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       The Holladay Case: A Tale, p.8

           Burton Egbert Stevenson
 
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  CHAPTER VIII

  The Mysterious Maid

  "A hundred thousand dollars!" ejaculated Mr. Royce, and sat staring athis chief.

  "A hundred thousand dollars! That's a good deal for a girl to giveaway in a lump, but she can afford it. Of course, we've nothing to dobut carry out her instructions. I think both of us can guess what sheintends doing with the money."

  The other nodded. I believed that I could guess, too. The money, ofcourse, was intended for the other woman--she was not to suffer forher crime, after all. Miss Holladay seemed to me in no little dangerof becoming an accessory after the fact.

  "She seems really ill," continued our senior. "She looks thinner andquite careworn. I commended her resolution to seek rest and quiet andchange of scene."

  "When does she go, sir?" asked Mr. Royce, in a subdued voice.

  "The day after to-morrow, I think. She did not say definitely. Infact, she could talk very little. She's managed to catch cold--thegrip, I suppose--and was very hoarse. It would have been cruelty tomake her talk, and I didn't try."

  He wheeled around to his desk, and then suddenly back again.

  "By the way," he said, "I saw the new maid. I can't say I whollyapprove of her."

  He paused a minute, weighing his words.

  "She seems careful and devoted," he went on, at last, "but I don'tlike her eyes. They're too intense. I caught her two or three timeswatching me strangely. I can't imagine where Miss Holladay picked herup, or why she should have picked her up at all. She's French, ofcourse--she speaks with a decided accent. About the money, I supposewe'd better sell a block of U. P. bonds. They're the least productiveof her securities."

  "Yes, I suppose so," agreed Mr. Royce, and the chief called up abroker and gave the necessary orders. Then he turned to other work,and the day passed without any further reference to Miss Holladay orher affairs.

  The proceeds of the sale were brought to the office early the nextafternoon, a small packet neatly sealed and docketed--one hundredthousand-dollar bills. Mr. Graham turned it over in his handthoughtfully.

  "You'll take it to the house, of course, John," he said to hispartner. "Lester 'd better go with you."

  So Mr. Royce placed the package in his pocket, a cab was summoned, andwe were off. The trip was made without incident, and at the end ofhalf an hour we drew up before the Holladay mansion.

  It was one of the old-styled brownstone fronts which lined both sidesof the avenue twenty years ago; it was no longer in theultra-fashionable quarter, which had moved up toward Central Park, andshops of various kinds were beginning to encroach upon theneighborhood; but it had been Hiram Holladay's home for forty years,and he had never been willing to part with it. At this moment all theblinds were down and the house had a deserted look. We mounted thesteps to the door, which was opened at once to our ring by a womanwhom I knew instinctively to be the new maid, though she looked muchless like a maid than like an elderly working-woman of the middleclass.

  "We've brought the money Miss Holladay asked Mr. Graham foryesterday," said Mr. Royce. "I'm John Royce, his partner," and withoutanswering the woman motioned us in. "Of course we must have a receiptfor it," he added. "I have it ready here, and she need only attach hersignature."

  "Miss Holladay is too ill to see you, sir," said the maid, withcareful enunciation. "I will myself the paper take to her and get hersignature."

  Mr. Royce hesitated a moment in perplexity. As for me, I wasransacking my memory--where had I heard that voice before? Somewhere,I was certain--a voice low, vibrant, repressed, full of color. Then,with a start, I remembered! It was Miss Holladay's voice, as she hadrisen to welcome our junior that morning at the coroner's court! Ishook myself together--for that was nonsense!

  "I fear that won't do," said Mr. Royce at last. "The sum is aconsiderable one, and must be given to Miss Holladay by me personallyin the presence of this witness."

  It was the maid's turn to hesitate; I saw her lips tighten ominously.

  "Very well, sir," she said. "But I warn you, she is most nervous andit has been forbidden her to talk."

  "She will not be called upon to talk," retorted Mr. Royce curtly; andwithout answering, the woman turned and led the way up the stair andto her mistress's room.

  Miss Holladay was lying back in a great chair with a bandage about herhead, and even in the half-light I could see how changed she was. Sheseemed much thinner and older, and coughed occasionally in a way thatfrightened me. Not grief alone, I told myself, could have caused thisbreakdown; it was the secret weighing upon her. My companion noted thechange, too, of course--a greater change, perhaps, than my eyes couldperceive--and I saw how moved and shocked he was.

  "My dear Miss Holladay," he began, but she stopped him abruptly with alittle imperative motion of the hand.

  "Pray do not," she whispered hoarsely. "Pray do not."

  He stopped and pulled himself together. When he spoke again, it was inquite a different tone.

  "I have brought the money you asked for," and he handed her thepackage.

  "Thank you," she murmured.

  "Will you verify the amount?"

  "Oh, no; that is not necessary."

  "I have a receipt here," and he produced it and his fountain-pen."Please sign it."

  She took the pen with trembling fingers, laid the receipt upon herchair-arm without reading, and signed her name with a somewhat painfulslowness. Then she leaned back with a sigh of relief, and buried herface in her hands. Mr. Royce placed the receipt in his pocket book,and stopped, hesitating. But the maid had opened the door and wasawaiting us. Her mistress made no sign; there was no excuse to linger.We turned and followed the maid.

  "Miss Holladay seems very ill," said Mr. Royce, in a voice somewhattremulous, as she paused before us in the lower hall.

  "Yes, sir; ver' ill."

  Again the voice! I took advantage of the chance to look at herintently. Her hair was turning gray, certainly; her face was seamedwith lines which only care and poverty could have graven there; andyet, beneath it all, I fancied I could detect a faded but livinglikeness to Hiram Holladay's daughter. I looked again--it was faint,uncertain--perhaps my nerves were overwrought and were deceiving me.For how could such a likeness possibly exist?

  "She has a physician, of course?" asked my companion.

  "Oh, yes, sir."

  "He has advised rest and quiet?"

  "Yes, sir."

  "When do you leave for the country?"

  "To-morrow or the next day after that, I think, sir."

  He turned to the door and then paused, hesitating. He opened his lipsto say something more--his anxiety was clamoring for utterance--thenhe changed his mind and stepped outside as she held the door open.

  "Good-day," he said, with stern repression. "I wish her a pleasantjourney."

  The door closed after us, and we went down the steps.

  "Jenkinson's the family doctor," he said. "Let's drive around there,and find out how really ill Miss Holladay is. I'm worried about her,Lester."

  "That's a good idea," I agreed, and gave the driver the address.Jenkinson was in his office, and received us at once.

  "Doctor Jenkinson," began our junior, without preamble, "I am JohnRoyce, of Graham & Royce. You know, I suppose, that we are the legaladvisers of Miss Frances Holladay."

  "Yes," answered Jenkinson. "Glad to meet you, Mr. Royce."

  "In consequence, we're naturally interested in her welfare and allthat concerns her, and I called to ask you for some definite detailsof her condition."

  "Her condition? I don't quite understand."

  "We should like to know, doctor, just how ill she is."

  "Ill!" repeated Jenkinson, in evident surprise. "But is she ill?"

  "She's your patient, isn't she? I thought you were the family doctor."

  "So I am," assented the other. "But I haven't seen Miss Holladay forten days or two weeks. At that time, she seemed quite well--a littlenervous, perhaps, and worried, but certainly not requiring medicalattent
ion. She has always been unusually robust."

  Mr. Royce stopped, perplexed; as for me, my head was in a whirl again.

  "I'll tell you the story," he said at last. "I should like the benefitof your advice;" and he recounted rapidly the facts of Miss Holladay'sillness, in so far as he knew them, ending with an account of ourrecent visit, and the statement of the maid that her mistress wasunder a doctor's care. Jenkinson heard him to the end withoutinterrupting, but he was plainly puzzled and annoyed.

  "And you say she looked very ill?" he asked.

  "Oh, very ill, sir; alarmingly ill, to my unpracticed eyes. She seemedthin and worn--she could scarcely talk--she had such a cough--I hardlyknew her."

  Again the doctor paused to consider. He was a very famous doctor, withmany very famous patients, and I could see that this case piquedhim--that another physician should have been preferred!

  "Of course, Mr. Royce," he said finally, "Miss Holladay was perfectlyfree to choose another physician, if she thought best."

  "But would you have thought it probable?" queried our junior.

  "Ten minutes ago, I should have thought it extremely improbable,"answered the doctor emphatically. "Still, women are sometimeserratic, as we doctors know to our sorrow."

  Mr. Royce hesitated, and then took the bull by the horns.

  "Doctor Jenkinson," he began earnestly, "don't you think it would bewise to see Miss Holladay--you know how her father trusted you, andrelied on you--and assure yourself that she's in good hands? Iconfess, I don't know what to think, but I fear some danger is hangingover her. Perhaps she may even have fallen into the hands of thefaith-curists."

  Jenkinson smiled.

  "The advice to seek rest and quiet seems sane enough," he said, "andutterly unlike any that a faith-curist would give."

  "But still, if you could see for yourself," persisted Mr. Royce.

  The doctor hesitated, drumming with his fingers upon the arm of hischair.

  "Such a course would be somewhat unprofessional," he said at last."Still, I might call in a merely social way. My interest in the familywould, I think, excuse me."

  Mr. Royce's face brightened, and he caught the doctor's hand.

  "Thank you, sir," he said warmly. "It will lift a great anxiety fromthe firm, and, I may add, from me, personally."

  The doctor laughed good-naturedly.

  "I knew that, of course," he said. "We doctors hear all the gossipgoing. I might add that I was glad to hear this bit. If you'll waitfor me here, I'll go at once."

  We instantly assented, and he called his carriage, and was drivenaway. I felt that, at last, we were to see behind one corner of thecurtain--perhaps one glimpse would be enough to penetrate the mystery.But, in half an hour he was back again, and a glance at his face toldme that we were again destined to disappointment.

  "I sent up my card," he reported briefly, "and Miss Holladay sentdown word that she must beg to be excused."

  Mr. Royce's face fell.

  "And that was all?" he asked.

  "That was all. Of course, there was nothing for me to do but comeaway. I couldn't insist on seeing her."

  "No," assented the other. "No. How do you explain it, doctor?"

  Jenkinson sat down, and for a moment studied the pattern of thecarpet.

  "Frankly, Mr. Royce," he said at last, "I don't know how to explainit. The most probable explanation is that Miss Holladay is sufferingfrom some form of dementia--perhaps only acute primary dementia, whichis usually merely temporary--but which may easily grow serious, andeven become permanent."

  The theory had occurred to me, and I saw from the expression of Mr.Royce's face that he, also, had thought of it.

  "Is there no way that we can make sure?" he asked. "She may need tobe saved from herself."

  "She may need it very badly," agreed the doctor, nodding. "Yet, she isof legal age, and absolute mistress of her actions. There are norelatives to interfere--no intimate friends, even, that I know of. Isee no way unless you, as her legal adviser, apply to the authoritiesfor an inquest of lunacy."

  But Mr. Royce made an instant gesture of repugnance.

  "Oh, that's absurd!" he cried. "We have no possible reason to takesuch action. It would offend her mortally."

  "No doubt," assented the other. "So I fear that at present nothing canbe done--things will just have to take their course till somethingmore decided happens."

  "There's no tendency to mental disease in the family?" inquired Mr.Royce, after a moment.

  "Not the slightest," said the doctor emphatically. "Her father andmother were both sound and well-balanced. I know the history of thefamily through three generations, and there's no hint of any taint.Twenty-five years ago Holladay, who was then just working to the topin Wall Street, drove himself too hard--it was when the market wentall to pieces over that Central Pacific deal--and had a touch ofapoplexia. It was just a touch, but I made him take a long vacation,which he spent abroad with his wife. It was then, by the way, that hisdaughter was born. Since then he has been careful, and has never beenbothered with a recurrence of the trouble. In fact, that's the onlyillness in the least serious I ever knew him to have."

  There was nothing more to be said, and we turned to go.

  "If there are any further developments," added the doctor, as heopened the door, "will you let me know? You may count upon me, if Ican be of any assistance."

  "Certainly," answered our junior. "You're very kind, sir," and we wentback to our cab.

  The week that followed was a perplexing one for me, and a miserableone for Royce. As I know now, he had written her half a dozen times,and had received not a single word of answer. For myself, I haddiscovered one more development of the mystery. On the day followingthe delivery of the money, I had glanced, as usual, through thefinancial column of the _Sun_ as I rode home on the car, and one itemhad attracted my attention. The brokerage firm of Swift & Currer hadthat day presented at the sub-treasury the sum of one hundred thousanddollars in currency for conversion into gold. An inquiry at theiroffice next morning elicited the fact that the exchange had beeneffected for the account of Miss Frances Holladay. It was done, ofcourse, that the recipient of the money might remain beyond trace ofthe police.

 
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