Dangerous Ground: or, The Rival Detectivesñêà÷àòü êíèãó áåñïëàòíî
A VERY PATHETIC MUTE
In spite of the fact that the Warburton servants were a thoroughly disciplined corps, and that domestic affairs, above stairs and below, usually moved with mechanical regularity, it was nearly two o’clock before Millie, armed with dusters and brushes, entered Alan’s study to do battle with a small quantity of slowly-accumulated dust.
“Ah!” she exclaimed as she flung open the windows, “how gloomy the house is! I s’pose Mr. Alan will set himself up as master now, and then, Millie, you’ll get your walking papers. Well, who cares; I don’t like him, anyhow.” And she made a vigorous dash at the fireless grate.
Millie Davis was the joint protege of Leslie and Winnie, a rustic with a pretty face, and scant knowledge of the world and its ways.
Up and down the study flitted Millie, dusting, arranging, and pausing very often to admire some costly fabric, or bit of vivid color.
Almost the last article to come under her brush was Alan’s cabinet-arsenal, and her feminine curiosity prompted her to peep in at the door, which Alan had left ajar; and then Millie gasped and stood aghast.
“Guns and pistols, and all manner of cuttin’ and shootin’ things,” she soliloquized, as she drew back and prepared to close the door of the cabinet. “Well, it takes a good while to find some folks out!” And then, as a tuneful sound smote her ears, she turned swiftly from the open cabinet to the window.
A hand organ grinding out the “Sweet By-and-by”, is a thing most of us fail to appreciate. But Millie both appreciated and understood. It was music, familiar music, and sweet; at least so thought Millie, and she hurried to the window nearest the cabinet, and looked out.
“My,” she said, half aloud, “but that sounds cheerful!”
She leaned over the window-ledge and looked up and down the quiet side street. Ah, there he was; quite near the window, resting his organ against the iron railings, and playing, with his eyes turned toward her. Such beseeching eyes; such a good-looking, picturesque, sad-faced organ-grinder!
Catching sight of Millie, he lifted his organ quickly, and without a break in the “Sweet By-and-by”, came directly under the window, gazing up at her with a look that was a wondrous mixture of admiration and pathos. Poor fellow; how sorrowful, how distressed, and how respectful, was his look and attitude!
“What a mournful-looking chap it is!” murmured Millie, drawing back a little when the tune came to an end.
As the organ struck up a more cheerful strain, a new thought seized her, and she leaned out again over the sill.
“Look here, my man,” she began, in a tone of gentle remonstrance, “you shouldn’t play, come to think of it, quite so near the house. It won’t do; stop, stop.” And, as the man stared, hesitated, and then ground away more vigorously than before, she indulged in a series of frantic gestures, seeing which the organ-grinder paused and stared wonderingly.
Then, with a sudden gleam of comprehension, he smiled up at her, touched a stop in his organ, and complacently began a different tune.
“No! no! no!” cried Millie; “not that; stop!” And she shook her head so violently that the little blue bow atop of her brown locks, flew off and fell at the feet of the minstrel, who, in obedience to the movement of her head and hand, stopped his instrument once more, stooped down, and picking up the blue bow, began to clamber up the iron railings, with his organ still strapped to his side, evidently intent upon restoring the bow in the most gallant manner.
“My! you shouldn’t climb onto the railings like that,” remonstrated Millie, as she put out her hand to receive the bit of ribbon.
But the minstrel, bracing one knee against the brick and mortar, thus steadying himself and giving his hands full play, began a series of pantomines so strange that Millie involuntarily exclaimed:
“Why, what in the world ails the man!” And then, struck once more by the pitiful appeal in his eyes, she cried: “Look here, are you sick?”
Only renewed pantomines from the minstrel.
“Are you hungry?” Then, in a tone of discouragement: “What is he at, anyhow?”
But as the man’s hand went from his lips to his ear, even Millie’s dull comprehension was awakened.
“Gracious goodness!” she exclaimed, “he’s deaf and dumb.”
Faster still flew the fingers of the minstrel, sadder and more pitiful grew his face, and Millie watched his movements with renewed interest.
“He’s talking with his fingers,” muttered Millie. “I wonder – ”
She stopped suddenly; he was doing something new in the way of pantomine, and Millie guessed its meaning.
“A baby!” she gasped; “it’s something about a baby. One, two, three, ah! five fingers; five babies, five years – oh, say, say, man; say man!” – and Millie’s face was white with agitation, and she barely saved herself from tumbling out of the window, in the intensity and eagerness of her excitement – “you don’t mean – you don’t know anything about our Daisy – you don’t – ”
But Millie’s breath failed her, for even as she spoke, the sad-eyed organ-grinder took from his pocket a dirty bit of paper, unfolded it, and displayed to the eager girl a tiny tress of yellow hair – just such a tress as might have grown on little Daisy’s head.
“Oh,” she cried, “I’ll bet that’s it! I’ll bet, oh, – ” And with this last interjection, any such small stock of prudence as Millie may naturally have possessed, was scattered to the four winds.
“Wait here,” she cried, utterly disregarding the fact that she was addressing a deaf man, but by a natural instinct suiting her gestures to her word. “Just you wait a minute. I know who can talk finger talk.”
In another moment she had rushed from the room, shutting the door behind her with a sudden emphasis that must have been a surprise to those stately panels, and the noiseless, slow-moving hinges on which they swung.
Scarcely has Millie turned away from the window when the man outside, with two quick turns of the neck, has assured himself that for a moment at least, the window is not under the scrutiny of any passer-by. No sooner has the study door closed, than the mute, without one shade of pathos in look or action, grasps the window-sill, swings himself up, and drops into the room, organ and all.
“So far, good,” mutters this pathetic mute, under his breath. “This is Alan Warburton’s study; not a doubt of that. Now, if I can continue to stay in it until he comes – ”
He broke off abruptly, with his eyes fixed upon the half-open cabinet; moved briskly toward it, peeped in, and then, with a satisfied chuckle, stepped inside, and depositing his organ upon the floor of his hiding-place, drew the door shut, softly and slowly.
In another moment the study door opened quickly, and there was a rustle, and the patter of light feet, as Winnie French crossed the room rapidly, and leaned out of the window.
“Why, Millie,” she said, looking back over her shoulder, “there’s no one here.”
“Perhaps – ” began Millie; then, catching her breath sharply, she too leaned over the sill.
“Where is your pathetic mute, Millie?”
“Well, I never!” declared the girl, still gazing incredulously up and down the street. “He was here.”
Winnie smiled as she turned from the window.
“Some one has imposed upon you, Millie,” she said; “and you did a very careless thing when you left such a stranger at an open window.”
And a certain listener near by added to this exordium a mental amen.
“He might have entered – ” continued Winnie.
“And robbed the house.”
“Bless me; I never thought of that!”
“Try and be more thoughtful in future, Millie. Close the window and let us go; ah!”
This last exclamation, uttered in a tone of unmistakable annoyance, caused Millie to turn swiftly.
Alan Warburton, having entered noiselessly at the door left ajar by Millie’s reckless hand, was standing in the centre of the room, his well-bred face expressive of nothing in particular, his eyes slightly smiling.
At sight of him, Millie shrank back, but Winnie came forward haughtily.
“You are doubtless surprised at seeing me here, sir,” she said, with freezing politeness, bent only upon screening Millie and beating an orderly retreat. “I came – in search of Millie; and, being here, had a desire to take a view of Elm street. You will pardon the intrusion, I trust.” And she moved toward the door.
“Winnie,” said Alan gently, “you entered to please yourself, and you are very welcome here. Will you remain just five minutes, to please me?”
Winnie frowned visibly, but after a moment’s hesitation, said:
“I think I may spare you five minutes. You may go, Millie.”
And Millie, only too thankful to escape thus, went with absurd alacrity.
When the door had closed behind her, – for, retreating under Alan’s eye, the fluttered damsel had remembered to close the door properly – Winnie stood very erect and silent before her host, and waited.
“Winnie,” began Alan, consulting his watch as he spoke, “it is now almost three o’clock, and I expect a visitor soon; that is why I asked for only a few moments.”
“I am not anxious to remain,” observed Winnie, glancing carelessly from the timepiece in Alan’s hand to a placque on the wall above his head.
“But I am most anxious that you should.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Warburton, but you have such a peculiar way of making yourself agreeable.”
“Your interviews with ladies are liable to such dramatic endings: I seriously object to fainting, and I remained here, as you must know, not because I cared to listen to you, but because of Millie’s presence. I think it took you half an hour to talk Leslie into a dead faint yesterday, and as nearly as I can guess at time, one of your minutes must be gone. You have just four minutes in which to reduce me to silence.”
“You are very bitter, Winnie,” he said sadly. “I am bowed down with grief – that you know. I am also burdened with such a weight of trouble as I pray Heaven you may never suffer. Will you let me tell you all the truth; will you listen and judge between Leslie Warburton and me?”
She drew herself very erect, and turned to face him fully, thus shutting from her view the door behind Alan.
“No,” she answered, “I will listen to nothing from you concerning Leslie. Without knowing the cause, I know you are her enemy. If I ever learn why you hate her so, I will hear it from her, not from you. Leslie is not a child; and you must have said bitterly cruel words before you left her in a dead faint on that library floor last night – ”
A very distinct cough interrupted her speech, and they both turned, to meet the respectful gaze of a jaunty-looking stranger, who said, as he advanced into the room:
“Pardon me; the servant showed me in somewhat unceremoniously, supposing the room unoccupied. I was instructed to wait here for Mr. Warburton.”
Winnie was first to recover herself. Turning to Alan, she murmured politely:
“I think my time has expired; good evening, Mr. Warburton.”
As she swept from the room, the stranger approached Alan, saying:
“This, then, is Mr. Warburton. My name is Grip, sir; Augustus Grip.”
MR. GRIP FINDS A “SKELETON”
This sudden appearance of Mr. Grip was not precisely to Alan Warburton’s taste, and he eyed his visitor with a somewhat haughty air, while he said:
“Mr. Grip is prompt, to say the least. I believe that the hour – ”
“Hour appointed, between three and four – precisely, sir; precisely. But my time’s valuable, Mr. Warburton; valuable, sir! And it’s better too early than too late. Everything’s cut and dried, and nothing else on hand for this hour; couldn’t afford to waste it.”
Mr. Grip’s words fell from his lips like hailstones from a November sky – rap, rap, rap; patter, patter; swift, sharp, decisive. And Alan was not slow to realize that all the combined dignity of all the combined Warburtons, would be utterly lost upon this plebeian.
Plebeian, Mr. Grip evidently was, from the crown of his head to the tips of his too highly polished, creaking boots. Vulgarity reveled in the plaid of his jaunty business suit, flaunted in the links of his glittering watch guard, and gleamed in the folds of his gorgeous neck gear. You smelled it in his ambrosial locks; you saw it in his self-satisfied face, and heard it in his inharmonious voice.
And this was Augustus Grip, of Scotland Yards! Well, one might be a good detective and yet not be a gentleman. So mused Alan; and then, seeing that Mr. Grip, while waiting for him to speak, was utilizing the seconds by making a survey of the premises, he said:
“Will you be seated, Mr. Grip?”
Mr. Grip dropped comfortably into the nearest lounging-chair, crossed one knee over the other, and resting a hand on either arm of the chair, began to talk rapidly.
“I’ve got your business down fine, sir; fine,” emphasizing with both hands upon the chair arms. “Saves time; always do it when possible. Posted at Agency – less to learn here.” And Mr. Grip begins to fumble in the breast-pocket of his startling plaid coat. “Was informed by – um – um – ” producing a packet of folded papers and running them over rapidly; “oh, here we are.”
He restores the packet to his pocket, having selected the proper memoranda, and then without rising, but with a jerking movement of the knees and elbows, he propels his chair toward the table near which Alan is still standing. Putting the memoranda on the table before him, he unfolds them rapidly, and looks up at his host.
“Sit down, Warburton.”
A look of displeasure flits across Alan’s face. He remains standing, seeming to grow more haughtily erect.
“My instructions,” continues Mr. Grip, who has not lifted his eyes from the documents before him, “are, take entire charge of case; investigate in own way. That’s what I like.”
If Alan had ventured a comment just then, it would have been, “you are not what I like.” But he did not speak; and Mr. Grip, having paused for a remark and hearing none, now glanced up.
“Is that your pleasure, Mr. Warburton?”
A certain touch of acidity in the tone, recalls Alan to a sense of his position. This man before him is a man of business, a detective highly recommended by the Chief of Police, and he needs his services. He moves a step nearer the table and begins.
“That is what I – ”
“Precisely,” breaks in Mr. Grip. “Now, then,” referring to papers, “first – sit down, won’t you? it’s more sociable.”
And Alan puts his aristocracy in his pocket and sits down opposite the dazzling necktie.
“Now then,” recommences Mr. Grip, “I’ve got the facts in the case.”
“Facts in case; yes.” And he takes up the memoranda, reading therefrom:
“Lost child; daughter of Archibald Warburton; only daughter.” Then, turning his eyes upon Alan: “Father killed by shock, I’m told; sad – very.”
And he resumes his reading. “Relatives: Alan Warburton, uncle; fond of niece, eh – ahem; step-mother – um – a little mysterious; little under suspicion.”
“Stop!” interrupts Alan sternly. “On what authority dare you make such assertions?
”Mr. Grip permits the hand which holds the papers to rest upon one knee, and lifts his eyes to the face of his interrogator.
“I’ve reconnoitred,” he says tersely. “It’s a detective’s business to reconnoitre. I’m familiar with the facts in the case.”
Alan feels the perspiration start upon his brow, while he utters a mental, “Heaven forbid!”
“Now then,” resumes Mr. Grip, throwing himself back in his chair and stretching his legs underneath the table; “now then, here we go. Daisy Warburton is her father’s heiress. Remove her, the bulk of property probably goes to second wife —step mother, d’ye see? Remove her, property comes down to you.”
“Stop, sir! How dare you – preposterous!” And Alan Warburton pushes back his chair and rises, an angry flush upon his face.
Mr. Grip rises also. Stepping nimbly out from between the big chair and the table before it, he inserts his two hands underneath his two coat tails, bends his head forward, raising himself from time to time on the tips of his toes as he talks, and replies suavely:
“Ta ta; I’m reasoning. They have not both disappeared, have they? The lady in question is in the house at this present moment, is she not?”
“She is,” replied Alan, beginning to feel most uncomfortable.
“She is. Well, now, if she should disappear, then suspicion might point to you. As it is – ahem – ” Here Alan fancies that Mr. Grip is watching him furtively. “As it is – we will begin to investigate.”
Mr. Grip reseats himself, folds away his memoranda, and, reclining once more at his ease, looks up at Alan coolly.
“First, Mr. Warburton, I must see your sister-in-law.”
Alan cannot restrain his start of surprise, nor the look of anxiety that crosses his face.
“Not at present,” he says, after a moment’s hesitation. “She is ill; it would – ”
“So much the better,” interrupts the detective. “Worn out, no doubt; nervous. May surprise something. I must see her, and every other member of this household, myself unseen.”
“Ah!” thinks Alan, his hands clenching themselves involuntarily, “if I dared throw you out of the window!”
And then, with a shade more of haughtiness than he had as yet used in addressing this man, who was fast becoming his tormentor, he asks:
“Mr. Grip, is this so very necessary?”
Slowly the detective leans forward; slowly he raises a warning forefinger.
“My dear sir,” he says impressively, “if you want to catch a thief will you say, ‘come here, my dear, and be arrested?’ No, sir; you catch her unawares. Tell that fine lady that she is to be interviewed by a detective, and, presto! she shuts her secrets up behind a mantle of smiles or sneers. Call her in, and lead her to talk; I’ll employ my eyes and ears. Use the cues set down here – ” he extends to Alan a folded slip of paper. “Put her at her ease, and leave the rest to me. Now then – ”
Again he rises, and this time he begins a slow survey of the room.
Alan, thoroughly alarmed for Leslie’s safety as well as for his own, begins to wonder how this strange interview is to end. Even if he should summon Leslie, would she come at his call? Yes; he feels sure that she would, remembering her message of the morning. And what may she not say? If he could give her a word, a sign of warning. But those eyes, that are even now bestowing questioning glances upon him, are too keen. He would only bungle. He will try again.
“Mr. Grip,” he says, “my sister-in-law is already ill from excitement. If we could spare her this interview – ”
“Sir!” Augustus Grip wheels suddenly, and looks straight into his face while he continues sharply: “My good sir; for your own sake, don’t! You should have no reason for keeping a witness in the background.”
The hot angry Warburton blood surges up to Alan’s brow. Realizing his danger more than ever, and recognizing in the man before him a force that might, perhaps, be bought or baffled, but never evaded, he lets his eyes rest for a moment, in haughty defiance, upon the detective’s face. And then he turns and walks to the door.
“Where do you purpose to conceal yourself?” he asks coldly, as he lays his hand upon the bell-rope.
Again Grip looks about him, and then steps toward the cabinet near the window.
“What’s this,” he asks, with his hand upon the closed door. “Will it hold me?”
“Yes,” replies Alan; “that will hold you.” And he pulls the bell.
“There’s no resisting Fate,” he mutters to himself. “At least that fellow shall not see me flinch again, let Leslie entangle me as she may, and as she doubtless will.”
And then there tingled in his veins a new sensation – a burning desire to seize that most impertinent, vulgar trail-hunter, who was now tugging away at his cabinet door, and send him crashing headlong through the window into the street below.
“Ask Mrs. Warburton if she will grant me a few moments of her time,” he said to the servant who appeared at the door, which Alan did not permit him to open more than half way. And then he turned his attention to Mr. Grip.
That individual, still tugging unsuccessfully at the door of the cabinet, has grown impatient.
“It’s locked!” he says, with an angry snap.
“No,” – Alan strides toward him – “it is not locked.” And he adds his strength to that of Mr. Grip.
A moment the door hesitates; then it yields with a suddenness which causes Alan to reel, and flies open.
In another instant, Grip has pounced upon the luckless organ-grinder, and dragged him into the centre of the room, where he crouches at Alan’s feet, the very image of terrified misery, limp and unresisting.
“That’s a pretty thing to keep hid away!” snarled the now thoroughly angry detective. “I’ve heard of skeletons in closets, but this thing looks more like a monkey.”
“More like a sneak thief, I should say,” remarks Alan, with aggravating coolness. “And a very cowardly one at that.”
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