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- The Golden Slipper - 20/54 -
"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 the will."
"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 that."
"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 carvings.
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 precious document.
"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?
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