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   Chapter 4 THE FLEEING WOMAN

Elusive Isabel By Jacques Futrelle Characters: 9445

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Mr. Grimm went straight to a quiet nook of the smoking-room and there, after a moment, Mr. Campbell joined him. The bland benevolence of the chief's face was disturbed by the slightest questioning uplift of his brows as he dropped into a seat opposite Mr. Grimm, and lighted a cigar. Mr. Grimm raised his hand, and a servant who stood near, approached them.

"An ice-here," Mr. Grimm directed tersely.

The servant bowed and disappeared, and Mr. Grimm hastily scribbled something on a sheet of paper and handed it to his chief.

"There is a reading, in the Morse code, of a message that seems to be unintelligible," Mr. Grimm explained. "I have reason to believe it is in the Continental code. You know the Continental-I don't."

Mr. Campbell read this:

"St5ut man fed qaje neaf j5nsefvat5f," and then came the unknown, dash-dot-dash-dash. "That," he explained, "is Y in the Continental code." It went on: "d55f bfing 5vef when g g5es."

The chief read it off glibly:

"Stout man, red face, near conservatory door. Bring over when G goes."

"Very well!" commented Mr. Grimm ambiguously.

With no word of explanation, he rose and went out, pausing at the door to take the ice which the servant was bringing in. The seat where he had left Se?orita Rodriguez was vacant; so was the chair where Miss Thorne had been. He glanced about inquiringly, and a servant who stood stolidly near the conservatory door approached him.

"Pardon, sir, but the lady who was sitting here," and he indicated the chair where Miss Thorne had been sitting, "fainted while dancing, and the lady who was with you went along when she was removed to the ladies' dressing-room, sir."

Mr. Grimm's teeth closed with a little snap.

"Did you happen to notice any time this evening a stout gentleman, with red face, near the conservatory door?" he asked.

The servant pondered a moment, then shook his head.

"No, sir."

"Thank you."

Mr. Grimm was just turning away, when there came the sharp, vibrant cra-a-sh! of a revolver, somewhere off to his left. The president! That was his first thought. One glance across the room to where the chief executive stood, in conversation with two other gentlemen, reassured him. The choleric blue eyes of the president had opened a little at the sound, then he calmly resumed the conversation. Mr. Grimm impulsively started toward the little group, but already a cordon was being drawn there-a cordon of quiet-faced, keen-eyed men, unobstrusively forcing their way through the crowd. There was Johnson, and Hastings, and Blair, and half a dozen others.

The room had been struck dumb. The dancers stopped, with tense, inquiring looks, and the plaintive whine of the orchestra, far away, faltered, then ceased. There was one brief instant of utter silence in which white-faced women clung to the arms of their escorts, and the brilliant galaxy of colors halted. Then, after a moment, there came clearly through the stillness, the excited, guttural command of the German ambassador.

"Keep on blaying, you tam fools! Keep on blaying!"

The orchestra started again tremulously. Mr. Grimm nodded a silent approval of the ambassador's command, then turned away toward his left, in the direction of the shot. After the first dismay, there was a general movement of the crowd in that direction, a movement which was checked by Mr. Campbell's appearance upon a chair, with a smile on his bland face.

"No harm done," he called. "One of the officers present dropped his revolver, and it was accidently discharged. No harm done."

There was a moment's excited chatter, deep-drawn breaths of relief, the orchestra swung again into the interrupted rhythm, and the dancers moved on. Mr. Grimm went straight to his chief, who had stepped down from the chair. Two other Secret Service men stood behind him, blocking the doorway that opened into a narrow hall.

"This way," directed the chief tersely.

Mr. Grimm walked along beside him. They skirted the end of the ball-room until they came to another door opening into the hall. Chief Campbell pushed it open, and entered. One of his men stood just inside.

"What was it, Gray?" asked the chief.

"Se?or Alvarez, of the Mexican legation, was shot," was the reply.

"Dead?"

"Only wounded. He's in that room," and he indicated a door a little way down the hall. "Fairchild, two servants, and a physician are with him."

"Who shot him?"

"Don't know. We found him lying in the hall here."

Still followed by Mr. Grimm, the chief entered the room, and together they bent over the wounded man. The bullet had entered the torso just below the ribs on the left side.

"It's a clean wound," the physician was explaining. "T

he bullet passed through. There's no immediate danger."

Se?or Alvarez opened his eyes, and stared about him in bewilderment; then alarm overspread his face, and he made spasmodic efforts to reach the inside breast pocket of his coat. Mr. Grimm obligingly thrust his hand into the pocket and drew out its contents, the while Se?or Alvarez struggled frantically.

"Just a moment," Mr. Grimm advised quietly. "I'm only going to let you see if it is here. Is it?"

He held the papers, one by one, in front of the wounded man, and each time a shake of the head was his answer. At the last Se?or Alvarez closed his eyes again.

"What sort of paper was it?" inquired Mr. Grimm.

"None of your business," came the curt answer.

"Who shot you?"

"None of your business."

"A man?"

Se?or Alvarez was silent.

"A woman?"

Still silence.

With some new idea Mr. Grimm turned away suddenly and started out into the hall. He met a maid-servant at the door, coming in. Her face was blanched, and she stuttered through sheer excitement.

"A lady, sir-a lady-" she began babblingly.

Mr. Grimm calmly closed the door, shutting in the wounded man, Chief Campbell and the others. Then he caught the maid sharply by the arm and shook some coherence into her disordered brain.

"A lady-she ran away, sir," the girl went on, in blank surprise.

"What lady?" demanded Mr. Grimm coldly. "Where did she run from? Why did she run?" The maid stared at him with mouth agape. "Begin at the beginning."

"I was in that room, farther down the hall, sir," the maid explained. "The door was open. I heard the shot, and it frightened me so-I don't know-I was afraid to look out right away, sir. Then, an instant later, a lady come running along the hall, sir-that way," and she indicated the rear of the house. "Then I came to the door and looked out to see who it was, and what was the matter, sir. I was standing there when a man-a man came along after the lady, and banged the door in my face, sir. The door had a spring lock, and I was so-so frightened and excited I couldn't open it right away, sir, and-and when I did I came here to see what was the matter." She drew a deep breath and stopped.

"That all?" demanded Mr. Grimm.

"Yes, sir, except-except the lady had a pistol in her hand, sir-"

Mr. Grimm regarded her in silence for a moment.

"Who was the lady?" he asked at last.

"I forget her name, sir. She was the lady who-who fainted in the ball-room, sir, just a few minutes ago."

Whatever emotion may have been aroused within Mr. Grimm it certainly found no expression in his face. When he spoke again his voice was quite calm.

"Miss Thorne, perhaps?"

"Yes, sir, that's the name-Miss Thorne. I was in the ladies' dressing-room when she was brought in, sir, and I remember some one called her name."

Mr. Grimm took the girl, still a-quiver with excitement, and led her along the hall to where Gray stood.

"Take this girl in charge, Gray," he directed. "Lock her up, if necessary. Don't permit her to say one word to anybody-anybody you understand, except the chief."

Mr. Grimm left them there. He passed along the hall, glancing in each room as he went, until he came to a short flight of stairs leading toward the kitchen. He went on down silently. The lights were burning, but the place was still, deserted. All the servants who belonged there were evidently, for the moment, transferred to other posts. He passed on through the kitchen and out the back door into the street.

A little distance away, leaning against a lamp-post, a man was standing. He might have been waiting for a car. Mr. Grimm approached him.

"Beg pardon," he said, "did you see a woman come out of the back door, there?"

"Yes, just a moment or so ago," replied the stranger. "She got into an automobile at the corner. I imagine this is hers," and he extended a handkerchief, a dainty, perfumed trifle of lace. "I picked it up immediately after she passed."

Mr. Grimm took the handkerchief and examined it under the light. For a time he was thoughtful, with lowered eyes, which, finally raised, met those of the stranger with a scrutinizing stare.

"Why," asked Mr. Grimm slowly and distinctly, "why did you slam the door in the girl's face?"

"Why did I-what?" came the answering question.

"Why did you slam the door in the girl's face?" Mr. Grimm repeated slowly.

The stranger stared in utter amazement-an amazement so frank, so unacted, so genuine, that Mr. Grimm was satisfied.

"Did you see a man come out the door?" Mr. Grimm pursued.

"No. Say, young fellow, I guess you've had a little too much to drink, haven't you?"

But by that time Mr. Grimm was turning the corner.

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