Eight days—seven days—six days more!—only six—
The blow fell, a thunderbolt from the clear sky. It dazed certain people at first; it was difficult to realize what had happened, or if anything had really happened. For might not what seemed a deep and dire mystery turn out to be nothing so very mysterious after all? A message would soon come; everything would then be “cleared up” and those most concerned would laugh at their apprehensions. But the hours went by, and the affair remained inexplicable; no word was heard concerning Miss Dalrymple’s whereabouts; she seemed to have disappeared as completely as if she had vanished on the Persian magic carpet. What could it mean? The circumstances briefly were:
Miss Dalrymple, four or five days before Mr. Heatherbloom’s term of service came to an end, had expressed a desire to revisit her old home and friends in the West. One of a party made up mostly of other Californians—now residents of New York city—the girl had failed to appear on the private car at the appointed time, and the train had pulled out, leaving her behind. At the first important stop a telegram had been handed to a gentleman of the party from Miss Dalrymple; it expressed her regret at having reached the station too late owing to circumstances she would explain later, and announced her intention of coming on, with her maid, in a few days. They were not to wait anywhere for her but to go right along.
The party did; it was sorry to have lost one of its most popular members but no one thought anything more of the matter until at Denver, after a telegram had been forwarded to the Van Rolsen house, in New York, asking just when Miss Dalrymple would arrive, as camping preparations for a joyous pilgrimage in the mountains were in progress.
Miss Van Rolsen gasped when this message reached her. Miss Dalrymple and her maid—a young woman newly engaged by Miss Van Rolsen—had left the house for the train to which the private car was attached; neither had been heard from since. The aunt had, of course, presumed her niece had gone as planned; she had received no word from her, but supposing she was of a light-hearted, heedless company thought nothing of that. It was possible Miss Dalrymple had actually missed her train; but if so, why had she not returned to her aunt’s house?
Where had she gone? What had become of her? No trace of her could be found. Certain forces in the central railroad office at New York could not discover any evidence that the young girl had taken a subsequent train. There was no record of her name at any ticket office; no state-room had been reserved by, or for her; in fact, telegrams to officials in Chicago and other points west failed to elicit satisfactory information of any kind.
Miss Van Rolsen found herself with something real to worry about; she rose to the occasion; her niece, after all, was everything to her. The Van Rolsen millions were ultimately for her, and the old lady’s every ambition was centered in the girl. She had been proud of her beauty, her social triumphs.