A Marriage Below Zero/Chapter XXIV
I do not know how I passed that awful night. I have a dim recollection of sitting up in hopeless dejection, on the sofa, conscious only of my intense longing for daylight. I could do nothing while darkness reigned; in fact I was absolutely helpless. I could only hope that the darkness which rendered me powerless to act, would have the same effect upon my husband. I could understand nothing. I seemed to be dazed. Not an idea of the truth dawned upon me. Our relations had been so pleasant; I was just about to attain the object of my visit to America, when, in the most inexplicable manner, my husband had left me. As I look back now I wonder how I could have been so dense. It appears to me now that the veriest blockhead could have grasped the situation.
At seven o'clock I sent for the hotel clerk, and asked him if he could tell me anything about my husband’s departure from the hotel. In his suave, horribly superior manner, he informed me that he had not been on duty, and the “gentleman” who had been in charge of the desk before midnight, would not be “around” again until noon. I was in despair. I told this fat, oily official that it was really a matter of life and death with me. If he would only send for the clerk who had last seen my husband, I would pay liberally for the trouble I gave. This, and this alone, seemed to invest the case with interest for him. He promised to send for the day clerk, and in a short time I found him in my room. He could tell me very little. At about nine o’clock Mr. Ravener had ordered a carriage, and had taken a small trunk and a valise with him. He had not said where he was going, or anything concerning his return.
I begged the clerk to send for the man who had driven Mr. Ravener from the hotel. He looked with gentle surprise at my distress, as though it were extremely incomprehensible to him. Arthur had left with the few lines he had written me, money to the amount of five hundred pounds, and I tipped the clerk recklessly. He was thereupon much impressed with my case, and promised to do all he could to help me.
The driver was a big, burly fellow, with a red nose, and a florid, bull-dog face. My heart sank when I saw him. Heaven help all who have to depend upon so sottish a class of people for important information. He had great trouble in remembering the fact that he had taken anybody from the hotel at nine o’clock the evening before.
“Think! think! man,” I cried frantically.
“If you will remember everything, and tell me what I want to know, I’ll give you this.”
I held up a ten-dollar bill before him, and his eyes flashed with eager desire through the heavy, drunken film that covered them, as he saw the money. He sat down, stopped chewing the tobacco which he had been masticating vigorously and attempted to think, with a brutish effort. Then he referred to a little book that he carried in his pocket, and in a few minutes a ray of something distantly related to intelligence lighted up his features.
“The gen’lman told me ter take him to the big marble building on the corner o’ Twen’y-third Street and Broadway,” said he stolidly. “He said he guessed it was an hotel, and I said I guessed he meant the Fifth Avenue. When we got there, a man come to the carriage and helped him out. I guess the man was expectin’ him. No, I didn’t hear what they says. A porter come up and took the gen’lman’s baggage. He give me a five dollar bill, and told me not to wait. That’s all I know, mum.”
“What kind of a man met Mr. Ravener at the hotel?” I exclaimed, gasping, with a terrible fear upon me.
“I dunno, mum,” was the answer. “A ordinary, every-day gen’lman, he seemed to me. He was rather stout, I think, but I didn’t pay no partickler attention to him, mum. I ain’t in the habit of lookin’ at every man I meet so as I can give a description of him afterwards, mum.”
“Was Mr. Ravener’s baggage taken upstairs?” I asked, trying to speak calmly.
“I dunno, mum. Ye see when I got my fare I just skipped. T’wasn’t no good my waitin’ around.”
“All right—now go,” I said hurriedly. “Here’s the money.”
I wanted to be alone. I dismissed the hotel clerk, and began to dress quickly. I would go to the Fifth Avenue Hotel at once. I should doubtless find Arthur there. I absolutely declined to think at all until I could solve the case. I would not torture my mind by imagining this, and suspecting that. I would, if possible, deal with facts only. I had no difficulty in keeping my mind a blank. I was bewildered by the magnitude of the misfortune that had fallen upon me in a strange country. I was soon ready to start, and ordering a carriage, I told the driver to take me to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, and wait for me there.
No sooner had I arrived at the hotel, than quick as a flash of lightning, a great deal of what had been inexplicable lay solved before me. This was the big building that Arthur and I had passed the preceding day. I remembered the crowd of men standing under the porch, and the annoyance I felt at being ogled. I had walked alone to the corner of the street, and, turning, had beheld Arthur gazing in at the lobby. His livid face had filled me with alarm, and he had declared that he was ill. That night he had been driven to this hotel. The reason was too clear for even a blind fool like myself to fail to understand. He had seen some one in the lobby—some one whom he had not expected to see. I could not doubt who it was—no, I could not doubt it, though I would have given all I possessed to be able to do so.
I walked into the hotel, elbowing my way through a crowd of wide-staring men, and went at once to the clerk. I asked him if a young man named Arthur Ravener had arrived at the hotel the previous night. He referred to his register, but could find no such name. I told him he must be mistaken; but this had the effect of rendering him mute. I forgot that an American hotel clerk could not possibly, under any circumstances, be mistaken. I then informed him that I had just spoken with the driver who had conducted Mr. Ravener, with his baggage, to the hotel, and left him there. He was surprised, but he had not been “on duty” at that time. He suggested that I speak to Mr. Price, the detective of the hotel, who was always in the lobby, and whose keen eyes saw everybody who came in and who went out.
I found this detective courteous, well-informed, and remarkably intelligent. I explained my case to him.
“Last night,” he said, “shortly after nine o’clock, a carriage drove up to the hotel. It contained a young man, and I noticed that his face was deathly white. In fact, it was this circumstance that interested me at first. This ghastly hue could not have been normal with any living being. Before he had time to leave the carriage, a fellow, of whom I will speak presently, rushed out and opened the door. He called to a porter, and after having dismissed the carriage, ordered that the trunk and valise which the gentleman with the white face brought, be sent to the dock of the Guion line of steamers, with his own.”
I uttered an exclamation of horror, and the detective stopped in alarm. “Go on,” I cried.
“The two then went upstairs. The young man seemed to be much excited. He could hardly reply to the glib remarks of his companion. He appeared to be in a dream. I suspected that there was something strange about this, Madame,” said Mr. Price, safely, “but I did not see on what ground I could interfere. The gentleman who met your—your—husband?—arrived from England about three days ago. He brought a big black trunk, labelled conspicuously “J. D.,” while he registered under the name of Frank Clarke. A leather pocket-book was found in the hotel the other day. It contained a large sum of money. Mr. Clarke claimed it, and declared that it belonged to him, although the name on the cards which were in it was—”
“What?” I asked breathlessly, although I knew full well.
Mr. Price drew a slip of paper from his pocket.
“The name was Jack Dillington,” he said.
“Captain Jack Dillington. I was very suspicious when he claimed this pocket-book. He was able to tell me exactly its contents. He explained that the cards belonged to a friend, and I had to believe him.”
“Although you saw his trunk marked 'J. D.'” I asked impatiently.
“Yes,” replied the detective. “I had my suspicions, but what could I do? A man can travel under any name he likes; we may suspect that he is doing so for some improper purpose, but unless he does something which justifies our suspicions, I am afraid we could not make out a case. Mr. Clarke, or Dillington, behaved himself properly. I was not asked to watch him. I could not suppose that he—he—
“Was running away with a woman’s husband,” I said, wearily. Fate seemed to be against me. I felt it was useless to struggle.
“Exactly,” he assented, looking at me keenly.
“I am much obliged to you for having told me all that you know,” I said, in the same tired way. He bowed, and I went out to my carriage. I told the driver to take me to the Guion line dock.
It was not much use, though I thought I might as well drain my cup of misery to the dregs. I saw it all. Arthur had told Captain Dillington of our proposed trip to America. I remembered the day when I had gone to his room and found the door locked. I called to mind the sudden shutting of the window which I had unmistakably heard. Captain Dillington had probably consented to this departure, and the fool whom I had married had not suspected that he would be followed. Consequently, when by mere chance Arthur had seen Dillington in the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Hotel, he had been astounded. The horrible influence which this man exerted over the weaker vessel must have been all-powerful. It had in one moment knocked away the barriers which in weeks of perseverance I had raised. I had been right in one respect. It was only by removing him from this man, whom I felt to be his evil genius, that I could have hoped to win my husband.
For the first time I began to doubt if there were a “woman in the case,” after all. But the doubt brought no relief to my mind. I almost wished that I could have known that my husband was on his way to some woman who loved him well, even if unwisely. As it was, I could only suppose that the Captain’s evil influence was exerted over Arthur for some object that I could not guess at, though I felt sure it must be wicked, and to be feared.
At the Guion dock, I learned that the Alaska had sailed for Liverpool at six o’clock that morning. I had no difficulty in ascertaining that two gentlemen had driven up about ten minutes before the vessel sailed. One of them was stout; the other slight and with a pale face.
I almost laughed at the completeness with which one piece of evidence fitted into the other.
I drove back to my hotel. I was alone in a strange country, but it was not that fact which annoyed me. No one would run away with me, I was sorry to say. I thought of the future, and it seemed so black that I could not look into it. I resolved to make one more effort to save my husband from a fate which I did not understand. I saw that a Cunard steamer was sailing the next day—the fast Etruria. I could reach Liverpool before the Alaska.
I had no sooner seen this than one last ray of hope roused me to energy. I packed up my few goods, and the next day I was speeding across the ocean.
I have little more to say. I arrived in Liverpool, as I thought I should do, a day before the Alaska. I put up at the Adelphi Hotel, and gave orders that as soon as the Alaska was sighted I should be notified. I went down to the dock in due course. I watched the crowd of cabin passengers alight from the tender, but my husband and his accomplice were not to be found.
Later, I learned that several passengers had landed at Queenstown, and I could not doubt but that they had been among them. They had probably suspected that I might follow on a fast Cunarder, and had rightly thought that I should not stop at Queenstown.
Well, they had won the battle, and if two men could find any glory in having vanquished one weak woman, let them find and keep it, I said to myself bitterly.
I was defeated and heart-broken. I returned to the house in Kew, “wound up” my affairs there—as they say in the mercantile world—and went abroad, in seclusion.