The holladay case a tal.., p.10
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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.10

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER X

  An Astonishing Disappearance

  Mr. Royce grasped the arms of his chair convulsively, and remained fora moment speechless under the shock. Then he swung around toward me.

  "Come here, Lester," he said hoarsely. "I needed you once before, andI need you now. This touches me so closely I can't thinkconsecutively. You _will_ help, won't you?"

  There was an appeal in his face which showed his sudden weakness--anappeal there was no resisting, even had I not, myself, been deeplyinterested in the case.

  "Gladly," I answered, from the depths of my heart, seeing howoverwrought he was. "I'll help to the very limit of my power, Mr.Royce."

  He sank back into his chair again, and breathed a long sigh.

  "I knew you would," he said. "Get the story from Thompson, will you?"

  I brought a chair, and sat down by the old butler.

  "You have been in Mr. Holladay's family a great many years, haven'tyou, Mr. Thompson?" I asked, to give him opportunity to composehimself.

  "Yes, a great many years, sir--nearly forty, I should say."

  "Before Miss Holladay's birth, then?"

  "Oh, yes, sir; long before. Just before his marriage, Mr. Holladaybought the Fifth Avenue house he lived in ever since, and I wasemployed, then, sir, as an under-servant."

  "Mr. Holladay and his wife were very happy together, weren't they?" Iquestioned.

  "Very happy; yes, sir. They were just like lovers, sir, until herdeath. They seemed just made for each other, sir," and the trite oldsaying gathered a new dignity as he uttered it.

  I paused a moment to consider. This, certainly, seemed to discreditthe theory that Holladay had ever had a liaison with any other woman,and yet what other theory was tenable?

  "There was nothing to mar their happiness that you know of? Ofcourse," I added, "you understand, Thompson, that I'm not asking thesequestions from idle curiosity, but to get to the bottom of thismystery, if possible."

  "I understand, sir," he nodded. "No, there was nothing to mar theirhappiness--except one thing."

  "And what was that?"

  "Why, they had no children, sir, for fifteen years and more. AfterMiss Frances came, of course, that was all changed."

  "She was born abroad?"

  "Yes, sir; in France. I don't just know the town."

  "But you know the date of her birth?"

  "Oh, yes, sir--the tenth of June, eighteen seventy-six--we alwayscelebrated it."

  "Mr. Holladay was with his wife at the time?"

  "Yes, sir; he and his wife had been abroad nearly a year. His healthhad broken down, and the doctor made him take a long vacation. He camehome a few months later, but Mrs. Holladay stayed on. She didn't getstrong again, some way. She stayed nearly four years, and he went overevery few months to spend a week with her; and at last she came hometo die, bringing her child with her. That was the first time any of usever saw Miss Frances."

  "Mr. Holladay thought a great deal of her?"

  "You may well say so, sir; she took his wife's place," said the oldman simply.

  "And she thought a great deal of him?"

  "More than that, sir; she fairly worshiped him. She was always at thedoor to meet him; always dined with him; they almost always spenttheir evenings together. She didn't care much for society--I've oftenheard her tell him that she'd much rather just stay at home with him.It was he who rather insisted on her going out; for he was proud ofher, as he'd a right to be."

  "Yes," I said: for all this fitted in exactly with what I had alwaysheard about the family. "There were no other relatives, were there?"

  "None at all, sir; both Mr. Holladay and his wife were only children;their parents, of course, have been dead for years."

  "Nor any intimate friends?"

  "None I'd call intimate, sir; Miss Frances had some school friends,but she was always--well--reserved, sir."

  "Yes." I nodded again. "And now," I added, "tell me, as fully as youcan, what has happened within the last three weeks."

  "Well, sir," he began slowly, "after her father's death, she seemedquite distracted for a while--wandered about the house, sat in thelibrary of evenings, ate scarcely anything. Then Mr. Royce got tocoming to the house, and she brightened up, and we all hoped she'dsoon be all right again. Then she seemed to get worse of a sudden, andsent us all away to get Belair ready. I got the place in order, sir,and telegraphed her that we were ready. She answered that she'd comein a few days. Ten days ago the rest of the servants came, and Ilooked for her every day, but she didn't come. I telegraphed heragain, but she didn't answer, and, finally, I got so uneasy, sir, Icouldn't rest, and came back to the city to see what was the matter. Igot here early this morning, and went right to the house. Thomas, thesecond butler, had been left in charge, and he told me that MissFrances and her maid had started for Belair the same day the servantsdid. That's all I know."

  "Then she's been gone ten days?" I questioned.

  "Ten days; yes, sir."

  Ten days! What might not have happened in that time! Doctor.Jenkinson's theory of dementia recurred to me, and I was more thanever inclined to credit it. How else explain this flight? I could seefrom Mr. Royce's face how absolutely nonplused he was.

  "Well," I said at last, for want of something better, "we'll go withyou to the house, and see the man in charge there. Perhaps he can tellus something more."

  But he could tell us very little. Ten days before, a carriage haddriven up to the door, Miss Holladay and her maid had entered it andbeen driven away. The carriage had been called, he thought, from someneighboring stable, as the family coachman had been sent away with theother servants. They had driven down the avenue toward Thirty-fourthStreet, where, he supposed, they were going to the Long Islandstation. We looked through the house--it was in perfect order. MissHolladay's rooms were just as she would naturally have left them. Herfather's rooms, too, were evidently undisturbed.

  "Here's one thing," I said, "that might help," and I picked up aphotograph from the mantel. "You won't mind my using it?"

  Mr. Royce took it with trembling hand and gazed at it for a moment--atthe dark eyes, the earnest mouth----Then he handed it back to me.

  "No," he answered; "not if it will really help; we must use everymeans we can. Only----"

  "I won't use it unless I absolutely have to," I assured him; "and whenI'm done with it, I'll destroy it."

  "Very well," he assented, and I put it in my pocket.

  There was nothing more to be discovered there, and we went away, afterwarning the two men to say not a word to anyone concerning theirmistress's disappearance.

  Plainly, the first thing to be done was to find the coachman who haddriven Miss Holladay and her maid away from the house; and with thisend in view, we visited all the stables in the neighborhood; but fromnone of them had a carriage been ordered by her. Had she ordered itherself from a stable in some distant portion of the city for thepurpose of concealing her whereabouts, or had it been ordered for herby her maid, and was she really the victim of foul play? I put thisquestion to Mr. Royce, but he seemed quite unable to reach aconclusion. As for myself, I was certain that she had gone away of herown accord, and had deliberately planned her disappearance. Why? Well,I began to suspect that we had not yet really touched the bottom ofthe mystery.

  We drove back to the office, and found Mr. Graham there. I related tohim the circumstances of our search, and submitted to him and to ourjunior one question for immediate settlement.

  "At the best, it's a delicate case," I pointed out. "Miss Holladay hasplainly laid her plans very carefully to prevent us following her. Itmay be difficult to prove that she has not gone away entirely of herown accord. She certainly has a perfect right to go wherever shewishes without consulting us. Have we the right to follow her againsther evident desire?"

  For a moment Mr. Graham did not answer, but sat tapping his desk withthat deep line of perplexity between his eyebrows. Then he noddedemphatically.

  "It's our duty to follow her
and find her," he said. "It's perfectlyevident to me that no girl in her right mind would act as she hasdone. She had no reason whatever for deceiving us--for running away.We wouldn't have interfered with her. Jenkinson's right--she'ssuffering with dementia. We must see that she receives proper medicaltreatment."

  "It might not be dementia," I suggested, "so much as undueinfluence--on the part of the new maid, perhaps."

  "Then it's our duty to rescue her from that influence," rejoined Mr.Graham, "and restore her to her normal mentality."

  "Even if we offend her?"

  "We can't stop to think of that. Besides, she won't be offended whenshe comes to herself. The question is, how to find her most speedily."

  "The police, probably, could do it most speedily," I said; "but sinceshe can be in no immediate danger of any kind, I rather doubt whetherit would be wise to call in the police. Miss Holladay would veryproperly resent any more publicity----"

  "But," objected Mr. Graham, "if we don't call in the police, how arewe to find her? I recognize, of course, how undesirable it is that sheshould be subjected to any further notoriety, but is there any otherway?"

  I glanced at Mr. Royce, and saw that he was seemingly sunk in apathy.

  "If I could be excused from the office for a few days, sir," I beganhesitatingly, "I might be able to find some trace of her. If I'munsuccessful, we might then call in the authorities."

  Mr. Royce brightened up for a moment.

  "That's it," he said. "Let Lester look into it."

  "Very well," assented Mr. Graham. "I agree to that. Of course, anyexpenses you may incur will be borne by the office."

  "Thank you, sir," and I rose with fast-beating heart, for theadventure appealed to me strongly. "I'll begin at once then. I shouldlike assistance in one thing. Could you let me have three or fourclerks to visit the various stables of the city? It would be best, Ithink, to use our own people."

  "Certainly," assented our senior instantly. "I'll call them in, and wecan give them their instructions at once."

  So four clerks were summoned, and each was given a district of thecity. Their instructions were to find from which stable Miss Holladayhad ordered a carriage on the morning of Thursday, April 3d. They wereto report at the office every day, noon and evening, until the searchwas finished. They started away at once, and I turned to follow them,when my eye was caught by the expression of our junior's face.

  "Mr. Royce is ill, sir!" I cried. "Look at him!"

  He was leaning forward heavily, his face drawn and livid, his eyesset, his hands plucking at the arms of his chair. We sprang to him andled him to a couch. I bathed his hands and face in cold water, whileMr. Graham hurriedly summoned a physician. The doctor soon arrived,and diagnosed the case at a glance.

  "Nervous breakdown," he said tersely. "You lawyers drive yourselvestoo hard. It's a wonder to me you don't all drop over. We'll have tolook out, or this will end in brain fever."

  He poured out a stimulant, which the sick man swallowed withoutprotest. He seemed stronger in a few moments, and began talkingincoherently to himself. We got him down to the doctor's carriage, anddrove rapidly to his lodgings, where we put him to bed without delay.

  "I think he'll pull through," observed the doctor, after watching himfor a while. "I'll get a couple of nurses, and we'll give him everychance. Has he any relatives here in New York?"

  "No; his relatives are all in Ohio. Had they better be notified?"

  "Oh, I think not--not unless he gets worse. He seems to be naturallystrong. I suppose he's been worrying about something?"

  "Yes," I said. "He has been greatly worried by one of his cases."

  "Of course," he nodded. "If the human race had sense enough to stopworrying, there'd be mighty little work for us doctors."

  "I'd like to call Doctor Jenkinson into the case," I said. "He knowsMr. Royce, and may be of help."

  "Certainly; I'll be glad to consult with Doctor Jenkinson."

  So Jenkinson was called, and confirmed the diagnosis. He understood,of course, the cause of Mr. Royce's breakdown, and turned to me whenthe consultation was ended, and his colleague had taken his departure.

  "Mr. Lester," he said, "I advise you to go home and get some rest. Putthis case out of your mind, or you'll be right where Mr. Royce is. Hehad some more bad news, I suppose?"

  I told him of Miss Holladay's disappearance; he pondered over it amoment with grave face.

  "This strengthens my belief that she is suffering with dementia," hesaid. "Sudden aversion to relatives and friends is one of its mostcommon symptoms. Of course, she must be found."

  "I'm going to find her," I assured him, with perhaps a little moreconfidence than I really felt.

  "Well, remember to call on me if I can help you. But first of all, gohome and sleep for ten hours--twelve, if you can. Mind, no work beforethat--no building of theories. You'll be so much the fresherto-morrow."

  I recognized the wisdom of this advice, but I had one thing to dofirst. I took a cab and drove to the nearest telegraph office. There Isent an imperative message to Brooks, the Holladay coachman, tellinghim to return to New York by the first train, and report to me at theoffice. That done, I gave the driver my address and settled back inthe seat.

  No building of theories, Jenkinson had said; yet it was difficult tokeep the brain idle. Where was Frances Holladay? Why had she fled? Wasshe really mentally deranged? Had the weight of the secret proved toogreat for her? Or had she merely fallen under the influence of thewoman who was guilty? Supposing she was insane, what should we do withher when we found her? How could we control her? And, supposing shewere not insane, what legal right had we to interfere with her? Theseand a hundred other questions crowded upon me, till thought failed,and I lay back confused, indifferent----

  "Here we are, sir," said the driver, jumping down from his seat andjerking open the door.

  I paid him, and went stumblingly up the steps. I have no doubt he wasgrinning behind me. As I fumbled with my key, someone opened the doorfrom the inside.

  "Why, Mistair Lester!" exclaimed Martigny's voice. "What is it? Youhave no illness, I hope!"

  "No," I murmured, "I'm just dead tired," and I started blindly for thestair.

  "Let me assist you," and he took my arm and helped me up; then went onahead, opened my door, and lighted the gas.

  "Thanks," I said, as I dropped into a chair.

  He sat quietly down opposite me, and, weary as I was, I was consciousof his keen eyes upon me.

  "We heard from Miss Holladay this morning," I remarked, unconsciouslyanswering their question.

  He did not reply for a moment, but I had closed my eyes again, and Iwas too tired to open them and look at him.

  "Ah," he said, in a voice a little hoarse; "and she is well?"

  "No; she's disappeared."

  "You mean----"

  "I mean she's run away," I said, waking up a little.

  "And she has informed you----"

  "Oh, no; we've just found it out. She's been gone ten days."

  "And you are going to search for her?" he questioned carelessly, afteranother pause.

  "Yes--I'll begin in the morning."

  Again there was a moment's silence.

  "Ah!" he said, with a curious intensity. "Ah."

  Then he arose and left me to tumble incontinently into bed.

 
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