The Dreaming Lady
"And this is all you mean to tell me?"
"I think you will find it quite enough, Miss Strange."
"Just the address--"
"And this advice: that your call be speedy. Distracted nerves
Violet, across whose wonted piquancy there lay an indefinable
shadow, eyed her employer with a doubtful air before turning away
toward the door. She had asked him
for a case to investigate
(something she had never done before), and she had even gone so
far as to particularize the sort of case she desired: "It must be
an interesting one," she had stipulated, "but different, quite
different from the last one. It must not involve death or any
kind of horror. If you have a case of subtlety without crime, one
to engage my powers without depressing my spirits, I beg you to
let me have it. I--I have not felt quite like myself since I came
from Massachusetts." Whereupon, without further comment, but with
a smile she did not understand, he had handed her a small slip of
paper on which he had scribbled an address. She should have felt
satisfied, but for some reason she did not. She regarded him as
capable of plunging her into an affair quite the reverse of what
she felt herself in a condition to undertake.
"I should like to know a little more," she pursued, making a move
to unfold the slip he had given her.
But he stopped her with a gesture.
"Read it in your limousine," said he. "If you are disappointed
then, let me know. But I think you will find yourself quite ready
for your task."
"And my father?"
"Would approve if he could be got to approve the business at all.
You do not even need to take your brother with you."
"Oh, then, it's with women only I have to deal?"
"Read the address after you are headed up Fifth Avenue."
But when, with her doubts not yet entirely removed, she opened
the small slip he had given her, the number inside suggested
nothing but the fact that her destination lay somewhere near
Eightieth Street. It was therefore with the keenest surprise she
beheld her motor stop before the conspicuous house of the great
financier whose late death had so affected the money-market. She
had not had any acquaintance with this man herself, but she knew
his house. Everyone knew that. It was one of the most princely in
the whole city. C. Dudley Brooks had known how to spend his
millions. Indeed, he had known how to do this so well that it was
of him her father, also a financier of some note, had once said
he was the only successful American he envied.
She was expected; that she saw the instant the door was opened.
This made her entrance easy--an entrance further brightened by
the delightful glimpse of a child's cherubic face looking at her
from a distant doorway. It was an instantaneous vision, gone as
soon as seen; but its effect was to rob the pillared spaces of
the wonderful hallway of some of their chill, and to modify in
some slight degree the formality of a service which demanded
three men to usher her into a small reception-room not twenty
feet from the door of entrance.
Left in this secluded spot, she had time to ask herself what
member of the household she would be called upon to meet, and was
surprised to find that she did not even know of whom the
household consisted. She was sure of the fact that Mr. Brooks had
been a widower for many years before his death, but beyond that
she knew nothing of his domestic life. His son--but was there a
son? She had never heard any mention made of a younger Mr.
Brooks, yet there was certainly some one of his connection who
enjoyed the rights of an heir. Him she must be prepared to meet
with a due composure, whatever astonishment he might show at the
sight of a slip of a girl instead of the experienced detective he
had every right to expect.
But when the door opened to admit the person she was awaiting,
the surprise was hers. It was a woman who stood before her, a
woman and an oddity. Yet, in just what her oddity lay, Violet
found it difficult to decide. Was it in the smoothness of her
white locks drawn carefully down over her ears, or in the
contrast afforded by her eager eyes and her weak and tremulous
mouth? She was dressed in the heaviest of mourning and very
expensively, but there was that in her bearing and expression
which made it impossible to believe that she took any interest in
her garments or even knew in which of her dresses she had been
"I am the person you have come here to see," she said. "Your name
is not unfamiliar to me, but you may not know mine. It is
Quintard; Mrs. Quintard. I am in difficulty. I need assistance--
secret assistance. I did not know where to go for it except to a
detective agency; so I telephoned to the first one I saw
advertised; and--and I was told to expect Miss Strange. But I
didn't think it would be you though I suppose it's all right. You
have come here for this purpose, haven't you, though it does seem
a little queer?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Quintard; and if you will tell me--"
"My dear, it's just this--yes, I will sit down. Last week my
brother died. You have heard of him no doubt, C. Dudley Brooks?"
"Oh, yes; my father knew him--we all knew him by reputation. Do
not hurry, Mrs. Quintard. I have sent my car away. You can take
all the time you wish."
"No, no, I cannot. I'm in desperate haste. He--but let me go on
with my story. My brother was a widower, with no children to
inherit. That everybody knows. But his wife left behind her a son
by a former husband, and this son of hers my brother had in a
measure adopted, and even made his sole heir in a will he drew up
during the lifetime of his wife. But when he found, as he very
soon did, that this young man was not developing in a way to meet
such great responsibilities, he made a new will--though unhappily
without the knowledge of the family, or even of his most intimate
friends--in which he gave the bulk of his great estate to his
nephew Clement, who has bettered the promise of his youth and who
besides has children of great beauty whom my brother had learned
to love. And this will--this hoarded scrap of paper which means
so much to us all, is lost! lost! and I--" here her voice which
had risen almost to a scream, sank to a horrified whisper, "am
the one who lost it."
"But there's a copy of it somewhere--there is always a copy--"
"Oh, but you haven't heard all. My nephew is an invalid; has been
an invalid for years--that's why so little is known about him.
He's dying of consumption. The doctors hold out no hope for him,
and now, with the fear preying upon him of leaving his wife and
children penniless, he is wearing away so fast that any hour may
see his end. And I have to meet his eyes--such pitiful eyes--and
the look in them is killing me. Yet, I was not to blame. I could
not help--Oh, Miss Strange," she suddenly broke in with the
inconsequence of extreme feeling, "the will is in the house! I
never carried it off the floor where I sleep. Find it; find it, I
The moment had come for Violet's soft touch, for Violet's
"I will try," she answered her.
Mrs. Quintard grew calmer.
"But, first," the young girl continued, "I must know more about
the conditions. Where is this nephew of yours--the man who is
"In this house, where he has been for the last eight months."
"Was the child his of whom I caught a glimpse in the hall as I
"I will fight for that child!" Violet cried out impulsively. "I
am sure his father's cause is good. Where is the other claimant--
the one you designate as Carlos?"
"Oh, there's where the trouble is! Carlos is on the Mauretania,
and she is due here in a couple of days. He comes from the East
where he has been touring with his wife. Miss Strange, the lost
will must be found before then, or the other will be opened and
read and Carlos made master of this house, which would mean our
quick departure and Clement's certain death."
"Move a sick man?--a relative as low as you say he is? Oh no,
Mrs. Quintard; no one would do that, were the house a cabin and
its owners paupers."
"You do not know Carlos; you do not know his wife. We should not
be given a week in which to pack. They have no children and they
envy Clement who has. Our only hope lies in discovering the paper
which gives us the right to remain here in face of all
opposition. That or penury. Now you know my trouble."
"And it is trouble; one from which I shall make every effort to
relieve you. But first let me ask if you are not worrying
unnecessarily about this missing document? If it was drawn up by
Mr. Brooks's lawyer--"
"But it was not," that lady impetuously interrupted. "His lawyer
is Carlos's near relative, and has never been told of the change
in my brother's intentions. Clement (I am speaking now of my
brother and not of my nephew) was a great money-getter, but when
it came to standing up for his rights in domestic matters, he was
more timid than a child. He was subject to his wife while she
lived, and when she was gone, to her relatives, who are all of a
dominating character. When he finally made up his mind to do us
justice and eliminate Carlos, he went out of town--I wish I could
remember where--and had this will drawn up by a stranger, whose
name I cannot recall."
Her shaking tones, her nervous manner betrayed a weakness
equalling, if not surpassing, that of the brother who dared in
secret what he had not strength to acknowledge openly, and it was
with some hesitation Violet prepared to ask those definite
questions which would elucidate the cause and manner of a loss
seemingly so important. She dreaded to hear some commonplace tale
of inexcusable carelessness. Something subtler than this--the
presence of some unsuspected agency opposed to young Clement's
interest; some partisan of Carlos; some secret undermining force
in a house full of servants and dependants, seemed necessary for
the development of so ordinary a situation into a drama
justifying the exercise of her special powers.
"I think I understand now your exact position in the house, as
well as the value of the paper which you say you have lost. The
next thing for me to hear is how you came to have charge of this
paper, and under what circumstances you were led to mislay it. Do
you not feel quite ready to tell me?"
"Is--is that necessary?" Mrs. Quintard faltered.
"Very," replied Violet, watching her curiously.
"I didn't expect--that is, I hoped you would be able to point
out, by some power we cannot of course explain, just the spot
where the paper lies, without having to tell all that. Some
people can, you know."
"Ah, I understand. You regarded me as unfit for practical work,
and so credited me with occult powers. But that is where you made
a mistake, Mrs. Quintard; I'm nothing if not practical. And let
me add, that I'm as secret as the grave concerning what my
clients tell me. If I am to be of any help to you, I must be made
acquainted with every fact involved in the loss of this valuable
paper. Relate the whole circumstance or dismiss me from the
case. You can have done nothing more foolish or wrong than many--"
"Oh, don't say things like that!" broke in the poor woman in a
tone of great indignation. "I have done nothing anyone could call
either foolish or wicked. I am simply very unfortunate, and being
sensitive--But this isn't telling the story. I'll try to make it
all clear; but if I do not, and show any confusion, stop me and
help me out with questions. I--I--oh, where shall I begin?"
"With your first knowledge of this second will."
"Thank you, thank you; now I can go on. One night, shortly after
my brother had been given up by the physicians, I was called to
his bedside for a confidential talk. As he had received that day
a very large amount of money from the bank, I thought he was
going to hand it over to me for Clement, but it was for something
much more serious than this he had summoned me. When he was quite
sure that we were alone and nobody anywhere within hearing, he
told me that he had changed his mind as to the disposal of his
property and that it was to Clement and his children, and not to
Carlos, he was going to leave this house and the bulk of his
money. That he had had a new will drawn up which he showed me--"
"Yes; he made me bring it to him from the safe where he kept it;
and, feeble as he was, he was so interested in pointing out
certain portions of it that he lifted himself in bed and was so
strong and animated that I thought he was getting better. But it
was a false strength due to the excitement of the moment, as I
saw next day when he suddenly died."
"You were saying that you brought the will to him from his safe.
Where was the safe?"
"In the wall over his head. He gave me the key to open it. This
key he took from under his pillow. I had no trouble in fitting it
or in turning the lock."
"And what happened after you looked at the will?"
"I put it back. He told me to. But the key I kept. He said I was
not to part with it again till the time came for me to produce
"And when was that to be?"
"Immediately after the funeral, if it so happened that Carlos had
arrived in time to attend it. But if for any reason he failed to
be here, I was to let it lie till within three days of his
return, when I was to take it out in the presence of a Mr.
Delahunt who was to have full charge of it from that time. Oh, I
remember all that well enough! and I meant most earnestly to
carry out his wishes, but--"
"Go on, Mrs. Quintard, pray go on. What happened? Why couldn't
you do what he asked?"
"Because the will was gone when I went to take it out. There was
nothing to show Mr. Delahunt but the empty shelf."
"Oh, a theft! just a common theft! Someone overheard the talk
you had with your brother. But how about the key? You had that?"
"Yes, I had that."
"Then it was taken from you and returned? You must have been
careless as to where you kept it--"
"No, I wore it on a chain about my neck. Though I had no reason
to mistrust any one in the house, I felt that I could not guard
this key too carefully. I even kept it on at night. In fact it
never left me. It was still on my person when I went into the
room with Mr. Delahunt. But the safe had been opened for all
"There were two keys to it, then?"
"No; in giving me the key, my brother had strictly warned me not
to lose it, as it had no duplicate."
"Mrs. Quintard, have you a special confidant or maid?"
"Yes, my Hetty."
"How much did she know about this key?"
"Nothing, but that it didn't help the fit of my dress. Hetty has
cared for me for years. There's no more devoted woman in all New
York, nor one who can be more relied upon to tell the truth. She
is so honest with her tongue that I am bound to believe her even
when she says--"
"That it was I and nobody else who took the will out of the safe
last night. That she saw me come from my brother's room with a
folded paper in my hand, pass with it into the library, and come
out again without it. If this is so, then that will is somewhere
in that great room. But we've looked in every conceivable place
except the shelves, where it is useless to search. It would take
days to go through them all, and meanwhile Carlos--"
"We will not wait for Carlos. We will begin work at once. But
just one other question. How came Hetty to see you in your walk
through the rooms? Did she follow you?"
"Yes. It's--it's not the first time I have walked in my sleep.
Last night--but she will tell you. It's a painful subject to me.
I will send for her to meet us in the library."
"Where you believe this document to lie hidden?"
"I am anxious to see the room. It is upstairs, I believe."
She had risen and was moving rapidly toward the door. Violet
eagerly followed her.
Let us accompany her in her passage up the palatial stairway, and
realize the effect upon her of a splendour whose future ownership
possibly depended entirely upon herself.
It was a cold splendour. The merry voices of children were
lacking in these great halls. Death past and to come infused the
air with solemnity and mocked the pomp which yet appeared so much
a part of the life here that one could hardly imagine the huge
pillared spaces without it.
To Violet, more or less accustomed to fine interiors, the chief
interest of this one lay in its connection with the mystery then
occupying her. Stopping for a moment on the stair, she inquired
of Mrs. Quintard if the loss she so deplored had been made known
to the servants, and was much relieved to find that, with the
exception of Mr. Delahunt, she had not spoken of it to any one
but Clement. "And he will never mention it," she declared, "not
even to his wife. She has troubles enough to bear without knowing
how near she stood to a fortune."
"Oh, she will have her fortune!" Violet confidently replied. "In
time, the lawyer who drew up the will will appear. But what you
want is an immediate triumph over the cold Carlos, and I hope you
may have it. Ah!"
This expletive was a sigh of sheer surprise.
Mrs. Quintard had unlocked the library door and Violet had been
given her first glimpse of this, the finest room in New York.
She remembered now that she had often heard it so characterized,
and, indeed, had it been taken bodily from some historic abbey of
the old world, it could not have expressed more fully, in
structure and ornamentation, the Gothic idea at its best. All
that it lacked were the associations of vanished centuries, and
these, in a measure, were supplied to the imagination by the
studied mellowness of its tints and the suggestion of age in its
So much for the room itself, which was but a shell for holding
the great treasure of valuable books ranged along every shelf. As
Violet's eyes sped over their ranks and thence to the five
windows of deeply stained glass which faced her from the southern
end, Mrs. Quintard indignantly exclaimed:
"And Carlos would turn this into a billiard room!"
"I do not like Carlos," Violet returned hotly; then remembering
herself, hastened to ask whether Mrs. Quintard was quite positive
as to this room being the one in which she had hidden the
"You had better talk to Hetty," said that lady, as a stout woman
of most prepossessing appearance entered their presence and
paused respectfully just inside the doorway. "Hetty, you will
answer any questions this young lady may put. If anyone can help
us, she can. But first, what news from the sick-room?"
"Nothing good. The doctor has just come for the third time today.
Mrs. Brooks is crying and even the children are dumb with fear."
"I will go. I must see the doctor. I must tell him to keep
Clement alive by any means till--"
She did not wait to say what; but Violet understood and felt her
heart grow heavy. Could it be that her employer considered this
the gay and easy task she had asked for?
The next minute she was putting her first question:
"Hetty, what did you see in Mrs. Quintard's action last night, to
make you infer that she left the missing document in this room?"
The woman's eyes, which had been respectfully studying her face,
brightened with a relief which made her communicative. With the
self-possession of a perfectly candid nature, she inquiringly
"My mistress has spoken of her infirmity?"
"Yes, and very frankly."
"She walks in her sleep."
"So she said."
"And sometimes when others are asleep, and she is not."
"She did not tell me that."
"She is a very nervous woman and cannot always keep still when
she rouses up at night. When I hear her rise, I get up too; but,
never being quite sure whether she is sleeping or not, I am
careful to follow her at a certain distance. Last night I was so
far behind her that she had been to her brother's room and left
it before I saw her face."
"Where is his room and where is hers?"
"Hers is in front on this same floor. Mr. Brooks's is in the
rear, and can be reached either by the hall or by passing through
this room into a small one beyond, which we called his den.."
"Describe your encounter. Where were you standing when you saw
"In the den I have just mentioned. There was a bright light in
the hall behind me and I could see her figure quite plainly. She
was holding a folded paper clenched against her breast, and her
movement was so mechanical that I was sure she was asleep. She
was coming this way, and in another moment she entered this room.
The door, which had been open, remained so, and in my anxiety I
crept to it and looked in after her. There was no light burning
here at that hour, but the moon was shining in in long rays of
variously coloured light. If I had followed her--but I did not. I
just stood and watched her long enough to see her pass through a
blue ray, then through a green one, and then into, if not
through, a red one. Expecting her to walk straight on, and having
some fears of the staircase once she got into the hall, I hurried
around to the door behind you there to head her off. But she had
not yet left this room. I waited and waited and still she did not
come. Fearing some accident, I finally ventured to approach the
door and try it. It was locked. This alarmed me. She had never
locked herself in anywhere before and I did not know what to make
of it. Some persons would have shouted her name, but I had been
warned against doing that, so I simply stood where I was, and
eventually I heard the key turn in the lock and saw her come out.
She was still walking stiffly, but her hands were empty and
hanging at her side."
"She went straight to her room and I after her. I was sure she
was dead asleep by this time."
"And she was?"
"Yes, Miss; but still full of what was on her mind. I know this
because she stopped when she reached the bedside and began
fumbling with the waist of her wrapper. It was for the key she
was searching, and when her fingers encountered it hanging on the
outside, she opened her wrapper and thrust it in on her bare
"You saw her do all that?"
"As plainly as I see you now. The light in her room was burning
"And after that?"
"She got into bed. It was I who turned off the light."
"Has that wrapper of hers a pocket?"
"Nor her gown?"
"So she could not have brought the paper into her room concealed
about her person?"
"No, Miss; she left it here. It never passed beyond this
"But might she not have carried it back to some place of
concealment in the rooms she had left?"
The woman's face changed and a slight flush showed through the
natural brown of her cheeks.
"No," she disclaimed; "she could not have done that. I was
careful to lock the library door behind her before I ran out into
"Then," concluded Violet, with all the emphasis of conviction,
"it is here, and nowhere else we must look for that document
till we find it."
Thus assured of the first step in the task she had before her,
Miss Strange settled down to business.
The room, which towered to the height of two stories, was in the
shape of a huge oval. This oval, separated into narrow divisions
for the purpose of accommodating the shelves with which it was
lined, narrowed as it rose above the great Gothic chimney-piece
and the five gorgeous windows looking towards the south, till it
met and was lost in the tracery of the ceiling, which was of that
exquisite and soul-satisfying order which we see in the Henry VII
chapel in Westminster Abbey. What break otherwise occurred in the
circling round of books reaching thus thirty feet or more above
the head was made by the two doors already spoken of and a narrow
strip of wall at either end of the space occupied by the windows.
No furniture was to be seen there except a couple of stalls taken
from some old cathedral, which stood in the two bare places just
But within, on the extensive floor-space, several articles were
grouped, and Violet, recognizing the possibilities which any one
of them afforded for the concealment of so small an object as a
folded document, decided to use method in her search, and to that
end, mentally divided the space before her into four segments.
The first took in the door, communicating with the suite ending
in Mr. Brooks's bedroom. A diagram of this segment will show that
the only article of furniture in it was a cabinet.
It was at this cabinet Miss Strange made her first stop.
"You have looked this well through?" she asked as she bent over
the glass case on top to examine the row of mediaeval missals
displayed within in a manner to show their wonderful
"Not the case," explained Hetty. "It is locked you see and no one
has as yet succeeded in finding the key. But we searched the
drawers underneath with the greatest care. Had we sifted the
whole contents through our fingers, I could not be more certain
that the paper is not there."
Violet stepped into the next segment.
This was the one dominated by the huge fire-place. A rug lay
before the hearth. To this Violet pointed.
Quickly the woman answered: "We not only lifted it, but turned it
"And that box at the right?"
"Is full of wood and wood only."
"Did you take out this wood?"
"And those ashes in the fire-place? Something has been burned
"Yes; but not lately. Besides, those ashes are all wood ashes. If
the least bit of charred paper had been mixed with them, we
should have considered the matter settled. But you can see for
yourself that no such particle can be found." While saying this,
she had put the poker into Violet's hand. "Rake them about, Miss,
and make sure."
Violet did so, with the result that the poker was soon put back
into place, and she herself down on her knees looking up the
"Had she thrust it up there," Hetty made haste to remark, "there
would have been some signs of soot on her sleeves. They are white
and very long and are always getting in her way when she tries to
Violet left the fire-place after a glance at the mantel-shelf on
which nothing stood but a casket of open fretwork, and two
coloured photographs mounted on small easels. The casket was too
open to conceal anything and the photographs lifted too high
above the shelf for even the smallest paper, let alone a document
of any size, to hide behind them.
The chairs, of which there were several in this part of the room,
she passed with just an inquiring look. They were all of solid
oak, without any attempt at upholstery, and although carved to
match the stalls on the other side of the room, offered no place
Her delay in the third segment was brief. Here there was
absolutely nothing but the door by which she had entered, and the
books. As she flitted on, following the oval of the wall, a small
frown appeared on her usually smooth forehead. She felt the
oppression of the books--the countless books. If indeed, she
should find herself obliged to go through them. What a hopeless
But she had still a segment to consider, and after that the
immense table occupying the centre of the room, a table which in
its double capacity (for it was as much desk as table) gave more
promise of holding the solution of the mystery than anything to
which she had hitherto given her attention.
The quarter in which she now stood was the most beautiful, and,
possibly, the most precious of them all. In it blazed the five
great windows which were the glory of the room; but there are no
hiding-places in windows, and much as she revelled in colour, she
dared not waste a moment on them. There was more hope for her in
the towering stalls, with their possible drawers for books.
But Hetty was before her in the attempt she made to lift the lids
of the two great seats.
"Nothing in either," said she; and Violet, with a sigh, turned
towards the table.
This was an immense affair, made to accommodate itself to the
shape of the room, but with a hollowed-out space on the window-
side large enough to hold a chair for the sitter who would use
its top as a desk. On it were various articles suitable to its
double use. Without being crowded, it displayed a pile of
magazines and pamphlets, boxes for stationery, a writing pad with
its accompaniments, a lamp, and some few ornaments, among which
was a large box, richly inlaid with pearl and ivory, the lid of
which stood wide open.
"Don't touch," admonished Violet, as Hetty stretched out her hand
to move some little object aside. "You have already worked here
busily in the search you made this morning."
"We handled everything."
"Did you go through these pamphlets?"
"We shook open each one. We were especially particular here,
since it was at this table I saw Mrs. Quintard stop."
"With head level or drooped?"
"Like one looking down, rather than up, or around?"
"Yes. A ray of red light shone on her sleeve. It seemed to me the
sleeve moved as though she were reaching out."
"Will you try to stand as she did and as nearly in the same place
Hetty glanced down at the table edge, marked where the gules
dominated the blue and green, and moved to that spot, and paused
with her head sinking slowly towards her breast.
"Very good," exclaimed Violet. "But the moon was probably in a
very different position from what the sun is now."
"You are right; it was higher up; I chanced to notice it."
"Let me come," said Violet.
Hetty moved, and Violet took her place but in a spot a step or
two farther front. This brought her very near to the centre of
the table. Hanging her head, just as Hetty had done, she reached
out her right hand.
"Have you looked under this blotter?" she asked, pointing towards
the pad she touched. "I mean, between the blotter and the frame
which holds it?"
"I certainly did," answered Hetty, with some pride.
Violet remained staring down. "Then you took off everything that
was lying on it?"
Violet continued to stare down at the blotter. Then impetuously:
"Put them back in their accustomed places."
Violet continued to look at them, then slowly stretched out her
hand, but soon let it fall again with an air of discouragement.
Certainly the missing document was not in the ink-pot or the
mucilage bottle. Yet something made her stoop again over the pad
and subject it to the closest scrutiny.
"If only nothing had been touched!" she inwardly sighed. But she
let no sign of her discontent escape her lips, simply exclaiming
as she glanced up at the towering spaces overhead: "The books!
the books! Nothing remains but for you to call up all the
servants, or get men from the outside and, beginning at one end--
I should say the upper one--take down every book standing within
reach of a woman of Mrs. Quintard's height."
"Hear first what Mrs. Quintard has to say about that,"
interrupted the woman as that lady entered in a flutter of
emotion springing from more than one cause.
"The young lady thinks that we should remove the books," Hetty
observed, as her mistress's eye wandered to hers from Violet's
"Useless. If we were to undertake to do that, Carlos would be
here before half the job was finished. Besides, Hetty must have
told you my extreme aversion to nicely bound books. I will not
say that when awake I never place my hand on one, but once in a
state of somnambulism, when every natural whim has full control,
I am sure that I never would. There is a reason for my prejudice.
I was not always rich. I once was very poor. It was when I was
first married and long before Clement had begun to make his
fortune. I was so poor then that frequently I went hungry, and
what was worse saw my little daughter cry for food. And why?
Because my husband was a bibliomaniac. He would spend on fine
editions what would have kept the family comfortable. It is hard
to believe, isn't it? I have seen him bring home a Grolier when
the larder was as empty as that box; and it made me hate books
so, especially those of extra fine binding, that I have to tear
the covers off before I can find courage to read them."
O life! life! how fast Violet was learning it!
"I can understand your idea, Mrs. Quintard, but as everything
else has failed, I should make a mistake not to examine these
shelves. It is just possible that we may be able to shorten the
task very materially; that we may not have to call in help, even.
To what extent have they been approached, or the books handled,
since you discovered the loss of the paper we are looking for?"
"Not at all. Neither of us went near them." This from Hetty.
"Nor any one else?"
"No one else has been admitted to the room. We locked both doors
the moment we felt satisfied that the will had been left here."
"That's a relief. Now I may be able to do something. Hetty, you
look like a very strong woman, and I, as you see, am very little.
Would you mind lifting me up to these shelves? I want to look at
them. Not at the books, but at the shelves themselves."
The wondering woman stooped and raised her to the level of the
shelf she had pointed out. Violet peered closely at it and then
at the ones just beneath.
"Am I heavy?" she asked; "if not, let me see those on the other
side of the door."
Hetty carried her over.
Violet inspected each shelf as high as a woman of Mrs.
Quintard's stature could reach, and when on her feet again,
knelt to inspect the ones below.
"No one has touched or drawn anything from these shelves in
twenty-four hours," she declared. "The small accumulation of dust
along their edges has not been disturbed at any point. It was
very different with the table-top. That shows very plainly where
you had moved things and where you had not."
"Was that what you were looking for? Well, I never!"
Violet paid no heed; she was thinking and thinking very deeply.
Hetty turned towards her mistress, then quickly back to Violet,
whom she seized by the arm.
"What's the matter with Mrs. Quintard?" she hurriedly asked. "If
it were night, I should think that she was in one of her spells."
Violet started and glanced where Hetty pointed. Mrs. Quintard was
within a few feet of them, but as oblivious of their
presence as though she stood alone in the room. Possibly, she
thought she did. With fixed eyes and mechanical step she began
to move straight towards the table, her whole appearance of a
nature to make Hetty's blood run cold, but to cause that of
Violet's to bound through her veins with renewed hope.
"The one thing I could have wished!" she murmured under her
breath. "She has fallen into a trance. She is again under the
dominion of her idea. If we watch and do not disturb her she may
repeat her action of last night, and herself show where she has
put this precious document."
Meanwhile Mrs. Quintard continued to advance. A moment more, and
her smooth white locks caught the ruddy glow centred upon the
chair standing in the hollow of the table. Words were leaving her
lips, and her hand, reaching out over the blotter, groped among
the articles scattered there till it settled on a large pair of
"Listen," muttered Violet to the woman pressing close to her
side. "You are acquainted with her voice; catch what she says if
Hetty could not; an undistinguishable murmur was all that came to
Violet took a step nearer. Mrs. Quintard's hand had left the
shears and was hovering uncertainly in the air. Her distress was
evident. Her head, no longer steady on her shoulders, was turning
this way and that, and her tones becoming inarticulate.
"Paper! I want paper" burst from her lips in a shrill unnatural
But when they listened for more and watched to see the uncertain
hand settle somewhere, she suddenly came to herself and turned
upon them a startled glance, which speedily changed into one of
the utmost perplexity.
"What am I doing here?" she asked. "I have a feeling as if I had
almost seen--almost touched--oh, it's gone! and all is blank
again. Why couldn't I keep it till I knew--" Then she came wholly
to herself and, forgetting even the doubts of a moment since,
remarked to Violet in her old tremulous fashion:
"You asked us to pull down the books? But you've evidently
thought better of it."
"Yes, I have thought better of it." Then, with a last desperate
hope of re-arousing the visions lying somewhere back in Mrs.
Quintard's troubled brain, Violet ventured to observe: "This is
likely to resolve itself into a psychological problem, Mrs.
Quintard. Do you suppose that if you fell again into the
condition of last night, you would repeat your action and so lead
us yourself to where the will lies hidden?"
"Possibly; but it may be weeks before I walk again in my sleep,
and meanwhile Carlos will have arrived, and Clement, possibly,
died. My nephew is so low that the doctor is coming back at
midnight. Miss Strange, Clement is a man in a thousand. He says
he wants to see you. Would you be willing to accompany me to his
room for a moment? He will not make many more requests and I will
take care that the interview is not prolonged."
"I will go willingly. But would it not be better to wait--"
"Then you may never see him at all."
"Very well; but I wish I had some better news to give."
"That will come later. This house was never meant for Carlos.
Hetty, you will stay here. Miss Strange, let us go now."
"You need not speak; just let him see you."
Violet nodded and followed Mrs. Quintard into the sick-room.
The sight which met her eyes tried her young emotions deeply.
Staring at her from the bed, she saw two piercing eyes over whose
brilliance death as yet had gained no control. Clements's soul
was in that gaze; Clement halting at the brink of dissolution to
sound the depths behind him for the hope which would make
departure easy. Would he see in her, a mere slip of a girl
dressed in fashionable clothes and bearing about her all the
marks of social distinction, the sort of person needed for the
task upon the success of which depended his darlings' future? She
could hardly expect it. Yet as she continued to meet his gaze
with all the seriousness the moment demanded, she beheld those
burning orbs lose some of their demand and the fingers, which had
lain inert upon the bedspread, flutter gently and move as if to
draw attention to his wife and the three beautiful children
clustered at the foot-board.
He had not spoken nor could she speak, but the solemnity with
which she raised her right hand as to a listening Heaven called
forth upon his lips what was possibly his last smile, and with
the memory of this faint expression of confidence on his part,
she left the room, to make her final attempt to solve the mystery
of the missing document.
Facing the elderly lady in the hall, she addressed her with the
force and soberness of one leading a forlorn hope:
"I want you to concentrate your mind upon what I have to say to
you. Do you think you can do this?"
"I will try," replied the poor woman with a backward glance at
the door which had just been closed upon her.
"What we want," said she, "is, as I stated before, an insight
into the workings of your brain at the time you took the will
from the safe. Try and follow what I have to say, Mrs. Quintard.
Dreams are no longer regarded by scientists as prophecies of the
future or even as spontaneous and irrelevant conditions of
thought, but as reflections of a near past, which can almost
without exception be traced back to the occurrences which caused
them. Your action with the will had its birth in some previous
line of thought afterwards forgotten. Let us try and find that
thought. Recall, if you can, just what you did or read yesterday."
Mrs. Quintard looked frightened.
"But, I have no memory," she objected. "I forget quickly, so
quickly that in order to fulfill my engagements I have to keep a
memorandum of every day's events. Yesterday? yesterday? What did
I do yesterday? I went downtown for one thing, but I hardly know
"Perhaps your memorandum of yesterday's doings will help you."
"I will get it. But it won't give you the least help. I keep it
only for my own eye, and--"
"Never mind; let me see it."
And she waited impatiently for it to be put in her hands.
But when she came to read the record of the last two days, this
was all she found:
Saturday: Mauretania nearly due. I must let Mr. Delahunt know
today that he's wanted here to-morrow. Hetty will try on my
dresses. Says she has to alter them. Mrs. Peabody came to lunch,
and we in such trouble! Had to go down street. Errand for
Clement. The will, the will! I think of nothing else. Is it safe
where it is? No peace of mind till to-morrow. Clement better this
afternoon. Says he must live till Carlos gets back; not to
triumph over him, but to do what he can to lessen his
disappointment. My good Clement!
So nervous, I went to pasting photographs, and was forgetting all
my troubles when Hetty brought in another dress to try on.
Quiet in the great house, during which the clock on the staircase
sent forth seven musical peals. To Violet waiting alone in the
library, they acted as a summons. She was just leaving the room,
when the sound of hubbub in the hall below held her motionless in
the doorway. An automobile had stopped in front, and several
persons were entering the house, in a gay and unseemly fashion.
As she stood listening, uncertain of her duty, she perceived the
frenzied figure of Mrs. Quintard approaching. As she passed by,
she dropped one word: "Carlos!" Then she went staggering on, to
disappear a moment later down the stairway.
This vision lost, another came. This time it was that of
Clements's wife leaning from the marble balustrade above, the
shadow of approaching grief battling with the present terror in
her perfect features. Then she too withdrew from view and Violet,
left for the moment alone in the great hall, stepped back into
the library and began to put on her hat.
The lights had been turned up in the grand salon and it was in
this scene of gorgeous colour that Mrs. Quintard came face to
face with Carlos Pelacios. Those who were witness to her entrance
say that she presented a noble appearance, as with the resolution
of extreme desperation she stood waiting for his first angry
He, a short, thick-set, dark man, showing both in features and
expression the Spanish blood of his paternal ancestors, started
to address her in tones of violence, but changed his note, as he
met her eye, to one simply sardonic.
"You here!" he began. "I assure you, madame, that it is a
pleasure which is not without its inconveniences. Did you not
receive my cable-gram requesting this house to be made ready for
"Then why do I find guests here? They do not usually precede the
arrival of their host."
"Clement is very ill--"
"So much the greater reason that he should have been removed--"
"You were not expected for two days yet. You cabled that you were
coming on the Mauretania."
"Yes, I cabled that. Elisabetta,"--this to his wife standing
silently in the background--"we will go to the Plaza for tonight.
At three o'clock tomorrow we shall expect to find this house in
readiness for our return. Later, if Mrs. Quintard desires to
visit us we shall be pleased to receive her. But"--this to Mrs.
Quintard herself--"you must come without Clement and the kids."
Mrs. Quintard's rigid hand stole up to her throat.
"Clement is dying. He is failing hourly," she murmured. "He may
not live till morning."
Even Carlos was taken aback by this. "Oh, well!" said he, "we
will give you two days."
Mrs. Quintard gasped, then she walked straight up to him. "You
will give us all the time his condition requires and more, much
more. He is the real owner of this house, not you. My brother
left a will bequeathing it to him. You are my nephew's guests,
and not he yours. As his representative I entreat you and your
wife to remain here until you can find a home to your mind."
The silence seethed. Carlos had a temper of fire and so had his
wife. But neither spoke, till he had gained sufficient control
over himself to remark without undue rancour:
"I did not think you had the wit to influence your brother to
this extent; otherwise, I should have cut my travels short." Then
harshly: "Where is this will?"
"It will be produced." But the words faltered.
Carlos glanced at the man standing behind his wife; then back at
"Wills are not scribbled off on deathbeds; or if they are, it
needs something more than a signature to legalize them. I don't
believe in this trick of a later will. Mr. Cavanagh"--here he
indicated the gentleman accompanying them--"has done my father's
business for years, and he assured me that the paper he holds in
his pocket is the first, last, and only expression of your
brother's wishes. If you are in a position to deny this, show us
the document you mention; show us it at once, or inform us where
and in whose hands it can be found."
"That, for--for reasons I cannot give, I must refuse to do at
present. But I am ready to swear--"
A mocking laugh cut her short. Did it issue from his lips or from
those of his highstrung and unfeeling wife? It might have come
from either; there was cause enough.
"Oh!" she faltered, "may God have mercy!" and was sinking before
their eyes, when she heard her name, called from the threshold,
and, looking that way, saw Hetty beaming upon her, backed by a
little figure with a face so radiant that instinctively her hand
went out to grasp the folded sheet of paper Hetty was seeking to
thrust upon her.
"Ah!" she cried, in a great voice, "you will not have to wait,
nor Clement either. Here is the will! The children have come into
their own." And she fell at their feet in a dead faint.
"Where did you find it? Oh! where did you find it? I have waited
a week to know. When, after Carlos's sudden departure, I stood
beside Clement's death-bed and saw from the look he gave me that
he could still feel and understand, I told him that you had
succeeded in your task and that all was well with us. But I was
not able to tell him how you had succeeded or in what place the
will had been found; and he died, unknowing. But we may know, may
we not, now that he is laid away and there is no more talk of our
leaving this house?"
Violet smiled, but very tenderly, and in a way not to offend the
mourner. They were sitting in the library--the great library
which was to remain in Clement's family after all--and it amused
her to follow the dreaming lady's glances as they ran in
irrepressible curiosity over the walls. Had Violet wished, she
could have kept her secret forever. These eyes would never have
But she was of a sympathetic temperament, our Violet, so after a
moment's delay, during which she satisfied herself that little,
if anything, had been touched in the room since her departure
from it a week before, she quietly observed:
"You were right in persisting that you hid it in this room. It
was here I found it. Do you notice that photograph on the mantel
which does not stand exactly straight on its easel?"
"Supposing you take it down. You can reach it, can you not?"
"Oh, yes. But what--"
"Lift it down, dear Mrs. Quintard; and then turn it round and
look at its back."
Agitated and questioning, the lady did as she was bid, and at the
first glance gave a cry of surprise, if not of understanding. The
square of brown paper, acting as a backing to the picture, was
slit across, disclosing a similar one behind it which was still
"Oh! was it hidden in here?" she asked.
"Very completely," assented Violet. "Pasted in out of sight by a
lady who amuses herself with mounting and framing photographs.
Usually, she is conscious of her work, but this time she
performed her task in a dream."
Mrs. Quintard was all amazement.
"I don't remember touching these pictures," she declared. "I
never should have remembered. You are a wonderful person, Miss
Strange. How came you to think these photographs might have two
backings? There was nothing to show that this was so."
"I will tell you, Mrs. Quintard. You helped me."
"I helped you?"
"Yes. You remember the memorandum you gave me? In it you
mentioned pasting photographs. But this was not enough in itself
to lead me to examine those on the mantel, if you had not given
me another suggestion a little while before. We did not tell you
this, Mrs. Quintard, at the time, but during the search we were
making here that day, you had a lapse into that peculiar state
which induces you to walk in your sleep. It was a short one,
lasting but a moment, but in a moment one can speak, and, this
"Spoke? I spoke?"
"Yes, you uttered the word 'paper!' not the paper, but 'paper!'
and reached out towards the shears. Though I had not much time to
think of it then, afterwards upon reading your memorandum I
recalled your words, and asked myself if it was not paper to cut,
rather than to hide, you wanted. If it was to cut, and you were
but repeating the experience of the night before, then the room
should contain some remnants of cut paper. Had we seen any? Yes,
in the basket, under the desk we had taken out and thrown back
again a strip or so of wrapping paper, which, if my memory did
not fail me, showed a clean-cut edge. To pull this strip out
again and spread it flat upon the desk was the work of a minute,
and what I saw led me to look all over the room, not now for the
folded document, but for a square of brown paper, such as had
been taken out of this larger sheet. Was I successful? Not for a
long while, but when I came to the photographs on the mantel and
saw how nearly they corresponded in shape and size to what I was
looking for, I recalled again your fancy for mounting photographs
and felt that the mystery was solved.
"A glance at the back of one of them brought disappointment, but
when I turned about its mate-- You know what I found underneath
the outer paper. You had laid the will against the original
backing and simply pasted another one over it.
"That the discovery came in time to cut short a very painful
interview has made me joyful for a week.
"And now may I see the children?"