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Title:      The Dragon Murder Case
Author:     S. S. Van Dine
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Edition:    1
Language:   English
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Date first posted:          May 2004
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A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook

Title:      The Dragon Murder Case (1933)
Author:     S. S. Van Dine


A Philo Vance Mystery




Sometime we see a cloud that's dragonish.--Antony and Cleopatra.




CONTENTS

I.  The Tragedy

II.  A Startling Accusation

III.  The Splash in the Pool

IV.  An Interruption

V.  The Water-Monster

VI.  A Contretemps

VII.  The Bottom of the Pool

VIII.  Mysterious Footprints

IX.  A New Discovery

X.  The Missing Man

XI.  A Sinister Prophecy

XII.  Interrogations

XIII.  Three Women

XIV.  An Unexpected Development

XV.  Noises in the Night

XVI.  Blood and a Gardenia

XVII.  The Duplicated Death

XVIII.  Piscatorial Lore

XIX.  The Dragon's Tracks

XX.  The Final Link

XXI.  The End of the Case




CHAPTER I

THE TRAGEDY


(Saturday, August 11; 11.45 p. m.)


That sinister and terrifying crime, which came to be known as the
dragon murder case, will always be associated in my mind with one
of the hottest summers I have ever experienced in New York.

Philo Vance, who stood aloof from the eschatological and
supernatural implications of the case, and was therefore able to
solve the problem on a purely rationalistic basis, had planned a
fishing trip to Norway that August, but an intellectual whim had
caused him to cancel his arrangements and to remain in America.
Since the influx of post-war, nouveau-riche Americans along the
French and Italian Rivieras, he had forgone his custom of spending
his summers on the Mediterranean, and had gone after salmon and
trout in the streams of North Bergenhus.  But late in July of this
particular year his interest in the Menander fragments found in
Egypt during the early years of this century, had revived, and he
set himself to complete their translation--a work which, you may
recall, had been interrupted by that amazing series of Mother-Goose
murders in West 75th Street.*


* "The Bishop Murder Case" (Scribners, 1929).


However, once again this task of research and love was rudely
intruded upon by one of the most baffling murder mysteries in which
Vance ever participated; and the lost comedies of Menander were
again pigeon-holed for the intricate ratiocination of crime.
Personally I think Vance's criminal investigations were closer to
his heart than the scholastic enterprises on which he was
constantly embarking, for though his mind was ever seeking out
abstruse facts in the realm of cultural lore, he found his greatest
mental recreation in intricate problems wholly unrelated to pure
learning.  Criminology satisfied this yearning in his nature, for
it not only stimulated his analytical processes but brought into
play his knowledge of recondite facts and his uncanny instinct for
the subtleties of human nature.

Shortly after his student days at Harvard he asked me to officiate
as his legal adviser and monetary steward; and my liking and
admiration for him were such that I resigned from my father's firm
of Van Dine, Davis and Van Dine to take up the duties he had
outlined.  I have never regretted that decision; and it is because
of the resultant association with him that I have been able to set
down an accurate and semi-official account of the various criminal
investigations in which he participated.  He was drawn into these
investigations as a result of his friendship with John F.-X.
Markham during the latter's four years' incumbency as District
Attorney of New York County.

Of all the cases I have thus far recorded none was as exciting, as
weird, as apparently unrelated to all rational thinking, as the
dragon murder.  Here was a crime that seemed to transcend all the
ordinary scientific knowledge of man and to carry the police and
the investigators into an obfuscous and unreal realm of demonology
and folk-lore--a realm fraught with dim racial memories of
legendary terrors.

The dragon has ever entered into the emotional imaginings of
primitive religions, throwing over its conceivers a spell of
sinister and terrifying superstition.  And here in the city of New
York, in the twentieth century, the police were plunged into a
criminal investigation which resuscitated all the dark passages in
those dim forgotten times when the superstitious children of the
earth believed in malignant monsters and the retributive horrors
which these monsters visited upon man.

The darkest chapters in the ethnological records of the human race
were reviewed within sight of the skyscrapers of modern Manhattan;
and so powerful was the effect of these resuscitations that even
scientists searched for some biological explanation of the
grotesque phenomena that held the country enthralled during the
days following the uncanny and incomprehensible death of Sanford
Montague.  The survival of prehistoric monsters--the development of
subterranean Ichthyopsida--the unclean and darksome matings of
earth and sea creatures--were advanced as possible scientific
explanations of the extraordinary and hideous facts with which the
police and the District Attorney's office were faced.

Even the practical and hard-headed Sergeant Ernest Heath of the
Homicide Bureau was affected by the mysterious and incalculable
elements of the case.  During the preliminary investigation--when
there was no actual evidence of murder--the unim aginative Sergeant
sensed hidden and ominous things, as if a miasmatic emanation had
arisen from the seemingly commonplace circumstances surrounding the
situation.  In fact, had it not been for the fears that arose in
him when he was first called to take charge of the tragic episode,
the dragon murder might never have come to the attention of the
authorities.  It would, in all probability, have been recorded
conventionally in the archives of the New York Police Department as
another "disappearance," accounted for along various obvious lines
and with a cynical wink.

This hypothetical eventuality was, no doubt, what the murderer
intended; but the perpetrator of that extraordinary crime--a crime,
as far as I know, unparalleled in the annals of violent homicide--
had failed to count on the effect of the sinister atmosphere which
enveloped his unholy act.  The fact that the imaginative aboriginal
fears of man have largely developed from the inherent mysteries
enshrouded in the dark hidden depths of water, was overlooked by
the murderer.  And it was this oversight that roused the Sergeant's
vague misgivings and turned a superficially commonplace episode
into one of the most spectacular and diabolical murder cases of
modern times.

Sergeant Heath was the first official to go to the scene of the
crime--although, at the time, he was not aware that a crime had
been committed; and it was he who stammered out his unidentifiable
fears to Markham and Vance.

It was nearly midnight on August 11.  Markham had dined with Vance
at the latter's roof-garden apartment in East 38th Street, and the
three of us had spent the evening in a desultory discussion of
various topics.  There had been a lackadaisical atmosphere over our
gathering, and the periods of silence had increased as the night
wore on, for the weather was both hot and sultry, and the leaves of
the tree-tops which rose from the rear yard were as still as those
on a painted canvas.  Moreover, it had rained for hours, the
downpour ceasing only at ten o'clock, and a heavy breathless pall
seemed to have settled over the city.

Vance had just mixed a second champagne cup for us when Currie,
Vance's butler and major-domo, appeared at the door to the roof-
garden carrying a portable telephone.

"There is an urgent call for Mr. Markham," he announced; "and I
took the liberty of bringing the telephone. . . .  It's Sergeant
Heath, sir."

Markham looked nettled and a bit surprised, but he nodded and took
the instrument.  His conversation with the Sergeant was a brief
one, and when he replaced the receiver he was frowning.

"That's queer," he commented.  "Unlike the Sergeant.  He's worried
about something--wants to see me.  He didn't give any hint of the
matter, and I didn't press the point.  Said he found out at my home
that I was here. . . .  I didn't like the suppressed tone of his
voice, and told him he might come here.  I hope you don't mind,
Vance."

"Delighted," Vance drawled, settling deeper into his wicker chair.
"I haven't seen the doughty Sergeant for months. . . .  Currie," he
called, "bring the Scotch and soda.  Sergeant Heath is joining us."
Then he turned back to Markham.  "I hope there's nothing amiss. . . .
Maybe the heat has hallucinated the Sergeant."

Markham, still troubled, shook his head.

"It would take more than hot weather to upset Heath's equilibrium."
He shrugged.  "Oh, well, we'll know the worst soon enough."

It was about twenty minutes later when the Sergeant was announced.
He came out on the terrace garden, wiping his brow with an enormous
handkerchief.  After he had greeted us somewhat abstractedly he
dropped into a chair by the glass-topped table and helped himself
to a long drink of the Scotch whisky which Vance moved toward him.

"I've just come from Inwood, Chief," he explained to Markham.  "A
guy has disappeared.  And to tell you the truth, I don't like it.
There's something phony somewhere."

Markham scowled.

"Anything unusual about the case?"

"No--nothing."  The Sergeant appeared embarrassed.  "That's the
hell of it.  Everything in order--the usual sort of thing.
Routine.  And yet . . ."  His voice trailed off, and he lifted the
glass to his lips.

Vance gave an amused smile.

"I fear, Markham," he observed, "the Sergeant has become
intuitive."

Heath set down his glass with a bang.

"If you mean, Mr. Vance, that I've got a hunch about this case,
you're right!"  And he thrust his jaw forward.

Vance raised his eyebrows whimsically.

"What case, Sergeant?"

Heath gave him a dour look and then grinned.

"I'm going to tell you--and you can laugh all you want to. . . .
Listen, Chief."  He turned back to Markham.  "Along about ten forty-
five tonight a telephone call comes to the Homicide Bureau.  A
fellow, who says his name is Leland, tells me there's been a
tragedy out at the old Stamm estate in Inwood and that, if I have
any sense, I better hop out. . . ."

"A perfect spot for a crime," Vance interrupted musingly.  "It's
one of the oldest estates in the city--built nearly a hundred years
ago.  It's an anachronism today, but--my word!--it's full of
criminal possibilities.  Legend'ry, in fact, with an amazin'
history."

Heath contemplated Vance shrewdly.

"You got the idea, sir.  I felt just that way when I got out
there. . . .  Well, anyway, I naturally asked this fellow Leland
what had happened and why I should come.  And it seems that a bird
named Montague had dived into the swimming pool on the estate, and
hadn't come up--"

"Was it, by any chance, the old Dragon Pool?" inquired Vance,
raising himself and reaching for his beloved Régie cigarettes.

"That's the one," Heath told him; "though I never knew the name of
it till I got there tonight. . . .  Well, I told him that wasn't in
my line, but he got persistent and said that the matter oughta be
looked into, and the sooner I came the better.  He talked in a
funny tone--it sorta got to me.  His English was all right--he
didn't have any foreign accent--but I got the idea he wasn't an
American.  I asked him why he was calling up about something that
had happened on the Stamm estate; and he said he was an old friend
of the family and had witnessed the tragedy.  He also said Stamm
wasn't able to telephone, and that he had temporarily taken charge
of the situation. . . .  I couldn't get any more out of him; but
there was something about the way the fellow talked that made me
leery."

"I see," Markham murmured non-committally.  "So you went out?"

"Yeah, I went out."  Heath nodded sheepishly.  "I got Hennessey and
Burke and Snitkin, and we hopped a police car."

"What did you find?"

"I didn't find anything, sir," Heath returned aggressively, "except
what that guy told me over the phone.  There was a week-end house-
party on the estate, and one of the guests--this bird named
Montague--had suggested they all go swimming in the pool.  There'd
probably been considerable drinking, so they all went down to the
pool and put on bathing suits. . . ."

"Just a moment, Sergeant," Vance interrupted.  "Was Leland drunk,
by any chance?"

"Not him."  The Sergeant shook his head.  "He was the coolest
member of the lot.  But there was something queer about him.  He
seemed greatly relieved when I got there; and he took me aside and
told me to keep my eyes open.  I naturally asked him what he meant,
but right away he got casual, so to speak, and merely said that a
lot of peculiar things had happened around those parts in the old
days, and that maybe something peculiar had happened tonight."

"I think I know what he meant," Vance said with a slight nod.
"That part of the city has given rise to many strange and grotesque
legends--old wives' tales and superstitions that have come down
from the Indians and early settlers."

"Well, anyway,"--Heath dismissed Vance's comments as irrelevant--
"after the party had gone down to the pool, this fellow Montague
walked out on the spring-board and took a fancy dive.  And he never
came up. . . ."

"How could the others be so sure he didn't come up?" asked Markham.
"It must have been pretty dark after the rain: it's cloudy now."

"There was plenty of light at the pool," Heath explained.  "They've
got a dozen flood-lights on the place."

"Very well.  Go on."  Markham reached impatiently for his
champagne.  "What happened then?"

Heath shifted uneasily.

"Nothing much," he admitted.  "The other men dove after him and
tried to find him, but after ten minutes or so they gave up.
Leland, it seems, told 'em that they'd all better go back to the
house and that he'd notify the authorities.  Then he called the
Homicide Bureau and spilled the story."

"Queer he should do that," ruminated Markham.  "It doesn't sound
like a criminal case."

"Sure it's queer," agreed Heath eagerly.  "But what I found was a
whole lot queerer."

"Ah!"  Vance blew a ribbon of smoke upward.  "That romantic section
of old New York is at last living up to its reputation.  What were
these queer things you found, Sergeant?"

Heath moved again with uneasy embarrassment.

"To begin with, Stamm himself was cock-eyed drunk, and there was a
doctor from the neighborhood trying to get him to function.
Stamm's young sister--a good-looker of about twenty-five--was
having hysterics and going off into faints every few minutes.  The
rest of 'em--there was four or five--were trying to duck and making
excuses why they had to get away pronto.  And all the time this
fellow Leland, who looks like a hawk or something, was going round
as cool as a cucumber with lifted eyebrows and a satisfied grin on
his brown face, as if he knew a lot more than he was telling.--Then
there was one of those sleezy, pasty-faced butlers, who acted like
a ghost and didn't make any noise when he moved. . . ."

"Yes, yes," Vance nodded whimsically.  "Everything most mystifyin'.
. . .  And the wind moaned through the pines; and an owl hooted in
the distance; and a lattice rattled in the attic; and a door
creaked; and there came a tapping--eh, what, Sergeant? . . .  I
say, do have another spot of Scotch.  You're positively jittery."
(He spoke humorously, but there was a shrewd, interested look in
his half-closed eyes and an undercurrent of tension in his voice
that made me realize that he was taking the Sergeant far more
seriously than his manner indicated.)

I expected the Sergeant to resent Vance's frivolous attitude, but
instead he wagged his head soberly.

"You got the idea, Mr. Vance.  Nothing seemed on the level.  It
wasn't normal, as you might say."

Markham's annoyance was mounting.

"The case doesn't strike me as peculiar, Sergeant," he protested.
"A man dives into a swimming pool, hits his head on the bottom, and
drowns.  And you've related nothing else that can't be explained on
the most commonplace grounds.  It's not unusual for a man to get
drunk, and after a tragedy of this kind a hysterical woman is not
to be regarded as unique.  Naturally, too, the other members of the
party wanted to get away after an episode like this.  As for the
man Leland: he may be just a peculiar officious character who
wished to dramatize a fundamentally simple affair.  And you always
had an antipathy for butlers.  However you look at the case, it
doesn't warrant anything more than the usual procedure.  It's
certainly not in the province of the Homicide Bureau.  The idea
of murder is precluded by the very mechanism of Montague's
disappearance.  He himself suggested a swim in the pool--a rational
enough suggestion on a night like this--and his plunge into the
pool and his failure to come to the surface could hardly be
indicative of any other person's criminal intent."

Heath shrugged and lighted a long black cigar.

"I've been telling myself the same things for the past hour," he
returned stubbornly; "but that situation at the Stamm house ain't
right."

Markham pursed his lips and regarded the Sergeant meditatively.

"Was there anything else that upset you?" he asked, after a pause.

Heath did not answer at once.  Obviously there was something else
on his mind, and it seemed to me that he was weighing the
advisability of mentioning it.  But suddenly he lifted himself in
his chair and took his cigar deliberately from his mouth.

"I don't like those fish!" he blurted.

"Fish?" repeated Markham in astonishment.  "What fish?"

Heath hesitated and contemplated the end of his cigar sheepishly.

"I think I can answer that question, Markham," Vance put in.
"Rudolph Stamm is one of the foremost aquarists in America.  He has
a most amazin' collection of tropical fish--strange and little-
known varieties which he has succeeded in breeding.  It's been his
hobby for twenty years, and he is constantly going on expeditions
to the Amazon, Siam, India, the Paraguay basin, Brazil and Bermuda.
He has also made trips to China and has scoured the Orinoco.  Only
a year or so ago the papers were full of his trip from Liberia to
the Congo. . . ."

"They're queer-looking things," Heath supplemented.  "Some of 'em
look like sea-monsters that haven't grown up."

"Their shapes and their colorings are very beautiful, however,"
commented Vance with a faint smile.

"But that wasn't all," the Sergeant went on, ignoring Vance's
æsthetic observation.  "This fellow Stamm had lizards and baby
alligators--"

"And probably turtles and frogs and snakes--"

"I'll say he has snakes!"  The Sergeant made a grimace of disgust.
"Plenty of 'em--crawling in and out of big flat tanks of
water. . . ."

"Yes."  Vance nodded and looked toward Markham.  "Stamm, I
understand, has a terrarium along with his fish.  The two often go
together, don't y' know."

Markham grunted and studied the Sergeant for a moment.

"Perhaps," he remarked at length, in a flat, matter-of-fact tone,
"Montague was merely playing a practical joke on the other guests.
How do you know he didn't swim under water to the other side of the
pool and disappear up the opposite bank?  Was it dark enough there
so the others couldn't have seen him?"

"Sure it was dark enough," the Sergeant told him.  "The flood-
lights don't reach all across the water.  But that explanation is
out.  I myself thought something of the kind might have happened,
seeing as how there had been a lot of liquor going round, and I
took a look over the place.  But the opposite side of the pool is
almost a straight precipice of rock, nearly a hundred feet high.
Across the upper end of the pool, where the creek runs in, there's
a big filter, and not only would it be hard for a man to climb it,
but the lights reach that far and any one of the party could have
seen him there.  Then, at the lower end of the pool, where the
water has been dammed up with a big cement wall, there's a drop of
twenty feet or so, with plenty of rocks down below.  No guy's going
to take a chance dropping over the dam in order to create a little
excitement.  On the side of the pool nearest the house, where the
spring-board is, there's a concrete retaining wall which a swimmer
might climb over; but there again the floodlights would give him
dead away."

"And there's no other possible way Montague could have got out of
the pool without being seen?"

"Yes, there's one way he might have done it--but he didn't.
Between the end of the filter and the steep cliff that comes down
on the opposite side of the pool, there's a low open space of about
fifteen feet which leads off to the lower part of the estate.  And
this flat opening is plenty dark so that the people on the house
side of the pool couldn't have seen anything there."

"Well, there's probably your explanation."

"No, it isn't, Mr. Markham," Heath asserted emphatically.  "The
minute I went down to the pool and got the lay of the land, I took
Hennessey with me across the top of the big filter and looked for
footprints on this fifteen-foot low bank.  You know it had been
raining all evening, and the ground over there is damp anyway, so
that if there had been any kind of footprints they would have stuck
out plain.  But the whole area was perfectly smooth.  Moreover,
Hennessey and I went back into the grass a little distance from the
bank, thinking that maybe the guy might have climbed up on a ledge
of the rock and jumped over the muddy edge of the water.  But there
wasn't a sign of anything there either."

"That being the case," said Markham, "they'll probably find his
body when the pool is dragged. . . .  Did you order that done?"

"Not tonight I didn't.  It would take two or three hours to get a
boat and hooks up there, and you couldn't do anything much at night
anyway.  But that'll all be taken care of the first thing in the
morning."

"Well," decided Markham impatiently, "I can't see that there's
anything more for you to do tonight.  As soon as the body is found
the Medical Examiner will be notified, and he'll probably say that
Montague has a fractured skull and will put the whole thing down as
accidental death."

There was a tone of dismissal in his voice, but Heath refused to be
moved by it.  I had never seen the Sergeant so stubborn.

"You may be right, Chief," he conceded reluctantly.  "But I got
other ideas.  And I came all the way down here to ask you if you
wouldn't come up and give the situation the once-over."

Something in the Sergeant's voice must have affected Markham, for
instead of replying at once he again studied the other quizzically.
Finally he asked:

"Just what have you done so far in connection with the case?"

"To tell the truth, I haven't done much of anything," the Sergeant
admitted.  "I haven't had time.  I naturally got the names and
addresses of everybody in the house and questioned each one of 'em
in a routine way.  I couldn't talk to Stamm because he was out of
the picture and the doctor was working over him.  Most of my time
was spent in going around the pool, seeing what I could learn.
But, as I told you, I didn't find out anything except that Montague
didn't play any joke on his friends.  Then I went back to the house
and telephoned to you.  I left things up there in charge of the
three men I took along with me.  And after I told everybody that
they couldn't go home until I got back, I beat it down here. . . .
That's my story, and I'm probably stuck with it."

Despite the forced levity of his last remark, he looked up at
Markham with, I thought, an appealing insistence.

Once more Markham hesitated and returned the Sergeant's gaze.

"You are convinced there was foul play?" he queried.

"I'm not convinced of anything," Heath retorted.  "I'm just not
satisfied with the way things stack up.  Furthermore, there's a lot
of funny relationships in that crowd up there.  Everybody seems
jealous of everybody else.  A couple of guys are dotty on the same
girl, and nobody seemed to care a hoot--except Stamm's young sister--
that Montague didn't come up from his dive.  The fact is, they all
seemed damn pleased about it--which didn't set right with me.  And
even Miss Stamm didn't seem to be worrying particularly about
Montague.  I can't explain exactly what I mean, but she seemed to
be all upset about something else connected with his disappearance."

"I still can't see," returned Markham, "that you have any tangible
explanation for your attitude.  The best thing, I think, is to wait
and see what tomorrow brings."

"Maybe yes."  But instead of accepting Markham's obvious dismissal
Heath poured himself another drink and relighted his cigar.

During this conversation between the Sergeant and the District
Attorney, Vance had lain back in his chair contemplating the two
dreamily, sipping his champagne cup and smoking languidly.  But a
certain deliberate tenseness in the way he moved his hand to and
from his lips, convinced me that he was deeply interested in
everything that was being said.

At this point he crushed out his cigarette, set down his glass, and
rose to his feet.

"Really, y' know, Markham old dear," he said in a drawling voice,
"I think we should toddle along with the Sergeant to the site of
the mystery.  It can't do the slightest harm, and it's a beastly
night anyway.  A bit of excitement, however tame the ending, might
help us forget the weather.  And we may be affected by the same
sinister atmospheres which have so inflamed the Sergeant's
hormones."

Markham looked up at him in mild astonishment.

"Why in the name of Heaven, should you want to go to the Stamm
estate?"

"For one thing," Vance returned, stifling a yawn, "I am
tremendously interested, d' ye see, in looking over Stamm's
collection of toy fish.  I bred them myself in an amateur way once,
but because of lack of space, I concentrated on the color-breeding
of the Betta splendens and cambodia--Siamese Fighting Fish, don't
y' know."*


* At one time Vance had turned his sun-parlor into an aquarium and
devoted several years to breeding these beautiful veil-tailed fish.
He succeeded in producing corn-flower blue, deep maroon, and even
black specimens; and he won several awards with them at the
exhibitions of the Aquarium Society at the Museum of Natural
History.


Markham studied him for a few moments without replying.  He knew
Vance well enough to realize that his desire to accede to the
Sergeant's request was inspired by a much deeper reason than the
patently frivolous one he gave.  And he also knew that no amount of
questioning would make Vance elucidate his true attitude just then.

After a minute Markham also rose.  He glanced at his watch and
shrugged.

"Past midnight," he commented disgustedly.  "The perfect hour, of
course, to inspect fish! . . .  Shall we drive out in the
Sergeant's car or take yours?"

"Oh, mine, by all means.  We'll follow the Sergeant."  And Vance
rang for Currie to bring him his hat and stick.



CHAPTER II

A STARTLING ACCUSATION


(Sunday, August 12; 12.30 a. m.)


A few minutes later we were headed up Broadway.  Sergeant Heath led
the way in his small police car and Markham and Vance and I
followed in Vance's Hispano-Suiza.  Reaching Dyckman Street, we
went west to Payson Avenue and turned up the steep winding Bolton
Road.*  When we had reached the highest point of the road we swung
into a wide private driveway with two tall square stone posts at
the entrance, and circled upward round a mass of evergreen trees
until we reached the apex of the hill.  It was on this site that
the famous old Stamm residence had been built nearly a century
before.


* This is not to be confused with Lower Bolton Road, otherwise
known as River Road, which turns off Dyckman Street near the New
York Central Hudson River railroad tracks and passes below the
Memorial Hospital.


It was a wooded estate, abounding in cedar, oak, and spruce trees,
with patches of rough lawn and rock gardens.  From this vantage
point could be seen, to the north, the dark Gothic turrets of the
House of Mercy, silhouetted against a clearing sky which seemed to
have sucked up the ghostly lights of Marble Hill a mile distant
across the waters of Spuyten Duyvil.  To the south, through the
trees, the faintly flickering glow of Manhattan cast an uncanny
spell.  Eastward, on either side of the black mass of the Stamm
residence, a few tall buildings along Seaman Avenue and Broadway
reached up over the hazy horizon like black giant fingers.  Behind
and below us, to the west, the Hudson River moved sluggishly, a
dark opaque mass flecked with the moving lights of boats.

But although on every side we could see evidences of the modern
busy life of New York, a feeling of isolation and mystery crept
over me.  I seemed infinitely removed from all the busy activities
of the world; and I realized then, for the first time, how strange
an anachronism Inwood was.  Though this historic spot--with its
great trees, its crumbling houses, its ancient associations, its
rugged wildness, and its rustic quietude--was actually a part of
Manhattan, it nevertheless seemed like some hidden fastness set
away in a remote coign of the world.

As we turned into the small parking space at the head of the
private driveway, we noticed an old-fashioned Ford coupe parked
about fifty yards from the wide balustraded stone steps that led to
the house.

"That's the doctor's car," Heath explained to us, as he hopped down
from his machine.  "The garage is on the lower road on the east
side of the house."

He led the way up the steps to the massive bronze front door over
which a dim light was burning; and we were met by Detective Snitkin
in the narrow panelled vestibule.

"I'm glad you're back, Sergeant," the detective said, after
saluting Markham respectfully.

"Don't you like the situation either, Snitkin?" Vance asked
lightly.

"Not me, sir," the other returned, going toward the inner front
door.  "It's got me worried."

"Anything else happen?" Heath inquired abruptly.

"Nothing except that Stamm has begun to sit up and take notice."

He gave three taps on the door which was immediately opened by a
liveried butler who regarded us suspiciously.

"Is this really necessary, officer?" he asked Heath in a suave
voice, as he reluctantly held the door open for us.  "You see, sir,
Mr. Stamm--"

"I'm running this show," Heath interrupted curtly.  "You're here to
take orders, not to ask questions."

The butler bowed with a sleek, obsequious smile, and closed the
door after us.

"What are your orders, sir?"

"You stay here at the front door," Heath replied brusquely, "and
don't let any one in."  He then turned to Snitkin, who had followed
us into the spacious lower hallway.  "Where's the gang and what are
they doing?"

"Stamm's in the library--that room over there--with the doctor."
Snitkin jerked his thumb toward a pair of heavy tapestry portières
at the rear of the hall.  "I sent the rest of the bunch to their
rooms, like you told me.  Burke is sitting out on the rear
doorstep, and Hennessey is down by the pool."

Heath grunted.

"That's all right."  He turned to Markham.  "What do you want to do
first, Chief?  Shall I show you the lay of the land and how the
swimming pool is constructed?  Or do you want to ask these babies
some questions?"

Markham hesitated, and Vance spoke languidly.

"Really, Markham, I'm rather inclined to think we should first do a
bit of what you call probing.  I'd jolly well like to know what
preceded this alfresco bathing party, and I'd like to view the
participants.  The pool will keep till later; and--one can't tell,
can one?--it may take on a different significance once we have
established a sort of social background for the unfortunate
escapade."

"It doesn't matter to me."  Markham was plainly impatient and
skeptical.  "The sooner we find out why we're here at all, the
better pleased I'll be."

Vance's eyes were roving desultorily about the hallway.  It was
panelled in Tudor style, and the furniture was dark and massive.
Life-sized, faded oil portraits hung about the walls, and all the
doors were heavily draped.  It was a gloomy place, filled with
shadows, and with a musty odor which accentuated its inherent
unmodernity.

"A perfect setting for your fears, Sergeant," Vance mused.  "There
are few of these old houses left, and I'm trying to decide whether
or not I'm grateful."

"In the meantime," snapped Markham, "suppose we go to the drawing-
room. . . .  Where is it, Sergeant?"

Heath pointed to a curtained archway on the right, and we were
about to proceed when there came the sound of soft descending
footsteps on the stairs, and a voice spoke to us from the shadows.

"Can I be of any assistance, gentlemen?"

The tall figure of a man approached us.  When he had come within
the radius of flickering light thrown by the old-fashioned crystal
chandelier, we discerned an unusual and, as I thought at the time,
sinister person.

He was over six feet tall, slender and wiry, and gave the
impression of steely strength.  He had a dark, almost swarthy,
complexion, with keen calm black eyes which had something of the
look of an eagle in them.  His nose was markedly Roman and very
narrow.  His cheek-bones were high, and there were slight hollows
under them.  Only his mouth and chin were Nordic: his lips were
thin and met in a straight line; and his deeply cleft chin was
heavy and powerful.  His hair, brushed straight back from a low
broad forehead, seemed very black in the dim light of the hallway.
His clothes were in the best of taste, subdued and well-cut, but
there was a carelessness in the way he wore them which made me feel
that he regarded them as a sort of compromise with an unnecessary
convention.

"My name is Leland," he explained, when he had reached us.  "I am a
friend of long standing in this household, and I was a guest
tonight at the time of the most unfortunate accident."

He spoke with peculiar precision, and I understood exactly the
impression which the Sergeant had received over the telephone when
Leland had first communicated with him.

Vance had been regarding the man critically.

"Do you live in Inwood, Mr. Leland?" he asked casually.

The other gave a barely perceptible nod.

"I live in a cottage in Shorakapkok, the site of the ancient Indian
village, on the hillside which overlooks the old Spuyten Duyvil
Creek."

"Near the Indian caves?"

"Yes, just across what they now call the Shell Bed."

"And you have known Mr. Stamm a long time?"

"For fifteen years."  The man hesitated.  "I have accompanied him
on many of his expeditions in search of tropical fish."

Vance kept his gaze steadily upon the strange figure.

"And perhaps also," he said, with a coldness which I did not then
understand, "you accompanied Mr. Stamm on his expedition for lost
treasure in the Caribbean?  It seems I recall your name being
mentioned in connection with those romantic adventures."

"You are right," Leland admitted without change of expression.

Vance turned away.

"Quite--oh, quite.  I think you may be just the person to help us
with the present problem.  Suppose we stagger into the drawing-room
for a little chat."

He drew apart the heavy curtains, and the butler came swiftly
forward to switch on the electric lights.

We found ourselves in an enormous room, the ceiling of which was at
least twenty feet high.  A large Aubusson carpet covered the floor;
and the heavy and ornate Louis-Quinze furniture, now somewhat
dilapidated and faded, had been set about the walls with formal
precision.  The whole room had a fusty and tarnished air of
desuetude and antiquity.

Vance looked about him and shuddered.

"Evidently not a popular rendezvous," he commented as if to
himself.

Leland glanced at him shrewdly.

"No," he vouchsafed.  "The room is rarely used.  The household has
lived in the less formal rooms at the rear ever since Joshua Stamm
died.  The most popular quarters are the library and the vivarium
which Stamm added to the house ten years ago.  He spends most of
his time there."

"With the fish, of course," remarked Vance.

"They are an absorbing hobby," Leland explained without enthusiasm.

Vance nodded abstractedly, sat down and lighted a cigarette.

"Since you have been so kind as to offer your assistance, Mr.
Leland," he began, "suppose you tell us just what the conditions
were in the house tonight, and the various incidents that preceded
the tragedy."  Then, before the other could reply, he added:  "I
understand from Sergeant Heath that you were rather insistent that
he should take the matter in hand.  Is that correct?"

"Quite correct," Leland replied, without the faintest trace of
uneasiness.  "The failure of young Montague to come to the surface
after diving into the pool struck me as most peculiar.  He is an
excellent swimmer and an adept at various athletic sports.
Furthermore, he knows every square foot of the pool; and there is
practically no chance whatever that he could have struck his head
on the bottom.  The other side of the pool is somewhat shallow and
has a sloping wall, but the near side, where the cabañas and the
diving-board are, is at least twenty-five feet deep."

"Still," suggested Vance, "the man may have had a cramp or a sudden
concussion from the dive.  Such things have happened, don't y'
know."  His eyes were fixed languidly but appraisingly on Leland.
"Just what was your object in urging a member of the Homicide
Bureau to investigate the situation?"

"Merely a question of precaution--" Leland began, but Vance
interrupted him.

"Yes, yes, to be sure.  But why should you feel that caution was
necess'ry in the circumstances?"

A cynical smile appeared at the corners of the man's mouth.

"This is not a household," he replied, "where life runs normally.
The Stamms, as you may know, are an intensely inbred line.  Joshua
Stamm and his wife were first cousins, and both pairs of
grandparents were also related by blood.  Paresis runs in the
family.  There has been nothing fixed or permanent in the natures
of the last two generations of Stamms, and life in this household
is always pushing out at unexpected angles.  The ordinary family
diagrams are constantly being broken up.  There is little
stabilization, either physical or intellectual."

"Even so"--Vance, I could see, had become deeply interested in the
man--"how would these facts of heredity have any bearing on
Montague's disappearance?"

"Montague," Leland returned in a flat voice, "was engaged to
Stamm's sister, Bernice."

"Ah!"  Vance drew deeply on his cigarette.  "You are inferring
perhaps that Stamm was opposed to the engagement?"

"I am making no inferences."  Leland took out a long-stemmed briar
pipe and a pouch of tobacco.  "If Stamm objected to the alliance,
he made no mention of it to me.  He is not the kind of man who
reveals his inner thoughts or feelings.  But his nature is pregnant
with potentialities, and he may have hated Montague."  Deftly he
filled his pipe and lighted it.

"And are we to assume, then, that your calling in the police was
based on--what shall we call it?--the Mendelian law of breeding as
applied to the Stamms?"

Again Leland smiled cynically.

"No, not exactly--though it may have been a factor in rousing my
suspicious curiosity."

"And the other factors?"

"There has been considerable drinking here in the last twenty-four
hours."

"Oh, yes; alcohol--that great releaser of inhibitions. . . .  But
let's forgo the academic for the time being."

Leland moved to the centre-table and leaned against it.

"The personages of this particular house-party," he said at length,
"are not above gaining their ends at any cost."

Vance inclined his head.

"That remark is more promising," he commented.  "Suppose you tell
us briefly of these people."

"There are few enough of them," Leland began.  "Besides Stamm and
his sister, there is a Mr. Alex Greeff, a reputed stock-broker, who
unquestionably has some designs on the Stamm fortune.  Then there
is Kirwin Tatum, a dissipated and disreputable young ne'er-do-well,
who, as far as I can make out, exists wholly by sponging on his
friends.  Incidentally, he has made something of an ass of himself
over Bernice Stamm. . . ."

"And Greeff--what are his sentiments toward Miss Stamm?"

"I cannot say.  He poses as the family's financial adviser, and
I know that Stamm has invested rather heavily at his suggestion.
But whether or not he wishes to marry the Stamm fortune is 
problematical."

"Thanks no end. . . .  And now for the other members of the party."

"Mrs. McAdam--they call her Teeny--is the usual type of widow,
talkative, gay, and inclined to overindulgence.  Her past is
unknown.  She is shrewd and worldly, and has a practical eye on
Stamm--always making a great fuss over him, but obviously with some
ulterior motive.  Young Tatum whispered to me confidentially, in a
moment of drunken laxity, that Montague and this McAdam woman once
lived together."

Vance clicked his tongue in mock disapproval.

"I begin to sense the potentialities of the situation.  Most
allurin'. . . .  Any one else to complicate this delightful social
mélange?"

"Yes, a Miss Steele.  Ruby is her first name.  She is an intense
creature, of indeterminate age, who dresses fantastically and is
always playing a part of some kind.  She paints pictures and sings
and talks of her 'art.'  I believe she was once on the stage. . . .
And that completes the roster--except for Montague and myself.
Another woman was invited, so Stamm told me, but she sent in her
regrets at the last minute."

"Ah!  Now that's most interestin'.  Did Mr. Stamm mention her
name?"

"No, but you might ask him when the doctor gets him in shape."

"What of Montague?" Vance asked.  "A bit of gossip regarding his
proclivities and background might prove illuminatin'."

Leland hesitated.  He knocked the ashes out of his pipe and
refilled it.  When he had got it going again he answered with a
show of reluctance:

"Montague was what you might call a professional handsome-man.  He
was an actor by profession, but he never seemed to get very far--
although he was featured in one or two motion pictures in
Hollywood.  He always lived well, at one of the fashionable and
expensive hotels.  He attended first nights and was a frequenter of
the east-side night-clubs.  He had a decidedly pleasant manner and
was, I understand, most attractive to women. . . ."  Leland paused,
packed his pipe, and added:  "I really know very little about the
man."

"I recognize the type."  Vance regarded his cigarette.  "However, I
shouldn't say the gathering was altogether unusual, or that the
elements involved were necess'rily indicative of deliberate
tragedy."

"No," Leland admitted.  "But it impressed me as noteworthy that
practically every one present at the party tonight might have had
an excellent motive for putting Montague out of the way."

Vance lifted his eyebrows interrogatively.

"Yes?" he urged.

"Well, to begin with, Stamm himself, as I have said, might have
been violently opposed to Montague's marrying his sister.  He is
very fond of her, and he certainly has intelligence enough to
realize that the match would have been a sorry misalliance.--Young
Tatum is certainly in a state of mind to murder any rival for Miss
Stamm's affections.--Greeff is a man who would stop at nothing, and
Montague's marrying into the Stamm family might easily have wrecked
his financial ambition to control the fortune.  Or, perhaps he
actually hoped to marry Bernice himself.--Then again, there was
unquestionably something between Teeny McAdam and Montague--I
noticed it quite plainly after Tatum had told me of their former
relationship.  She may have resented his deflection to another
woman.  Nor is she the kind that would tolerate being thrown over.
Furthermore, if she really has any matrimonial designs on Stamm,
she may have been afraid that Montague would spoil her prospects by
telling Stamm of her past."

"And what about the tense bohémienne, Miss Steele?"

A hard look came into Leland's face as he hesitated.  Then he said,
with a certain sinister resolution:

"I trust her least of them all.  There was some definite friction
between her and Montague.  She was constantly making unpleasant
remarks about him--in fact, she ridiculed him openly, and rarely
addressed an ordinarily civil word to him.  When Montague suggested
the swim in the pool she walked with him to the cabañas, talking
earnestly.  I could not make out what was said, but I got a decided
impression that she was berating him for something.  When we came
out in our bathing suits and Montague was about to take the first
dive, she walked up to him with a leer and said, in a tone which I
could not help overhearing, 'I hope you never come up.'  And when
Montague failed to appear her remark struck me as significant. . . .
Perhaps now you can realize--"

"Quite--oh, quite," Vance murmured.  "I can see all the
possibilities you put forth.  A sweet little conclave--eh, what?"
He looked up sharply.  "And what about yourself, Mr. Leland?  Were
you, by any chance, interested in Montague's demise?"

"Perhaps more than any of the others," Leland answered with grim
frankness.  "I disliked the man intensely, and I considered it an
outrage that he was to marry Bernice.  I not only told her so, but
I also expressed my opinion to her brother."

"And why," pursued Vance dulcetly, "should you take the matter so
much to heart?"

Leland shifted his position on the edge of the table and took his
pipe slowly from his mouth.

"Miss Stamm is a very fine and unusual young woman."  He spoke with
slow deliberation, as if carefully choosing his words.  "I admire
her greatly.  I have known her since she was a child, and during
the past few years we have become very good friends.  I simply did
not think that Montague was good enough for her."  He paused and
was about to continue, but changed his mind.

Vance had been watching the man closely.

"You're quite lucid, don't y' know, Mr. Leland," he murmured,
nodding slowly and looking vaguely at the ceiling.  "Yes--quite so.
I apprehend that you had an excellent motive for doing away with
the dashing Mr. Montague. . . ."

At this moment there came an unexpected interruption.  The
portières of the drawing-room had been left parted, and suddenly we
heard rapid footsteps on the stairs.  We turned toward the door,
and a moment later a tall, spectacular woman thrust herself
excitedly into the room.

She was perhaps thirty-five years old, with an unusually pallid
face and crimson lips.  Her dark hair was parted in the middle and
smoothed back over her ears into a knot at the back of her neck.
She wore a long black chiffon gown which seemed to have been cut in
one piece and moulded to her figure.  The only touches of color in
her costume were supplied by her jade jewelry.  She wore long
pendant jade earrings, a triple jade bead necklace, jade bracelets,
several jade rings, and a large carved jade brooch.

As she entered the room her eyes were fixed blazingly on Leland,
and she took a few steps toward him.  There was a tiger-like menace
in her attitude.  Then she cast a quick glance at the rest of us,
but immediately brought her gaze back to Leland, who stood
regarding her with quizzical imperturbability.  Slowly she raised
her arm and pointed at him, at the same time leaning toward him and
narrowing her eyes.

"There's the man!" she cried passionately, in a deep resonant
voice.

Vance had risen lazily to his feet and reached for his monocle.
Adjusting it, he regarded the woman mildly but critically.

"Thanks awfully," he drawled.  "We have met Mr. Leland informally.
But we haven't yet had the pleasure--"

"My name is Steele," she cut in almost viciously.  "Ruby Steele.
And I could hear some of the things that were being said about me
by this man.  They are all lies.  He is only trying to shield
himself--to focus suspicion on others."

She turned her fiery eyes from Vance back to Leland and again
lifted an accusing finger.

"He's the man that's responsible for Sanford Montague's death.  It
was he who planned and accomplished it.  He hated Monty, for he
himself is in love with Bernice Stamm.  And he told Monty to keep
away from Bernice, or he would kill him.  Monty told me that
himself.  Ever since I came to this house yesterday morning, I have
had a clutching feeling here"--she pressed her hands dramatically
against her bosom--"that some terrible thing was going to happen--
that this man would carry out his threat."  She made a theatrical
gesture of tragedy, interlocking her fingers and carrying them to
her forehead.  "And he has done it! . . .  Oh, he is sly!  He is
shrewd--"

"Just how, may I ask," put in Vance, in a cool, unemotional voice,
"did Mr. Leland accomplish this feat?"

The woman swung toward him disdainfully.

"The technique of crime," she replied throatily, and with
exaggerated hauteur, "is not within my province.  You should be
able to find out how he did it.  You're policemen, aren't you?  It
was this man who telephoned to you.  He's sly, I tell you!  He
thought that if anything suspicious were discovered when poor
Monty's body was found, you'd eliminate him as the murderer because
he had telephoned to you."

"Very interestin'," nodded Vance, with a touch of irony.  "So you
formally accuse Mr. Leland of deliberately planning Mr. Montague's
death?"

"I do!" the woman declared sententiously, extending her arms in a
studied gesture of emphasis.  "And I know I'm right, though it's
true I do not know how he did it.  But he has strange powers.  He's
an Indian--did you know that?--an Indian!  He can tell when people
have passed a certain tree, by looking at the bark.  He can track
people over the whole of Inwood by broken twigs and crushed leaves.
He can tell by the moss on stones how long it has been since they
were moved or walked over.  He can tell by looking at the ashes of
fires how long the flames have been out.  He can tell by smelling a
garment or a hat, to whom it belongs.  And he can read strange
signs and tell by the scent of the wind when the rain is coming.
He can do all manner of things of which white men know nothing.  He
knows all the secrets of these hills, for his people have lived in
them for generations.  He's an Indian--a subtle, scheming Indian!"
As she spoke her voice rose excitedly and an impressive histrionic
eloquence informed her speech.

"But, my dear young lady," Vance protested pleasantly, "the
qualities and characteristics which you ascribe to Mr. Leland are
not what one would call unusual, except in a comparative sense.
His knowledge of woodcraft and his sensitivity to odors are really
not a convincing basis for a criminal accusation.  Thousands of boy
scouts would constantly be in jeopardy if that were the case."

The woman's eyes became sullen, and she compressed her lips into a
line of anger.  After a moment she extended her hands, palms
upward, in a gesture of resignation, and gave a mirthless laugh.

"Be stupid, if you want to," she remarked with forced and hollow
lightness.  "But some day you'll come to me and tell me how right I
was."

"It will be jolly good fun, anyway," smiled Vance.  "Forsan et haec
olim meminisse juvabit, as Vergil put it. . . .  In the meantime, I
must be most impolite and ask that you be good enough to wait in
your room until such time as we shall wish to question you further.
We have several little matters to attend to."

Without a word she turned and swept majestically from the room.



CHAPTER III

THE SPLASH IN THE POOL


(Sunday, August 12; 1.15 a. m.)


During Ruby Steele's diatribe Leland had stood smoking placidly,
watching the woman with stoical dignity.  He did not seem in the
least disturbed by her accusation, and when she had left the room,
he shrugged mildly and gave Vance a weary smile.

"Do you wonder," he asked, with a touch of irony, "why I telephoned
the police and insisted that they come?"

Vance studied him listlessly.

"You anticipated being accused of having manoeuvred Montague's
disappearance--eh, what?"

"Not exactly.  But I knew there would be all manner of rumors and
whisperings, and I thought it best to have the matter over with at
once, and to give the authorities the best possible chance of
clarifying the situation and fixing the blame.  However, I did not
expect any such scene as we have just gone through.  Needless to
tell you, all Miss Steele has just said is a hysterical
fabrication.  She told but one truth--and that was only half a
truth.  My mother was an Algonkian Indian--the Princess White Star,
a proud and noble woman, who was separated from her people when a
child and reared in a southern convent.  My father was an
architect, the scion of an old New York family, many years my
mother's senior.  They are both dead."

"You were born here?" asked Vance.

"Yes, I was born in Inwood, on the site of the old Indian village,
Shorakapkok; but the house has long since gone.  I live here
because I love the place.  It has many happy associations of my
childhood, before I was sent to Europe to be educated."

"I suspected your Indian blood the moment I saw you," Vance
remarked, with non-committal aloofness.  Then he stretched his legs
and took a deep inhalation on his cigarette.  "But suppose you tell
us, Mr. Leland, just what preceded the tragedy tonight.  I believe
you mentioned the fact that Montague himself suggested the swim."

"That is true."  Leland moved to a straight chair by the table and
sat down.  "We had dinner about half-past seven.  There had been
numerous cocktails beforehand, and during dinner Stamm brought out
some heavy wines.  After the coffee there was brandy and port, and
I think every one drank too much.  As you know, it was raining and
we could not go outdoors.  Later we went to the library, and there
was more drinking--this time Scotch highballs.  There was a little
music of a rowdy nature.  Young Tatum played the piano and Miss
Steele sang.  But that did not last long--the drinking had begun to
take effect, and every one was uneasy and restless."

"And Stamm?"

"Stamm especially indulged.  I have rarely seen him drink so much,
though he has managed for years to punish liquor pretty
systematically.  He was taking Scotch straight, and after he had
downed at least half a bottle I remonstrated with him.  But he was
in no condition to listen to reason.  He became sullen and quiet,
and by ten o'clock he was ignoring every one and dozing off.  His
sister, too, tried to bring him back to his senses, but without any
success."

"At just what time did you go for your swim?"

"I do not know exactly, but it was shortly after ten.  It stopped
raining about that time, and Montague and Bernice stepped out on
the terrace.  They came back almost immediately, and it was then
that Montague announced that the rain had ceased and suggested that
we all take a swim.  Every one was willing--every one, that is, but
Stamm.  He was in no condition to go anywhere or do anything.
Bernice and Montague urged him to join us, thinking perhaps that
the water would sober him.  But he was ugly and ordered Trainor to
bring him another bottle of Scotch. . . ."

"Trainor?"

"That is the butler's name. . . .  Stamm was sodden and helpless,
so I told the others to leave him alone, and we all went down to
the cabañas.  I myself pushed the switch in the rear hallway, that
turns on the lights on the stairs down to the pool and also the
flood-lights at the pool.  Montague was the first to appear in
his bathing suit, but the rest of us were ready a minute or so
later. . . .  Then came the tragedy--"

"I say, just a moment, Mr. Leland," Vance interrupted, leaning over
and breaking the ashes of his cigarette in the fireplace.  "Was
Montague the first in the water?"

"Yes.  He was waiting at the spring-board--posing, I might say--
when the rest of us came out of the cabañas.  He rather fancied
himself and his figure, and I imagine there was a certain amount of
vanity in his habit of always hurrying to the pool and taking the
first plunge when he knew all eyes would be on him."

"And then?"

"He took a high swan dive, beautifully timed and extremely graceful--
I'll say that much for the chap.  We naturally waited for him to
come up before following suit.  We waited an interminable time--it
was probably not more than a minute, but it seemed much longer.
And then Mrs. McAdam gave a scream, and we all went quickly, with
one accord, to the very edge of the pool and strained our eyes
across the water in every direction.  By this time we knew
something had happened.  No man could stay under water voluntarily
as long as that.  Miss Stamm clutched my arm, but I threw her off
and, running to the end of the spring-board, dived in as near as
possible at the point where Montague had disappeared."

Leland compressed his lips, and his gaze shifted.

"I swam downward," he continued, "till I came to the bottom of the
pool, and searched round as best I could.  I came up for air and
went down again, and again I came up.  A man was in the water just
beside me, and I thought for a moment it was Montague.  But it was
only Tatum, who had joined me in the water.  He too had dived in,
in an effort to find Montague.  Greeff also, in a bungling kind of
way--he is not a very good swimmer--helped us look for the poor
fellow. . . .  But it was no go.  We spent at least twenty minutes
in the effort.  Then we gave it up. . . ."

"Exactly how did you feel about the situation?" Vance asked,
without looking up.  "Did you have any suspicions then?"

Leland hesitated and pursed his lips, as if trying to recall his
exact emotions.  Finally he replied:

"I cannot say just how I did feel about it.  I was rather
overwhelmed.  But still there was something--I do not know just
what--in the back of my mind.  My instinct at that moment was to
get to a telephone and report the affair to the police.  I did not
like the turn of events--they struck me as too unusual. . . .
Perhaps," he added, lifting his eyes to the ceiling with a far-away
look, "I remembered--unconsciously--too many tales about the old
Dragon Pool.  My mother told me many strange stories when I was a
child--"

"Yes, yes.  Quite a romantic and legend'ry spot," Vance murmured,
with a tinge of sarcasm in his words.  "But I'd much rather know
just what the women were doing and how they affected you when you
joined them after your heroic search for Montague."

"The women?"  There was a mild note of surprise in Leland's voice,
and he looked penetratingly at Vance.  "Oh, I see--you wish to know
how they acted after the tragedy. . . .  Well, Miss Stamm was
crouched down on the top of the wall at the edge of the water, with
her hands pressed to her face, sobbing convulsively.  I do not
think she even noticed me--or any one else, for that matter.  I got
the impression that she was more frightened than anything else.--
Miss Steele was standing close beside Bernice, with her head thrown
back, her arms out-stretched in a precise gesture of tragic
supplication. . . ."

"It sounds rather as if she were rehearsing for the role of
Iphigeneia at Aulis. . . .  And what about Mrs. McAdam?"

"Funny thing about her," Leland ruminated, frowning at his pipe.
"She was the one who screamed when Montague failed to come to the
surface; but when I got out of the water, she was standing back
from the bank, under one of the flood-lights, as cold and calm as
if nothing had happened.  She was looking out across the pool in a
most detached fashion, as if there was no one else present.  And
she was half smiling, in a hard, ruthless sort of way.  'We could
not find him,' I muttered, as I came up to her: I do not know why I
should have addressed her rather than the others.  And without
moving her eyes from the opposite side of the pool, she said, to no
one in particular:  'So that's that.'"

Vance appeared unimpressed.

"So you came to the house here and telephoned?"

"Immediately.  I told the others they had better get dressed and
return to the house at once, and after I had telephoned I went back
to my cabaña and got into my clothes."

"Who notified the doctor about Stamm's condition?"

"I did," the other replied.  "I did not enter the library when I
first came here to telephone, but when I had got into my clothes I
went at once to Stamm, hoping his mind would have cleared
sufficiently for him to realize the terrible thing that had
happened.  But he was unconscious, and the bottle on the tabouret
by the davenport was empty.  I did my best to arouse him, but did
not succeed."

Leland paused, frowned with uncertainty, and then continued:

"I had never before seen Stamm in a state of complete insensibility
through overindulgence in liquor, although I had seen him pretty
far gone on several occasions.  The state of the man shocked me.
He was scarcely breathing, and his color was ghastly.  Bernice came
into the room at that moment and, on seeing her brother sprawled
out on the davenport, exclaimed, 'He's dead, too.  Oh, my God!'
Then she fainted before I could reach her.  I intrusted her to Mrs.
McAdam--who showed an admirable competency in handling the
situation--and went immediately to the telephone to summon Doctor
Holliday.  He has been the Stamm family physician for many years
and lives in 207th Street, near here.  Luckily he was at home and
hurried over."

Just then a door slammed noisily somewhere at the rear of the
house, and heavy footsteps crossed the front hall and approached
the drawing-room.  Detective Hennessey appeared at the door, his
mouth partly open and his eyes protruding with excitement.

He greeted Markham perfunctorily and turned quickly to the
Sergeant.

"Something's happened down there at the pool," he announced,
jerking his thumb over his shoulder.  "I was standing by the spring-
board like you told me to do, smoking a cigar, when I heard a funny
rumbling noise up at the top of the rock cliff opposite.  And
pretty soon there was a hell of a splash in the pool--sounded like
a ton of bricks had been dumped off the cliff into the water. . . .
I waited a coupla minutes, to see if anything else'd happen, and
then I thought I'd better come up and tell you."

"Did you see anything?" demanded Heath aggressively.

"Nary a thing, Sergeant."  Hennessey spoke with emphasis.  "It's
dark over there by the rocks, and I didn't go round over the filter
ledge, because you told me to keep off that low stretch at the
other end."

"I told him to keep off," the Sergeant explained to Markham,
"because I wanted to go over that ground again for footprints in
the daylight tomorrow."  Then he turned back to Hennessey.  "Well,
what do you think the noise was?" he asked with the gruffness of
exasperation.

"I'm not thinkin'," Hennessey retorted.  "I'm simply tellin' you
all I know."

Leland rose and took a step toward the Sergeant.

"If you will pardon me, I think I can offer a reasonable
explanation of what this man heard in the pool.  Several large
pieces of rock, at the top of the cliff, are loosened where the
strata overlap, and I have always had a fear that one of them might
come crashing down into the pool.  Only this morning Mr. Stamm and
I went up to the top of the bluff and inspected those rocks.  In
fact, we even attempted to pry one of them loose, but could not do
so.  It is quite possible that the heavy rain tonight may have
dislodged the earth that was holding it."

Vance nodded.

"At least that explanation is a pleasin' bit of rationality," he
observed lightly.

"Maybe so, Mr. Vance," Heath conceded reluctantly.  Hennessey's
tale had disturbed him.  "But what I want to know is why it should
happen on this particular night."

"As Mr. Leland has told us, he and Mr. Stamm attempted to pry the
rock loose today--or should I say yesterday?  Perhaps they did
loosen it, and that would account for its having shifted and fallen
after the rain."

Heath chewed viciously on his cigar for a moment.  Then he waved
Hennessey out of the room.

"Go back and take up your post," he ordered.  "If anything else
happens down at the pool, hop up here and report pronto."

Hennessey disappeared--reluctantly, I thought.

Markham had sat through the entire proceedings with an air of
tolerant boredom.  He had taken only a mild interest in Vance's
questioning, and when Hennessey had left us, he got to his feet.

"Just what is the point in all this discussion, Vance?" he asked
irritably.  "The situation is normal enough.  Admittedly it has
certain morbid angles, but all of this esoteric stuff seems to me
the result of nerves.  Every one's on edge, and I think the best
thing for us to do is to go home and let the Sergeant handle the
matter in the routine way.  How could there be anything
premeditated in connection with Montague's possible death when he
himself suggested going swimming and then dived off the spring-
board and disappeared while every one was looking on?"

"My dear Markham," protested Vance, "you're far too logical.  It's
your legal training, of course.  But the world is not run by logic.
I infinitely prefer to be emotional.  Think of the masterpieces of
poetry that would have been lost to humanity if their creators had
been pure logicians--the Odyssey, for instance, the Ballade des
dames du temps jadis, the Divina Commedia, Laus Veneris, the Ode on
a Grecian Urn--"

"But what do you propose to do now?" Markham cut in, annoyed.

"I propose," answered Vance, with an exasperating smile, "to
inquire of the doctor concerning the condition of our host."

"What could Stamm have to do with it?" protested Markham.  "He
seems less concerned in the affair than any of the other people
here."

Heath, impatient, had risen and started for the door.

"I'll get the doc," he rumbled.  And he went out into the dim
hallway.

A few minutes later he returned, followed by an elderly man with a
closely cropped gray Vandyke.  He was clad in a black baggy suit
with a high, old-fashioned collar several sizes too large for him.
He was slightly stout and moved awkwardly; but there was something
in his manner that inspired confidence.

Vance rose to greet him, and after a brief explanation of our
presence in the house, he said:

"Mr. Leland has just told us of Mr. Stamm's unfortunate condition
tonight, and we'd like to know how he's coming along."

"He's following the normal course," the doctor replied, and
hesitated.  Presently he went on:  "Since Mr. Leland informed you
of Mr. Stamm's condition I won't be violating professional ethics
in discussing the case with you.  Mr. Stamm was unconscious when I
arrived.  His pulse was slow and sluggish, and his breathing
shallow.  When I learned of the amount of whisky he had taken since
dinner I immediately gave him a stiff dose of apomorphine--a tenth
of a grain.  It emptied his stomach at once, and after the reaction
he went back to sleep normally.  He had consumed an astonishing
amount of liquor--it was one of the worst cases of acute alcoholism
I have ever known.  He is just waking up now, and I was about to
telephone for a nurse when this gentleman"--indicating Heath--"told
me you wished to see me."

Vance nodded understandingly.

"Will it be possible for us to talk to Mr. Stamm at this time?"

"A little later, perhaps.  He is coming round all right, and, once
I get him up-stairs to bed, you may see him. . . .  But you
understand, of course," the doctor added, "he will be pretty weak
and played out."

Vance murmured his thanks.

"Will you let us know when it is convenient to have us talk to
him?"

The doctor inclined his head in assent.

"Certainly," he said, and turned to go.

"And in the meantime," Vance said to Markham, "I think it might be
well to have a brief chat with Miss Stamm. . . .  Sergeant, will
you produce the young lady for us?"

"Just a moment."  The doctor turned in the doorway.  "I would ask
you, sir, not to disturb Miss Stamm just now.  When I came here I
found her in a very high-strung, hysterical condition over what had
happened.  So I gave her a stiff dose of bromides and told her to
go to bed.  She's in no condition to be questioned about the
tragedy.  Tomorrow, perhaps."

"It really doesn't matter," Vance returned.  "Tomorrow will do just
as well."

The doctor went lumberingly into the hall, and a moment later we
could hear him dialing a number on the telephone.



CHAPTER IV

AN INTERRUPTION


(Sunday, August 12; 1.35 a. m.)


Markham heaved a deep, annoyed sigh, and focused his eyes on Vance
in exasperation.

"Aren't you satisfied yet?" he demanded impatiently.  "I suggest we
get along home."

"Oh, my dear Markham!" Vance protested whimsically, lighting a
fresh Régie.  "I should never forgive myself if I went without at
least making the acquaintance of Mrs. McAdam.  My word!  Really
now, wouldn't you like to meet her?"

Markham snorted with angry resignation and settled back in his
chair.

Vance turned to Heath.

"Shepherd the butler in, Sergeant."

Heath went out with alacrity, returning immediately with the butler
in tow.  He was a short, pudgy man in his late fifties, with a
smug, round face.  His eyes were small and shrewd; his nose flat
and concave, and the corners of his mouth were pinched into a
downward arc.  He wore a blond toupee which neither fitted him nor
disguised the fact that he was bald.  His uniform needed pressing,
and his linen was far from immaculate; but he had an unmistakable
air of pompous superiority.

"I understand your name is Trainor," said Vance.

"Yes, sir."

"Well, Trainor, there seems to be considerable doubt as to just
what happened here tonight.  That's why the District Attorney and I
have come up."  Vance's eyes were fixed on the man with appraising
interest.

"If I may be permitted to say so, sir," Trainor submitted in a
mincing falsetto, "I think your being here is an excellent idea.
One never can tell what is behind these mysterious episodes."

Vance lifted his eyebrows.

"So you think the episode mysterious? . . .  Can you tell us
something that might be helpful?"

"Oh, no, sir."  The man elevated his chin haughtily.  "I haven't
the slightest suggestion to make--thanking you, sir, for the honor
of asking me."

Vance let the matter drop, and said:

"Doctor Holliday has just told us that Mr. Stamm had a close call
tonight, and I understand from Mr. Leland that Mr. Stamm ordered
another bottle of whisky at the time the other members of the party
went down to the pool."

"Yes, sir.  I brought him a fresh quart of his favorite Scotch
whisky--Buchanan's Liqueur . . . although I will say, sir, in
extenuation, so to speak, that I took the liberty of protesting
with Mr. Stamm, inasmuch as he had already been drinking rather
heavily all day.  But he became almost abusive, I might say; and I
remarked to myself, 'Every man to his own poison'--or words to that
effect.  It was not my place, you can understand, to refuse to obey
the master's orders."

"Of course--of course, Trainor.  We certainly do not hold you
responsible for Mr. Stamm's condition," Vance assured him
pleasantly.

"Thank you, sir.  I might say, however, that Mr. Stamm has been
quite unhappy about something these past few weeks.  He's been
worrying a great deal.  He even forgot to feed the fish last
Thursday."

"My word!  Something really upsettin' must have been preying on his
mind. . . .  And did you see to it, Trainor, that the fish did not
go hungry Thursday?"

"Oh, yes, sir.  I am very fond of the fish, sir.  And I'm something
of an authority on the subject--if I do say so myself.  In fact, I
disagree with the master quite frequently on the care of some of
his rarer varieties.  Without his knowing it I have made chemical
tests of the water, for acidity and alkalinity--if you know what I
mean, sir.  And I took it upon myself to increase the alkalinity of
the water in the tanks in which the Scatophagus argus are kept.
Since then, sir, the master has had much better luck with them."

"I myself am partial to brackish water for the Scatophagus," Vance
commented, with an amused smile.  "But we will let that drop for
the moment. . . .  Suppose you tell Mrs. McAdam that we desire to
see her, here in the drawing-room."

The butler bowed and went out, and a few minutes later ushered a
short, plump woman into the room.

Teeny McAdam's age was perhaps forty, but from her clothes and her
manner it was obvious that she was making a desperate effort to
give the impression of youth.  There was, however, a hardness about
her which she could not disguise.  She seemed perfectly calm as she
sat down in the chair which Vance held for her.

Vance explained briefly who we were and why we were there, and I
was interested in the fact that she showed no surprise.

"It's always well," Vance explained further, "to look into
tragedies of this kind, where there is a feeling of doubt in the
mind of any one present.  And there seems to be considerable doubt
in the minds of several witnesses of Mr. Montague's disappearance."

For answer the woman merely gave an arctic smile and waited.

"Are there any doubts in your mind, Mrs. McAdam?" Vance asked
quietly.

"Doubts?  What kind of doubts?  Really, I don't know what you
mean."  She spoke in a cold, stereotyped voice.  "Monty is
unquestionably dead.  Had it been any one else who disappeared, one
might suspect that a practical joke had been played on us.  But
Monty was never a practical joker.  In fact, any sense of humor was
painfully lacking in him.  He was far too conceited for humor."

"You have known him a long time, I take it."

"Far too long," the woman replied, with what I thought was a touch
of venom.

"You screamed, I am told, when he failed to rise to the surface."

"A maidenly impulse," she remarked lightly.  "At my age I should,
of course, be more reserved."

Vance contemplated his cigarette a moment.

"You weren't, by any chance, expecting the young gentleman's demise
at the time?"

The woman shrugged, and a hard light came into her eyes.

"No, not expecting it," she returned bitterly, "but always hoping
for it--as were many others."

"Most interestin'," Vance murmured.  "But what were you looking for
so intently across the pool, after Montague's failure to come up?"

Her eyes narrowed, and her expression belied the careless gesture
she made.

"I really do not recall my intentness at that time," she answered.
"I was probably scanning the surface of the pool.  That was
natural, was it not?"

"Quite--oh, quite.  One does instinctively scan the water when a
diver has failed to reappear--doesn't one?  But I was given the
impression your attitude was not indicative of this natural
impulse.  In fact, I was led to believe that you were looking
ACROSS the water, to the rock cliffs opposite."

The woman shifted her gaze to Leland, and a slow contemptuous smile
spread over her face.

"I quite understand," she sneered.  "This half-breed has been
trying to divert suspicion from himself."  She swung quickly back
to Vance and spoke between clenched teeth.  "My suggestion to you,
sir, is that Mr. Leland can tell you far more of the tragedy than
any one else here."

Vance nodded carelessly.

"He has already told me many fascinatin' things."  Then he leaned
forward with a half smile that did not extend to his eyes.  "By the
by," he added, "it may interest you to know that a few minutes ago
there was a terrific splash in the pool, near the point, I should
say, where you were looking."

A sudden change came over Teeny McAdam.  Her body seemed to go
taut, and her hands tightened over the arms of her chair.  Her face
paled perceptibly, and she took a slow deep breath, as if to steady
herself.

"You are sure?" she muttered, in a strained voice, her eyes fixed
on Vance.  "You are sure?"

"Quite sure. . . .  But why should that fact startle you?"

"There are strange stories about that pool--" she began, but Vance
interrupted.

"Oh, very strange.  But you're not, I trust, superstitious?"

She gave a one-sided smile, and her body relaxed.

"Oh, no, I am far too old for that."  She was speaking again in her
former cold, reserved tone.  "But for a moment I got jumpy.  This
house and its surroundings are not conductive to calm nerves. . . .
So there was a splash in the pool?  I can't imagine what it might
have been.  Maybe it was one of Stamm's flying fish," she
suggested, with an attempt at humor.  Then her face hardened, and
she gave Vance a defiant look.  "Is there anything else you wish to
ask me?"

It was obvious that she had no intention of telling us anything
concerning what she may have feared or suspected, and Vance rose
listlessly to his feet.

"No, madam," he responded.  "I have quite exhausted my possibilities
as an interrogator. . . .  But I shall have to ask you to remain in
your room for the present."

Teeny McAdam rose also, with an exaggerated sigh of relief.

"Oh, I expected that.  It's so messy and inconvenient when any one
dies. . . .  But would it be against the rules and regulations if
the tubby Trainor brought me a drink?"

"Certainly not."  Vance bowed gallantly.  "I will be delighted to
send you anything you desire--if the cellar affords it."

"You are more than kind," she returned sarcastically.  "I'm sure
Trainor can scratch me up a stinger."

She thanked Vance facetiously, and left the room.

Vance sent for the butler again.

"Trainor," he said, when the man entered, "Mrs. McAdam wants a
stinger--and you'd better use two jiggers each of brandy and crème
de menthe."

"I understand, sir."

As Trainor went from the room, Doctor Holliday appeared at the
door.

"I have Mr. Stamm in bed," he told Vance, "and the nurse is on her
way.  If you care to speak to him now it will be all right."

The master bedroom was on the second floor, just at the head of the
main stairs, and when we entered, ushered in by Doctor Holliday,
Stamm stared at us with resentful bewilderment.

I could see, even as he lay in bed, that he was an unusually tall
man.  His face was lined and cadaverous.  His piercing eyes were
ringed with shadows, and his cheeks were hollow.  He was slightly
bald, but his eyebrows were heavy and almost black.  Despite his
pallor and his obviously weakened condition, it was evident he was
a man of great endurance and physical vitality.  He was the type of
man that fitted conventionally into the stories of his romantic
exploits in the South Seas.

"These are the gentlemen that wished to see you," the doctor told
him, by way of introduction.

Stamm looked from one to the other of us, turning his head weakly.

"Well, who are they, and what do they want?"  His voice was low and
peevish.

Vance explained who we were, and added:

"There has been a tragedy here on your estate tonight, Mr. Stamm;
and we are here to investigate it."

"A tragedy?  What do you mean by a tragedy?"  Stamm's sharp eyes
did not leave Vance's face.

"One of your guests has, I fear, been drowned."

Stamm suddenly became animated.  His hands moved nervously over the
silk spread, and he raised his head from the pillow, his eyes
glaring.

"Some one drowned!" he exclaimed.  "Where?  And who? . . .  I hope
it was Greeff--he's been pestering the life out of me for weeks."

Vance shook his head.

"No, it was not Greeff--it was young Montague.  He dived into the
pool and didn't come up."

"Oh, Montague."  Stamm sank back on his pillow.  "That vain
ass! . . .  How is Bernice?"

"She's sleeping," the doctor informed him consolingly.  "She was
naturally upset, but she will be all right in the morning."

Stamm seemed relieved, and after a moment he moved his head wearily
toward Vance.

"I suppose you want to ask questions."

Vance regarded the man on the bed critically and, I thought,
suspiciously.  I admit that I myself got a distinct impression that
Stamm was playing a part, and that the remarks he had made were
fundamentally insincere.  But I could not say specifically what had
caused this impression.  Presently Vance said:

"We understand that one of the guests you invited to your week-end
party did not put in an appearance."

"Well, what of it?" complained Stamm.  "Is there anything so
unusual about that?"

"No, not unusual," Vance admitted, "but a bit interestin'.  What
was the lady's name?"

Stamm hesitated and shifted his eyes.

"Ellen Bruett," he said finally.

"Could you tell us something about her?"

"Very little," the man answered ungraciously.  "I haven't seen her
for a great many years.  I met her on a boat going to Europe, and I
ran across her again in Paris.  I know nothing of her personally,
except that she's a pleasant sort, and extremely attractive.  Last
week I was surprised to receive a telephone call from her.  She
said she had just returned from the Orient and intimated that she
would like to renew our acquaintance.  I needed another woman for
the party; so I asked her to join us.  Friday morning she phoned me
again to say she was leaving unexpectedly for South America. . . .
That's the extent of what I know about her."

"Did you," asked Vance, "by any chance, mention to her the names of
the other guests you had invited?"

"I told her that Ruby Steele and Montague were coming.  They had
both been on the stage, and I thought she might know the names."

"And did she?"  Vance raised his cigarette deliberately to his
lips.

"As I recall, she said she had met Montague once in Berlin."

Vance walked to the window and back.

"Curious coincidence," he murmured.

Stamm's eyes followed him.

"What's curious about it?" he demanded sourly.

Vance shrugged and halted at the foot of the bed.

"I haven't the groggiest notion--have you?"

Stamm raised himself from the pillow and glared.

"What do you mean by that question?"

"I mean simply this, Mr. Stamm:"--Vance's tone was mild--"every one
we have talked to so far seems to have a peculiar arrière-pensée
with regard to Montague's death, and there have been intimations of
foul play--"

"What about Montague's body?" Stamm broke in.  "Haven't you found
it yet?  That ought to tell the story.  He probably bashed his
skull while doing a fancy dive to impress the ladies."

"No, his body has not yet been found.  It was too late to get a
boat and grappling hooks to the pool tonight. . . ."

"You don't have to do that," Stamm informed him truculently.
"There are two big gates in the stream just above the filter, and
they can be closed.  And there's a turnstile lock in the dam.  That
lets the water drain from the pool.  I drain it every year or so,
to clean it out."

"Ah!  That's worth knowing--eh, Sergeant?"  Then to Stamm:  "Are
the gates and lock difficult to manipulate?"

"Four or five men can do the job in an hour."

"We'll attend to all that in the morning then."  Vance looked at
the other thoughtfully.  "And, by the by, one of Sergeant Heath's
men just reported that there was quite a noisy splash in the pool a
little while ago--somewhere near the opposite side."

"A part of that damned rock has fallen," Stamm remarked.  "It's
been loose for a long time."  Then he moved uneasily, and asked:
"What difference does it make?"

"Mrs. McAdam seemed rather upset about it."

"Hysteria," snorted Stamm.  "Leland has probably been telling her
stories about the pool. . . .  But what are you driving at,
anyway?"

Vance smiled faintly.

"I'm sure I don't know.  But the fact that a man disappeared in the
Dragon Pool tonight seems to have impressed several people in a
most peculiar fashion.  None of them seem wholly convinced that it
was an accidental death."

"Tommy-rot!"

Stamm drew himself up until he rested on his elbows, and thrust his
head forward.  A wild light came into his glaring eyes, and his
face twitched spasmodically.

"Can't a man get drowned without having a lot of policemen all over
the place?"  His voice was loud and shrill.  "Montague--bah!  The
world's better off without him.  I wouldn't give him tank space
with my Guppies--and I feed them to the Scalares."

Stamm became more and more excited, and his voice grew shriller.

"Montague jumped into the pool, did he?  And he didn't come up?  Is
that any reason to annoy me when I'm ill? . . ."

At this moment there came a startling and blood-chilling
interruption.  The door into the hall had been left open, and there
suddenly came to us, from the floor above, a woman's maniacal and
terrifying scream.



CHAPTER V

THE WATER-MONSTER


(Sunday, August 12; 2 a. m.)


There was a second of tense startled silence.  Then Heath swung
round and rushed toward the door, his hand slipping into his outer
coat pocket where he carried his gun.  As he reached the threshold
Leland stepped quickly up to him and placed a restraining hand on
his shoulder.

"Do not bother," he said quietly.  "It is all right."

"The hell it is!"  Heath shot back, throwing off the other's hand
and stepping into the hallway.

Doors had begun to open along the hallway, and there were several
smothered exclamations.

"Get back in your rooms!" bawled Heath.  "And stay in 'em."  He
planted himself aggressively outside the door, glowering down the
corridor.

Evidently some of the guests, frightened by the scream, had come
out to see what the trouble was.  But confronted with the menacing
attitude of the Sergeant and cowed by his angry command, they
returned to their quarters, and we could hear the doors close
again.  The Sergeant, confused and indecisive, turned threateningly
to Leland who was standing near the door with a calm but troubled
look on his face.

"Where'd that scream come from?" he demanded.  "And what does it
mean?"

Before Leland could answer Stamm raised himself to a semi-recumbent
position and glowered at Vance.

"For the love of God," he complained irritably, "will you gentlemen
get out of here!  You've done enough damage already. . . .  Get
out, I tell you!  Get out!"  Then he turned to Doctor Holliday.
"Please go up to mother, doctor, and give her something.  She's
having another attack--what with all this upheaval round the
house."

Doctor Holliday left the room, and we could hear him mounting the
stairs.

Vance had been unimpressed by the whole episode.  He stood smoking
casually, his eyes resting dreamily on the man in bed.

"Deuced sorry to have upset your household, Mr. Stamm," he
murmured.  "Every one's nerves are raw, don't y' know.  Hope you'll
be better in the morning. . . .  We'll toddle down-stairs--eh,
what, Markham?"

Leland looked at him gratefully and nodded.

"I am sure that would be best," he said, leading the way.

We went out of the room and descended the stairs.  Heath, however,
remained in the hall for a moment glaring up toward the third
floor.

"Come, Sergeant," Vance called to him.  "You're overwrought."

Heath finally took his hand from his coat pocket and followed us
reluctantly.

Again in the drawing-room, Vance settled into a chair and, looking
at Leland inquiringly, waited for an explanation.

Leland took out his pipe again and slowly packed it.

"That was Stamm's mother, Matilda Stamm," he said when he had got
his pipe going.  "She occupies the third floor of the house.  She
is a little unbalanced. . . ."  He made a slight but significant
gesture toward his forehead.  "Not dangerous, you understand, but
erratic--given occasionally to hallucinations.  She has queer
attacks now and then, and talks incoherently."

"Sounds like mild paranoia," Vance murmured.  "Some hidden fear,
perhaps."

"That is it, I imagine," Leland returned.  "A psychiatrist they had
for her years ago suggested a private sanitarium, but Stamm would
not hear of it.  Instead he turned the third floor over to her, and
there is some one with her all the time.  She is in excellent
physical health and is perfectly rational most of the time.  But
she is not permitted to go out.  However, she is well taken care
of, and the third floor has a large balcony and a conservatory for
her diversion.  She spends most of her time cultivating rare
plants."

"How often do her attacks come?"

"Two or three times a year, I understand, though she is always full
of queer ideas about people and things.  Nothing to worry about,
though."

"And the nature of these attacks?"

"They vary.  Sometimes she talks and argues with imaginary people.
At other times she becomes hysterical and babbles of events that
occurred when she was a girl.  Then, again, she will suddenly take
violent dislikes to people, for no apparent reason, and proceed to
berate and threaten them."

Vance nodded.

"Typical," he mused.  Then, after several deep inhalations on his
Régie, he asked in an offhand manner:  "On which side of the house
are Mrs. Stamm's balcony and conservat'ry?"

Leland's eyes moved quickly toward Vance, and he lifted his head.

"On the northeast corner," he answered with a slightly rising
inflection, as if his answer were purposely incomplete.

"Ah!"  Vance took his cigarette slowly from his mouth.
"Overlooking the pool, eh?"

Leland nodded.  Then, after a brief hesitation, he said:  "The pool
has a curious hold on her fancy.  It is the source of many of her
hallucinations.  She sits for hours gazing at it abstractedly, and
the German woman who looks after her--a capable companion-nurse
named Schwarz--tells me that she never goes to bed without first
standing in rapt attention for several minutes at the window facing
the pool."

"Very interestin'. . . .  By the by, Mr. Leland, do you know when
the pool was constructed?"

Leland frowned thoughtfully.

"I cannot say exactly.  I know it was built by Stamm's grandfather--
that is to say, he built the dam to broaden the water of the
stream.  But I doubt if he had anything in mind except a scenic
improvement.  It was Stamm's father--Joshua Stamm--who put in the
retaining wall on this side of the pool, to keep the water from
straying too far up the hill toward the house.  And it was Stamm
himself who installed the filter and the gates, when he first began
to use the pool for swimming.  The water was not particularly free
from rubbish, and he wanted some way of filtering the stream that
fed it, and also of closing off the inflow, so that the pool could
be cleaned out occasionally."

"How did the pool get its name?" asked Vance casually.

Leland gave a slight shrug.

"Heaven only knows.  From some old Indian tradition, probably.  The
Indians hereabouts originally called it by various terms--
Amangaming, Amangemokdom Wikit, and sometimes Amangemokdomipek--but
as a rule the shorter word, Amangaming, was used, which means, in
the Lenape dialect of the Algonkians, the 'place of the water-
monster.'*  When I was a child my mother always referred to the pool
by that name, although at that time it was pretty generally known
as the Dragon Pool, which is a fairly accurate transliteration of
its original name.  Many tales and superstitions grew up around it.
The water-dragon--Amangemokdom** or, sometimes, Amangegach--was
used as a bogy with which to frighten recalcitrant children. . . ."


* I made a note of these unusual words, and years later, when Vance
and I were in California, to see the Munthe Collection of Chinese
art, I brought up the subject with Doctor M. R. Harrington, the
author of "Religion and Ceremonies of the Lenapes" and now Curator
of the Southwest Museum in Los Angeles.  He explained that
Amangemokdoming meant "Dragon-place"; Amangemokdom Wikit, "Dragon
his-house"; and Amangemokdomipek, "Dragon-pond."  He also explained
that the word amangam, though sometimes translated "big fish,"
seems to have meant "water-monster" as well; and that it would
yield the shorter compound Amangaming.  This evidently was the word
preferred by the Lenapes in Inwood.

** In the Walum Olum the word amangam is translated as "monster"
and Brinton in his notes derives it from amangi, "great or
terrifying," and names, "fish with reference to some mythical water-
monster."  In the Brinton and Anthony dictionary, however,
amangamek, the plural form, is translated simply as "large fishes."
The Indians regarded such a creature, not as a mere animal, but as
a manitto, or being endowed with supernatural as well as physical
power.


Markham got to his feet impatiently and looked at his watch.

"This is hardly the hour," he complained, "for a discussion of
mythology."

"Tut, tut, old dear," Vance chided him pleasantly.  "I say, these
ethnological data are most fascinatin'.  For the first time tonight
we seem to be getting a little forrader.  I'm beginning to
understand why nearly every one in the house is filled with doubts
and misgivings."

He smiled ingratiatingly and turned his attention again to Leland.

"By the by," he went on, "is Mrs. Stamm given to such distressin'
screams during her cloudy moments?"

Again Leland hesitated, but finally answered:  "Occasionally--yes."

"And do these screams usually have some bearing on her
hallucinations regarding the pool?"

Leland inclined his head.

"Yes--always."  Then he added:  "But she is never coherent as to
the exact cause of her perturbation.  I have been present when
Stamm has tried to get an explanation from her, but she has never
been lucid on the subject.  It is as if she feared something in the
future which her momentarily excited mind could not visualize.  An
inflamed and confused projection of the imagination, I should say--
without any definite mental embodiment. . . ."

At this moment the curtains parted, and Doctor Holliday's troubled
face looked into the room.

"I am glad you gentlemen are still here," he said.  "Mrs. Stamm is
in an unusual frame of mind, and insists on seeing you.  She is
having one of her periodical attacks--nothing serious, I assure
you.  But she seems very much excited, and she refused to let me
give her something to quiet her. . . .  I really don't feel that I
should mention these facts to you, but in the circumstances--"

"I have explained Mrs. Stamm's condition to these gentlemen,"
Leland put in quietly.

The doctor appeared relieved.

"That being the case," he went on, "I can tell you quite frankly
that I am a little worried.  And, as I say, she insists that she
see the police--as she calls you--at once."  He paused as if
uncertain.  "Perhaps it might be best--if you do not mind.  Since
she has this idea, a talk with you might bring about the desired
reaction. . . .  But I warn you that she is a bit hallucinated, and
I trust that you will treat her accordingly. . . ."

Vance had risen.

"We quite understand, doctor," he said assuringly, adding
significantly:  "It might be better for all of us if we talked with
her."

We retraced our way up the dimly lighted stairs, and at the second-
story hallway turned upward to Mrs. Stamm's quarters.

On the third floor the doctor led the way down a wide passage,
toward the rear of the house, to an open door through which a
rectangular shaft of yellow light poured into the gloom of the
hall.  The room into which we were ushered was large and crowded
with early Victorian furniture.  A dark green shabby carpet covered
the floor, and on the walls was faded green paper.  The overstuffed
satin-covered chairs had once been white and chartreuse green, but
were now gray and dingy.  An enormous canopied bed stood at the
right of the door, draped in pink damask; and similar damask, with
little of its color left, formed the long overdrapes at the window.
The Nottingham-lace curtains beneath were wrinkled and soiled.
Opposite the bed was a fireplace, on the hearth of which lay a
collection of polished conch shells; and beside it stood a high
spool what-not overladen with all manner of hideous trifles of the
period.  Several large faded oil paintings were suspended about the
walls on wide satin ribbons which were tied in bows at the
moulding.

As we entered, a tall, capable-looking gray-haired woman, in a
Hoover apron, stepped aside to make way for us.

"You had better remain, Mrs. Schwarz," the doctor suggested as we
passed her.

On the far side of the room, near the window, stood Mrs. Stamm; and
the sight of her sent a strange chill through me.  She was leaning
with both hands on the back of a chair, her head thrust forward in
an attitude of fearful expectancy.  Even in the brilliant light of
the room her eyes seemed to contain a fiery quality.  She was a
small, slender woman, but she gave forth an irresistible impression
of great strength and vitality, as if every sinew in her body were
like whipcord; and her large-boned hands, as they grasped the back
of the chair, were more like a man's than a woman's.  (The idea
occurred to me that she could easily have lifted the chair and
swung it about.)  Her nose was Roman and pinched; and her mouth was
a long slit distorted into a sardonic smile.  Her hair was gray,
streaked with black, and was tucked back over prominent ears.  She
wore a faded red silk kimono which trailed the floor, showing only
the toes of her knitted slippers.

Doctor Holliday made a brief, nervous presentation which Mrs. Stamm
did not even acknowledge.  She stood gazing at us with that twisted
smile, as if gloating over something that only she herself knew.
Then, after several moments' scrutiny, the smile faded from her
mouth, and a look of terrifying hardness came into her face.  Her
lips parted, and the blazing light in her eyes grew brighter.

"The dragon did it!" were her first words to us.  "I tell you the
dragon did it!  There's nothing more you can do about it!"

"What dragon, Mrs. Stamm?" asked Vance quietly.

"What dragon, indeed!"  She gave a scornful hollow laugh.  "The
dragon that lives down there in the pool below my window."  She
pointed vaguely with her hand.  "Why do you think it's called the
Dragon Pool?  I'll tell you why.  Because it's the home of the
dragon--the old water-dragon that guards the lives and the fortunes
of the Stamms.  When any danger threatens my family the dragon
arises in his wrath."

"And what makes you think"--Vance's voice was mild and sympathetic--
"that the dragon exercised his tutelary powers tonight?"

"Oh, I know, I know!"  A shrewd fanatical light came into her eyes,
and again that hideous smile appeared on her lips.  "I sit here
alone in this room, year in and year out; yet I know all that is
going on.  They try to keep things from me, but they can't.  I know
all that has happened the last two days--I am aware of all the
intrigues that are gathering about my house.  And when I heard
strange voices a while ago, I came to the top of the stairs and
listened.  I heard what my poor son said.  Sanford Montague dived
into the pool--and he didn't come up!  He couldn't come up--he will
never come up!  The dragon killed him--caught him beneath the water
and held him there and killed him."

"But Mr. Montague was not an enemy," Vance suggested mildly.  "Why
should the protective deity of your family kill him?"

"Mr. Montague WAS an enemy," the woman declared, pushing the chair
aside and stepping forward.  "He had fascinated my little girl and
planned to marry her.  But he wasn't worthy of her.  He was always
lying to her, and when her back was turned he was having affairs
with other women.  Oh, I've witnessed much these last two days!"

"I see what you mean," nodded Vance.  "But is it not possible that,
after all, the dragon is only a myth?"

"A myth?"  The woman spoke with the calmness of conviction.  "No,
he's no myth.  I've seen him too often.  I saw him as a child.  And
when I was a young girl I talked with many people who had seen him.
The old Indians in the village saw him too.  They used to tell me
about him when I would go to their huts.  And in the long summer
twilights I would sit on the top of the cliff and watch for him to
come out of the pool, for water-dragons always come out after
sundown.  And sometimes, when the shadows were deep over the hills
and the mists came drifting down the river, he would rise from the
water and fly away--yonder--to the north.  And then I would sit up
all night at my window, when my governess thought I was asleep, and
wait for his return; for I knew he was a friend and would protect
me; and I was afraid to go to sleep until he had come back to our
pool.  But sometimes, when I waited for him on the cliff, he
wouldn't come out of the pool at all, but would just ripple the
water a little to let me know he was there.  And those were the
nights when I could sleep, for I didn't have to sit up and wait for
his return."

Mrs. Stamm's voice, as she related these strange imaginary things,
was poetic in its intensity.  She stood before us, her arms hanging
calmly at her sides, her eyes, which now seemed to have become
misty, gazing past us over our heads.

"That's all very interestin'," Vance murmured politely; but I
noticed that he kept a steady, appraising gaze on the woman from
beneath partly lowered eyelids.  "However, could not all that you
have told us be accounted for by the romantic imaginings of a
child?  After all, don't y' know, the existence of dragons scarcely
fits in with the conceptions of modern science."

"Modern science--bah!"  She turned scornful eyes on Vance and spoke
with almost vitriolic bitterness.  "Science--science, indeed!  A
pleasant word to cover man's ignorance.  What does any man know of
the laws of birth and growth and life and death?  What does any man
know of what goes on under the water?  And the greater part of the
world is water--unfathomable depths of water.  My son collects a
few specimens of fish from the mouths of rivers and from shallow
streams--but has he ever plumbed the depths of the vast oceans?
Can he say that no monsters dwell in those depths?  And even the
few fish he has caught are mysteries to him.  Neither he nor any
other fish collector knows anything about them. . . .  Don't talk
to me of science, young man.  I know what these old eyes have
seen!"

"All that you say is quite true," Vance concurred, in a low voice.
"But even admitting that some giant flying fish inhabits this pool
from time to time, are you not attributing to him too great an
intelligence--too great an insight into the affairs of your
household?"

"How," she retorted contemptuously, "can any one gauge the
intelligence of creatures of whom one knows nothing?  Man flatters
himself by assuming that no creature can have a greater
intelligence than his own."

Vance smiled faintly.

"You are no lover of humanity, I perceive."

"I hate humanity," the woman declared bitterly.  "This would be a
cleaner, better world if mankind had been omitted from the scheme
of things."

"Yes, yes, of course."  Vance's tone suddenly changed, and he spoke
with a certain decisive positivity.  "But may I ask--the hour is
getting rather late, y' know--just why you insisted on seeing us?"

The woman stiffened and leaned forward.  The intense hysterical
look came back into her eyes, and her hands flexed at her sides.

"You're the police--aren't you?--and you're here trying to find out
things. . . .  I wanted to tell you how Mr. Montague lost his life.
Listen to me!  He was killed by the dragon--do you understand that?
He was killed by the dragon!  No one in this house had anything to
do with his death--no one! . . .  That's what I wanted to tell
you."  Her voice rose as she spoke, and there was a terrific
passion in her words.

Vance's steady gaze did not leave her.

"But why, Mrs. Stamm," he asked, "do you assume that we think some
one here had a hand in Montague's death?"

"You wouldn't be here if you didn't think so," she retorted
angrily, with an artful gleam in her eyes.

"Was what you heard your son say, just before you screamed," Vance
asked, "the first inkling you had of the tragedy?"

"Yes!"  The word was an ejaculation.  But she added more calmly:
"I have known for days that tragedy was hanging over this house."

"Then why did you scream, Mrs. Stamm?"

"I was startled--and terrified, perhaps--when I realized what the
dragon had done."

"But how could you possibly have known," argued Vance, "that it was
the dragon who was responsible for Montague's disappearance under
the water?"

Again the woman's mouth twisted into a sardonic smile.

"Because of what I had heard and seen earlier tonight."

"Ah!"

"Oh, yes!  About an hour ago I was standing by the window here,
looking down at the pool--for some reason I was unable to sleep and
had gotten out of bed.  Suddenly I saw a great shape against the
sky, and I heard the familiar flutter of wings coming nearer . . .
nearer. . . .  And then I saw the dragon sweep over the tree-tops
and down before the face of the cliff opposite.  And I saw him dive
into the pool with a great splash, and I saw the white spray rise
from the water where he had disappeared. . . .  And then all was
silence again.  The dragon had returned to his home."

Vance walked to the window and looked out.

"It's pretty dark," he commented.  "I'm dashed if I can see the
cliff from here--or even the water."

"But _I_ can see--_I_ can see," the woman protested shrilly,
turning on Vance and shaking her finger at him.  "I can see many
things that other people can't see.  And I tell you I saw the
dragon return--"

"Return?" repeated Vance, studying the woman calmly.  "Return from
where?"

She gave a shrewd smile.

"I won't tell you that--I won't give away the dragon's secret. . . .
But I will tell you this," she went on: "he had taken the body
away to hide it."

"Mr. Montague's body?"

"Of course.  He never leaves the bodies of his victims in the
pool."

"Then there have been other victims?" Vance inquired.

"Many victims."  The woman spoke in a strained sepulchral voice.
"And he always hides their bodies."

"It might upset your theory a bit, Mrs. Stamm," Vance pointed out
to her, "if we should find Mr. Montague's body in the pool."

She chuckled in a way that sent a shiver through me.

"Find his body?  Find his body in the pool?  You can't find it.
It's not there!"

Vance regarded her a moment in silence.  Then he bowed.

"Thank you, Mrs. Stamm, for your information and help.  I trust the
episode has not disturbed you too much and that you will rest
tonight."

He turned and walked toward the door, and the rest of us followed
him.  In the hall Doctor Holliday stopped.

"I'm staying up here for a while," he told Vance.  "I think I can
get her to sleep now. . . .  But, for Heaven's sake, don't take
anything she said tonight seriously.  She often has these little
periods of hallucinosis.  It's really nothing to worry about."

"I quite understand," Vance returned, shaking hands with him.



CHAPTER VI

A CONTRETEMPS


(Sunday, August 12; 2.20 a. m.)


We descended to the main hallway, and Vance led the way back to the
drawing-room.

"Well, are you through now?" Markham asked him irritably.

"Not quite."

I had rarely seen Vance so serious or so reluctant to postpone an
investigation.  I knew that he had been deeply interested in Mrs.
Stamm's hysterical recital; but I could not understand, at the
time, his reason for prolonging an interview that seemed to me both
futile and tragic.  As he stood before the fireplace his mind
seemed far away, and there was a puzzled corrugation on his
forehead.  He watched the curling smoke from his cigarette for
several moments.  Suddenly, with a slight toss of the head, he
brought himself back to his surroundings and turned to Leland who
was leaning against the centre-table.

"What did Mrs. Stamm mean," he asked, "when she referred to other
victims whose bodies the dragon had hidden?"

Leland moved uneasily and looked down at his pipe.

"There was a modicum of truth in that remark," he returned.  "There
have been two authentic deaths in the pool that I know of.  But
Mrs. Stamm was probably referring also to the wild stories which
the old crones tell of mysterious disappearances in the pool in the
old days."

"Sounds something like the old-timers' tales of Kehoe's Hole in
Newark.* . . .  What were the two authentic cases you speak of?"


* Kehoe's Hole, of which the lake in West Side Park, Newark, is the
last vestige, has had a most unusual history.  The once great swamp
was also called, at different times, Magnolia Swamp and Turtle
Ditch, and an enterprising newspaper reporter has dubbed the
present lake Suicide Lake.  The old swamp had the distinction of
being considered bottomless; and many strange tales are told, by
the old-timers and pseudo-archivists in the neighborhood, of
mysterious drownings in its waters, and of the remarkable
disappearances of the bodies despite every effort to find them.
One story tells of the disappearance beneath its surface of a team
of horses and a wagon.  These amazing tales--extending over a
period of forty years or more--may be accounted for by the fact
that there were once quicksands in parts of the swamp.  But
tradition still has it that the bottom of the present lake has not
been fathomed and that once a body sinks beneath its surface, it is
never found.


"One happened about seven years ago, shortly after Stamm and I
returned from our expedition to Cocos Island.  Two suspicious
characters were scouting the neighborhood--probably with a view to
burglary--and one of them fell off the cliff on the far side of the
pool, and was evidently drowned.  Two schoolgirls from this
vicinity saw him fall, and later the police picked up his companion
who eventually, under questioning, verified the other's
disappearance."

"Disappearance?"

Leland nodded grimly.

"His body was never found."

There was the suggestion of a skeptical smile on Vance's mouth as
he asked:  "How do you account for that?"

"There is only one sensible way of accounting for it," answered
Leland, with a slightly aggressive accent, as if endeavoring to
convince himself with his own words.  "The stream gets swollen at
times, and there is quite a flow of water over the dam--sufficient
to carry a floating body over, if it happened to be caught by the
current at a certain angle.  This fellow's body was probably washed
over the dam and carried down to the Hudson River."

"A bit far-fetched, but none the less tenable. . . .  And the other
case?"

"Some boys trespassed here one afternoon and went swimming.  One of
them, as I recall, dived from a ledge of the cliff into the shallow
water, and did not come up.  As soon as the authorities were
notified--by an unidentified telephone call, incidentally--the pool
was drained, but there was no trace of the body.  Later, however,
after the newspapers had made a two-days' sensation of the affair,
the boy's body was found in the Indian Cave on the other side of
the Clove.  He had fractured his skull."

"And do you, by any chance, have an explanation for that episode
also?" Vance asked, with a tinge of curtness.

Leland shot him a quick glance.

"I should say the boy struck his head in diving, and the other boys
in the party became frightened and, not wanting to leave the body
in the pool, lest they become involved, carried it down to the cave
and hid it.  It was probably one of them that telephoned to the
police."

"Oh, quite.  Very simple, don't y' know."  Vance looked into space
meditatively.  "Yet both cases have ample esoteric implications to
have taken root in Mrs. Stamm's weakened mind."

"Undoubtedly," Leland agreed.

A short silence ensued.  Vance walked slowly across the room and
back, his hands in his outer coat pockets, his head forward on his
chest, his cigarette drooping from his lips.  I knew what this
attitude signified:--some stimulus had suddenly roused a train of
thought in his mind.  He again took up his position before the
mantel and crushed out his cigarette on the hearth.  He slowly
turned his head toward Leland.

"You mentioned your expedition to Cocos Island," he said lazily.
"Was it the lure of the Mary Dear treasure?"

"Oh, yes.  The other famous caches are all too vague.  Captain
Thompson's treasure, however, is undeniably real and unquestionably
the largest."

"Did you use the Keating map?"*


* What is purported to be the Keating map, or a copy of it, has
been almost generally used by treasure seekers on Cocos Island.  It
is supposed to have been made by Captain Thompson himself, who left
it to a friend named Keating.  Keating, with a Captain Bogue,
outfitted an expedition to the island.  There was mutiny on board
the boat, and Bogue died on the island; but Keating miraculously
escaped.  At his death his widow turned the map over to Nicholas
Fitzgerald, who, in turn, willed it to Commodore Curzon-Howe of the
British navy.


"Not altogether."  Leland seemed as puzzled as the rest of us by
Vance's line of questioning.  "It is hardly authentic now, and I
imagine several purely romantic directions entered into it--such as
the stone turnstile to the cave.  Stamm ran across an old map in
his travels, which antedated, by many years, the original British
survey of Cocos Island of 1838.  So similar was it to this chart
that he believed it to be genuine.  We followed the directions on
this map, checking them with the navigators' chart in the
Hydrographic Office of the United States Navy Department."

"Did this map of Stamm's," pursued Vance, "indicate the treasure as
hidden in one of the island caves?"

"The details were a bit hazy on that point.  And that was what so
impressed Stamm and, I must confess, myself also.  You see, this
old map differed in one vital respect from the United States Navy
navigators' chart, in that it indicated land where the United
States chart shows Wafer Bay; and it was on this section of land
that the hiding-place of the treasure was indicated."

A flicker came into Vance's eyes, but when he spoke his tone was
casual and but mildly animated.

"By Jove!  I see the point.  Most interestin'.  There's no doubt
that landslides and tropical rains have altered the topography of
Cocos Island, and many of the old landmarks have doubtless
disappeared.  I presume Mr. Stamm assumed that the land where the
treasure was originally hidden now lies under the waters of the bay
which is indicated on the more recent charts."

"Exactly.  Even the French survey of 1889 did not show as large a
bay as the American survey made in 1891; and it was Stamm's theory
that the treasure lay beneath the waters of Wafer Bay, which is
rather shallow at that spot."

"A difficult undertaking," Vance commented.  "How long were you at
the island?"

"The better part of three months."  Leland smiled ruefully.  "It
took Stamm that length of time to realize that he did not possess
the proper equipment.  The shoals in the bay are treacherous, and
there are curious holes at the bottom of the water, owing, no
doubt, to geological conditions; and our diving equipment would
have been scorned by any good pearl-fisher.  What we needed, of
course, was a specially constructed diving-bell, something like Mr.
Beebe's bathysphere.  Even that would have been just a beginning,
for we were helpless without powerful submarine dredges.  The one
we took along was wholly inadequate. . . ."

Markham, who had been noticeably chafing under Vance's discussion
of hidden treasure, now rose and strode forward, his cigar held
tightly between his teeth.

"Where is all this getting us, Vance?  If you are contemplating a
trip to Cocos Island, I'm sure Mr. Leland would be willing to make
a future appointment with you to discuss the details.  And as for
all the other investigations you have made here tonight: I can't
see that anything has been brought to light that hasn't an entirely
normal and logical explanation."

Heath, who had been following all the proceedings closely, now
projected himself into the conversation.

"I'm not so sure about things around here being normal, sir."
Though deferential, his tone was vigorous.  "I'm for going ahead
with this case.  Some mighty queer things have happened tonight,
and I don't like 'em."

Vance smiled appreciatively at the Sergeant.

"Stout fella!"  He glanced toward Markham.  "Another half-hour and
we'll stagger home."

Markham gave in ungraciously.

"What more do you want to do here tonight?"

Vance lighted another cigarette.

"I could bear to commune with Greeff. . . .  Suppose you tell the
butler to fetch him, Sergeant."

A few minutes later Alex Greeff was ushered into the drawing-room
by Trainor.  He was a large, powerfully built man, with a ruddy
bulldog type of face--wide-spaced eyes, a short, thick nose, heavy
lips, and a strong, square chin.  He was slightly bald, and there
were cushions of gray hair over his small, close-set ears.  He was
wearing a conventional dinner suit, but there were certain touches
of vulgar elegance in his attire.  The satin lapels of his coat
were highly peaked.  There were two diamond studs in his shirt-
bosom.  Across his satin waistcoat was draped a platinum chain set
with large pearls.  His tie, instead of being solid black, had
white pin-stripes running through it; and his wing collar seemed
too high for his stocky neck.

He took a few steps toward us with his hands in his pockets,
planted himself firmly, and glowered at us angrily.

"I understand one of you gentlemen is the District Attorney--" he
began aggressively.

"Oh, quite."  Vance indicated Markham with a careless movement of
the hand.

Greeff now centred his bellicose attention on Markham.

"Well, perhaps YOU can tell me, sir," he growled, "why I am being
held a virtual prisoner in this house.  This man"--indicating Heath--
"ordered me to remain in my room until further notice, and refused
to let me go home.  What is the meaning of such high-handed
tactics?"

"A tragedy has taken place here tonight, Mr. Greeff--" Markham
began, but he was interrupted by the other.

"Suppose an accident HAS happened, is that any reason why I should
be held a prisoner without due process of law?"

"There are certain phases of the case," Markham told him, "that we
are looking into, and it was to facilitate the investigation that
Sergeant Heath requested all the witnesses to remain here until we
could question them."

"Well, go ahead and question me."  Greeff seemed a little
mollified, and his tone had lost some of its belligerency.

Vance moved forward.

"Sit down and have a smoke, Mr. Greeff," he suggested pleasantly.
"We sha'n't keep you long."

Greeff hesitated, looked at Vance suspiciously; then shrugged, and
drew up a chair.  Vance waited until the man had fitted a cigarette
into a long jewelled holder, and then asked:

"Did you notice--or sense--anything peculiar about Montague's
disappearance in the pool tonight?"

"Peculiar?"  Greeff looked up slowly, and his eyes narrowed to
shrewd slits.  "So that's the angle, is it?  Well, I'm not saying
there wasn't something peculiar about it, now that you mention it;
but I'm damned if I can tell you what it was."

"That seems to be the general impression," Vance returned; "but I
was hoping you might be more lucid on the point than the others
have been."

"What's there to be lucid about?"  Greeff seemed to be avoiding the
issue.  "I suppose it's reasonable enough when a chap like Montague--
who's always been riding for a fall--gets what's coming to him.
But somehow, when it happens so neatly and at the right time, we're
apt to think it's peculiar."

"Yes, yes, of course.  But it wasn't the logical eventualities I
was referring to."  Vance's voice held a tinge of annoyance.  "I
was referring to the fact that the conditions in the house here
during the last two days constituted a perfect atmosphere for a
type of tragedy quite removed from the merely accidental."

"You're right about the atmosphere."  Greeff spoke harshly.  "There
was murder in the air--if that's what you mean.  And if Montague
had passed out by any other means except drowning, I'd say his
death warranted a pretty thorough investigation.  But he wasn't
poisoned; he wasn't accidentally shot; he didn't get vertigo and
fall out of a window; and he didn't tumble down-stairs and break
his neck.  He simply dived off a spring-board, with every one
looking on."

"That's what makes it so difficult, don't y' know. . . .  I
understand that you and Mr. Leland and young Tatum dived in after
the johnny."

"It was the least we could do," Greeff came back pugnaciously;
"though I'm frank to admit it was more or less a gesture on my
part, as I can't swim much, and if I had run into him he'd probably
have dragged me down with him.  Still, you hate to see any fellow,
however rotten, pass out of this world in front of your eyes
without making some attempt to save him."

"Quite noble of you, I'm sure," Vance murmured indifferently.  "By
the by, I understand Montague was engaged to Miss Stamm."

Greeff nodded and drew on his cigarette.

"I never knew why it was, except that good women always fall for
that type of man," he commented, with a philosophic air.  "But I
think she would have broken the engagement sooner or later."

"Would you mind my asking what your own feelings toward Miss Stamm
are?"

Greeff opened his eyes in surprise, then laughed noisily.

"I see what you're getting at.  But you can't make me out the
villain of the piece.  I like Bernice--everybody who knows her
likes her.  But as for my being sentimental about her: I'm too old
and wise for that.  My feeling for her has always been a fatherly
one.  She often comes to me for advice when Stamm's too deep in his
cups.  And I give her good advice--yes, by Gad!  I told her only
yesterday that she was making a fool of herself to think of
marrying Montague."

"How did she take this advice, Mr. Greeff?"

"The way all women take advice--haughtily and contemptuously.  No
woman ever wants advice.  Even when they ask for it, they're merely
looking for agreement with what they've already decided to do."

Vance changed the subject.

"Just what do you think happened to Montague tonight?"

Greeff spread his hands vaguely.

"Bumped his head on the bottom--or got a cramp.  What else could
have happened to him?"

"I haven't the vaguest notion," Vance admitted blandly.  "But the
episode is teeming with possibilities.  I was hopin', don't y'
know, that you might help to lead us out of our darkness."  He
spoke lightly, but his eyes were fixed with cold steadiness on the
man opposite.

Greeff returned the gaze for several moments in silence, and his
ruddy face tightened into a mask.

"I understand perfectly," he enunciated at length, in a chill, even
tone.  "But my advice to you, my friend, is to forget it.  Montague
had it coming to him, and he got it.  It was an accident that
fitted in with everybody's wishes.  You can play with the idea till
doomsday, but you'll end up with the fact I'm telling you now:
MONTAGUE WAS ACCIDENTALLY DROWNED."

Vance smiled cynically.

"My word!  Are you intimatin' that Montague's death is that
liter'ry pet of the armchair criminologists--the perfect crime?"

Greeff moved forward in his chair and set his jaw.

"I'm not intimating anything, my friend.  I'm merely telling you."

"Really, y' know, we're dashed grateful."  Vance crushed out his
cigarette.  "Anyway, I think we'll do a bit of pryin' around. . . ."

At this moment there came an interruption.  We heard what sounded
like a scuffle on the stairs, and there came to us the angry,
shrill tones of Stamm's voice:

"Let go of my arm.  I know what I'm doing."

And then Stamm jerked the drawing-room portières aside and glared
at us.  Behind him, fuming and remonstrative, stood Doctor
Holliday.  Stamm was clad in his pajamas, and his hair was
dishevelled.  It was obvious that he had just risen from bed.  He
fixed his watery eyes on Greeff with angry apprehension.

"What are you telling these policemen?" he demanded, bracing
himself against the door jamb.

"My dear Rudolf," Greeff protested ingratiatingly, rising from his
chair.  "I'm telling them nothing.  What is there to tell?"

"I don't trust you," Stamm retorted.  "You're trying to make
trouble.  You're always trying to make trouble here.  You've tried
to turn Bernice against me, and now, I'll warrant, you're trying to
turn these policemen against me."  His eyes glared, and he had
begun to tremble.  "I know what you're after--money!  But you're
not going to get it.  You think that if you talk enough you can
blackmail me. . . ."  His voice sank almost to a whisper, and his
words become incoherent.

Doctor Holliday took him gently by the arm and tried to lead him
from the room, but Stamm, with an exhausting effort, threw him off
and moved unsteadily forward.

Greeff had stood calmly during this tirade, looking at his accuser
with an expression of commiseration and pity.

"You're making a great mistake, old friend," he said in a quiet
voice.  "You're not yourself tonight.  Tomorrow you'll realize the
injustice of your words, just as you'll realize that I would never
betray you."

"Oh, you wouldn't, eh?"  Much of the anger had gone out of Stamm's
attitude, but he still seemed to be dominated by the idea of
Greeff's persecution.  "I suppose you haven't been telling these
people"--he jerked his head toward us--"what I said about Montague--"

Greeff raised his hand in protest and was about to reply, but Stamm
went on hurriedly:

"Well, suppose I did say it!  I had more right to say it than any
one else.  And as far as that goes, you've said worse things.  You
hated him more than I did."  Stamm cackled unpleasantly.  "And I
know why.  You haven't pulled the wool over my eyes about your
feelings for Bernice."  He raised his arm and wagged a quivering
finger at Greeff.  "If anybody murdered Montague, it was you!"

Exhausted by his effort, he sank into a chair and began to shake as
if with palsy.

Vance stepped quickly to the stricken man.

"I think a grave mistake has been made here tonight, Mr. Stamm," he
said in a kindly but determined voice.  "Mr. Greeff has reported
nothing to us that you have said.  No remark he has made to us
could possibly be construed as disloyalty to you.  I'm afraid
you're a bit overwrought."

Stamm looked up blearily, and Greeff went to his side, placing a
hand on his shoulder.

"Come, old friend," he said, "you need rest."

Stamm hesitated.  A weary sob shook his body and he permitted
Greeff and Doctor Holliday to lift him from the chair and lead him
to the door.

"That will be all tonight, Mr. Greeff," Vance said.  "But we will
have to ask you to remain here till tomorrow."

Greeff turned his head and nodded over his shoulder.

"Oh, that's all right."  And he and the doctor piloted Stamm across
the hallway toward the stairs.

A moment later the front door-bell rang.  Trainor admitted the
nurse for whom Doctor Holliday had telephoned and led her
immediately up-stairs.

Vance turned from the door, where he had been standing, and came
back into the room, halting before Leland who had remained passive
throughout the strange scene between Stamm and Greeff.

"Have you, by any chance," he asked, "any comments to make on the
little contretemps we have just witnessed?"

Leland frowned and inspected the bowl of his pipe.

"No-o," he replied, after a pause, "except that it is obvious Stamm
is frightfully on edge and in a state of shock after his excessive
drinking tonight. . . .  And it might be, of course," he
supplemented, "that in the back of his mind there has been a
suspicion of Greeff in connection with financial matters, which
came to the surface in his weakened condition."

"That sounds reasonable," Vance mused.  "But why should Stamm
mention the word murder?"

"He is probably excited and suspicious because of the presence of
you gentlemen here," Leland suggested.  "Not having been a witness
to the tragedy, he is ignorant of all the details."

Vance did not reply.  Instead he walked to the mantelpiece and
inspected a carved gold clock which stood there.  He ran his
fingers over the incised scroll-work for a moment, and then turned
slowly.  His face was serious, and his eyes were looking past us.

"I think that will be all for tonight," he said in a flat, far-away
tone.  "Thank you for your help, Mr. Leland.  But we must ask you
too to remain here till tomorrow.  We will be here again in the
morning."

Leland bowed and, without a word, went softly from the room.

When he had gone, Markham rose.

"So you're coming here again in the morning?"

"Yes, old dear."  Vance's manner had suddenly changed.  "And so are
you, don't y' know.  You owe it to your constituency.  It's a most
absorbin' case.  And I'd wager one of my Cezanne water-colors that
when Montague's body is found, the Medical Examiner's report will
be anything but what you expect."

Markham's eyelids fluttered, and he looked searchingly at Vance.

"You think you have learned something that would point to an
explanation other than accidental death?"

"Oh, I've learned an amazin' amount," was all that Vance would
vouchsafe.  And Markham knew him well enough not to push the matter
further at that time.



CHAPTER VII

THE BOTTOM OF THE POOL


(Sunday, August 12; 9.30 a. m.)


At half-past nine the following day Vance drove to Markham's
quarters to take him back to the old Stamm estate in Inwood.  On
the way home the night before, Markham had protested mildly against
continuing the case before the Medical Examiner had made his
report; but his arguments were of no avail.  So determined was
Vance to return to the house next day, that Markham was impressed.
His long association with Vance had taught him that Vance never
made such demands without good reason.

Vance possessed what is commonly called an intuitive mind, but it
was, in fact, a coldly logical one, and his decisions, which often
seemed intuitive, were in reality based on his profound knowledge
of the intricacies and subtleties of human nature.  In the early
stages of any investigation he was always reluctant to tell Markham
all that he suspected: he preferred to wait until he had the facts
in hand.  Markham, understanding this trait in him, abided by his
unexplained decisions; and these decisions had rarely, to my
knowledge, proved incorrect, founded, as they were, on definite
indications which had not been apparent to the rest of us.  It was
because of Markham's past experiences with Vance that he had
grudgingly, but none the less definitely, agreed to accompany him
to the scene of the tragedy the following morning.

Before we left the Stamm house the night before, there had been a
brief consultation with Heath, and a course of action had been
mapped out under Vance's direction.  Every one in the house was to
remain indoors; but no other restrictions were to be placed upon
their actions.  Vance had insisted that no one be allowed to walk
through the grounds of the estate until he himself had made an
examination of them; and he was particularly insistent that every
means of access to the pool be kept entirely free of people until
he had completed his inspection.  He was most interested, he said,
in the small patch of low ground north of the filter, where Heath
and Hennessey had already looked for footprints.

Doctor Holliday was to be permitted to come and go as he chose, but
Vance suggested that the nurse whom the doctor had called in be
confined to the house, like the others, until such time as she was
given permission to depart.  Trainor was ordered to instruct the
other servants--of whom there were only two, a cook and a maid--
that they were to remain indoors until further notice.

Vance also suggested that the Sergeant place several of his men
around the house at vantage points where they could see that all
orders were carried out by the guests and members of the household.
The Sergeant was to arrange for a small corps of men to report at
the estate early the following morning to close the gates above the
filter and open the lock in the dam, in order that the pool might
be drained.

"And you'd better see that they come down the stream from the East
Road, Sergeant," Vance advised, "so there won't be any new
footprints round the pool."

Heath was placed in complete charge of the case by Markham, who
promised to get the official verification of the assignment from
Commanding Officer Moran of the Detective Bureau.

Heath decided to remain at the house that night.  I had never seen
him in so eager a frame of mind.  He admitted frankly that he could
see no logic in the situation; but, with a stubbornness which
verged on fanaticism, he maintained that he knew something was
vitally wrong.

I was also somewhat astonished at Vance's intense interest in the
case.  Heretofore he had taken Markham's criminal investigations
with a certain nonchalance.  But there was no indifference in his
attitude in the present instance.  That Montague's disappearance
held a fascination for him was evident.  This was owing, no doubt,
to the fact that he had seen, or sensed, certain elements in the
affair not apparent to the rest of us.  That his attitude was
justified is a matter of public record, for the sinister horror of
Montague's death became a national sensation; and Markham, with
that generosity so characteristic of him, was the first to admit
that, if it had not been for Vance's persistence that first night,
one of the shrewdest and most resourceful murderers of modern times
would have escaped justice.

Although it was long past three in the morning when we arrived
home, Vance seemed loath to go to bed.  He sat down at the piano
and played that melancholy yet sublime and passionate third
movement from Beethoven's Sonata, Opus 106; and I knew that not
only was he troubled, but that some deep unresolved intellectual
problem had taken possession of his mind.  When he had come to the
final major chord he swung round on the piano bench.

"Why don't you go to bed, Van?" he asked somewhat abstractedly.
"We have a long, hard day ahead of us.  I've a bit of reading to do
before I turn in."  He poured himself some brandy and soda and,
taking the glass with him, went into the library.

For some reason I was too nervous to try to sleep.  I picked up a
copy of "Marius the Epicurean," which was lying on the centre-
table, and sat down at the open window.  Over an hour later, on my
way to my room, I looked in at the library door, and there sat
Vance, his head in his hands, absorbed in a large quarto volume
which lay on the table before him.  A score of books, some of them
open, were piled haphazardly about him, and on the stand at his
side was a sheaf of yellowed maps.

He had heard me at the door, for he said:  "Fetch the Napoleon and
soda, will you, Van?  There's a good fellow."

As I placed the bottles in front of him I looked over his shoulder.
The book he was reading was an old illuminated copy of "Malleus
Maleficarum."  At one side, opened, lay Elliot Smith's "The
Evolution of the Dragon" and Remy's "Demonolatry."  At his other
side was a volume of Howey's work on ophiolatry.

"Mythology is a fascinatin' subject, Van," he remarked.  "And many
thanks for the cognac."  He buried himself in his reading again;
and I went to bed.

Vance was up before I was the next morning.  I found him in the
living-room, dressed in a tan silk poplin suit, sipping his
matutinal Turkish coffee and smoking a Régie.

"You'd better ring for Currie," he greeted me, "and order your
plebeian breakfast.  We're picking up the reluctant District
Attorney in half an hour."

We had to wait nearly twenty minutes in Vance's car before Markham
joined us.  He was in execrable mood, and his greeting to us, as he
stepped into the tonneau, was barely amiable.

"The more I think of this affair, Vance," he complained, "the more
I'm convinced that you're wasting your time and mine."

"What else have you to do today?" Vance asked dulcetly.

"Sleep, for one thing--after your having kept me up most of the
night.  I was slumbering quite peacefully when the hall boy rang my
phone and told me that you were waiting for me."

"Sad . . . sad."  Vance wagged his head in mock commiseration.  "By
Jove, I do hope you sha'n't be disappointed."

Markham grunted and lapsed into silence; and little more was said
during our ride to the Stamm estate.  As we drove up the circular
roadway and came to a halt in the parking-space in front of the
house, Heath, who had evidently been waiting for us, came down the
stairs to meet us.  He seemed disgruntled and ill at ease, and I
noticed also that there was a skepticism and insecurity in his
manner, as if he distrusted his suspicions of the night before.

"Things are moving," he reported half-heartedly; "but nothing's
happened yet.  Everything is going smoothly indoors, and the whole
outfit is acting like human beings for a change.  They all had
breakfast together, like a lot of turtle-doves."

"That's interestin'," Vance remarked.  "What about Stamm?"

"He's up and about.  Looks a little green around the gills; but
he's already taken two or three eye-openers."

"Has Miss Stamm put in an appearance this morning?"

"Yes."  Heath looked puzzled.  "But there's something queer about
that dame.  She was having hysterics last night and fainting in
every open space; but this morning she's bright and snappy, and--if
you ask me--she seems relieved that her boy-friend is out of the
way."

"On whom did she lavish her attentions this morning, Sergeant?"
Vance asked.

"How should I know?" returned Heath, in an injured tone.  "They
didn't ask me to eat at the table with 'em--I was lucky to get any
groceries at all. . . .  But I noticed that after breakfast she and
Leland went into the drawing-room alone and had a long palaver."

"Really now."  Vance meditated a moment, regarding his cigarette
critically.  "Very illuminatin'."

"Well, well," snorted Markham, giving Vance a disdainful look.  "I
suppose you regard that fact as an indication that your plot is
thickening?"

Vance looked up facetiously.

"Thickening?  My dear Markham!  The plot is positively congealin',
not to say stiffenin'."  He sobered and turned back to Heath.  "Any
news from Mrs. Stamm?"

"She's all right today.  The doctor was here a little while ago.
He looked over the situation and said there was no more need of
his services at the present.  Said he'd be back this afternoon,
though. . . .  And speaking of doctors, I telephoned to Doc Doremus*
and asked him to hop out here.  I figured it was Sunday and I might
not be able to catch him later; and we'll have Montague's body in a
little while."


* Doctor Emanuel Doremus, Chief Medical Examiner.


"Your men have got the pool gates closed then?"

"Sure.  But it was a tough job.  One of the gates had got water-
logged.  Anyway, they're all set now.  Luckily the stream was
pretty low and there wasn't much of a flow of water.  The dam lock
was corroded, too, but we hammered it open.  It'll take about
another hour for the pool to drain, according to Stamm. . . .  By
the way, he wanted to go down and supervise the operations, but I
told him we could get along without him."

"It was just as well," nodded Vance.  "Have your men put a screen
of some kind over the lock in the dam?  The body might go through,
don't y' know."

"I thought of that too," Heath returned with a little self-
satisfaction.  "But it's all right.  There was a coarse wire mesh
already over the lock."

"Any visitors at the house this morning?" Vance asked next.

"Nobody, sir.  They wouldn't have got in anyway.  Burke and
Hennessey and Snitkin are back on the job this morning--I had
another bunch of fellows here last night guarding the place.
Snitkin is at the east gate, and Burke's here in the vestibule.
Hennessey's down at the pool seeing that nobody approaches from
that direction."  Heath looked at Vance with an uneasy, questioning
eye.  "What do you want to do first, sir?  Maybe you want to
interview Miss Stamm and this young Tatum.  There's something wrong
about both of 'em, if you ask me."

"No," drawled Vance.  "I don't think we'll chivy the members of the
household just yet.  I'd like to meander round the grounds first.
But suppose you ask Mr. Stamm to join us, Sergeant."

Heath hesitated a second; then went into the house.  A few moments
later he returned accompanied by Rudolf Stamm.

Stamm was dressed in gray tweed plus fours and a gray silk
sleeveless sport shirt open at the throat.  He wore no coat and was
bareheaded.  His face was pale and drawn, and there were hollows
under his eyes, but his gait was steady as he came down the steps
toward us.

He greeted us pleasantly and, I thought, a bit diffidently.

"Good morning, gentlemen.  Sorry I was so crotchety last night.
Forgive me.  I was under the weather--and unstrung. . . ."

"That's quite all right," Vance assured him.  "We understand
perfectly--a dashed tryin' situation. . . .  We're thinking of
looking over the estate a bit, especially down by the pool, and we
thought you'd be good enough to pilot us around."

"Delighted."  Stamm led the way down a path on the north side of
the house.  "It's a unique place I've got here.  Nothing quite like
it in New York--or in any other city, for that matter."

We followed him past the head of the steps that led down to the
pool, and on toward the rear of the house.  We came presently to a
slight embankment at the foot of which ran a narrow concrete road.

"This is the East Road," Stamm explained.  "My father built it many
years ago.  It runs down the hill through those trees and joins one
of the old roadways just outside the boundary of the estate."

"And where does the old roadway lead?" asked Vance.

"Nowhere in particular.  It passes along the Bird Refuge toward the
south end of the Clove, and there it divides.  One branch goes to
the Shell Bed and the Indian Cave to the north, and joins the road
which circles the headland and connects with the River Road.  The
other branch runs down by the Green Hill and turns into Payson
Avenue north of the Military Ovens.  But we rarely use the road--
it's not in good condition."

We walked down the embankment.  To our right, and to the southeast
of the house, stood a large garage, with a cement turning-space in
front of it.

"An inconvenient place for the garage," Stamm remarked.  "But it
was the best we could do.  If we'd placed it in front of the house
it would have spoiled the vista.  However, I extended the cement
road to the front of the house on the south side there."

"And this East Road runs past the pool?"  Vance was glancing down
the wooded hill toward the little valley.

"That's right," Stamm nodded, "though the road doesn't go within
fifty yards of it."

"Suppose we waddle down," suggested Vance.  "And then we can return
to the house by way of the pool steps--eh, what?"

Stamm seemed pleased and not a little proud to show us the way.  We
walked down the sloping hill, across the short concrete bridge over
the creek which fed the pool, and, circling a little to the left,
got a clear view of the high stone cliff which formed the north
boundary of the pool.  A few feet ahead of us was a narrow cement
walk--perhaps eighteen inches wide--which led off at right angles
to the road in the direction of the pool.

Stamm turned into the walk, and we followed him.  On either side of
us were dense trees and underbrush, and it was not until we had
come to the low opening at the northeast corner of the pool,
between the cliff and the filter, that we were able to take our
bearings accurately.  From this point we could look diagonally
across the pool to the Stamm mansion which stood on the top of the
hill opposite.

The water-level of the pool was noticeably lower.  In fact, half of
the bottom--the shallow half nearest the cliff--was already
exposed, and there remained only a channel of water, perhaps twenty
feet wide, on the opposite side, nearest the house.  And even this
water was sinking perceptibly as it ran through the lock at the
bottom of the dam.

The gates above the filter, immediately on our left, were tightly
closed, thus acting as an upper dam and creating a miniature pond
to the east of the pool.  Fortunately, at this time of year the
flow of the stream was less abundant than usual, and there was no
danger that the water would reach the top of the gates or overflow
its banks for several hours.  Only a negligible amount of water
trickled through the crack between the gates.

As yet the dead man had not come into view, and Heath, scanning the
surface of the pool perplexedly, remarked that Montague must have
met his death in the deep channel on the other side.

Directly ahead of us, within a few feet of the cliff, the apex of a
large conical piece of jagged rock was partly imbedded in the muddy
soil, like a huge inverted stalagmite.  Stamm pointed at it.

"There's that damned rock I told you about," he said.  "That's
where you got your splash last night.  I've been afraid for weeks
it would fall into the pool.  Luckily it didn't hit anybody,
although I warned every one not to get too close to the cliff if
they went swimming. . . .  Now I suppose it will have to be dragged
out.  A mean job."

His eyes roamed over the pool.  Only a narrow channel of water now
remained along the concrete wall on the far side.  And there was
still no indication of the dead man.

"I guess Montague must have bumped his head just off the end of the
spring-board," Stamm commented sourly.  "Damn shame it had to
happen.  People are always getting drowned here.  The pool is
unlucky as the devil."

"What devil?" asked Vance, without glancing up.  "The Piasa?"*


* In a pamphlet published in Morris, Illinois, in 1887, written by
the Honorable P. A. Armstrong and entitled "The Piasa, or the Devil
Among the Indians," there is an old engraving showing the Piasa as
a monster with a dragon's head, antlers like a deer, the scales of
a great fish, claws, and large wings, and with a long tail, like
that of a sea-serpent, coiled about its body.  The petroglyphs, or
pictographs, carved on rock, of this devil-dragon were first found
by Father Marquette in the valley of the Mississippi about 1665;
and his description of the Piasa, given in Armstrong's pamphlet,
reads thus:  "They are as large as a calf, with head and horns like
a goat, their eyes are red, beard like a tiger's, and a face like a
man's.  Their tails are so long that they pass over their bodies
and between their legs, ending like a fish's tail."


Stamm shot Vance a quick look and made a disdainful noise which was
half a laugh.

"I see that you, too, have been listening to those crazy yarns.
Good Lord! the old wives will soon have ME believing there's a man-
eating dragon in this pool. . . .  By the way, where did you get
that term Piasa?  The word the Indians round here use for the
dragon is Amangemokdom.  I haven't heard the word Piasa for many
years, and then it was used by an old Indian chief from out West
who was visiting here.  Quite an impressive old fellow.  And I
shall always remember his hair-raising description of the Piasa."

"Piasa and Amangemokdom mean practically the same thing--a dragon-
monster," Vance returned in a low voice, his eyes still focused on
the gradually receding water on the floor of the pool.  "Different
dialects, don't y' know.  Amangemokdom was used by the Lenapes,*
but the Algonkian Indians along the Mississippi called their devil-
dragon the Piasa."


* Lenape is the generic name for the Algonkian tribes in
Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and vicinity; and it was one of these
tribes that inhabited Inwood.


The water remaining in the channel seemed to be running out more
swiftly now, and Stamm started to walk across the small flat area
of sod at the edge of the pool, in order, I presume, to get a
better view; but Vance caught him quickly by the arm.

"Sorry and all that," he said a bit peremptorily; "but we may have
to go over this patch of ground for footprints. . . ."

Stamm looked at him with questioning surprise, and Vance added:

"Silly idea, I know.  But it occurred to us that Montague might
have swum across the pool to this opening and walked away."

Stamm's jaw dropped.

"Why, in God's name, should he do that?"

"I'm sure I don't know," Vance replied lightly.  "He probably
didn't.  But if there's no body in the pool it will be most
embarrassin'.  And we'll have to account for his disappearance,
don't y' know."

"Tommy-rot!"  Stamm seemed thoroughly disgusted.  "The body'll be
here all right.  You can't make a voodoo mystery out of a simple
drowning."

"By the by," inquired Vance, "what sort of soil is on the bottom of
this pool?"

"Hard and sandy," Stamm said, still rankled by Vance's former
remark.  "At one time I thought of putting in a cement bottom, but
decided it wouldn't be any better than what was already there.  And
it keeps pretty clean, too.  That accumulation of muddy silt you
see is only an inch or so deep.  When the water gets out of the
pool you can walk over the whole bottom in a pair of rubbers
without soiling your shoes."

The water in the pool was now but a stream scarcely three feet
wide, and I knew it would be only a matter of minutes before the
entire surface of the basin would be visible.  The five of us--
Vance, Markham, Heath, Stamm and myself--stood in a line at the end
of the cement walk, looking out intently over the draining pool.
The water at the upper end of the channel had disappeared, and, as
the rest of the constantly narrowing stream flowed through the
lock, the bottom of the channel gradually came into view.

We watched this receding line as it moved downward toward the dam,
foot by foot.  It reached the cabañas, and passed them.  It
approached the springboard, and I felt a curious tension in my
nerves. . . .  It reached the spring-board--then passed it, and
moved down along the cement wall to the lock.  A strange tingling
sensation came over me, and, though I seemed to be held fascinated,
I managed to drag my eyes away from the rapidly diminishing water
and look at the four men beside me.

Stamm's mouth was open, and his eyes were fixed as if in hypnosis.
Markham was frowning in deep perplexity.  Heath's face was set and
rigid.  Vance was smoking placidly, his eyebrows slightly raised in
a cynical arc; and there was the suggestion of a grim smile on his
ascetic mouth.

I turned my gaze back to the lock in the dam. . . .  All the water
had now gone through it. . . .

At that moment there rang out across the hot sultry air, a
hysterical shriek followed by high-pitched gloating laughter.  We
all looked up, startled; and there, on the third-floor balcony of
the old mansion, stood the wizened figure of Matilda Stamm, her
arms outstretched and waving toward the pool.

For a moment the significance of this distracting and blood-
chilling interlude escaped me.  But then, suddenly, I realized the
meaning of it.  From where we stood we could see every square foot
of the empty basin of the pool.

And there was no sign of a body!



CHAPTER VIII

MYSTERIOUS FOOTPRINTS


(Sunday, August 12; 11.30 a. m.)


So extraordinary and unexpected was the result of the draining of
the Dragon Pool, that none of us spoke for several moments.

I glanced at Markham.  He was scowling deeply, and I detected in
his expression a look of fear and bafflement, such as one might
have in the presence of things unknown.  Heath, as was usual
whenever he was seriously puzzled, was chewing viciously on his
cigar, and staring belligerently.  Stamm, whose bulging eyes were
focused on the lock in the dam through which the water had
disappeared, was leaning rigidly forward, as if transfixed by a
startling phenomenon.

Vance seemed the calmest of us all.  His eyebrows were slightly
elevated, and there was a mildly cynical expression in his cold
gray eyes.  Moreover, his lips held the suggestion of a smile of
satisfaction, although it was evident from the tensity of his
attitude that he had not been entirely prepared for the absence of
Montague's body.

Stamm was the first to speak.

"I'll be damned!" he muttered.  "It's incredible--it's not
possible!"  He fumbled nervously in the pocket of his sport shirt
and drew out a small black South American cigarette which he lit
with some difficulty.

Vance shrugged almost imperceptibly.

"My word!" he murmured.  He, too, reached in his pocket for a
cigarette.  "Now the search for footprints will be more fascinatin'
than ever, Sergeant."

Heath made a wry face.

"Maybe yes and maybe no. . . .  What about that rock that fell in
the pool over there?  Maybe our guy's under it."

Vance shook his head.

"No, Sergeant.  The apex of that piece of rock, as it lies buried
in the pool, is, I should say, barely eighteen inches in diameter.
It couldn't possibly hide a man's body."

Stamm took his black cigarette from his mouth and turned in Vance's
direction.

"You're right about that," he commented.  "It's not a particularly
pleasant subject for conversation, but the fact of the matter is,
the bottom of the pool is too hard to have a body driven into it by
a rock."  He looked back toward the dam.  "We'll have to find
another explanation for Montague's disappearance."

Heath was both annoyed and uneasy.

"All right," he mumbled.  Then he turned to Vance.  "But there
wasn't any footprints here last night--at least Snitkin and I
couldn't find 'em."

"Suppose we take another peep," Vance suggested.  "And it might be
just as well to hail Snitkin, so that we can go about the task
systematically."

Without a word Heath turned and trotted back down the cement path
toward the roadway.  We could hear him whistling to Snitkin who was
on guard at the gate, a hundred feet or so down the East Road.

Markham moved nervously a few paces back and forth.

"Have you any suggestion, Mr. Stamm," he asked, "as to what might
have become of Montague?"

Stamm, with a perplexed frown, again scrutinized the basin of the
pool.  He shook his head slowly.

"I can't imagine," he replied, after a moment, "--unless, of
course, he deliberately walked out of the pool on this side."

Vance gave Markham a whimsical smile.

"There's always the dragon as a possibility," he remarked
cheerfully.

Stamm wheeled about.  His face was red with anger, and his lips
trembled as he spoke.

"For the love of Heaven, don't bring that up again!" he pleaded.
"Things are bad enough as they are, without dragging in that
superstitious hocus-pocus.  There simply must be a rational
explanation for everything."

"Yes, yes, to be sure," sighed Vance.  "Rationality above all
else."

At this moment I happened to look up at the third-floor balcony of
the house, and I saw Mrs. Schwarz and Doctor Holliday step up to
Mrs. Stamm and lead her gently back into the house.

A few seconds later Heath and Snitkin joined us.

The search for footprints along the level area between us and the
high-water mark of the pool took considerable time.  Beginning
close to the filter on the left, Vance, Snitkin and Heath worked
systematically across the level space to the perpendicular edge of
the cliff that formed the north wall of the pool, on our right.
The area was perhaps fifteen feet square.  The section lying
nearest to the pool was of encrusted earth, and the strip nearest
to where Markham, Stamm and I were standing, at the end of the
cement path, was covered with short, irregular lawn.

When, at length, Vance turned at the edge of the cliff and walked
back toward us, there was a puzzled look on his face.

"There's no sign of a footprint," he remarked.  "Montague certainly
didn't walk out of the pool at this point."

Heath came up, solemn and troubled.

"I didn't think we'd find anything," he grumbled.  "Snitkin and I
made a pretty thorough search last night, with our flashlights."

Markham was studying the edge of the cliff.

"Is there any way Montague might have crawled up on one of those
ledges and hopped over to the walk here?" he asked of no one in
particular.

Vance shook his head unhappily.

"Montague might have been an athlete, but he was no inyala."

Stamm stood as if in hypnotized reflection.

"If he didn't get out of the pool at this end," he said, "I don't
see how the devil he got out at all."

"But he did get out, don't y' know," Vance returned.  "Suppose we
do a bit of pryin' around."

He led the way toward the filter and mounted its broad coping.  We
followed him in single file, hardly knowing what to expect.  When
he was half-way across the filter he paused and looked down at the
water-line of the pool.  It was fully six feet below the coping of
the filter and eight feet below the top of the gates.  The filter
was of small galvanized wire mesh, backed by a thin coating of
perforated porous material which looked like very fine cement.  It
was obvious that no man could have climbed up the side of the
filter to the coping without the aid of an accomplice.

Vance, satisfied, continued across the filter to the cabañas on the
far side of the pool.  A cement retaining wall about four feet
above the water-level of the pool ran from the end of the filter to
the dam.

"It's a sure thing Montague didn't climb over this wall," Heath
observed.  "Those flood-lights play all along it, and some one
would certainly have seen him."

"Quite right," agreed Stamm.  "He didn't escape from the pool on
this side."

We walked down to the dam, and Vance made a complete inspection of
it, testing the strength of the wire mesh over the lock and making
sure there was no other opening.  Then he went down to the stream
bed below the dam, where all the water had now flowed off, and
wandered for a while over the jagged, algae-covered rocks.

"There's no use looking for his body down there," Stamm called to
him at length.  "There hasn't been enough flow here for the last
month to wash as much as a dead cat over the dam."

"Oh, quite," Vance returned abstractedly, climbing back up the bank
to where we stood.  "I really wasn't looking for the corpse, d' ye
see.  Even if there had been a strong flow over the dam, Montague
wouldn't have been carried over with it.  It would take at least
twenty-four hours for his body to come to the surface if he had
been drowned."

"Well, just what were you looking for?" Markham demanded testily.

"I'm sure I don't know, old dear," Vance replied.  "Just
sightseein'--and hopin'. . . .  Suppose we return to the other side
of the pool.  That little square of ground over there, without any
footprints, is dashed interestin'."

We retraced our steps, along the retaining wall and over the coping
of the filter, to the small tract of low ground beyond.

"What do you expect to find here, Vance?" Markham asked, with a
show of irritation.  "This whole section has already been gone over
for footprints."

Vance was serious and reflective.

"And still, don't y' know, there should be footprints here," he
returned with a vague gesture of hopelessness.  "The man didn't fly
out of the pool. . . ."  Suddenly he paused.  His eyes were fixed
dreamily on the small patch of bare grass at our feet, and a moment
later he moved forward several paces and knelt down.  After
scrutinizing the earth at this point for a few seconds he rose and
turned back to us.

"I thought that slight indentation might bear closer inspection,"
he explained.  "But it's only a right-angle impression which
couldn't possibly be a footprint."

Heath snorted.

"I saw that last night.  But it don't mean anything, Mr. Vance.
Looks as if somebody set a box or a heavy suit-case there.  But
that might have been weeks or months ago.  Anyway, it's at least
twelve feet from the edge of the pool.  So even if it had been a
footprint, it wouldn't help us any."

Stamm threw his cigarette away and thrust his hands deep in his
pockets.  There was a baffled look on his pale face.

"This situation has me dumbfounded," he said; "and to tell you the
truth, gentlemen, I don't like it.  It means more scandal for me,
and I've had my share of scandal with this damned swimming pool."

Vance was looking upward along the cliff before us.

"I say, Mr. Stamm, would it have been possible, do you think, for
Montague to have scaled those rocks?  There are several ledges
visible even from here."

Stamm shook his head with finality.

"No.  He couldn't have gone up there on the ledges.  They aren't
connected and they're too far apart.  I got stranded on one of them
when I was a kid--couldn't go back and couldn't go on--and it took
the pater half a day to get me down."

"Could Montague have used a rope?"

"Well . . . yes.  It might have been done that way.  He was a good
athlete, and could have gone up hand over hand.  But, damn it, I
don't see the point. . . ."

Markham interrupted him.

"There may be something in that, Vance.  Going up over the cliff is
about the only way he could have got out of the pool.  And you
remember, of course, Leland's telling us how Mrs. McAdam was
staring across the pool toward the cliff after Montague had
disappeared.  And later, when she heard about the splash, she was
pretty much upset.  Maybe she had some inkling of Montague's scheme--
whatever it was."

Vance pursed his lips.

"Sounds a bit far-fetched," he observed.  "But, after all, the
johnny HAS disappeared, hasn't he? . . .  Anyway, we can verify the
theory."  He turned to Stamm.  "How does one get to the top of the
cliff from here?"

"That's easy," Stamm told him.  "We can go down to the East Road,
and turn up the slope from the Clove.  You see, the cliff is
highest here, and the plateau slopes quickly away through the Clove
and the Indian Life Reservation, till it hits the water-level at
Spuyten Duyvil.  Ten minutes' walk 'll get us there--if you think
it worth while going up."

"It might be well.  We could easily see if there are any footprints
along the top of the cliff."

Stamm led the way back to the East Road, and we walked north toward
the gate of the estate.  A hundred yards or so beyond the gate we
turned off to the west, along a wide footpath which circled
northward and swung sharply toward the foot of the Clove.  Then the
climb up the steep slope to the cliff began.  A few minutes later
we were standing on the rocks, looking down into the empty basin of
the pool, which was about a hundred feet below us.  The old Stamm
residence, on the hill opposite, was almost level with us.

One topographical feature of the spot that facilitated matters in
looking for footprints was the sheer drop of rocks on either side
of a very narrow plateau of earth; and it was only down this
plateau--perhaps ten feet across--that any one, even had he scaled
the cliff from the pool, could have retreated down the hill to the
main road.

But, although a thorough inspection of the surrounding terrain was
made by Vance and Heath and Snitkin, there were no evidences
whatever of any footprints, or disturbances, on the surface of the
earth that would indicate that anybody had been there since the
heavy rains of the night before.  Even to my untrained eye this
fact was only too plain.

Markham was disappointed.

"It's obvious," he admitted hopelessly, "that this method of exit
from the pool is eliminated."

"Yes, I fear so."  Vance took out a cigarette and lighted it with
studious deliberation.  "If Montague left the pool by way of this
cliff he must have flown over."

Stamm swung round, his face pale.

"What do you mean by that, sir?  Are you going back to that silly
story of the dragon?"

Vance raised his eyebrows.

"Really now, my figure of speech bore no such intimation.  But I
see what you mean.  The Piasa, or Amangemokdom, did have wings,
didn't he?"

Stamm glowered at him, and then gave a grim, mirthless laugh.

"These dragon stories are getting on my nerves," he apologized.
"I'm fidgety today, anyway."

He fumbled for another cigarette and stepped toward the edge of the
cliff.

"There's that rock I was telling you about."  He pointed to a low
boulder just at the apex of the cliff.  "It was the top of it that
fell into the pool last night."  He inspected the sides of the
boulder for a moment, running his hand under the slight crevasse on
a line with the plateau.  "I was afraid it would break off at this
point, where the strata overlap.  This is where Leland and I tried
to pry it loose yesterday.  We didn't think the top would fall off.
But the rest seems pretty solid now, in spite of the rains."

"Very interestin'."  Vance was already making his way down the
slope toward the Clove and the East Road.

When we had reached the narrow cement footpath that led from the
road to the pool, Vance, to my surprise, turned into it again.
That little section of low ground between the filter and the cliff
seemed to fascinate him.  He was silent and meditative as he stood
at the end of the walk, looking out again over the empty basin of
the pool.

Just behind us, and a little to the right of the walk, I had
noticed a small stone structure, perhaps ten feet square and barely
five feet high, almost completely covered with English ivy.  I had
paid scant attention to it and had forgot its existence altogether
until Vance suddenly addressed Stamm.

"What is that low stone structure yonder that looks like a vault?"

"Just that," Stamm replied.  "It's the old family vault.  My
grandfather had the idea he wanted to be buried here on the estate,
so he had it built to house his remains and those of the other
members of the family.  But my father refused to be buried in it--
he preferred cremation and a public mausoleum--and it has not been
opened during my lifetime.  However, my mother insists that she be
placed in it when she dies."  Stamm hesitated and looked troubled.
"But I don't know what to do about it.  All this property will some
day be taken over by the city--these old estates can't go on
forever, with conditions what they are today.  Not like Europe, you
know."

"The curse of our commercial civilization," murmured Vance.  "Is
there any one besides your grandfather buried in the vault?"

"Oh, yes."  Stamm seemed uninterested.  "My grandmother is in one
of the crypts.  And a couple of aunts are there, I believe, and my
grandfather's youngest brother--they died before I was born.  It's
all duly recorded in the family Bible, though I've never taken the
trouble to verify the data.  The fact is, I'd probably have to
dynamite the iron door if I wanted to get in.  I've never known
where the key to the vault is."

"Perhaps your mother knows where the key is," Vance remarked
casually.

Stamm shot him a quick look.

"Funny you should say that.  Mother told me years ago she had
hidden the key, so that no one could ever desecrate the vault.
She has queer ideas like that at times, all connected with the
traditions of the family and the superstitions of the neighborhood."

"Anything to do with the dragon?"

"Yes, damn it!"  Stamm clicked his teeth.  "Some silly idea that
the dragon guards the spirits of our dead and that she's assisting
him in caring for the dusty remains of the Stamms.  You know how
such notions possess the minds of the old."  (He spoke with
irritation, but there was an undercurrent of apology in his voice.)
"As for the key, if she ever really did hide it, she's probably
forgotten by now where it is."

Vance nodded sympathetically.

"It really doesn't matter," he said.  "By the by, was the vault
ever mentioned, or discussed, before any of your guests?"

Stamm thought a moment.

"No," he concluded.  "I doubt if any of them even knows it's on the
estate.  Excepting Leland, of course.  You see, the vault's hidden
from the house by the trees here, and no one ever comes over to
this side of the pool."

Vance stood looking up contemplatingly at the old Stamm house; and
while I was conjecturing as to what was going on in his mind he
turned slowly.

"Really, y' know," he said to Stamm, "I could bear to have a peep
at that vault.  It sounds rather romantic."  He moved off the path
through the trees, and Stamm followed him with an air of resigned
boredom.

"Isn't there a path to the vault?" Vance asked.

"Oh, yes, there's one leading up from the East Road, but it's
probably entirely overgrown with weeds."

Vance crossed the ten or twelve feet between the path and the vault
and stood looking at the squat stone structure for several moments.
Its tiled roof was slightly peaked, to allow for drainage, but the
ivy had long since climbed up to the low cornice.  The stone of its
walls was the same as that of the Stamm house.  On the west
elevation was a nail-studded door of hammered iron which, despite
its rust and appearance of antiquity, still gave forth an
impression of solid impregnability.  Leading down to the door were
three stone steps, overgrown with moss.  As Stamm explained to us,
the vault had been built partly underground, so that at its highest
point it was only about five feet above the level of the ground.

Beside the vault, on the side nearest the walk, lay a pile of heavy
boards, warped and weather-stained.  Vance, after walking round the
vault and inspecting it, halted beside the pile of boards.

"What might the lumber be for?" he asked.

"Just some timber left over from the water-gates above the filter,"
Stamm told him.

Vance had already turned away and started back toward the cement
walk.

"Amazin'," he commented when Stamm had come up to him.  "It's
difficult to realize that one is actually within the city limits of
Manhattan."

Markham, up to this point, had refrained from any comment, though
it was evident to me that he was annoyed at Vance's apparent
digressions.  Now, however, he spoke with an irritation which
reflected his impatience.

"Obviously there's nothing more we can do here, Vance.  Even though
there are no footprints, the irresistible inference is that
Montague got out of the pool some way--which will probably be
explained later, when he's ready to show up. . . .  I think we'd
better be getting along."

The very intensity of his tone made me feel that he was arguing
against his inner convictions--that, indeed, he was far from
satisfied with the turn of events.  None the less, there was a
leaven of common sense in his attitude, and I myself could see
little else to do but to follow his suggestion.

Vance, however, hesitated.

"I admit, Markham, that your conclusion is highly rational," he
demurred; "but there's something deuced irrational about Montague's
disappearance.  And, if you don't mind, I think I'll nose about the
basin of the pool a bit."  Then, turning to Stamm:  "How long will
the pool remain empty before the stream above the gates overflows?"

Stamm went to the filter and looked over into the rising water
above.

"I should say another half-hour or so," he reported.  "The pool has
now been empty for a good hour and a half, and two hours is about
the limit.  If the gates aren't opened by that time, the stream
overflows its banks and runs all over the lower end of the estate
and down on the property beyond the East Road."

"Half an hour will give me ample time," Vance returned. . . .  "I
say, Sergeant, suppose we fetch those boards from the vault and
stretch them out there in the silt.  I'd like to snoop at the basin
between this point and the place where Montague went in."

Heath, eager for anything that might lead to some explanation of
the incredible situation that confronted us, beckoned Snitkin with
a jerk of the head, and the two of them hastened off to the vault.
Within ten minutes the boards had been placed end to end, leading
from the low land where we stood to the centre of the pool.  This
had been accomplished by laying one board down first, and then
using that as a walk on which to carry the next one which was
placed beyond the first board, and so on, until the boards had all
been used up.  These boards, which were a foot wide and two inches
thick, thus formed a dry wooden passage along the floor of the
pool, as the muddy silt was not deep enough at any point to overrun
the timber.

During the operation Markham had stood resignedly, his head
enveloped in a cloud of cigar smoke.

"This is just another waste of time," he complained, as Vance
turned up the cuffs of his trousers and stepped down the first
gently sloping plank.  "What, in Heaven's name, do you expect to
find out there?  You can see the entire bottom of the pool from
here."

Vance gave him a puckish look over the shoulder.

"To be scrupulously truthful, Markham, I don't expect to find
anything.  But this pool fascinates me.  I really couldn't endure
to hobble away without visiting the very seat, so to speak, of the
mystery. . . .  Come, the Sergeant's bridge is quite dry--or, as
you lawyers would say in a legal brief, anhydrous."

Reluctantly Markham followed him.

"I'm glad you admit you don't expect to find anything," he mumbled
sarcastically.  "For a moment I thought you might be looking for
the dragon himself."

"No," smiled Vance.  "The Piasa, according to all the traditions,
was never able to make himself invisible, although some of the
dragons of Oriental mythology were able to change themselves into
beautiful women at will."

Stamm, who was walking just in front of me down the planks, halted
and brushed his hand across his forehead.

"I wish you gentlemen would drop these damnable allusions to a
dragon," he objected, in a tone of mingled anger and fear.  "My
nerves won't stand any more of it this morning."

"Sorry," murmured Vance.  "Really, y' know, we had no intention of
upsettin' you."

He had now come to the end of the last board, a little beyond the
centre of the pool, and stood looking about him, shading his eyes
with his hand.  The rest of us stood in a row beside him.  The sun
poured down on us unmercifully, and there was not a breath of air
to relieve the depressing stagnation of the heat.  I was looking
past Stamm and Markham at Vance, as his gaze roved over the muddy
basin, and I wondered what strange whim had driven him to so
seemingly futile an escapade.  Despite my respect for Vance's
perspicacity and instinctive reasoning, I began to feel very much
as I knew Markham felt; and I went so far as to picture a farcical
termination to the whole adventure. . . .

As I speculated I saw Vance suddenly kneel down on the end of the
plank and lean forward in the direction of the spring-board.

"Oh, my aunt!" I heard him exclaim.  "My precious doddering aunt!"

And then he did an astonishing thing.  He stepped off the board
into the muddy silt and, carefully adjusting his monocle, leaned
over to inspect something he had discovered.

"What have you found, Vance?" called Markham impatiently.

Vance held up his hand with a peremptory gesture.

"Just a minute," he returned, with a note of suppressed excitement.
"Don't step out here."

He then walked further away, while we waited in tense silence.
After a moment he turned slowly about, toward the cliffs, and came
back, following a line roughly parallel with the improvised
boardwalk on which we stood.  All the time his eyes were fixed on
the basin of the pool, and, instinctively, we kept pace with him
along the boards as he walked nearer and nearer to the small plot
of low ground at the end of the cliff.  When he had come within a
few feet of the sloping bank he halted.

"Sergeant," he ordered, "throw the end of that board over here."

Heath obeyed with alacrity.

When the board was in place, Vance beckoned to us to step out on
it.  We filed along the narrow piece of timber in a state of
anticipatory excitement; there could be no doubt, from the strained
look on Vance's face and the unnatural tone of his voice, that he
had made a startling discovery.  But none of us could visualize,
even at that moment, how grisly and uncanny, how apparently removed
from all the sane realities of life, that discovery was to prove.

Vance leaned over and pointed to a section of the muddy basin of
the pool.

"That's what I've found, Markham!  And the tracks lead from beyond
the centre of the pool, near the spring-board, all the way back to
this low embankment.  Moreover, they're confused, and they go in
opposite directions.  And they circle round in the centre of the
pool."

At first the thing at which Vance pointed was almost
indistinguishable, owing to the general roughness of the silt; but
as we looked down in the direction of his indicating finger, the
horror of it gradually became plain.

There before us, in the shallow mud, was the unmistakable imprint
of what seemed to be a great hoof, fully fourteen inches long, and
corrugated as with scales.  And there were other imprints like it,
to the left and to the right, in an irregular line.  But more
horrible even that those impressions were numerous demarcations,
alongside the hoof-prints, of what appeared to be the three-taloned
claw of some fabulous monster.



CHAPTER IX

A NEW DISCOVERY


(Sunday, August 12; 12.30 p. m.)


So appalling and stupefying was the sight of those hideous hoof-
prints, that it was several seconds before the actual realization
of their significance was borne in upon us.  Heath and Snitkin
stood like petrified men, their eyes fixed upon them; and Markham,
despite his customary capacity to absorb the unusual, gazed down in
speechless bewilderment, his hands opening and shutting nervously
as if he had received a physical shock and was unable to control
his reflex twitching.  My own feeling was one of horror and
unbelief.  I strove desperately to throw off the sense of hideous
unreality which was creeping over me and making every nerve in my
body tingle.

But the man most affected was Stamm.  I had never seen any one so
near a state of complete collapse from sheer terror.  His face,
already pale from the excesses of the night before, turned an ugly
ashen yellow, and his taut body swayed slightly.  Then his head
jerked back as if he had been struck by an unseen hand, and he drew
in a long, rasping breath.  Blood suddenly suffused his cheeks,
turning them almost crimson; and there was a spasmodic twitching of
the muscles about his mouth and throat.  His eyes bulged like those
of a man afflicted with exophthalmic goitre.

It was Vance's cool, unemotional voice that brought us out of our
trance of horror and helped to steady us.

"Really now," he drawled, "these imprints are most fascinatin'.
They have possibilities--eh, what? . . .  But suppose we return to
dry land.  My boots are a beastly mess."

We filed back slowly along the diverted board, and Heath and
Snitkin replaced it as it had been set down originally, so that we
could walk back to the shore without following Vance's example of
stepping off into the mud.

When we were again on the little patch of low ground Stamm plucked
at Vance's sleeve nervously.

"What--do you make of it?" he stammered.  His voice sounded
strangely flat and far-away, like the unmodulated voice of a deaf
man.

"Nothing--yet," Vance answered carelessly.  Then, addressing-
Heath:  "Sergeant, I'd like some copies of those footmarks--just as
a matter of record.  The gates will have to be opened pretty soon,
but I think there'll be time enough."

The Sergeant had partly regained his self-control.

"You bet I'll get the drawings."  He addressed Snitkin officiously.
"Copy those footprints in your notebook, and measure 'em.  And make
it snappy.  When you're through, get the boards back out of the
pool and pile 'em up.  Then have the men open the gates and close
the lock in the dam.  Report to me when you're finished."

Vance smiled at the Sergeant's businesslike seriousness.

"That being capably settled," he said, "I think we'll toddle along
back to the house.  There's nothing more we can do here. . . .  The
short route this time, what?"

We proceeded across the coping of the filter toward the cabañas
opposite.  The water in the stream above the pool had risen
considerably and was within a foot of the top of the closed gates.
As I looked back I saw Snitkin kneeling on two of the boards, with
his notebook spread before him, diligently transcribing those
astounding markings Vance had found on the basin of the pool.
There was no better man in the New York Police Department for such
a task, and I recalled that Snitkin had been especially chosen by
the Sergeant to make the measurements of the mysterious footprints
in the snow outside the old Greene mansion in East 53rd Street.*


* "The Greene Murder Case" (Scribners, 1927).


As we passed the cabañas on our way to the steps leading up to the
house, Vance halted abruptly.

"I say, Sergeant, have you rescued the departed Montague's garments
from his cabaña?  If not, we might take them along with us.  They
may hold secrets . . . a suicide note, or a threatening letter from
a lady, or some other jolly clue such as the newspapers adore."
Despite his jocular tone I knew that he was troubled and was
reaching out in every direction for some light on the incredible
situation.

Heath grunted assent and began searching through the several
cabañas.  Presently he emerged with Montague's attire over one arm;
and we proceeded to the house.

As we reached the top of the steps, Doctor Emanuel Doremus, the
Medical Examiner, drove up to the front of the house.  Seeing us,
he stepped jauntily across the lawn to where we stood.  He was a
short, dapper man, breezy and petulant in manner, who suggested the
stock-broker rather than the shrewd physician that he was.  He was
dressed in a pale gray sport suit, and his straw hat was set at a
rakish angle.  He greeted us with a familiar wave of the hand,
planted himself with his feet wide apart, thrust his hands in his
pockets, and fixed a baleful eye on the Sergeant.

"A fine time," he complained waspishly, "to drag me out into
the country.  Don't you think I ever need any rest--even on
Sunday? . . .  Well, where's the body?  Let's get the business
over with, so I can get back in time for lunch."  He teetered a
moment on his toes while Heath cleared his throat and looked
embarrassed.

"The fact is, doc,"--Heath spoke apologetically--"there ain't no
body. . . ."

Doremus squinted, settled down on his heels, and studied the
Sergeant maliciously.

"What's that!" he snapped.  "No corpse?"  He pushed his hat further
back on his head and glowered.  "Whose clothes are those you're
holding?"

"They belong to the guy that I wanted you to report on," Heath
returned sheepishly.  "But we can't find the guy himself."

"Where was he when you phoned me?"  Doremus demanded irritably.  "I
suppose the corpse said 'too-dle-oo' to you and walked off. . . .
Say, what is this--a practical joke?"

Markham stepped diplomatically into the breach.

"We're sorry for the trouble we've caused you, doctor.  But the
explanation is simple.  The Sergeant had every reason to believe
that a man had been drowned, under suspicious circumstances, in the
swimming pool down the hill.  But when the pool was drained there
was no body in it, and we're all a bit mystified."

Doctor Doremus nodded curtly in acknowledgment of Markham's
explanation, and turned back to the unhappy Sergeant.

"I don't head the Bureau of Missing Persons," he grumbled.  "I
happen to be the Chief Medical Examiner. . . ."

"I thought--" Heath began, but the doctor interrupted him.

"Good Gad!"  He glared at the Sergeant in mock astonishment.  "You
'thought'!  Where did the members of the Homicide Bureau get the
idea that they could think? . . .  Sunday!  The day of rest.  Hot,
too!  And I'm dragged out of my easy chair into this God-forsaken
part of the country, because you had a thought. . . .  I don't want
thoughts--I want bodies.  And when there aren't any bodies I want
to be let alone."

The Sergeant was piqued, but his many experiences with the peppery
Medical Examiner had taught him not to take the other too
seriously; and he finally grinned good-naturedly.

"When I have a corpse for you," he retorted, "you complain about
it.  Now when I haven't got one and there's nothing for you to do,
you complain anyway. . . .  Honest, doc, I'm sorry I got you up
here, but if you'd been in my place--"

"Heaven forbid!"  Doremus fixed a commiserating look on the
Sergeant and shook his head dolefully.  "A homicide sleuth without
a corpse!"

Markham was, I thought, a little annoyed at the Medical Examiner's
frivolous manner.

"This is a serious situation, doctor," he said.  "The man's body
should logically have been in the pool, and the case is enough to
upset any one's nerves."

Doremus sighed exaggeratedly, and extended his hands, palms upward.

"But, after all, Mr. Markham, I can't perform an autopsy on a
theory.  I'm a doctor--not a philosopher."

Vance exhaled a long ribbon of smoke.

"You can still have your luncheon on time, don't y' know.  Really,
doctor, you should be deuced grateful to the Sergeant for not
detaining you."

"Huh!  I suppose you're right, though."  Doremus grinned and wiped
his brow with a blue silk handkerchief.  "Well, I'll be running
along."

"If we find the body--" Heath began.

"Oh, don't consider my feelings," the doctor returned.  "I don't
care if you never find another body.  But, if you do, for Gad's
sake, don't make it at mealtime."  He waved a cheery farewell,
which included all of us, and hurried back across the lawn to his
car.

"The Sergeant having been duly chastened for his precipitancy,"
smiled Vance, "suppose we proceed on our way."

Stamm opened the side door for us with his key, and we entered the
dingy hallway that led from the main stairs to the rear of the
house.  Even in the daytime, the depressing musty atmosphere of a
bygone age enveloped us, and the sunlight that filtered into the
hall from the main entrance appeared dead and dusty, as if it too
had been vitiated by the stagnation of accumulated decay.

As we approached the library we heard the low murmur of several
voices within, and it was evident that most of the household had
gathered in that room.  There was a sudden lull in the conversation,
and Leland came out into the hallway to greet us.

Despite his inherent calm, he appeared drawn and restless.  After
the brief greetings, he asked in a voice that struck me as somewhat
strained:

"Have you discovered anything new?"

"Oh, a number of things," Vance answered cheerfully.  "But Montague
himself has eluded us in the most amazin' fashion."

Leland shot Vance a swift, quizzical look.

"He was not in the pool?"

"Oh, not at all," said Vance blandly.  "He was entirely absent,
don't y' know.  Mystifyin', what?"

Leland frowned, studied Vance a moment, and then glanced quickly at
the rest of us.  He started to say something but refrained.

"By the by," Vance continued, "we're going up to Montague's room
for a bit of sartorial inspection.  Would you care to limp along?"

Leland seemed confused for a moment; then he caught sight of the
wearing apparel the Sergeant was carrying.

"By George!" he exclaimed.  "I had quite forgotten the poor chap's
clothes.  I should have brought them to the house last night. . . .
You think they may contain something that will explain his
disappearance?"

Vance shrugged, and proceeded to the front entrance hall.

"One never knows, does one?" he murmured.

Stamm summoned Trainor, who was standing near the main door, and
told him to fetch a pair of slippers for Vance to wear while his
shoes were being cleaned.  As soon as the butler had made the
exchange we went up-stairs.

The bedroom that had been assigned to Montague was far down on the
north side of the second-story hallway, directly under, as I
figured it, the bedroom of Mrs. Stamm.  It was not as large a room
as hers, but it had a similar window overlooking the Dragon Pool.
The room was comfortably furnished, but it possessed none of the
air of having been lived in, and I surmised that it was used merely
as an overflow guest-chamber.

On a low table by the chest of drawers was a black sealskin
travelling bag, its cover thrown back against the wall.  It was
fitted with silver toilet articles, and appeared to contain only
the usual items of male attire.  Over the foot of the colonial bed
hung a suit of mauve silk pajamas, and on a chair nearby had been
thrown a purple surah silk dressing-gown.

Heath placed the clothes he had found in the cabaña on the centre-
table and began a systematic search of the pockets.

Vance walked leisurely to the open window and looked out across the
pool.  Four men were busily engaged in the operation of opening the
stream gates, and Snitkin, his drawings evidently completed, was
dragging the last board up the bank toward the vault.  Vance stood
for several moments gazing out, smoking thoughtfully, his eyes
moving from the filter to the dam and then to the cliff opposite.

"Really, y' know," he remarked to Stamm, "that fallen piece of rock
should be removed before the water is let in."

Stamm, for some reason, seemed disconcerted by the suggestion.

"There wouldn't be time," he answered.  "And, anyway, the water's
shallow at that point.  I'll get the rock out in a day or so."

Vance appeared hardly to have heard him and turned back to the
room, walking slowly toward the centre-table where the Sergeant had
made a small heap of the contents of Montague's dinner clothes.

Heath turned one more pocket inside out, and then spread his hands
in Vance's direction.

"That's the total," he said, with patent disappointment.  "And
there's nothing here that will tell us anything."

Vance glanced cynically at the various objects on the table--a
platinum watch and chain, a small pocket-knife, a gold cigarette-
case and lighter, a fountain-pen, several keys, two handkerchiefs,
and a small amount of silver and paper money.  Then he walked to
the suit-case and made an inspection of its contents.

"There's nothing helpful here either, Sergeant," he said at length.

He glanced about him, examined the top of the dressing-table,
opened the two drawers, looked under the pillows on the bed, and
finally felt in the pockets of the pajamas and the dressing-gown.

"Everything's quite conventional and in order," he sighed, dropping
into a chair by the window.  "I fear we'll have to look elsewhere
for clues."

Stamm had gone to the clothes-closet and opened the door; and
Leland, as if animated by the spirit of the search, had followed
him.  Stamm reached up and turned on the light in the closet.

Leland, looking over the other's shoulder, nodded approvingly.

"Of course," he murmured, without any great show of enthusiasm.
"His day suit."

Vance rose quickly.

"'Pon my soul, Mr. Leland, I'd quite forgot it. . . .  I say,
Sergeant, fetch the johnny's other togs, will you?"

Heath hastened to the closet and brought Montague's sport suit to
the centre-table.  An examination of its pockets failed to reveal
anything of importance until a leather wallet was removed from the
inside coat pocket.  Within the wallet were three letters, two in
envelopes and one merely folded, without a covering.  The two in
envelopes were a circular from a tailor and a request for a loan.

The letter without an envelope, however, proved to be one of the
most valuable clues in the dragon murder.  Vance glanced through
it, with a puzzled expression, and then, without a word, showed it
to the rest of us.  It was a brief note, in characteristically
feminine chirography, on pale blue scented note-paper.  It was
without an address, but it was dated August 9th (which was
Thursday, the day before the house-party began) and read:


Dearest Monty--

I will be waiting in a car, just outside the gate on the East Road,
at ten o'clock.  Ever thine,

Ellen.


Stamm was the last to read the note.  His face went pale, and his
hand trembled as he gave it back to Vance.

Vance barely glanced at him: he was gazing with a slight frown at
the signature.

"Ellen . . . Ellen," he mused.  "Wasn't that the name, Mr. Stamm,
of the woman who said she wasn't able to join your house-party
because she was sailing for South America?"

"Yes--that's it."  Stamm's tone was husky.  "Ellen Bruett.  And she
admitted she knew Montague. . . .  I don't get it at all.  Why
should she be waiting for him with a car?  And even if Montague was
in love with her, why should he join her in such an outlandish
fashion?"

"It strikes me," Leland put in grimly, "that Montague wanted to
disappear in order to join this woman.  The man was a moral coward,
and he did not have the courage to come out and tell Bernice he
wanted to break his engagement with her because he was in love with
another woman.  Moreover, he was an actor and would concoct just
such a dramatic episode to avoid his obligations.  The fellow was
always spectacular in his conduct.  Personally, I am not surprised
at the outcome."

Vance regarded him with a faint smile.

"But, Mr. Leland, really, don't y' know, there isn't any outcome
just yet. . . ."

"But surely," protested Leland, with mild emphasis, "that note
explains the situation."

"It explains many things," Vance conceded.  "But it doesn't explain
how Montague could have emerged from the pool to keep his
rendezvous without leaving the slightest sign of footprints."

Leland studied Vance speculatively, reaching in his pocket for his
pipe.

"Are you sure," he asked, "that there are no footprints whatever?"

"Oh, there are footprints," Vance returned quietly.  "But they
couldn't have been made by Montague.  Furthermore, they are not on
the plot of ground at the edge of the pool which leads out to the
East Road. . . .  The footprints, Mr. Leland, are in the mud on the
bottom of the pool."

"On the bottom of the pool?"  Leland drew in a quick breath, and I
noticed that he spilled some of the tobacco as he filled his pipe.
"What kind of footprints are they?"

Vance listlessly shifted his gaze to the ceiling.

"That's difficult to say.  They looked rather like marks which
might have been made by some gigantic prehistoric beast."

"THE DRAGON!"  The exclamation burst almost explosively from
Leland's lips.  Then the man uttered a low nervous laugh and
lighted his pipe with unsteady fingers.  "I cannot admit, however,"
he added lamely, "that Montague's disappearance belongs in the
realm of mythology."

"I'm sure it does not," Vance murmured carelessly.  "But, after
all, d' ye see, one must account for those amazin' imprints in the
pool."

"I should like to have seen those imprints," Leland returned
dourly.  "But I suppose it is too late now."  He went to the
window and looked out.  "The water is already flowing through the
gates. . . ."

Just then came the sound of heavy footsteps in the hall, and
Snitkin appeared at the door, with several pieces of paper in his
hand.

"Here are the copies, Sergeant."  The detective spoke in a strained
tone: it was evident that our morning's adventure on the basin of
the pool had had a disquieting effect on him.  "I've got the men
working on the gates, and the lock in the dam is about closed.
What's the orders now?"

"Go back and boss the job," Heath told him, taking the sketches.
"And when it's done send the boys home and take up your post at the
road gate."

Snitkin saluted and went away without a word.

Vance walked over to Heath and, taking out his monocle, studied the
drawings.

"My word!" he commented admiringly.  "They're really clever, don't
y' know.  The chap is a natural draughtsman. . . .  I say, Mr.
Leland, here are copies of the footprints we found in the pool."

Leland moved--somewhat hesitantly, I thought--to the Sergeant's
side and looked at the drawings.  I watched him closely during his
examination of the sketches, but I was unable to detect the
slightest change of expression on his face.

At length he looked up, and his calm eyes slowly turned to Vance.

"Quite remarkable," he said, and added in a colorless voice:  "I
cannot imagine what could have made such peculiar imprints in the
pool."



CHAPTER X

THE MISSING MAN


(Sunday, August 12; 1 p. m.)


It was now one o'clock.  Stamm insisted on ordering lunch for us,
and Trainor served it in the drawing-room.  Stamm himself and
Leland ate with the others in the dining-room.  We were no sooner
alone than Markham turned a troubled gaze on Vance.

"What do you make of it all?" he asked.  "I can't understand those
marks on the bottom of the pool.  They're--they're frightful."

Vance shook his head despairingly: there could be no doubt that he
too was troubled.

"I don't like it--I don't at all like it."  There was discouragement
in his tone.  "There's something dashed sinister about this case--
something that seems to reach out beyond the ordin'ry every-day
experiences of man."

"If it were not for all this curious dragon lore surrounding the
Stamm estate," said Markham, "we'd probably have dismissed those
large imprints with the simple explanation that the water draining
over the mud had tended to enlarge or distort ordinary footmarks."

Vance smiled wearily.

"Yes, quite so.  But we'd have been unscientific.  Some of the
footprints were pointed in the direction of the flow of the water,
while others were at right-angles to it; yet their character was
not changed at any point.  Moreover, the receding water flowed very
gently, and the shallow mud on the bottom of the pool is rather
tenacious,--even the scale-like formations on the imprints were not
washed away. . . .  But even if one could account reasonably for
the larger impressions, what about those astonishing claw-like
imprints--?"

Suddenly Vance leapt to his feet and, going swiftly to the door,
drew one of the portières aside.  Before him stood Trainor, his
pudgy face a ghastly white, his eyes staring like those of a man in
a trance.  In one hand he held Vance's shoes.

Vance regarded him ironically and said nothing; and the man, with a
quiver that ran over his entire body, made an effort to draw
himself together.

"I'm--I'm sorry, sir," he stammered.  "I--I heard you talking and--
didn't wish to disturb you . . . so I waited.  I have your boots,
sir."

"That's quite all right, Trainor."  Vance returned to his chair.
"I was merely curious as to who was hoverin' outside the
portières. . . .  Thanks for the boots."

The butler came forward obsequiously, knelt down and, removing the
slippers from Vance's feet, replaced them with the oxfords.  His
hands trembled perceptibly as he tied the laces.

When he left the room with the tray of luncheon dishes Heath glared
after him belligerently.

"Now, what was that baby snooping around for?" he snarled.
"There's something on his mind."

"Oh, doubtless."  Vance smiled moodily.  "I'd say it was the
dragon."

"See here, Vance,"--Markham spoke with acerbity--"let's drop this
poppycock about a dragon."  There was a certain desperation in his
tone.  "How do you account for that note in Montague's pocket--and
what does it mean?"

"My word, Markham, I'm no Chaldean."  Vance leaned back in his
chair and lighted another Régie.  "Even if the whole affair was a
spectacular plot in which the histrionic Montague was to make his
exit in the approved dramatic manner, I still can't imagine how he
joined his inamorata without leaving some evidence as to his means
of departure from the pool.  It's mystifyin' no end."

"Hell!"  The forthright Sergeant cut into the discussion.  "The
bird got away somehow, didn't he, Mr. Vance?  And if we can't find
the evidence, he out-foxed us."

"Tut, tut, Sergeant.  You're far too modest.  I'll admit the
explanation should be simple, but I've a feelin' that it's going to
prove dashed complex."

"Nevertheless," Markham argued, "that note from the Bruett woman
and Montague's disappearance complement each other perfectly."

"Granted," nodded Vance.  "Too perfectly, in fact.  But the
imprints in the pool and the absence of any kind of footprints on
the opposite bank, are two conflictin' elements."

He got to his feet and walked the length of the room and back.

"Then there's the car in which the mysterious lady waited. . . .  I
say, Markham, I think a brief chat with Miss Stamm might prove
illuminatin'. . . .  Fetch the quakin' butler, will you, Sergeant?"

Heath went swiftly from the room, and when Trainor came in Vance
requested him to ask Miss Stamm to come to the drawing-room.  A few
minutes later she appeared.

Bernice Stamm was not exactly a beautiful girl, but she was
unquestionably attractive, and I was amazed at her air of serenity,
after the reports of her hysterical condition the night before.
She had on a sleeveless white crêpe-de-Chine tennis dress.  Her
legs were bare, but she wore orange-colored woollen socks, rolled
at the ankles, and white buckskin sandals.  Though not exactly an
athletic type, she gave one the same impression of strength and
vitality as did her brother.

Vance offered her a chair.  But she declined it courteously, saying
that she preferred to stand.

"Perhaps you'll have a cigarette," he suggested, proffering her his
case.

She accepted one with a slight bow, and he held his lighter for
her.  Her manner seemed strangely detached, as if both her thoughts
and her emotions were far away from her immediate surroundings; and
I remembered the Sergeant's criticism of her to the effect that she
had not seemed as much concerned about the tragedy itself as about
something indirectly connected with it.  Perhaps Vance received the
same impression, for his first question was:

"Exactly how do you feel, Miss Stamm, about the tragedy that took
place here last night?"

"I hardly know what to say," she answered, with apparent frankness.
"Of course, I was tremendously upset.  I think we all were."

Vance studied her searchingly a moment.

"But surely your reaction must have been deeper than that.  You
were engaged to Mr. Montague, I understand."

She nodded wistfully.

"Yes--but that was a great mistake.  I realize it now. . . .  If it
had not been a mistake," she added, "I'm sure I would feel much
more deeply about the tragedy than I do."

"You think this tragedy was accidental?" Vance asked with sudden
bluntness.

"Of course it was!"  The girl turned on him with blazing eyes.  "It
couldn't have been anything else.  I know what you mean--I've heard
all the silly chatter round this house--but it's quite impossible
to attribute Monty's death to anything but an accident."

"You don't put any stock, then, in these tales of a dragon in the
pool?"

She laughed with genuine amusement.

"No, I don't believe in fairy-tales.  Do you?"

"I still believe in tales of Prince Charming," Vance returned
lightly; "though I've always rather suspected the chap.  He was
much too good to be true."

The girl let her eyes rest on Vance calmly for several moments.
Then she said:

"I haven't the slightest idea what you mean."

"It really doesn't matter," he returned.  "But it's a bit
disconcertin' not to have found the body of the gentleman who dived
into the pool last night."

"You mean--"

"Yes--quite.  Mr. Montague has disappeared completely."

She gave him a startled look.

"But--at lunch--my brother--he didn't tell me. . . .  You're quite
sure that Monty has disappeared?"

"Oh, yes.  We drained the pool, don't y' know."  Vance paused and
regarded the girl mildly.  "All we found were some fantastic
footprints."

Her eyes widened and the pupils dilated.

"What kind of footprints?" she asked, in a tense, hushed voice.

"I've never seen any like them before," Vance returned.  "If I
believed in mythical submarine monsters, I might conclude that some
such creature had made them."

Bernice Stamm was standing near the portières, and involuntarily
she reached out and clutched one of them with her hand, as if to
steady herself.  But her sudden loss of composure was only
momentary.  She forced a smile and, walking further into the room,
leaned against the mantelpiece.

"I am afraid"--she spoke with obvious effort--"I'm too practical to
be frightened by any seeming evidences of the dragon's presence
here."

"I'm sure you are, Miss Stamm," Vance replied pleasantly.  "And
since you are so practical, perhaps this missive will interest
you."  He took from his pocket the blue, scented note that had been
found in Montague's day suit, and handed it to her.

The girl read it without change of expression, but when she gave it
back to Vance I noticed that she sighed deeply, as if the
implication of its contents had brought her peace of mind.

"That note is far more reasonable than the footprints you speak
of," she remarked.

"The note in itself is reasonable enough," Vance admitted.  "But
there are correlative factors which make it appear most
unreasonable.  For one thing, there's the car in which the ever-
thine Ellen was to have waited.  Surely, in the night-time silence
of Inwood, the sound of an automobile could have been heard at a
distance of a few hundred yards."

"It was--it was!" she exclaimed.  "I heard it!"  The color rushed
back to her cheeks, and her eyes glistened.  "I didn't realize it
until this minute.  When Mr. Leland and the others were in the pool
searching for Monty--ten minutes or so after he had dived in--I
heard a car starting and the hum of the motor picking up as when
the gears are being shifted--you know the sort of noise I mean.
AND IT WAS DOWN ON THE EAST ROAD. . . ."

"The car was going away from the estate?"

"Yes--yes!  It was going away--toward Spuyten Duyvil. . . .  It
all comes back to me now.  I was kneeling there, at the edge of the
pool, frightened and dazed.  And the sound of this car drifted in
on me, mixed with the sound of splashing in the water.  But I didn't
think about the car at the time--it seemed so unimportant . . . the
suspense of those few minutes--I think you understand what I am
trying to say.  I completely forgot such a trivial thing as the
sound of a car, until that note brought it back to me."  The girl
spoke with the intensity of unassailable veracity.

"I understand exactly," Vance assured her consolingly.  "And your
remembering the sound of the car has helped us no end."

He had been standing by the centre-table during the interview, and
he now came forward toward the girl and held out his hand in an
attitude of friendly sympathy.  With a spontaneous gesture of
gratitude, she put her hand in his; and he led her to the door.

"We sha'n't bother you any more now," he said gently.  "But will
you be good enough to ask Mr. Leland to come here?"

She nodded and walked away toward the library.

"Do you think she was telling the truth about hearing an
automobile?" Markham asked.

"Oh, undoubtedly."  Vance moved back to the centre-table and
smoked for a moment in silence: there was a puzzled look on his
face. "Curious thing about that girl.  I doubt if she thinks
Montague escaped in a car--but she unquestionably did hear a car.
I wonder . . . she may be trying to shield some one. . . .  A nice
gel, Markham."

"You think perhaps she knows or suspects something?"

"I doubt if she KNOWS anything."  Vance turned and sought a nearby
chair.  "But, my word! she certainly has suspicions. . . ."

At this moment Leland entered the drawing-room.  He was smoking his
pipe, and, though he tried to appear cheerful, his expression
belied his manner.

"Miss Stamm told me you wished to see me," he said, taking his
stand before the fireplace.  "I hope you have said nothing to upset
her."

Vance watched him intently for a moment.

"Miss Stamm," he said, "did not seem particularly upset by the fact
that Montague has departed this milieu."

"Perhaps she has come to realize--" Leland began, and then stopped
abruptly, busying himself with repacking his pipe.  "Did you show
her the note?"

"Yes, of course."  Vance kept his eyes on the other.

"That note reminds me of something," Leland went on.  "The
automobile, you know.  I have been thinking about that ever since I
saw the note, trying to recall my impressions last night, after
Montague had disappeared under the water.  And I remember quite
distinctly now that I did hear a motor-car on the East Road when I
came to the surface of the pool, after having looked for the chap.
Naturally, I thought nothing of it at the time--I was too intent on
the task in hand; that is probably why it went out of my mind until
that note recalled it."

"Miss Stamm also remembers hearing a car," Vance informed him.  "By
the by, how long would you say it was, after Montague's mysterious
dive, that you heard the car on the East Road?"

Leland thought a moment.

"Perhaps ten minutes," he said finally, but he added:  "However, it
is rather difficult to gauge the passage of time in a situation of
that kind."

"Quite so," Vance murmured.  "But you are certain it was not merely
two or three minutes?"

"It could not possibly have been as soon as that," Leland answered
with a slight show of emphasis.  "You see, we all waited a couple
of minutes for the chap to show up after his dive, and I had
already gone into the water and made a fairly thorough search for
him before I was aware of the sound of the car."

"That being the case," submitted Vance, "it is far from conclusive
to connect the sound of the car with the absent Ellen; for it would
not have taken Montague more than a minute or so to reach his
waiting Juliet at the gate.  Certainly he wouldn't have tarried en
route; nor would he have lingered for a loving tête-à-tête in the
parked car."

"I see what you mean."  Leland inclined his head and looked
troubled.  "Still, he might have decided there was no need for
haste and gotten into some togs before driving off."

"Quite so," Vance admitted carelessly.  "There are various
possibilities, don't y' know. . . ."

The conversation was interrupted by Doctor Holliday and Stamm
descending the stairs.  They crossed the hall and came into the
drawing-room.

"I'm sorry to trouble you again, gentlemen."  The doctor, his face
clouded, addressed us apologetically.  "When I first came here this
morning, I found Mrs. Stamm markedly improved, and I expected she
would soon be her normal self again.  But when I returned, a little
later, she had relapsed.  The events of last night seem to have
upset her strangely, and she is now in a most unusual mood.  She
insisted on watching the draining of the pool, and the result threw
her into a state of unprecedented excitement.  There is, I believe,
some fixed idea in her mind, which she will not confide to me or to
her son."

Doctor Holliday shifted his position awkwardly and cleared his
throat.

"I'm inclined to think," he went on, "in view of the fact that her
interview with you last night seemed to relieve somewhat the
tension of this pent-up hallucination, it might be helpful if you
gentlemen would see her again.  She may be willing to talk about
this suppressed idea to you.  It is worth trying, at any rate--if
you don't mind.  I suggested the interview to her, and she seemed
more than willing--quite anxious for it, in fact."

"We would be very glad to see Mrs. Stamm, doctor," Vance returned.
"Shall we go up alone?"

Doctor Holliday hesitated, and then nodded jerkily.

"I think that might be best.  It may be that this supposed secret
of hers is being withheld, for some irrational reason, only from
members of the family and those she knows."

We went immediately to Mrs. Stamm's quarters, leaving Doctor
Holliday, with Stamm and Leland, in the drawing-room.

Mrs. Schwarz was waiting for us at the door: evidently the doctor
had told her we were coming.  Mrs. Stamm was seated near the
window, her hands folded in her lap.  She appeared quite calm, and
there was none of the sardonic tenseness about her that we had
encountered the night before; instead, there was a look of almost
humorous satisfaction on her wizened face.

"I thought you'd be back," she greeted us, with a low cackle of
triumph.  "I told you that the dragon had killed him.  And I told
you that his body would not be found in the pool.  But you didn't
believe me.  You thought it was the ravings of an old woman's
cracked mind.  But now you know that I told you the truth, and so
you've come back to learn more.  That's why you're here--isn't it?
Your foolish science has failed you."

She chuckled, and something in the sound of that hideous nasal
laughter brought back to me the witches' cavern scene in "Macbeth,"
with the dragon's scale that was added to the cauldron.

"I saw you looking for the young man's footprints on the bank
opposite and on the cliffs," she continued, in a gloating tone.
"But the dragon rises to the surface of the water and flies away
with his victims.  I've seen him too often! . . .  And I stood
here, at the window, when the water was running out of the pool,
and saw you waiting . . . waiting, and watching for the thing that
was not there.  And then I saw you walk out across the boards, as
if you could not believe your eyes.  Didn't I tell you last night
that there would be no body in the pool?  Yet you thought that you
could find something."  She unfolded her hands and placed them on
the arms of the chair, her fingers flexing and unflexing like great
talons.

"But we did find something, Mrs. Stamm," Vance said gently.  "We
found strange imprints in the mud."

She smiled at him, like an older person humoring a child.

"I could have told you that too," she said.  "They were the
imprints of the dragon's claws.  Didn't you recognize them?"  (The
matter-of-fact simplicity of this astounding statement sent a chill
up my spine.)

"But where," asked Vance, "did the dragon take the body of this man
he killed?"

A sly look came into the woman's eyes.

"I knew you would ask me that question," she answered, with a
satisfied, tight-lipped smile.  "But I shall never tell you!
That's the dragon's secret--the dragon's and mine!"

"Has the dragon a home other than the pool?"

"Oh, yes.  But this is his real home.  That's why it is called the
Dragon Pool.  Sometimes, though, he flies away to the Hudson and
hides in its waters.  At other times he lies beneath the surface of
Spuyten Duyvil.  And on cold nights he flies down the valley and
seeks shelter in the Indian caves.  But he doesn't put his victims
in any of those places.  He has a different hiding-place for them.
It is older than history--older even than man.  It is a cavern made
for him when the world was young. . . ."  Her voice trailed out,
and a fanatical look came into her eyes--a look such as I imagine
shone in the eyes of the old religious martyrs when they were led
to the rack.

"That's all most interestin'," Vance remarked.  "But I am afraid it
is not very helpful to us in our present dilemma.  You are sure you
could not be persuaded to tell us where the dragon took young
Montague's body?"

"Never!"  The woman sat up rigidly in her chair and glared straight
ahead.

Vance regarded her sympathetically for a moment; then terminated
the distressing interview.

When we had again descended to the drawing-room he explained
briefly to Doctor Holliday the result of his conversation, and the
doctor and Stamm took leave of us and went up-stairs.

Vance smoked in moody silence for a while.

"Queer about her prognostications," he mused.  "I wonder. . . ."
He moved restively in his chair, and then, glancing up, questioned
Leland regarding the superstition connected with the dragon's
various abodes.

But Leland, though obviously frank in his answers, was unable to
throw any light on Mrs. Stamm's fanciful remarks.

"The old tales of the dragon," he said, "contained references to
his visits to neighboring waters, such as the Hudson and Spuyten
Duyvil, and even Hell Gate.  And I remember hearing, when I was a
child, that he occasionally was seen in the Indian caves.  But he
was generally supposed to make his home in the pool here."

"There was one thing Mrs. Stamm said," Vance persisted, "that
struck me as unusually fantastic.  In speaking of the place where
the dragon hides his victims she mentioned that it was older than
both history and man, and that it was shaped for him when the world
was young.  Have you any idea what she could have meant by that?"

Leland frowned thoughtfully for a moment.  Then his face lighted
up, and he took his pipe from his mouth.

"The pot-holes, of course!" he exclaimed.  "Her description fits
them perfectly.  The glacial potholes, you know--there are several
of them at the foot of the rocks near the Clove.  They were
fashioned in the ice age--the result of glacial gyrations, I
believe--but they are really nothing but small cylindrical cavities
in the rocks. . . ."*


* The glacial pot-holes in Inwood Hill Park were recently
discovered.  They are excellent geological specimens of deeply
bored, striated cavities formed in the glacial period by the
grinding action of the lower gravel surface of the massive
continental ice sheet that covered the northeastern part of North
America between 30,000 and 50,000 years ago.  One of these sub-
glacial holes is about three and a half feet in diameter and five
feet deep.  Another is over four feet across; and still another is
eight feet in diameter.


"Yes, yes, I know what pot-holes are," Vance interrupted, with a
note of suppressed excitement.  "But I didn't know there were any
in Inwood.  How far are they from here?"

"Ten minutes' walk, I should say, toward the Clove."

"Near the East Road?"

"Just to the west of it."

"A car would be quicker, then."  Vance walked hurriedly into the
hall.  "Come, Markham, I think we'll take a bit of a ride. . . .
Will you be our guide, Mr. Leland?"  He was already headed for the
front door.  We followed, wondering at this new whim that had
suddenly animated him.

"What wild-goose chase is this, Vance?" Markham protested, as we
went through the vestibule and down the front steps.

"I don't know, old dear," Vance admitted readily.  "But I have a
cravin' just now to see those potholes."

He stepped into his car and we climbed in after him, as if led
irresistibly by the tenseness of his decision.  A moment later we
were circling the house on the south and turning into the East
Road.  At the boundary of the estate Snitkin opened the gate for
us; and we drove rapidly past the Bird Refuge and on toward the
Clove.

We had gone perhaps five hundred yards, when Leland gave the signal
to stop.  Vance drew up at the side of the road and stepped down.
We were about fifty feet from the base of a precipitous rocky ridge
which was an extension of the cliff that formed the north boundary
of the Dragon Pool.

"And now for a bit of geological reconnoitring."  Though he spoke
lightly, there was, beneath his words, a sombre intentness.

"There are several large glacial pot-holes here," Leland offered,
leading the way toward the cliff.  "There's an oak tree growing in
one of them; and one of the others is not as clearly marked as the
rest.  But there's one excellent deep-cut example of glacial
activity--there, just ahead."

We had now come to the foot of the cliff.  Before us, as if
chiselled in the steep rock, was a great irregular, oval scar,
perhaps twenty feet long and spreading outward toward the bottom to
a width of about four feet--it was as if some falling meteor had
dropped perpendicularly and cut its pathway along the rock and down
into the earth.  Across the bottom of this upright tunnel was the
projection of the frontal rock, about five feet high, which formed
a sort of wall across the lower section of the pothole, making of
it a miniature well.*


* There is a slab of Archæan-age granite with glacial markings from
Vinalhaven, Maine, in front of the American Museum of Natural
History, showing the formation of a glacial pot-hole.  The
cylindrical boring in it, however, is much smaller than those in
Inwood.


"That is the most interesting of the pot-holes," Leland explained.
"You can see the three successive borings which indicate, no doubt,
the advance and retreat of the ice during the long glacial period.
The striæ and polish have been well preserved, too."

Vance threw away his cigarette and approached it.

Markham was standing behind him.

"What, in the name of Heaven, do you expect to find here, Vance?"
he asked irritably.  "Surely, you're not taking Mrs. Stamm's
maunderings seriously."

Vance, by this time, had climbed on the low wall and was looking
over into the depths of the pot-hole.

"It might interest you, nevertheless, to see the interior of this
pot-hole, Markham," he said, without turning his eyes from the
depths beyond.

There was an unwonted note of awe in his voice, and we quickly came
to the edge of the narrow stone wall and looked over into the
ancient rock cavity.

And there we saw the huddled, mangled body of a man in a bathing
suit.  On the left side of his head was a great ragged gash; and
the blood that had run down over his shoulder was black and
clotted.  The jersey of his suit had been torn down over the chest,
and three long gaping wounds on his body marked the line of the
tear.  His feet were drawn up under him in a hideous distorted
posture; and his arms lay limply across his torso, as if detached
from his body.  The first impression I got was that he had been
dropped into the pot-hole from a great height.

"That is poor Montague," said Leland simply.



CHAPTER XI

A SINISTER PROPHECY


(Sunday, August 12; 2.30 p. m.)


Despite the horror of the sight that confronted us in the pot-hole,
the discovery of Montague's mangled body did not come altogether as
a shock.  Although Markham had shown evidences, throughout the
investigation, of discounting Heath's strong contentions that there
had been foul play, he was, nevertheless, prepared for the finding
of the body.  My impression was that he had battled against the
idea as a result of his mental attitude toward the absence of any
logical indications pointing to murder.  Vance, I knew, had
harbored grave suspicions of the situation from the very first; and
I myself, in spite of my skepticism, realized, upon my first
glimpse of Montague's body, that there had long been, in the back
of my mind, definite doubts as to the seemingly fortuitous facts
behind Montague's disappearance.  The Sergeant, of course, had,
from the beginning, been thoroughly convinced that there was a
sinister background to the superficially commonplace disappearance
of the man.

There was a grim look on Leland's face as he stared down into the
pot-hole, but there was no astonishment in his expression; and he
gave me the impression of having anticipated the result of our
short ride.  After identifying the body as that of Montague he slid
down from the wall and stood looking thoughtfully at the cliffs at
the left.  His eyes were clouded, and his jaw was set rigidly as he
reached in his pocket for his pipe.

"The dragon theory seems to be working out consistently," he
commented, as if thinking aloud.

"Oh, quite," murmured Vance.  "Too consistently, I should say.
Fancy finding the johnny here.  It's a bit rococo, don't y' know."

We had stepped away from the wall of the pothole and turned back
toward the parked car.

Markham paused to relight his cigar.

"It's an astonishing situation," he muttered between puffs.  "How,
in the name of Heaven, could he have got into that pot-hole?"

"Anyhow," observed Heath, with a kind of vicious satisfaction, "we
found what we've been looking for, and we've got something that we
can work on. . . .  If you don't mind, Mr. Vance, I wish you'd
drive me up to the gate, so as I can get Snitkin on guard down here
before we return to the house."

Vance nodded and climbed into his place behind the wheel.  He was
in a peculiarly abstracted frame of mind; and I knew there was
something about the finding of Montague's body that bothered him.
From his manner throughout the investigation I realized that he had
been expecting some definite proof that a crime had been committed.
But I knew now that the present state of affairs did not entirely
square with his preconceived idea of the case.

We drove to the gate and brought Snitkin back to the pot-hole,
where Heath gave him orders to remain on guard and to let no one
approach that side of the cliff from the road.  Then we drove back
to the Stamm house.  As we got out of the car Vance suggested that
nothing be said for a while regarding the finding of Montague's
body, as there were one or two things he wished to do before
apprising the household of the gruesome discovery we had just made.

We entered the house by the front door, and Heath strode
immediately to the telephone.

"I've got to get Doc Doremus--"  He checked himself suddenly and
turned toward Markham with a sheepish smile.  "Do you mind calling
the doc for me, Chief?" he asked.  "I guess he's sort of sore at
me.  Anyhow, he'll believe YOU if you tell him we've got the body
for him now."

"Phone him yourself, Sergeant," Markham returned in an exasperated
tone.  He was in a bad frame of mind; but the Sergeant's hesitancy
and appealing look softened him, and he smiled back good-naturedly.
"I'll attend to it," he said.  And he went to the telephone to
notify the Medical Examiner of the finding of Montague's body.

"He's coming right out," he informed us as he replaced the
receiver.

Stamm had evidently heard us come in, for at this moment he came
down the front stairs, accompanied by Doctor Holliday.

"I saw you driving down the East Road a while ago," he said, when
he had reached us.  "Have you learned anything new?"

Vance was watching the man closely.

"Oh, yes," he replied.  "We've unearthed the corpus delicti.  But
we wish the fact kept from the other members of the household, for
the time being."

"You mean--you found Montague's body?" the other stammered.  (Even
in the dim light of the hall I could see his face go pale.)
"Where, in God's name, was it?"

"Down the road a bit," Vance returned in a casual voice, taking out
a fresh Régie and busying himself with the lighting of it.  "And
not a pretty picture, either.  The chap had an ugly wound on his
head, and there were three long gashes down the front of his chest--"

"THREE GASHES?"  Stamm turned vaguely, like a man with vertigo, and
steadied himself against the newel post.  "What kind of gashes?
Tell me, man!  Tell me what you mean!" he demanded in a thick
voice.

"If I were superstitious," Vance replied, smoking placidly, "I'd
say they might have been made by the talons of a dragon--same like
those imprints we saw on the bottom of the pool."  (He had dropped
into a facetious mood--for what reason I could not understand.)

Stamm was speechless for several moments.  He swayed back and
forth, glaring at Vance as if at a spectre from which he could not
tear his eyes.  Then he drew himself up, and the blood rushed back
into his face.

"What damned poppycock is this?" he burst out in a half-frenzied
tone.  "You're trying to upset me."  When Vance did not answer, he
shifted his frantic gaze to Leland and thrust out his jaw angrily.
"You're to blame for this nonsense.  What have you been up to?
What's the truth about this affair?"

"It is just as Mr. Vance has told you, Rudolf," Leland replied
calmly.  "Of course, no dragon made the gashes on poor Montague's
body--but the gashes are there."

Stamm seemed to quiet down under Leland's cool regard.  He gave a
mirthless laugh in an effort to throw off the horror that had taken
possession of him at Vance's description of Montague's wounds.

"I think I'll have a drink," he said, and swung quickly down the
hallway toward the library.

Vance had seemed indifferent to Stamm's reaction, and he now turned
to Doctor Holliday.

"I wonder if we might see Mrs. Stamm again for a few moments?" he
asked.

The doctor hesitated; then he nodded slowly.

"Yes, I think you might.  Your visit to her after lunch seems to
have had a salutary effect.  But I might suggest that you do not
remain with her too long."

We went immediately up-stairs, and Leland and the doctor followed
Stamm into the library.

Mrs. Stamm was seated in the same chair in which she had received
us earlier in the day, and though she appeared more composed than
she had been on our previous visit, she none the less showed
considerable surprise at seeing us.  She looked up with slightly
raised eyebrows, and there was an ineluctable dignity in her mien.
A subtle and powerful change had come over her.

"We wish to ask you, Mrs. Stamm," Vance began, "if, by any chance,
you heard an automobile on the East Road last night, a little after
ten."

She shook her head vaguely.

"No, I heard nothing.  I didn't even hear my son's guests go down
to the pool.  I was dozing in my chair after dinner."

Vance walked to the window and looked out.  "That's unfortunate,"
he commented; "for the pool can be seen quite plainly from here--
and the East Road, too."

The woman was silent, but I thought I detected the suggestion of a
faint smile on her old face.

Vance turned back from the window and stood before her.

"Mrs. Stamm," he said, with earnest significance, "we believe that
we have discovered the place where the dragon hides his victims."

"If you have, sir," she returned, with a calmness that amazed me,
"then you surely must know a great deal more than when you were
last here."

"That is true," Vance nodded.  Then he asked:  "Weren't the glacial
pot-holes what you had in mind when you spoke of the dragon's
hiding-place?"

She smiled with enigmatic shrewdness.

"But if, as you say, you have discovered the hiding-place, why do
you ask me about it now?"

"Because," Vance said quietly, "the pot-holes were discovered only
recently--and, I understand, quite by accident."*


* The fact is that one Patrick Coghlan, a resident of Inwood, found
these pot-holes only a few years ago, on one of his rambling walks.
They have since been cleared by the Dyckman Institute and made
available for public inspection and study.


"But I knew of them when I was a child!" the woman protested.
"There was nothing in this whole countryside that I did not know.
And I know things about it now that none of you will ever know."
She looked up quickly, and a strange apprehensive light came into
her eyes.  "Have you found the young man's body?" she asked, with
new animation.

Vance nodded.

"Yes, we have found it."

"And weren't the marks of the dragon on it?"  There was a gleam of
satisfaction in her eyes.

"There are marks on the body," said Vance.  "And it lies in the
large pot-hole at the foot of the cliff, near the Clove."

Her eyes flashed and her breath came faster, as if with suppressed
excitement; and a hard, wild look spread over her face.

"Just as I told you, isn't it!" she exclaimed in a strained, high-
pitched voice.  "He was an enemy of our family--and the dragon
killed him, and took him away and hid him!"

"But after all," Vance commented, "the dragon didn't do a very good
job of hiding him.  We found him, don't y' know."

"If you found him," the woman returned, "it was because the dragon
intended you to find him."

Despite her words, a troubled look came into her eyes.  Vance
inclined his head and made a slight gesture with his hand, which
was both an acceptance and a dismissal of her words.

"Might I ask, Mrs. Stamm,"--Vance spoke with casual interest--"why
it was that the dragon himself was not found in the pool when it
was drained?"

"He flew away this morning at dawn," the woman said.  "I saw him
when he rose into the air, silhouetted against the first faint
light in the eastern sky.  He always leaves the pool after he has
killed an enemy of the Stamms--he knows the pool will be drained."

"Is your dragon in the pool now?"

She shook her head knowingly.

"He comes back only at dusk when there are deep shadows over the
land."

"You think he will return tonight?"

She lifted her head and stared past us inscrutably, a tense,
fanatical look on her face.

"He will come back tonight," she said slowly, in a hollow, sing-
song tone.  "His work is not yet completed."  (She was like the
rapt priestess of some ancient cult pronouncing a prophecy; and a
shiver ran over me at her words.)

Vance, unimpressed, studied the strange creature before him for
several seconds.

"When will he complete his work?" he asked.

"All in good time," she returned with a cold, cruel smirk; then
added oracularly:  "Perhaps tonight."

"Indeed!  That's very interestin'."  Vance did not take his eyes
from her.  "And, by the by, Mrs. Stamm," he went on, "in what way
is the dragon concerned with the family vault across the pool
yonder?"

"The dragon," the woman declared, "is the guardian of our dead as
well as our living."

"Your son tells me that you have the key to the vault, and that no
one else knows where it is."

She smiled cunningly.

"I have hidden it," she said, "so that no one can desecrate the
bodies that lie entombed there."

"But," pursued Vance, "I understand that you wish to be placed in
the vault when you die.  How, if you have hidden the key, can that
wish of yours be carried out?"

"Oh, I have arranged for that.  When I die the key will be found--
but only then."

Vance asked no further questions, but took his leave of this
strange woman.  I could not imagine why he had wanted to see her.
Nothing seemed to have been gained by the interview: it struck me
as both pathetic and futile, and I was relieved when we returned
down-stairs and went into the drawing-room.

Markham evidently felt as I did, for the first question he put to
Vance, when we were alone, was:

"What was the sense of bothering that poor deluded woman again?
Her babbling about the dragon is certainly not going to help us."

"I'm not so sure, old dear."  Vance sank into a chair, stretched
his legs, and looked up to the ceiling.  "I have a feelin' that she
may hold the key to the mystery.  She is a shrewd woman, despite
her hallucinations about a dragon inhabiting the pool.  She knows
much more than she will tell.  And, don't forget, her window
overlooks the pool and the East Road.  She wasn't in the least
upset when I told her we had found Montague in one of the pot-
holes.  And I received a distinct impression from her that,
although she has built up a romantic illusion about the dragon,
which has unquestionably unbalanced her mind, she is carrying the
illusion much further than her own convictions--as if she wishes to
emphasize the superstition of the dragon.  It may be she is
endeavorin', with some ulterior motive, to throw us off the track
and, through a peculiar protective mechanism, to cover up a wholly
rational fact upon which she thinks we may have stumbled."

Markham nodded thoughtfully.

"I see what you mean.  I got that same impression from her myself
during her fantastic recital of the dragon's habits.  But the fact
remains that she seems to harbor a definite belief in the dragon."

"Oh, quite.  And she firmly believes that the dragon lives in the
pool and protects the Stamms from all enemies.  But another element
has entered into her projection of the dragon myth--something quite
human and intimate.  I wonder. . . ."  Vance's voice trailed off
and, settling deeper in his chair, he smoked meditatively for
several minutes.

Markham moved uneasily.

"Why," he asked, frowning, "did you bring up the subject of the key
to the vault?"

"I haven't the faintest notion," Vance admitted frankly, but there
was a far-away, pensive look on his face.  "Maybe it was because of
the proximity of the vault to the low ground, on the other side of
the pool, to which the imprints led."  He lifted himself up and
regarded the ash on his cigarette for a moment.  "That mausoleum
fascinates me.  It's situated at a most strategic point.  It's like
the apex of a salient, so to speak."

"What salient?"  Markham was annoyed.  "From all the evidence, no
one emerged from the pool along that low stretch of ground; and the
body was found far away--chucked into a pot-hole."

Vance sighed.

"I can't combat your logic, Markham.  It's unassailable.  The vault
doesn't fit in at all. . . .  Only," he added wistfully, "I do wish
it had been built on some other part of the estate.  It bothers me
no end.  It's situated, d' ye see, almost on a direct line between
the house here and the gate down the East Road.  And along that
line is the plot of low ground which is the only means of egress
from the pool."

"You're talking nonsense," Markham said hotly.  "You'll be babbling
next of relativity and the bending of light rays."

"My dear Markham--my very dear Markham!"  Vance threw away his
cigarette and stood up.  "I emerged from the interstellar spaces
long ago.  I'm toddling about in a realm of mythology, where the
laws of physics are abrogated and where unearthly monsters hold
sway.  I've become quite childlike, don't y' know."

Markham gave Vance a quizzical perturbed look.  Whenever Vance took
this frivolous attitude in the midst of a serious discussion, it
meant only one thing: that his mind was operating along a very
definite line of ratiocination--that he had, in fact, found some
ray of light in the darkness of the situation and was avoiding the
subject until he had penetrated its beams to their source.  Markham
realized this, and dropped the matter forthwith.

"Do you," he asked, "wish to pursue the investigation now, or wait
until the Medical Examiner has made his examination of Montague's
body?"

"There are various things I should like to do now," Vance returned,
"I want to ask Leland a question or two.  I crave verbal
intercourse with young Tatum.  And I'm positively longin' to
inspect Stamm's collection of tropical fish--oh, principally the
fish.  Silly--eh, what?"

Markham made a wry face and beat a nervous tattoo on the arm of his
chair.

"Which shall it be first?" he asked with ungracious resignation.

Vance rose and stretched his legs.

"Leland.  The man is full of information and pertinent
suggestions."

Heath rose with alacrity and went to fetch him.

Leland looked troubled when he came into the drawing-room.

"Greeff and Tatum almost came to blows a moment ago," he told us.
"They accused each other of having something to do with Montague's
disappearance.  And Tatum intimated strongly that Greeff had not
been sincere in his search for Montague in the pool last night.  I
do not know what he was driving at, but Greeff became livid with
anger, and only the combined efforts of Doctor Holliday and myself
prevented him from attacking Tatum."

"That's most revealin'," murmured Vance.  "By the by, have Stamm
and Greeff reconciled their differences?"

Leland shook his head slowly.

"I am afraid not.  There has been bad blood between them all day.
Stamm meant all the things he said to Greeff last night--he was
just in the frame of mind to let down the barriers of his emotions
and blurt the truth--or rather, what he believed to be the truth.
I do not pretend to understand the relationship.  Sometimes I feel
that Greeff has a hold of some kind on Stamm, and that Stamm has
reason to fear him.  However, that is mere speculation."

Vance walked to the window and looked out into the brilliant
sunlight.

"Do you happen to know," he asked, without turning, "what Mrs.
Stamm's sentiments toward Greeff are?"

Leland started slightly and stared speculatively at Vance's back.

"Mrs. Stamm does not like Greeff," he returned.  "I heard her warn
Stamm against him less than a month ago."

"You think she regards Greeff as an enemy of the Stamms?"

"Undoubtedly--though the reason for her prejudice is something I do
not understand.  She knows a great deal, however, that the other
members of the household little suspect."

Vance slowly turned from the window and walked back to the
fireplace.

"Speaking of Greeff," he said, "how long was he actually in the
pool during the search for Montague?"

Leland seemed taken aback by the question.

"Really, I could not say.  I dived in first and Greeff and Tatum
followed suit. . . .  It might have been ten minutes--perhaps
longer."

"Did Greeff keep within sight of every one during the entire time?"

A startled look came into Leland's face.

"No, he did not," he returned with great seriousness.  "He dived
once or twice, as I recall, and then swam across to the shallow
water below the cliffs.  I remember his calling to me from the
darkness there, and telling me he had found nothing.  Tatum
remembered the episode a while ago--it was doubtless the basis for
his accusing Greeff of having a hand in Montague's disappearance."
The man paused and then slowly shook his head, as if throwing off
an unpleasant conclusion that had forced itself upon him.  "But I
think Tatum is wrong.  Greeff is not a good swimmer, and I imagine
he felt safer with his feet on the ground.  It was natural for him
to go to the shallow water."

"How long after Greeff called to you did he return to this side of
the pool?"

Leland hesitated.

"I really do not remember.  I was frightfully upset, and the actual
chronology of events during that time was confused.  I recall only
that when I eventually gave up the search and climbed back on the
retaining wall, Greeff followed shortly afterwards.  Tatum, by the
way, was the first out of the water.  He had been drinking a lot,
and was not in the best condition.  He seemed pretty well
exhausted."

"But Tatum did not swim across the pool?"

"Oh, no.  He and I kept in touch the whole time.  I will say this
for him--little as I like him: he showed considerable courage and
stamina during our search for Montague; and he kept his head."

"I'm looking forward to talking with Tatum.  Y' know, I haven't
seen him yet.  Your description of him rather prejudiced me against
him, and I was hopin' to avoid him entirely.  But now he has added
new zest to the affair. . . .  Battling with Greeff, what?  Fancy
that.  Greeff is certainly no persona grata in this domicile.  No
one loves him.  Sad . . . sad. . . ."

Vance sat down again and lighted another cigarette.  Leland watched
him curiously but said nothing.  Vance looked up after a while and
asked abruptly:

"What do you know of the key to the vault?"

I expected Leland to show some astonishment at this question, but
his stoical expression did not change: he seemed to regard Vance's
query as both commonplace and natural.

"I know nothing of it," he said, "except what Stamm told me.  It
was lost years ago, but Mrs. Stamm claims that she has hidden it.
I have not seen it since I was quite a young man."

"Ah!  You have seen it, then.  And you would know it if you saw it
again?"

"Yes, the key is quite unmistakable," Leland returned.  "The bow
was of curious scroll-work, somewhat Japanese in design.  The stem
was very long--perhaps six inches--and the bit was shaped like a
large 'S.'  In the old days the key was always kept hanging on a
hook over Joshua Stamm's desk in the den. . . .  Mrs. Stamm may or
may not know where it is now.  But does it really matter?"

"I suppose not," Vance murmured.  "And I'm most grateful to you for
your help.  The Medical Examiner, as you know, is on his way here,
and I'd jolly well like to have a few words with Tatum in the
interim.  Would you mind asking him to come here?"

"I am glad to do anything I can to help."  Leland bowed and left
the room.



CHAPTER XII

INTERROGATIONS


(Sunday, August 12; 3 p. m.)


Kirwin Tatum was a man in his early thirties, slender, wiry and
loose-jointed.  His face was thin and skeleton-like, and, as he
stood at the drawing-room door that Sunday afternoon, staring at
us, there was a bloodless, haggard look in his expression, which
may have been the result of fright or of the ravages of his recent
dissipation.  But there was a sullen craftiness in his eyes which
was almost vulpine.  His blond hair, heavily pomaded, was brushed
straight back from a peaked forehead with sloping parietals.  From
one corner of his feral thin-lipped mouth a cigarette drooped.  He
was dressed in sport clothes of gay and elaborate design; and a
heavy gold chain bracelet hung loosely on his left wrist.  He stood
in the doorway for several minutes, gazing at us shiftily, his long
spatulate fingers moving nervously at his sides.  That he was
uneasy and afraid was apparent.

Vance regarded him with critical coldness, as he might have
inspected some specimen in a laboratory.  Then he waved his hand
toward a chair beside the table.

"Come in and sit down, Tatum."  His tone was at once condescending
and peremptory.

The man moved forward with a shambling gait, and threw himself into
the chair with affected nonchalance.

"Well, what do you want?" he asked, with a show of spirit, glancing
about the room.

"I understand you play the piano," remarked Vance.

Tatum ceased fidgeting and looked up with smouldering anger.

"Say, what is this--a game of some kind?"

Vance nodded gravely.

"Yes--and a dashed serious game.  You were a bit unsettled, we have
been told, by the disappearance of your rival, Mr. Montague."

"Unsettled?"  Tatum nervously relighted his cigarette which had
gone out.  Vance had thrown him off his guard, and his deliberate
and prolonged pause patently indicated that he was endeavoring to
readjust his equilibrium.  "Well, why not?  But I haven't been
shedding crocodile tears over Monty, if that's what you mean.  He
was a rotter, and it's just as well, for everybody, that he is out
of the way."

"Do you think he will ever return?" asked Vance casually.

Tatum made an unpleasant noise in his throat, which was probably
intended to be a scornful laugh.

"No, he won't show up again--because he can't.  You don't think he
planned the disappearance himself, do you?  He didn't have enough
sense--or courage.  It meant going out of the limelight; and Monty
couldn't live or breathe unless he was in the limelight. . . .
SOMEBODY GOT HIM!"

"Who do you think it was?"

"How should I know?"

"Do you think it was Greeff?"

Tatum's eyes half closed, and a cold, hard look spread over his
drawn face.

"It might have been Greeff," the man said between his teeth.  "He
had ample reason."

"And didn't you yourself have 'ample reason'?" Vance returned
quietly.

"Plenty."  A ferocious smile came to Tatum's lips, then faded
immediately away.  "But I'm in the clear.  You can't pin anything
on me."  He leaned forward and fixed Vance with his eyes.  "I'd
hardly got into my bathing suit when the fellow jumped from the
spring-board, and I even went into the pool myself and tried to
find him when he failed to come up.  I was with the rest of the
party all the time.  You can ask them."

"We shall, no doubt," Vance murmured.  "But if you are so
immaculately free from suspicion, how can you suggest that Greeff
may have had a hand in Montague's mysterious fading from the scene?
He seems to have followed very much the same course you did."

"Oh, yes?" Tatum retorted, with cynical scorn.  "The hell he
did! . . ."

"You refer, I take it," said Vance mildly, "to the fact that Greeff
swam to the opposite side of the pool into the shallow water."

"Oh, you know that, do you?"  Tatum looked up shrewdly.  "But do
you know what he was doing during the fifteen minutes when no one
could see him?"

Vance shook his head.

"I haven't the groggiest notion. . . .  Have you?"

"He might have been doing almost anything," Tatum returned, with a
sly nod.

"Such as draggin' Montague's body out of the pool?"

"And why not?"

"But the only place where he could have emerged from the water was
devoid of any footprints.  That fact was checked both last night
and this morning."

Tatum frowned.  Then he said, with a certain aggressiveness:

"What of it?  Greeff's as shrewd as they come.  He may have found
some way to avoid making footprints."

"It sounds a bit vague, don't y' know.  But, even if your theory is
correct, what could he have done with the body in so short a time?"

The ashes of Tatum's cigarette broke and fell on his coat: he
leaned forward and shook them off.

"Oh, you'll probably find the body somewhere on the other side of
the pool," he returned, readjusting himself in the chair.

Vance's gaze rested calculatingly on the man for several minutes.

"Is Greeff the only possibility you have to suggest?" he asked at
length.

"No," Tatum answered, with a one-sided smile, "there are plenty of
possibilities.  But the point is to hook them up with the
circumstances.  If Leland hadn't been alongside of me the whole
time I was in the pool, I wouldn't give him a clean bill of health
for a split second.  And Stamm had plenty of cause to bump Monty
off; but he's out of the running because of all the liquor he'd
poured into himself.  And the women here, too--the McAdam dame and
Ruby Steele--they'd have welcomed an opportunity of getting rid of
the handsome Monty.  But I don't see how they could have managed
it."

"Really, y' know, Tatum," Vance remarked, "you're simply bulging
with suspects.  How do you happen to have overlooked old Mrs.
Stamm?"

Tatum sucked in his breath, and his face took on the expression of
a death's-head.  His long fingers closed over the arms of his
chair.

"She's a devil--that woman!" he muttered huskily.  "They say she's
crazy.  But she sees too much--she knows too much."  He stared
straight ahead blankly.  "SHE'S CAPABLE OF ANYTHING!"  There was
something approaching abject fear in his manner.  "I've seen her
only twice; but she haunts this whole house like a ghost.  You
can't get away from her."

Vance had been watching Tatum closely, without appearing to do so.

"Your nerves are a bit on edge, I fear," he commented.  Then he
took a deep inhalation on his cigarette and, rising, walked to the
mantelpiece, where he stood almost directly facing the other.
"Incidentally," he said casually, dropping his ash into the
fireplace, "Mrs. Stamm's theory is that a dragon in the pool killed
Montague and hid his body."

Tatum gave a tremulous, cynical laugh.

"Oh, sure, I've heard that wild story before.  Maybe a dodo
trampled on him--or a unicorn gored him."

"It might interest you to know, however, that we have found
Montague's body--"

Tatum started forward.

"Where?" he interrupted.

"In one of the sub-glacial pot-holes down the East Road. . . .  And
there were three long claw-marks down his chest, such as this
mythical dragon might have made."

Tatum sprang to his feet.  His cigarette fell from his lips, and he
shook his finger hysterically at Vance.

"Don't try to frighten ME--don't try to frighten ME."  His voice
was high-pitched and shaky.  "I know what you're trying to do--
you're trying to break down my nerves and get me to admit
something.  But I won't talk--do you understand?--I won't
talk. . . ."

"Come, come, Tatum."  Vance spoke mildly but sternly.  "Sit down
and calm yourself.  I'm telling you the exact truth.  And I'm only
endeavorin' to find some solution to Montague's murder.  It merely
occurred to me that you might be able to help us."

Tatum, soothed and reassured by Vance's manner, sank back into his
chair and lit another cigarette.

"Did you," Vance asked next, "notice anything peculiar about
Montague last night before he went to the pool?  Did he, for
instance, appear to you like a man who might have been drugged?"

"He was drugged with liquor, if that's what you mean," Tatum
replied rationally.  "Although--I'll say this for Monty--he carried
his liquor pretty well.  And he hadn't had any more than the rest
of us--and much less than Stamm, of course."

"Did you ever hear of a woman named Ellen Bruett?"

Tatum puckered his brow.

"Bruett? . . .  The name sounds familiar. . . .  Oh, I know where
I've heard it.  Stamm told me, when he asked me to come here, that
there was an Ellen Bruett coming to the party.  I imagine I was to
be paired with her.  Thank God she didn't come, though."  He looked
up shrewdly.  "What's she got to do with it?"

"She's an acquaintance of Montague's--so Stamm told us," Vance
explained carelessly.  Then he asked quickly:  "When you were in
the pool, last night, did you hear an automobile on the East Road?"

Tatum shook his head.

"Maybe I did, but I certainly don't remember it.  I was too busy
diving round for Monty."

Vance dismissed the subject and put another query to Tatum.

"After Montague's disappearance, did you feel immediately that
there had been foul play of some kind?"

"Yes!"  Tatum compressed his lips and nodded ominously.  "In fact,
I had a feeling all day yesterday that something was going to
happen.  I came pretty near leaving the party in the afternoon--I
didn't like the set-up."

"Can you explain what gave you that impression of impending
disaster?"

Tatum thought a moment, and his eyes shifted back and forth.

"No, I can't say," he muttered at length.  "A little of everything,
perhaps.  But especially that crazy woman up-stairs. . . ."

"Ah!"

"She'd give any one the heebie-jeebies.  Stamm makes a habit, you
know, of taking his guests to see her for a few moments when they
arrive--to pay their respects, or something of the kind.  And I
remember when I got here, Friday afternoon, Teeny McAdam and Greeff
and Monty were already upstairs with her.  She seemed pleasant
enough--smiled at all of us and bid us welcome--but there was a
queer look in her eyes as she studied each one of us individually--
something calculating and ill-omened, if you know what I'm trying
to get at.  I had the feeling that she was making up her mind which
one of us she disliked the most.  Her eyes rested a long time on
Monty--and I was glad she didn't look at me the same way.  When she
dismissed us she said, 'Have a good time'--but she was like a cobra
grinning at her victims.  It took three shots of whisky to bring me
back to normal."

"Did the others feel the same way about it?"

"They didn't say much, but I know they didn't like it.  And of
course the whole party here has been one continual round of back-
biting and underhand animosity."

Vance rose and waved his hand toward the door.

"You may go now, Tatum.  But I warn you, we want nothing said yet
about the finding of Montague's body.  And you're to stay indoors
with the rest, until further orders from the District Attorney."

Tatum started to say something, checked himself, and then went out.

When the man had gone Vance moved back and forth between the
fireplace and the door several times, smoking, his head down.
Slowly he looked up at Markham.

"A shrewd, unscrupulous lad, that. . . .  Not a nice person--not at
all a nice person.  And as ruthless as a rattlesnake.  Moreover, he
knows--or, at least, he seriously suspects--something connected
with Montague's death.  You recall that, even before he knew we had
found the body, he was quite sure it would be discovered somewhere
on the other side of the pool.  That wasn't altogether guesswork on
his part--his tone was far too casual and assured.  And he was
pretty certain regarding the time Greeff spent in the shallow
water.  Of course, he ridiculed the dragon idea--and did it
cleverly. . . .  His comments on Mrs. Stamm were rather
interestin', too.  He thinks she knows and sees too much--but,
after all, why should he care?  Unless, of course, he has something
to hide. . . .  And he told us he didn't hear any car last night,
though others heard it. . . ."

"Yes, yes."  Markham made a vague gesture with his hand, as if to
dismiss Vance's speculations.  "Everything here seems contradictory.
But what I'd like to know is: was it possible for Greeff to have
manipulated the whole thing from his position at the shallow side
of the pool?"

"The answer to that question," returned Vance, "seems to lie in the
solution of the problem of how Montague got out of the pool and
into the pot-hole. . . .  Anyway, I think it would be a bully idea,
while we're waiting for Doremus, to have another brief parley with
Greeff.--Will you please fetch him, Sergeant?"

Greeff entered the drawing-room a few minutes later, dressed in a
conventional light-weight business suit, and wearing a small
gardenia in his buttonhole.  Despite his rugged healthy complexion,
he showed unmistakable signs of strain, and I imagined that he had
done considerable drinking since we had interviewed him the night
before.  Much of his aggressiveness was gone, and his fingers shook
slightly as he moved his long cigarette holder to and from his
lips.

Vance greeted him perfunctorily and asked him to sit down.  When
Greeff had chosen a chair, Vance said:

"Both Mr. Leland and Mr. Tatum have told us that when you were in
the pool, helping them search for Montague, you swam immediately
across to the shallow water below the cliffs."

"Not immediately."  There was the suggestion of indignant
protestation in Greeff's voice.  "I made several efforts to find
the chap.  But, as I've already told you, I am not a good swimmer,
and it occurred to me that perhaps his body had drifted across the
pool, since he had dived in that direction; and I thought I might
be of more help by looking about over there than by interfering
with Leland and Tatum with my clumsy splashing about."  He shot a
quick look at Vance.  "Was there any reason why I shouldn't have
done it?"

"No-o," Vance drawled.  "We were just interested in checkin' the
whereabouts of the various members of the party during that
particular period."

Greeff squinted, and the color deepened on his cheeks.

"Then what's the point of the question?" he snapped.

"Merely an attempt to clarify one or two dubious items," Vance
returned lightly, and then went on, before the other could speak
again:  "By the by, when you were in the shallow water at the other
side of the pool, did you, by any chance, hear a motor-car along
the East Road?"

Greeff stared at Vance for several moments in startled silence.
The color left his face, and he rose to his feet with jerky
ponderance.

"Yes, by Gad!  I did hear one."  He stood with hunched shoulders,
emphasizing his words with his long cigarette holder which he held
in his right hand, like a conductor's baton.  "And I thought at the
time it was damned queer.  But I forgot all about it last night,
and didn't think of it again until you mentioned it just now."

"It was about ten minutes after Montague had dived in, wasn't it?"

"Just about."

"Both Mr. Leland and Miss Stamm heard it," Vance remarked.  "But
they were a trifle vague about it."

"I heard it, all right," Greeff muttered.  "And I wondered whose
car it was."

"I'd jolly well like to know that myself."  Vance contemplated the
tip of his cigarette.  "Could you tell which way the car was
going?"

"Toward Spuyten Duyvil," Greeff answered, without hesitation.  "And
it started somewhere to the east of the pool.  When I got over into
the shallow water everything was quiet--too damned quiet to suit
me.  I didn't like it.  I called to Leland, and then made some
further efforts to see if Montague's body had drifted over to the
shoal at that side of the pool.  But it was no go.  And as I stood
there, with my head and shoulders above the surface of the water,
on the point of swimming back, I distinctly heard some one starting
the motor of a car--"

"As if the car had been parked in the road?" interrupted Vance.

"Exactly. . . .  And then I heard the gears being shifted; and the
car went on down the East Road--and I swam back across the pool,
wondering who was leaving the estate."

"According to a billet-doux we found in one of Montague's coats, a
lady was waiting for him in a car, down near the east gate, at ten
o'clock last night."

"So?"  Greeff gave an unpleasant laugh.  "So that's the way the
wind blows, is it?"

"No, no, not altogether.  There was some miscalculation somewhere,
I opine. . . .  The fact is, d' ye see," Vance added, with slow
emphasis, "we found Montague's body just beyond the Clove--in one
of the pot-holes."

Greeff's mouth sagged open, and his eyes contracted into small,
shining discs.

"You found him, eh?" he iterated.  "How did he die?"

"We don't know yet.  The Medical Examiner is on his way up here
now.  But he wasn't a pleasant sight--a bad gash on the head and
great claw-like scratches down his chest--"

"Wait a minute--wait a minute!"  There was a tense huskiness in
Greeff's demand.  "Were there three scratches close together?"

Vance nodded, scarcely looking at the man.

"Exactly three--and they were a uniform distance apart."

Greeff staggered backward toward his chair and fell into it
heavily.

"Oh, my God--oh, my God!" he muttered.  After a moment he moved his
thick fingers over his chin and looked up abruptly, fixing his eyes
on Vance in furtive inquiry.  "Have you told Stamm?"

"Oh, yes," Vance replied abstractedly.  "We gave him the glad
tidings as soon as we returned to the house, less than an hour
ago."  Vance appeared to reflect; then he put another question to
Greeff.  "Did you ever accompany Stamm on any of his treasure hunts
or fishing expeditions in the tropics?"

Obviously Greeff was profoundly puzzled by this change of subject.

"No--no," he spluttered.  "Never had anything to do with such silly
business--except that I helped Stamm finance and equip a couple of
his expeditions.  That is," he amended, "I got some of my clients
to put up the money.  But Stamm paid it all back after the
expeditions had fizzled. . . ."

Vance arrested the other's explanations with a gesture.

"You're not interested in tropical fish yourself, I take it?"

"Well, I wouldn't go so far as to say I'm not interested in them,"
Greeff returned in a matter-of-fact voice; but his eyes were still
narrowed, like those of a man deeply perplexed.  "They're nice to
look at--grand colors and all that. . . ."

"Any Dragonfish in Stamm's collection?"

Greeff sat up again, his face paling.

"My God!  You don't mean--"

"Purely an academic question," Vance interrupted, with a wave of
the hand.

Greeff made a throaty noise.

"Yes, by Gad!" he declared.  "There are some Dragonfish here.  But
they're not alive.  Stamm has two of them preserved some way.
Anyway, they're only about twelve inches long--though they're
vicious-looking devils.  He has some long name for them--"

"Chauliodus sloanei?"

"Something like that. . . .  And he's also got some Sea-horses and
a coral-red Sea-dragon. . . .  But see here, Mr. Vance, what have
these fish got to do with the case?"

Vance sighed before answering.

"I'm sure I don't know.  But I'm dashed interested in Stamm's
collection of tropical fish."

At this moment Stamm himself and Doctor Holliday crossed the hall
to the drawing-room.

"I'm going, gentlemen," Doctor Holliday announced quietly.  "If you
want me for anything, Mr. Stamm knows where to reach me."  Without
further ado he went toward the front door, and we heard him go out
and drive away in his little coupé.

Stamm stood for several moments, glowering at Greeff.

"Adding more fuel to the fire?" he asked, with an almost vicious
sarcasm.

Greeff shrugged hopelessly and extended his hands in a futile
gesture, as if unable to cope with the other's unreasonable
attitude.

It was Vance who answered Stamm.

"Mr. Greeff and I have just been discussing your fish."

Stamm looked skeptically from one to the other of them, then turned
on his heel and went from the room.  Vance permitted Greeff to go
also.

He had no sooner passed the portières than there came the sound of
a car on the front drive; and a few moments later Detective Burke,
who had been stationed at the front door, ushered in the Medical
Examiner.



CHAPTER XIII

THREE WOMEN


(Sunday, August 12; 3.30 p. m.)


Doctor Doremus looked us over satirically, then fixed his gaze on
Sergeant Heath.

"Well, well," he said, with a commiserating shake of the head.  "So
the corpse has returned.  Suppose we have a look at it before it
eludes you again."

"It's down the East Road a bit."  Vance rose from his chair and
went toward the door.  "We'd better drive."

We went out of the house and, picking up Detective Burke, got into
Vance's car.  Doremus trailed us in his own car.  We swung round to
the south of the house and turned down the East Road.  When we were
opposite the pot-holes, where Snitkin was waiting, Vance drew up
and we got out.

Vance led the way to the cliff and pointed to the rock wall of the
pot-hole in which Montague's body lay.

"The chap's in there," he said to Doremus.  "He hasn't been
touched."

Doremus made a grimace of annoyed boredom.

"A ladder would have helped," he grumbled, as he climbed up to the
low parapet and seated himself on its rounded top.  After leaning
over and inspecting the huddled body cursorily, he turned back to
us with a wry face and mopped his brow.

"He certainly looks dead.  What killed him?"

"That's what we're hoping you can tell us," answered Heath.

Doremus slid down from the wall.  "All right.  Get him out of there
and put him down on the ground."

It was not an easy matter to move Montague's body from the pot-
hole, as rigor mortis had set in, and it required several minutes
for Heath and Snitkin and Burke to accomplish the task.  Doremus
knelt down and, after straightening out the dead man's distorted
limbs, began to make an examination of the wound in his head and
the gashes down the breast.  After a while he looked up and,
pushing his hat back, shook his head in obvious uncertainty.

"This is a queer one," he announced.  "The man's been struck on the
head with a blunt instrument of some kind, which has ripped his
scalp open and given him a linear fracture of the skull.  It could
easily have been the cause of death.  But, on the other hand, he's
been strangled--look at the ecchymosis on either side of the
thyroid cartilage.  Only, I'd swear those discolorations are not
the marks of a human hand, or even of a rope or cord.  And look at
those bulging eyes, and the thick black lips and tongue."

"Could he have been drowned?" asked Heath.

"Drowned?"  Doremus cocked a pitying eye at the Sergeant.  "I've
just finished telling you he was bashed over the head and also
strangled.  If he couldn't get air in his lungs, how could he get
water in 'em?"

"What the Sergeant means, doctor," put in Markham, "is whether it's
possible that the man was drowned before he was mutilated."

"No."  Doremus was emphatic.  "In that case he wouldn't show the
same type of wound.  There wouldn't have been the hemorrhage in the
surrounding tissues; and the contusions on the throat would be
superficial and circumscribed and not of such a deep color."

"What about those marks on his chest?" asked Vance.

The doctor pursed his lips and looked puzzled.  Before replying he
studied the three gashes again, and then rose to his feet.

"They're nasty wounds," he said.  "But the lacerations are not very
serious.  They laid open the pectoralis major and minor muscles
without penetrating the chest walls.  And they were made before he
died: you can tell that by the condition of the blood on them."

"He certainly had rough handling."  Heath spoke like a man caught
in a wave of wonder.

"And that's not all," Doremus went on.  "He has some broken bones.
The left leg is bent on itself below the knee, showing a fracture
of both the tibia and the fibula.  The right humerus is broken,
too.  And from the depressed look of the right side of his chest,
I'd say a couple of the lower ribs are smashed."

"That might be the result of his having been thrown into the pot-
hole," Vance suggested.

"Possibly," agreed Doremus.  "But there are also dull open
abrasions--made after death--on the posterior surfaces of both
heels, as if he'd been dragged over a rough surface."

Vance took a long, deliberate inhalation on his cigarette.

"That's most interestin'," he murmured, his eyes fixed meditatively
ahead of him.

Markham shot him a quick glance.

"What do you mean by that?" he asked, almost angrily.

"Nothing cryptic," Vance returned mildly.  "But the doctor's
comment opens up a new possibility, don't y' know."

Heath was staring raptly at Montague's body, and I detected
something of both awe and fright in his attitude.

"What do you think made those scratches on his chest, doc?" he
asked.

"How should I know?" snapped Doremus.  "Haven't I already told you
I'm a doctor and not a detective?  They might have been made by any
kind of a sharp instrument."

Vance turned with a smile.

"It's very distressin', doctor, but I can explain the Sergeant's
uneasiness.  There's a theory hereabouts that this johnny was
killed by a dragon that lives in the pool."

"A dragon!"  Doremus was bewildered for a moment; then he looked at
Heath, and laughed derisively.  "And I suppose the Sergeant is
figuring out just how the naughty dragon scratched him with his
claws--is that it?"  He shook his head and chuckled.  "Well, well!
That's one way of solving a murder:--cherchez le dragon.  Good Gad,
what's the world coming to!"

Heath was piqued.

"If you'd been up against what I have the last coupla days, doc,"
he growled, "you'd believe anything, too."

Doremus lifted his eyebrows ironically.

"Have you thought of leprechawns?" he asked.  "Maybe they did the
fellow in.  Or the satyrs may have butted him to death.  Or the
gnomes may have got him.  Or perhaps the fairies tickled him to
death with pussy-willows."  He snorted.  "A sweet-looking medical
report it'd be if I put down death due to dragon scratches. . . ."

"And yet, doctor," said Vance with unwonted seriousness, "a sort of
dragon did kill the chap, don't y' know."

Doremus raised his hands and let them fall in a hopeless gesture.

"Have it your own way.  But, as a poor benighted medico, my guess
is this guy was first hit over the head and ripped open down the
front; then he was strangled, dragged to this rock hole, and dumped
into it.  If the autopsy shows anything different, I'll let you
know."

He took out a pencil and a pad of blanks, and wrote for a moment.
When he had finished he tore off the top sheet and handed it to
Heath.

"Here's your order for removal, Sergeant.  But there's going to be
no post mortem till tomorrow.  It's too blooming hot.  You can play
Saint George and go dragon hunting till then."

"That's precisely what we're going to do," Vance smiled.

"Just as a matter of record--" began Heath; but the doctor
interrupted him with an impatient gesture.

"I know, I know!--'How long has he been dead?' . . .  When I die
and go to hell, along with the rest of the medical fraternity,
that's the query that'll be eternally drummed into my ears. . . .
All right, Sergeant: he's been dead over twelve hours and less than
twenty-four.  Satisfactory?"

"We have reason to believe, doctor," said Markham, "that the man
was killed around ten o'clock last night."

Doremus looked at his watch.

"That would make eighteen hours.  Just about right, I'd say."  He
turned and walked toward his car.  "And now I'm on my way--back to
a mint julep and an easy chair.  Gad, what a day!  I'll be having a
sunstroke and a brain-storm, like the rest of you, if I don't hurry
back to town."  He got into his car.  "But I'm going home by way of
Spuyten Duyvil and Payson Avenue.  Taking no chances on going back
past the pool."  He leered at Heath.  "I'm afraid of running into
that dragon!"  And, with a cheerful wave of the hand, he shot down
the East Road.

Heath ordered Snitkin and Burke to remain with Montague's body
until it was called for, and the rest of us returned to the Stamm
residence, where Heath telephoned to the Department of Public
Welfare to send a wagon to the pot-holes.

"And where are we now?" asked Markham hopelessly, when we were
again seated in the drawing-room.  "Every discovery seems to throw
this case deeper into the realm of impenetrable mystery.  There's
apparently no line of investigation that leads anywhere except into
a blank wall."

"I wouldn't say that," Vance replied cheerfully.  "Really, y' know,
I thought things were shaping up rather well.  Doremus gave us many
revealin' items.  The technique of the murder was unique,--the very
brutality and insanity of it holds amazin' possibilities.  Y' know,
Markham, I've an idea we weren't expected to find the body.
Otherwise, why should it have been so carefully hidden?  The
murderer wanted us to think Montague merely chose to disappear from
his present haunts."

Heath nodded ponderously.

"I get what you mean, Mr. Vance.  That note in Montague's clothes,
for instance.  My idea is that this dame who wrote the note had an
accomplice in the car at the gate, who did the dirty work and threw
the bird in that pot-hole. . . ."

"That won't do, Sergeant," Vance interrupted in a kindly but firm
voice.  "Were that the case, we'd have found Montague's footprints
leading out of the pool."

"Well, why didn't we find them?" demanded Markham with
exasperation.  "Montague's body was found down the East Road.  He
must have got out of the pool some way."

"Yes, yes; he got out some way."  Vance frowned at his cigarette:
something was troubling him deeply.  "That's the devilish part of
it. . . .  Somehow I think, Markham, that Montague didn't leave any
footprints BECAUSE HE WASN'T ABLE TO.  He may not have wanted to
escape from the pool--he may have been carried out. . . ."

"My God!"  Markham rose nervously and took a deep breath.  "You're
not reverting to that hideous flying-dragon theory, are you?"

"My dear fellow!"  Vance spoke in soothing reprimand.  "At least
not the kind of dragon you imagine.  I was merely intimatin' that
the hapless Montague was killed in the pool and carried to the
pothole."

"But that theory," protested Markham, "only involves us in deeper
complications."

"I'm aware of that fact," sighed Vance.  "But, after all, the
chappie DID travel, in some manner, from the pool to the pot-hole.
And it's obvious he didn't go voluntarily."

"What about the car that was heard on the East Road?"  The
practical Sergeant projected himself again into the discussion.

"Quite."  Vance nodded.  "That car puzzles me no end.  It may have
been Montague's means of transportation.  But, dash it all! how did
he get from the pool to the car?  And why was he mutilated in such
shockin' fashion?"

He smoked a while in silence, and then turned to Markham.

"Y' know, there are several persons here who have not yet heard of
the finding of Montague's body--Ruby Steele, and Mrs. McAdam, and
Bernice Stamm.  I think the time has come to inform them.  Their
reactions may be helpful. . . ."

The three women were sent for, and when they had joined us Vance
told them briefly of the circumstances surrounding the discovery
and examination of the dead man.  He spoke in a matter-of-fact
manner, but I noticed he was watching his listeners closely.  (At
the time I could not understand his reason for the procedure, but
it was not long before I realized why he had chosen this means of
apprising the various members of the household of our gruesome find
in the pot-hole.)

The three women listened intently; and there was a short silence
following the conclusion of his information.  Then Ruby Steele
said, in a low, sententious voice:

"It really bears out what I told you last night.  The fact that
there were no footprints leading from the pool means nothing.  A
man like this half-breed, Leland--with all his hidden powers--could
accomplish seeming miracles.  And he was the last person to return
to the house here!"

I expected Bernice Stamm to resent these remarks, but she merely
smiled musingly and said with troubled dignity:

"I'm not surprised that poor Monty has been found; but I doubt if
miracles are needed to explain his death. . . ."  Then the pupils
of her eyes dilated, and her breast rose and fell with accelerated
respiration.  "But," she went on, "I don't understand the marks on
Monty's chest."

"Do you understand the other features of the case, Miss Stamm?"
Vance asked quietly.

"No--no!"  Her voice became almost hysterical.  "I don't understand
any of it."  Tears came into her eyes, and she was unable to
continue.

"Don't let it worry you," Vance consoled her.  "You're frightfully
wrought up, don't y' know."

"May I go now?" she asked pleadingly.

"Of course."  Vance rose and escorted her to the door.

When he returned to his chair Teeny McAdam spoke.  She had been
smoking with tense abstractedness for some time; I doubt if she had
even heard any of Bernice Stamm's remarks.  Suddenly she wheeled
toward Vance, her features contracted and set.

"Listen!" she began, with peremptory desperation.  "I'm sick of
this whole miserable affair.  Monty's dead and you've found his
body--and I've got something to tell you.  Alex Greeff hated Monty.
And he said to Monty Friday night--I heard him--'You're not going
to marry Bernice if I can help it.'  Monty laughed at him and
retorted:  'What are you going to do about it?'  Mr. Greeff said:
'Plenty--IF THE DRAGON DOESN'T GET YOU FIRST.'  Then Monty called
him a foul name and went up to bed. . . ."

"What do you think Mr. Greeff was referring to when he mentioned
the dragon?"

"I don't know.  But later that night it occurred to me he might
have been referring to Mr. Leland."

"Was it because of these remarks you screamed when Montague failed
to come up after his dive?"

"Yes!  I'd been worrying all day yesterday.  And when Mr. Greeff
jumped into the pool and made a pretense of looking for Monty I
kept my eyes on him.  But he immediately swam out of sight toward
the cliffs on the other side--"

"And you kept your eyes strained in that direction?"

Mrs. McAdam nodded jerkily.

"I didn't know what he was up to--and I didn't trust him. . . .
Later, when he came back he whispered to me:  'Montague's gone--and
good riddance.'  Even then I couldn't see how he'd accomplished the
thing.  But now that you've found Monty's body in the pot-hole, I
had to tell you what I know."

Vance nodded sympathetically.

"But why were you upset when I told you of the splash in the pool
late last night?"

"I don't know--exactly."  The woman spoke hurriedly and excitedly.
"But I thought it might be part of the plot to kill Monty--or maybe
Monty's body being thrown from the cliff--or some one in the water
DOING DREADFUL THINGS TO HIM. . . .  Oh, I didn't know what it
might be, but I was afraid . . . afraid--"  Her voice died away,
and she caught her breath.

Vance rose and regarded her rather coldly.

"Thank you for your information," he said, bowing.  "I'm sorry, and
all that, to have upset you.  You and Miss Steele may return to the
library now.  There are a few other matters to be attended to.  And
if we need your assistance later I'm sure you'll both be good
enough to give it."

When they had gone a brief discussion followed as to the best means
of proceeding with the case.  The greatest difficulty lay in the
fact that there seemed to be nothing tangible to take hold of.
Montague's murdered body was a reality, of course, and there were
various suspects--that is, persons with a motive for killing the
man.  But there were no connecting links, no indicated lines of
investigation, and no clues pointing in any specific direction.
The actual modus operandi of the murder was in itself an
incalculable mystery.  And over the whole situation hung the
sinister mythology of a dragon.

Routine police work was, however, in order; and the Sergeant, with
his trained official mind, insisted on carrying this work through
without further delay.  Markham agreed with him; and Vance, who,
for the solution of criminal problems, depended largely upon
intuitive processes and psychological reasoning, finally
acquiesced.  The case had deeply impressed him: it held elements
that profoundly appealed to his nature, and he was loath to spare
even an hour for the Sergeant's routine activities.  Moreover, he
had, I knew, several definite, even if only vaguely formulated,
ideas concerning the case.

"A very simple key," he said, "is all that's needed to unlock the
door of this fantastic mystery.  But without that key we're
helpless. . . .  My word, what an amazin' situation!  There are any
number of people who admit that they are delighted with Montague's
translation into the Beyond, and each one accuses one of the others
of having manipulated his transit.  But, on the other hand, the
circumstances surrounding Montague's death seem to preclude the
possibility of his having been killed at all.  It was he who
suggested the swim, and he dived into the pool in sight of every
one. . . .  And yet, Markham, I'm thoroughly convinced the whole
affair was carefully planned--deliberately enciphered with
commonplace numerals to make it appear fortuitous."

Markham was weary and on edge.

"Granted all that, how would you propose going about deciphering
the riddle other than by the usual measures which the Sergeant
intends to take?"

"I have no suggestions at the moment."  Vance was gazing
meditatively into space.  "I was hopin', however, to inspect
Stamm's collection of tropical fish today."

Markham snorted with exasperation.

"The fish will keep till tomorrow.  In the meantime, the Sergeant
can clear up the routine matters."



CHAPTER XIV

AN UNEXPECTED DEVELOPMENT


(Sunday, August 12; 5.30 p. m.)


It was nearly half-past five when Markham and Vance and I left the
old Stamm mansion and drove back to Vance's apartment.  All the
guests and members of the household had been given instructions to
remain until the following day and not to leave the grounds of the
estate.  Stamm had generously cooperated with us in this respect.
Greeff had raised objections, and even threatened us with his
lawyer; but finally he had agreed to remain another twenty-four
hours, in view of the complications that had arisen with the
finding of Montague's body.  The other guests had accepted
Markham's decision without protest.

All the main entrances to the grounds were to be guarded; and the
servants in the house were to be questioned for any possible
suggestions, although nothing of importance was expected from their
testimony.

Heath had decided to remain at the Stamm estate during this
investigation and direct the activities.  Other members of the
Homicide Bureau were to take a hand in the case.  Montague's
associations were to be looked into; an attempt was to be made to
find Ellen Bruett; and a canvas of Inwood was planned, in the hope
of unearthing some information about the automobile which had been
heard on the East Road.  In short, the usual police procedure was
to be intensively followed, with Sergeant Heath in charge.

"I see no other way to handle the case," Markham said despondently,
as we settled ourselves in the sprawling wicker chairs on Vance's
roof-garden.

Vance was troubled and distrait.

"You may be right.  But the factors of this case are far from
ordin'ry.  The answer to the whole problem lies somewhere in the
Stamm residence.  That's a strange place, Markham.  It's full of
infinite possibilities--with its distorted traditions, its old
superstitions, its stagnant air of a dead and buried age, its
insanity and decadence, and its folklore and demonology.  Such a
place produces strange quirks of the mind: even casual visitors are
caught in its corroding atmosphere.  Such an atmosphere generates
and begets black and incredible crimes.  You have seen, in the last
two days, how every one with whom we talked was poisoned by these
subtle and sinister influences."

For a moment Markham studied Vance intently.

"Have you any particular person in mind?" he asked.

Vance rose and rang for Currie.

"I wasn't thinking of individuals so much as of the perverted
psychological combinations of the problem.  And no explanation can
be reached without a recognition and consideration of this
fantastic dragon--"

"Vance!  For the love of Heaven!"

"Oh, I'm quite serious.  We'll go far afield if we do not recognize
that fact."  He looked up.  "There are various types of dragons,
don't y' know."

Currie appeared, and Vance ordered Moraine Coolers.*


* The Moraine Cooler was one of Vance's favorite summer drinks.  It
is ordinarily made with Rhine wine, lemon juice (with the rind),
Curaçao, and club soda; but Vance always substituted Grand Marnier
for the Curaçao.


"The dragon," Vance continued, "has always had a powerful hold on
the imagination of man.  We find the dragon, in some form, in most
religions; and all folk-lore is peppered with dragons.  The dragon
goes deeper than a mere myth, Markham: it has become a part of
man's inheritance from the earliest times; it has enhanced his
fears; it has guided and shaped his symbolism; it has put strange
notions in his head by coloring and distorting his imagination.
Without the dragon the history of man would be a very different
record from what it is today.  None of us can entirely escape the
dragon myth: it is too much an integral part of our deeper and more
primitive natures.  That's why I say that we cannot ignore the
dragon in dealing with a criminal case which is, at bottom,
dragonish. . . ."

Vance moved a little in his chair, and his eyes roamed dreamily
over the hazy skyline of Manhattan.

"Where the conception of the dragon originated no one knows; but it
is probably the most tenacious of all ancient superstitions.  The
Christian devil is nothing but a modified dragon of ancient folk-
lore.  There have, of course, been many speculations as to the
origin of this supernatural monster, and Moncure Conway, in his
'Demonology and Devil-Lore,' says it is the result of a confused
memory of prehistoric saurians.  But other researchers--Sir James
George Scott, for instance--take issue with Conway and attribute
the conception of the dragon to the primitive imagination in
connection with snakes.  But whatever the origin, it is a
persistent and varied superstition.  The dragon has taken many
forms in man's mind.  It is a far cry, for example, from the Indian
Vrtra and the Greek Hydra to the mild Burmese dragon and the drakos
of the European Gipsies.  And neither of these conceptions is
comparable with the enormous tortoise which King Thai-to saw
swimming toward his royal bark."

Vance sipped his drink, which Currie had just served.

"Every land and every people, Markham, has had its dragons.  Even
in ancient Egypt the dragon became more or less identified with
Seth and fought against Horus in the form of water-monsters.  And
in the Papyrus of Ani--or Book of the Dead--we read of the fire-
breathing dragon Apop, to whom the wicked were thrown.  But the
dragon was not always a monster.  A dragon-horse brought Fu Hsi the
Eight Diagrams nearly 3000 years B.C.; and whenever the Yellow
Emperor saw dragons he knew that prosperity was at hand.  Chinese
mythology, in fact, is filled with dragons, both benevolent and
malevolent.  The Fifth Moon Feast in memory of Ch'ü Yüan's suicide
is called the Dragon Festival; and Fei Ch'ang-fang's magic rod
turned into a dragon and aided him in conquering the ogres of
darkness.  In the Buddhist myths we find many references to the
dragon as associated with fish; and there is at least one instance
where the Dragon King himself was carried off to sea in the body of
a fish. . . ."

Markham looked up sharply.

"Are you insinuating--" he began; but Vance interrupted him.

"No, oh no," he said.  "I am not referring to Stamm's collection of
tropicals.  It's the dragon myth itself that fascinates me. . . .
In all the Indo-Chinese countries we find the snake--not the fish--
as the basis of the dragon.  Probably this conception was brought
from China and Japan, where the water-snake was formerly worshipped
as a god.  In Indo-Chinese mythology there are any number of dragon-
myths, after the fashion of the Chutia Nagpur tradition.  There is
the Naga Min, who is at times represented with coils long enough to
embrace an entire pagoda; and Galon, the Burmese dragon who
appeared like the Indian Garuda; and Bilu, a dragon ogre who fed on
human flesh and never cast a shadow.  And you perhaps recall the
myth of Hkun Ai and his Naga princess who was the daughter of the
King of the Dragons, and how he spied upon her and her court one
night, only to find that the entire countryside and all the lakes
around were filled with these gigantic writhing creatures. . . .
In the Han Dynasty the Spirit of the East was Thang-long, the Blue
Dragon; and in the legends of the Karens we find the spirit of
Satan symbolized as a dragon.  The mythology of the Tongkingese
abounds in dragons; and their secret hiding-places exist to this
day.  Buddhist and Taoist tales are filled with dragon lore.  Even
the great Temple of Linh-lanh was supposed to have been built on a
dragon's head.  There was a dragon guardian of the city of Hanoi;
and in the Ly Dynasty King Thaiton named the capital Thanh-long,
meaning the Dragon City.  The protective idea of the dragon, d' ye
see, is also well established in folk-lore.  At Pokhar in Rajputana
there is a sacred lake which, tradition tells us, was once
inhabited by a dragon who guarded the Burmese Temple nearby. . . .
And the dragon permeates the legends of Siam--he was probably
brought from India along with Brahmanism and serpent worship.
Siamese dragons lived in caves and under the water. . . ."

Vance gazed up meditatively at the sky.

"You will note how the water motif runs through these ancient
superstitions," he continued.  "Perhaps one of the most significant
tales--this is from the Japanese--is that of Kobo Daishi, the
founder of Shingon Buddhism in the ninth century, who drew the
ideogram for dragon on the waters of a stream in the Kozuke
district.  When he had finished the ideogram it became an actual
dragon which rose over the water; and it is supposed to have
hovered there ever since--a superstition no doubt based on the
dense vapors which constantly rise from this mountain stream.  And
similar to this tale is the one in which Le-loi's sword turned into
a jade-colored dragon and disappeared in the waters of the sacred
lake which, to this day, is called the Lake of the Great Sword.
Then, there's the legend of the province of Izumo, in Japan, which
tells of a water-dragon who demanded the sacrifice of a virgin each
year, and of how Susa-no-wo slew him when he came up out of the
river.  The hero of course married the young lady he had thus
saved. . . .  Japanese mythology, like the Chinese, is filled with
Dragon Kings: we find many tales of them in the Shinto chronicles.
One of the most significant legends connected with the Dragon Kings
was that of a Chinese emperor who sent a shipload of treasures to
Japan.  During a storm a priceless crystal, which perpetually held
the image of Buddha, was lost.  It was supposed to have been stolen
by the Dragon King who lived in the deep waters off the coast of
Sanuki.  The crystal was recovered from the Dragon Palace by a poor
fisher-woman who, as a reward, had her only child brought up by the
noble Fujiwara family.  The water motif again, Markham. . . .  And
do you recall how Toda saved the dragon folk in Lake Biwa by
slaying the giant centipede with poisoned arrows?"

"No, I don't recall it," growled Markham.  "And anyway, what's the
point of all this?"

"The dragon myth, old dear--a most engagin' subject," Vance
returned.  Then he went on blandly:  "Iranian mythology is filled
with dragons, and they too are related, to a great extent, to
water.  In fact, the water of the earth was supposed to be the
result of a god slaying a dragon who was hidden in the clouds.
Indra, with his thunderbolt, slew the dragon of drought.  Trita,
the son of Aptya, also slew a tri-headed dragon named Visvarupa.
And there's the story of Keresaspa who slew the dragon Srvra and
for whom Zarathustra intervened.  Saam, the vassal of Minucihr, met
many a dragon, but his great battle was with the one that haunted
the river Kashaf.  Then there's the Iranian tale which relates of
Ahura Mazda and the monster Azhi with the serpents springing from
his shoulders.  And in a Persian manuscript of the Shahnamah, in
the Metropolitan Museum of Art, there is a vivid picture of
Gushtasp battling with a dragon."

"I do hope," sighed Markham, "you're not going to ask me to go to
the Metropolitan Museum to inspect the manuscript."

Vance ignored Markham's sarcasm and continued his treatise.

"In Armenian mythology we have the Median king, Azdahak--a name
which means 'dragon'--who fought Tigranes and who, after his
defeat, was compelled to bring his family and settle in Armenia.
Anush, who was the Mother of Dragons, was, we are told, Azdahak's
first queen.  And here we have, perhaps, the origin of the dragon
children about whom the old songs were written. . . .  Vahagn, the
most popular of all the Armenian deities, was known far and wide as
the 'dragon-reaper,' and in later syncretistic times he was
identified with Heracles.  Then there was the dragon of the
Macedonians, closely related to the Indian Vrtra and the Armenian
Vishap.  This dragon was a gigantic and terrible monster.  But in
all Armenian mythology the dragon was, as with other primitive
peoples, associated with meteorology and was supposed to represent
the whirlwind, the water spout, thunder and lightning, and heavy
rain; and often the meteorological and the eschatological dragon
were confused. . . .  The water idea connected with the dragon is
found also in the records of the Mayas.  The great ceremonial
monolith at Quirigua is known as the Great Turtle or the Dragon,
and played an important part in the Mayan religion."

Vance sipped his drink and glanced up at Markham.

"Am I borin' you horribly?" he asked.

Markham compressed his lips and said nothing; and Vance, with a
sigh, settled himself more comfortably in his chair.

"In Semitic mythology," he went on, "the dragon played an important
and sinister part.  In the Babylonian Epic of Creation we read of
the dragons which issued from the belly of Tiamat, released by Bêl
and the Imhullu wind.  These eleven dragons became gods of the
lower regions and were later identified by the astrologers with
various constellations.  The Assyrian fish-man was one of the
dragons of Chaos and represented the constellation Aquarius; and
Ninurta, in the creation myth, was commanded by Anu and Enlil to
conquer the ushumgal, or Great Sea Serpent. . . ."

Vance smoked a while in silence.

"The Greeks, and also the Romans, had their dragons.  The Chimera,
with her devastating breath of fire, whom Bellerophon slew, was
part lion, part goat, and part dragon.  The Golden Apples of the
Hesperides were guarded by a hydra-headed deathless dragon; and, of
course, there was the dragon that Cadmus destroyed and whose teeth
he strew over the earth. . . .  And throughout Celtic mythology we
find dragons called péist or béist--probably from the Latin bestia--
living in lochs in various reptilian forms.  The saints destroyed
many of these monsters; and if a dragon shrieked on May-Eve the
land was barren until Lludd buried him alive.  And there were the
dragons which encircled the oaks in the grove of which Lucan wrote;
and the two dragons of Merlin, who slept in hollow stones and, when
dug up, did battle with each other.  Also there's the dragon who
issued from the earth at the sound of Cliach's harp playing. . . ."

"But we have no harps," protested Markham wearily.

Vance shook his head sadly.

"My dear Markham!  I fear you have no soul for classical lore.
But we are dealing with a dragon of some sort, and the dragon
superstition should not be entirely ignored.  The conception of the
dragon 5000 years ago, for instance, was that he could change his
aspect whenever he chose.  The five-clawed dragon of the Manchus
was benevolent and symbolic of power, but the three-clawed dragon
was inimical to man--the symbol of death and destruction."

"Come, come!"  Markham looked up alertly.  "Are you trying to get
me stirred up by that imprint with the three claws?"

"Not at all.  I'm simply borin' you with a few historical details
which may, or may not, prove illuminatin' in our investigation.
There are, however, many variations in the pattern of the dragon:
some are depicted with bearded heads, some with scaly bodies, some
with horns; but all with claws not unlike the marks we have found
on the basin of the pool."

Vance shifted his position a little and went on.

"And there were many winged dragons in mythology, Markham.  Though
they lived in lonely pools and lakes and beneath the waters, they
nevertheless could fly, and they often bore their victims
incredible distances.  For instance, there were the winged dragons
who bore the chariot of Triptolemus through the skies.  And Medea,
as you remember, after slaying her children, fled to Athens in a
chariot hitched to winged dragons which had been sent to her by
Helios."

Markham rose and paced back and forth for a moment.

"What has all this dragon lore to do with Montague's death?" he
asked at length.

"Really, y' know, I haven't the vaguest notion," Vance sighed.
"But the myths of the Algonkian Indians are quite in line with the
classical dragon myths; and it was these Indians who named the
Dragon Pool in Inwood and are responsible for the superstition that
attaches to it.  The important character of the Algonkian myths is
the Great Hare, whose name was Manabozho, and he did valiant battle
with giants and cannibals and witches.  But his outstanding vict'ry
was when he slew the Great Fish or Snake that preyed on man.  This
monster was a water-dragon--Amangemokdom.  He ruled the Powers of
the Deep, and one of his favorite pastimes was to destroy and
devour fishermen. . . .  You see how interestin' the parallel is?
And, Markham, we're dealing not only with cold-blooded practical
facts, but with a sinister superstition; and we cannot afford to
ignore either one."

Markham was restless and disturbed.  He walked to the parapet of
the roof and looked out over the city for several moments.  Then he
returned and stood facing Vance.

"Well," he said with a hopeless gesture, "granted what you say is
true, what procedure do you suggest?"

"Really now," answered Vance sombrely, "I have no definite plans.
But I do intend to go to the Stamm estate early tomorrow morning."

Markham nodded grimly.

"If you think it necessary, go by all means," he said.  "But you'll
have to go alone, for I have a busy day at the office tomorrow."

But Vance did not go alone.  Strange and uncanny things happened on
the Stamm estate that night.  Shortly after nine o'clock the next
morning Markham telephoned to Vance.  Heath, it seemed, had called
the District Attorney's office and reported that Greeff had
mysteriously disappeared.



CHAPTER XV

NOISES IN THE NIGHT


(Monday, August 13; 9.30 a. m.)


We arrived at the Stamm estate before ten o'clock.  Immediately
after calling Vance Markham had left his office and stopped in 38th
Street to pick him up.  The murder of Montague had taken a powerful
hold on Markham's imagination, and the news of Greeff's
disappearance had made an irresistible demand on his activities.
As he explained to us, driving out in the car, he saw in this new
development the first tangible element in the whole affair; and he
had now put all his other work aside to take personal charge of the
case.

"I've had my suspicions about Greeff from the first," he said.
"There is something sinister in the man; and he has impressed me
all along as being involved in Montague's death.  Now that he has
escaped we can go forward with the investigation with something
like a definite aim."

"I'm not so sure," Vance demurred.  He was frowning and smoking
thoughtfully.  "The case is not going to be so simple even now.
Why should Greeff attract suspicion to himself by taking leave of
the party?  We had no evidence against him; and he must have known
that by bolting he would put in operation all the police machinery
in the city.  Very silly of him, Markham--distressingly silly.  And
Greeff does not strike me as a silly man."

"Fear--" Markham began.

"The man is fearless," Vance interrupted.  "It would have been more
logical for any other member of the party to have run away. . . .
It's most confusin'."

"The fact remains he's gone," Markham retorted testily.  "However,
we'll know more when we get there."

"Oh, quite."  And Vance lapsed into silence.

When we reached the Stamm house Heath greeted us sourly at the
entrance.

"A sweet mess," he complained.  "The only guy I had my eye on has
made his get-away."

"Sad . . . sad," sighed Vance.  "But console yourself, Sergeant,
and unfold your story."

Heath led the way into the drawing-room and planted himself
aggressively before the mantelpiece.

"First," he said, addressing Markham, "I'd better report on what's
been done since yesterday afternoon.--We checked up as best we
could on this Bruett woman, but haven't got a trace of her.
Furthermore, there hasn't been a boat to South America for four
days; so I guess her story to Stamm about sailing was phony.  We've
checked on all the likely hotels, without any result.  And here's a
funny one:--she wasn't on the passenger lists of the boats that've
arrived from Europe during the past two weeks.  Think that over.
There's something wrong about that dame, and she'll have a lot of
explaining to do when my men locate her."

Vance smiled tolerantly.

"I don't wish to dampen your official ardor, Sergeant; but I fear
you're not going to find the lady.  She's far too sketchy."

"What do you mean?" snapped Markham.  "The automobile on the East
Road at the time stated in the note--"

"It's wholly possible, don't y' know," returned Vance mildly, "that
the lady in question wasn't at the wheel. . . .  Really, Sergeant,
I wouldn't wear my nerves out about her."

"I'm looking for her, and I'm going to keep on looking for her,"
Heath asserted with a show of belligerence.  Then he turned back to
Markham.  "We didn't find out anything about Montague except what
we already know.  Always mixed up with some woman--but what good-
looking actor isn't?  He always seemed to have money--lived high
and spent a lot--but he didn't have many jobs, and no one seems to
know where his money came from."

"Any news about the car on the East Road Saturday night?" asked
Markham.

"Nothing."  Heath was disgusted.  "We couldn't find any one in
Inwood who'd seen it or heard it.  And the officer on duty on
Payson Avenue says no car came out of Inwood after nine o'clock
that night.  He was patrolling from eight o'clock on, and could
have seen any car that came down the hill. . . .  Anyway," Heath
added, "it may have coasted down the hill with the lights out."

"Or," suggested Vance vaguely, "it may never have left Inwood."

Markham shot him a quick look.

"What's back of that remark?" he demanded.

Vance made a slight gesture and shrugged.

"Oh, I say!  Must there be hidden meanings in all my observations?
. . .  I was merely offering a counter supposition regarding the
elusive vehicle."

Markham grunted.

"Anything else, Sergeant?"

"Well, we put the servants here on the carpet--the cook and the
maid; and I went over that pasty-faced butler again."  Heath made a
wry face.  "But all I got was the same line of gossip that we've
been hearing for a coupla days.  They don't know anything, and we
can check 'em off the list."

"The butler," put in Vance, in a quiet tone, "is not without
possibilities, Sergeant.  He may not know anything, but no one with
eyes like his can be devoid of suspicions."

Heath looked at Vance with a canny squint.

"You said something, Mr. Vance," he remarked.  "But he's too
slippery for me.  And he's not giving anything away if he can help
it."

"I didn't want to infer, Sergeant," Vance amended, "that you are to
pin your faith on him for a solution to the case.  I was merely
implyin' that the fish-loving Trainor is full of ideas. . . .  But,
I say, what about the amazin' disappearance of Alex Greeff?  His
truancy fascinates me."

Heath drew himself up and took a deep breath.

"He sneaked away some time during the night.  And he was damn slick
about it.  I stayed here till eleven o'clock, after everybody had
gone to their rooms.  Then I went home, leaving Snitkin in charge.
There was a man at the east gate and one at the front gate all
night.  Hennessey covered the south border of the estate, and
another man from the Bureau was down below the dam watching Bolton
Road.  I got back here at eight-thirty this morning; and Greeff was
gone.  I've been in touch with his apartment and his office; but he
hasn't showed up at either place.  Skipped out clean. . . ."

"And who," asked Vance, "apprised you of his disappearance?"

"The butler.  He met me at the door--"

"Ah!  The butler--eh, what?"  Vance thought a moment.  "Suppose we
let him chant his own rune."

"Suits me."

Heath went from the room, and returned a few minutes later with
Trainor.  The man's face was ashen.  There were deep hollows under
his eyes, as if he had not slept for nights; and the flabbiness of
his face was like a plastic mask.

"Was it you, Trainor," asked Vance, "who first discovered Mr.
Greeff's absence?"

"Yes, sir--in a manner of speaking, sir."  (He did not meet Vance's
direct gaze.)  "When Mr. Greeff did not appear for breakfast, Mr.
Stamm sent me up-stairs to call him. . . ."

"What time was that?"

"About half-past eight, sir."

"Was every one else down at the time?"

"Every one, sir.  They were all in the dining-room.  It was
unusually early--if you understand me--but I surmise that no one
slept very well last night.  Mr. Leland and Miss Stamm were
downstairs before seven; and the others followed shortly afterward.
Every one but Mr. Greeff, you understand, sir."

"And they all retired to their rooms early last night?"

"Yes, sir.  Quite early.  I put out the down-stairs lights about
eleven."

"Who was the last to retire?"

"Mr. Stamm, sir.  He had been drinking heavily again--if you will
forgive me for saying so.  But this is no time for reticence--is
it, sir?"

"No, Trainor."  Vance was studying the other closely.  "Any little
detail may be of vital help to us; and I'm sure Mr. Stamm would not
construe your information as disloyalty."

The man seemed relieved.

"Thank you, sir."

"And now, Trainor," continued Vance, "tell us about this morning.
At half-past eight Mr. Stamm sent you to call Mr. Greeff.  And
then?"

"I went to his room, sir--it is just down the hall from Mr. Stamm's--
and I knocked.  I got no answer, and I knocked again.  After I had
knocked several times, I got a little worried,--strange things have
been happening around here, sir--"

"Yes, yes.  Very strange things, Trainor.  But continue.  What did
you do then?"

"I--I tried the door, sir."  The man's eyes rolled, but he did not
look at any one of us.  "It was unlocked; and I opened it and
looked into the room. . . .  I noticed the bed had not been slept
in; and I felt a most peculiar sensation--"

"Spare us your symptoms, Trainor."  Vance was becoming impatient.
"Tell us what you did."

"I entered the room, sir, and made sure that Mr. Greeff was not
there.  Then I returned to the dining-room and indicated to Mr.
Stamm that I wished to speak to him alone.  He came into the hall,
and I informed him of Mr. Greeff's absence."

"What did Mr. Stamm say?"

"He didn't say anything, sir.  But he had a very queer look on his
face.  He stood at the foot of the stairs frowning.  Then, after a
few moments, he pushed me to one side and ran up-stairs.  I went
back into the dining-room and continued serving the breakfast."

Heath took up the story at this point.

"I was in the front hall when Stamm came down," he said.  "He was
looking queer, all right.  But when he saw me he came right up to
me and told me about Greeff's being gone.  I did a little looking
around, and questioned the men on post duty; but they hadn't seen
any one leave the estate.  Then I phoned to Mr. Markham."

Vance, for some reason, appeared deeply troubled.

"Amazin'," he murmured, busying himself with a cigarette.  When it
was lighted he turned back to the butler.  "What time did Mr.
Greeff go up-stairs last night?" he asked.

"I couldn't say exactly, sir."  The man was growing noticeably more
nervous.  "But Mr. Greeff was one of the last to retire."

"And what time did you yourself go to your quarters?"

The butler moved forward, thrust out his head, and swallowed with
difficulty.

"Shortly after eleven, sir," he replied in a strained voice.  "I
closed up the house as soon as this gentleman"--indicating Heath--
"had gone.  Then I went to my room--"

"Where is your room?"

"At the rear of the house, sir, on this floor--next to the
kitchen."  There was a peculiar intonation in his voice that
puzzled me.

Vance sank deeper into his chair and crossed his knees.

"I say, Trainor," he drawled, "what did you hear last night, after
you had gone to your room?"

The butler gave a start and sucked in his breath, and his fingers
began to twitch.  It was several moments before he answered.

"I heard"--he spoke with a curious mechanical precision--"some one
slide the bolt on the side door."

"The door that leads out to the steps to the pool?"

"Yes, sir."

"Did you hear anything else?  Any footsteps?"

Trainor shook his head.

"No, sir--nothing else."  The man's eyes moved vaguely about the
room.  "Nothing, sir, until an hour or so later--"

"Ah!  And what did you hear then?"

"I heard the bolt being thrown--"

"What else?"  Vance had risen and was confronting the man sternly.

Trainor retreated a step or two, and the twitching of his fingers
increased.

"I heard some one go up-stairs--very softly."

"To which room?"

"I--I couldn't say, sir."

Vance gazed at the man indifferently for several seconds; then he
turned and walked back to his chair.

"Who did you think it was?" he asked lazily.

"It occurred to me that perhaps Mr. Stamm had gone out for a little
walk."

Vance smiled indulgently.

"Really, y' know, Trainor, if you thought it was Mr. Stamm you
wouldn't be so frightfully upset."

"But who else could it have been, sir?" the man protested weakly.

Vance was silent for a while.

"That will be all, Trainor," he said at length.  "Tell Mr. Leland
we're here and would like to see him."

"Yes, sir."

The butler went out, obviously relieved to have the interrogation
over; and shortly afterward Leland entered the drawing-room.  He
was smoking his pipe calmly, and greeted us with more than his
usual reserve.

"You know, of course, Mr. Leland," Vance began, "that Greeff isn't
around this morning.  Can you suggest any possible explanation for
this?"

Leland appeared worried and sank into a chair by the table.

"No," he said, "I can see no reason why he should have run off.  He
is not the kind to run away from anything."

"Exactly my impression," nodded Vance.  "Have you spoken to any of
the other persons in the house about it?"

Leland nodded slowly.

"Yes, we all discussed it at breakfast and afterwards.  Every one
seems to be mystified."

"Did you hear anything during the night that might have indicated
when he left the house?"

Leland hesitated before answering.

"Yes," he replied finally.  "But I also heard something that would
indicate that it was not Greeff who went out."

"You mean the rebolting of the side door an hour or so after it had
been unbolted?"

Leland looked up in mild surprise.

"Yes," he said.  "Just that.  Shortly after midnight some one went
out the side door, but later some one re-entered the house.  I had
not been able to go to sleep--and my hearing is particularly
keen. . . ."

"Trainor, too, heard some one go out and come in last night," Vance
told him.  "But he couldn't tell to what room the midnight prowler
returned.  Perhaps you are able to enlighten us on that point?"

Again Leland hesitated, and shook his head slowly.

"No, I am afraid not," he said.  "My room is on the third floor,
and several people were moving about below me.  I will say this,
however: whoever it was that came back to the house was very
careful not to make any unnecessary noise."

Vance had scarcely looked at Leland during the questioning, and he
now rose and walked to the front window and back.

"Is the room you occupy," he asked, "on the side of the house
facing the pool?"

Leland took his pipe leisurely from his mouth and moved uneasily in
his chair.

"Yes, it is just across the side passageway from Mrs. Stamm's
quarters."

"Did you hear any one outside the house after the side door had
been opened?"

"Yes, I did!"  Leland sat upright in his chair and carefully
repacked his pipe.  "I heard voices, as if two people were talking
in low tones.  But it was only the merest murmur, and I could not
distinguish what they were saying or who it was."

"Could you tell whether it was a man or woman speaking?"

"No.  It seemed to me that they were deliberately pitching their
voices to a whisper, to avoid being overheard."

"How long did this whispered conversation last?"

"Only a few seconds.  Then it faded away."

"As if the two holding converse were walking away from the house?"

"Exactly."

Vance swung about quickly and faced Leland.

"What else did you happen to hear last night, Mr. Leland?"

Once again Leland hesitated, and busied himself with relighting his
pipe.

"I am not sure," he answered reluctantly.  "But there was a
scraping sound at the far side of the pool, toward the East Road."

"Most interestin'."  Vance did not relax his steady gaze.  "Will
you describe, as nearly as possible, just what you heard."

Leland looked down at the floor, and smoked intently for a moment.

"First," he said, "I heard a faint grating noise, as of one piece
of metal being rubbed against another--at least, such was my
impression.  Then all was silence for several minutes.  A little
later the same sound was repeated and, still later, I could
distinguish a low, continuous noise, as of something heavy being
dragged over a sandy surface.  This noise became fainter and
fainter, until finally it died away altogether. . . .  I heard
nothing more until perhaps half an hour later, when some one re-
entered the house through the side door and replaced the bolt."

"Did these noises strike you as peculiar in any way?"

"No, I cannot say that they did.  We had all been told we had
access to the grounds, and I took it for granted, when I heard the
side door open, that some one was going out for a walk in the air.
The other noises--those on the other side of the pool--were very
indistinct and might have been explained in various ways.  I knew,
of course, that a man had been stationed at the gate on the East
Road, and I suppose I assumed--without giving the matter any
particular thought--that it was he whom I heard across the pool.
It was not until this morning, when I learned of the disappearance
of Greeff, that I attached any importance to what I had heard
during the night."

"And now, knowing that Mr. Greeff is gone, can you offer any
explanation for the noises you heard?"

"No, I cannot."  Leland thought a moment.  "They were not familiar
sounds; and while the metallic noise might have been the creaking
of the hinges of the gate, there would have been no point in
Greeff's opening the gate to make his escape, for he could very
easily have climbed over, or walked round it.  Moreover, the sound
seemed to be much nearer to the house than the gate is.  In any
event, there was some one guarding the gate, and Greeff would not
have chosen that avenue of escape--there are too many other ways of
leaving the estate, if he really wished to do so."

Vance nodded as if satisfied, and again strolled toward the front
window.

"Did you, by any chance," he asked casually, "hear an automobile on
the East Road last night?"

"No."  Leland shook his head with emphasis.  "I can assure you no
car traversed the East Road in either direction up to the time I
fell asleep--which, I should say, was about two o'clock in the
morning."

Vance turned leisurely at the window.

"Did Mr. Greeff," he asked, "by any action or any remark, give you
the impression that he contemplated leaving the estate?"

"Quite the contrary," Leland returned.  "He did grouse a bit about
being detained here.  He said it might mean the loss of some
business at his office this morning; but he seemed resigned to
seeing the affair through."

"Did he have any words with any one last night?"

"No, he was in unusually good humor.  He drank a bit more than is
his custom, and spent most of the evening, after dinner, discussing
financial matters with Stamm."

"Any evidences of animosity between them?"

"None whatever.  Stamm seemed to have forgotten completely his
outburst of the night before."

Vance walked back and stood before Leland.

"What of the other members of the party?" he asked.  "How did they
disport themselves after dinner?"

"Most of them went out on the terrace.  Miss Stamm and I walked
down to the pool, but we returned immediately--a pall seemed to
hang over it.  When we came back to the house, Mrs. McAdam and Miss
Steele and young Tatum were sitting on the steps of the terrace,
drinking some sort of punch that Trainor had made for them."

"Where were Greeff and Stamm?"

"They were still in the library.  I doubt if they had gone outdoors
at all."

Vance smoked a moment in thoughtful silence; then he resumed his
chair and lay back languidly.

"Thanks awfully," he said.  "That will be all for the present."

Leland rose.

"If I can be of any help--" he began, and then contemplated his
pipe.  Without finishing the sentence he went from the room.

"What do you make of it, Vance?" Markham asked with a puzzled
frown, when we were alone.

"I don't like it," Vance returned, his eyes on the ceiling.  "Too
many strange things have been happening in these ancient purlieus.
And it's not like Greeff to walk out in the middle of the
night. . . ."

At this moment some one came hurrying down from up-stairs, and a
few seconds later we heard Stamm telephoning to Doctor Holliday.

"You'd better come as soon as you can," he was saying nervously.
Then, after a pause, he hung up the receiver.

Vance had risen and gone to the door.

"May we see you a moment, Mr. Stamm."  His request was practically
a command.

Stamm crossed the hall and entered the drawing-room.  It was
obvious that he was laboring under some suppressed excitement.  The
muscles of his face were twitching, and his eyes were staring and
restless.

Before he could speak Vance addressed him.

"We heard you phoning to the doctor.  Is Mrs. Stamm ill again?"

"The same trouble," Stamm answered.  "And it's probably my own
fault.  I went up to see her a while ago, and I mentioned that
Greeff was missing.  Then she started in with her pet hallucination.
Said he was missing because the dragon had got him. Insisted she
saw the dragon rise out of the pool last night and fly down toward
Spuyten Duyvil."

"Most interestin'."  Vance leaned against the edge of the table and
looked at Stamm through half-closed eyes.  "Have you yourself any
more rational explanation of Greeff's disappearance?"

"I can't--understand it."  Stamm appeared nonplussed.  "From what
he said last night he had no intention of leaving the place till
you gentlemen gave him permission to go.  Seemed quite content to
remain here."

"By the by, did you happen to go outdoors late last night?"

Stamm looked up with considerable surprise.

"Didn't leave the house after dinner," he said.  "Greeff and I sat
in the library chatting till he went up-stairs.  I had a nightcap
and went to bed very soon after he did."

"Some one," mused Vance, "let himself out by the side door around
midnight."

"Good God!  That must have been when Greeff walked out."

"But it seems some one came back through the side door an hour or
so later."

Stamm stared with glassy eyes, and his lower lip sagged.

"You--you're sure?" he stammered.

"Both Mr. Leland and Trainor heard the bolt being opened and
closed," Vance returned.

"Leland heard it?"

"So he told us a few minutes ago."

A change came over Stamm.  He drew himself up and made a
deprecatory gesture.

"Probably some one went out for an airing."

Vance nodded indifferently.

"That's quite reasonable. . . .  Sorry to have bothered you.  I
presume you want to return to your mother."

Stamm nodded gratefully.

"If you don't mind.  Doctor Holliday is coming right over.  If you
want me I'll be up-stairs."  And he hurried from the room.

When the sound of his footsteps had died out up the stairs, Vance
suddenly rose and threw his cigarette into the grate.

"Come, Markham," he said with animation, moving toward the door.

"Where are you going now?" Markham demanded.

Vance turned at the portières.  His eyes were cold and hard.

"To the pot-holes," he said quietly.



CHAPTER XVI

BLOOD AND A GARDENIA


(Monday, August 13; 10.15 a. m.)


Markham sprang to his feet.

"Good God!  What do you mean?"

But Vance was already on his way to the front door, and without
answering, he ran quickly down the steps and took his place at the
wheel of his car.  Markham and Heath, silent and, I thought, a
little dazed, got into the tonneau, and I followed.  Something in
Vance's manner when he mentioned the pot holes sent a chill up my
spine, and I wondered vaguely--without admitting to myself the
hideous suspicion that had been roused in me by his sudden decision--
what it was that he hoped to learn at the scene where he had
discovered Montague's body.

We sped down the East Road, through the gate, and on toward the
Clove.  When we were opposite the pot-holes Vance threw on the
brakes and sprang down to the ground.  We followed him as he
hastened to the foot of the rocks and drew himself up to the top of
the low wall of the hole where Montague's remains had been found.

He gazed over the edge a moment and then turned back to us, his
face grave.  He said nothing but merely made a gesture toward the
hole.  Heath was already climbing to the top of the wall, and
Markham and I were close behind him.  Then came a tense moment of
silence: we were all too horrified at the sight to speak.

Heath slid down from the wall, a look of combined anger and fear on
his grim face.

"Mother of God!" he mumbled, and crossed himself.

Markham stood at the foot of the wall with a faraway look of horror
and bafflement.  And I found it difficult, in the peaceful
atmosphere of that calm summer morning, to adjust my mind and
emotions to the hideous thing I had just beheld.

There, in the depths of the pot-hole, lay the crumpled dead body of
Alex Greeff.  His position, like that of Montague, was unnatural
and distorted, as if he had been dropped from a height into this
narrow rock grave.  Across the left side of his head ran a gaping
wound, and there were black bruises on his neck.  He wore no
waistcoat, and his coat was open, exposing his breast.  His shirt
had been ripped down the front, like the jersey of Montague's
bathing suit, and there were three long gashes in the flesh, as if
a monster's claw had torn him downward from the throat.  The moment
I looked at him, mutilated in exactly the same manner as Montague,
all the wild stories of the dragon of the pool came back to me and
froze my blood.

Markham had brought his gaze back from the distance and looked
wonderingly at Vance.

"How did you know he was here?" he asked huskily.

Vance's eyes were focused on the tip of his cigarette.

"I didn't know," he answered softly.  "But after Stamm told us of
his mother's comment when she heard Greeff had disappeared, I
thought it best to come down here. . . ."

"The dragon again!"  Markham spoke angrily, but there was an
undertone of awe in his voice.  "You're not trying to intimate, are
you, that the ravings of that crazy woman are to be taken
seriously?"

"No, Markham," Vance returned mildly.  "But she knows a great many
things, and her predictions thus far have all been correct."

"That's sheer coincidence," Markham protested.  "Come, come, let's
be practical."

"Whoever killed Greeff was certainly practical," observed Vance.

"But, good Heavens! where do we stand now?"  Markham was both
baffled and irritable.  "Greeff's murder only complicates the case.
We now have two hideous problems instead of one."

"No, no, Markham."  Vance moved slowly back to the car.  "I
wouldn't say that, don't y' know.  It's all one problem.  And it's
clearer now than it was.  A certain pattern is beginning to take
shape--the dragon pattern."

"Don't talk nonsense!"  Markham fairly barked the reprimand.

"It's not nonsense, old dear."  Vance got into the car.  "The
imprints on the bed of the pool, the talon-like marks on Montague
and now on Greeff, and--above all--the curious prognostications of
old Mrs. Stamm--these must all be accounted for before we can
eliminate the dragon theory.  An amazin' situation."

Markham lapsed into indignant silence as Vance started the car.
Then he said with sarcasm:

"I think we'll work this case out on anti-dragon lines."

"That will depend entirely on the type of dragon you have in mind,"
Vance returned, as he guided the car round and started back up the
East Road to the Stamm estate.

When we reached the house Heath went immediately to the telephone
and notified Doctor Doremus of our second gruesome find.  As he
hung up the receiver he turned to Markham with a look of hopeless
desperation.

"I don't know how to handle this job, Chief," he admitted in an
appealing tone.

Markham looked at him a moment and slowly nodded his head
appreciatively.

"I know just how you feel, Sergeant."  He took out a cigar,
carefully clipped the end, and lighted it.  "The usual methods
don't seem to get us anywhere."  He was profoundly perplexed.

Vance was standing in the middle of the hall, gazing at the floor.

"No," he murmured, without looking up.  "The usual methods are
futile.  The roots of these two crimes go down much deeper than
that.  The murders are diabolical--in more than one sense; and
they are closely related, in some strange way, to all the sinister
factors which go to make up this household and its influences. . . ."
He ceased speaking and turned his head toward the staircase.

Stamm and Leland were descending from the second floor, and Vance
immediately approached them.

"Will you gentlemen please come into the drawing-room," he said.
"We have a bit of news for you."

A breath of air stirred in the room: the sun had not yet reached
that side of the house.  Vance turned to the west window and gazed
out a few moments.  Then he turned back to Stamm and Leland who
were standing just inside the portières.

"We have found Greeff," he said.  "He is dead--in the same pot-hole
where Montague's body was chucked."

Stamm paled perceptibly and caught his breath.  But Leland's
expression did not change.  He took his pipe from his mouth.

"Murdered, of course."  His remark was half question and half
statement.

"Murdered, of course."  Vance repeated the words, nodding.  "A
messy affair.  The same sort of wounds we found on Montague.  A
perfect duplication of the technique, in fact."

Stamm wavered on his feet, as if he had been struck a physical
blow.

"Oh, my God!" he muttered, with a sucking intake of breath.

Leland grasped him quickly by the arm and led him to a chair.

"Sit down, Rudolf," he said kindly.  "You and I have been expecting
this ever since we knew that Greeff was missing."

Stamm slumped into the chair and sat glaring before him with
unseeing eyes.  Leland turned back to Vance.

"I feared all morning," he said simply, "that Greeff did not absent
himself voluntarily. . .  Have you learned anything else?"

Vance shook his head.

"No--nothing else.  But I think we'll take a look around Greeff's
room.  Do you know which one it is?"

"Yes," Leland answered quietly.  "I will be very glad to show you."

We had barely passed over the threshold of the drawing-room door
when Stamm's strained, husky voice halted us.

"Wait a minute--wait a minute!" he called, struggling forward in
his chair.  "There's something I should have told you.  But I was
afraid--God help me, I was afraid!"

Vance regarded the man quizzically.

"What is it?" he asked, in a curiously stern voice.

"It's about last night."  Stamm's hands clutched the arms of the
chair, and he held himself rigid as he spoke.  "After I had gone to
my room Greeff came and tapped on my door.  I opened it and let him
in.  He said he did not feel like sleeping and thought he would
join me in another drink, if I did not mind.  We talked for an hour
or so--"

"About what, for instance?" interrupted Vance.

"Nothing of importance--generalities about finance, and the
possibilities of a new expedition to the South Seas next
spring. . . .  Then Greeff looked at his watch.  'It's midnight,'
he said.  'I think I'll take a stroll before I turn in.'  He went
out and I heard him go down to the lower hall, unbolt the side
door--my room, you know, is just at the head of the stairs.  I was
tired and I got into bed, and--and--that's all."

"Why were you afraid to tell us this before?" Vance asked coldly.

"I don't know--exactly."  Stamm relaxed and settled back in his
chair.  "I didn't think anything of it last night.  But when Greeff
failed to put in an appearance this morning, I realized that I was
the last person to see him and talk to him before he went out.  I
saw no reason for mentioning the fact this morning, but after what
you've just told us--about his body being found in the pot-hole--I
felt that you ought to know--"

"It's quite all right," Vance assured him, in a somewhat softened
tone.  "Your feelings are quite natural in the circumstances."

Stamm lifted his head and gave him a grateful look.

"Would you mind asking Trainor to bring me some whisky?" he asked
weakly.

"Not at all."  And Vance turned and walked into the hall.

After sending the butler to Stamm we went up-stairs.  Greeff's room
was the second one from Stamm's on the same side of the hall.  The
door was unlocked and we went in.  As Trainor had told us, the bed
had not been slept in; and the window shades were still drawn.  The
room was somewhat similar to Montague's, but it was larger and more
luxuriously furnished.  A few toilet articles lay neatly on the
dressing-table; a pongee robe and a pair of pajamas were thrown
over the foot of the bed; and on a chair near the window lay
Greeff's dinner suit, in a rumpled heap.  On the floor, near an end-
table, was a gaping Gladstone bag.

The inspection of Greeff's belongings took but a short time.  Vance
went first to the clothes-closet and found there a brown business
suit and a sport suit; but the pockets held nothing of any
importance.  The dinner suit was then investigated, without any
enlightening result: its pockets contained merely an ebony
cigarette holder, a cigarette case of black moiré silk, and two
elaborately monogrammed handkerchiefs.  There was nothing belonging
to Greeff in the drawers of the dressing-table; and in the cabinet
of the bathroom were only the usual toilet accessories--a
toothbrush and paste, a shaving outfit, a bottle of toilet water
and a shaker of talcum powder.  Nor did the Gladstone bag yield
anything significant or suggestive.

Vance had said nothing during the search, but there was an intent
eagerness in his attitude.  He now stood in the middle of the room,
looking down, his eyes half closed in troubled thought.  It was
patent that he was disappointed.

Slowly he lifted his head, shrugged slightly, and started toward
the door.

"I'm afraid there's nothing here that will help us," he said; and
there was something in his voice that made me feel that he was
referring to some specific, but unnamed, object which he had hoped
to find.

Markham, too, must have caught the undertone in Vance's voice which
had conveyed this impression to me, for he asked crisply:

"Just what, Vance, were you expecting to discover in this room?"

Vance hesitated and turned slowly back to us.

"I am not quite sure. . . .  There should have been something here.
But don't ask me to say what--there's a good fellow.  I wouldn't
know exactly how to answer."  He smiled ingratiatingly and,
turning, went out into the hall.  The rest of us followed him.

As we reached the head of the stairs Doctor Holliday was just
coming up from the main floor.  He greeted us with reserved
cordiality, and we were about to start down the stairs when, with
what seemed a sudden impulse, Vance halted.

"I say, doctor," he asked, "would you mind if we went up with you?
There's something of vital importance I would like to ask Mrs.
Stamm.  I sha'n't disturb her. . . ."

"Come along," Doctor Holliday nodded, as he turned on the landing
and swung his bulky frame up toward the third floor.

When Mrs. Schwarz opened the door for us Mrs. Stamm was standing at
the open window overlooking the pool, her back to us.  As we
entered the room she turned slowly until her fiery eyes rested on
us.  There seemed to be a new glittering quality in her gaze, but
there was no smile on her lips: her mouth was at once grim and
placid.

Vance walked directly toward her, halting only when he was within a
few feet of her.

His expression was severe; his eyes were determined.

"Mrs. Stamm," he said, in a stern, quiet tone, "terrible things
have happened here.  And more terrible things are going to happen--
UNLESS YOU HELP US.  And these other terrible things will not be of
a nature that will please you.  They will befall those who are not
enemies of the Stamms; and, therefore, your dragon--that protector
of your household--could not be held responsible."

A frightened look came into the woman's eyes as she stared raptly
at Vance.

"What can I do to help you?"  Her voice was a hollow monotone, as
if she had merely thought the words and her lips had automatically
articulated them.

"You can tell us," Vance answered, without relaxing his severity of
tone, "where you have hidden the key to the family vault."

The woman's eyes closed slowly, as if from some great physical
reaction, and she took a long, deep breath.  I may have imagined
it, but I received the strong impression that Vance's words had
brought her a sense of relief.  Then her eyelids went up quickly:
a certain calm had come into her gaze.

"Is that all you wish to know?" she asked.

"That is all, madam--but it is vitally important.  And I give you
my word that the tomb of your dead will not be desecrated."

The woman studied Vance appraisingly for several moments.  Then she
moved to the large chair by the window and sat down.  With slow but
resolute determination she reached into the bosom of her black lace
dress and drew forth a small rectangular scapular on which I could
see the faded image of a saint.  The stitching, which held the
linen and chamois-skin together, was open at the top, so that the
scapular was in actuality a small bag.  Turning it upside down, she
shook it; and presently there fell out into her hand a small flat
key.

"Mrs. Schwarz," she commanded dictatorially, "take this key and go
to my old steamer trunk in the clothes-closet."

Mrs. Schwarz took the key, turned stoically and, opening the small
door in the east wall of the room, disappeared into the semi-
darkness beyond.

"Ja, Frau Stamm," she called from within.

"Now unlock the trunk and lift out the tray," Mrs. Stamm instructed
her.  "Carefully turn up all the old linen you see there.  In the
right-hand back corner there is an old jewel box, wrapped in a
damask tablecloth.  Bring out the box."

After a few moments, during which Vance stood in silence looking
out the window at the cliffs beyond the pool, Mrs. Schwarz emerged
from the closet, carrying a beautiful Venetian box, about eight
inches long and six inches wide, with a rounded top.  It was
covered in faded mauve brocaded velvet, surmounted with hammered-
metal scroll-work.

"Hand it to this gentleman."  Mrs. Stamm made an awkward gesture
toward Vance.  "The vault key is inside."

Vance came forward and took the box.  He threw the catch and opened
the lid.  Markham had stepped up to him and stood looking over his
shoulder.  After a moment's inspection Vance closed the box and
handed it back to Mrs. Schwarz.

"You may put it away again," he said, in a tone and with a look
which constituted a command.  Then he turned to Mrs. Stamm and,
bowing, said:  "You have helped us no end.  And I want you to know
that we deeply appreciate your confidence."

A faint smile of cynical gratification distorted the contour of
Mrs. Stamm's mouth.

"Are you entirely satisfied?" she asked.  (There was an undertone
of both sarcasm and triumph in her voice.)

"Quite," Vance assured her.

He took his leave at once.  Doctor Holliday remained with his
patient.  When we were again in the hallway and Mrs. Schwarz had
closed the door behind us, Markham took Vance by the arm.

"See here," he said, frowning deeply; "what was the idea?  Are you
going to let her put you off with an empty box?"

"But she hasn't, don't y' know," Vance returned dulcetly.  "She
didn't know the box was empty.  She thought the key was there.  Why
upset her by telling her the box is empty?"

"What has the key got to do with it, anyway?" Markham demanded
angrily.

"That's what I'm trying to ascertain."  And before Markham could
say anything more, Vance turned to Leland, who had watched the
entire proceeding in puzzled silence.  "Can you show us where
Tatum's room is?" he asked.

We had now reached the second-story landing, and Leland drew
himself up with a curious start: his habitual air of cool reserve
momentarily deserted him.

"Tatum's room?" he repeated, as if he doubted that he had heard
Vance correctly.  But immediately he recovered himself and turned.
"His room is just here, across the hall," he said.  "It is the one
between Stamm's room and Greeff's."

Vance crossed the hall to the door Leland indicated.  It was
unlocked, and he opened it and stepped inside the room.  We
followed him, puzzled and silent.  Markham appeared even more
surprised than Leland had been at Vance's sudden and unexpected
query about Tatum's room.  He now gave Vance a searching,
inquisitive look, and was about to say something but checked
himself and waited.

Vance stood in the middle of the room, glancing about him and
letting his gaze rest for a moment on each piece of furniture.

Heath's expression was hard and determined.  Without waiting for
Vance to speak, he asked:

"Do you want me to get the guy's clothes out and make a search?"

Vance shook his head in a slow, thoughtful negative.

"I don't think that will be necess'ry, Sergeant.  But you might
look under the bed and on the floor of the clothes-closet."

Heath drew out his flashlight and went down on his hands and knees.
After a brief inspection, he stood up with a grunt.

"Nothing there but a pair of slippers."  He went to the clothes-
closet and made another inspection.

"Just some shoes, that's all," he announced upon emerging.

Vance, in the meantime, had gone to the low-boy beside the window
and opened the drawers, examining them carefully.  He then went to
the dressing-table and repeated the operation.  There was a look of
disappointment on his face as he turned away from the table and
slowly lit a cigarette.  Again his eyes roamed about the room and
finally came to rest on a Queen Anne night-table beside the bed.

"One more chance," he murmured, as he crossed the room and drew out
the small drawer of burl walnut.

"Ah, quite!"

He reached into the drawer and withdrew some object which we could
not see.  Then he approached Leland and held out his hand.

"Is that the key to the vault, Mr. Leland?" he asked.

"That is the key," said Leland simply.

Markham strode forward, his face an ugly red.

"How did you know the key was here?" he demanded angrily.  "And
what does it mean?"

"I didn't know it was here, old dear," Vance returned with
exaggerated sweetness.  "And I don't know what it means. . . .  But
I think we'll take a peep at the vault--eh, what?"

When we were again in the lower hall Vance turned to Leland with a
serious and stern gaze.

"You will remain here, please," he said.  "And you're to make no
mention, to any one, of the fact that we have found the key to the
vault."

Leland appeared nettled at Vance's tone.  He bowed with
considerable dignity.

"I will, of course, respect your wishes," he replied, and turned
toward the library.

Vance went immediately to the front door.  We circled the house to
the north, descended the steps to the pool, traversed the coping of
the filter, and turned into the narrow tree-lined cement walk which
led to the East Road.  When we had reached a point where we were
entirely hidden from observation, Vance led the way through the
shrubbery toward the ivy-covered vault.  Taking the key from his
pocket, he inserted it in the keyhole and turned it.  I was
astonished to see how easily the tumblers swung back and operated
the bolt.  Vance leaned against the heavy door, and it moved slowly
inward, rasping and creaking on its rusty iron hinges.

A musty dead odor assailed us from the dimness within.

"Let's have your flashlight, Sergeant," Vance said, as he passed
over the threshold.

Heath complied with alacrity, and we stepped into the ancient vault
of the Stamms.  Then Vance cautiously closed the door and played
the beam of the flashlight about the walls and ceiling and floor.
Even on that hot summer day there was a damp and chilling
atmosphere in this gruesome half-buried tomb, with its encrusted
walls of dank mortar, its age-discolored marble floor, and its
tiers of wooden coffins, which stretched across the entire south
side of the vault, from the floor to the ceiling.

After a casual inspection Vance knelt down and examined the floor
carefully.

"Some one's been walking round here recently," he remarked.  He
moved the circle of light along the marble tiles, toward the
coffins.  On one of the tiles were two small dark spots.

Stepping toward them, Vance leaned over.  Then he moistened a
finger and touched one of them.  When he moved his finger directly
into the light there was visible a dark red smudge.

"That will be blood, Markham," he commented dryly, as he stood up.

Again he moved the flashlight back and forth across the floor,
systematically traversing each of the large marble tiles.  Suddenly
he stepped forward, toward the north wall of the vault and,
reaching swiftly down, picked up something which I had not even
noticed, although my eyes had been following the sweep of the
light.

"Oh, my aunt!  That's interestin'."  He extended his hand in the
circle of intense illumination cast by the flashlight.

We beheld there a small gardenia, still white and fresh-looking,
with only the edges of the petals curled and browning.

"Greeff's gardenia, I imagine."  Vance's tone was low and held a
faint undercurrent of sinister awe.  "You remember he wore one
yesterday afternoon when we talked with him.  And there was no
gardenia in his coat lapel when we found him in the pot-hole this
morning!"



CHAPTER XVII

THE DUPLICATED DEATH


(Monday, August 13; 11.15 a. m.)


We came out of the chilly dank vault into the hot sunlight, and
there was something benign and steadying in the vista of trees and
shrubbery and the intimate, familiar objects of the outdoors.

"I think that will be all for the present," Vance said, in a
curiously hushed voice, as he locked the ponderous iron door and
dropped the key into his pocket.  He turned, a deep frown on his
forehead, and started back toward the house.  "Bloodstains and a
gardenia!  My word!"

"But, Vance," protested Markham, "those marks on Greeff's body:--
surely Greeff wasn't in the pool last night.  His clothes were
perfectly dry and showed no signs of having been wetted--"

"I know what's in your mind," Vance interrupted.  "And you're quite
right.  Even if Greeff was murdered in the vault, the same cannot
be said of Montague.  That's the confusin' part of it. . . .  But
let's wait a bit before we speculate."  He made a slight gesture,
as if to request silence, and continued his way across the coping
of the filter.

When we had reached the south side of the pool and were about to
mount the steps leading to the house, I happened to glance up.  On
the third-floor balcony sat old Mrs. Stamm, her elbows on the
railing and her head buried between her hands.  Behind her stood
the imperturbable Mrs. Schwarz, gazing down at her.

Then suddenly there came drifting out of the library windows the
blurred, cacophonic strains of a popular dance tune played
fortissimo on the piano; and I assumed that Tatum was endeavoring
to throw off the depressing pall that hung over the old house.  But
as suddenly as the raucous music had begun, it ceased; and at this
moment Vance, who was leading the way up the steps, turned and
spoke, with the air of one who had made a final decision on some
moot and difficult problem.

"It would be best to say nothing to any one about our visit to the
vault.  The right time has not come yet."  His eyes were troubled
as they rested on Markham.  "I can't fit the pattern together yet.
But something horrible is going on here, and there's no telling
what might happen if what we have just discovered became known."

He gazed at his cigarette speculatively, as if trying to make
another decision.  At length he added:

"I think, however, we had better speak to Leland about it.  He
knows we found the key to the vault. . . .  Yes, we had better tell
Leland.  And there's always the chance that he may have some
explanation that will help us."

When we entered the house Leland was standing in the front hall,
near the stairs.  He turned quickly and looked at us uneasily.

"I had to leave the library," he explained, as if his presence in
the hall required an apology.  "Tatum started playing the piano.  I
am afraid I was a bit rough with him."

"He can endure it, I imagine," Vance murmured.  "Anyway, I'm glad
you're here.  I wanted to ask you something about Tatum."

He led the way into the drawing-room.

"Did Tatum, by any chance," he inquired when we were seated,
"accompany Stamm on any of his fishing or treasure-hunting
expeditions?"

Leland looked up slowly, and there was a flicker of astonishment in
his eyes.

"Funny you should ask that."  His voice, though drab, was pitched a
little higher than usual.  "The truth is, Tatum did ship along with
us to Cocos Island--an uncle of his, I believe, helped finance the
trip.  But he could not stick it out.  He went all to pieces in the
deadly climate there--too much alcohol, I imagine.  We tried him on
under-sea work for a while, but it was no go.  He was just a burden
to the expedition.  We finally hailed a whaler and sent him to
Costa Rica, where he picked up a liner back to the States."

Vance nodded abstractedly and dropped the subject.  Slowly he took
his cigarette case from his pocket, chose a Régie with intent
deliberation, and lighted it.

"We've been to the Stamm vault, Mr. Leland," he remarked, without
looking up.

Leland glanced at Vance sideways, took his pipe from his mouth, and
said indifferently:  "I imagined as much.  I have never been inside
it myself.  The usual thing, I suppose?"

"Quite the usual thing," Vance concurred.  He looked up casually
and smoked for a moment.  "One or two little points of interest,
however.  There was a bit of blood on the floor--and the gardenia
Greeff wore yesterday.  Otherwise quite conventional."

Leland stiffened in his chair and then leaned forward.  Presently
he rose to his feet--it was obvious that he was deeply perturbed.
He stood for several moments, gazing down at the floor.

"You found nothing else of an unusual nature?" he asked at last in
a strained tone, without lifting his head.

"No," Vance replied, "nothing else.  Do you feel that we overlooked
something?  There are no hidden nooks, y' know."

Leland glanced up quickly and shook his head with unwonted vigor.

"No, no, of course not.  My query had no significance.  I was
merely shocked by what you told me.  I cannot imagine what your
discoveries portend."

"Could you not offer some explanation?" Vance asked quietly.  "We
would be most grateful for a suggestion."

Leland appeared bewildered.

"I have nothing to suggest," he said, in a low colorless tone.  "I
would be only too glad. . . ."  His voice trailed off and he stared
again at the floor, as if weighing the possibilities of the
situation.

"By the by," Vance went on, "that creaking noise you heard last
night--as of one piece of metal against another I believe you
expressed it:--might that have been the creaking of the iron hinges
of the vault door?"

"It is quite possible," Leland returned, without taking his
troubled gaze from the carpet.  Then he added:  "The sound
certainly seemed to come from just that point."

Vance studied the man for some time without speaking.  Then he
said:

"Thanks awfully. . . .  I'd like to have a bit of a chat with
Tatum.  Would you mind asking him to come here? . . .  Oh, and
please don't make any mention to him--or to any of the others--for
the present, of what you have just learned."

Leland moved uneasily, drew himself together, and studied Vance
inquisitively.

"As you wish," he answered, and hesitated.  "You found the key to
the vault in Tatum's room:--do you think, perhaps, it was he who
went to the vault last night?"

"I really couldn't say," Vance replied coldly.

Leland turned and started from the room; but he halted at the
portières and looked round.

"May I inquire," he asked, "whether you left the vault door
unlocked?"

"I took the precaution of relocking it," Vance informed him, in an
offhand manner.  After a slight pause he added:  "I have the key in
my pocket.  I intend to keep it until this investigation is brought
to a satisfact'ry close."

Leland regarded him for a moment in silence.  Then he nodded
slowly.

"I am glad of that.  I think that is wise."  He turned and walked
across the hall toward the library.

When Tatum entered the drawing-room it was obvious that he was in a
sullen, defiant mood.  He did not greet any of us, but stood inside
the door, looking us over with smouldering, cynical eyes.

Vance rose as he entered the room and, moving to the centre-table,
beckoned to him peremptorily.  When the man had swaggered to the
table Vance took the vault key from his pocket and laid it down
before the other's gaze.

"Did you ever see that key?" he asked.

Tatum looked at the key with a smirk, studied it for a few moments,
and shrugged.

"No, I never saw it before," he replied flatly.  "Any mystery
attached to it?"

"A bit of a mystery," Vance told him, picking up the key and
resuming his seat.  "We found it in your room this morning."

"Maybe it's the key to the situation," Tatum sneered, with cold,
half-closed eyes.

"Yes, yes, of course. . . .  Quite."  Vance smiled faintly.  "But,
as I've said, it was found in your room."

The man smoked a minute, without moving.  Then he raised his hand
and took his cigarette from his lips.  (I particularly noted that
his fingers were as steady as steel.)

"What of it?" he asked, with exaggerated indifference.  "You will
probably find plenty of junk in the rooms of this rotting old
house."  He turned to Vance with a hard mirthless smile which
barely contorted the corners of his mouth.  "You know, I don't live
here--I'm only a guest.  Am I supposed to be frightened, or have
the jitters, or go into hysterics, because you found an old rusty
key in my room upstairs?"

"Oh, no, nothing like that," Vance assured him lightly.  "You're
acting in the most highly approved manner."

"Well, where do we go from here?"  Tatum's tone was contemptuous.

"Figuratively speaking, we go to the vault."  Vance spoke with
unusual mildness.

Tatum appeared puzzled.  "What vault?"

"The ancestral vault of the Stamms."

"And where might that be?"

"Just the other side of the pool, hidden in the spruce trees,
beyond the little cement walk."

Again Tatum's eyes narrowed, and the contours of his face formed
into a rigid defensive mask.

"Are you trying to spoof me?" he asked, in a metallic voice.

"No, no," Vance assured him.  "I'm merely answering your
question. . . .  I say, don't you know about the vault?"

Tatum shifted his eyes and grinned.

"Never saw it and never heard of it."  Suddenly he wheeled round,
crushed out his cigarette, and glared truculently at Vance.
"What's the idea?" he demanded.  (His nerves seemed to have
snapped.)  "Are you trying to pin something on me?"

Vance studied the man indifferently for a while and then shook his
head.

"Not even a gardenia," he replied sweetly.

Tatum started, and his eyes closed to mere slits.

"I know what you mean by that!"  His face paled, and his long flat
fingers began to twitch.  "Greeff was wearing a gardenia last
night, wasn't he?  Maybe you're going to tell me that you also
found a gardenia in my room."

Vance seemed puzzled for a moment at the man's words, but in an
instant his face cleared.

"No," he said, "the gardenia was not in your room.  But really, y'
know, the possible presence of Greeff's posy in your boudoir
shouldn't be so upsetting--unless, of course, Greeff has met with
foul play."

Another grim, ironic smile moved the muscles of Tatum's mouth.

"He met with foul play all right--the same as Montague.  Greeff
didn't run away; and there are too many people round here that
would be glad to see him smeared out."

"And you're one of those people, aren't you?" Vance returned
dulcetly.

"Sure I am."  Tatum thrust out his jaw, and his eyes became
venomous.  "But that doesn't mean that I did it."

"No, that doesn't mean that you did it."  Vance rose and waved his
hand in dismissal.  "That will be all for the present.  But, if I
were you, I would control my musical impulses.  Leland might decide
that you too were due for a bit of killin'."

Tatum grinned viciously.

"That half-breed!"  And, with an awkward gesture of contempt, he
went from the room.

"A hard-bitten character," Markham commented when the man was out
of hearing.

"True," Vance nodded.  "But shrewd."

"It seems to me," said Markham, rising, and pacing nervously up and
down, "that if we could learn who managed to get the vault key from
old Mrs. Stamm's trunk, we'd know a lot more about the deviltry
that went on here last night."

Vance shook his head.

"I doubt if the key has been in the trunk for years.  It may never
have been there, Markham.  The hiding of the key, and all the
secrecy, may be just another hallucination on Mrs. Stamm's part--an
hallucination closely connected with the dragon. . . ."

"But why, in Heaven's name, was the key in Tatum's room?  Tatum
struck me as telling the truth when he said he'd never seen it
before."

Vance gave Markham a quick, curious look.

"The chap was certainly convincing. . . ."

Markham halted and looked down at Vance.

"I can't see any way of tackling this case," he remarked
despondently.  "Every factor in it that we try to touch turns out
to be a sort of Fata Morgana.  There's nothing tangible to take
hold of.  The situation even precludes plausible theorizing."

"Don't give way to discouragement, old dear," Vance consoled him.
"It's not as Cimmerian as it appears.  The whole difficulty is that
we've been attacking the problem from a too rational and ordin'ry
point of view.  We've been trying to make a conventional peg fit
into a sinister and bizarre hole.  There are extr'ordin'ry elements
in this case. . . ."

"Damn it, Vance!"  Markham uttered the expletive with unwonted
passion.  "You're not reverting to that incredible dragon theory, I
hope."

Before Vance could reply there was the sound of a car swinging into
the parking-space before the house; and a minute later Snitkin
threw open the front door and led Doctor Doremus into the drawing-
room.

"Another body, eh?" the Medical Examiner grumbled, with a casual
wave of the hand in greeting.

"Can't you get all of your corpses together at one time, Sergeant?
. . .  Well, where is it?  And what's all the excitement?"  He
grinned at Heath with sardonic good-humor.  "Your dragon again?"

Vance rose.

"It looks that way," he said soberly.

"What!"  Doremus was puzzled.  "Well, where's the new victim?"

"In the same pot-hole."  Vance took his hat and went into the hall.

Doremus squinted, and followed without a word.

The Sergeant ordered Snitkin to join us, and once again we drove
round the house and down the East Road.  At the pot-holes we stood
back while Doremus looked over the wall into the shallow chasm
beyond.  After a cursory glance he slid back to the ground, and
turned to us.  There was a strange, startled look on his face: he
had completely lost his cynicism and jauntiness.

"Good Gad!  Good Gad!" he repeated.  "What kind of a case is this?"
He compressed his lips and made a jerky motion in Heath's
direction.  "Get him out," he ordered in a strained tone.

Snitkin and the Sergeant lifted Greeff's body from the pot-hole and
laid it on the ground.

After a brief examination Doremus stood up and looked toward
Markham.

"The same as that fellow yesterday," he said.  "Same wounds
exactly.  Same fracture of the skull; same three scratches down his
chest; same discoloration on his throat.  Ripped wide open, bashed
over the left side of the head, and strangled. . . .  Only," he
added, "he hasn't been dead as long as the other one."  He made a
grimace at Heath.  "That's what you want to know, isn't it?"

"How would twelve o'clock last night fit?" asked Vance.

"Midnight, eh?"  Doremus bent down over Greeff's body and again
tested the rigor mortis.  "That'd make it about twelve hours. . . .
Right."  He stood up and wrote out a removal blank.  As he handed
it to the Sergeant he said:  "There was nothing found at the
autopsy of the other fellow that changed what I told you yesterday,
but you'd better get this one down to the morgue right away--I'll
have time this afternoon to autopsy him."  (I had never seen
Doremus so serious.)  "And I'm driving back again by Payson Avenue.
I'm getting to believe in that dragon of yours, Sergeant. . . .
Damn queer," he muttered, as he walked to the road and got into his
car.  "That's no way to kill a man.  And two of 'em! . . .  I saw
that stuff in the morning papers about Dragonfish.*  Good Gad, what
a story!"  He released the brakes, letting his car roll down the
road, and drove off toward Spuyten Duyvil.


* The papers that day had carried spectacular accounts of
Montague's murder; and the reporters had let their imaginations run
riot over the possibilities of an actual aquatic monster having
caused his death.  A zoologist from one of the local universities
had been interviewed and had expressed the opinion that such an
explanation could not be scientifically refuted because of our
scant knowledge of submarine life.


Leaving Snitkin to watch Greeff's body, we returned to the house.

"And now what's to be done?" Markham asked hopelessly, as we
entered the front door.

"Oh, that's clearly indicated, don't y' know," Vance replied.  "I'm
going to take a peep at Stamm's fish collection.  Really, you'd
better come along.  Tropicals are fascinatin', Markham."  He turned
to Trainor, who had taken Snitkin's place at the door.  "Ask Mr.
Stamm if we may see him."

Trainor glared at Vance fearfully; then drew himself up rigidly and
went down the hall.

"See here, Vance," Markham protested irritably, "what's the point
of this?  We have serious work to do, and you talk of inspecting a
fish collection!  Two men have been murdered--"

"I'm sure," Vance interrupted, "that you'll find the fish highly
educational. . . ."

At this moment Stamm came out from the library and strode toward
us.

"Would you be so good as to act as our cicerone, among your
aquaria?" Vance asked him.

Stamm evinced considerable surprise.

"Why, yes," he said, with an intonation of forced politeness.  "Of
course--of course.  I'd be delighted.  Come this way."  And he
turned and walked back toward the library.



CHAPTER XVIII

PISCATORIAL LORE


(Monday, August 13; 12.15 p. m.)


The library was an unusually large room, severely but comfortably
furnished in the Jacobean style, with great tiers of books reaching
from the floor to the ceiling.  There were windows to the east and
west, and, in the north wall, facing us, was a large archway which
led to the aquaria and terrarium beyond.

Leland was sitting on the davenport with one of the volumes of the
Eumorphopoulos collection of ceramics on his knees.  In one corner,
at a small card-table, sat Mrs. McAdam and Tatum, a cribbage board
between them.  There was no one else in the room.  All three looked
up curiously as we entered, but made no comment.

Stamm led the way across the library and into the first aquarium.
This room was even larger than the library, and had an enormous
skylight as well as a row of high windows along both walls to the
east and west.  Beyond, through a second archway was still another
aquarium, similar to the first; and beyond that was the terrarium
with windows on three sides.

The aquarium in which we stood was lined with fish tanks of all
sizes, reaching to the base of the high windows; and half-way
between the walls, running the entire length of the room, were two
double rows of additional tanks, set on a long metal rack.

There were more than a hundred such tanks in the room, ranging in
capacity from five to one hundred gallons.

Stamm, beginning at the tank nearest the door, on the left, led us
about the room commenting on his living treasures.  He pointed out
the various types of Platypoecilus maculatus--pulcher, ruber,
auratus, sanguineus, and niger; various Xiphophorus hellerii (the
Mexican Swordtail) and the Red Helleri (a cross between the
Swordtail and the Red Platy); Mollienisia latipinna, with their
dotted mother-of-pearl sides; and Black Mollies, perfectly line-
bred to enhance their original black mottled coloring.  His
collection of the genus Barbus was extensive: he had beautiful
specimens of the opalescent red-finned oligolepis; the rosy
conchonius; the lateristriga, with its chameleon-like golden, black
and carmine coloring; the black-banded pentazona; the silvery
ticto; and many others.  After these came the species of the genus
Rasbora, especially heteromorpha and tæniata; and still further
were beautiful specimens of the Characinidæ, particularly of the
sub-family Tetragonopterinæ--the Yellow, Red, Glass, Bronze, and
Flag Tetras, and the Hemigrammus ocellifer, or Head and Tail Light
fish.

In a series of tanks down the centre of the room Stamm pointed with
pride to his specimens of the Cichlidæ--Cichlasoma facetum,
severum, nigrofasciatum, festivum (the Flag Cichlid), urophthalmus,
aureum, and so on.  He also showed us several specimens of that
enigmatical Symphysodon discus, about which so little is known,
either as to its sex distinction or its habits.

"I'm working on this species," Stamm said, proudly indicating the
blue-green brassy specimens.  "They are closely related to the
Pterophyllum and are the only one of their genus.  I'll surprise
the old-time aquarists yet."

"Have you succeeded in breeding any of the Pterophyllum?" Vance
asked with interest.

Stamm chuckled.

"I was one of the first aquarists in the country to find out that
secret. . . .  Look here."  He pointed to an enormous tank of at
least one hundred gallons.  "That's the explanation.  Plenty of
swimming space, with heavy-stemmed Sagittaria for the eggs, and a
good warm temperature."  (There were many beautiful specimens in
the tank, some of them twelve inches from dorsal to anal fin.)

He moved along the west wall, talking proudly and fluently of his
fish, with the enthusiasm of a fanatic.  Before we had completed
the circuit he had shown us specimens of the Æquidens portalegrensis
(the Blue Acara); tiny transparent glass fish (Ambassis lala);
many species of Panchax, especially lineatus and the rare Nigerian
species, grahami; a pair of pike-like Belonesox belizanus; the
usual Danio malabaricus; such mouthbreeders as Haplochromis
multicolor, Astatotilapia moffati, Tilapia heudeloti, and Etroplus
maculatus; labyrinthine fishes, such as Osphromenus, Macropodus,
Anabas, and Ctenopoma; and hundreds of Lebistes reticulatus.

Stamm waved his hand at this last large tank contemptuously.

"Scalare fodder," he muttered.

"Still," said Vance, "despite their commonness, there aren't many
fish among the tropicals more beautiful than the Guppies."

Stamm snorted and moved on toward the room beyond.

"In here are the fish that really count," he said.

This second aquarium was similar to the one we had just quitted and
contained quite as many tanks, but they were arranged differently.

"Here, for instance," said Stamm, standing before a tank at the
right, "is the Monodactylus argenteus."

"Brakish water, of course," Vance remarked.

"Oh, yes."  Stamm shot him a curious look.  "Many of the tanks in
this room are really marine aquaria, and, of course, I use brakish
water also for my Toxotes jaculator--the Shooting Fish--and the
Mugil oligolepis."

Vance leaned over the tank that Stamm had indicated.

"The Mugil oligolepis resembles the Barb, but it has two dorsals
instead of one," he observed.

"Quite right."  Stamm again looked at him curiously.  "You've spent
some time with fish yourself, haven't you?"

"Oh, I've dabbled a bit," returned Vance, moving on.

"Here are some of my best," Stamm said, going to a series of tanks
in the middle of the room.  And he pointed out to us some Colossoma
nigripinnis, Mylossoma duriventris, and Metynnis roosevelti.

"How do you manage to keep these rare Characins in such apparently
good condition?" Vance asked.

"Ah, that's my secret," returned Stamm with a shrewd smile.  "High
temperatures, of course, and large tanks and live food . . . and
other things," he added enigmatically, turning to another series of
tanks along the west wall.  "But here are a few fish about which
even less is known."  He put his hands in his pockets and regarded
the tanks with satisfaction.  "These are the Hatchet Fishes: the
Gasteropelecus sternicla, the Carnegiella strigata, and the
Thoracocharax securis.  The so-called experts will tell you that
the breeding habits of these species are not known, and that they
cannot be bred in aquaria.  Tommy-rot!  I've done it successfully."
He moved further down the room.  "Here's an interesting one."  He
tapped on the front wall of a particularly attractive tank.  "The
Blow Fish--Tetrodon cucutia.  Watch this."

He took one of the fish out of the water in a small net, and it
inflated itself into the shape of a ball.

"Curious idea," Stamm commented, "--blowing oneself up to keep from
being swallowed."

"Oh, quite human, I should say," Vance returned dryly.  "All our
politicians do the same thing."  Stamm grinned.

"I never thought of that," he chuckled. . . .  "And right next door
here," he went on, "is the Pantodon buchholzi.  Just look at those
large transparent pectoral fins.  I brought these Butterfly Fish
with me from West Africa. . . .  And here are some beauties--the
Scatophagus."  He pointed to two tanks containing fairly large
hexagonal fish--one tank of the spotted argus and the other of the
striped rubrifrons.  "And just here," Stamm continued, moving along
the wall, "are a couple of Luciocephalus pulcher."

Vance looked at this fish closely and inquiringly.

"I've heard of them," he commented.  "They are related to the
Anabantidæ, I believe.  But I didn't know any one was versed in
their habits and care."

"No one but me," Stamm boasted.  "And I might add that they are not
bubble-nest breeders, as many believe, but viviparous--live-
bearers."

"Astonishin'," Vance murmured.

Stamm directed our attention to a series of small individual tanks
on the shelf above.

"Piranhas," he said.  "A rare species.  And savage devils:--take a
squint at those wicked teeth.  I believe these are the first ever
to come to the United States alive.  Brought them back myself from
Brazil--in separate cans, of course: they'd kill each other if they
were put together.  Damned cannibals--the Serrasalmus.  I had a
couple that were nearly twenty inches long,--not the spilopleura:
they rarely grow over a foot in length. . . .  And here," he went
on, moving away, "is a nice collection of Sea-horses--the
Hippocampus punctulatus.  Better than those in the New York
Aquarium. . . ."

Stamm moved a little further on.

"Here's an interesting fish--pugnacious and dangerous.  The
Gymnotus carapo.  Have to be kept separately.  Known as the
'Electric Eel'--Electrophorus electricus.  But that's all wrong,
really.  Though they have eel-like bodies, they are not eels at
all, but related to the Characinidæ.  These are only about eight
inches long, but they grow to three feet."

Vance looked at the queer specimens closely: they were vicious-
looking and repulsive.

"I have heard," he remarked, "that they are actually capable of
electrocuting a man by a moment'ry contact."

Stamm pursed his lips.

"So they say, so they say."

At this point Tatum and Mrs. McAdam came into the room.

"How about a little battle?" Tatum asked of Stamm with a smirk.
"Teeny and I are bored."

Stamm hesitated.

"I've wasted eight of my biggest Bettas on you now. . . .  Oh, all
right."

He went to a wide niche in the east wall, where there were numerous
quart tanks each containing one Siamese Fighting Fish.  From the
ceiling hung a globe of water, on three slender chains, at a height
of about five feet from the floor.  He took up a small round
Brussels net and transferred two veil-tail fish--a beautiful blue-
green and a purple one--to the suspended globe.

The two fish appeared to look at each other cautiously before
attacking.  Then, with brilliantly heightened color and with fins
and tails twitching and spreading furiously, they rushed about.
Coming close together and nearly parallel, they slowly rose, side
by side, to the surface.  Soon they seemed to relax, and sank to
the bottom of the globe.  These preliminary manoeuvres continued
for a few minutes.  Then, with lightning swiftness, the fight was
on.  They dashed at each other viciously, ripping off scales,
mutilating each other's tails and fins, and tearing bloody bits
from the sides.  Tatum was offering odds on the purple Betta, but
no one paid any attention to him.  The blue-green one fastened on
the other's gill with a terrific grip, hanging on until he was
compelled to rise to the surface for air.  The other then attached
himself savagely to his antagonist's mouth and relinquished his
hold only when forced to go up for air himself.  It was a terrible,
but beautiful, sight.

Vance looked toward Tatum.

"You enjoy this sort of thing?" he asked.

"Too tame," Tatum complained, with an unpleasant laugh.  "I prefer
cock-fighting myself; but when there's nothing else to do. . . ."

Leland had entered the room without our hearing him.  He stood just
behind Vance.

"I think it is a brutal sport," he said, his smouldering eyes on
Tatum.  "It is beastly."

The purple Betta was now at the bottom of the globe, mutilated and
almost entirely stripped of its scales; and the other was attacking
it to give the coup de grâce.  Leland quickly picked up a small net
and, reaching into the globe, removed the wounded loser and placed
him in a small tank of Mercurochrome water.  Then he went back to
the library.

Tatum shrugged and took Mrs. McAdam's arm.

"Come on, Teeny, we'll play tiddledywinks.  I'm sure Leland would
approve of that."

And the two of them left the room.

"A pleasant little household," Stamm remarked with a sneer.
He continued his rounds of the tanks, talking volubly and
lovingly of his rare assortment of fish.  That he had a wide and
varied knowledge of them, and that he had done much important
experimentation, was obvious.

When he had come to the farther archway, he offered to show us his
terrarium.

But Vance shook his head.

"Not today," he said.  "Thanks awfully, and all that."

"I have some fascinating toads here--the Alytes obstetricans--the
first ever to come from Europe," Stamm urged.

"We'll inspect the Midwives another time," Vance replied.  "What
I'm interested in at the moment are your bottled Devil Fish.  I see
some allurin' specimens over there."

Below one of the large east windows there were several shelves
lined with jars of strange preserved sea-monsters of varying sizes,
and Stamm led us immediately to them.

"There's a jolly little fellow," he remarked, pointing to a
specimen in a long conical jar.  "The Omosudis lowi.  Look at those
sabre-like fangs!"

"A typical dragon's mouth," Vance murmured.  "But not as vicious as
it looks.  A fish one-third its size can conquer and swallow it--
the Chiasmodon niger, for instance."

"That's right."  Once more Stamm glanced sharply at Vance.  "Any
implication in that observation?"

"Really now," Vance protested, and pointed to a large glass
receptacle containing a preserved fish of the most hideous and
formidable aspect I had ever seen.  "Is this one of the Chauliodus
sloanei?"

"Yes, it is," Stamm answered, without shifting his gaze from Vance.
"And I have another one here."

"I believe Greeff did mention two."

"Greeff!"  Stamm's face hardened.  "Why should he have mentioned
them?"

"I'm sure I don't know."  Vance moved along the row of bottles.
"And what might this be?"

Stamm turned reluctantly, and glanced at the jar on which Vance had
placed his finger.

"Another so-called Dragonfish," he said.  "The Lamprotaxus
flagellibarba."  It was a wicked-looking, greenish-black monster,
with blazing emerald markings.

Stamm showed us other specimens: the Idiacanthus fasciola, a
serpent dragon with a long eel-like body, almost black, and with a
golden tail; the wolf-like Linophryne arborifer, with a very large
mouth and strong teeth, and what appeared to be a fungus-like
beard; the Photocorynus spiniceps which, though very small,
possessed a head half the length of its body, with an enormous jaw
and serried teeth; the Lasiognathus saceostoma, known as the Angler
Fish, with a jaw longer than the rest of its body, and equipped
with a line and hooks for catching its prey; and other repulsive
varieties of luminous Dragonfish.  He also showed us a vermilion
and yellow sea-dragon, with what appeared to be a coat of armor and
waving plumes--a miniature dragon that looked as if it had been
reconstructed from the imaginative pages of mythology. . . .

"A most fascinatin' collection," Vance commented, as he turned from
the jars.  "With such an array of Dragonfish round the place, it's
no wonder the old superstition of the pool persists."

Stamm drew up short and scowled: it was patent that Vance's last
remark had upset him.  He started to make a reply, but evidently
thought better of it, and walked back toward the inner room without
a word.

As we came again into the library Vance gazed about curiously at
various potted plants in the room.

"I see you have some unusual botanical specimens here," he
remarked.

Stamm nodded indifferently.

"Yes, but I am not much interested in them.  I brought them back
with me on some of my trips, but only for the mater."

"Do they require any special care?"

"Oh, yes.  And many of them have died.  Too cold up here for
tropical vegetation, though I keep the library pretty warm, and
there's plenty of sunlight."

Vance paused beside one of the pots and studied it a moment.  Then
he moved on to another plant which looked like a dwarf evergreen
but showed many tiny pale yellow berries--a most unusual plant.

"What might this be?" he asked.

"I'm sure I don't know.  I picked it up in Guam."

Vance walked over to a rather high miniature tree in a large
jardinière standing by the davenport on which Leland sat reading.
This tree had large oblong glossy leaves, like the India-rubber
plants that are cultivated in Europe for ornamental purposes, but
these leaves were smaller and broader and seemed more profuse.

Vance regarded it a moment.

"Ficus elastica?" he asked.

"I imagine so," Stamm replied.  (It was evident that his interest
lay in fish rather than in plants.)  "However, it's a curious
type--maybe a cross of some kind.  And it's undoubtedly stunted.
Moreover, it's never had any pink buds.  I got it in Burma three
years ago."

"Amazin' how it has thrived."  Vance bent over it closely and
touched the dirt in the jardinière with his finger.  "Any special
soil required?"

Stamm shook his head.

"No.  Any good fertilizer mixed with the earth seems to suffice."

At this point Leland closed his book.  Then, with a sharp look at
Vance, he rose and walked into the aquarium.

Vance drew out his handkerchief and wiped the moist earth from his
finger.

"I think we'll be running along; it's nearly lunch time.  We'll
either be back or communicate with you later this afternoon.  And
we'll have to impose upon your hospitality a while longer.  We do
not want any one to leave here just yet."

"That will be perfectly all right," Stamm returned pleasantly,
going to the hall door with us.  "I think I'll rig up a windlass
and get that rock out of the pool this afternoon.  A little
physical exercise, you know. . . ."  And with a genial wave of the
hand he turned and went back to his beloved fish.

When we had returned to the drawing-room Markham turned on Vance
angrily.

"What's the idea of wasting all that time on fish and plants?" he
demanded.  "There's serious work to be done."

Vance nodded soberly.

"I was doing serious work, Markham," he returned, in a low voice.
"And during the last half-hour I've learned many important things."

Markham scrutinized him a moment and said nothing.

Vance took up his hat.

"Come, old dear.  We're through here for the present.  I'm taking
you to my apartment for lunch.  The Sergeant can carry on till we
return."  He addressed Heath who stood by the table, smoking in
sour silence.  "By the by, Sergeant, there's something I wish you
would do for me this afternoon."

Heath looked up without change of expression, and Vance went on:

"Have your men make a thorough search of the grounds in the
vicinity of the pot-holes--in the bushes and clusters of trees.  I
would be jolly well pleased if they could find some sort of grass-
cart, or wheelbarrow, or something of that nature."

Heath's unhappy eyes slowly focused on Vance and became animated.
He took his cigar from his mouth, and a look of understanding
spread over his broad face.

"I get you, sir," he said.



CHAPTER XIX

THE DRAGON'S TRACKS


(Monday, August 13; 1 p. m.)


On our drive to Vance's apartment we were caught in a sudden
thunder-shower.  Dark clouds had been gathering in the west for
some time before we left the Stamm estate, though they had not
appeared very menacing, and I thought they would pass us to the
south.  But the downpour was terrific, and our car was almost
stalled on upper Broadway.  When we reached Vance's apartment,
however, a little before half-past one, the storm had passed over
the East River, and the sun was shining again.  We were, in fact,
able to have our lunch on the roof-garden.

During the meal Vance deliberately avoided any discussion of the
case, and Markham, after two or three futile efforts at
conversation, settled into a glum silence.

Shortly after two o'clock Vance rose from the table and announced
that he was leaving us for a few hours.

Markham looked up in exasperated surprise.

"But, Vance," he protested, "we can't let things remain as they
are.  We must do something immediately. . . .  Must you go?  And
where are you going?"

Vance ignored the first question.

"I am going shopping," he returned, moving toward the door.

Markham sprang to his feet resentfully.

"Shopping!  What, in the name of Heaven, are you going shopping
for, at such a time?"

Vance turned and gave Markham a whimsical smile.

"For a suit of clothes, old dear," he replied.

Markham spluttered, but before he could articulate his indignation
Vance added:

"I'll phone you at the office later."  And with a tantalizing wave
of the hand, he disappeared through the door.

Markham resumed his chair in sullen silence.  He finished his wine,
lighted a fresh cigar, and went off to his office in a taxicab.

I remained at the apartment and tried to catch up on some of my
neglected work.  Unable, however, to concentrate on figures and
balances, I returned to the library and began travelling round the
world on Vance's specially built short-wave radio set.  I picked up
a beautiful Brahms symphony concert from Berlin.  After listening
to the Akademische Fest-Ouverture and the E-minor Symphony, I tuned
off and tried to work out a chess problem that Vance had recently
posed for me.

Vance returned to the apartment a little before four o'clock that
afternoon.  He was carrying a moderate-sized package, neatly
wrapped in heavy brown paper, which he placed on the centre-table.
He seemed unduly serious and scarcely nodded to me.

Currie, having heard him, came in and was about to take his hat and
stick, when Vance said:

"Leave them here.  I'll be going out again immediately.  But you
might put the contents of this package in a small hand-bag for me."

Currie took the package from the table and went into the bedroom.

Vance relaxed in his favorite chair in front of the window and
abstractedly lighted one of his Régies.

"So Markham hasn't shown up yet--eh, what?" he murmured, half to
himself.  "I phoned him from Whitehall Street to meet me here at
four."  He glanced at his watch.  "He was a bit annoyed with me
over the wire. . . .  I do hope he comes.  It's most important."
He rose and began pacing up and down the room; and I realized that
something momentous was occupying his thoughts.

Currie came back with the hand-bag and stood at the door, awaiting
orders.

"Take it down-stairs and put it in the tonneau of the car," Vance
directed, hardly lifting his eyes.

Shortly after Currie had returned, the door-bell rang and Vance
came to an expectant halt.

"That should be Markham," he said.

A few moments later Markham entered the library.

"Well, here I am," he announced irritably, without a word of
greeting.  "I answered your curt summons, though God knows why."

"Really, y' know," Vance returned placatingly, "I didn't mean to be
curt. . . ."

"Well, did you have any success in getting your suit?" Markham
asked sarcastically, glancing round the room.

Vance nodded.

"Oh, yes, but I didn't bring all of the new integuments with me--
only the shoes and gloves.  They're in the car now."

Markham waited without speaking: there was something in Vance's
manner and tone which belied the trivial signification of his
words.

"The truth is, Markham," Vance went on, "I think--that is, I hope--
I have found a plausible explanation for the horrors of the last
two days."

"In a new sartorial outfit?" Markham asked, with irony.

Vance inclined his head soberly.

"Yes, yes.  Just that--in a new sartorial outfit. . . .  If I am
right, the thing is fiendish beyond words.  But there's no other
rational explanation.  It's inevitable from a purely academic point
of view.  But the problem is to prove, from a practical point of
view, that my theory fits the known facts."

Markham stood by the library table, resting both hands on it and
studying Vance with interrogative sharpness.

"What's the theory--and what are the facts you've got to check?"

Vance shook his head slowly.

"The theory can wait," he replied, without looking at Markham.
"And the facts cannot be checked here."  He drew himself up, threw
his cigarette into the fireplace, and picked up his hat and stick.
"Come, the car awaits us, old dear," he said, with an effort at
lightness.  "We're proceeding to Inwood.  And I'd be deuced
grateful if you'd refrain from plying me with leading questions on
our way out."

I shall never forget the ride to the Stamm estate that afternoon.
Nothing was said en route and yet I felt that terrible and final
events were portending.  A sense of awe-stricken excitement
pervaded me; and I think that Markham experienced the same feeling
to some degree, for he sat motionless, gazing out of the car window
with eyes that did not focus on any of the immediate objects we
passed.

The weather was almost unbearable.  The terrific storm that had
broken over us during our drive to Vance's apartment had neither
cleared nor cooled the atmosphere.  There was a sultry haze in the
air and, in addition to the suffocating humidity, the heat seemed
to have increased.

When we arrived at the Stamm residence, Detective Burke admitted
us.  As we came into the front hall, Heath, who had evidently just
entered through the side door, hurried forward.

"They've taken Greeff's body away," he reported.  "And I've kept
the boys busy on the usual routine stuff.  But there's no new
information for you.  We're up against a blank wall, if you ask
me."

Vance looked at him significantly.

"Nothing else on your mind, Sergeant?"

Heath nodded with a slow grin.

"Sure thing.  I was waiting for you to ask me. . . .  We found the
wheelbarrow."

"Stout fella!"

"It was in that clump of trees alongside the East Road, about fifty
feet this side of the pot-holes.  When I got back Hennessey told me
about it, and I thought I would take a look around.  You know that
open sandy space between the Clove and the Bird Refuge--well, I
went over that ground pretty thoroughly, knowing what you had in
mind, and I found a narrow wheel-track and a lot of depressions
that might easily be footprints.  So I guess you were right, sir."

Markham glanced severely from Heath to Vance.

"Right about what?" he asked, with annoyance.

"One of the details connected with Greeff's death," Vance answered.
"But wait till I check on the things that led up to the wheelbarrow
episode. . . ."

At this moment Leland, with Bernice Stamm at his side, came through
the portières of the drawing-room into the front hall.  He appeared
somewhat embarrassed.

"Miss Stamm and I could not stand the noise," he explained; "so we
left the others in the library and came to the drawing-room.  It
was too sultry outdoors--the house is more bearable."

Vance appeared to dismiss the other's comments as unimportant.

"Is everybody in the library now?" he asked.

"Every one but Stamm.  He has spent most of the afternoon setting
up a windlass on the other side of the pool.  He intends to get
that fallen rock out today.  He asked me to help him, but it was
too hot.  And, anyway, I was not in the mood for that sort of
thing."

"Where is Stamm now?" Vance asked.

"He has gone down the road, I believe, to get a couple of men to
operate the windlass for him."

Bernice Stamm moved toward the front stairs.

"I think I'll go to my room and lie down for a while," she said,
with a curious catch in her voice.  Leland's troubled eyes followed
her as she disappeared slowly up the stairs.  Then he turned back
to Vance.

"Can I be of any assistance?" he asked.  "I probably should have
helped Stamm with the rock, but the fact is there were several
matters I wanted to talk over with Miss Stamm.  She is taking this
whole thing far more tragically than she will admit even to
herself.  She is really at the breaking-point; and I felt that I
ought to be with her as much as possible."

"Quite so."  Vance studied the man penetratingly.

"Has anything else happened here today that would tend to upset
Miss Stamm?"

Leland hesitated.  Then he said:

"Her mother sent for me shortly after lunch.  She had seen Stamm go
down to the pool, and she implored me rather hysterically to bring
him back to the house.  She was somewhat incoherent in her
explanation of why she wanted him here.  All I could get out of her
was that there was some danger lurking in the pool for him,--the
dragon superstition coming back into her mind, no doubt,--and after
I had a talk with Mrs. Schwarz, I telephoned Doctor Holliday.  He
is up-stairs with her now."

Vance kept his eyes on Leland, and did not speak immediately.  At
length he said:

"We must ask you to remain here for a while."

Leland looked up and met Vance's gaze.

"I will be on the north terrace--if you should want me."  He took a
deep breath, turned quickly, and walked down the hall.

When he had closed the side door after him, Vance turned to Burke.

"Stay in the hall here till we return," he instructed the
detective.  "And see that no one goes down to the pool."

Burke saluted and moved away toward the stairs.

"Where's Snitkin, Sergeant?" Vance asked.

"After the wagon came for Greeff's body," Heath informed him, "I
told him to wait at the East Road gate."

Vance turned toward the front door.

"That being that, I think we'll hop down to the pool.  But we'll
take the car as far as the little cement walk, and approach from
that side."

Markham looked puzzled, but said nothing; and we followed Vance
down the front steps to his car.

We drove down the East Road as far as the gate, picked up Snitkin,
and then backed up to the tree-lined cement walk, where Vance
halted.  When we got out of the car Vance reached into the tonneau
and took out the hand-bag that he had directed Currie to put there.
Then he led the way down the walk to the low area of ground at the
northeast corner of the pool.  To our left, near the filter, was a
large circular wooden windlass, well anchored in the ground, and
beside it lay a coil of heavy sisal rope.  But Stamm, evidently,
had not yet returned.

"Stamm's a neat chap," Vance commented casually, looking at the
windlass.  "He's made a pretty good job of that winch.  It'll take
a lot of energy, though, to get that rock out of the pool.  Good
exercise, however--excellent for one's psychic balance."

Markham was impatient.

"Did you bring me all the way out here," he asked, "to discuss the
advantages of physical exercise?"

"My dear Markham!" Vance reproved him mildly.  Then he added
sombrely:  "It may be I've brought you on an even more foolish
errand.  And yet--I wonder. . . ."

We were standing at the end of the cement walk.  Vance took up his
hand-bag and started across the fifteen feet or so, which divided
us from the rim of the pool.

"Please stay where you are just a minute," he requested.  "I have a
bit of an experiment to make."

He crossed the grass to the muddy bank.  When he came within a few
feet of the water, he bent over, placing the hand-bag in front of
him.  His body partly shielded it from our view, so that none of us
could quite make out what he was doing with it.  This particular
part of the ground, always moist from its direct contact with the
water, was, at this time, unusually soft and yielding, owing to the
heavy downpour of rain early in the afternoon.

From where I stood I could see Vance open the bag before him.  He
reached into it and took out something.  Then he bent over almost
to the edge of the water, and leaned forward on one hand.  After a
moment he drew back; and again I saw him reach into the bag.  Once
more he bent forward, and threw all his weight on his extended
hands.

Markham moved a little to one side, in order to get a better view
of Vance's activities; but apparently he was unable to see what was
going on, for he shrugged impatiently, sighed deeply, and thrust
his hands into his pockets with a movement of exasperation.  Both
Heath and Snitkin stood looking on placidly, without the slightest
indication of any emotion.

Then I heard the bag snap shut.  Vance knelt on it for several
moments, as if inspecting the edge of the pool.  Finally he stood
up and placed the bag to one side.  He reached in his pocket, took
out a cigarette, and deliberately lighted it.  Slowly he turned,
looked at us hesitantly, and beckoned to us to join him.

When we reached him he pointed to the flat surface on the muddy
ground, near the water, and asked in a strained voice:

"What do you see?"

We bent over the small section of ground he had indicated; and
there, in the mud, were outlined two familiar demarcations.  One
was like the imprint of a great scaly hoof; and the other resembled
the impression of a three-taloned claw.

Markham was leaning over them curiously.

"Good Heavens, Vance!  What's the meaning of this?  They're like
the marks we saw on the bottom of the pool!"

Heath, his serenity shaken for the moment, shifted his startled
gaze to Vance's face, but made no comment.

Snitkin had already knelt down in the mud and was inspecting the
imprints closely.

"What do you think about them?" Vance asked him.

Snitkin did not reply immediately.  He continued his examination of
the two marks.  Then he slowly got to his feet and nodded several
times with thoughtful emphasis.

"They're the same as the ones I made copies of," he declared.  "No
mistaking 'em, sir."  He looked inquiringly at Heath.  "But I
didn't see these imprints on the bank when I was making the
drawings."

"They weren't here then," Vance explained.  "But I wanted you to
see them, nevertheless--to make sure they were the same as the
others. . . .  I just made these myself."

"How did you make them--and with what?" Markham demanded angrily.

"With part of the sartorial outfit I purchased today," Vance told
him.  "The new gloves and the new shoes, don't y' know."  Despite
his smile his eyes were grave.

He picked up the hand-bag and walked back toward the cement path.

"Come, Markham," he said, "I'll show you what I mean.  But we had
better go back to the car.  It's beastly damp here by the pool."

He entered the spacious tonneau, and we did likewise, wondering.
Snitkin stood in the road by the open door, with one foot on the
running-board.

Vance opened the bag and, reaching into it, drew out the most
unusual pair of gloves I had ever seen.  They were made of heavy
rubber, with gauntlets extending about six inches above the wrists;
and though they had a division for the thumb, they had only two
broad tapering fingers.  They looked like some monster's three-
pronged talons.

"These gloves, Markham," Vance explained, "are technically known as
two-fingered diving mittens.  They are the United States Navy
standard pattern, and are constructed in this fashion for
convenience when it is necess'ry to have the use of the fingers
under water.  They are adapted to the most difficult types of
submarine work.  And it was with one of these gloves that I just
made the mark on the earth there."

Markham was speechless for a moment; then he tore his fascinated
gaze from the gloves and looked up at Vance.

"Do you mean to tell me it was with a pair of gloves like those
that the imprints were made on the bottom of the pool!"

Vance nodded and tossed the gloves back into the bag.

"Yes, they explain the claw-marks of the dragon. . . .  And here is
what made the dragon's hoof-prints in the silt of the pool."

Reaching into the bag again, he brought out a pair of enormous,
strange-looking foot-gear.  They had heavy solid-brass bottoms with
thick leather tops; and across the instep and the ankle were wide
leather straps, with huge buckles.

"Diving shoes, Markham," Vance remarked.  "Also standard
equipment. . . .  Look at the corrugations on the metal soles,
made to prevent slipping."

He turned one of the shoes over, and there, etched, in the brass,
were scale-like ridges and grooves, such as are found in the tread
of an automobile tire.

There was a long silence.  This revelation of Vance's had started,
in all of us, new processes of speculative thought.  Heath's face
was rigid and dour, and Snitkin stood staring at the shoes with an
air of fascinated curiosity.  It was Markham who first roused
himself.

"Good God!" he exclaimed, in a low tone, as if expressing his
feelings aloud, but without reference to any listener.  "I'm
beginning to see. . . ."  Then he turned his eyes quickly to Vance.
"But what about the suit you were going to get?"

"I saw the suit when I purchased the shoes and gloves," Vance
replied, inspecting his cigarette thoughtfully.  "It really wasn't
necess'ry to own it, once I had seen it, and its workability had
been explained to me.  But I had to make sure, don't y' know,--it
was essential to find the missing integers of my theory.  However,
I needed the shoes and gloves to experiment with.  I wanted to
prove, d' ye see, the existence of the diving suit."

Markham inclined his head comprehendingly, but there was still a
look of awe and incredulity in his eyes.

"I see what you mean," he murmured.  "There's a diving suit and a
similar pair of shoes and gloves somewhere about here. . . ."

"Yes, yes.  Somewhere hereabouts.  And there's also an oxygen
tank. . . ."  His voice drifted off, and his eyes became dreamy.
"They must be near at hand," he added, "--somewhere on the estate."

"The dragon's outfit!" mumbled Markham, as if following some inner
train of thought.

"Exactly."  Vance nodded and threw his cigarette out of the car
window.  "And that outfit should be somewhere near the pool.
There wasn't time to carry it away.  It couldn't have been taken
back to the house--that would have been too dangerous.  And it
couldn't have been left where it might have been accidentally
discovered. . . .  There was design in these crimes--a careful
plotting of details.  Nothing haphazard, nothing fortuitous--"

He broke off suddenly and, rising quickly, stepped out of the car.

"Come, Markham!  There's a chance!"  There was suppressed
excitement in his voice.  "By Jove! it's the ONLY chance.  The
equipment must be there--it couldn't be anywhere else.  It's a
hideous idea--gruesome beyond words--but maybe . . . maybe."



CHAPTER XX

THE FINAL LINK


(Monday, August 13; 5 p. m.)


Vance hastened back down the cement walk toward the pool, with the
rest of us close behind him, not knowing where he was leading us
and with only a vague idea of his object.  But there was something
in his tone, as well as in his dynamic action, which had taken a
swift and strong hold on all of us.  I believe that Markham and
Heath, like myself, felt that the end of this terrible case was
near, and that Vance, through some subtle contact with the truth,
had found the road which led to its culmination.

Half-way down the walk Vance turned into the shrubbery at the
right, motioning us to follow.

"Be careful to keep out of sight of the house," he called over his
shoulder, as he headed for the vault.

When he had reached the great iron door he looked about him
carefully, glanced up at the high cliff, and then, with a swift
movement to his pocket, took out the vault key.  Unlocking the
door, he pushed it inward slowly to avoid, I surmised, any
unnecessary noise.  For the second time that day we entered the
dank close atmosphere of the old Stamm tomb, and Vance carefully
closed the door.  The beam from Heath's flashlight split the
darkness, and Vance took the light from the Sergeant's hand.

"I'll need that for a moment," he explained, and stepped toward the
grim tier of coffins on the right.

Slowly Vance moved the light along those gruesome rows of boxes,
with their corroded bronze fittings and clouded silver name-plates.
He worked systematically, rubbing off the tarnish of the silver
with his free hand, so that he might read the inscriptions.  When
he had come to the bottom tier he paused before a particularly old
oak coffin and bent down.

"Slyvanus Anthony Stamm, 1790-1871," he read aloud.  He ran the
light along the top of the coffin and touched it at several points
with his fingers.  "This should be the one, I think," he murmured.
"There's very little dust on it, and it's the oldest coffin here.
Disintegration of the body will be far advanced and the bone
structure will have crumbled, leaving more room for--other things."
He turned to Heath.  "Sergeant, will you and Snitkin get this
coffin out on the floor.  I'd like a peep in it."

Markham, who had stood at one side in the shadows watching Vance
intently and doubtfully, came quickly forward.

"You can't do that, Vance!" he protested.  "You can't break into a
private coffin this way.  You can be held legally accountable. . . ."

"This is no time for technicalities, Markham," Vance returned in a
bitter, imperious voice. . . .  "Come, Sergeant.  Are you with me?"

Heath stepped forward without hesitation.  "I'm with you, sir," he
said resolutely.  "I think I know what we're going to find."

Markham looked squarely at Vance a moment; then moved aside and
turned his back.  Knowing what this unspoken acquiescence on
Markham's part meant to a man of his precise and conventional
nature, I felt a great wave of admiration for him.

The coffin was moved from its rack to the floor of the vault, and
Vance bent over the lid.

"Ah!  The screws are gone."  He took hold of the lid, and with but
little effort it slid aside.

With the Sergeant's help the heavy top was removed.  Beneath was
the inner casket.  The lid of this was also loose, and Vance easily
lifted it off and placed it on the floor.  Then he played the
flashlight on the interior of the casket.

At first I thought the thing I saw was some unearthly creature with
a huge head and a tapering body, like some illustrations I had seen
of Martians.  I drew in an involuntary, audible breath: I was
shocked and, at the same time, frightened.  More monsters!  My one
instinct was to rush out into the clean sunlight, away from such a
hideous and terrifying sight.

"That's a duplicate of the suit I saw today, Markham," came Vance's
steadying, matter-of-fact voice.  He played his light down upon it.
"A shallow-water diving suit--the kind used largely in pearl-
fishing.  There's the three-light screw helmet with its hinged face-
plate. . . .  And there's the one-piece United States Navy diving
dress of rubberized canvas."  He bent over and touched the gray
material.  "Yes, yes, of course--cut down the front.  That was for
getting out of it quickly without unscrewing the helmet and
unlacing the backs of the legs."  He reached into the casket
alongside the diving suit and drew forth two rubber gloves and a
pair of brass-soled shoes.  "And here are duplicates of the shoes
and gloves I brought here with me."  (They were both caked with
dried mud.)  "These are what made the dragon's imprints on the
bottom of the pool."

Markham was gazing down into the casket, like a man stunned by a
sudden and awe-inspiring revelation.

"And hidden in that coffin!" he muttered, as if to himself.

"Apparently the one safe place on the estate," Vance nodded.  "And
this particular coffin was chosen because of its age.  There would
be little more than bones left, after all these years; and with a
slight pressure the frame of the chest walls would have caved in,
making space for the safe disposal of this outfit."  Vance paused a
moment, and then went on:  "This type of suit, d' ye see, doesn't
require an air pump and hose connection.  An oxygen tank can be
clamped to the breast-plate and attached to the intake-valve of the
helmet. . . .  See this?"

He pointed to the foot of the casket, and I saw, for the first
time, lying on the bottom, a metal cylinder about eighteen inches
long.

"That's the tank.  It can be placed horizontally across the breast-
plate, without interfering with the operations of the diver."

As he started to lift out the oxygen tank we heard a clinking
sound, as if the tank had come in contact with another piece of
metal.

Vance's face became suddenly animated.

"Ah!  I wonder. . . ."

He moved the tank to one side and reached down into the depths of
that ancient coffin.  When his hand came out he was holding a
vicious-looking grappling-iron.  It was fully two feet long and at
one end were three sharp steel hooks.  For a moment I did not grasp
the significance of this discovery; but when Vance touched the
prongs with his finger I saw that they were clotted with blood, and
the horrible truth swept over me.

Holding the grappling-iron toward Markham, he said in a curiously
hushed voice:

"The dragon's claws--the same that tore Montague's breast--and
Greeff's."

Markham's fascinated eyes clung to the deadly instrument.

"Still--I don't quite see--"

"This grapnel was the one missing factor in the hideous problem,"
Vance interrupted.  "Not that it would have mattered greatly, once
we had found the diving suit and had explained the imprints in the
pool.  But it does clarify the situation, don't y' know."

He tossed the iron back into the casket and replaced the cover.  At
a sign from him Heath and Snitkin lifted the heavy oak lid back to
the coffin and returned the ancient box, with its terrible and
revelatory contents, to its original position on the lower tier.

"We're through here--for the present, at any rate," Vance said, as
we passed out into the sunlight.  He locked the door of the vault
and dropped the key back into his pocket.  "We had better be
returning to the house, now that we have the solution to the
crimes. . . ."

He paused to light a cigarette; then looked grimly at the District
Attorney.

"Y' see, Markham," he said, "there was, after all, a dragon
involved in the case--a fiendish and resourceful dragon.  He had
vengeance and hate and ruthlessness in his heart.  He could live
under water, and he had talons of steel with which to tear his
victims.  But, above all, he had the shrewd calculating mind of man--
and when the mind of man becomes perverted and cruel it is more
vicious than that of any other creature on earth."

Markham nodded thoughtfully.

"I'm beginning to understand.  But there are too many things that
need explaining."

"I think I can explain them all," Vance replied, "now that the
basic pattern is complete."

Heath was scowling deeply, watching Vance with a look which
combined skepticism with admiration.

"Well, if you don't mind, Mr. Vance," he said apologetically, "I'd
like you to explain one thing to me right now.--How did the fellow
in the diving suit get out of the pool without leaving footprints?
You're not going to tell me he had wings, too, are you?"

"No, Sergeant."  Vance waved his hand toward the pile of lumber
beside the vault.  "There's the answer.  The point bothered me too
until this afternoon; but knowing he could have left the pool only
by walking, I realized that there must inevitably be a simple and
rational explanation for the absence of footprints--especially when
I knew that he was weighted down and wearing heavy diving shoes.
When I approached the vault a few minutes ago, the truth suddenly
dawned on me."  He smiled faintly.  "We should have seen it long
ago, for we ourselves demonstrated the method by doing exactly the
same thing when we walked out over the bottom of the pool.  The
murderer placed one of these boards between the end of the cement
walk and the edge of the pool,--the width of that stretch of flat
ground is little more than the length of the timber.  Then, when he
had walked out of the pool over the board, he simply carried it
back and threw it on the pile of lumber from which he had taken
it."

"Sure!"  Heath agreed with a kind of shamefaced satisfaction.
"That's what made that mark on the grass that looked like a heavy
suit-case had been set there."

"Quite right," nodded Vance.  "It was merely the indentation made
by one end of the heavy plank when the chappie in the diving suit
stepped on it. . . ."

Markham, who had been listening closely, interrupted.

"The technical details of the crime are all very well, Vance, but
what of the person who perpetrated these hideous acts?  We should
make some definite move immediately."

Vance looked up at him sadly and shook his head.

"No, no--not immediately, Markham," he said.  "The thing is too
obscure and complicated.  There are too many unresolved factors in
it--too many things to be considered.  We have caught no one red-
handed; and we must, therefore, avoid precipitancy in making an
arrest.  Otherwise, our entire case will collapse.  It's one thing
to know who the culprit is and how the crimes were committed, but
it's quite another thing to prove the culprit's guilt."

"How do you suggest that we go about it?"

Vance thought a moment before answering.  Then he said:

"It's a delicate matter.  Perhaps it would be wise to make subtle
suggestions and bold innuendos that may bring forth the very
admission that we need.  But certainly we must not take any direct
action too quickly.  We must discuss the situation before making a
decision.  We have hours ahead of us till nightfall."  He glanced
at his watch.  "We had better be going back to the house.  We can
settle the matter there and decide on the best course to pursue."

Markham acquiesced with a nod, and we set off through the shrubbery
toward the car.

As we came out into the East Road a car drove up from the direction
of Spuyten Duyvil, and Stamm and two other men who looked like
workers got out and approached us.

"Anything new?" Stamm asked.  And then, without waiting for an
answer, he said:  "I'm going down to get that rock out of the
pool."

"We have some news for you," Vance said, "--but not here.  When
you've finished the job," he suggested, "come up to the house.
We'll be there."

Stamm lifted his eyebrows slightly.

"Oh, all right.  It'll take me only an hour or so."  And he turned
and disappeared down the cement path, the two workmen following
him.

We drove quickly to the house.  Vance, instead of entering at the
front door, walked directly round the north side of the house, to
the terrace overlooking the pool.

Leland was seated in a large wicker chair, smoking placidly and
gazing out at the cliffs opposite.  He barely greeted us as we came
forward, and Vance, pausing only to light a fresh cigarette, sat
down beside him.

"The game's up, Leland," he said in a tone which, for all its
casualness, was both firm and grim.  "We know the truth."

Leland's expression did not change.

"What truth?" he asked, almost as if he felt no curiosity about the
matter.

"The truth about the murders of Montague and Greeff."

"I rather suspected you would find it out," he returned calmly.  (I
was amazed at the man's self-control.)  "I saw you down at the pool
a while ago.  I imagine I know what you were doing there. . . .
You have visited the vault also?"

"Yes," Vance admitted.  "We inspected the coffin of Sylvanus
Anthony Stamm.  We found the diving equipment in it--and the three-
pronged grappling-iron."

"And the oxygen tank?" Leland asked, without shifting his eyes from
the cliffs beyond.

Vance nodded.

"Yes, the tank too.--The whole procedure is quite clear now.
Everything about the crimes, I believe, is explained."

Leland bowed his head, and with trembling fingers attempted to
repack his pipe.

"In a way, I am glad," he said, in a very low voice.  "Perhaps it
is better--for every one."

Vance regarded the man with a look closely akin to pity.

"There's one thing I don't entirely understand, Mr. Leland," he
said at length.  "Why did you telephone the Homicide Bureau after
Montague's disappearance?  You only planted the seed of suspicion
of foul play, when the episode might have passed as an accident."

Leland turned his head slowly, frowned, and appeared to weigh the
question that Vance had put to him.  Finally he shook his head
despondently.

"I do not know--exactly--why I did that," he replied.

Vance's penetrating eyes held the man's gaze for a brief space of
time.  Then he asked:

"What are you going to do about it, Mr. Leland?"

Leland glanced down at his pipe, fumbled with it for a moment, and
then rose.

"I think I had better go up-stairs to Miss Stamm--if you don't
mind.  It might be best if it were I who told her."  Vance nodded.
"I believe you are right."

Leland had scarcely entered the house and closed the door when
Markham sprang to his feet and started after him; but Vance stepped
up quickly and put a firm restraining hand on the District
Attorney's shoulder.

"Stay here, Markham," he said, with grim and commanding insistence.

"But you can't do this thing, Vance!" Markham protested, trying to
throw off the other's hold.  "You have no right to contravene
justice this way.  You've done it before--and it was outrageous!"*


* Markham, I believe, was referring to the opportunity that Vance
had given the murderer in "The 'Canary' Murder Case" to commit
suicide after he had admitted his guilt.


"Please believe me, Markham," Vance returned sternly, "it's the
best thing."  Then his eyes opened wide, and a look of astonishment
came into them.  "Oh, my word!" he said.  "You don't yet
understand. . . .  Wait--wait."  And he forced Markham back into
his chair.

A moment later Stamm, in his bathing suit, emerged from one of the
cabañas and crossed the coping of the filter to the windlass
beyond.  The two men he had brought with him from Spuyten Duyvil
had already attached the rope to the drum and stood at the hand-
cranks, awaiting Stamm's orders.  Stamm picked up the loose end of
the coiled rope and, throwing it over his shoulder, waded into the
shallow water along the foot of the cliff until he came to the
submerged rock.  We watched him for some time looping the rope over
the rock and endeavoring to dislodge it with the assistance of the
men operating the winch.  Twice the rope slipped, and once a stake
anchoring the winch was dislodged.

It was while the men were repairing this stake that Leland returned
softly to the terrace and sat down again beside Vance.  His face
was pale and set, and a great sadness had come into his eyes.
Markham, who had started slightly when Leland appeared, now sat
looking at him curiously.  Leland's eyes moved indifferently toward
the pool where Stamm was struggling with the heavy rope.

"Bernice has suspected the truth all along," Leland remarked to
Vance, in a voice barely above a whisper. . . .  "I think, though,"
he added, "she feels better, now that you gentlemen understand
everything. . . .  She is very brave. . . ."

Across the sinister waters of the Dragon Pool, there came to us a
curious rumbling and crackling sound, like sharp, distant thunder.
As I instinctively glanced toward the cliffs I saw the entire
pinnacle of the rocky projection we had examined the day before,
topple and slide downward toward the spot where Stamm was standing
breast-deep in the water.

The whole terrible episode happened so quickly that the details of
it are, even today, somewhat confused in my mind.  But as the great
mass of rock slid down the cliff, a shower of small stones in its
wake, I caught a fleeting picture of Stamm glancing upward and then
striving frantically to get out of the path of the crashing
boulder, which the rainstorm earlier in the afternoon must have
loosened.  But his arms had become entangled in the rope which he
was attempting to fasten about the rock in the pool, and he was
unable to disengage himself.  I got a momentary glimpse of his
panic-stricken face just before the great mass of rock caught him
and pinned him beneath the waters.

Simultaneously with the terrific splash, a fearful, hysterical
shriek rang out from the balcony high above our heads; and I knew
that old Mrs. Stamm had witnessed the tragedy.

We all sat in stunned silence for several seconds.  Then I was
conscious of Leland's soft voice.

"A merciful death," he commented.

Vance took a long, deep inhalation on his cigarette.

"Merciful--and just," he said.

The two men at the windlass had entered the water and were wading
rapidly toward the place where Stamm had been buried; but it was
only too obvious that their efforts would be futile.  The great
mass of rock had caught Stamm squarely, and there could be no hope
of rescue.

The first sudden shock of the catastrophe past, we rose to our
feet, almost with one accord.  It was then that the hall door
opened and Doctor Holliday, pale and upset, lumbered out on the
terrace.

"Oh, there you are, Mr. Leland."  He hesitated, as if he did not
know exactly how to proceed.  Then he blurted out:

"Mrs. Stamm's dead.  Sudden shock--she saw it happen.  You had
better break the news to her daughter."



CHAPTER XXI

THE END OF THE CASE


(Monday, August 13; 10 p. m.)


Late that night Markham and Heath and I were sitting with Vance on
his roof-garden, drinking champagne and smoking.

We had remained at the Stamm estate only a short time after Stamm's
death.  Heath had stayed on to supervise the detail work which
closed the case.  The pool had been drained again, and Stamm's body
had been taken from beneath the rock boulder.  It was mutilated
beyond recognition.  Leland, with Miss Stamm's assistance, had
taken charge of all the domestic affairs.

Vance and Markham and I had not finished dinner until nearly ten
o'clock, and shortly afterward Sergeant Heath joined us.  It was
still hot and sultry, and Vance had produced a bottle of his 1904
Pol Roger.

"An amazin' crime," he remarked, lying back lethargically in his
chair.  "Amazin'--and yet simple and rational."

"That may be true," Markham returned.  "But there are many details
of it which are still obscure to me."

"Once its basic scheme is clear," Vance said, "the various shapes
and colors of the mosaic take their places almost automatically."

He emptied his glass of champagne.

"It was easy enough for Stamm to plan and execute the first murder.
He brought together a house-party of warring elements, on any
member of which suspicion might fall if criminality were proved in
connection with Montague's disappearance.  He felt sure his guests
would go swimming in the pool and that Montague, with his colossal
vanity, would take the first dive.  He deliberately encouraged the
heavy drinking, and he himself pretended to overindulge.  But as a
matter of fact, he was the only member of the party, with the
possible exception of Leland and Miss Stamm, who did no drinking."

"But Vance--"

"Oh, I know.  He gave the appearance of having drunk heavily all
day.  But that was only part of his plan.  He was probably never
more sober in his life than when the rest of the party left the
house for the swimming pool.  During the entire evening he sat on
the davenport in the library, and surreptitiously poured his liquor
into the jardinière holding the rubber-plant."

Markham looked up quickly.

"That was why you were so interested in the soil of that plant?"

"Exactly.  Stamm had probably emptied two quarts of whisky into the
pot.  I took up a good bit of the soil on my finger; and it was
well saturated with alcohol."

"But Doctor Holliday's report--"

"Oh, Stamm was actually in a state of acute alcoholism when the
doctor examined him.  You remember the quart of Scotch he ordered
from Trainor, just before the others went down to the pool.  When
he himself came back to the library, after the murder, he
undoubtedly drank the entire bottle; and when Leland found him his
state of alcoholic collapse was quite genuine.  Thus he gave the
whole affair an air of verisimilitude."

Vance lifted the champagne from the wine cooler and poured himself
another glass.  When he had taken a few sips he lay back again in
his chair.

"What Stamm did," he continued, "was to hide his diving outfit and
the grapnel in his car in the garage earlier in the day.  Then,
feigning a state of almost complete drunken insensibility, he
waited till every one had gone to the pool.  Immediately he went to
the garage, and drove--or perhaps coasted--down the East Road to
the little cement path.  He donned his diving suit, which he put on
over his dinner clothes, and attached the oxygen tank--a matter of
but a few minutes.  Then he put the board in place, and entered the
pool.  He was reasonably sure that Montague would take the first
dive; and he was able to select almost the exact spot in the pool
toward which Montague would head.  He had his grapnel with him, so
that he could reach out in any direction and get his victim.  The
water in the pool is quite clear and the flood-lights would give
him a good view of Montague.  The technique of the crime for an
experienced diver like Stamm was dashed simple."

Vance made a slight gesture with his hand.

"There can be little doubt as to exactly what happened.  Montague
took his dive, and Stamm, standing on the sloping basin opposite
the deep channel, simply hooked him with the grappling-iron--which
accounts for the wounds on Montague's chest.  The force of the
dive, I imagine, drove Montague's head violently against the metal
oxygen tank clamped to the breast-plate of Stamm's helmet, and
fractured his skull.  With his victim stunned and perhaps
unconscious, Stamm proceeded to choke him under the water until he
was quite limp.  It was no great effort for Stamm to drag him to
the car and throw him in.  Next Stamm replaced the board, doffed
his diving suit, hid it in the old coffin in the vault, and drove
to the pot-holes, where he dumped Montague's body.  Montague's
broken bones were the result of the rough way in which Stamm
chucked him into the rock pit; and the abrasions on his feet were
undoubtedly caused by Stamm's dragging him over the cement walk to
the parked car.  Afterward Stamm drove the car back to the garage,
returned cautiously to the library, and proceeded to consume the
quart of whisky."

Vance took a long inhalation on his cigarette, exhaling the smoke
slowly.

"It was an almost perfect alibi."

"But the time element, Vance--" Markham began.

"Stamm had plenty of time.  At least fifteen minutes elapsed before
the others had changed to their bathing suits; and this was twice
as much time as Stamm required to coast down the hill in his car,
slip into his diving suit, put the piece of lumber in place, and
station himself in the pool.  And, certainly, it took him not more
than fifteen minutes, at the most, to replace the board, hide his
diving suit, deposit his victim in the pot-hole, and return to the
house."

"But he was taking a desperate chance," Markham commented.

"On the contr'ry, he was taking no chance at all.  If his
calculations worked out successfully, there was no way in which the
plot could go awry.  Stamm had all the time necess'ry; he had the
equipment; and he was working out of sight of any possible
witnesses.  If Montague had not dived into the pool, as was his
custom, it would have meant only that the murder would have to be
postponed.  In that case Stamm would simply have walked out of the
pool, returned to the house, and bided his time."

Vance frowned wistfully and turned his head lazily toward Markham.

"There was, however, one fatal error in the calculations," he said.
"Stamm was too cautious--he lacked boldness: he covered his gamble,
as it were.  As I have said, in planning the house-party he invited
persons who had reason to want Montague out of the way, his idea
being to supply the authorities with suspects in the event his
scheme did not work out.  But, in doing so, he overlooked the fact
that some of these very people were familiar with diving apparatus
and with his own under-sea work in the tropics--people who, having
this information, might have figured out how the murder was
committed, provided the body was found. . . ."

"You mean," asked Markham, "that you think Leland saw through the
plot from the first?"

"There can be little doubt," Vance returned, "that when Montague
failed to come up from his dive, Leland strongly suspected that
Stamm had committed a crime.  Naturally, he was torn between his
sense of justice and fair play, on the one hand, and his love for
Bernice Stamm, on the other.  My word, what a predicament!  He
compromised by telephoning to the Homicide Bureau and insisting
that an investigation be instigated.  He wouldn't definitely expose
or accuse the brother of the woman he loved.  But, as an honorable
man, he couldn't bring himself to countenance what he believed to
be deliberate murder.  Y' know, Markham, he was infinitely relieved
when I told him this afternoon that I knew the truth.  But
meanwhile the man had suffered no end."

"Do you think any one else suspected?" Markham asked.

"Oh, yes.  Bernice Stamm suspected the truth--Leland himself told
us so this afternoon.  That's why the Sergeant, when he first saw
her, got the impression she was not primarily worried about
Montague's disappearance.--And I feel pretty sure that Tatum also
guessed the truth.  Don't forget, he had been on the trip to Cocos
Island with Stamm and was familiar with the possibilities of diving
suits.  But the present situation no doubt seemed a bit fantastic
to him, and he couldn't voice his suspicion because there was
apparently no way of proving it.--And Greeff, too, having helped to
equip some of Stamm's expeditions, undoubtedly had a fairly
accurate idea as to what had happened to Montague."

"And the others also?" asked Markham.

"No, I doubt if either Mrs. McAdam or Ruby Steele really suspected
the truth; but I think both of them felt that something was wrong.
Ruby Steele was attracted by Montague--which accounts, perversely,
for the antagonism between them.  And she was jealous of Bernice
Stamm as well as of Teeny McAdam.  When Montague disappeared, I
have no doubt the idea of foul play did enter her mind.  That's why
she accused Leland: she hated him because of his superiority."

Vance paused a moment and went on.

"Mrs. McAdam's mental reactions in the matter were a bit
subtler.  I doubt if she entirely understood her own emotions.
Unquestionably, however, she too suspected foul play.  Although the
fact that Montague had faded from the scene would have favored her
personal ends, I imagine she had some lingerin' sentiment for
the chap, and that's why she handed us Greeff and Leland as
possibilities--both of whom she disliked.  And I imagine also that
her scream was purely emotional, while her later indifference
indicated the dominance of her scheming mind over her heart.  The
horror of the possibility of Montague's having been murdered
accounted for her violent reaction when I told her of the splash in
the pool: she pictured terrible things happening to him.  The old
feminine heart at work again, Markham."

There were several moments of silence.  Then Markham said, almost
inaudibly, as if stating to himself some point in a train of
thought:

"And of course the car that Leland and Greeff and Miss Stamm heard
was Stamm's."

"Unquestionably," Vance returned.  "The time element fitted
exactly."

Markham nodded, but there was a troubled reservation in his frown.

"But still," he said, "there was that note from the Bruett woman."

"My dear Markham!  There's no such person.  Stamm created Ellen
Bruett to account for Montague's disappearance.  He was hoping that
the whole affair would simply blow over as a commonplace elopement.
He wrote the rendezvous note himself, and put it in Montague's
pocket after he returned from the pool that night.  And you
remember that he indicated where we could find it, when he opened
the clothes-closet door.  A clever ruse, Markham; and the sound of
the car on the East Road bore out the theory, though Stamm probably
didn't take the sound of the car into consideration at all."

"No wonder my men couldn't find any trace of the dame," grumbled
the Sergeant.

Markham was gazing at his cigar with a thoughtful abstracted look.

"I can understand the Bruett factor," he remarked at length; "but
how do you account for Mrs. Stamm's uncannily accurate prophecies?"

Vance smiled mildly.

"They were not prophecies, Markham," he replied, with a sad note in
his voice.  "They were all based on real knowledge of what was
going on, and were the pathetic attempts of an old woman to protect
her son.  What Mrs. Stamm didn't actually see from her window, she
probably suspected; and nearly everything she said to us was
deliberately calculated to divert us from the truth.  That's why
she sent for us at the outset."

Vance drew deeply on his cigarette again, and looked out wistfully
over the tree-tops.

"Much of her talk about the dragon was insincere, although there is
no question that the hallucination concerning the dragon in the
pool had taken a powerful hold on her weakened mind.  And this
partial belief in the existence of a water-monster formed the basis
of her defense of Stamm.  We don't know how much she saw from her
window.  Personally, I think she felt instinctively that Stamm had
plotted the murder of Montague, and I also think that she heard the
car going down the East Road and suspected what its errand was.
When she listened at the top of the stairs that first night and
heard Stamm protesting, the shock produced by the realization of
her fears caused her to scream and to send for us later to tell us
that no one in the house was guilty of any crime."

Vance sighed.

"It was a tragic effort, Markham; and all her other efforts to
mislead us were equally tragic.  She attempted to build up the
dragon hypothesis because she herself was not quite rational on the
subject.  Moreover, she knew Stamm would take the body away and
hide it--which accounts for her seeming prophecy that the body
would not be found in the pool.  And she was able to figure out
where Stamm would hide the body--in fact, she may even have been
able to tell, from the sound, approximately how far down the road
Stamm drove the car before returning to the garage.  When she
screamed at the time the pool was emptied, she was simply making a
dramatic gesture to emphasize her theory that the dragon had flown
off with Montague's body."

Vance stretched his legs and settled even deeper into his chair.

"Mrs. Stamm's prognostications of the second tragedy were merely
another effort toward foisting the dragon theory upon us.  She
undoubtedly suspected that her son, having succeeded in murdering
Montague, would, if the opportunity presented itself, also put
Greeff out of the way.  I imagine she knew all about Greeff's
financial plottings, and sensed Stamm's hatred for him.  She may
even have seen, or heard, her son and Greeff go down toward the
pool last night and have anticipated the terrible thing that was
going to happen.  You recall how frantically she endeavored to
bolster up her theory of the dragon when she heard of Greeff's
disappearance.  I had a suspicion then that she knew more than she
would admit.  That was why I went directly to the potholes to see
if Greeff's body was there. . . .  Oh, yes, that tortured old woman
knew of her son's guilt.  When she begged Leland to bring him back
into the house this afternoon, saying that some danger was lurking
in the pool, it wasn't a premonition.  It was only her instinctive
fear that some retribution might overtake her son at the scene of
his crimes."

"And it did overtake him," mumbled Markham.  "A curious
coincidence."

"He sure had it coming to him," put in the practical Sergeant.
"But what gets me is the trouble he took to avoid leaving
footprints."

"Stamm had to protect himself, Sergeant," Vance explained.  "Any
noticeable imprints of his diving shoes would have given away the
entire plot.  Therefore, he took the precaution of placing a board
over that patch of ground."

"But he took no precaution against his footprints on the bottom of
the pool," Markham submitted.

"True," Vance returned.  "It had not occurred to him, I imagine,
that the imprints he made under the water would remain; for he was
certainly a frightened man when the marks of his diving shoes came
to light: he was afraid they would be recognized for what they
were.  I admit that the truth did not occur to me at the time.
But, later, a suspicion of the truth dawned on me; and that is why
I wished to verify my theory by searching for a diving suit and
shoes and gloves.  There are but few companies that make standard
diving equipment in this country, and I had little trouble in
locating the firm from which Stamm had acquired his outfit."

"But what about Leland?" Markham asked.  "Surely he would have
recognized the tracks."

"Oh, to be sure.  In fact, the moment I mentioned those strange
tracks to him, he suspected immediately how they had been made; and
when he saw Snitkin's drawings he knew the truth.  I think he
rather hoped that we also would see it, although he could not bring
himself to tell us directly because of his loyalty to Bernice
Stamm.  Miss Stamm herself suspected the truth--you recall how
upset she was when I mentioned the queer footprints to her.  And
Mrs. Stamm, too, knew the significance of those imprints when she
heard of them.  But she very cleverly turned them to her own
purpose and used them to support the theory of the dragon that she
was endeavorin' to instil in us."

Markham filled his glass.

"That part of it is all clear," he said, after a short silence.
"But there are certain points connected with Greeff's murder that I
don't yet understand."

Vance did not speak at once.  First he lighted a fresh cigarette
slowly and meditatively.  Then he said:

"I can't make up my mind, Markham, whether Greeff's murder was
planned for this particular week-end, or was suddenly decided on.
But the possibility unquestionably was at the back of Stamm's mind
when he planned the party.  There can be no doubt that he detested
Greeff and also feared him; and, with his perverted mind, he saw no
way of eliminating the menace presented by Greeff except through
murder.  What led Stamm to his decision to do away with Greeff last
night was undoubtedly the amazin' amount of dragon talk that
followed the finding of the imprints on the bottom of the pool, and
the claw-like tears down Montague's chest.  He saw no reason why he
should not continue to build up this outlandish theory of the
dragon.  As long as the circumstances of Montague's death appeared
entirely irrational and fantastic, Stamm, no doubt, felt safe from
apprehension; and in this state of false security, he sought to
repeat the irrationality of Montague's death in Greeff's murder.
He argued, I imagine, that if he were safe from suspicion as a
result of the dragonish implications in Montague's murder, he would
be equally safe from suspicion if Greeff were disposed of in a
similar manner.  That's why he duplicated the technique so
carefully.  He struck Greeff over the head to make a wound similar
to the one on Montague.  He then strangled Greeff, in order to
reproduce the throat marks; and, that accomplished, he used the
grapnel on Greeff's chest, thus reproducing the supposed dragon's
claw-marks.  He then carried the murder to its logical extreme--or,
rather, to its reductio ad absurdum--by chucking the fellow into
the pot-hole."

"I can see how his mind was working," Markham admitted.  "But in
Greeff's case he had to create the opportunity for the crime."

"Quite so.  But that wasn't difficult.  After Stamm's vicious
outburst Saturday night, Greeff was only too glad to accept the
reconciliation Stamm offered him last night in the library.  You
recall that Leland told us they sat for hours talking amicably
before retiring.  What they probably talked about was the prospect
of a new expedition, and Greeff was delighted to be able to offer
his help.  Then, when they had gone up-stairs, Stamm undoubtedly
invited Greeff into his own room for a last drink, later suggesting
that they go for a walk to continue the discussion; and the two
went out together.  It was at that time that both Leland and
Trainor heard the side door being unbolted."

Vance again sipped his champagne.

"How Stamm inveigled Greeff into the vault is something we'll never
know.  However, it's a point of no importance, for certainly Greeff
was in a frame of mind to acquiesce in any suggestion Stamm might
have made.  Stamm may have told Greeff that he was able to explain
Montague's death if the other would go into the vault with him.
Or, it may have been a more commonplace invitation--the expression
of a desire to inspect the masonry after the heavy rains.  But
whatever the means used by Stamm, we know that Greeff did enter the
vault with him last night. . . ."

"The gardenia, of course--and the bloodstains," Markham murmured.

"Oh, yes; it was quite evident. . . .  And after Stamm had killed
Greeff and mutilated him exactly as he had mutilated Montague, he
took him down to the pot-holes in the wheelbarrow, over the sandy
ground along the foot of the cliff, where he would not attract the
attention of any guard that might have been stationed on the East
Road."

Heath gave a gratified grunt.

"And then he left the wheelbarrow in that bunch of trees, and pussy-
footed back to the house."

"Exactly, Sergeant.  Moreover, the grating metallic noise that
Leland heard was obviously the creaking of the rusty hinges of the
vault door; and the other sound which Leland described could have
been nothing but the wheelbarrow.  And, despite all Stamm's caution
on re-entering the house, both Leland and Trainor heard him throw
the bolt."

Vance sighed.

"It was not a perfect murder, Markham, but it had the elements of
perfection in it.  It was a bold murder, too; for if either of the
murders were solved, both would be solved.  It was a double gamble--
the placing of two chips, instead of one, on a selected number."

Again Markham nodded sombrely.

"That part is clear enough now," he said.  "But why should the key
to the vault have been found in Tatum's room?"

"That was part of Stamm's fundamental mistake.  As I have said,
Stamm was overcautious.  He didn't have the courage to carry
through his plot without building bridges.  He may have had the key
for years, or he may have secured it recently from Mrs. Stamm's
trunk.  But really, it doesn't matter.  Once he had used it for his
purpose, he could not throw it away, for obviously he intended to
remove the diving suit from the vault when the first opportunity
offered.  He could have hidden the key in the meantime; but if the
diving suit had been discovered in the vault by some one's tearing
down a wall or breaking in the door, suspicion would immediately
have fallen on him, as it was his own diving suit.  Therefore, in
an effort to protect himself in this remote eventuality, he
probably put the key first in Greeff's room, to point suspicion to
Greeff.  Then, when the opportunity to murder Greeff arose, Stamm
planted the key in Tatum's room.  Stamm liked Leland and wanted
Bernice to marry him--which, incidentally, was the primary motive
for his getting rid of Montague--and he certainly would not have
tried to throw suspicion on Leland.  You will remember that I first
searched Greeff's room--I thought that the key might be there,
inasmuch as there was a possibility we would think that Greeff had
merely run away.  But when it was not there I looked for it in
Tatum's room.  Luckily we found it and didn't have to break into
the vault--which I would certainly have insisted upon if there had
been no other means of entering."

"But what I still don't understand, Vance," Markham persisted, "is
why the key should have interested you in the first place."

"Neither do I--entirely," Vance returned.  "And it's much too hot
tonight to indulge in psychological analyses of my mental quirks.
Let's say, for brevity, that my idea about the key was mere
guesswork.  As you know, the vault fascinated me because of its
strategic position; and I couldn't see how else the first murder
could have been so neatly accomplished unless the vault had been
used in some way.  It was most convenient, don't y' know.  But the
entire matter was far from clear in my mind.  In fact, it was
dashed vague.  However, I thought it worth determining, and that's
why I went to Mrs. Stamm and demanded to know the hiding-place of
the key.  I frightened her into telling me, for she didn't
associate the vault with Stamm's machinations.  When I discovered
that the key had disappeared from its hiding-place, I was more
convinced than ever that it was a factor in the solution of our
problem."

"But how, in the name of Heaven," asked Markham, "did you first hit
upon the idea that Stamm was the guilty person?  He was the only
person in the house that seemed to have a good alibi."

Vance shook his head slowly.

"No, Markham old dear; he was the only member of the party who
did NOT have an alibi.  And it was for that reason that I had my
eye on him from the first--although I admit there were other
possibilities.  Stamm, of course, thought that he had built up a
perfect alibi, at the same time hoping that the murder would pass
as a mere departure.  But when Montague's murder was established,
Stamm's position was really weaker than that of any of the others;
for he was the only one who was not standing beside the pool at the
time Montague dived in.  It would have been difficult for any one
of the others to have murdered Montague in the circumstances, just
as it would have been impossible for Stamm to have murdered him if
he had actually been in a state of acute alcoholism.  It was this
combination of circumstances that gave me my first inkling of the
truth.  Naturally, Stamm couldn't have gone to the pool with the
others and still have accomplished his purpose; and, reasoning from
this premise, I arrived at the conclusion that it was possible for
him to have feigned drunkenness by secretly disposing of his
liquor, and then made his drunkenness a reality after he had
returned to the house.  When I learned that he had spent the entire
evening on the davenport in the library, I naturally became
interested in the jardinière holding the rubber-plant at the head
of the davenport."

"But, Vance," protested Markham, "if you were so certain from the
first that the crime was rational and commonplace, why all the
silly pother about a dragon?"

"It was not silly.  There was always the remote possibility that
some strange fish, or sea-monster, had been responsible for
Montague's death.  Even the greatest zoologists understand but
little about aquatic life: it is positively amazin' how meagre our
knowledge of under-water creatures really is.  The breeding of the
Betta, for instance, has been going on for decades, and with all
our experimentation with this labyrinth family, no one knows
whether the Betta pugnax is a nest-builder or a mouthbreeder.  Mrs.
Stamm was quite right when she ridiculed scientific knowledge of
submarine life.  And you must not forget, Markham, that Stamm was
an ardent fish hunter, and that he brought back to this country all
kinds of rare specimens about which practically nothing is known.
Scientifically, the superstition of the pool could not be ignored.
But, I admit, I did not take the matter very seriously.  I clung
childishly to the trodden paths, for life has a most disappointin'
way of proving commonplace and rational when we are hopin' most
passionately for the bizarre and supernatural.  Anyway, I thought
it worth while to inspect Stamm's collection of fish.  But I was
more or less familiar with all his exhibits; so I descended to the
realm of simple, understandable things, and tested the soil in the
jardinière."

"And incidentally," Markham commented, with a slow smile, "you
lingered over the fish and the other plants so as not to give Stamm
any idea of what you were really after in the rubber-plant pot."

Vance smiled back.

"It may be, don't y' know. . . .  How about another magnum of Pol
Roger?"  And he rang for Currie.



It was less than a year after these two sinister murders at the old
Dragon Pool, with their sequence of tragedies, that Leland and
Bernice Stamm were married.  They were both strong and, in many
ways, remarkable characters; but the memory of the tragedies
affected them too deeply for them to remain in Inwood.  They built
a home in the hills of Westchester, and went there to live.  Vance
and I visited them shortly after their marriage.

The old Stamm residence was never occupied again, and the estate
was acquired by the city and added to what is now Inwood Hill Park.
The house was torn down, and only the crumbling stones of its
foundation remain.  But the two square stone posts of the entrance
gate, which marked the beginning of the driveway from Bolton Road,
are still standing.  The old Dragon Pool exists no more.  The
stream that fed it was diverted into Spuyten Duyvil Creek.  Its
semi-artificial bed has been filled in, and what was once the basin
of the Dragon Pool is now overgrown with wild vegetation.  It would
be difficult today even to trace the course of the old stream or to
determine the former boundaries of that sinister and tragic pool.

After the final tragedy and the breaking up of the century-old
traditions of the Stamm estate, I often wondered what became of
Trainor, the butler, when the doors of the ancient mansion had been
closed for all time.  Why the memory of the fellow should have
remained in my mind, I cannot say; but there was in him something
at once ghost-like and corporeal, something both pathetic and
offensive, which made a strong impression on me.  I was, therefore,
glad when I recently ran into him.

Vance and I were visiting a tropical-fish shop in East 34th Street;
and there, behind the counter, half hidden by the tanks, was
Trainor.

He recognized Vance at once, and shook his head lugubriously as we
approached him.

"I'm not doing so well with my Scatophagus here," he repined.  "Not
the proper conditions--if you know what I mean, sir."



THE END




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