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- Vicky Van - 30/40 -
A FUTILE CHASE
It was Sunday afternoon, and we were in conclave in the Schuyler library. Fleming Stone was summing up his results of the past few days and, though it was evident he had done all that mortal man could do, yet he had no hint or clue as to where Vicky Van might be.
And, he held, that nothing else was of consequence compared to this knowledge. She must be found, and whether that could be done quickly, by search or by chance, or whether it would take a long time of waiting, he could not say. He felt sure, that she must disclose herself, sooner or later, but if not, and if their search continued unavailing, then he held out no hope for success.
"It's a unique case," he said, "in my experience. All depends on finding that woman. If she is innocent, herself, she knows who did it. And, if she is the guilty one, she is clever enough to remain hidden. It may be she is miles away, out of the country, perhaps. She has had ample time to make arrangements to go abroad, or to any distant place. Her guilt seems to me probable, because she has literally abandoned her house and her belongings. An innocent woman would scarcely leave all those modern and valuable furnishings unless for some very strong reason. But as to finding her--a needle in a haystack presents an easy problem by contrast!"
"Doubtless she is hiding in the house of some friend," suggested Ruth, thoughtfully. "It seems to me she must have been taken in and cared for by some one who loved her, that night she disappeared."
"I think so, too," agreed Stone. "But I've been to see all her friends that I can find out about. I've called on a score of them, finding their addresses in her address book that Mr. Lowney gave me. Of course, they may have been deceiving me, but I feel safe in asserting that she is not under the protection of any one I interviewed. She returned to her house last Monday night, the police believe, for the purpose of getting her mail. This shows a daring almost unbelievable! That mail must have been of desperate importance to her. She has not been to the house since, they feel sure, and since I have been on the case she could not have entered, for I have kept it under strict surveillance. I think she will never return to it. Presumably she got the letters she was so anxious for. Her mail, that has arrived the last few days, I have not opened, but the envelopes show mostly tradesmen's cards, or are indubitably social correspondence. There seem to be no letters from lawyers or financial firms. However, if nothing develops, I shall open the letters. This case, being unprecedented, necessitates unusual proceedings."
"I'm disappointed in you, Mr. Stone," said Rhoda Schuyler, testily; "I didn't suppose you were superhuman, but I did think, with your reputation and all, you would be able to find that woman. I've heard say that nobody could absolutely vanish in New York City, and not be traced."
"You don't regret my so-far failure a bit more than I do, Miss Schuyler, but I feel no shame or embarrassment over it. Nor am I ready to admit myself beaten. I have a theory, or, rather a conviction that there is one and only one explanation of this strange affair. I am not quite ready to expound this, but in a day or two I shall find if it is the true solution, and if so I shall soon find Miss Van Allen."
"I knew you would," and Sarah Schuyler nodded her head, in satisfaction. "I told Rhoda to give you more time and you would not disappoint us. All right, Mr. Stone, use all the time you need. But no Schuyler must remain unavenged. I want to see that woman killed--yes, killed, for her murder of my brother."
Sarah Schuyler looked like a figure of Justice herself, as, with flashing eyes she declared her wrath. And it was her right. Her brother's blood called out for vengeance. But the more gentle-souled Ruth shuddered and shrank from this stern arraignment.
"Oh, Sarah," she murmured, "not killed! Don't condemn a woman to that!"
"Why not, Ruth? If a woman can kill, a woman should be killed. But she won't be," she added, bitterly. "No jury ever convicts a woman, no matter how clearly her guilt is proven."
Just then Fibsy appeared. He was a strange little figure, and showed a shy awkwardness at the grandeur of his surroundings. He bobbed a funny little curtsy to Ruth, whom he already adored, and with an embarrassed nod, included the rest of us in a general greeting.
Then to Fleming Stone he said, in an eager, triumphant tone, "I got 'em!"
"Got what?" asked Ruth, smiling at him.
"Got pictures of Miss Van Allen, and Julie, too."
"What!" cried Ruth, interested at once; "let me see them."
Fibsy glanced at her and then at Stone, and handed a parcel to the latter.
"He's my boss," the boy said, as if by way of apology for slighting her request.
Fleming Stone opened the parcel and showed two sketches.
"Miss Gale made them," he explained. "I sent Fibsy over there to induce her to give us at least a hint of Miss Van Allen's personal appearance. The boy could wheedle it from her, when I couldn't. See?"
He handed the pictures to Miss Rhoda, for he, too, respected authority, but we all gathered round to look.
They were the merest sketches. A wash of water-color, but they showed merit. As the only one present who knew Vicky Van, I was asked of the truth of their portraiture.
"Fairly good," I said, "yes, more than that. This of Vicky shows the coloring of her face and hair and the general effect of her costume, more than her actual physiognomy. But it is certainly a close enough likeness to make her recognizable if you find her."
And this was true. Ariadne had caught the sidelong glance of Vicky Van's dark-lashed eyes, and the curve of her scarlet lips. The coloring was perfect, just Vicky's vivid tints, and the dark hair, looped over her ears, was as she always wore it. Ariadne had drawn her in the gown she had worn that fatal evening, and the women eagerly scrutinized the gorgeous costume.
"No wonder those long strands of fringe caught in that scraggly mirror frame!" exclaimed Winnie, who never missed a point.
"Right," said Stone. "If she whirled around as you did, Miss Calhoun, it's a wonder she didn't spoil her whole gown."
The pose and the figure were not exactly Vicky's. Ariadne wasn't much on catching a likeness or a physical effect. But the color and atmosphere were fine, and I told this to Stone, who agreed that it was a decided help in the search.
Julie's portrait was the same. Not a real likeness of the woman, but an impressionist transcript of her salient points. The gray gown and white apron, the thick-rimmed glasses, the parted lips, showing slightly protruding teeth, the plainly parted brown hair, all were the real Julie; and yet, except for these accessories I'm not sure I could have recognized the subject of the sketch. However, as I told Stone, it certainly was a helpful indication of the sort of woman he was to look for, and even in disguise, the physical characteristics must show.
The detective was positive that wherever Vicky Van and Julie were, or whatever they were doing, they were in all probability disguised, and thoroughly so, or they must have been discovered ere this.
To my amusement, Fibsy and Ruth were holding a tete-a-tete conversation. The kind-hearted woman had, doubtless, felt sorry for the boy's shyness, and had drawn him into chat to put him at his ease.
She had succeeded, too, for he was animated, and had lost his self-consciousness under the charm of her smile.
"And I'll bet your birthday comes in the spring," he was saying, as I caught the tenor of their talk.
"It does," said Ruth, looking surprised. "How did you guess?"
"'Cause you're just like a little spring flower--a white crocus or a bit of arbutus."
And then, noting my attention, the boy was covered with confusion and blushed to the tips of his ears. He rose from where he sat, and shuffled awkwardly around the great room, devoting exaggerated attention to some books in the glassed cases, and twirling his fingers in acute embarrassment.
"You scared him away," chided Ruth, under her breath, as our glances met. "He and I were getting positively chummy."
"Why was he talking of your birthday? I asked.
"I don't know, I'm sure. He said I was born in the spring, because I'm like a flower! Really, that child will grow up a poet, if he doesn't look out!"
"You are like a flower," I murmured back. "And I'm glad your birthday is in spring. I mean to celebrate it!"
And then I thought of poor Vicky Van's birthday, so tragically ended, and I quickly changed the subject.
Armed with the pictures, Fleming Stone and his young assistant spent the next day on a still hunt.
And in the evening Stone came over to see me.
"A little quiet confab," he said, as we secluded ourselves in my sitting-room and closed the door, "I've been to a score of places, and invariably they recognize Miss Van Allen and her maid, but all say they've not seen her since the tragedy. I went to shops, offices, the bank and places where she would be likely to need to go. Also, her friends' houses. But nothing doing. The shops have heard from her, in the way of paid bills, checks and such matters, but I learned absolutely nothing that throws any light on her whereabouts. Now, Mr. Calhoun, the very thoroughness of her disappearance, the very
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