Beyond, the lights were still burning in Mrs. Athelstone’s apartment, but there was no one in the rooms. Some opened drawers in the bureau and the absence of her toilet articles from the table told of preparations for a hasty flight.
They did not linger long over their examination of the rooms. But after replacing the broken doors as best they could and sealing them, they went out by the main entrance to question the watchman, whom they found dozing in his chair.
Had he seen anything of Mrs. Athelstone? Sure; he’d called a cab for her about an hour ago and she’d driven off with her brother.
“Her brother!” echoed Simpkins.
“Yep,” yawned the watchman; “you know him—parson—Doctor Brander. What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Simpkins returned sourly, but to himself he added, “Oh, hell!”
Once in the street again, after a word of explanation to the watchman, the officers and Simpkins separated, they to report and send out an alarm for Mrs. Athelstone and Brander, he to call up his office before rejoining them. His exultation over his beat was keyed somewhat lower, now that he understood what Brander’s real interest in Mrs. Athelstone was. Mentally, he wrung the neck of Buttons for not having known it; figuratively, he kicked himself for not having guessed it; literally, he damned his employers for their British reserve, their cool assumption that because he was their clerk he was not interested in their family affairs. “Cuss ’em for snobs,” he wound up finally, a deep sense of his personal grievance stirring his sociable Yankee soul.
Of course, this sickening brother and sister business wouldn’t touch the main fact of the story, but it knocked the “love motive” and the “heart interest” higher than a kite, utterly ruining some of his prettiest bits of writing, besides letting him in for a call-down from Naylor. Still, the old man couldn’t be very hard on him—he’d understand that some trifling little inaccuracies were bound to creep into a great big story like this, dug out and worked up by one man.
At this more cheerful conclusion, a newsboy, crying his bundle of still damp papers, came along, and Simpkins hailed him eagerly. Standing under a lamp on the corner, skipping from front page to back, then from head to head inside, with an eye skilled to catch at a glance the stories which a loathed contemporary had that the Banner had missed, he ran through the bunch. The Sun—not a line about Athelstone in it. Bully! The American—he was a little afraid of the American. Safe again. The World—Sam Blythe’s humorous descriptive story of the convention led. He stopped to pity Sam and the New York papers, as he thought of the Boston newsboys, crying his magnificent beat, till all Washington Street rang with the glory of it. And he could see the fellows in Mrs. Atkinson’s, letting their coffee grow cold as they devoured the Banner, stopping only here and there to call across to each other: “Good work, Simp., old boy! Great story!”