Read CHAPTER IX - THE BUNGALOW of The Millionaire Baby , free online book, by Anna Katharine Green, on ReadCentral.com.

As soon as I could break away and leave him I did, and betook myself to Mrs. Carew’s house.  My resolve was taken.  Late as it was, I would attempt an interview with her.  The lights still burning above and below gave me the necessary courage.  Yet I was conscious of some embarrassment in presenting my name to the astonished maid, who was in the act of extinguishing the hall-light when my vigorous ring prevented her.  Seeing her doubtful look and the hesitation with which she held the door, I told her that I would wait outside on the porch till she had carried up my name to Mrs. Carew.  This seemed to relieve her and in a moment I was standing again under the vines waiting for permission to enter the house.  It came very soon, and I had to conquer a fresh embarrassment at the sight of Mrs. Carew’s nimble and gracious figure descending the stairs in all eagerness to greet me.

“What is it?” she asked, running hastily forward so that we met in the center of the hall.  “Good news?  Nothing else could have brought you back again so soon ­and at an hour so late.”

There was a dangerous naïveté in the way she uttered the last three words which made me suspect the actress.  Indeed I was quite conscious as I met her thrilling and expressive glance, that I should never feel again the same confidence in her sincerity.  My judgment had been confounded and my insight rendered helpless by what I had heard of her art, and the fact that she had once been a capable player of “parts.”

But I was man enough and detective enough not to betray my suspicion, now that I was brought face to face with her.  It had always been latent in my breast, even in the very midst of my greatest admiration for her.  Yet I had never acknowledged to myself of what I suspected her, nor did I now ­not quite ­not enough to give that point to my attack which would have insured me immediate victory or defeat.  I was obliged to feel my way and so answered, with every appearance of friendly confidence: 

“I fear then that I shall be obliged to ask your pardon.  I have no good news; rather what might be called, if not bad, of a very perplexing character.  The child has been traced” ­here I purposely let my voice halt for an instant ­“here.”

“Here?” her eyes opened, her lips parted in a look of surprise so ingenuous that involuntarily I felt forced to add, by way of explanation: 

“The child, I mean, who was carried screaming along the highway in a wagon and for whom the police ­and others ­have for two days been looking.”

“Oh!” she ejaculated with a slight turn of her head aside as she motioned me toward a chair.  “And is that child Gwendolen?  Or don’t you know?” She was all eagerness as she again faced me.

“That will be known to-morrow,” I rejoined, resisting the beautiful brightness of her face with an effort that must have left its mark on my own features; for she smiled with unconscious triumph as she held my eyes for a minute in hers saying softly, “O how you excite me!  Tell me more.  Where was the wagon found?  Who is with it?  And how much of all this have you told Mrs. Ocumpaugh?”

With the last question she had risen, involuntarily, it seemed, and as though she would rush to her friend if I did not at once reassure her of that friend’s knowledge of a fact which seemed to throw a gleam of hope upon a situation hitherto entirely unrelieved.

“Mrs. Ocumpaugh has been told nothing,” I hastily returned, answering the last and most important question first.  “Nor must she be; at least not till certainty replaces doubt.  She is in a critical state, I am told.  To rouse her hopes to-night only to dash them again to-morrow would be cruel policy.”

With her eyes still on my face, Mrs. Carew slowly reseated herself.  “Then there are doubts,” she faltered; “doubts of its being Gwendolen?”

“There is always doubt,” I replied, and openly paused in manifest non-committal.

“Oh!” she somewhat wildly exclaimed, covering her face with her hands ­beautiful hands covered with jewels ­“what suspense! what bitter and cruel suspense!  I feel it almost as much as if it were my Harry!” was the final cry with which she dropped them again.  And she did feel it.  Her features had blanched and her form was shaking.  “But you have not answered my questions as to where this wagon is at present and under whose care?  Can’t you see how anxious I must be about that ­if it should prove to be Gwendolen?”

“Mrs. Carew, if I could tell you that, I could tell you more; we shall both have to wait till to-morrow.  Meanwhile, I have a favor to ask.  Have you by any chance the means of entrance to the bungalow?  I have a great and inappeasable desire to see for myself if all the nooks and corners of that place have given up their secrets.  It’s an egotistical desire, no doubt ­and may strike you as folly of the rankest ­but we detectives have learned to trust nobody in our investigations, and I shall never be satisfied till I have looked this whole spot over inch by inch for the clue which may yet remain there.  If there is a clue I must find it.”

“Clue?” She was looking at me a little breathlessly.  “Clue to what?  Then she wasn’t in the wagon; you are still seeking her ­”

“Always seeking her,” I put in.

“But surely not in the bungalow!” Mrs. Carew’s expression was one of extreme surprise.  “What can you find there?”

“I do not know.  But I want to look.  I can go to the house for a key, but it is late; and it seems unpardonable to disturb Mrs. Ocumpaugh.  Yet I shall have to do this if you have not a key; for I shall not sleep till I have satisfied myself that nothing can be discovered on the immediate scene of Gwendolen’s disappearance, to help forward the rescue we both are so intent upon.”

“You are right,” was the hesitating reply I received.  “I have a key; I will fetch it and if you do not mind, I will accompany you to the bungalow.”

“Nothing would give me greater pleasure,” I replied with my best bow; white lies come easy in our trade.

“I will not keep you a minute,” she said, rising and going into the hall.  But in an instant she was back.  “A word to my maid and a covering for my head,” she explained, “and I will be with you.”  Her manner pointed unmistakably to the door.

I had no alternative but to step out on the porch to await her.  But she was true to her word and in a moment she had joined me, with the key in her hand.

“Oh, what adventures!” was her breathless cry.  “Shall I ever forget this dreadful, this interminable week!  But it is dark.  Even the moon is clouded over.  How shall we see?  There are no lights in the bungalow.”

“I have a lantern in my pocket.  My only hope is that no stray gleam from it may pierce the shrubbery and bring the police upon us.”

“Do you fear the police?” she chatted away, almost as a child might.

“No; but I want to do my work alone.  There will be little glory or little money in it if they share any of my discoveries.”

“Ah!” It was an irrepressible exclamation, or so it seemed:  but I should not have noted it if I had not caught, or persuaded myself that I had caught, the oblique glint from her eye which accompanied it.  But it was very dark just at this time and I could be sure of nothing but that she kept close to my side and seemed more than once on the point of addressing me in the short distance we traversed before reaching the bungalow.  But nothing save inarticulate murmurs left her lips and soon we were too busy, in our endeavors to unlock the door, to think of conversation.

The key she had brought was rusty.  Evidently she had not often made use of it.  But after a few futile efforts I succeeded in making it work, and we stepped into the small building in a silence that was only less profound than the darkness in which we instantly found ourselves enveloped.  Light was under my hand, however, and in another moment there opened before us the small square room whose every feature had taken on a ghostly and unfamiliar air from the strange hour and the unwonted circumstances.  I saw how her impressionable nature was affected by the scene, and made haste to assume the offhand air I thought most likely to overcome her apprehension.  But the effect of the blank walls before her, relieved, but in no reassuring way, by the long dark folds of the rugs hanging straight down over the mysterious partition, held its own against my well-meant efforts, and I was not surprised to hear her voice falter as she asked what I expected to find there.

I pointed to a chair and said: 

“If you will sit down, I will show you, not what I expect to find, but how a detective goes about his work.  Whatever our expectations, however small or however great, we pay full attention to details.  Now the detail which has worried me in regard to this place is the existence of a certain space in this building unaccounted for by these four walls; in other words, the portion which lies behind these rugs,” ­and throwing aside the same, I let the flame from my lantern play over the walled-up space which I had before examined with little satisfaction.  “This partition,” I continued, “seems as firm as any of the walls, but I want to make sure that it hides nothing.  If the child should be in some hole back of this partition, what a horror and what an outrage!”

“But it is impossible!” came almost in a shriek from the woman behind me.  “The opening is completely walled up.  I have never known of its being otherwise.  It looked like that when I came here three years ago.  There is no possible passage through that wall.”

“Why was it ever closed up?  Do you know?”

“Not exactly.  The family are very reticent about it.  Some fancy of Mr. Ocumpaugh’s father, I believe.  He was an odd man; they tell all manner of stories about him.  If anything offended him, he rid himself of it immediately.  He took a distaste to that end of the hut, as they used to call it in the old days before it was remodeled to suit the house, so he had it walled up.  That is all we know about it.”

“I wish I could see behind that wall,” I muttered, dropping back the rug I had all this time held in my hand.  “I feel some mystery here which I can not grasp.”  Then as I flashed my lantern about in every direction with no visible result, added with the effort which accompanies such disappointments:  “There is nothing here, Mrs. Carew.  Though it is the scene of the child’s disappearance it gives me nothing.”