“Miss Hinch,” a short story by Henry Sydnor Harrison, first appeared in McClure’s Magazine (May-October 1911). It is an intriguing mystery filled with subtle clues for the careful reader. A tale of hidden identities and sudden death, “Miss Hinch” recounts a deadly game of cat-and-mouse played by two clever, determined women late one night on the streets of New York City. The primary characters are Jessie Dark, a young crime-fighting reporter with a reputation for catching elusive criminals, and Miss Hinch, an actress known for her uncanny skills as an impersonator. Miss Hinch is being sought throughout the city after brutally murdering John Catherwood, who had spurned her affection. Jessie Dark has vowed to find her. Throughout the narrative, the two women appear in disguise—one an Episcopal clergyman, the other an old woman—until the surprising conclusion when their identities are revealed. Additional characters include a young married couple, an elderly man, a subway guard, and three policemen. A waiter, a subway clerk, and a pedestrian also appear briefly.
The story begins after midnight in New York City. Sleet and bitter cold have driven people from the streets; moreover, citizens throughout the city are on edge—the diabolically clever Miss Hinch remains at large, thwarting all efforts to apprehend her. Alone on 127th Street, an old woman and a clergyman take notice of each other and meet again at the entrance to the subway. The clergyman notices the woman’s white hair, wrinkled face, spectacles, and stooped shoulders. In her old black hat and veil, a gray shawl around her shoulders, she appears to be a poor but respectable servant. The clergyman, dressed in the manner of an Episcopal priest, is short and stocky; his bearded face is puffy and deeply creased. He studies the old woman intently as he follows her onto the train, walking slowly since he has a clubfoot and uses a cane. Although the subway car is almost deserted, he takes a seat directly across from her; she soon moves to the back of the train. A young couple and an old man, who sit in the middle of the car, are the only other passengers.
The clergyman soon moves to the back of the train, also. The woman glances at his face and then notices a newspaper beside him on the seat. Timidly, she asks to borrow it, and he obliges. The woman opens the paper to read crime-fighter Jessie Dark’s most recent column. Even though the intrepid reporter has captured nine women criminals, Miss Hinch continues to elude even her. When the woman lays the paper aside with a sigh, the clergyman begins a conversation about the “strange mystery.”
During their lengthy conversation that ensues, the facts of Miss Hinch’s crime and escape, her almost supernatural skills in impersonation, and her diabolically clever nature are established. The clergyman contends that it seems unlikely Jessie Dark will catch her. The old woman defends Jessie, pointing out that “she’s never had to hunt for such a woman as Miss Hinch before.” At this moment, the elderly man who had been napping nearby joins the conversation. Jessie Dark, he insists, is far too clever “to show her hand” in the newspaper. “The woman doesn’t live who is clever enough to hoodwink Jessie Dark,” he declares. The young married couple and a subway guard contribute their ideas to the conversation. The guard has faith that Jessie Dark will catch the murderess. The husband wonders what she would do if she did corner Miss Hinch. How could she summon the police without alerting the murderess and exposing herself to danger?
The couple gets off the train at their station, and silence returns to the car. However, the tone has changed between the old woman and the clergyman. A perceptive reader will infer that Miss Hinch and Jessie Dark have spotted each other, but who is who? Suddenly, the clergyman rises to depart as the train comes into the next station; it is her station, too, the old woman says. He watches her face carefully as he says goodbye. When the car pulls into the station, they both step onto the platform.
The clergyman walks away, but when he realizes the woman is not following him, he stops and invites her to come along. She does, but soon tries to take her leave; she must wait for the next train, she says, and also have supper. He must take the next train himself, the clergyman replies, continuing to walk with her. The old woman stops again, her face now white; she must eat immediately. The clergyman suggests they dine together, clearly unwilling to let the woman go her own way. They repair to nearby Miller’s Restaurant, where they are seated by a waiter. After a simple meal, the woman asks to see the menu again, but the waiter finds it mysteriously has vanished. Hearing...
(The entire section is 1952 words.)