Authors: Anna Katherine Green
I am not an inquisitive woman, but when, in the middle of a certain warm
night in September, I heard a carriage draw up at the adjoining house
and stop, I could not resist the temptation of leaving my bed and taking
a peep through the curtains of my window.
First: because the house was empty, or supposed to be so, the family
still being, as I had every reason to believe, in Europe; and secondly:
because, not being inquisitive, I often miss in my lonely and single
life much that it would be both interesting and profitable for me to
Luckily I made no such mistake this evening. I rose and looked out, and
though I was far from realizing it at the time, took, by so doing, my
first step in a course of inquiry which has ended—
But it is too soon to speak of the end. Rather let me tell you what I
saw when I parted the curtains of my window in Gramercy Park, on the
night of September 17, 1895.
Not much at first glance, only a common hack drawn up at the neighboring
curb-stone. The lamp which is supposed to light our part of the block is
some rods away on the opposite side of the street, so that I obtained
but a shadowy glimpse of a young man and woman standing below me on the
pavement. I could see, however, that the woman—and not the man—was
putting money into the driver's hand. The next moment they were on the
stoop of this long-closed house, and the coach rolled off.
It was dark, as I have said, and I did not recognize the young
people,—at least their figures were not familiar to me; but when, in
another instant, I heard the click of a night-key, and saw them, after a
rather tedious fumbling at the lock, disappear from the stoop, I took it
for granted that the gentleman was Mr. Van Burnam's eldest son Franklin,
and the lady some relative of the family; though why this, its most
punctilious member, should bring a guest at so late an hour into a house
devoid of everything necessary to make the least exacting visitor
comfortable, was a mystery that I retired to bed to meditate upon.
I did not succeed in solving it, however, and after some ten minutes had
elapsed, I was settling myself again to sleep when I was re-aroused by a
fresh sound from the quarter mentioned. The door I had so lately heard
shut, opened again, and though I had to rush for it, I succeeded in
getting to my window in time to catch a glimpse of the departing figure
of the young man hurrying away towards Broadway. The young woman was not
with him, and as I realized that he had left her behind him in the
great, empty house, without apparent light and certainly without any
companion, I began to question if this was like Franklin Van Burnam. Was
it not more in keeping with the recklessness of his more easy-natured
and less reliable brother, Howard, who, some two or three years back,
had married a young wife of no very satisfactory antecedents, and who,
as I had heard, had been ostracized by the family in consequence?
Whichever of the two it was, he had certainly shown but little
consideration for his companion, and thus thinking, I fell off to sleep
just as the clock struck the half hour after midnight.
Next morning as soon as modesty would permit me to approach the window,
I surveyed the neighboring house minutely. Not a blind was open, nor a
shutter displaced. As I am an early riser, this did not disturb me at
the time, but when after breakfast I looked again and still failed to
detect any evidences of life in the great barren front beside me, I
began to feel uneasy. But I did nothing till noon, when going into my
rear garden and observing that the back windows of the Van Burnam house
were as closely shuttered as the front, I became so anxious that I
stopped the next policeman I saw going by, and telling him my
suspicions, urged him to ring the bell.
No answer followed the summons.
"There is no one here," said he.
"Ring again!" I begged.
And he rang again but with no better result.
"Don't you see that the house is shut up?" he grumbled. "We have had
orders to watch the place, but none to take the watch off."
"There is a young woman inside," I insisted. "The more I think over last
night's occurrence, the more I am convinced that the matter should be
He shrugged his shoulders and was moving away when we both observed a
common-looking woman standing in front looking at us. She had a bundle
in her hand, and her face, unnaturally ruddy though it was, had a scared
look which was all the more remarkable from the fact that it was one of
those wooden-like countenances which under ordinary circumstances are
capable of but little expression. She was not a stranger to me; that is,
I had seen her before in or about the house in which we were at that
moment so interested; and not stopping to put any curb on my excitement,
I rushed down to the pavement and accosted her.
"Who are you?" I asked. "Do you work for the Van Burnams, and do you
know who the lady was who came here last night?"
The poor woman, either startled by my sudden address or by my manner
which may have been a little sharp, gave a quick bound backward, and was
only deterred by the near presence of the policeman from attempting
flight. As it was, she stood her ground, though the fiery flush, which
made her face so noticeable, deepened till her cheeks and brow were
"I am the scrub-woman," she protested. "I have come to open the windows
and air the house,"—ignoring my last question.
"Is the family coming home?" the policeman asked.
"I don't know; I think so," was her weak reply.
"Have you the keys?" I now demanded, seeing her fumbling in her pocket.
She did not answer; a sly look displaced the anxious one she had
hitherto displayed, and she turned away.
"I don't see what business it is of the neighbors," she muttered,
throwing me a dissatisfied scowl over her shoulder.
"If you've got the keys, we will go in and see that things are all
right," said the policeman, stopping her with a light touch.
She trembled; I saw that she trembled, and naturally became excited.
Something was wrong in the Van Burnam mansion, and I was going to be
present at its discovery. But her next words cut my hopes short.
"I have no objection to
going in," she said to the policeman,
"but I will not give up my keys to
. What right has she in our
house any way." And I thought I heard her murmur something about a
meddlesome old maid.
The look which I received from the policeman convinced me that my ears
had not played me false.
"The lady's right," he declared; and pushing by me quite
disrespectfully, he led the way to the basement door, into which he and
the so-called cleaner presently disappeared.
I waited in front. I felt it to be my duty to do so. The various
passers-by stopped an instant to stare at me before proceeding on their
way, but I did not flinch from my post. Not till I had heard that the
young woman whom I had seen enter these doors at midnight was well, and
that her delay in opening the windows was entirely due to fashionable
laziness, would I feel justified in returning to my own home and its
affairs. But it took patience and some courage to remain there. Several
minutes elapsed before I perceived the shutters in the third story open,
and a still longer time before a window on the second floor flew up and
the policeman looked out, only to meet my inquiring gaze and rapidly
Meantime three or four persons had stopped on the walk near me, the
nucleus of a crowd which would not be long in collecting, and I was
beginning to feel I was paying dearly for my virtuous resolution, when
the front door burst violently open and we caught sight of the trembling
form and shocked face of the scrub-woman.
"She's dead!" she cried, "she's dead! Murder!" and would have said more
had not the policeman pulled her back, with a growl which sounded very
much like a suppressed oath.
He would have shut the door upon me had I not been quicker than
lightning. As it was, I got in before it slammed, and happily too; for
just at that moment the house-cleaner, who had grown paler every
instant, fell in a heap in the entry, and the policeman, who was not the
man I would want about me in any trouble, seemed somewhat embarrassed by
this new emergency, and let me lift the poor thing up and drag her
farther into the hall.
She had fainted, and should have had something done for her, but anxious
though I always am to be of help where help is needed, I had no sooner
got within range of the parlor door with my burden, than I beheld a
sight so terrifying that I involuntarily let the poor woman slip from my
arms to the floor.
In the darkness of a dim corner (for the room had no light save that
which came through the doorway where I stood) lay the form of a woman
under a fallen piece of furniture. Her skirts and distended arms alone
were visible; but no one who saw the rigid outlines of her limbs could
doubt for a moment that she was dead.
At a sight so dreadful, and, in spite of all my apprehensions, so
unexpected, I felt a sensation of sickness which in another moment might
have ended in my fainting also, if I had not realized that it would
never do for me to lose my wits in the presence of a man who had none
too many of his own. So I shook off my momentary weakness, and turning
to the policeman, who was hesitating between the unconscious figure of
the woman outside the door and the dead form of the one within I cried