousand, I involuntarily peered through the outlet I was passing, in the hope of catching a glimpse of its owner, and thus was favored with the sight of a face which instantly fixed itself in my memory as one of the most enchanting I had ever encountered. Not from its beauty, yet it may have been beautiful; nor from its youth, for the woman before me was not youthful, but from the extraordinary eloquence of its expression caught at a rare moment when the heart, which gave it life, was full. She was standing half-way down the path, throwing kisses to a little boy who was leaning toward her from an upper window. The child was laughing with glee, and it was this laugh she was trying to check; but her countenance, as she made the effort, was almost as merry as his, and yet was filled with such solemn joy--such ecstasy of motherhood I should be inclined to call it, if I had not been conscious that this must be Mrs. Carew and the child her little nephew--that in my admiration for this exhibition of pure feeling, I forgot to move on as she advanced into the hedge-row, and so we came face to face. The result was as extraordinary to me as all the rest. Instantly all the gay abandonment left her features, and she showed me a grave, almost troubled, countenance, more in keeping with her severe dress, which was as nearly like mourning as it could be and not be made of crape.

It was such a sudden change and of so complete a character, that I was thrown off my guard for a moment and probably betrayed the curiosity I undoubtedly felt; for she paused as she reached me, and, surveying me very quietly but very scrutinizingly too, raised again that marvelous voice of hers and pointedly observed:

"This is a private path, sir. Only the friends of Mrs. Ocumpaugh or of myself pass here."

This was a speech calculated to restore my self-possession. With a bow which evidently surprised her, I answered with just enough respect to temper my apparent presumption:

"I am here in the interests of Mrs. Ocumpaugh, to assist her in finding her child. Moments are precious; so I ventured to approach by the shorter way."

"Pardon me!" The words did not come instantly, but after some hesitation, during which she kept her eyes on my face in a way to rob me of all thought save that she possessed a very strong magnetic quality, to which it were well for a man like myself to yield. "You will be my friend, too, if you succeed in restoring Gwendolen." Then quickly, as she crossed to the Ocumpaugh grounds: "You do not look like a member of the police. Are you here at Mrs. Ocumpaugh's bidding, and has she at last given up all expectation of finding her child in the river?"

I, too, thought a minute before answering, then I put on my most candid expression, for was not this woman on her way to Mrs. Ocumpaugh, and would she not be likely to repeat what she heard me say?

"I do not know how Mrs. Ocumpaugh feels at present. But I know what her dearest wish is--to see her child again alive and well. That wish I shall do my best to gratify. It is true that I am not a police detective, but I have an agency of my own, well-known to both Mrs. and Mr. Ocumpaugh. All its resources will be devoted to this business and I hope to succeed, madam. If, as I suspect, you are on your way to Mrs. Ocumpaugh, please tell her that Robert Trevitt, of Trevitt and Jupp, hopes to succeed."

"I _will_," she emphasized. Then stepping back to me in all the grace of her thrilling personality, she eagerly added: "If there is any information I can give, do not be afraid to ask me. I love children, and would give anything in the world to see Mrs. Ocumpaugh as happy with Gwendolen again as I am with my little nephew. Are you quite sure that there is any possibility of this? I was told that the child's shoe has been found in the river; but almost immediately following this information came the report that there was something odd about this shoe, and that Mrs. Ocumpaugh had gone into hysterics. Do _you know what they meant by that? I was just going over to see."

I did know what they meant, but I preferred to seem ignorant.

"I have not seen Mrs. Ocumpaugh," I evasively rejoined. "But _I don't look for the child to be drawn from the water."

"Nor I," she repeated, with a hoarse catch in her breath. "It is thirty-six hours since we lost her. Time enough for the current to have carried her sweet little body far away from here."

I surveyed the lady before me in amazement.

"Then _you think she strayed down to the water?"

"Yes; it would madden me to believe otherwise; loving her so well, and her parents so well, I dare not think of a worse fate."

Taking advantage of her amiability and the unexpected opportunity it offered for a leading question, I hereupon ventured to say: "You were not at home, I hear, when she vanished from the bungalow."

"No; that is, if it happened before three o'clock. I arrived from the station just as the clock was striking the hour, and having my little nephew with me, I was too much occupied in reconciling him to his new home, to hear or see anything outside. Most unfortunate!" she mourned, "most unfortunate! I shall never cease reproaching myself. A tragedy at my door"--here she glanced across the shrubbery at the bungalow--"and I occupied with my own affairs!"

With a flush, the undoubted result of her own earnestness, she turned as if to go. But I could not let her depart without another question:

"Excuse me, Mrs. Carew, but you gave me permission to seem importunate. With the exception of her nurse, you were the one person nearest the bungalow at the time. Didn't you hear a carriage drive through your grounds at about the hour the alarm was first started? I know you have been asked this before, but not by me; and it is a very important fact to have settled; very important for those who wish to discover this child at once."

For reply she gave me a look of very honest amazement.

"Of course I did," she replied. "I came in a carriage myself from the station and naturally heard it drive away."

At her look, at her word, the thread which I had seized with such avidity seemed to slip from my fingers. Had little Miss Graham's theory no better foundation than this? and were the wheels she heard only those of Mrs. Carew's departing carriage? I resolved to press the matter even if I ran the risk of displeasing her.

"Mrs. Carew--for it must be Mrs. Carew I am addressing--did your little nephew cry when you first brought him to the house?"

"I think he did," she admitted slowly; "I think he did."

I must have given evidence of the sudden discouragement this brought me, for her lips parted and her whole frame trembled with sudden earnestness.

"Did you think--did any one think--that those cries came from Gwendolen? That she was carried out through my grounds? Could any one have thought that?"

"I have been told that the nursery-governess did."

"Little Miss Graham? Poor girl! she is but defending herself from despair. She is ready to believe everything but that the child is dead."

Was it so? Was I following the false light of a will-o'-the-wisp? No, no; the strange coincidence of the threat made on the bridge with the disappearance of the child on the day named, was at least real. The thread had not altogether escaped from my hands. It was less tangible, but it was still there.

"You may be right," I acquiesced, for I saw that her theories were entirely opposed to those of Miss Graham. "But we must try everything, _everything_."

I was about to ask whether she had ever seen in the adjoining grounds, or on the roads about, an old man with long hair and a remarkable scar running down between his eyebrows, when a young girl in the cap and apron of a maid-servant came running through the shrubbery from the Ocumpaugh house, and, seeing Mrs. Carew, panted out:

"Oh, do come over to the house, Mrs. Carew. Mrs. Ocumpaugh has been told that the two shoes which have been found, one on the bank and the other in the river, are not mates, and it has quite distracted her. She has gone to her room and will let no one else in. We can hear her moaning and crying, but we can do nothing. Perhaps she will see you. She called for you, I know, before she shut her door."

"I will go." Mrs. Carew had turned quite pale, and from standing upright in the road, had moved so as to gain support from one of the hedges.

I expected to see her turn and go as soon as her trembling fit was over, but she did not, though she waved the girl away as if she intended to follow her. Had I not learned to distrust my own impression of people's motives from their manners and conduct, I should have said that she was waiting for me to precede her.

"Two shoes and not mates!" she finally exclaimed. "What does she mean?"

"Simply that another shoe has been drawn up from the river-bottom which does not mate the one picked up near the bungalow. Both are for the left foot."

"Ah!" gasped this sympathetic woman. "And what inference can we draw from that?"

I should not have answered her; but the command in her eyes or the thrilling effect of her manner compelled me, and I spoke the truth at once, just as I might have done to Mrs. Ocumpaugh, or, better still, to Mr. Ocumpaugh, if either had insisted.

"But one," said I. "There is a conspiracy on the part of one or more persons to delude Mrs. Ocumpaugh into believing the child dead. They blundered over it, but they came very near succeeding."

"Who blundered, and what is the meaning of the conspiracy you hint at? Tell me. Tell me what such men as you think."

Her plastic features had again shown a change. She was all anxiety now; cheeks burning, eyes blazing--a very beautiful woman.

"We think that the case looks serious. We think from the very mystery it displays, that there is a keen intelligence back of this crime. I can not go any further than that. The affair is as yet too obscure."

"You amaze me!" she faltered, making an effort to collect her thoughts. "I have always thought, just as Mrs. Ocumpaugh has, that the child had somehow found her way to the water and was drowned. But if all this is true we shall have to face a worse evil. A conspiracy against such a tender little being as that! A conspiracy, and for what? Not to extort money, or why these blundering efforts to make the child appear dead?"

She was the same sympathetic woman, agitated by real feeling as before, yet at this moment--I do not understand now just why--I became aware of an inner movement of caution against too great a display of candor on my own part.

"Madam, it is all a mystery at present. I am sure that the police will tell you the same. But another day may bring developments."

"Let us hope so!" was her ardent reply, accompanied by a gesture, the freedom of which suited her style and person as it would not have done those of a less impressionable woman. And, seeing that I had no intention of leaving the spot where I stood, she moved at last from where she held herself upright against the hedge, and entered the Ocumpaugh grounds. "Will you call in to see me to-morrow?" she asked, pausing to look back at a turn in the path. "I shall not sleep to-night for thinking of those possible developments."

"Since you permit me," I returned; "that is, if I am still here. Affairs may call me away at any moment."

"Yes, and so with me. Affairs may call me away also. I was to sail on Saturday for Liverpool. Only Mrs. Ocumpaugh's distress detains me. If the situation lightens, if we hear any good news to-night, or even early to-morrow, I shall continue my preparations, which will take me again to New York."

"I will call if you are at home."

She gave me a slight nod and vanished.

Why did I stand a good three minutes where she had left me, thinking, but not getting anything from my thoughts, save that I was glad that I had not been betrayed into speaking of the old man Miss Graham had met on the bridge? Yet it might have been well, after all, if I had done so, if only to discover whether Mrs. Ocumpaugh had confided this occurrence to her most intimate friend.

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