CHAPTER V

LITTLE MISS JANE

I was almost unrecognizable when I looked at myself in the mirror the next morning, preparatory to dressing for breakfast. My nose boasted a new arch, like the back of an angry cat, making my profile Roman and ferocious, and the lump on my forehead from the chair was swollen, glassy and purple. I turned my back to the mirror and dressed in wrathful irritation and my yesterday's linen.

Miss Fleming was in the breakfast-room when I got down, standing at a window, her back to me. I have carried with me, during all the months since that time, a mental picture of her as she stood there, in a pink morning frock of some sort. But only the other day, having mentioned this to her, she assured me that the frock was blue, that she didn't have a pink garment at the time this story opens and that if she did she positively didn't have it on. And having thus flouted my eye for color, she maintains that she did not have her back to me, for she distinctly saw my newly-raised bridge as I came down the stairs. So I amend this. Miss Fleming in a blue frock was facing the door when I went into the breakfast-room. Of one thing I am certain. She came forward and held out her hand.

"Good morning," she said. "What a terrible face!"

"It isn't mine," I replied meekly. "My own face is beneath these excrescences. I tried to cover the bump on my forehead with French chalk, but it only accentuated the thing, like snow on a mountain top."

"'The purple peaks of Darien,'" she quoted, pouring me my coffee. "Do you know, I feel so much better since you have taken hold of things. Aunt Letitia thinks you are wonderful."

I thought ruefully of the failure of my first attempt to play the sleuth, and I disclaimed any right to Miss Letitia's high opinion of me. From my dogging the watchman to the police station, to Delia and her note, was a short mental step.

"Before any one comes down, Miss Fleming," I said, "I want to ask a question or two. What was the name of the maid who helped you search the house that night?"

"Annie."

"What other maids did you say there were?"

"Delia and Rose."

"Do you know anything about them? Where they came from, or where they went?"

She smiled a little.

"What does one know about new servants?" she responded. "They bring you references, but references are the price most women pay to get rid of their servants without a fuss. Rose was fat and old, but Delia was pretty. I thought she rather liked Carter."

Carter as well as Shields, the policeman. I put Miss Delia down as a flirt.

"And you have no idea where Carter went?"

"None."

Wardrop came in then, and we spoke of other things. The two elderly ladies it seemed had tea and toast in their rooms when they wakened, and the three of us breakfasted together. But conversation languished with Wardrop's appearance; he looked haggard and worn, avoided Miss Fleming's eyes, and after ordering eggs instead of his chop, looked at his watch and left without touching anything.

"I want to get the nine-thirty, Margie," he said, coming back with his hat in his hand. "I may not be out to dinner. Tell Miss Letitia, will you?" He turned to go, but on second thought came back to me and held out his hand.

"I may not see you again," he began.

"Not if I see you first," I interrupted. He glanced at my mutilated features and smiled.

"I have made you a Maitland," he said. "I didn't think that anything but a prodigal Nature could duplicate Miss Letitia's nose! I'm honestly sorry, Mr. Knox, and if you do not want Miss Jane at that bump with a cold silver knife and some butter, you'd better duck before she comes down. Good-by, Margie."

I think the girl was as much baffled as I was by the change in his manner when he spoke to her. His smile faded and he hardly met her eyes: I thought that his aloofness puzzled rather than hurt her. When the house door had closed behind him, she dropped her chin in her hand and looked across the table.

"You did not tell me the truth last night, Mr. Knox," she said. "I have never seen Harry look like that. Something has happened to him."

"He was robbed of his traveling-bag," I explained, on Fred's theory that half a truth is better than a poor lie. "It's a humiliating experience, I believe. A man will throw away thousands, or gamble them away, with more equanimity than he'll see some one making off with his hair brushes or his clean collars."

"His traveling-bag!" she repeated scornfully. "Mr. Knox, something has happened to my father, and you and Harry are hiding it from me."

"On my honor, it is nothing of the sort," I hastened to assure her. "I saw him for only a few minutes, just long enough for him to wreck my appearance."

"He did not speak of father?"

"No."

She got up and crossing to the wooden mantel, put her arms upon it and leaned her head against them. "I wanted to ask him," she said drearily, "but I am afraid to. Suppose he doesn't know and I should tell him! He would go to Mr. Schwartz at once, and Mr. Schwartz is treacherous. The papers would get it, too."

Her eyes filled with tears, and I felt as awkward as a man always does when a woman begins to cry. If he knows her well enough he can go over and pat her on the shoulder and assure her it is going to be all right. If he does not know her, and there are two maiden aunts likely to come in at any minute, he sits still, as I did, and waits until the storm clears.

Miss Margery was not long in emerging from her handkerchief.

"I didn't sleep much," she explained, dabbing at her eyes, "and I am nervous, anyhow. Mr. Knox, are you sure it was only Harry trying to get into the house last night?"

"Only Harry," I repeated. "If Mr. Wardrop's attempt to get into the house leaves me in this condition, what would a real burglar have done to me!"

She was too intent to be sympathetic over my disfigured face.

"There was some one moving about up-stairs not long before I came down," she said slowly.

"You heard me; I almost fell down the stairs."

"Did you brush past my door, and strike the knob?" she demanded.

"No, I was not near any door."

"Very well," triumphantly. "Some one did. Not only that, but they were in the store-room on the floor above. I could hear one person and perhaps two, going from one side of the room to the other and back again."

"You heard a goblin quadrille. First couple forward and back," I said facetiously.

"I heard real footsteps—unmistakable ones. The maids sleep back on the second floor, and—don't tell me it was rats. There are no rats in my Aunt Letitia's house."

I was more impressed than I cared to show. I found I had a half hour before train time, and as we were neither of us eating anything, I suggested that we explore the upper floor of the house. I did it, I explained, not because I expected to find anything, but because I was sure we would not.

We crept past the two closed doors behind which the ladies Maitland were presumably taking out their crimps and taking in their tea. Then up a narrow, obtrusively clean stairway to the upper floor.

It was an old-fashioned, sloping-roofed attic, with narrow windows and a bare floor. At one end a door opened into a large room, and in there were the family trunks of four generations of Maitlands. One on another they were all piled there—little hair trunks, squab-topped trunks, huge Saratogas—of the period when the two maiden ladies were in their late teens—and there were handsome, modern trunks, too. For Miss Fleming's satisfaction I made an examination of the room, but it showed nothing. There was little or no dust to have been disturbed; the windows were closed and locked.

In the main attic were two step-ladders, some curtains drying on frames and an old chest of drawers with glass knobs and the veneering broken in places. One of the drawers stood open, and inside could be seen a red and white patchwork quilt, and a grayish thing that looked like flannel and smelled to heaven of camphor. We gave up finally, and started down.

Part way down the attic stairs Margery stopped, her eyes fixed on the white-scrubbed rail. Following her gaze, I stopped, too, and I felt a sort of chill go over me. No spot or blemish, no dirty finger print marked the whiteness of that stair rail, except in one place. On it, clear and distinct, every line of the palm showing, was the reddish imprint of a hand!

Margery did not speak; she had turned very white, and closed her eyes, but she was not faint. When the first revulsion had passed, I reached over and touched the stain. It was quite dry, of course, but it was still reddish-brown; another hour or two would see it black. It was evidently fresh—Hunter said afterward it must have been about six hours old, and as things transpired, he was right. The stain showed a hand somewhat short and broad, with widened finger-tips; marked in ink, it would not have struck me so forcibly, perhaps, but there, its ugly red against the white wood, it seemed to me to be the imprint of a brutal, murderous hand.

Margery was essentially feminine.

"What did I tell you?" she asked. "Some one was in this house last night; I heard them distinctly. There must have been two, and they quarreled—" she shuddered.

We went on down-stairs into the quiet and peace of the dining-room again. I got some hot coffee for Margery, for she looked shaken, and found I had missed my train.

"I am beginning to think I am being pursued by a malicious spirit," she said, trying to smile. "I came away from home because people got into the house at night and left queer signs of their visits, and now, here at Bellwood, where nothing ever happens, the moment I arrive things begin to occur. And—just as it was at home—the house was so well locked last night."

I did not tell her of the open hall door, just as I had kept from her the fact that only the contents of Harry Wardrop's bag had been taken. That it had all been the work of one person, and that that person, having in some way access to the house, had also stolen the pearls, was now my confident belief.

I looked at Bella—the maid—as she moved around the dining-room; her stolid face was not even intelligent; certainly not cunning. Heppie, the cook and only other servant, was partly blind and her horizon was the diameter of her largest kettle. No—it had not been a servant, this mysterious intruder who passed the Maitland silver on the sideboard without an attempt to take it, and who floundered around an attic at night, in search of nothing more valuable than patchwork quilts and winter flannels. It is strange to look back and think how quietly we sat there; that we could see nothing but burglary—or an attempt at it—in what we had found.

It must have been after nine o'clock when Bella came running into the room. Ordinarily a slow and clumsy creature, she almost flew. She had a tray in her hand, and the dishes were rattling and threatening overthrow at every step. She brought up against a chair, and a cup went flying. The breaking of a cup must have been a serious offense in Miss Letitia Maitland's house, but Bella took no notice whatever of it.

"Miss Jane," she gasped, "Miss Jane, she's—she's—"

"Hurt!" Margery exclaimed, rising and clutching at the table for support.

"No. Gone—she's gone! She's been run off with!"

"Nonsense!" I said, seeing Margery's horrified face. "Don't come in here with such a story. If Miss Jane is not in her room, she is somewhere else, that's all."

Bella stooped and gathered up the broken cup, her lips moving. Margery had recovered herself. She made Bella straighten and explain.

"Do you mean—she is not in her room?" she asked incredulously. "Isn't she somewhere around the house?"

"Go up and look at the room," the girl replied, and, with Margery leading, we ran up the stairs.

Miss Jane's room was empty. From somewhere near Miss Letitia could be heard lecturing Hepsibah about putting too much butter on the toast. Her high voice, pitched for Heppie's old ears, rasped me. Margery closed the door, and we surveyed the room together.

The bed had been occupied; its coverings had been thrown back, as if its occupant had risen hurriedly. The room itself was in a state of confusion; a rocker lay on its side, and Miss Jane's clothing, folded as she had taken it off, had slid off on to the floor. Her shoes stood neatly at the foot of the bed, and a bottle of toilet vinegar had been upset, pouring a stream over the marble top of the dresser and down on to the floor. Over the high wooden mantel the Maitland who had been governor of the state years ago hung at a waggish angle, and a clock had been pushed aside and stopped at half-past one.

Margery stared around her in bewilderment. Of course, it was not until later in the day that I saw all the details. My first impression was of confusion and disorder: the room seemed to have been the scene of a struggle. The overturned furniture, the clothes on the floor, the picture, coupled with the print of the hand on the staircase and Miss Jane's disappearance, all seemed to point to one thing.

And as if to prove it conclusively, Margery picked up Miss Jane's new lace cap from the floor. It was crumpled and spotted with blood.

"She has been killed," Margery said, in a choking voice. "Killed, and she had not an enemy in the world!"

"But where is she?" I asked stupidly.

Margery had more presence of mind than I had; I suppose it is because woman's courage is mental and man's physical, that in times of great strain women always make the better showing. While I was standing in the middle of the room, staring at the confusion around me, Margery was already on her knees, looking under the high, four-post bed. Finding nothing there she went to the closet. It was undisturbed. Pathetic rows of limp black dresses and on the shelves two black crepe bonnets were mute reminders of the little old lady. But there was nothing else in the room.

"Call Robert, the gardener," Margery said quickly, "and have him help you search the grounds and cellars. I will take Bella and go through the house. Above everything, keep it from Aunt Letitia as long as possible."

I locked the door into the disordered room, and with my head whirling, I went to look for Robert.

It takes a short time to search an acre of lawn and shrubbery. There was no trace of the missing woman anywhere outside the house, and from Bella, as she sat at the foot of the front stairs with her apron over her head, I learned in a monosyllable that nothing had been found in the house. Margery was with Miss Letitia, and from the excited conversation I knew she was telling her—not harrowing details, but that Miss Jane had disappeared during the night.

The old lady was inclined to scoff at first.

"Look in the fruit closet in the store-room," I heard her say. "She's let the spring lock shut on her twice; she was black in the face the last time we found her."

"I did look; she's not there," Margery screamed at her.

"Then she's out looking for stump water to take that wart off her neck. She said yesterday she was going for some."

"But her clothes are all here," Margery persisted. "We think some one must have got in the house."

"If all her clothes are there she's been sleep-walking," Miss Letitia said calmly. "We used to have to tie her by a cord around her ankle and fasten it to the bedpost. When she tried to get up the cord would pull and wake her."

I think after a time, however, some of Margery's uneasiness communicated itself to the older woman. She finished dressing, and fumed when we told her we had locked Miss Jane's door and mislaid the key. Finally, Margery got her settled in the back parlor with some peppermints and her knitting; she had a feeling, she said, that Jane had gone after the stump water and lost her way, and I told Margery to keep her in that state of mind as long as she could.

I sent for Hunter that morning and he came at three o'clock. I took him through the back entrance to avoid Miss Letitia. I think he had been skeptical until I threw open the door and showed him the upset chair, the old lady's clothing, and the bloodstained lace cap. His examination was quick and thorough. He took a crumpled sheet of note paper out of the waste-basket and looked at it, then he stuffed it in his pocket. He sniffed the toilet water, called Margery and asked her if any clothing was missing, and on receiving a negative answer asked if any shawls or wraps were gone from the halls or other rooms. Margery reported nothing missing.

Before he left the room, Hunter went back and moved the picture which had been disturbed over the mantel. What he saw made him get a chair and, standing on it, take the picture from its nail. Thus exposed, the wall showed an opening about a foot square, and perhaps eighteen inches deep. A metal door, opening in, was unfastened and ajar, and just inside was a copy of a recent sentimental novel and a bottle of some sort of complexion cream. In spite of myself, I smiled; it was so typical of the dear old lady, with the heart of a girl and a skin that was losing its roses. But there was something else in the receptacle, something that made Margery Fleming draw in her breath sharply, and made Hunter raise his eyebrows a little and glance at me. The something was a scrap of unruled white paper, and on it the figures eleven twenty-two!

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