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Title: The Casual Murderer
Author: Hulbert Footner
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The Casual Murderer

by

Hulbert Footner

Cover Image

Seven novelettes originally published in Argosy All-Story Weekly
First UK book edition: Collins, The Crime Club, London, 1932
First US book edition: J. B. Lippincott Co., New York, 1937

This e-book edition: Project Gutenberg Australia, 2015



Cover Image

"The Casual Murderer," Collins, The Crime Club, London, 1932



TABLE OF CONTENTS



I. — THE CASUAL MURDERER

Presumably first published in Argosy under a different title

I

I WAS crossing Union Square on my way to the office thinking about nothing at all, when I received one of those curious physical shocks that the sight of an unknown face will sometimes give one. This was a young man sitting on a bench with his long legs stretched before him, and his hands thrust deep into his overcoat pockets. He was out of luck--well, all the benchers in November are out of luck; this one bore it with a difference. His chin was not sunk on his breast, but held level, and his gentian-blue eyes were staring straight before him with an expression of complete despair.

My impulse was to speak to him. I suppressed it, of course, and kept on. How quickly one learns to suppress one's natural impulses in town! But this one was not going to be so easily suppressed. It set up a painful agitation in my breast. Coward! Coward! a still small voice whispered to me. How about the Good Samaritan? Here is a fellow-creature suffering some wound infinitely more dreadful than wounds of the flesh, and you pass by on the other side!

Before I got to the Seventeenth street corner I was forced to turn around and go back again. A new terror attacked me. What was I to say to a strange man? I was so flustered I walked right past him again. Shame! the voice whispered to me; you're nearly thirty years old and red-haired and your own mistress! What is there to be afraid off? Don't think about what you're going to say; but say the natural thing that springs to your lips.

So I turned around, and marched up to him and said:

"What is the matter?"

He raised the blue eyes to my face, hard with scorn; his tight lips writhed with pain and rage. "That's my affair," he said.

Well! I flew. My face was crimson, I expect, Never again! Never again! Never again! I said to myself. The worldly sense which teaches us to restrain our impulses is right!

But before I got back to the Seventeenth Street corner I heard rapid steps coming after me--I would have died sooner than look around; and the resonant, pain-sharp voice at my ear saying quickly:

"I'm sorry. What must you think of me? I didn't want to hurt you. The fact is I'm nearly out of my mind, and I lashed out blindly..."

I could look at him then. The blue eyes had become human and appealing, and of course, I was instantly melted.

"I understand," I said. "It was quite natural. I was too abrupt. That was because I was embarrassed."

"No," he insisted. "I am a fool. If there was ever anybody who needed a friend in this city it is I...Why, at the moment you spoke to me, and yet I...I was thinking what a God-forsaken, soulless city this is, and yet when you offered me a kindness..."

We were then abreast of the last bench in the Square. "Let us sit down a moment," I said.

"We did so.

"I suppose you live here," he said with a painful eagerness; "Do you know the city well?"

"Pretty well," I said.

"Then tell me, how do you set about finding a person who has disappeared?"

"The police?" I suggested.

An inexpressibly painful smile twisted his lips.

"Yes, I've been to police headquarters," he said. "They advised me to go home and forget about it."

"If you cared to tell me the circumstances..." I suggested.

"Yes, indeed," he said--he was humble enough now; "if you'll only listen. How thankful I am to have somebody to talk to! I should have gone clean out of my senses otherwise!"

His name was Edward Swanley. He was the public librarian of Ancaster, a small town up-state. He had one assistant in the library, a girl Aline Elder. They had fallen in love among the book-shelves, and were engaged to be married. He, Swanley, had gone to Ancaster from college to take the job, but Aline had lived there all her life. Her father and mother were dead and she lived with a large family of cousins. He described her as an old-fashioned sort of girl; that is to say, simple, unaffected and good. She was very pretty. It was clear that he loved her better than his life.

"If I don't find her," he said simply, "well...that is the end, for me."

Six days before Aline had said that she must go to New York for a day's shopping. The announcement, while unexpected, was not an unnatural one, because all the women in Ancaster allowed themselves a day in New York once or twice a year. But they usually went in parties, or at least in couples, whereas Aline departed alone. Swanley couldn't accompany her, because they couldn't both leave the library at the same time. She left Ancaster at noon on the following day, Wednesday, meaning to spend the night in New York, and the whole of Thursday, getting home on the last train Thursday night.

Swanley had met the train, and she was not on it. He was surprised but not greatly put about, expecting a telegram in the morning. There was no telegram, and he began to get anxious. He telegraphed to Aline at her hotel, and got no reply. Later in the day his landlady came to him, saying that she felt it her duty to inform him what they were saying about town, and that was that Aline had received a letter from New York the day before she went, in a man's handwriting. It had come from an assistant in the post office.

Swanley was enraged, but to doubt Aline was the last thing that occurred to him. Why, her simplicity and goodness of heart were proverbial in Ancaster; her life had been as open as the day; Swanley felt that he knew her heart better than his own. He visited the post office, but the terrified girl stuck to her story; Aline Elder had received a letter with the New York post-mark and addressed in a man's hand, the day before she went away. The envelope had no lettering on it, but there was a little picture raised in the paper of the flap.

After a night of torment, Swanley set off for town on Saturday morning. He went to a certain woman's hotel, where Aline had said she would stop, and was informed that she had not been there. He then told his story to the police. When the Inspector was told of the letter Aline had received, he smiled sympathetically at Swanley, and advised him to go back to Ancaster and forget her. That brought the unfortunate young man to the end of his resources. Since then he had been wandering blindly about the streets. It was Monday morning when I found him.

Now I had no right to speak for my busy, famous mistress, but I knew her kind heart, and I took a chance.

"Did you ever hear of Madame Rosika Storey?" I asked Swanley.

He shook his head.

"Everybody in New York knows her," I said. "She's a famous psychologist. I'm her secretary, Bella Brickley."

"What do you mean by psychologist?" he asked.

"Her profession is solving human problems," I said. "She works through her knowledge of the human heart."

"Crimes?" he said.

"Crimes and other problems. When there is more time I will tell you of the wonderful things she has done. Come along with me now, and talk to her."

"I have no money," he said dejectedly.

"Never mind that," I said. "She will listen to you. If you succeed in interesting her, the money will not matter."

"Ah," he said, "she will just think like everybody else that Aline has gone with some man."

"Madame Storey never thinks like everybody else," I said. "She is unique."

II

Our offices face Gramercy Park, that delightful and still aristocratic little back-water of the town. We are on the second floor of a magnificent old residence which has been sub-divided. My room, the outer office, was I suppose, originally a library or music-room. Through it you enter Mme. Storey's own room, which was the drawing-room. We have a third room to the rear of that, which we call the middle room, and which Mme. Storey uses as a dressing-room, or for any miscellaneous purposes that may be required.

Swanley had accompanied me, but it was clear he had no great hopes of Mme. Storey. Having told me his story, he had relapsed into himself. While we waited for my mistress, he sat in my room stony with despair.

The door from the hall opened, and Mme. Storey came in. Swanley looked at her in astonishment, and involuntarily rose to his feet. Have I mentioned that he was very tall and well-proportioned? His expression of amazement was almost comical. What he had expected to see I don't know; some beetle-browed, bespectacled old wise-woman, I suppose. Certainly not this glorious apparition of loveliness. She was wearing a little red hat, I remember--she is the one woman in a thousand who is pretty enough to wear a red hat; and a coat of chipmunk fur with its delicate black stripes; great fluffy collar and cuffs of fox. She had walked down, for her cheeks were as red as her hat, her dark eyes sparkling, and her lips parted to reveal gleaming teeth.

She gave Swanley a comprehensive glance, and I began to be assured that I had made no mistake in bringing him to her. With her insight she must see at once that he was neither a trifler nor a fool. She bowed to him slightly, smiled at me, and went into her room. Swanley stood looking after her with his mouth open.

"But why...why didn't you tell me...?" he stammered.

"I did tell you she was unique," I said, and went after Mme. Storey.

"Who is he, Bella?" she asked.

"I picked him up in Union Square," I said breathlessly. "He's in trouble. Oh, I know you have a hundred important things to do this morning; but give him ten minutes. Let him talk for himself. He's terribly eloquent."

"Bring him in," she said.

Swanley sat partly to the right of her desk facing her, and I at my little desk over in the corner. He repeated his story as I have already given it to you.

When he came to the end Mme. Storey said at once: "Well, I agree with you, there can be no question of a vulgar love affair here."

The young man betrayed his first sign of weakness. He hung his head; his face broke up. "Oh, Madame! Oh, Madame!" he murmured brokenly. "Thank you!...I hardly expected...Nobody else..."

He was unable to go on.

Mme. Storey made haste to help him over the difficult place. "Oh, people don't change their natures over night," she said briskly. "You have described Miss Elder so that I see her quite clearly. Now, let's see what we have to start on. The letter. We may assume that there was a letter. Nothing discreditable in that. But Miss Elder was hardly the person to have responded to a summons out of the blue, so to speak. There must have been something in her life to prepare her to receive such a letter, or she wouldn't have gone."

"Why didn't she tell me?" groaned the poor young fellow.

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey. "The psychology text-books attempt to classify human motives, but there are mixed motives that defy classification. We'll find out before we're through...What was there in her life..."

"Nothing! Nothing!" he cried. "I have told you all."

"That can hardly be true," said Mme. Storey. "Let's go into it. Take her parents, for instance; you said they were both dead. How long?"

"The mother, only two years," he said. "I knew her. I was strongly attached to her. She was the librarian at Ancaster and I went there as assistant. When she died they promoted me to be librarian, and gave me Aline as assistant."

"What sort of woman was Mrs. Elder?"

"She had a noble nature, Madame. She was universally respected and loved. Her people have been known in Ancaster since the village was settled."

"And the father?"

"He did not belong to Ancaster. He died when Aline was a baby. I know very little about him, but I know all that Aline knew. Aline told me that the mention of her father's name was the only thing that could make her mother's face harden. Once when Aline was a child, she put it up to her mother frankly: 'Tell me about my father.' All her mother would say was that he had treated them both very badly, and the best thing they could do was to put him out of their minds."

"He was not buried in Ancaster," said Mme. Storey. "You would have known, I suppose, if his grave was there."

"It was not there, Madame. He died in Chicago, where the Elders lived during their brief married life. Aline was born in Chicago. After her husband died, Mrs. Elder returned to her native village with the baby."

"Ha!" said Mme. Storey. "I suspect that Elder did not die at all."

The young man's eyes opened wide. "What reason have you to suppose that?" he asked.

"A woman like Mrs. Elder does not cherish rancor," said Mme. Storey. "Particularly beyond the grave, not in speaking to a child. It was likely the knowledge that he was alive and misbehaving himself that kept her bitter. Why the very form of the words she, used--if you have correctly repeated them, 'put him out of our minds' suggests that he was still a person to be reckoned with."

"Why, of course!" said Swanley.

"Did Aline share her mother's feelings towards the father?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Not exactly, Madame. Much as she loved her mother, the mere fact that everything had been kept from her, inclined Aline to think that her mother might have been a little unjust."

"Naturally. Well, there we have the beginning of a clue already."

"You think that letter was from Aline's father!" he said excitedly.

"Oh, not so fast!" said Mme. Storey. "I said a beginning."

"Wait!" cried Swanley. "Here is something. Aline had a little photograph of her father. After her mother's death she had it framed, and hung it on the wall of her room. I visited her room on Friday; to see if there was any clue. The picture was gone; my attention was called to it by the faded spot on the wallpaper."

"Well, let us say that her visit to New York had something to do with her father. That's that...Now, the fact that she never turned up at her hotel and has never sent you a line suggests that she has met with an accident of some sort."

The young man turned pale.

"Do not lose heart!" said Mme. Storey. "All accidents are not fatal...One feels somehow, that she has an enemy."

"How could she?"

"That is for us to find out. Suppose there is somebody who wishes her ill; who was plotting against her; that person would be likely to spy on her first. Now, Ancaster is a small place; any stranger whose business could not be accounted for would be conspicuous there. Has there been any such person there lately?"

The young man looked blank, and at first he slowly shook his head. Then a recollection arrested him. "There has been somebody," he said, "just lately, too, but no one would ever suppose..."

"What are the particulars?" asked Mme. Storey.

"This man turned up late Monday night. Touring in a big car; handsome imported car."

"Alone?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Well, he had his chauffeur. He put up at the local hotel, and stayed on. Said he was attracted by the beauty of the village."

"In November!" remarked Mme. Storey.

"Well, nobody thought anything about that. An agreeable sort of man; willing to talk to anybody."

"What name did he give?"

"I never heard. He was always referred to as the rich man, or the city man."

"What did he look like?"

"Quite the fine gentleman; elegant clothes. A man nearing fifty--well-preserved. Striking-looking face; high cheek bones; prominent nose; jetty black eyes. You'd remember him by his nose." Swanley made a mark in the air over his own straight nose. "What do you call that shaped nose?"

"Aquiline?" suggested Mme. Storey.

"Yes; or Roman. He had a Roman nose."

"It did not occur to you that there might be some connection between this man's coming, and Aline's going?"

"Why, no; how could there be? He came late Monday night. Aline left Wednesday. But he stayed on. In fact, he was on the train with me on Saturday."

"Ha!" said Mme. Storey. "And did it not seem strange to you, that he should leave the luxurious car and undertake a tedious railway journey?"

"I was not thinking about him," said Swanley painfully. "What about it?"

"Well, he might, for instance, have been following you. You were Aline's natural protector. You started off to look for her."

Swanley stared at her in amazement.

Mme. Storey half turned in her chair, and thoughtfully looked out of the window. "An elegant gentleman of near fifty," she murmured; "high cheek bones; jetty black eyes; Roman nose...Keep back from the window, but look across the street. Is that, by any chance, he who is now passing in front of the Park?"

"Good God! yes!" gasped Swanley.

"He has passed by twice since you have been here," said Mme. Storey quietly.

III

When every possible detail had been elicited from young Swanley, and he had been sent away in a little less desperate frame of mind, with strict injunctions from Mme. Storey to take food and rest, she said to me with a glint in her eye:

"Bella, I fancy we're going to have a call from the gentleman with the Roman nose."

"What makes you think so?" I asked.

"A certain look in his eye the last time he glanced up at our windows."

"Well, if he's a crook he'd be venturing into the lioness' den," I said.

"Thanks," she drawled. "What possible excuse could he give for coming here?"

"I don't know. We'll see. He had an original eye."

"I think it was pretty clumsy work," I said. "His exhibiting himself openly before our windows like that."

"Perhaps he doesn't care whether we're on to him or not," she dryly suggested. "...An extraordinary quality in his glance!" she mused. "I think this case is going to be interesting."

On the telephone she got in touch with Sampson, a man who has done good work for us. "Sampson," she said, "I am asked to find a young woman who has disappeared. Her name is Aline Elder, of Ancaster, New York. At noon last Wednesday she boarded a train for New York at Ancaster, and she has not been seen by her friends since. That train arrives at Grand Central about three. I wish you'd get in touch with the conductor of it, and find out if he remembers her. She may have asked the conductor a question; or he may have seen her in talk with somebody on the train."

A while later I was working in my own room when the door from the hall was softly opened, and upon looking up, I seemed to receive a little current of electricity up and down my spine. It was the man with the Roman nose. A very elegant figure indeed; more Continental in effect than American. I have already described his physical characteristics; how can I convey to you the extraordinary glance of his piercing black eyes--eyes set just a little too close to the imposing bridge of his nose; insolent, quizzical and cruel. I can only say that every time he looked at me a shudder seized my vitals.

His voice was all suavity. "Madame Storey," he said; "I wonder if she will be good enough to see me?"

"What name, please?"

"George Rawlings."

I went in to my mistress. Before I had time to open my mouth she said with a delightful smile:

"So he's come!"

I repeated the name he had given.

"Well, we mustn't appear to be too anxious to see him," said Mme. Storey. "Say this to him: 'Mme. Storey is very busy. Since she has not the pleasure of Mr. Rawlings' acquaintance, she begs that he will outline the nature of his business to her secretary'."

I went out and delivered my message.

"Might I beg a scrap of paper?" asked, with that over-courteous air of his, in which there was something subtly insulting.

I handed him a pad and he wrote upon it with a gold pencil:

"Could you use $100,000 in your business?"

When I showed this to Mme. Storey a note of astonished laughter escaped her. "Well, he has a cheek!" she said. "Still, we may let him assume that he has aroused our curiosity. Show him in, Bella."

Within the door of Mme. Storey's room Rawlings bowed with his heels together; wholly at his ease; preeminently the man of the world.

Mme. Storey had put on a slightly affronted air. She glanced with distaste at the pad on her desk. "I don't know what this means," she said, "but I am curious enough to ask. If it is just a trick, I must warn you that I am a busy woman, and have no time to spend in mere talk."

"It means exactly what it says," said Rawlings; suave, deferential, but not servile.

"Why should I need $100,000 in my business?" asked Mme. Storey. "My plant and fixtures are all in my head."

"Do not cases sometimes come to your attention," he said, "interesting cases, that you are nevertheless obliged to refuse because there is no one to pay you for your work?"

"Yes, occasionally," said Mme. Storey. "I have to make my living."

"I ask to be allowed to pay you for such cases," he said bowing; "when the cause is worthy, and the client has no money."

"Well!" said Mme. Storey. "This is an astonishing offer. You must let me catch my breath...Sit down."

He sat in the chair that Edward Swanley had occupied earlier. I had gone inconspicuously to my desk in the corner. He glanced at me, and Mme. Storey observing it, said carelessly:

"Miss Brickley is present at all interviews."

He bowed.

"What conditions do you attach to your offer?" asked Mme. Storey.

"None, Madame--or, I should say, only one minor condition."

"And that is?"

"That I be kept informed of the progress of any case I may be paying for. In other words allowed to share in the interest of the work."

"What sum do you propose devoting to it?" asked Mme. Storey dryly. "You say $100,000. Do you mean the interest on that sum annually?"

"No! No!" he said, waving his hands. "I put that down because I had to put something. If I had named a larger sum you might have thought I was crazy, and sent for the doorman. No, I place no limits on the expenditures, except of course, the limits of my income, which fluctuates at present between $500,000 and $600,000 a year."

There was a silence. Mme. Storey lit a cigarette, and regarded him quizzically through the smoke.

"You may be mad, you know," she said.

He shrugged in the Continental style. "They say money talks. Try it. You have only to mention a sum; and it will be delivered here within an hour in cash.

"Why in cash?" asked Mme. Storey raising her eyebrows. "Why not through the regular channels?"

"Because I do not want anybody to know about it," he said smoothly; "not my bankers; not my attorneys. I am no philanthropist. I detest the word. I am merely a man without any family, without any definite interest, and with a great deal more money than I can spend. My dear lady, you do not know it, but I have followed your career almost from the beginning with the keenest interest. I know all about the Ashcomb Poor case, the strange case of Teresa de Guion, and the tragic Starr murder. I suspect that there are still stranger cases going on, that do not get into the newspapers."

"There are," said Mme. Storey.

"Well, I will be quite frank with you--how foolish for me to seek to be otherwise with a woman like you! I am trying to buy my way into your confidence to a limited extent. It would give me the greatest pleasure if I might be in on some interesting and extraordinary case from its very inception, and follow it step by step through the medium of your extraordinary insight, to its triumphant conclusion. Then too, I am only human, I suppose; I might be doing a little good with my money, if we came to the assistance of some poor soul who was up against a devilish combination of circumstances, and lacked the wherewithal to extricate himself. You see it is very simple."

"Oh, very!" said Mme. Storey.

"But it would spoil all my pleasure if anybody on my side knew what I was doing."

"Then you decline to identify yourself to me to furnish references."

"I must, my dear lady."

"Your name may not be George Rawlings at all."

"It may not be," he said smiling.

"You may not have come by this money honestly."

"I may not," he said without turning a hair. "What do you care?"

"I don't care particularly," said Mme. Storey. "But I must have time to think it over, you understand."

He immediately arose. "I quite understand. May I come to see you again?"

"Any time," said Mme. Storey carelessly. "Such a munificent offer deserves consideration."

"Thank you," he said bowing. "You will find that I shall not trespass on your good nature. Should any occasion arise, my telephone number is Plaza 5771."

"Good-morning, Madame Storey. Good-morning, Miss Brickley."

I saw him through the outer door. When I returned, Mme. Storey, helping herself to a fresh cigarette, said airily:

"Grand flow of language, Bella!"

"The cheek of it!" I said with some heat; "trying to buy us!

"Oh, he didn't seriously expect to buy us," said Mme. Storey. "His object in coming here was more subtle. He wanted to find out if I had interested myself in Aline Elder, and confound him! he did find out. Observe his cleverness. With his damned offer he put me in a position where there was no line I could take that might put him off."

"Unless you had taken his money," I suggested.

"I ought to have taken his money," she said ruefully, "but I couldn't quite bring myself to it...On the other hand, Bella, the offer might have been bona fide."

"Never!" I said. "Not with that face!"

"Well, I don't think so myself," said Mme. Storey, "but one must keep an open mind."

"At any rate," I said, "he'll never trouble us again."

"Oh, but he will!" said Mme. Storey. "He enjoyed hearing himself talk. He'll give us more of it."

"What do you suppose his real game is?" I asked.

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey. "But before I'm through with him, I will know!"

IV

Late that afternoon we received a report from Sampson. He had interviewed the conductor of the railway train. The man remembered Aline Elder very well, having been particularly struck by the girl's charm. She had not addressed any questions to him. He could only testify that she had gone through to New York on his train. He had noticed her in conversation with a woman passenger. He frequently saw this woman on his train and had a bowing acquaintance with her; didn't know her name. He promised to let Sampson know the next time he saw her.

On the following day we had another report from the conductor, via Sampson. The woman's name was Mrs. Brownell. She was the travelling representative of a New York concern that operated a chain of stores in Hudson River towns. She remembered Aline Elder. Their conversation, she reported, was entirely insignificant; just the sort of thing chance travellers might say to each other. With one exception. The girl, learning that she was a New York business woman, had asked Mrs. Brownell if she had ever heard of a lawyer named Schuyler Orr. Mrs. Brownell had never heard of him, and the talk went no further along that line. But the odd name had stuck in Mrs. Brownell's memory.

Hearing this, Mme. Storey called for a telephone book. There was the name: Orr, Schuyler, lawyer; 140 Nassau Street.

"I think this is important enough to warrant a call," said Mme. Storey. "Call a taxi-cab. You come, too. This is your case."

Locking up the office, we set out.

140 Nassau Street is an immense office building. Mr. Schuyler Orr occupied a one-man office on an upper floor with a glorious panorama of the East River and its bridges. There was nobody in the office but a smallish, untidy girl who looked as if she had been weeping. She was rather overpowered by the spectacle of Mme. Storey.

"Mr. Orr," said my mistress, "I see he is out. When will he be in?"

The question started the tears flowing again. "I don't know, ma'am," the girl said between sniffs. "I ain't seen'm in more'n a week. He never told me he was going away. I don't know where he is."

"Have you communicated with his family?"

"He ain't got no family. I been to his house. He ain't been seen around there. I ain't been paid for last week at all. I don't know if I got a job or not."

"Cheer up!" said Mme. Storey. "Let's find him. When did you see him last?"

"A week ago Monday."

"He worked here that day?"

"Yes'm. He went away early to play golf."

"Where does he play golf?"

"The Ahkanasi Club, near Peguannock."

Further questioning elicited the fact that Mr. Orr frequently remained away from the office for a day or two at a time, but that he had heretofore always kept his stenographer informed of his movements. He lived at 147 East 18th Street, where he had a small flat. He kept no servant. He ate his meals at the Thespian's Club on Gramercy Park. The girl didn't know who his most intimate friends were. He had a cousin, a Mr. Francis Orr, who, several times during the past week had inquired for him over the telephone, and had asked to be notified as soon as any word was received. Mr. Francis Orr's office was in John Street, not a great way off.

Mme. Storey had the girl telephone to Mr. Francis Orr to ask him if he would come to his cousin's office to meet Madame Rosika Storey.

She remarked to me sotto voce: "We have two to find now. This case is like one of those nests of Japanese boxes. Whenever you open a box, there is a smaller one inside."

The girl reported that Mr. Orr would be right over, and Mme. Storey, taking the telephone, called up Canby, an operative who happened to be in Mount Vernon that afternoon. She ordered Canby to hire a car and proceed as quickly as possible to the Ahkanasi Club. If he could get there before dark he would catch the members before they dispersed after their games. He was to find out, if possible, who had played with Mr. Schuyler Orr on Monday, eight days before. He was to interview these persons, and obtain an exact account of the game, and was to trace, so far as possible, Mr. Orr's movements after the game.

Mme. Storey asked the little stenographer if Mr. Orr had ever given her a letter to Miss Aline Elder, Ancaster, N.Y. The girl shook her head. She was sure of it.

"I suppose there are copies of all his letters," said Mme. Storey. "Will you please look among them. He may have written it himself."

From the filing cabinet the girl brought us the folder which contained all the E's. There was no Elder among them.

Mr Francis Orr arrived; a good-looking well-dressed young business man, with a correct and artificial manner that bespoke a shallow nature. He evidently knew who Mme. Storey was, for he was all agog at finding her there. But his first thought was of himself.

Scowling, he said: "I hope my cousin hasn't..."

"I hope not," said Mme. Storey dryly. "His name came incidentally into a case in which I am interested. Whatever the situation may be, I think he ought to be looked for. I am a little surprised that no one has started looking for him before."

"It's true I'm his cousin," the young man said, on the defensive, "but I don't know him very well. You know how it is with families. Our ways ran in different directions."

"Well, let's start now," said Mme. Storey. "His desk ought to be searched. That's properly your job."

I need only say that this search produced nothing that was of any service to us.

The three of us then set off for Mr. Schuyler Orr's flat.

The young man was very uncomfortable. His conventional nature revolted at the idea of being dragged into anything unpleasant. "What do you suspect?" he asked in the cab.

"There may be nothing in it. There is just a possibility that your cousin may have got involved with a man whom I regard as highly dangerous." Further than that she refused to be drawn.

She questioned Orr about his cousin's circumstances.

"There's really very little to tell," he said. "A bachelor thirty-seven years old with a small law practice; just enough to keep him from being a complete idler. He was always talking about getting to work seriously, but he never made any real effort to increase his practice. He was well-connected--the Orrs are an old New York family, you know; and he had a private income just sufficient to keep him in a small way. He was a dry stick; if he ever had a love affair, I didn't know of it. He didn't even have any intimate friends; didn't seem to require it. But plenty of club acquaintances. Bridge and golf were his only real interests. To tell you the truth, he was a bit of a bore; always so stiff and proper. If he really has got himself mixed up in anything queer, he's the very last man in town you'd suspect it of."

The apartment house was one of those flimsy affairs of brick and terra-cotta that were run up in such numbers twenty years ago. It had not much the look of a gentleman's residence; however, anything below Twenty-Third Street is in such demand, that such places command disproportionately high rents.

There was a negro elevator boy on duty, who told us that Mr. Schuyler Orr had come home on Monday, a week ago, about seven in the evening. He had dressed and gone out again to dinner at his club. He went off duty at eight o'clock, so he had not seen Mr. Orr come in after dinner. He had not seen Mr. Orr since. But as Mr. Orr often went out of town for a few days at a time, there was nothing strange in that.

Pressed by further questions from Mme. Storey, the boy recollected an incident. When he returned to the ground floor after having delivered Mr. Orr at his door, he said he found a man waiting in the lobby. He described this man as being "dark-complected," neatly dressed, and about forty years old. He spoke with an English accent, and his upper lip was blue from shaving. The man asked him who it was he had taken up in the elevator, and the boy told him Mr. Orr's name. "Oh," said the man; "I thought I recognised an old friend; but I was mistaken," and went away. The boy had not considered the incident of sufficient importance to mention it to Mr. Orr.

The superintendent was sent for. In such a building, "superintendent" is merely an euphemism for janitor. He appeared in jumper and overalls. Mme. Storey set forth the situation briefly, and expressed a wish to have the door of Mr. Orr's apartment forced. The superintendent demurred, scratching his head, but finally consented. We were all carried up in the elevator. It was a top floor rear. There were four apartments on a floor.

"This is it," said the superintendent.

At the door Mme. Storey sniffed, and her face became very grave. "Gas," she said.

The faint, stale odour reached my nostrils. Very faint.

The superintendent's eyes goggled. "We must have a policeman," he said.

Francis Orr was instantly seized with panic. "Oh, my God!" he said. "This is nonsense! There can't be anything the matter. In a house like this the gas always leaks."

"The man is right," said Mme. Storey. "We must have a policeman."

The policeman arrived, and the door was forced. Inside, the smell of gas was much stronger, but not at all overpowering. The policeman went into the nearest room, a bedroom, and flung up the window. There was a short hall with doors opening from it; first the bedroom; then a bathroom; then a closed door. The hall ended in the dining-room and one could look through into a living-room. That was all. It had the look of a man's place, comfortable, but not in any way elegant. There was no disorder.

The policeman opened the closed door. The smell was very strong, but stale; inert. A narrow kitchen; dresser; stationary wash-tubs; sink. On the other side a deal table and a gas stove with the oven door open. In the narrow space between, lay the body of a man sprawling on his back. The policeman broke the silence.

"Suicide," he said, matter-of-fact. "It's a slot meter, so the gas soon stopped flowing."

"Oh, my God!" muttered Francis Orr, sick with disgust. "To think that this should have happened in our family!"

Mme. Storey made a brief examination of the body, and went into the living-room for a moment. When she came back she said, in her cool voice:

"Not suicide, officer, but murder."

"How do you know, ma'am?" the surprised voice answered.

"The body was dragged in here from the dining-room. More dust has fallen within the week, but you can still see the marks in the uncarpeted hall. And the dust is ground into his back. When he was dragged over the door-sill, one of his pumps came off, and was hurriedly shoved on his foot again. The edge is turned under at the heel. Nobody could wear a shoe like that without its hurting."

"That's the truth, ma'am!"

"He has money in his pockets, and his watch," Mme. Storey went on. "So the motive was otherwise than robbery. The crystal of his watch is broken, and the hands stopped at seven minutes past eleven. That is the hour he was attacked on Monday night, one must suppose."

"Killed here!" the superintendent exclaimed.

"Oh, my God!" groaned Francis Orr.

"There is a bump on the top of his head," said Mme. Storey, "and a bruise on his forehead. I take it he was stunned by a blow from some blunt instrument, and fell forward on his face. That would account for the broken crystal. This happened just within the dining-room door. It is most likely that he had just let in a visitor, and was leading the way into the living-room."

"But his skull isn't broken, ma'am," said the policeman. "That blow wouldn't have killed him."

"Certainly not," said Mme. Storey, "He was turned over on his back, and suffocated with a cushion off the couch in there. He came to in the process, and struggled. You can see where the cover of the cushion has been torn by teeth."

"Who are you, ma'am, anyhow?" the amazed voice demanded.

"Rosika Storey," said my mistress.

"Oh-h!" breathed the voice. "That accounts for it, then...Would you shake hands with me, ma'am."

"Surely."

"I am proud of this chance, ma'am. I'll never forget this day."

V

On our way back to the office an hour later, Mme. Storey had the cab stop at the club-house of the Thespians on Gramercy Park, only half a dozen doors from us. Francis Orr having left us, still calling on Heaven to explain why it had thus afflicted the Orrs, she sent in our chauffeur to ask the doorman to come to her. He was a delightful old club servant of a type rare nowadays. Through him she got in touch with Mr. Henry Stanford, the famous actor, an officer of the club. They introduced themselves to each other amidst mutual felicitations and Mme. Storey said:

"I am sorry to have to tell you that your member, Mr. Schuyler Orr, has been found dead in his flat."

"Orr! Poor fellow! How shocking!" murmured the other. "I didn't know him."

"Apparently he was murdered on his return from the club on Monday night of last week. I am very anxious to find any one who may have talked with him in the club that night."

Mr. Stanford promised to make immediate inquiries.

"My office is only six doors from here," said Mme. Storey. "It is past office hours, but I will wait there until I hear from you."

At the office we found that Canby had returned from Mamaroneck. He reported that on Monday afternoon of the previous week, at the Ahkanasi Club, Mr. Schuyler Orr had played a round of golf with Major Ingoldsby. Canby had interviewed Major Ingoldsby, who preserved a lively recollection of that particular round. It had been like any other round until Orr lost his ball in a patch of woods at the easterly side of the course. He searched for it a few minutes, but came back without it. The incident seemed to put him strangely out of temper. Thereafter he was quite unable to keep his mind on the game, and finally with the most cursory of apologies, he left the Major on the course to finish alone.

The Major was still indignant over it. When he got back to the club-house he said he found Orr sitting gloomily before the fire. They did not speak. Later the Major, Orr, and the other members rode together in the club bus to the Mamaroneck station where they took the 5.50 for town. Orr, quite contrary to his usual custom, sat alone in the smoker, and spoke to no one. No one had seen him after the train had arrived at Grand Central.

We knew though, that he had gone straight home. After Canby we had Mr. Jennings Morrissey, one of the editors on the staff of the Adelphi, and a member of the Thespians, a very delightful fellow, and obviously pleased to the death at the opportunity of meeting Mme. Storey.

"Poor Schuyler Orr!" he said. "What a horrible affair! I was not exactly a friend of his, but as it happens I had a brief chat with him on Monday night of last week. In fact, we left the club together. Stanford said you would like me to come and tell you about it."

"If you'll be so good," said Mme. Storey. She offered him a cigarette.

"None of Orr's regular pals are in the club house now," Mr. Morrissey went on. "If they don't dine there, they'll turn up later. They may be able to tell you more than me, but I doubt it. For Orr was not on what you'd call intimate terms with anybody. A pleasant enough fellow, but not exactly expansive.

"He was one of the four men who played bridge every night in the small card-room upstairs. On the night in question--the last night Orr was seen at the club, they sent down to the lounge for another player, as Orr wanted to retire from the game. This would be a little before ten. Orr came downstairs and passed through the lounge, where I was sitting, reading, and I noticed he looked a little queer. 'Off your game?' I said.

"He jumped when I spoke to him, and gave me a queer, excited sort of smile. 'Yes,' he said, 'so it seems.' He went on into the writing-room which is in a sort of alcove off the lounge, and up a few steps. I could see him from where I sat. Ordinarily, he was such a dry, self-contained, formal sort of fellow that it aroused my curiosity to see him disturbed. But when I say disturbed, I don't mean that he was in trouble; on the contrary he seemed to be filled with some sort of fearful but pleasurable excitement.

"He wrote a letter. It gave him a lot of trouble, because he tore up several sheets. By the time he got it done to his satisfaction it was getting on for eleven, and I was preparing to move. So we started out together. He had the letter in his hand. When I was getting my things on at the coat room, he went down to the office, which is a few steps lower, and got a stamp. He came back, and dropped his letter in the box right there the club entry. After he had put it in, he stood at the box in a way you couldn't help noticing. He turned around and caught me looking at him, said with an excited laugh:

"'That letter means a lot to me, Morrissey.'

"'That so?' said I, grinning.

"'Oh, it's not what you're thinking,' he said. 'Not a love affair. That sort of thing would never get me going. My God! something bigger than that. Success in my profession, Morrissey, and a pot of money beside, a whole pot of money!'

"'Legal business,' said I.

"'Amazing! Amazing!' he said, looking quite wild. 'Something that has just dropped into my lap, Morrissey. In the most astounding way. It's like a story. But you'd never dare print such a story in your magazine. Of course, I keep telling myself it may be all moonshine; mere ravine. Still, you read of such things in the newspapers. But the magnitude of it! It's enough to sweep a man off his feet. Oh, well, I'll know in a few days.' All this in jerky, breathless sentences.

"The boy came with his coat, so I wished him good luck of his windfall, and went on home. This was quarter to eleven, because it was ten minutes to, when I passed the Metropolitan tower."

"He was killed at seven minutes past," said Mme. Storey.

"Good Heavens! then I was perhaps the last man to speak to him alive!"

"Except his murderer," said Mme. Storey.

Such was the gist of Mr. Morrissey's information. He was quite willing to go on and enlarge upon it to any extent, so long, in fact, as the beautiful Mme. Storey would listen. We got rid of him by leaving the office ourselves. At the street door he bowed, and returned to his club.

Mme. Storey and I paused at the Fourth Avenue corner, while we waited for a taxi to carry her uptown.

"That letter he wrote," I said, "do you think...?"

"I am certain that is the letter received by Aline Elder on Tuesday. Have you ever received a letter on the stationery of the Thespians?"

I shook my head.

"Well, it has the device of the club embossed without colour on the flap of the envelope. That would be 'the little picture raised in the paper.' It was posted inside the club, you notice. He would no doubt have been prevented from posting it outside. The case begins to take shape, Bella."

"But if Orr was murdered merely for writing to the girl, how about the girl herself?" I said aghast. "Poor Swanley!"

"That is why I am trying to keep the girl's name out of the Orr case," said Mme. Storey gravely.

"You have a theory?" I said eagerly.

"A sort of one."

I did not like to ask her point blank what it was, but I suppose I looked my question.

She said: "It's only a guess so far, Bella; and you know I never speak of my guesses. As a theory it has several large holes in it. For instance: if it is the correct theory, I don't understand why he should have waited until now to strike at the girl."

"Who?" I said involuntarily.

The cab had driven up to the curb. With her foot on the step, she looked at me and with her forefinger made the sign of a hook over her own straight nose.

I shivered.

VI

Next morning the papers were full of the Orr case. Being so complete a mystery, it made a good-size sensation, but not so great as if the victim had been young and interesting. It was pathetic what a little difference to anybody the taking off of Schuyler Orr seemed to make. Yet he appeared to have been a blameless creature.

At the office we found an interesting but disappointing report from Crider. Crider is our very best man, and together with his younger brother whom he is training up, he had been detailed to keep our sinister friend under surveillance. By means of the telephone number we had quickly found out that the man with the Roman nose did indeed pass under the name of George Rawlings, and that he occupied an expensive apartment on Central Park South where he lived alone, but for an elderly woman servant.

Crider had picked him up at two o'clock on Monday afternoon. He had attended a sale at the American Art Galleries, where he purchased several rare pieces of Persian faience and Alexandrine glass. The sum of his purchases had amounted to many thousands of dollars. In the evening he took Miss Peggy Forrester, the star of April Days to dinner at a fashionable restaurant on Park Avenue, and afterwards sat through her show at the Casino. A very gay party including a number of people followed at the Palais Rouge. Towards three in the morning Rawlings left this party alone, and was driven home where he presumably went to bed. Young Crider watched the house throughout the night, but he did not come out again.

He did not appear until noon next day. He drove to Sherry's where he met another beautiful young lady, name unknown to Crider, and lunched (or breakfasted) with her. Afterwards they visited together a number of the most prominent art dealers on Fifth Avenue, and Rawlings presumably made purchases, but Crider could not follow him inside the shops.

Meanwhile young Crider had called at the service door of the apartments upon the pretext of selling the servant some laces. His youth and good looks had evidently recommended him, for the woman had taken him in and they had quite a talk. She had been engaged six months before through an employment agency, and she knew nothing about her master's affairs. It was clear she had no suspicion that he was otherwise from what he seemed. She described him as being liberal and not difficult to please. His principal interest was in collecting rare objects of art.

Upon young Crider's expressing a curiosity about such things, she showed him through the apartment. He described it as a perfect museum. The only thing out of the way that he had observed was an expensive radio receiving set which had a bell on it something like a telephone. The woman said that one of Mr. Rawlings' friends had a transmitting set, and was able to call him by means of this bell. She did not know how to use the apparatus herself. You listened with ear phones, so that she never heard what came over it. Young Crider reported that he had established himself on a good footing with the woman, and could make other visits if it should be required.

At four o'clock Rawlings had dropped his pretty friend at the Ritz, and had returned home. But only for a few minutes. His car waited in front of the door. This car by the way, a magnificent dark blue brougham with red wheels, could not have been the same he took to Ancaster, for it was of the most expensive American make. Crider was following it in a speedy roadster with a driver.

Rawlings set off again, and Crider followed him to the flying field at Arcola, Long Island. There Rawlings engaged a plane for an hour's flight. All his movements were careless and unhurried. Crider followed him into the air in another 'plane. Other 'planes were rising and descending at the time. Crider had instructed his pilot to keep above the first plane. After apparently purposeless circling for half an hour Rawlings' 'plane set off in a northerly direction with Crider following.

The first plane unexpectedly dived, and made a landing in a field alongside a deserted road in mid-Westchester County. There was a car waiting in the road; a black limousine. Rawlings entered it, and was driven away. Before Crider could even land, the car was out of sight, and it was useless for him to land. Instead, he returned to Arcola where he interviewed the pilot who had taken up Rawlings. The pilot looked upon Rawlings merely as a rich eccentric. Three times, he said, he had carried him to some designated field in the country where a car would be waiting for him. He gave handsome tips.

Rawlings returned home shortly before eight o'clock, and Crider picked him up again. He dined alone, rather hastily, at a famous chop-house on Broadway, and afterwards witnessed the final acts of La Boheme at the Metropolitan Opera House. He occupied a parquet seat. After the opera he went home.

Reading this report made me feel very blue. Crider was the best man we had. I was appalled by the cool resourcefulness, the devilish effrontery of our adversary. Apparently he was able to fool us whenever he wished. There was something uncanny about him. Heavens! I had dreamed of him on Monday night, and awoke gasping and sweating.

Each morning Swanley implored Mme. Storey to give him some work to do in connection with the case. In the state he was in, he was incapable of doing any serious work; he would have given himself away to a year-old child; so we had to invent work for him; anything to make him feel that he was helping. To-day Mme. Storey sent him out to Paterson on the train, to sit in the public library and watch for an imaginary red-haired man wearing black-rimmed glasses.

He stooped in the door and said--poor fellow! trying to keep a stiff upper lip--"Have you made any real progress. Isn't there anything you can tell me?"

Mme. Storey said frankly: "I am making progress, but I can't tell you anything, because it may all turn out to be wrong. You are a man, and entitled to hear the truth; the situation is dangerous but everything that can be done, is being done."

He went out with his head down.

Mme. Storey gave me one of my rare glimpses into her heart: "I wish I had that damned wretch on the rack, Bella," she said low. "That's the only way to deal with such a one; torture."

I knew who she meant, of course.

As for me, I could have put my head down and bawled like a child. In our business we generally manage to harden our hearts; we have to: but this case had got us--both Mme. Storey and myself. That fine young fellow with his look of despair, and the gentle girl he had described to us. It was too much. We knew their enemy, yet we could not, so far, touch him!

It was a black half-hour. I was sitting in my own room feeling jaded and flat, when the door opened, and I beheld a charming figure. A girl with an open eager face; she was lovely.

"Is this Madame Storey's office?" she asked.

"Yes," said I, wondering greatly who she might be.

She blushed prettily. "Is...is Mr. Edward Swanley here?" she asked.

I jumped up. I could feel my eyes popping. All the blood seemed to leave my heart; then it rushed back so fast I felt as if it would burst in my breast. "You...you...you..." I stammered; "you are Aline Elder!"

"Why, yes," she said, a little scared by my excitement.

I sprang at her like a crazy woman. She recoiled, but I snatched up her hand, and dragged her pell-mell towards Mme. Storey's room. I banged open the door, Mme. Storey looked up in comical astonishment.

"Well, Bella...!" she began.

I shouted her down. "Here she is! Here she is! And all safe and sound!" I involuntarily began to feel of the girl to make sure she was intact.

Mme. Storey was scarcely less moved than I was. Jumping up, she flung her arms around the dazed girl.

"Thank God!" she cried.

Then Mme. Storey and I burst out laughing weakly and foolishly, and we could not stop. The tears ran down my cheeks.

"She...she thinks we're crazy!" I stuttered.

VII

When we had quieted down a little, some hasty explanations were exchanged. Aline explained that she had been released at the Yonkers railway station about eight o'clock the night before. She had got the last train for Ancaster. Arriving home, she found that Swanley was in New York looking for her, and she had taken the first train in the morning. Swanley had sent the name of his hotel to his landlady. Aline had gone there to find that he had left word he was to be found at Mme. Storey's office. That explained her presence. On our part we assured her that Swanley was safe and well, and would be back in the afternoon.

The girl quickly realised that she was among friends--hers was the sort of nature that expects to find friends, and the strained look in her big brown eyes relaxed somewhat. It was clear that she had been through a harrowing experience of some kind, but her physical condition was good.

"Where have you been?" Mme. Storey asked.

She shook her head. "I don't know," she said blankly. "The strangest experience! Like a nightmare, now that it is over. I can scarcely believe that it happened. I can't see any reason for it. I was locked up for awhile, and then I was allowed to go."

"Tell us everything from the beginning," Mme. Storey bid her.

"On Tuesday of last week I got a letter," she began slowly.

"That we know," said Mme. Storey. "Have you the letter?"

She shook her head. "The writer asked me to destroy it, and I did so. But I think I can repeat it to you word for word. I read it twenty times.

"'DEAR MISS ELDER:

"'In a roundabout way a piece of information has come to me which, if it be true, may turn out to be greatly to your advantage. Not wishing to raise false hopes, I will not specify the nature of it until I have had a chance to talk to you. A few minutes conversation would tell me if there was anything in it or not.

"'Will you come to see me at my office upon the earliest possible day? Bring with you any information you may have, documentary or otherwise, relating to your father. I must beg of you not to mention this matter to any one until after you have talked with me. And please destroy this letter. But be sure to make a note of my address first.

"'Awaiting your reply,

"'Yours sincerely,
"'SCHUYLER ORR.'"

"It was unfortunate that he was so mysterious," I remarked.

"Lawyers are," said Mme. Storey. "He was afraid Miss Elder might consult some other lawyer."

"But he wasn't a real lawyer," said the girl. "He was..."

Mme. Storey interrupted her with a smile. "We will tell you what we know later. Let us have your story first...Why didn't you tell Edward Swanley about the letter? Was it because Orr asked you not to."

"No," she said. "It is because Edward is so sensible, so careful of me, I was afraid he would stop me from going. He would have said it was a swindle of some sort. I thought myself it might be, but I wished to find out. If it turned out to be a sell, I wasn't going to tell anybody. If there was anything in it, I meant to surprise Edward. It never occurred to me to suspect harm to myself. Why, nobody had ever harmed me in all my life.

"I took the train on Wednesday at noon. I hadn't written the man to say I was coming, because I thought I would feel so cheap if there was nothing in it. I meant to say to him that I happened to be coming to New York anyway, so I just dropped in. On the journey nothing happened. But as I came through the train gates in New York I was greatly astonished when a man stepped up and asked me if I was Miss Elder..."

"Describe him," said Mme. Storey.

"Well...an ordinary sort of man. Neither handsome nor ugly. He was unusually dark; his face colourless. He wore a blue suit which looked like a uniform, but it was not a uniform. Where he shaved the hair showed through his skin; bluish; particularly his upper lip..."

Mme. Storey and I exchanged a glance.

"...He was very polite and respectful. I took him for a lawyer's clerk, but it turned out he was only a servant. It was he afterwards who..."

"Wait!" warned Mme. Storey. "We're still in the railway station."

"He said that Mr. Orr had sent him to meet me, and he took my bag from me. This way, he said. Well, you know how it is. Mr. Orr was in my mind, and for a second it seemed natural enough; I followed him through the station. But the questions soon began to rise inside me.

"'How did you know me?' I asked him.

"'Mr. Orr described you to me,' he said at once.

"That kept me quiet for a moment. The whole thing was so mysterious, I didn't know but what this man Orr might have seen me at some time or another. Then I thought of something else.

"'But Mr. Orr didn't know that I was coming to New York.'

"'He told me he wasn't sure of it,' the man said, 'but he had looked up the trains from Ancaster, and he hoped you might be on this one.'

"If I had been a strong-minded person I would have stopped right there. But the man was so plausible and ready with his answers that it confused me. He was hurrying me along faster than I could think. He was so perfectly sure that I was coming, it was hard for me to make a stand against him. We went out of the side door of the station to the covered driveway, where there was a handsome car waiting with a correct chauffeur in livery. Before I knew what was happening, I was inside and we were moving off.

"I know very little about New York, but I could see that we were heading up-town, not in the direction of offices.

"'Where are we going?' I asked.

"'To Mr. Orr's home,' he said. 'Mr. Orr was slightly indisposed to-day, and remained at home. That was why he sent me to meet the train. He was so anxious to see you.'

"'Has Mr. Orr a family?' I asked.

"'Oh, yes,' he said at once, 'A large family. Mrs. Orr is expecting you.'

"I was silenced again. It was silly of me, but there was something reassuring in the thought of a large family. All made up, of course. The man was perfectly respectful; he never addressed me except when I asked a question. We drove on and on and on. I was uneasy in my mind, and I kept getting uneasier. Finally we crossed a narrow river..."

"The Harlem river," murmured Mme. Storey.

"'Where does Mr. Orr live?' I asked.

"'In the country,' the man replied. 'Dobb's Ferry.'

"When the houses began to thin out I became very frightened. It suddenly struck me as very strange that, if the man was a servant, he should be riding inside with me. I made a break for freedom. I rapped on the glass that separated us from the chauffeur. To the man beside me, I said:

"'I want to get out. I am going to my hotel. If Mr. Orr wants to see me, he can communicate with me there.'

"The chauffeur paid not the slightest attention to my rap. As for the man beside me, his manner changed like lightning.

"'Be quiet!' he said. 'I don't want to hurt you, but if you cry out...' He showed a pistol he had in his pocket.

"I fell back in my corner, half-sick with terror. I thought then of all the newspaper stories I had read of horrible things happening in New York. I thought it was all up with me. I was incapable of making any resistance. The sight of that pistol paralysed my arms and legs. The man leaned over and pulled down the shades over the rear windows, so nobody could see in. He never offered to touch me. Hard and ugly as he had turned, he was still in a way, respectful. But I had the hideous thought that he was taking me to some other man.

"The hours that followed are just a blank of horror..."

"Hours?" said Mme. Storey surprised.

"Yes. For nearly three hours we drove at a good rate of speed. I had my wrist watch. But I think we were not going direct to any place. For it seemed to me that I had glimpses through the front window of bits of road I had seen before. I think we were just driving around until it became dark, so that I should not be able to see the place where I was taken."

"Ah, very likely," said Mme. Storey. "Go on."

"It was dark when we got to the place. I had an impression that we had turned into a private driveway; a short driveway. I was hustled into the house so quickly that I got no impression of the outside of it. Inside, it was a very nice sort of house; modern and beautifully furnished; not a very large house. There was a woman waiting for us in the hall; she was dressed as a trained nurse.

"I was taken right upstairs to a bedroom. It was a very pretty bedroom with pink walls, a rose colour rug, bright cretonne hangings, and softly shaded lights. There was an open fire burning. I had no eyes for its prettiness, because I immediately perceived through the cracks of the cretonne hangings that both of the windows were boarded up on the inside. Like a sort of madhouse. And the nurse, too. I could have screamed only my throat was too constricted.

"I had been left alone with her. She helped me off with my hat and coat. I suppose I was like a frozen woman. She undertook to soothe me, and make me relax.

"'It's all right; it's all right,' she kept saying. 'You'll only have to stay here a little while until he comes, then everything will be explained.'

"Describe her as well as you can," said Mme. Storey.

"She was like the man who had brought me. I don't mean in the way that brother and sister are alike, but the same manner, the same class, the same smooth English voice. Later on I got the impression from their matter-of-fact air towards each other, that they were man and wife. She was spotlessly neat; she was rather a good-looking woman, but her face was closed. You never could tell what lay behind that composed mark.

"She went on to tell me that she had nothing to do but wait on me, and make me comfortable, and that I was to have no hesitation in asking for anything in the world I might want.

"'What am I here for?' I demanded.

"'I don't know,' she said with a meaningless smile, 'And I mustn't guess. Don't ask me that, because it will only make it hard for us to get along. But anything else....I have a broiled chicken and some fresh peas for your dinner. I hope it will please you. And will you take a glass of champagne?'

"Aline broke off, and passed a hand across her face.

"'It was all so strange! so strange!" she murmured.

"What do you mean exactly, by strange?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Well, there I was a prisoner without knowing why, and nearly out of my mind with terror and apprehension, and then to be waited on like that--the woman was prepared to be masseuse, lady's maid, hairdresser; besides cook and companion. I have never been waited on before. It was as unreal as a dream."

"Oh, he always does things in the grand manner," said Mme. Storey grimly.

"Whom do you mean; Orr?" Aline asked.

Mme. Storey shook her head. "Poor Orr! Go on. We'll tell our story later."

"The thought of food revolted me," Aline continued. "But she went away to fetch it, locking the door behind her. I took the occasion to examine my prison. As I have said, close boards had been nailed across the window frames. I scratched at the edges--in vain. The smaller window in the bathroom adjoining was similarly closed. Throughout both rooms I searched for something that might serve to pry one of the boards but there was nothing. Even the fire-irons had been removed. When the fire was to be made up, they were brought in from the hall."

"You might have tried setting the house on fire," suggested Mme. Storey.

"I never thought of that," said Aline, in her serious way.

"Go on, my dear."

"There was nothing to break out with," Aline resumed, "but everything else I might be supposed to wish for; expensive writing paper; a whole armful of the latest books; a phonograph with all kinds of records. There was even a pack of cards and some jigsaw puzzles.

"The woman came back with my dinner, and it was just as she had promised; even to the little bottle of champagne in a bucket of ice. I wouldn't let her open that. The service was of the most beautiful silver and china, and the food no doubt delicious. But I couldn't touch it.

"'Perhaps the chicken will appeal to you cold, later,' she said. 'I will save it.'

"She asked me if I would like her to sit with me or read to me, or if I preferred to be alone. I asked her what all the writing-paper was for, and she said I was free to write to my friends if I wished. I sent her away. She pointed to a push button alongside the fireplace, and said that it would fetch her at any hour.

"As soon as she was gone, I sat down and started a letter to Edward; pages and pages. But it suddenly occurred to me, it would never be allowed to go out of the house, of course. One of that hard-eyed pair would read it. So I tore it up, and threw it in the fire. I walked up and down. Every five minutes was like an hour. Finally, I had to send for the woman again. It brought the horrors too close to be alone.

"She brought her knitting with her. She was knitting of all things! a pair of grey men's socks, ending in pointed toes with a thread sticking out. For the man, I suppose. She was wearing spectacles now, and while she knitted, she rocked back and forth, and talked in a droning comfortable voice. Principally of English village life...How strange it seemed! She must have been a wicked, wicked woman, but to have seen her then...!"

"That's what people are like," murmured Mme. Storey.

"She offered to make up a bed on the couch, and remain with me through the night. But, of course, I would not let her! She was so strange to me...I was worse off without her. Not knowing at what moment the door of my room might open swiftly! Ugh!" The girl shuddered with closed eyes. "I would not undress, but lay down on the outside of the bed. I did not sleep a wink. The night was ten thousand years long...But nothing happened.

"Well, that is the way things went in that house. From Wednesday night until Tuesday night. Looking back now, I can scarcely distinguish one day from another. As the time passed, in spite of myself, my sharpest fears passed. I began to eat the delicious meals that were brought me, and I slept at night. My conscience reproached me when I thought of poor Edward, and what he must be suffering. Oh! I had my bad hours; but I couldn't keep up the pitch of agony the whole time. No matter how I fought against it, that comfortable, attentive woman lulled me.

"I soon gave up trying to question her. One might as well have addressed a plaster wall. All I gathered was, in a general way, that the mysterious 'he' of whom they spoke with such respect, was detained out of town, and nothing could be done until he returned.

"A curious relation developed between that woman and I. Not exactly friendship, of course, because I couldn't trust her. But we had plenty to say to each other. There was the appearance of friendship. She taught me clever ways of doing my hair. She made some alterations in my old blue Georgette, that made it look quite smart and up-to-date. She volunteered to make me a new evening dress.

"'But who will pay for the materials?' said I.

"'Oh, our expense accounts are never questioned,' she said.

"However, I refused to hear of the evening dress.

"The man I saw but seldom. He evidently helped with the work about the house. He came in to my room, to sweep up the ashes, and lay a new fire.

"I couldn't fix my mind on a book, but I had one absorbing occupation when I was alone, that they never suspected. That was loosening one of the boards over the window. One day 'Nurse' (as I called her) went down to the kitchen to fetch me something, I started it ever so little with a table knife. But as she always remained in the room while I ate, and carried the tray away with her, I could never get hold of the knife again.

"So I had only my fingers. For hours at a time I patiently wiggled that board. Without making the slightest impression on it. I gave it up a dozen times, but was always drawn back to it again. I always had warning of nurse's entrance, because she had to turn the key in the door. It took me four days in all to get that board up. It was not until yesterday morning that the nails finally yielded and I was able to peep through the gap."

"And what did you see?" Mme. Storey asked.

"It was very disappointing," said Aline, "for though I had only been brought up one flight of stairs, the ground was at least forty feet below my window. I looked right over the tops of good sized trees. Any thought of dropping from the sill or lowering myself by a rope of bedding was out of the question."

"The house must have been built on the side of a hill, with a retaining wall at the back," suggested Mme. Storey.

"That is what I supposed," said Aline. "Its airy perch gave me a fine view, but that was no consolation."

"But tell us what you saw."

"I looked over the tops of trees on gradually descending ground, with the roof of a house showing here and there. It must have been a fine neighbourhood, for the houses were all extensive, and at a considerable distance from each other. At the end of this gradual declivity, a mile away perhaps, there was water: a broad sheet of water, with a curious humpy island offshore, perfectly bare, and far away the misty opposite shore."

"Long Island Sound at a guess," said Mme. Storey. "Can you draw?"

"A little."

"Can you draw me an exact diagram of the view from that window?"

"I'll try."

"But finish your story first."

"That brings me to yesterday," said Aline. "As soon as I saw nurse--how I watched her face! I guessed that there was something in the air, and sure enough she presently remarked that 'he' would be there at six that afternoon, 'and everything would be decided.'

"He?" I said, trying to make my voice sound contemptuous.

"The master," she said softly.

"Sure enough at six o'clock, listening with my ear at the crack of the door, I heard the sounds of an arrival below. There was a long wait then, while I walked up and down the room, digging my nails into my palms, and trying desperately to find some talisman within myself that would enable me to keep up my courage. 'He cannot harm me if I am not afraid of him,' I told myself. But alas! I knew I was becoming more and more afraid every minute.

"Finally nurse came in wearing a sort of exalted expression as if she had just come from the Presence. 'He will speak with you now,' she said impressively. 'You are to sit just inside the door which will be open a little way.'

"So I was not to see him! I don't know if I can make it clear, but this was the most dreadful part of all. He was to remain an Unseen Presence; just a Voice out of the void. My teeth were chattering when I sat down in the chair she had placed. She sat down facing me, her knees touching mine. The crack of the door was between us. She could see through it, but I could not."

Aline faltered; her sensitive lips trembled; she flung the back of her hand across her eyes.

"I can scarcely tell you what happened after that," she murmured. "It is all confused in my mind, I suppose I became hysterical. That voice coming through the door without any body was too dreadful! A low, measured voice without any human tones in it. It had a catlike quality; you thought of an animal licking its lips. I got to such a point I couldn't stand it; I snatched at the door to pull it open, to see what was there. The woman tried to stop me, but she wasn't quick enough. But the door was on a chain; it wouldn't open but six inches. I saw nothing."

"Try to remember what he said," urged Mme. Storey.

The girl pressed her knuckles to her temples. She said: "The first thing he asked me was: what proofs had I that I was really Aline Elder. This simply confused me. 'Proofs? Proofs?' I said: 'Everybody in Ancaster knows me.'

"'But they are not here to testify, unfortunately.' Hateful, hateful, soft and sarcastic voice.

"'What do you want of me?' I cried.

"'Did you get a letter from me?'

"'Yes.'

"'Where is it?'

"'I destroyed it, as you asked me to.'

"He was silent for a moment after this."

"You had him," remarked Mme. Storey. "You understand, of course, that this was not Orr who was behind the door?"

"Well I knew that Orr was just a name," said Aline. "But I thought it was the man who had written to me."

"No," said Mme. Storey, "this man was trying to find out what Orr had written you."

"If that is so, he did find out," said Aline. "He asked me to repeat the letter to him, and I did so. He said he wished to make sure that I was really the person he had written to. If I had known...!"

"You did well to repeat the letter," said Mme. Storey. "It was probably that which saved your life."

"Saved my life!" echoed Aline, amazed. "Why? How?"

"Because," said Mme. Storey, "in his letter Orr had not divulged the information which was dangerous for you to know. Go on."

"So many questions!" said Aline wearily. "What did I think when I read the letter, and so on. I told him I didn't think anything; I was waiting to find out. I can't remember all the questions he asked me, because at the time I couldn't see what he was driving at. Some of them didn't seem to have any sense."

"Doubtless they had not," said Mme. Storey dryly. "He is past master of the art of covering his tracks."

"Then he came to my father," said Aline. "I told him what little I know, but he kept coming back to it again and again, from every possible angle. Up to that moment it had never occurred to me that my father might not have died in my babyhood, but his persistence gave me the idea he might still be alive. But I thought I had better keep this suspicion to myself, so I insisted that my father died twenty years ago, as if nothing could shake me in that belief."

"You were wise," said Mme. Storey.

"Finally," Aline resumed, "he said as if by accident: 'By the way, your father's name was Silas B. Elder, was it not?'

"'No,' I replied, 'his name was John G. Elder.' He appeared to be astonished by this."

"A bit of camouflage," remarked Mme. Storey, "the important things had been said."

"So I suppose," said Aline. "Well, that was the end. He said he found that he was mistaken in me. It was quite another person that he was looking for. He begged my pardon for the inconvenience he had caused me...Inconvenience! And promised that I should immediately be set on my way home."

"He left the door. The woman went out. I listened at the door, and presently I heard him leave the house. Shortly afterwards the woman came with my supper. I was in an agony of suspense.

"'Did he mean it? Did he mean it?' I cried.

"'Certainly,' she said. 'He never says anything he doesn't mean.'

"And sure enough, as soon as I had eaten, she brought me my outdoor things. I was in a perfect fever of excitement then. The same limousine was waiting at the door. I was hustled into it, and whisked out of the driveway. After an hour's ride, I was put out at a railway station which I discovered was Yonkers. The train for Ancaster came by in twenty minutes or so."

"They returned your bag to you?" said Mme. Storey.

"Yes."

"Intact?"

"Nothing was missing except a little photograph of my father that I took with me to show to the lawyer."

"Ah!" said Mme. Storey. "I expect you have been thinking over this matter a good deal. Has any explanation of it occurred to you?"

The tears started into Aline's lovely eyes, and she lowered her head. "Yes," she murmured, "I can't help but think from his anxiety to hide himself from me, from his taking the photograph, from the questions he asked...I can't help but think it was my father himself. For some reason he is ashamed of me; he does not want to acknowledge me; he was trying to find out if I suspected that I had any claim on him...Oh, he needn't have gone to all that trouble! For if he doesn't want me, I would die sooner than force myself on him!"

"Not badly thought out," said Mme. Storey. "But I think you are wrong. You fail to take into account what a charming daughter you would make. What possible reason could any man have for not wanting to acknowledge you?"

"I don't know," said Aline miserably.

"Tell me," said Mme. Storey, "from that photograph which is now missing; what sort of nose had your father?"

Aline looked up in surprise. "A rather insignificant nose," she said; "short and rather broad at the base."

"Then I can assure you that this man was not your father," said Mme. Storey.

VIII

Mme. Storey asked Aline: "Do you think you can draw me an exact diagram of the view from the window of your prison?"

"I think so," said Aline. "I spent most of the day yesterday peeping out."

We furnished her with pencil and paper.

She acquitted herself very well. There, in a few strokes, the tops of the trees were indicated, with water at the foot of the hill, and the curiously-shaped island off shore; far in the distance the opposite shore.

Mme. Storey smoked, and for a considerable time studied the little sketch through half-closed eyes.

"That distant shore," she said, "was it a flat shore not very far away, or high ground at a considerable distance?"

"High ground; five miles or more away," Aline answered unhesitatingly.

"Good!" said Mme. Storey. "Then this body of water can be no other but Long Island Sound. We know that it was within an hour's drive of Yonkers...Bella, take a taxi to the largest stationers in town, and buy a copy of each section of the ordnance map that deals with the shores of the Sound near New York. They show you a diagram, and from it you pick out by number the sections you want."

In twenty minutes or so I was back with the desired large-scale maps.

Mme. Storey spread them out on her big table. "First, the bare island with the hump in the middle," she said. "That ought not to be hard to find. At the distance indicated, this island must have been a mile or so long."

"Fully that," said Aline.

"Here's David's Island, off New Rochelle," said Mme. Storey. "That can't be it, because Aline would have seen the close-packed roofs of the town between. We must go further out. Here's Burchall's Island, that's more than a mile long and, according to the map, bare of trees. Now look at the contour lines: twenty feet, forty feet there in the middle. That's the hump, and that's your island."

"Now let's go back to the farther shore. You have broken the line twice, Aline. What does that mean?"

"Well, as near as I can explain it," said Aline, "there was an island in the middle; or a point with a bay on each side."

"The map bears you out," said Mme. Storey. "Here's Mann's Point with Natassett Bay on one side, and Ringstead Harbour on the other...Observe that, as you looked from the window, Mann's Point appears directly over the hump on Hershell's Island....A ruler, Bella...Let us draw a line from Mann's Point through the hump on the island and on through the mainland. Where that line strikes the first sharp rise, will be found the elegant little house with the retaining wall at the back. Now for the contour lines again. Here's the sharp rise. About a mile and a quarter from the Sound shore. The house where Aline was confined is on the spot where I have my pencil point...What's this open space alongside?" She looked up at us with a smile. "The Ahkanasi Golf Club. We are getting warm, my dears."

Aline was staring wide-eyed at my mistress like a child at a magician. I, of course, was accustomed to these proofs of Mme. Storey's acumen.

Mme. Storey had taken a cigarette, and was thinking hard. "I want Crider," she said.

"He is still trailing Rawlings," I reminded her.

"A waste of time," said Mme. Storey. "We will never get anything out of Rawlings by direct measures. Let us try to take him on the flank. The first time Crider calls up tell him to come in. He must have plenty of help, too. Get in touch with Sampson, Canby and Everitt. Let the young brother continue to watch Rawlings' movements."

The buzzer which announces the entrance of someone from the hall sounded, and I went into my room to see who it was. Fortunately I have been trained by Mme. Storey always to close a door behind me. I got a nasty turn. It was Rawlings, sleek and elegant as a black leopard, a carnation in his buttonhole, and on his face that unchanging, hateful smile. The man knew that the mere sight of him caused something within me to turn over with horror, and he enjoyed it.

"Have I the good fortune to find Mme. Storey disengaged?" he purred.

I had the wit to say "Yes," without any hesitation. "Be good enough to wait a minute."

Mme. Storey saw by my face who it was, without my saying anything. Her eye lighted up with the joy of conflict. "How apropos!" she drawled. To Aline she said: "I have a visitor, my dear. Will you please wait in the middle room? The door is to be left open a crack behind the curtain, and you are to listen."

The girl disappeared within the middle room as quietly as a shadow. I went to the window, and, as I expected, saw Crider across the street. I made him a sign that he was wanted. He could be trusted not to show himself indiscreetly. Meanwhile, Mme. Storey had shuffled the maps together, and dropped them in a drawer.

"Show him in," she said.

I followed him into the room.

Mr. Rawlings came forward, beaming sardonically.

"My dear lady," he said, "I trust I am not intruding."

"Not in the least," said Mme. Storey. "As it happened, I was thinking about you that very minute."

Their smiling glances were like crossed rapiers.

"How charming of you!" he said. "And what were you thinking?"

"Ah, you're a very romantic figure, you know," said Mme. Storey. "Appearing out of nowhere with half a million a year and tempting a poor woman with as much as she wants to ask for."

"You are laughing at me!" said Mr. Rawlings reproachfully. "If I could only persuade you that I was in earnest!"

He had not seated himself, and those strange eyes of his, like orbs of onyx, were travelling keenly about the room. He had the excuse, of course, that he was looking at all the beautiful things it contained, but I noticed that his glance flickered suspiciously at the curtained doorway in the rear.

"Ah! you have a genuine Della Robbia!" he cried, hastening to the mantelpiece, and gazing rapturously at the plaque which hung above. "And I thought I knew every one in America."

Mme. Storey joined him. "A gift from a grateful client," she said. "I could never afford anything like that."

They discussed the work of art in the terms of connoisseurs.

"And a Ghirlandajo!" cried Mr. Rawlings, moving on, "and an original Gobelin! Marvellous! What a rare and exquisite taste!"

Meanwhile, he was edging nearer and nearer to the doorway. My heart beat apprehensively.

"I, too, have enthusiasms," he said. "Sometime I hope to have the pleasure of showing you my treasures."

He reached the doorway.

"That portiere is a fifteenth-century Flemish piece, isn't it?"

"Early sixteenth," said Mme. Storey.

"Well, it's beautiful!...Brr! Don't you feel a draught?" He peeped behind the curtain. "Why, the door is open, May I?"

Without waiting for any answer, he put his hand on the knob. Before he pulled it to him, he took a look in. I stood up with a sort of gasp. I didn't know what would happen then. But the composed attitude of my mistress arrested me. She was looking positively amused.

When Rawlings turned around, extraordinary as was his self-control, the sardonic grin was a little tight over his teeth. As if something in the inner room had unexpectedly stung him. It was gone in a minute.

"Ah, what a charming face!" he said instantly. "I'm afraid I frightened her."

Mme. Storey exhaled a puff of smoke. "Perhaps she was eavesdropping," she drawled.

I think my mistress went him one better.

They returned towards the front of the room.

"You know why I am here," said Mr. Rawlings. "Am I to be permitted to share in your work?"

Mme. Storey pressed out the light in her cigarette. "Unfortunately, there has been no opportunity," she said. "All the work I am doing now is disgustingly well paid. There was the beginning of a case, but..."

"Well?" he asked eagerly.

"It petered out."

"Do tell me about it."

"Oh, a very ordinary sort of case," said Mme. Storey. "Bella picked up a young man who was at the point of despair because his girl had disappeared."

"You found her?"

"No, she came back."

"Where had she been?"

"She told a wild tale of being carried off in a black limousine, and being kept prisoner for a week."

"Should it not be investigated?" he asked with an air of concern.

"Fancy!" laughed Mme. Storey. "Waited upon like a captive princess; interviewed by a mysterious personage behind a door, and then set free! Preposterous!"

"Then you think this was just invented as a cover for more discreditable adventures?"

Mme. Storey shrugged. "She is anxious to return to her young man, now, and he wants her. I think it had much better be dropped."

"Perhaps you are right."

It was impossible to tell from his face if Mme. Storey had deceived him. Probably not; because he was a man who disbelieved on principle. It was a fascinating duel to watch. To-day I think the advantage lay with my mistress.

"I say," he said, "is it by any chance the girl in there?"

"Yes," said Mme. Storey; "she's waiting for her young man."

"Really! What dramas this room must witness!"

"Comedies also," remarked Mme. Storey.

As he was going out of the door, he said with his most winning manner: "Have you satisfied yourself that I am acting in good faith towards you?"

"I am satisfied," said Mme. Storey.

"Then do call off your bloodhound," he said, laughing. "Not that I mind. I have nothing to conceal. But it disturbs the ladies of my acquaintance. Perhaps their consciences are not always quite easy."

He got no change out of Madame Storey, of course.

"I have called him off," she said coolly. "He's somewhere about the building. Would you like to shake hands with him?"

"No," said Rawlings, "but do give him this, with my compliments, and say that I commend his assiduity."

"This," was a twenty-dollar gold piece. Mme. Storey made me a sign to take it. When I gave it to Crider later, he flipped it in the air with a laugh, and said he'd buy his girl a new hat with it.

Thus, amidst the airiest persiflage, with gleaming smiles, and low bows, Mr. Rawlings took his leave.

Mme. Storey called to Aline. The girl came in with an awe-struck air.

"That was he!" she said. "How did he happen to be here!...That voice from behind the door in just the same way. I nearly fainted. I cannot be mistaken. That was he!"

"You saw him," said Mme. Storey.

Aline closed her eyes. "Heavens! what an evil face!"

"Not your father, eh?"

"No, thank God! Not the slightest resemblance...But I have seen him before, some place. I can't remember..."

"I could tell you," said Mme. Storey, "but I want you to remember."

Aline said slowly: "It was at Ancaster. I paid no particular attention to him. He was the rich man the village was talking about; stopping at the hotel."

"Good!" said Mme. Storey. "There are two links to add to our chain, Bella. Our clever friend o'erreached himself a little. I'm afraid he won't come back again."

I need not dwell on the reunion of the lovers that afternoon. You can picture it for yourself. The young man came into my office, worn and dispirited. I said nothing, but led him to the door of Mme. Storey's room, and opened it. Inside, the black head and the chestnut one were bent over the maps on Mme. Storey's desk. I shall never forget the sound of the cry that burst from his heart:

"Aline!"

He rushed into the room. I turned my back, and went to my desk. In an instant Mme. Storey had joined me, closing the door after her. She was more moved than she cared to show.

"Bella, we are neglecting our business horribly," she said. "Let us see if we can't pick up the threads of the Caybourn case while we wait for news from Crider."

But when I brought her the portfolio containing the papers in that case, her gaze had strayed away to the closed door.

"Ah, the dears! the dears!" she murmured.

IX

Crider and the other three had been sent up to Pequannock before noon, and next morning their reports began to come in.

Sampson reported that he had found the house described by Mme. Storey just where she had said he would find it. It was a gentleman's small residence, very expensively appointed, and standing in a highly fashionable neighbourhood. Though the grounds were not extensive, the house was hidden from the view of passers-by by a screen of shrubbery. It was built overhanging the edge of a spur of the hill; there was a retaining wall at the back, and at one side the ground went steeply down. This slope was terraced and laid out as an old-fashioned garden. At the bottom of it was a narrow border of woods, with the course of the Ahkanasi Golf Club on the other side.

The house was for rent, furnished. Upon inquiring of the agent, Sampson learned that the last tenants had given up the keys but three hours before. It had been taken the previous spring by a wealthy gentleman of the name of Mannering as a retreat for his mother, who was a confirmed invalid. The agent had never seen Mr. Mannering, all his business having been transacted by his man-servant, Wilton. This was the man with the blue upper-lip whom we had met so often. A very superior servant.

No one in the neighbourhood had met Mr. Mannering, but he was known to make frequent visits to his mother. An admirable son, he spared nothing that might contribute to the old lady's comfort. Obliged to travel a great deal, he had even gone to the expense of installing a radio transmitting set, that he might be kept informed of his mother's condition at all times. The old lady was in the care of a trained nurse, who was Mrs. Wilton, wife to the man-servant. These three constituted the household. The old lady herself was a familiar sight in her wheel chair. She was very feeble. The devotion of her nurse to her charge had been much spoken of.

On Monday of the preceding week the old lady had finally passed away in the night. Though it had been long expected, at the last the end had come suddenly. She was dead when the doctor got there. Dr. Richardson had been attending her. Nothing particular the matter with her, the agent supposed, but just old age. She was buried privately on Wednesday in the local cemetery, and a handsome monument had been ordered The house had then been given up, of course. It was rented by the month. The month was not up for a fortnight to come, but the keys had just been handed in.

Sampson had then called on the doctor, but got very little there. An advanced case of senility, the doctor said; very little he could do for the patient except to order restoratives. She was weak in her wits. She received admirable care from her nurse. Such cases often went suddenly in the end. Generally heart failure. Nothing for him to do except sign the certificate. In response to a question, he said he had never seen the old lady without her nurse being present. He dismissed as absurd the suggestion that she might have been terrorised by the nurse. Asked if the lingering illness and death might not have been induced by outside means, he became angry, and demanded to know if he was not supposed to know his own business.

An interview with the undertaker followed. He said that the body had been carried privately to the cemetery, and buried in the presence of Mr. and Mrs. Wilton. He understood that Mr. Mannering was in the house at the time, but was secluded in his grief. Asked if the excessive privacy of the burial was not unusual, he said no indeed, that many persons nowadays desired it. Old customs were passing. Certainly not from a desire to save expense in this case, he said, and went on to describe the magnificence of the casket, etc.

The patient Sampson was rewarded when he finally got hold of one John Meigs, who worked as furnace-man and outside man at the house of "Mr. Mannering." On Monday afternoon a week ago, he said, he was raking the gravel, when the old lady was brought out of the house in her wheel chair and placed in the sun on the westerly side of the house for her airing. She was a familiar sight to Meigs. She was supposed to be crazy, he said, but sometimes she'd look at you as if she had plenty of sense. She looked as if she'd seen trouble in her life. She never spoke to him. The nurse was always with her.

On this particular afternoon the nurse was obliged to go into the house for something, leaving the old woman alone. Meigs was on the other side of the grounds from her; fifty yards away, maybe. A moment or two later he looked over, he said, and it gave him a turn to see that she was gone. The chair was empty. He had never seen her take so much as a step alone before that. He ran over to the chair, and for a moment he couldn't see her anywhere. Then down at the foot of the slope he saw her, beside a low stone wall that separated the garden from the woods. There was a man there. Meigs shouted for the nurse, and ran down after her.

The man was a golf player looking for a lost ball. There was a caddy there, too, looking, but he was a little way off, looking in another place. The old woman had called the man to her, and was talking to him very excitedly across the wall. He was looking at her in a funny way, dazed-like. Meigs was soon beside them, but he didn't hear anything the old woman said. The nurse ran so fast she got there about as soon as Meigs did. The old woman laughed like a child caught out in mischief. The nurse was all excited. "What's she been saying?" she demanded of the man. He shook his head. "I could make nothing of it," he said. "She's mad!" the nurse said. "Mad nothing!" the old woman said, laughing again.

Meigs carried the old woman back up the hill. Weighed nothing, he said. The golf-player still looked funny, as well he might. As Meigs went up the hill, he looked back and saw him walking away through the trees, striking matches. Meigs put the old woman in her chair, and the nurse wheeled her into the house.

Right after that Wilton left in a hurry. Meigs supposed he went to town, but he couldn't have taken the first train, because an hour later, when Meigs passed the station on the way home, he saw him still waiting on the down platform. That night the old woman died. It was supposed that the exposure and the over-exertion had done it. Meigs had never seen "Mr. Mannering," though he had heard of his being there, generally at night or Sundays. Meigs had never seen the inside of the house beyond the kitchen and the cellar.

This report was like a ray of light breaking through the fog that enveloped the case. We began to be able to see our way. The scattered clues fell into the form of a pattern. However, it propounded almost as many new questions as those it answered.

"Another murder!" I said aghast.

"This one would have happened anyway," said Mme. Storey. "It was just a little hastened."

"Who could the old woman have been? Not his mother, really!"

"Probably not," said Mme. Storey. "Because nothing was as it was represented to be...Obviously, she passed along the dangerous piece of information to Orr, and it cost her her life, as it cost Orr his...If it was so important, Orr, the methodical his one, must certainly have made some memorandum of it."

"If he did, they got it from him later," I suggested.

"Oh, no doubt. Or a copy of it. A man does not ordinarily carry pencil and paper in his golf sweater, Bella."

"Don't they keep score?"

"The caddie carries it..." Mme. Storey paced up and down, knitting her brows. "Striking matches! Why on earth should he have been striking matches...?" Suddenly she turned to me with her eyes lighted up. "By Heaven! I have a notion, Bella! I must take the first train to Pequannock."

Before one o'clock she was back, bringing Crider. Crider was carrying, with the greatest care, a small, soft bundle wrapped in paper.

"What did you get?" I asked eagerly.

"That depends on you," said Mme. Storey, smiling.

On me! I opened my eyes at that.

The parcel, unwrapped with care on her desk, revealed a man's white Oxford outing shirt, crumpled from having been worn.

"We got it out of Orr's locker in the club," she said.

Lifting one of the cuffs with care to keep it from rubbing, she showed me some blurred, grimy lines upon it. "Evidently made with a burnt match," she said. "Is it shorthand? We could make nothing of it."

Well! Charcoal lines upon a rough material like Oxford cloth; it was a difficult job to decipher them. But with the aid of a big reading glass, the original shape of the marks gradually suggested itself.

"The top marks read, 'Aline Elder, Ancaster, N.Y.'" I said.

"Splendid!" cried Mme. Storey. "Then we know that is what the old woman told him...Now the rest, Bella. That is the crux of the whole case!

"First there are three numbers, as you can see," I said. "Two, three, two; then Division Street. It is an address; 232 Division Street. And under that: 4b."

"But what city?" asked Crider anxiously. "Almost every large city in the country has a Division Street."

"No city is indicated," I said.

"Chicago," Mme. Storey said coolly. "Orr was planning to go there...I can't go to Chicago," she went on, frowning. "It would take two days, maybe a week; and the murder of Orr is not yet proved against our man. I shall depend on you for this, Crider. Everything indicates that the answer to the riddle is to be found at that address."

"But will not Rawlings have already been there?" I suggested.

"We know practically all of Rawlings' movements since the fatal Monday," said Mme. Storey. "We know he has not been to Chicago. I doubt if he suspects there's anything to be had at that address. Orr may not have copied it. The fact of putting it down once would for ever fix it in his mind. At any rate, all of Rawlings' actions suggest that with the death of the old woman and of Orr, he believes himself secure. Otherwise he would not have freed Aline.

"Take the Twentieth Century, Crider," she went on. "I don't know what you're going to find. I don't know what 4b refers to--the number of an apartment, possibly. Better call me up on the long distance as soon as you look over the ground. I fancy this may refer to events which happened a good many years ago, so you must dig up the history of this house as far as you are able--if it is a house."

"I'll do my best, Madam," said Crider.

"Good luck to you!"

He departed.

X

Mme. Storey took off her hat and coat, and lit a cigarette. "Let us see where we have got to, Bella," she said thoughtfully. "In the beginning we have this discreet household in the elegant little residence at Pequannock. They had been established there for six months, the old woman and her two devoted servants, and the neighbours had come to take them quite for granted. Let us say that the old woman was a prisoner--just as Aline was, later, in the same house, and this precious pair were feeding her with arsenic or some other poison in quantities just sufficient to gradually wreck her health. In order to establish this, we'll have the body exhumed directly. The intention was, of course, to have her gradually fade out in such a manner that no suspicion could ever be aroused.

"But the doctor," I said.

"Ah, my dear, even Crider's brief reference to him is sufficient to show how easy it is to deceive a certain kind of doctor. These people were so rich, you see, nobody would think of questioning them. To resume; she may really have been mad; it hardly signifies. Or she may have been mad part of the time. One afternoon she was left alone for a moment, and by a trick of fate at that very moment a man was thrown in her path; a man of intelligence, one who might be expected to comprehend the strange secret she wished to deliver herself of.

"She gathered up the last remnant of her failing strength and ran to him. She passed on her secret. What she said to him exactly will never be known, for both of them are dead. We must reconstruct it as best we can. When her attendant reached her she laughed; she probably knew she was doomed anyway, but she had dealt them a blow before she died.

"The man Wilton immediately ran out of the house. I suppose he went after Orr to fix his face in mind. Later he was seen at the Pequannock Station, waiting no doubt for Orr to take a train to New York. We know that he followed Orr to his apartment, where he learned Orr's name and the location of his apartment. He must then have communicated with his master. Orr's murder must have instantly been resolved upon. Orr was doubtless followed back to his club; the club was watched while he was inside; and he was followed back to his apartment. A few minutes later he was killed in the manner that I have already described.

"Rawlings could not have done both murders that same night. There wasn't time. I believe that Wilton was sent back to Pequannock with orders to give the old lady her quietus. But I am certain that it was Rawlings who killed Orr. He couldn't know, you see, exactly what had passed between him and the old woman; he had to search to make sure there was no memorandum. That was something he couldn't possibly have entrusted to a servant, however close. Rawlings had bought the Wiltons, body and soul, but I do not for a moment suppose that he ever confided his affairs to them--or to anybody. Step by step I can reconstruct the crime, but I could not, with what we have so far, prove it to the satisfaction of a jury. The mere fact that Rawlings' servant inquired about Orr on Monday evening is not sufficient to hang Rawlings. There's the rub."

"What do you suppose they talked about?" I murmured.

"Nothing," said Mme. Storey coolly. "Under the circumstances, there was nothing to be said. A crack over the skull, and the suffocating pressure of a sofa pillow. That was all that passed between them. Rawlings is a realist.

"Well, there's our case as it stands, my Bella. It's fairly complete, but it won't do. I've got to bring the murder of Orr home to Rawlings. If that assassin escapes me, I'll give up my profession. Get Inspector Rumsey on the wire for me."

Rumsey was in charge of the investigation of the Orr murder. With him there had been no important developments within the past two days. As far as the police were aware, the case was wrapped in a complete mystery.

Mme. Storey said: "I have evidence which tends to show that the crime was conceived in a hurry. If I am right, the murderer must have snatched up the first available weapon. If we could find that; I mean the blunt instrument with which Orr was struck over the head, I believe I can put my hand on the man. It must have been necessary for the murderer to have disposed of the weapon immediately afterwards; not just to throw it away, but to dispose of it. I suggest that you have all the catch basins of the sewers adjacent to Orr's apartment searched, beginning with the nearest to the house. If anything is found, please let me know at once."

Nothing further happened that day. Shortly before noon of the following day, Crider called up from Chicago. I only heard half of the conversation, but Mme. Storey subsequently gave me the gist of it.

Crider reported that he had just visited the house at 232 Division Street. It had once been a high-class dwelling, but was now somewhat reduced. A store had been cut in at the street level, and the rest of the house was rented out in floors. None of the present tenants had been there long. Crider had talked with them casually, and there was nothing, so far, to suggest any connection with Rawlings. There was nothing about the house that he could see that suggested any explanation of the cryptic 4b. According to the neighbouring gossip, the house had once been the residence of John G. Joplin, a very wealthy man who had died some ten years ago. ("John G.?" Mme. Storey had remarked over the 'phone. "That's an interesting coincidence.") In response to questions from Mme. Storey, Crider said that except for the parlour floor, the house did not seem to have been much altered. He thought the stairway was the original stairway. It looked old. Mme. Storey then suggested that they assume 4b referred to the fourth step from the bottom, and that he look under that step.

Shortly after this, Inspector Rumsey called at our office. Rumsey is a nice man, and an old friend of ours; a great admirer of Mme. Storey. An ordinary-looking, fattish little man with a shiny face, he has carefully cultivated the effect of an absolute nonenity. You'd never be able to pick him out in a crowd. Yet he's one of the cleverest detectives in the country. He came in with his lips pursed up in a certain way that suggested there was something in the wind. I followed him into Mme. Storey's room.

He too, had his little paper parcel. He drew it out of his overcoat pocket.

"Ah!" said Mme. Storey expectantly.

The Inspector said: "We found it in the mud at the bottom of the catch basin on the north-eastern corner of Eighteenth Street and Irving Place."

The nearest sewer opening to Orr's apartment, said Mme. Storey.

Two objects were revealed; a man's silk sock, and a dull leaden ball about an inch and a quarter in diameter.

"The ball was in the sock," said the Inspector, "and a knot tied in it. It was saturated with mud. I had to wash it."

Mme. Storey gave first attention to the sock.

"Size ten," said the Inspector.

"Superfine quality," said Mme. Storey. "None but a rich man would sacrifice such an article. No distinguishing marks. Very little use as evidence. Its mate has been burned long ago." She picked up the leaden balls.

"You said you thought he had picked up the first available object," said the Inspector, "but that article is so perfectly adapted to his need--he didn't want to kill the man with it but only to put him to sleep; surely he must have had that ready."

Mme. Storey shook her head, smiling. "Wrong, Inspector! That is something that is available to every one of us. Suppose I had a sudden need to crack some body over the head, that is just what I would choose. Don't you know what it is?"

He shook his head.

"Then you've never had any trouble with your bathroom plumbing," said Mme. Storey. "That is the ball that closes the trap in the waste outlet of a modern bathtub. You hear it dancing in its socket when the water runs out."

"Of course!" he said. "It's under the circular nickel disk in the bathroom floor."

"To be sure! To get it out all you need is a wrench. See! although it has been wiped off, there are still traces of soap clinging to it. I see you have had it marked for identification."

"Yes, Madam; in the presence of witnesses.

"The next thing is to find out if this ball is missing out of any of the bathrooms in an apartment that I have in mind."

"You already know where to look!" the Inspector echoed, opening his eyes.

Mme. Storey reached for the telephone. "Am I connected, Bella?"

I nodded.

She took down the receiver. "Plaza 5771," she said with a peculiar smile.

We presently heard this conversation:

"Is Mr. Rawlings at home?...

"Madame Storey..."

(A pause.)

(Very sweetly.) "How do you do. This is Rosika Storey. You said I was to call you up. And so here I am....

"No, I haven't got a case to tell you about, but I have a picture to show you. I have been offered a little wooden panel that I am assured is a genuine Domenichino. You know about such things. Won't you come and look at it, and advise me?...

"As soon as you've had your breakfast? Sybarite! I've been at work for hours!...

"You'll make it lunch if I'll share it? Alas! I have a conference at one...

"Splendid! Good-bye.

"He says he'll swallow a cup of coffee, and fly to me," said Mme. Storey, pushing away the telephone.

"Are you not afraid he may take alarm, and fly in another direction?" suggested the Inspector anxiously.

"He's a bold man," said Mme. Storey, "and he has no reason as yet to suspect that he is in danger. If he should try it, I have an assistant trailing him. But I fully expect him to come."

"Bella," she went on to me, "send down to John the engineer, and borrow a monkey wrench. When Rawlings Comes, show him in. As this is a personal call, there is no excuse to remain in the room. But you can listen on the dictaphone if you are curious. As soon as you have closed the door on Rawlings, signal to young Crider, and fetch him in. Give him the lead ball and the monkey wrench, and tell him to go as quickly as a cab can take him to Rawlings' apartment. Let him gain admittance through his friend the housekeeper there. He must examine the trap of every bath tub in the apartment. If she makes a row, let him lock her in a closet. If he finds a trap minus its lead ball, let him measure to see if this one fits it. And hurry back here. I will undertake to keep the gentleman in talk.

"As for you, Inspector, I suggest you take a little constitutional in the Park across the way. Bella will give you the key, and you may breathe the exclusive air of the last remaining private park in New York. If young Crider is successful in his errand, Bella will make you a sign from her window, and you can come over and get your man...By the way, are you alone?"

He said he was.

"I would recommend that you have a man or two in reserve. Not but what I believe you to be perfectly capable of handling this man by yourself, but a mere display of force might avert a troublesome scene. They can wait in the street."

The Inspector promised to do so.

When Rawlings arrived I was trembling as if with an ague. How heartily I wished that Mme. Storey had staged this scene elsewhere but in our office. When I am actually cornered, I can bear myself with at least as much courage as the average woman, but the prospect of trouble somewhere ahead always demoralises me. I die a thousand deaths, before it actually comes to pass. This man's eyes terrified me. Under all their fleeting, derisive, deceitful expressions there remained a strange, fixed, animal hardness. How would such a one behave when he was finally brought to bay? Who could tell?

He was his usual highly-finished self. He was wearing, I remember, a marvellously-cut double-breasted blue suit--the blue just a shade different from any other man's blue suit: grey spats, grey derby, grey gloves. In short, just the sort of mature exquisite you would expect to find in the Champs Elysees, but scarcely in New York. He was carrying a great bunch of pink sweet peas, which he had the effrontery to offer me with a bow.

"Do me the honour of accepting them for your desk, Miss Brickley. The florists is under my apartment. When I passed his window they made me think of you!"

I smiled, knowing very well what a hideous grimace it must be. What could I do? It would have been still more ridiculous to fling them in his face. He only did it to put me in a hole. He knew that I detested him, and that the thought of accepting anything from him made me writhe inside; and he enjoyed the spectacle of my discomfiture.

I shoved him into Mme. Storey's room, and closed the door.

I quickly despatched young Crider according to instructions. Afterwards it so happened that I had a couple of telephone calls to answer, and a caller to get rid of, so several minutes elapsed before I was able to switch on the dictaphone. I expected to cut in on an art discussion, and I was therefore a good deal astonished by the first words I heard.

"...the most beautiful woman I have ever beheld!"

"A stock phrase!" drawled my mistress' voice. "One wearies of it!"

"A stock phrase to you, yes," he said melodiously, "because it must spring to every man's lips at the sight of you. But the shock of joy that it gives each man is none the less fresh and strong."

"Let's not be lyrical," said Mme. Storey. "I can't make the altitude. Consider my little Domenichino, now..."

"Don't ask me to look at a three-hundred-year-old picture when I have you before my eyes!"

The man actually had the temerity to make love to my mistress! A cold-hearted murderer! Figuratively speaking, I flew up and hit the ceiling. Yet I could not deny that the situation had its piquancy.

"What must men think women are, when they talk in that strain!" said my mistress good-humouredly--there was nothing in the situation to put her about. "Or perhaps it's because I'm different. Tell me, frankly, do women seem to enjoy that sort of thing?"

"I do not know," he said, "I speak at the prompting of my heart, without thinking. You have laid a spell upon me!"

He abruptly changed his tactics. I heard his soft laugh. "You are right," he said, "it's just a sort of ritual. That's only the beginning. One must make a beginning somewhere. I only await a look, a word from you to be my true self."

"If the early Italians had only made a practice of signing their work!" said Mme. Storey.

"No, you cannot put me off like that," he said. "I can smile and still be no less deadly in earnest. I adore you!"

"Mercy!" said Mme. Storey. "I've only seen you three times."

"That's a commonplace answer," he retorted. "Worthy of a bread and butter Miss. A free soul recognises his mark the first instant he lays eyes upon it. As it happens I have been following your career for years. I praise your beauty, because I thought it would please you, but it was not your beauty which first attracted me, but your mind. A woman with a mind? How rare and how glorious!"

"What does a woman do with such panegyrics!" murmured Mme. Storey. "If she accepts them as no more than her due, she is absurd; if she indignantly rejects them, she is no less absurd. It's really very hard to be a woman."

"You shall not laugh me off," he said. "I am mad about you!"

Said Mme Storey coolly: "I am not well enough acquainted with you to know, exactly, what you mean by that."

"I mean everything by it!" he cried.

"Well, marriage?"

"If you would!"

"Well, I wouldn't."

"You have had an unhappy experience, perhaps."

"That don't signify. Whether it were my first or my sixth essay, I decline to commit matrimony with any man alive!"

"You are right," he said promptly. "I asked you to marry me because I wished to show you that I was all yours. But after all, what have enlightened souls such as you and I to do with such silly conventions. Love is shared Heaven; Marriage is..."

"Hell," put in Mme. Storey.

"You shall not laugh me down. Look at me. Give me your answer."

"I am not prepared to make any answer just now," said Mme. Storey dryly. "In fact, I never would make any answer. If I ever felt inclined towards you, you would know it without my saying anything. You'll just have to watch and wait."

"Rosika! Rosika! Glorious woman! Look at me..."

Just then young Crider opened the door of my office. The sight of him gave me a slight shock. I had become for the moment so absorbed in Rawlings' lovemaking, I had forgotten what the outcome must be.

The lad's blooming cheeks were pale with excitement, his eyes glittering. "We've got him!" he whispered. "It was the bath opening off his own room. The lead ball was missing, and this one exactly fitted!"

My heart began to pound again. The show-down was upon us now.

"What am I to do?" whispered young Crider.

"You sit down right here," I said sharply. "Mme. Storey didn't tell me, but you may be needed."

"Golly! I hope there's a scrap!" he said. "I'll back the Inspector!"

"A scrap, here!" I said indignantly. "What are you thinking of!"

"Oh, no, of course not!" he said somewhat abashed. But the irrepressible grin immediately returned. "Just the same I bet Madame Storey wouldn't mind."

I went to the window. I saw the Inspector walking gravely up and down the path inside the railings, his hands behind his back. Presently he looked up at my window, and I gave him a sign. Two minutes later he entered the door.

The sight of him so ordinary, so matter-of-tact; all in the day's work, reassured me somewhat.

"How should we proceed?" he asked.

"I suppose I should announce you," I said.

He nodded, and I tapped on the door of Mme. Storey's room. She sang out, and I entered, my heart pressing up big In my throat. Mme. Storey was seated at her desk, and Rawlings was looking up at a picture on the far wall. The lines of his back showed that he did not welcome the Interruption.

"Inspector Rumsey calling," I said, carefully schooling my voice.

"Oh, yes," said Mme. Storey. "I was forgetting. He has come to consult me about the Orr case."

Rawlings turned around. "The Orr case?" he said indifferently.

"That poor young lawyer who was found murdered in his room," said Mme. Storey.

"Is it confidential business? Or may I stay?" said Rawlings with his superb effrontery. He even dared to suggest a certain proprietary interest in Mme. Storey's business.

"Stay, by all means," said Mme. Storey dryly. "I was about to suggest it...Show the Inspector in, Bella."

When I went out I found a messenger boy in my office. Young Crider was receipting for the telegram. I took it automatically, and laid it on Mme. Storey's desk when I showed the Inspector in. I remained in the room. Terrified as I was of what was to come, I was still more terrified of missing it.

Rawlings smiled pleasantly at the Inspector, as much as to say he was prepared to be agreeable to the honest fellow, mere policeman though he was. And for a moment Rumsey was taken aback by the elegance of the man, and his supreme effrontery. Only for a moment. The Inspector turned dogged about the jaw.

"Is this the man?" he asked Mme. Storey.

"This is the man," she said dispassionately.

I saw the hard animal spark leap out of Rawlings' eyes, but I swear his face never changed a muscle. His smile even broadened, as he turned to Mme. Storey to ask:

"What is the Inspector's interest in my humble self?"

The Inspector answered for himself.

"I must trouble you to come with me."

Rawlings' eyebrows went up. "Where?" he asked humorously.

"To police headquarters. You're under arrest."

Comic pantomime of astonishment from Rawlings.

"What for?"

The Inspector was grim. "The murder of Schuyler Orr."

A little vein stood out on Rawlings' forehead, but he laughed with every appearance of merriment. "Is this some sort of joke?"

"I'm sorry," Mme. Storey said, with a tinge of real regret in her voice; "but this admirable acting is wasted on the Inspector and I. We have established a case."

Rawlings permitted himself to become a little indignant. "But I am George Rawlings," he said with dignity. "I enjoy a certain position; I am a man of large means. May I ask what possible motive I could have for murdering this insignificant lawyer, whom I never heard of in my life?"

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey coolly. "I hope to learn to-morrow. I have just received this telegram from Chicago." She read:

"I have found it. You may safely arrest the man in question. CRIDER."

"What hocus-pocus is this?" demanded Rawlings indignantly. "What has he found?"

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey again. "I suspect it was something hidden under the fourth step from the bottom of the stairway in the old house at 232 Division Street."

A subtle change took place in Rawlings' face. Her last words, somehow, told him that the game was up. He never ceased smiling, but the quality of his smile changed. Gone were the elegant manners; the hard animal recklessness took possession of him. He bent a look of fearful hatred on my mistress; a look I cannot forget. Her steady gaze upon him was remote, impersonal and, as I say, with a tinge of regret. At so much power wasted.

He walked smartly across the room towards the Inspector. I noticed that my mistress half turned her chair, and glanced out of the window. Rawlings thrust his two hands out and said with a sneer:

"I suppose you're going to handcuff me."

"Such is my intention," said the Inspector bluntly; and put a hand in his pocket.

It happened in a flash. You have seen a cat strike. So Rawlings struck with his clenched fist, and the Inspector dropped like a felled ox. Rawlings sprang for the door. I was standing in front of it. My heart turned to water, and I confess I flung myself out of his path. But immediately behind me was young Crider with his eyes glittering. Seeing him, Rawlings swerved, and with an incredible leap cleared the window sill and crashed out, carrying the casement with him. A magnificent and purely animal act.

It was all over in a breath. The Inspector picked himself up shaken, but without loss of dignity. It was all in the day's work for him.

"He was too quick for me," he said philosophically.

Mme. Storey had not moved, though the man had passed out three feet in front of her. "It's quite all right," she said calmly. "From where I sat I could see the two men below. They have him."

XI

Crider got in from Chicago during the afternoon of the following day. Inspector Rumsey, young Crider and myself were all with Mme. Storey when he came. The same eager question was in the eyes of all of us. By way of answer Crider drew a linen envelope from his pocket, and from it took a legal paper which he handed to Mme. Storey.

"That's what I found under the step," he said.

Mme. Storey read it out to us in her clear and level voice:

"LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT

"I, John G. Elder, lately known as John G. Joplin, hereby devise and bequeath all that I die possessed of to my lawful wife Ella May Elder of Ancaster, New York, and should she predecease me, to our only child Aline Elder of the same place.

"Elizabeth G. Shotover, my faithful companion for seven years past, who has been known as my wife, is not to participate in my estate, inasmuch as I have made provision for her during my lifetime. The said Elizabeth Shotover, being cognisant of my wishes, and coinciding in the same, will not of her own free will advance any claim against my estate.

"I appoint the Inter-State Commerce Trust Company my sole executor. I append herewith a list of my properties in lands and shares.

"I direct my executors to consider no claims that may be advanced against my estate by George Shotover, nephew of the said Elizabeth Shotover, the said George Shotover being an unprincipled blackguard who has swindled me on more than one occasion in the past.

"For the information of my executors after my death, I wish to state the following facts: My real name is John Gordon Elder, and I was born in the city of Joplin Mo. on April 2nd, 1868. On May 24th, 1899, I married Ella May Prentiss at Ancaster, New York, where proof of the marriage may be found on the register. Our child Aline was born in Chicago on April 14th of the following year.

"Two years later upon discovering proofs of my unfaithfulness, my wife left me taking the child, and returned to her native place. I am obliged to say she was justified in her action, for I had deceived her on many occasions. Since then I have never heard from her. We are not divorced.

"I changed my name at that time, and made a new start in Oklahoma. I amassed great sums of money through the sale of oil lands and in other speculations. Until lately my heart was hard to my wife and her child, and I consider them dead to me, but being upon my death-bed, as I believe, I have experienced a change of heart and so far as I may, I wish to make amends to those I wronged. Amen.

"(signed) John G. Elder,
"lately known as
"JOHN G. JOPLIN."

"What a tale!" murmured my mistress. "Fearful that his secret might escape before he died, I believe he wrote this out of his head without legal advice. That would account for the informality. But it would stand...You have other information?"

"Yes, Madam," said Crider. "I went to the probate office to see what kind of a will had been filed when Elder or Joplin died. The will that was actually probated was signed John G. Joplin, and there was no mention of his real name. In it he left all he possessed 'to my beloved wife, Elizabeth G. Joplin.' Presumably evidence of a marriage had been faked up, for no question had been raised. The bank and George Shotover were appointed joint executors.

"I went to the bank and interviewed the former trust officer, now a vice-president. He remembered it well, since it was one of the largest estates he had ever administered. No question had ever arisen in his mind that all might not be regular. The estates had been settled up and the proceeds handed over to the beneficiary, who had gradually withdrawn her business from the bank, but in a perfectly regular manner, and had finally left Chicago, with her nephew, if such he was. The descriptions he furnished of Elizabeth Shotover or Joplin and George Shotover corresponded exactly to those of the poor woman who died or was murdered in Pequannock, and to the man we know as George Rawlings. 'A handsome, dark young man with a prominent Roman nose.' Well, he isn't so young now, but he still has the nose.

"Well, that's the whole story," said my mistress. "One must believe that this was a copy, whose existence was unsuspected by George Shotover or Rawlings. He got hold of the original with or without the connivance of Elizabeth, and destroyed that. The testator expresses a fear here, that Elizabeth might fall under the influence of George after his death. George tempted her with millions. Well, she paid dear for her weakness. And she kept the secret of the hidden copy, and got back at George in the end. That's very like a woman. How much was it, Crider."

"Ten years ago it was over several million dollars, Madam. The bank official said it should have greatly increased."

"Well, Rawlings said it amounted to more than half a million a year now. I don't doubt he spoke the truth."

A little later, Inspector Rumsey and the Criders having departed, I was greatly astonished to see Aline and her tall young Edward walk into my office. I forgot to mention in the midst of the excitement, that they had returned to Ancaster to open the library. Mme. Storey had urged it, since there was nothing they could do to further the case. And here they were back again! Aline in an adorable new hat, and Edward's young face all relaxed and beaming with happiness. The fact that the marks of what he had been through still showed, made his present happiness all the more shining. What a handsome pair!

I took them into Mme. Storey's room. They were ridiculously embarrassed. It would have been patent to a child what had happened, but, of course, my mistress and I made believe to be completely mystified, and what a business they made of telling us!

Edward cleared his throat portentously. "We...er...we...that is Aline and I you know...we..." He stalled, and looked helplessly at her.

Aline said: "We came to tell you...we came to tell you...we came to tell you..." She caught her breath and looked imploringly back at Edward.

It was up to the man. He blurted out like a small explosion: "We've been and done it!"

"Done what?" said Mme. Storey, making out to be greatly alarmed.

"Well...er...got married so to speak," stammered Edward.

"So to speak!" echoed Mme. Storey as if scandalised. "Oh, my children!"

Then we all roared with laughter.

"In Ancaster, yesterday," said Edward.

"Just one or two," said Aline. "It was all got up in an hour."

"The trustees decided," said Edward, "since the library had been closed for a week, it could stay closed another week while we had a trip."

"Everybody thinks we're imprudent," said Aline, "but we don't care."

Mme. Storey got up and gravely kissed Aline, and shook Edward's hand.

Edward jumped up in his agitation. "Imprudent or not, I couldn't help it." he cried strongly. "Every moment that she was out of my sight it was like those days over again. A nightmare. I couldn't rest! Now I have her, I'll watch over her myself...The trustees seem to think it wouldn't be the thing for husband and wife to go on working together, so we're dependant on my salary alone. It'll be close going, but we'll make out somehow!"

"Oh, I think you'll make out," said Mme. Storey. "Your wife has half a million a year."

Very little remains to be told. After Rawlings leaped from the window that day, he put up such a struggle that it took both of Inspector Rumsey's men to subdue him; consequently his chauffeur who was waiting in the car close at hand, got away. The abandoned car was subsequently found in a side street, but the chauffeur was never apprehended. Neither were the Wiltons, man and woman, ever found. Satisfied with having laid their master by the heels, Mme. Storey did not concern herself with these cases.

It was proved by chemical analysis that the unfortunate Elizabeth Shotover had been poisoned; but it was not proposed to try George Shotover or Rawlings for this crime. As a matter of fact, he was never tried at all. He killed himself in his cell, by means of a poison obtained no one knew how. One guessed that it was not the trial he dreaded; he simply did not want to live without the prestige of a man of millions.


II. — THE BLIND FRONT

First published in Argosy All-Story Weekly, January 22, 1927

Cover Image

Argosy All-Story Weekly, January 22, 1927, with "The Blind Front"



I

I THINK I have mentioned that it was Mme. Storey's custom to take a walk in the Park every afternoon upon leaving the office. At a time when we were working nights in order to clear the decks for her annual trip abroad, I made it my custom to accompany her. We would then return to her house for an early dinner, and settle down to an hour or two of hard work. Our route through the Park never varied; entering at the Plaza, we would make our way to the fountains at the end of the Mall, circulate around the north side of the lake, and issue out at the Arsenal. These walks were a delight to me; my mistress, shaking off business when we closed the office door behind us, was the most entertaining talker in the world.

One afternoon, I remember, we were upon the subject of what constitutes good looks in a man. I was airing my ideas, and Mme. Storey was listening with a bantering smile; then she said: "In a moment or two I will show you what I consider a completely handsome man, my Bella."

You may be sure I awaited the illustration with the keenest curiosity. When we reached the wild garden to the north of the lake--the prettiest and most secluded spot in the Park, she said: "There he is."

I saw two men sitting on a bench. I did not need to be told which was which; one was merely ordinary while the other was indeed one of the handsomest men I have ever beheld. I shall not weary you with a catalogue of his charms; suffice it to say that he was about thirty-three years old, of medium height, notably broad-shouldered and spare of frame; in colouring, brown. He had the look of a soldier. His features were perfect. It was not features, though, which constituted his uncommon beauty, but expression; noble is the only word for it. He was gazing straight before him with a look of proud sorrow that drew the heart right out of one's breast; yet one would never have dared to sympathise with such a man. I thought of all the ill-starred heroes of whom I had read.

"Sir Launcelot du Lake," I murmured.

"Exactly," said my mistress; "that man has loved!...He is blind," she added in a voice sharp with compassion.

An involuntary cry of pain escaped me. "Oh! I had not noticed it!" I turned my head to look at him again, but he was already hidden by a bend in the path.

"I see them nearly every time I pass this way," said Mme. Storey. "The second man is a secretary or attendant. He has the face of a scoundrel, but of course his master cannot see that. I have noticed that while he takes care to butter his voice in speaking to his master, his eyes glitter with contempt...The whole situation is written in the master's proud face," she went on; "you can see that he has not always been blinded; he is not yet accustomed to it. That, taken in connection with his military air, suggests that he is a war casualty. The fierce pride which is so evident would not tolerate pity, and least of all the pity of a woman. Returning from the war blinded, he has deliberately cut himself off from his friends, and from the woman whom he loved, and now he lives alone at the mercy of his servants, who undoubtedly swindle him."

"But how can you know all this?" I murmured.

"It is written there so that he who runs may read. But people are so unobservant! I doubt if anybody beside ourselves has ever seen it. I suspect that even those who have known him all his life have allowed themselves to be deceived by his stubborn pride. Yet he is perishing of lonesomeness!"

We walked on in silence for awhile; then Mme. Storey said: "One feels it one's duty to interfere in such a situation. To-morrow, if he is there, let us speak to him, my Bella."

I smiled at her, not thinking that she was in earnest. But on the following afternoon, finding the blind young man and his attendant sitting on the same bench, Mme. Storey sat herself down beside him, and I had no choice but to occupy the fourth place. My mistress started to talk in a gay strain, ostensibly for my benefit, but in reality to attract the young man's attention. He continued to look straight ahead of him, and not a muscle of his face changed, but I was aware from a certain intentness in his pose, that he was eagerly drinking in every word. Now that I had been furnished a clue by my mistress, I could see that he was starving for the lack of a little gaiety and friendliness.

The antics of three children in front of us caused Mme. Storey and I to burst out laughing. She turned to the young man, saying: "There you have a primary lesson in the art of subjugating the male! Did you ever see anything neater?"

"I am blind," he said stiffly.

"Are you really?" said Mme. Storey in the coolest manner possible. (It was exactly the right tone to take with him!) "One would never have suspected it. Picture to yourself two little boys of five and six walking with their sister aged three. The boys are of a mercurial temperament, the girl lymphatic. It is too much trouble for her to keep up with them, and she doesn't try to. Whenever they get a certain distance ahead of her, she just sits down, and they have to come back and pick her up."

The young man smiled. Mme. Storey, determined not to allow a silence to chill the atmosphere, hastened on: "This is always an amusing corner of the Park. That policeman yonder, talking to the pretty nursemaid, surely has the softest job in the world! Nothing to do but prevent the boys from picking flowers and pegging stones at the wild ducks. Do you know him?"

"He has spoken to me," said the young man stiffly. "Many people speak to me. They have me at a disadvantage.

"Well, I like that!" said Mme. Storey, laughing.

He blushed deeply. "Oh, you were different," he said quickly. "You voice did not suggest that I was an object of pity."

"Pity!" said Mme. Storey in a voice of great surprise. "Why, you are one of the handsomest men I ever saw. Of course, it must be inconvenient to lose one's sight, but I am sure you have plenty of compensations!"

He made no answer. He tried to look as if he were annoyed by her frank speech, but I am sure he was not so, really. Mme. Storey rattled on: "There's one thing to be said for blindness, you can imagine the world to be a perfectly beautiful place, without any danger of being reminded of the contrary."

"Unfortunately, there are ugly voices," he said.

"Well, I suppose there are," she said. "Americans neglect the speaking voice shockingly."

"You are not American?" he asked.

"But I am!" she replied. "I'm as American as a barred Plymouth Rock!"

He chuckled. His face softened wonderfully when he laughed. "There's nothing the matter with your voice," he said shyly.

"Nor yours," said Mme. Storey promptly. She cast a gay and triumphant look at me as much as to say: "I have got him going!"

To him she said: "There's no need to ask if you are American."

"I suppose not," he said. "My name is Stephen Venson."

"Venson is one of the old Knickerbocker names, isn't it," said Mme. Storey. "What was your grade in the army?"

"Why, how did you know?" he asked, surprised. "Captain."

"My dear man, West Point is written all over you." The pretty nursemaid having moved along, Mme. Storey beckoned to the policeman stationed at the wild garden. "Officer!" The honest Irishman came over grinning from ear to ear, as any man would on being summoned by my beautiful mistress.

"Officer," said Mme. Storey, affecting an innocent air: "are those really wild ducks?"

"Yes, Miss," said the bluecoat; "mallards. The shyest birds there are. But they come and nest in the Park every summer, and raise their broods in the midst of the crowds. They have learned that they are safe here."

"How wonderful!" said Mme. Storey.

The policeman strolled on. Soon afterwards, Mme. Storey said to me: "Well, Bella, we must toddle along." To the young man she said, with off-hand friendliness: "Good-bye, Captain."

"Good-bye," he said with infinite regret in his voice.

As we walked away I said: "If I am any judge, that attendant or secretary or whatever he is, is a rascal. What made him so terrified of us? I believe there is something more in the situation than the mere peculation of servants."

"I think so, myself," said Mme. Storey. "I'm glad we butted in. We'll find out now."

Knowing that my mistress did nothing at random I asked curiously: "Why did you call the policeman over?"

"Well," she said with a delightful smile, "Captain Venson, though blinded, is very much of a man. He will be curious to know what I look like. He will ask his man, of course, and will receive an unfavourable report, I fear. But perhaps he will not believe it; the man may betray his animus in his voice. After all, my Bella, I have not the voice of an ugly woman. He said as much himself. Well, if he wants additional information, there is the policeman handy. Perhaps he may ask him. If I reason correctly, when we come to-morrow we will find Captain Venson sitting alone."

II

And we did! You should have seen his handsome face light up when my mistress hailed him. "Here we are again!

"I had no reason to suppose that you would come," he said, "but I was hoping it."

"Where is your man?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Oh, I was tired of him," he said. "I made up an errand that will keep him out of the way for an hour."

"What if it should rain?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Well, I shouldn't melt," he said, smiling back. He enjoyed having her joke with him on the subject of his blindness; it was only pity that he couldn't stand.

"I'm glad he's gone," said my mistress. "He was like a death's head at the feast."

"What does he look like, really?" asked the Captain. "Nobody has ever told me."

"Well, I don't want to shatter any illusions," said Mme. Storey lightly, "but since you ask me, I am forced to say he looks to me as if he had served more than one term up river."

"How odd!" said Captain Venson, "and I not know it! I don't like him, of course, but all servants are tiresome. He's a good enough servant, as they go. But I'll get rid of him now."

"Don't do that," said Mme. Storey quickly. "One may easily be deceived in a man's face. And if he's a good servant you might do worse."

"All right," he said indifferently; and the subject was allowed to drop.

As on the day before, my mistress proceeded to flirt with him outrageously. "Perhaps you were waiting for somebody else," she said. "If we are de trop you must not hesitate to give us a hint."

"No," he said, "my mind was not running on gallantry."

"I am crushed!" said Mme. Storey.

"Oh, I didn't mean that..." he began,

"Well, if we see her coming we'll beat it," she said.

"You get me wrong," he said, smiling. "I am no ladies' man. Never was. You must know that from the ease with which you can tangle me up."

"That's the most dangerous kind," said Mme. Storey.

"And are you a coward?" he asked.

"Alas, no!" she sighed. "I am ever to be found where the danger is thickest."

"Then I will be as dangerous as possible." Mere fooling of course; but it was cunningly calculated to put him at his ease. It was odd to see how grateful he was to her. I suppose the poor fellow had made up his mind that no woman would ever again take that gay and challenging tone towards him.

Presently he said with mock severity: "You are a coquette!"

"Mercy! how flattering to a plain girl!" murmured Mme. Storey.

"I have my own idea about that," he said.

"No," said Mme. Storey, "I admit that I am clever; but I cannot deceive you; I am very plain."

"Your friend seldom speaks," he remarked.

"She's a deep one," said Mme. Storey quickly. "Better be careful of her."

Leaning forward, he turned his eloquent sightless eyes in my direction. "Tell me," he said, "on the level, what does she look like?"

Mme. Storey favoured me with a broad wink.

"Well," I said with a judicial air, "she wouldn't be so bad if her eyes were not crossed, though to be sure her hair is rather scanty, her chin is a couple of inches too long, and her nose is only a blob, poor thing! But she has the most expressive ears!"

It would have done your heart good to hear his laugh ring out. "You're a pair!" he said. "But you can't fool me! Yesterday, after you'd gone, I asked the cop what she looked like!" He said this with a cute air, poor lamb, as if he thought himself monstrous clever; and it was my turn to laugh--but my laughter was silent.

"And what did he say about me?" asked Mme. Storey eagerly.

"Well, he was rather incoherent," said Captain Venson, "but the general effect was highly laudatory."

"Yes," said Mme. Storey, "I slipped him a couple of dollars."

"He said that you reminded him of a thoroughbred race horse."

"What, fast?" cried Mme, Storey in high indignation. "Oh, the wretch!"

The hour slipped by, and in no time at all, as it seemed, I beheld the servant returning at a little distance. He was coming from the west side. As good luck would have it, I saw him before he saw me. From my mistress I have learned the art of watching things without appearing to look at them, consequently I was able to follow his very peculiar actions during the next few minutes, without his being aware of it.

He slipped behind a syringa bush, where, partly hidden, he watched us for a few minutes, his ugly face uglier still with fear, suspicion, and ill-will. Then he disappeared. Presently I saw him from the other side. He had evidently circled around the hill behind us. He beckoned, and another man joined him. The two of them sat down on a bench some hundred yards off, trusting to the throng of nursemaids and children to conceal them from us. There they watched us.

The second man was older, and had something of a foreign look. He was dark, fat, and smooth-shaven; very neatly dressed, but not in the style of a gentleman. He was not bad-looking, had it not been for the hard and angry stare he bent on us. This was a much more formidable antagonist than the tallow-faced secretary. After studying us awhile, he went away; but still the secretary did not come directly towards us. He must have circled around behind us again; for in the end I saw him approaching from the west, walking fast, as one who wished to prove his zeal in carrying out his master's orders. However, he had but an imperfect control over his features; his self-conscious air gave him away.

He reported to Captain Venson that he had been unable to procure what he had been sent for in the stores on upper Broadway.

"No matter," said his master carelessly.

The servant (his master addressed him as "Belding") sat down on the other side of Captain Venson with a humble air. He had never so much as looked at Mme. Storey and I. He kept his eyes down, but one could tell from the pose of his head that his ears were stretched to catch every word. The presence of this mean-faced eavesdropper put a damper on the gay and frivolous conversation, and Mme. Storey presently rose.

"Oh, must you go?" said Captain Venson with a falling face. "I don't even know your name."

"I am Miss Barbara Underhill," said Mme. Storey with a bland air; "and my friend is Bella Chalmers. We share half a house together at..." (She gave her true address.) "Look here," she went on, as if struck by a sudden thought, "why don't you come and have dinner with us some night. Just the three of us. It would be fun!"

The young man coloured up with pleasure and embarrassment. "It's awfully kind of you," he stammered, "but I couldn't."

"Why not?"

"It's so long since I dined out, I've forgotten how to behave."

"Oh, nobody behaves at our house."

"I'm sorry...I couldn't."

His distress was so real that Mme. Storey forbore to press him further. "I'm sorry, too," she said, holding out her hand. "Good-bye."

"But...wait," he said, retaining her hand. He became more and more embarrassed. "Why shouldn't you and Miss Chalmers come and dine with me?...Awfully unconventional, of course...but as long as there's two of you...and you...you don't sound like a conventional person. Will you come?"

By the gleam in my mistress's eye I perceived that this was what she had been angling for. She turned to me. "What do you say, Bella?"

"I should be charmed."

"Well, if Bella says we can go I guess it's all right," said Mme Storey. "She keeps me in order. Myself, I'm dying to come."

"Splendid!" cried Captain Venson, his face all lighted up.

"When shall it be?"

"As soon as possible. Just give me time to get my cook accustomed to the idea. I've never had any company before. Say three days. Are you free on Friday night?"

"Yes."

"Good! Then say Friday at seven. I live at number--Fifth Avenue.

"We'll be there!"

It was curious to watch Belding's face when he heard this invitation given and accepted. Up to this moment his suspicion of us had been merely general. Now a special and particular fear broke in his face. As Mme. Storey and I walked away I wondered greatly what there could be in the blind man's house that the servant was so terrified of having us see.

On the following morning at her own place Mme. Storey received the following note.

"DEAR MISS UNDERHILL,

"What will you think of me? I feel that I must call off the dinner for Friday night. My establishment it totally unsuited for the reception of ladies. But, believe me, I shall always be grateful that you were willing to come.

"Yours sincerely,
"STEPHEN VENSON."

This letter was written in neat, clerkly characters, and signed obviously by another hand in a sprawling style.

"Perhaps Captain Venson knows nothing about it," I suggested.

"That would be too clumsy a trick," said Mme. Storey. "The deception would be discovered the first time we met him in the Park. We are dealing with cleverer people than that, I am sure. Consider how easy it would be for the servants to work upon his fears until he was unable to face the thought of having two strange women come to his house. No, he wrote the letter; and now the worst of it is, he will be ashamed to meet us after it, and will have his man lead him to a different part of the Park."

"What shall you do?" I inquired.

Smiling, she sat down and wrote the following reply:

"DEAR CAPTAIN VENSON,

"We are coming anyhow, and you had better be prepared to feed us. Hell knoweth no fury like a woman starved!

"Sincerely,
"BARBARA UNDERHILL."

III

Venson was a name long and honourably known in the annals of New York; and Mme. Storey had no difficulty in learning further particulars about the latest bearer of it. It appeared that Captain Stephen Venson was the last of his line. He had once been engaged to Gloria Suffern, one of the most prominent girls in society. One was continually coming upon her name amongst the notes of social doings in the newspapers, and her photograph in the rotogravure supplements. I understood that Mme, Storey had met her somewhere; and on Friday I was informed that she was coming to tea at the office that afternoon, and bidden to order in cakes.

"Society girl" is a loose term and may be used to cover almost anything; but this one was the real thing. Slim, high bred and exquisite, she had the look of being used to a rarer sphere than us common mortals. She was slender, vivacious, and darkly beautiful; at least twenty-eight years old, I should say; though Time had not yet so much as breathed upon the glass of her loveliness. She was dressed with that aristocratic simplicity which is the despair of imitators. The freedom of her style rather took my old-fashioned breath away; but I liked her from the start. She was fascinating to a plain body like me.

I shared their tea. While we ate and drank, the conversation was merely general. Both of the great world, which after all is such a small world, Mme. Storey and Miss Suffern found plenty in common to talk about. If our visitor was wondering what she had been asked for, she was far too well bred to betray it. She had a delicately cynical attitude towards life that distressed me rather, for it seemed to me she was not like that, really. I remember they were talking about a certain prominent lady who had come a cropper; and Miss Suffern said, with a curling lip: "She was soft. I have no patience with it. Every woman learns almost from her cradle that life is unfair. The only thing to do is to harden oneself and get as much fun as you can out of the mess. Especially where men are concerned. It's always a duel. No quarter shown on either side. You must learn to fence warily; and never, never, let your guard down!...I'm glad I'm living now," she went on with a laugh; "because it's getting worse all the time. After us the deluge!"

When they lighted up their cigarettes, Mme. Storey came to the point immediately. "I suppose you are wondering why I asked you to come and see me," she said, smiling.

"Dying with curiosity," said the girl.

"I am half in love with the handsomest man I ever met," said Mme. Storey, "and I want to talk about him."

"To me?" said Miss Suffern. "How delightful! Do tell me who he is. You have the reputation of being immune, you know."

"Stephen Venson," said Mme. Storey, studying her cigarette.

I scarcely liked to look at the girl when this name was spoken; but I need not have been afraid. "What, old Steve!" she cried, laughing with a perfectly open brow. "How priceless! You are right; he is the handsomest man of his day. But where is he? I haven't seen him for ages. He seems to have dropped completely out of sight!"

Now, any woman must have felt more than she showed upon suddenly hearing the mention of her old lover's name; and this gave me the idea that her whole clear-eyed, laughing attitude was simply an assumption; was, in fact, her way of keeping up her guard, as she had phrased it. Her real feelings remained hidden.

"I suspect it is his own fault if he is never seen," said Mme. Storey.

"Oh, quite!" said Miss Suffern. "When he came home from the war with a halo of heroism about his head, it seemed positively to infuriate him when we fell down and worshipped. He deliberately insulted his best friends and drove them away."

It was noticeable that she did not refer to her lover's blindness. I suspected that the subject was too painful.

"I can understand that," said Mme. Storey; "but it seems a little strange that his old friends did not see through it."

"You might blame his men friends for allowing themselves to be driven away," said the girl, "but what could a woman do after he had told her up and down that he had done with her?"

"Why, nothing, I suppose," said Mme. Storey softly.

"She couldn't be sure, you see," Miss Suffern went on, "whether this was due to some wrong-headed notion of saving her, or whether he really was tired of her. So she waited, feeling sure that if he loved her still, some message must come. But no message ever came, and so..." She ended with a shrug.

"And yet it is possible that he may love her still," suggested Mme. Storey.

"Possible," said the girl, with her air of carelessness; "but what is one to do about it?"

Mme. Storey made no reply; and a silence succeeded. Suddenly the girl, in a slightly higher pitched voice, began to talk quickly about something else. My mistress brought her back with the quiet question:

"How did he receive his injury?"

Miss Suffern replied quite simply: "Oh, didn't you know? It was a very gallant affair. It happened at Auban. We suffered a slight reverse there, as you may remember. Somebody blundered, and Steve and his men were sent across the river to hold an untenable position. He held it, too, against a whole division, until he was ordered to retire again, most of his men having been killed. Steve was the last to go, facing the advancing Germans. Behind him he saw one of his men who had been left for dead raise his head. Steve went back and picked him up, and the Flammenwerfer got him, the flame-throwers...his eyes. Blinded as he was, he brought the man back...somehow."

"How splendid!" murmured Mme. Storey.

"But one may never speak of it to him!" cried the girl. "He acts as if it were a deadly affront."

"Do you not understand boy-nature?" said my mistress. "One must appear to take everything for granted."

"I know," cried the girl. "But nothing that I could do would help. I am hateful to him!"

"But that is nonsense!" said Mme. Storey.

"No! No!" cried Miss Suffern. "He wrote to me. Nobody could have put it plainer. These were his words: 'The war has changed everything. The man you used to know is buried under tons and tons of French mud. I no longer care for you. It is better to state the brutal fact plainly once and for all.'"

"But, of course," murmured Mme. Storey, "if he had made up his mind that it was his duty to set you free, he would do it in good style, wouldn't he? He would take care not to let you suspect the real reason."

"Even if you are right," the girl said hopelessly, "what good does it do to bring it up now? The thing is ended!"

"Do you love him?" asked Mme. Storey softly.

She gave my mistress an extraordinary look. "Why should I go on making pretences?" she said suddenly. "I am sick of making pretences!...Yes! Yes! Yes!" she cried passionately. "I have loved him ever since I was a little girl! I rush about and rattle and laugh to try to fill my emptiness; but my life is a desert without Steve!"

"Well, his life is not exactly a garden," said my mistress dryly. "I wish you could have seen him as I saw him, sitting in the Park at the mercy of a mean and scoundrelly servant."

"What can I do?" asked Miss Suffern helplessly.

"Nothing of yourself," said Mme. Storey; "but, perhaps a third person..."

"I have my pride too," said the girl.

"I do not overlook that, my dear," said my mistress smiling.

Under stress of the situation they had both risen. Suddenly the girl cast herself into Mme. Storey's arms, and burst into tears. I made believe to remember that I had something to do in the next room.

From Miss Suffern we learned that Stephen Venson's man of business was Aemilius Woolfries of the firm of Woolfries, Dardan, Sempill and Woolfries, the eminent lawyers. On the following morning we went down to see him. His secretary informed us that appointments with Mr. Woolfries senior had to be made several days ahead. However, the name of Mme. Storey proved to be a passport, and we were shown in without waiting. Mr. Woolfries was an old gentleman of splendid presence, and beautiful manners. I suspected that his fine presence had contributed to his eminence more than brains, as I could see but little evidence of the latter.

When Mme. Storey told him of her suspicions in respect to the situation of Captain Venson, he smiled indulgently. He took the suggestion that the blind man was being victimised by his servants as a reflection upon himself, and pooh-poohed it without so much as examining into it. It appeared that our Captain was a relative of his.

"It is deeply regrettable that my cousin should have chosen to cut himself off in the manner that he has," said Mr. Woolfries, "and I assure you that I feel for him with all my heart. But after all, that is his own affair. As to his being a victim, I assure you there is nothing in it, my dear lady. I have taken all proper precautions against such a thing. Captain Venson is not a rich man, as you may have supposed. He owns the house in which he lives, and enjoys a sufficient income to keep it up in a modest style, but that is all. If there was any leakage it would immediately become apparent. He employs three or four men servants under the direction of a sort of major-domo, M. Pelletier, who is a very superior person. M. Pelletier acts as his butler and cook. Every month he brings me his accounts which I find in apple-pie order. M. Pelletier not only runs my cousin's establishment in admirable fashion--I make regular visits there to see for myself, but he is most prudent and economical in his expenditures. It is very good of you to interest yourself in poor Stephen's affairs, and I thank you. Is there anything else I can do for you?"

"Nothing, thank you," said Mme. Storey with her sweetest smile. "Good-morning."

Mr. Woolfries bowed us out with many compliments.

When the door closed Mme. Storey said to me: "Well, that's that. We will now go ahead without the assistance of that old pouter pigeon."

IV

On Friday evening, clad in our best bibs and tuckers, Mme. Storey and I wended our way towards Captain Venson's house. It was a pity that our host was blind, for my mistress, clad in one of the straight plain evening gowns that become her so well, never looked more beautiful. My breast was agitated by a deep stir of excitement which was hardly justified by the situation, for as yet we had nothing to go upon but mere suspicion. But there it was!

We were admitted to a handsome hall, reception room at the left, stairway at the back of the hall, winding up through the middle of the house. At the top of the first flight Captain Venson was waiting to greet us. In his evening clothes he looked handsomer than ever. Though very nervous, he was unfeignedly glad to see us. No reference was made to the exchange of notes between him and Mme. Storey.

I may say at once that the house was admirably kept throughout; you cannot deceive a woman as to that. One's fingers came away clean from the shelves; and there was no dust in the corners. So far, Mr. Woolfries was right then; but the feeling of disquiet in my breast grew and grew. For one thing, the house was too still; it made one shiver. And during the whole time that we were there I could not rid myself of the feeling that we were under espionage.

Returning to the main floor, Captain Venson led us into the drawing-room. He was able to make his way unaided about the rooms that he knew. The drawing-room, which occupied the whole width of the house, was a handsome apartment, sparingly furnished. Every object which might prove a trap for the blind master had been removed. This whole floor was practically one room; for the drawing-room was separated from the central hall merely by a row of pillars; another row of pillars marked off the dining-room at the rear. There were curtains hung within these pillars. The whole effect was more spacious and airy than you would ever have guessed from the outside of the house.

After a few moments conversation, the same servant who had let us in, drew back the dining-room curtains, and announced dinner. An exclamation of pleasure escaped Mme. Storey. The dining-room was in darkness except for the table itself, which was brightly illuminated by a galaxy of candles under pink shades. With the roses, the silver and crystal, set off against the snowy linen, the effect was charming.

Captain Venson smiled happily. "I'm so glad you're pleased," he said. "M. Pelletier saw to everything."

I began to have a great curiosity to set eyes upon this paragon among servants. The table was round, and small enough to conduce to a pleasant feeling of intimacy amongst the three of us. Captain Venson sat facing the sideboard with Mme. Storey on his right hand, I at his left. This brought me facing the pantry door which was in the back left-hand corner. There was another door at my left hand which I could see led to the service passage and stair. The same man waited on us; his name was Barker. He used the both doors that I have mentioned. They were old-fashioned service doors, swinging noiselessly in both directions, covered with green baize, and each having a small oblong piece of glass let in at the level of the eye. This was to prevent collisions between the servants when more than one was serving; but I could not help thinking what admirable peepholes they made. I had not a doubt but that we were well scanned during the progress of the meal.

The dinner was simple and delicious; a soup; an escalloped fish served in ramekins; salmi of duckling with olives. As the courses succeeded each other I observed that nothing required the use of a knife; thus our host was not obliged to betray his disabilities. Poor fellow! that was the reason, of course, why he would not dine out.

We had coffee and cigarettes before leaving the table. Stirring her cup, Mme. Storey said: "You have a wonderful cook."

"Yes, M. Pelletier," said Captain Venson smiling. "He makes things go smoothly. I am grateful to him. Before he took charge of me...!" He finished with an eloquent gesture.

"How long has he been with you?"

"Over two years."

"Look here," said Mme. Storey, "could we not ask him in in the old fashion, to congratulate him upon his dinner?"

"Certainly," said Captain Venson, "he would be tickled to pieces." Summoning Barker, he requested him to ask M. Pelletier to be good enough to step up to the dining-room for a moment.

We had to wait a few minutes for him. "He's changing his clothes," said Captain Venson, grinning.

It was so. M. Pelletier finally appeared from the service passage clad in a perfectly fitting cutaway coat, sharply creased trousers, and pointed shoes. Such a costume, I believe, is proper to the old custom too. I was hardly surprised to behold the same smooth, fat, dark-skinned face that I had seen in the Park. I knew at a glance that this was the man we had to deal with; the others were merely his creatures. But there was nothing hard or ugly about his expression now. Standing just within the doorway, bowing repeatedly from the waist, he seemed fairly to exude good nature.

"Miss Underhill asked to see you," said Captain Venson smiling.

M. Pelletier redoubled his bows. His whole make-up was of Paris; those pointed shoes, those striped trousers; even his hair was brushed in a French manner, and his lapel he wore the button of the legion d'honneur--or what appeared like it.

"I wanted to thank you for a wonderful dinner," said Mme. Storey. "Everything was delicious!"

M. Pelletier seemed to be almost overcome. "Ah merci! merci, mademoiselle," he cried with a whole fresh series of bows. "Mademoiselle ees too kind! One does one's poor best, mais dans l'Amerique--excuse me my Angleesh, in America one hardly looks for le vrai gout! Alas! les Americains do not care w'at dey eat!"

"It is not so in France, eh?"

"Ah, la Belle France!" he cried, kissing his finger tips. "Non! Non! mademoiselle, in my Paris dining is an art. You know Paris, hey?"

"Oh, I've been there," said Mme. Storey, "like all good Americans."

"Ees it not beautiful?" said M. Pelletier clasping his hands.

"I adore it," said Mme. Storey. "Tell me, in your salmi was there not a dash of Tarragon?"

"Ah! Mademoiselle has the true taste!" he cried rapturously. "But was eet too much?" he asked anxiously.

"No, indeed. Just a suspicion. It revealed the artist."

"Ah, mademoiselle! If I could cook for you toujours! What a happiness!"

"I say," protested Captain Venson humorously, "you'll be taking him away from me directly!"

"No such luck!" retorted Mme. Storey. "I haven't a kitchen worthy of such an artist."

"Ah, mademoiselle," breathed M. Pelletier with his hand on his heart, "eef I could just once make for you les copuilles Alceste Pelletier! Eet ees mon chef d'oeuvre!"

"Well, perhaps Captain Venson will ask us to dinner again."

More compliments passed to and fro. The man was an admirable actor. One could see by the brightness of his eye that he was really enjoying this comedy. His French sounded all right to me; but I knew if it was not perfect it would never get by Mme. Storey; France is her second country.

When M. Pelletier was bowing himself out a thought seemed to strike him. Returning, he said to Captain Venson: "Pardonnez moi, monsieur. Maybe when you 'ave risen, mademoiselle would like me to show her the house? It would be a pleasure to show a friend of monsieur's that we take good care of him."

"Nonsense!" said his master. "What does she want to look at an old house for?"

Mme. Storey clapped her hands together. "Oh, yes!" she cried. "If there's anything I love it's to explore a strange house. Do let him show us, Captain!"

"Certainly, if you would enjoy it," he said smiling.

"We have finished our coffee," said my mistress. "Let us go now."

As we left the dining-room she whispered to me: "His French is rotten! He's no Frenchman!"

In making this proposal to look at the house, the clever man over-reached himself. His very anxiety to prove to us that everything was all right suggested that there was something wrong. The time was not wasted for us, for the knowledge of the house that we gained on this tour was to prove of inestimable benefit to us later. M. Pelletier led the way; Mme. Storey and Captain Venson followed; and I brought up the rear. My mistress slipped her hand through the blind man's arm. In this manner while appearing to hang on to him, she was enabled to steer him around the difficult corners. Apart from the certain rooms which he frequented, the rest of the house was strange territory to its owner.

First the entrance floor which had been the basement of the original house. In front was the rectangular hall which I have already referred to, with a reception room alongside. Back of the reception room was a large cloak-room to be used when there was an entertainment; and back of this the kitchen looking out on a yard. The yard was no more than a small paved court surrounded by lofty blank walls. On the side of the house opposite to the main entrance a narrow passage ran through from the service stair at the back to a service entrance on the street.

On the floor above were drawing-room, central hall and dining-room as I have described; pantry occupying the rear extension. Above that again, Captain Venson's bedroom occupied the front of the house with dressing-room and bath adjoining. A large, well-lighted room, it was as bare as a monk's cell; the soldier's taste was revealed. The only ornament it contained was the sculptured head of a beautiful woman over the fireplace. I looked closer and beheld--Gloria Suffern! Poor fellow! A photograph would have been of no use to him, of course; but one could see him when he was alone, wistfully passing his fingers over the bronze features.

"What a charming head!" said Mme. Storey. "Who is it?"

"Oh, nobody in particular," he said hastily. "Just an ideal head that I picked up at Gorham's. My friends tell me it's a good piece of work."

The rear of this floor was occupied by the bedroom where Mme. Storey and I had taken off our things, with a dressing-room in the extension. The floor above was similarly planned.

"Captain Venson, he make me take the front room on this floor," said M. Pelletier deprecatingly. "Mr. Belding, he sleep in the rear."

"Oh, there are plenty of spare rooms," said his master. "They might as well be used."

The floor above, which was the top floor, was divided into a number of smaller rooms. The other servants slept up here. In addition to Barker, there was a kitchen man named Gumpold, whom we did not see on this occasion. M. Pelletier exhibited the front rooms and the rear rooms, but there was also, as we could see, a middle room which he passed over. He hesitated for a second by the door of this room as if inviting a question concerning it; but Mme. Storey did not put it, and, of course, I did not. This ended the tour of inspection. I must say again, that the whole house was beautifully kept.

Afterwards Mme. Storey, Captain Venson and I returned to the drawing-room, where my mistress opened the grand piano, and played and sang to the infinite delight of our host. He listened in a trance of pleasure. It would have wrung your heart with compassion to see him sitting there with his wistful, sightless eyes, and a half smile playing about his lips. As we were leaving he said simply: "This has been one of the best nights I can remember. You spoke of coming again. Did you mean it?"

"Rather!" said Mme. Storey.

"Make it soon," he pleaded.

"How about next Friday night?" This astonished me, for she was booked to sail on the French line on Thursday.

"Friday's all right if it may not be sooner."

"On Friday, then."

M. Pelletier himself did us the honour to open the front door. "I hope Mademoiselle is pleased with every thing," he said deferentially.

"More than pleased," said Mme. Storey. "You are a marvellous housekeeper, M. Pelletier."

She did not mention that we were coming again. He would learn that soon enough from his master.

As we drove away in a taxi I said: "Why did you put off our next visit for a week?"

"I need the time to make an outside investigation."

"But your ship?"

"I shall take a later one. I am resolved to get to the bottom of this matter."

"What do you suspect?"

She shrugged.

"I don't know. But the key to the mystery is to be found in that middle room on the top floor. There was somebody in that room. I heard him creep to the door to listen while we were in the passage."

"Why didn't you ask about the room?"

"Because Pelletier wished me to. He was primed with an explanation. We must have a look in there without consulting him, my Bella."

V

On the following morning we went down to Police Headquarters to consult our old friend Inspector Rumsey. Mme. Storey described to him the curious situation that we had stumbled on.

"Do you want me to act?" he asked.

"Not yet," she said, "let us find out first what we are up against. But you might help us to see if we can identify any of our men from the photographs you have on file here."

We set to work. If there is any job more tedious than that of scanning hundreds of photographs I have yet to find it. The expression of a man facing a police camera is always the same, and the monotony of this endless succession of hard blank faces has a hypnotic effect. Presently you find yourself looking at them without seeing a thing, and have to turn back.

However, it fell to my share to make the most important find. As my eyes were skating over the pictures they were arrested by a peculiarly wary look in a pair of dark eyes looking out from a smooth plump face. M. Pelletier! This was the history attached to the card:

"Daniel Devore or Vore; swindler. Has used many aliases, but is widely known throughout the underworld as French Dan. (A description of his physical characteristics followed). A well educated man, of considerable intelligence; and a voluble and persuasive talker, his specialty is crimes involving elaborate deceit, rather than crimes of violence. Will put up a fight though, if cornered. Has been on the stage; is a good actor, and a master of the art of make-up. Rarely seen without some sort of disguise; prides himself on being able to mystify his closest associates. Enjoys a great reputation amongst younger criminals, and never has any difficulty in surrounding himself with a gang. Has served a term at Sing Sing prison 1909-1913. Arrested many times since, but always escaped conviction."

"French Dan!" said Mme. Storey, looking over my shoulder.

"I've heard of him."

"One of the worst!" growled Inspector Rumsey. "Slippery as an eel, as I know to my cost. He made a monkey of me in the Stock Exchange swindle, two years ago. Since then he's dropped out of sight."

"Two years," said Mme. Storey. "That's just the period of his employment by Captain Venson. I am sure he has not been idle."

Mme. Storey found the other two men we were looking for. Belding's sickly face was revealed as that of one Henry Mappin, alias "Collars." According to the card, he wore this particular style of collar to hide a conspicuous scar on his neck. He was a former clerk who had first gone to jail for robbing his employer's till. Since then he had specialised in cheque raising. Barker's stiff thatch which even pomade was unable to subdue, was easy to pick out. It appeared that he was known to the police as Sawney Feehan. Starting as a mere pickpocket he had risen to be a sneak thief. Though still under thirty, he had served three prison sentences, and was at present wanted for another robbery.

"A pretty crew!" commented the Inspector.

Mme. Storey's next step was to put a watch on the Venson house. Because of its situation this happened be easy. As I have stated it faced the Park; at this point the East Drive runs along within a yard or two of the street, but at a higher level; seated on a bench alongside the drive, therefore, partly screened from the street by leaves, our men had a first-rate view of the house they were set to watch. We put Emmerich and Shannon on the job; good men, both of them. I quote from Emmerich's first report.

"At 2.15 p.m. a stout dark-complexioned man about fifty years old came out of the house; neatly and plainly dressed; had a cagey eye. He corresponded to the description furnished me of the wanted man. He stood on the curb, and hailed a taxi. According to instructions I had a cab waiting handy, and I followed. He drove to number--West 14th Street, paid off his taxi and went in. This is an old house now rented out in cheap unfurnished rooms. The front door is always open, and anybody can go in and out without attracting attention.

"I watched from a drug-store across the street. In about half an hour he came out again, but fixed up so his own mother wouldn't have known him. He would have got by me all right if I hadn't been warned that he was an expert in disguise. He had made his face look all red and puffy, like, and whitened his hair; stuck on a big white moustache. He was all dressed up like an old dude; elegant blue suit, grey spats, grey stick as he walked. He had changed his whole expression to suit; looked like a regular sport. It was the best make-up I ever saw; he come right out into the strong sunlight and got away with it.

"First he walked around to Seventh Avenue, and bought a buttonhole bouquet at a florist's. Then he hailed another taxi. I lost a minute getting a cab, but I managed to follow. He got out at Madison Square, and walked up the Avenue, admiring himself in the plate glass windows, and giving every pretty woman the glad eye. Went into ----'s store. Stopped at the jewellery counter and priced some cuff links in a funny gobbling sort of voice. This was just a stall; he didn't mean to buy anything. Walked right through the store, and hailed another taxi on Madison Avenue. I followed.

"He drove to--Fifth Avenue, a big office building. Went up in the elevator to the offices of the Sterling Securities, a big mail order investment house. There is a big waiting-room there with plenty of people sitting round, so I was able to wait for him without attracting notice. But he never came out again. After waiting an hour and a half I made some inquiries, and I found that the Securities Company occupies two floors. They have their own private stairway, and my man must have gone up that, and got out from the floor above without my seeing him. I'm sorry I fell down on this. Will try to do better next time. I don't believe he was on to me following him; he's just naturally a cagey guy."

So much for Emmerich. Shannon meanwhile had been left on watch. He reported:

"After Emmerich left me nobody entered or left the house until four o'clock, when Captain Venson came out with his attendant. As I had been instructed not to bother with them, I let them go. Shortly after five another party came out, smallish, nervous-looking, dark-haired man about fifty-three years old, I should say, but it's hard to say about that dried-up kind. Wore glasses and walked stooping; needed a hair cut bad. Dressed kind of foreign with an old cutaway coat that was too big for him, and a black velour hat though the weather is so hot. Walked along kind of creeping and timid, like as if he was afraid of being looked at. Had the look of a professor down on his luck.

"I hadn't any instruction about this man, but thought I better follow him on the chance. Nothing came of it. He just walked through to Third Avenue and walked up and down nowhere in particular, gaping in the store windows, and sometimes just standing on a corner. In about forty-five minutes he came back and went in. Seemed like he was just taking the air."

VI

On Monday morning she sent for Benny Abell. I've had occasion to mention Benny before in respect to other cases. As you may remember, he was an ex-hold-up man who was famous for his daring exploits not so long ago. He generally worked single-handed. He was not a natural born thief, but the victim of circumstances; consequently when Mme. Storey gave him a chance to go straight, he took it and he stuck to it. He's a small, keen man of thirty-five, who could pass for ten years younger. He was never a sneak thief nor a clever schemer, but a brave man who took his life in his hands every time he turned a trick. He is naturally one of the squarest men I have ever known. It is not often we are able to use him in our business, because everything connected with his former life is hateful to him now; but on one or two occasions he has been of great service to us.

"Benny," said Mme. Storey, "do you know a crook called French Dan."

"Sure," he said, "everybody knows French Dan. Back in 1920 I turned a trick with him. He has always made out to think a heap of me, but that's all a con."

"Would you be willing to help me land him?"

"Sure," said Benny quickly. "He's a skunk."

"Hm!" said Mme. Storey, "if he knows that you think he's a skunk, you wouldn't be much use to me in this."

"But he doesn't know it," said Benny. "He treated me square enough because he had need of me. It was others I was thinking of. French Dan is the sort of man who gets off and his pals go to jail."

"I get you," said Mme. Storey. "He's up to some crooked work now that involves a helpless friend of mine, and I want you to find out for me what the game is. Would you know how to get in touch with him?"

"I could give a good guess," said Benny. "There's a little social club down in Chrystie Street where he used to hang out. If he no longer goes there himself, some of the fellows will put me on to him."

"Well, go to it," said Mme. Storey. She laid out the situation to him as far as we knew it.

On Tuesday morning we got Benny's first report in the mail. It ran: "I went down to the Pleasure Club, Monday afternoon. I didn't have any trouble getting in, because there was a fellow there I knew called Lam Cregan. He squared me with the bunch. Seems my name is still remembered amongst them. It is known that I was a member of the Varick Street gang which was broken up by Mme. Storey last year, and that I made a getaway. What they do not know is, that it was Mme. Storey who helped me get clear; and that she afterwards got the outstanding sentence against me cancelled. As far as these fellows know, this unexpired sentence is still hanging over me, so they regard me as safe. I accounted for myself the last year by saying I had made a bit of money out of my operations, and had been knocking about to see the world, and just got back broke. I fed them a lot of dope about London and Paris and so on, and they were too ignorant to know the difference.

"The club occupies the second floor of an old building down there. They hang out a sign and all, and everything looks open and regular; but it's purely a crook's hangout, and any straight fellow that got in there would be like a fish out of water. It's supposed to be under the protection of--(Benny named a local politician); but I don't know anything about that. You might know what it was by the fact that it's crowded in the day-time when straight fellows are working. They've got an old pool table and a broken down piano. Some play cards.

"I played cards all afternoon with Lam Cregan, and a couple of other fellows. I didn't want to let on what I was after, but it wasn't necessary, because Lam himself let fall the name of French Dan. He's a famous man amongst that bunch. They all know he's a skunk, but they admire him because he seems to get away with it.

"'Where's French Dan now?' I asked.

"'Oh, he's battling around town,' said Lam. 'He comes in here nearly every night at ten o'clock. Seems he's working some graft that keeps him busy all day.'

"'What is it?' I asked.

"'You can search me! French Dan's got a close mouth. But I'll say it must be something good, for he's lousy with jack.'

"That was all then. Lam and I had our dinner in a restaurant, and went back to the club after. Sure enough, in comes French Dan, all dressed up to the nines, and sporting a diamond as big as a cranberry. You'd think I was his long-lost brother the way he pumps my arm up and down and beats me between the shoulders. Right away I seen in his cagey eye that he wanted to use me in some way. So it seems I have met up with him just at the psychological moment as they say.

"But, of course, nothing came out right away. French Dan ordered in liquor for the bunch in honour of my return, and there was a lot of racket and carrying on. He said he had to get home early, so about 11.30 the two of us got out, leaving the others drinking. We walked up town together. French Dan talked a whole lot without saying much, in the way he does. We made a date to meet at the corner of Broadway and 42nd the next night at nine o'clock. He said he couldn't get off before that. He said we'd take in a show and all. At Delancey Street he hopped in a taxi and left me."

On Wednesday morning we received this from Benny Abell:

"French Dan and I met on Tuesday night as agreed. He took me to the Winter Garden, best seats in the house, and afterwards blew me to a swell feed at the Elysia Night Club. The whole racket must have set him back a good twenty-five. All the time he was sort of beating round the bush, telling me what a nervy fellow I was and all, feeling me out, like. And, of course, I played up to him by making out I was flat broke and ready for anything. When we were through eating he suggested we better go to a room he had where we could talk quiet. So we hailed a taxi. His room was at--West Fourteenth Street. It was a crummy looking joint with nothing in it but a big dressing-table to make-up at, and any God's amount of clothes hanging on racks. French Dan always was bugs on disguising himself.

"'Same old stunt!' I says.

"'Well, it's the same and not the same,' he says grinning. 'I admit I get my amusement this way, but it's very valuable in our business, too. I can go right into Police Headquarters and lay a complaint against myself without any of the dicks getting wise.'

"'But who wants to go into Police Headquarters,' I says.

"By-and-by he makes out he has an impulse to confide in me. 'Benny,' says he, 'I've got the finest plant I ever had in my life. I've been working at it for two years now, and whenever I am ready to cash in I'll be a rich man.'

"'What is it?' I asks.

"'I can't tell you that,' he says, wagging his hand. ''Tain't that I don't trust you, Benny, but I got to think of the fellows that's in with me.'

"I said nothing.

"'Just the same, I wish to God I'd had you in with me from the beginning,' he says.

"'Well, I was right here,' I says.

"'I know,' he says, 'but I didn't rightly know your worth then.'

"I let it go at that.

"'It's a bunch of dummies that I got in with me, he said disgusted like. 'Boneheads! I got to do everything myself. It ties me down.'

"'It's a darn shame,' I says.

"'And that's not the worst of it,' he went on. 'You can't blame a man for being dumb; that's nature's fault; but if he's yellow that's another story. One of my men's got a yellow streak in him. I believe he'd rat on me if he got the chance. I admit I'm anxious.'

"'Who is it?' I asked.

"'Sawney Feehan.'

"'Never heard of him.'

"'I got to eliminate him,' French Dan went on, 'but I can't do that neither, until I can put my hands on a man to take his place.'

"This spiel of French Dan's kind of struck a chill into me. When he spoke of 'eliminating' a fellow who was in with him, it could mean nothing more nor less than murder. God knows I don't want to assist at a murder. But I had gone too far to back out, so I just nodded my head.

"Finally it came out plump and plain: 'Would you consider an offer to come in with me, Benny?'

"I wasn't going to jump down his throat, of course. 'I'd have to know what it was first,' I says.

"'No,' he says, 'you'll have to trust me. You know me, Benny. All I can tell you now is, it's the biggest thing I've ever pulled!'

"'Well, what is there in it for me?' I asks.

"'I was just coming to that,' says French Dan. 'You see me and the other boys has been working at this for over two years. And now the time is ripe for a clean-up. I expected to carry it on for a while yet, but I don't want to risk what we've got by trying to get too much. So we've decided to clean-up. Within two weeks the whole thing will be settled. Now, just coming in for the last two weeks, you can't expect to share on the same basis as them that's been in it from the start.'

"'Sure!' I says. 'I ain't a hog. What do I get?'

"'One per cent.,' he said.

"'One per cent!' I hollers. 'What the hell do you think I am!'

"'Keep your shirt on,' he says. 'One per cent. will net you fifteen thousand or more. Not a bad cut for two weeks' work if you ask me.'

"'One per cent. hell!' I grumbled.

"'Well, never mind the percentage,' says he. 'I'll guarantee you fifteen thousand flat.'

"'Not enough,' says I, and we argued it back and forth. Finally I got him up to twenty thousand, and we shook hands on it.

"'What have I got to do?' I asks.

"'We're all playing the part of servants in a rich man's house,' says he, 'and you'll have to be one, too. Can you answer the door bell and wait on the table?'

"'I can make a stab at it, if you will coach me,' I says, grinning.

"'It won't matter,' he says, 'because your master is blind.'

"I made as if to draw back at this. 'Hell!' I says, 'I don't want to turn no trick against no blind man!'

"'You don't get it, Benny,' he says; 'you ain't within a thousand miles of it! This is something new, this is. You'd never guess it. We don't intend any harm to the blind man. We're just using him as a cover for our operations.'

"'Will you swear it?' I says.

"'There's my hand on it,' says he. 'We ain't agoing to harm him, neither in his person nor his pocket-book!'

"You never can believe what French Dan says, but in this particular, from the way he said it, I think it's on the level.

"So we appeared to come to an agreement at last; and French Dan instructed me to call at Captain Venson's house at nine o'clock Wednesday morning. He promised to supply me with a suit to wear while serving, but told me to bring my own stuff in a bag, as maybe he wouldn't be able to let me out for a day or two. He will undoubtedly watch me like a cat in the beginning, so I may not be able to communicate with you for a bit."

VII

This brings me to the most exciting night of my whole life. I hope I may never experience such another. I am not brave like my wonderful mistress; I hate suspense and danger. It makes me savage.

Of course, I knew it was no pink tea that was before us, and my heart was beating fast as I went down the four steps that led to Captain Venson's door. I received my first shock when the door was opened to us by Benny Abell himself, though this was natural enough; but something in his face warned me of trouble. To all appearances the correct and deferential man-servant, Benny's face was very pale, and his eyes showed a strained look. He appeared to wish to bar our ingress.

"Don't come in!" he whispered out of the corner of his mouth. "It is dangerous!"

My heart seemed to stop beating then. He could say no more, for the smiling, unctuous face of M. Pelletier was to be seen in the hall behind him. If Benny wished to keep Mme. Storey out, he had certainly gone the worst way about it, for she is never one to take a dare. She walked in with a cool smile, and I had to follow her, of course, though I was half-paralysed with terror. All the strength seemed to have run out of my legs. "Good-evening, M. Pelletier," said my mistress in her ringing voice; "have you got les coquilles Alceste Pelletier for us?"

"Bon soir, bon soir, mademoiselle," said the smiling scoundrel, bowing repeatedly. "Oui! Oui! Oui! Les coquilles sont prêt! The what you say? scallops were brought down from Boston by aeroplane especially for your dinner!"

"Flatterer!" said Mme. Storey.

The major-domo had in the meantime dismissed Benny with a curt nod. He now led us up the stairway. On the first landing stood Captain Venson smiling and colouring with pleasure. My breast warmed over him. In that dreadful house here was something that was simple and honest.

M. Pelletier waited with his foot on the bottom step of the next flight. It seemed to me that there was something unspeakably sinister in that unctuous smile of his. "Follow me, mesdemoiselles," he purred, when greetings had been exchanged.

"Don't trouble yourself," said Mme. Storey. "We know the way now."

"Permettez-moi," he insisted. "Eet ees an honour!" He led us up to the bedroom we had used upon our former visit. Mme. Storey closed the door behind us, and stood listening.

"He is waiting outside," she whispered. "He suspects we might try to do a little exploring...Let us explore," she added suddenly. "Listen, Bella; while I hold him in talk, you run up the service star to the top floor. You saw the ladder leading to the roof. The scuttle is fastened down with hooks on the inside. Fix the position of that inside room in your mind, and go up through the scuttle, taking care to make no noise. That room is bound to have a skylight. Snake your way across the roof and take a peep through it!"

Imagine my feelings upon receiving these commands! There was nothing for it but to obey, though. Mme. Storey, bending over, ripped open a seam at the bottom of her skirt. Upon the dressing-table amongst every conceivable article that might be required in the feminine toilet, was a housewife containing needles and silk thread. With a sign to me not to start until she got the man going, my mistress picked up the housewife and went outside, closing the door. I listened with my ear at the crack.

"Look, M. Pelletier, I tore my dress in getting out of the taxi. Skirts are so tight nowadays! Miss Chalmers has never learned to sew, and neither have I. Our fingers are all thumbs. But you are so clever I am sure you could. Will you please?"

Hearing him murmur: "Certainement, mademoiselle! Avec plaisir!" I waited for no more, but kicked off my slippers, and ran out through the dressing-room to the service passage, and up the stairs. Two flights. On the top floor I was sure I could hear sounds of some one moving in the hidden room. Hastening up the ladder, I unhooked the scuttle. The damned thing stuck, and I could have wept with chagrin. However, I was only delayed for a moment. Putting my back under it, I raised up, and it came free with only a little noise. There was a stick which came down and held it open. I drew myself out on the roof, and crept on all fours to the skylight which I knew must be over the hidden room. I peeped through it, taking care not to show any more of my head than necessary.

Well, in a word, what I saw beneath me was a miniature bureau of printing and engraving; steel plates, acid baths, engravers' tools; a shelf with a row of pots containing coloured inks. At one end of the room was a printing press of a design that was new to me. It was a hand press, and must have been practically noiseless for its rollers were covered with many layers of felt. I have since learned that it is the kind of press ordinarily used by artists in printing etchings. There was a man working at it, whom I recognised from his unkempt hair and meagre frame as the "professor." Even as I looked he was pulling the big levers towards him that drew plate and paper between the rollers. When the plate returned, he pulled off the paper, and examined it. A ten dollar bill! The operation was slow, since he had to ink the plate by hand for every impression. Even so, I suppose he was able to print hundreds in a day. So this was the source of the million and a half! On a table at the side of the room there was a pile of completed bills that must have represented many thousands of dollars.

All this I got in a second or two, you understand. I was afraid to linger in case the workman might look up. Creeping back through the scuttle, I softly let it down, and hooked it, then I flew down the back stairs. I dreaded that some discovery might have been made below. As a matter of fact, I don't suppose I was gone five minutes in all, and Mme. Storey was certainly clever enough to have kept M. Pelletier engaged for twice that time, had it been necessary. When I regained the bedroom she was still jollying the major-domo outside the door. I moved a chair to let her know that I had returned. She presently came in smiling; questioning me with her eyes. I whispered to her what I had seen. She nodded without making any comment except to press my hand. There was a telephone on a stand at the head of the bed. She took down the receiver--and presently hung it up again.

"As I expected, dead," she murmured.

I suppose I was as pale as a ghost. "This will never do," she said, smiling. Leading me to the dressing-table, she rubbed a little rouge into my cheeks. "Smile, my Bella," she said cheerily. "It is a woman's best armour!" We issued gaily out of the room, arm in arm. M. Pelletier appeared never to look at me. He led the way down stairs. My mistress continued to chaff him.

"I hope you took into account the time necessary for a woman to titivate, M. Pelletier. I should never forgive myself if the coquilles were dried up."

"Les coquilles wait upon your good pleasure, mademoiselle. Zey are lucky to get zemselves eaten by you at any hour!"

Mme. Storey laughed like a girl. Immediately after we returned to the main floor dinner was announced, and we entered the dining-room.

VIII

Abell waited upon the table, and M. Pelletier remained in the room throughout, presiding over the sideboard. Ostensibly this was to do us honour; but in reality, of course, it was to enable him to watch us all, and especially Abell. Abell was clever enough to play the part of a well-trained servant very creditably; but he could not hide his agitation from us, who knew him so well. This more than anything else unnerved me; for I knew Abell as a man of iron nerve. His fears were not on his own account, but on ours. He worshipped the very ground that Mme. Storey trod on.

The soup was followed by the famous coquilles. I suppose the dish was delicious, but I was incapable of appreciating it. It was composed of several sorts of sea food artfully combined, dressed with a wonderful white sauce, and baked on scallop shells. Mme. Storey told me afterwards it was nothing in the world but Coquilles St. Jacques, a dish well-known in Paris, which M. Pelletier had simply re-christened in his own honour.

Throughout the meal M. Pelletier played with Abell like a cat with a mouse. He could see as well as we could that Abell was burning for an opportunity to communicate with my mistress. With almost a caressing air the major-domo hovered over him, under pretence of showing him the proper way of doing this and that. Always kind and patient and tactful. At a moment when Abell went into the pantry, he apologised to us for his newness.

"A handy fellow, but ees not yet accustom' to the niceties of sairving."

"I like my new servant," said Captain Venson to Mme. Storey. "He has a voice that doesn't grate on one. What does he look like?"

"A good-looking lad in a poker game with the cards running against him," said Mme. Storey.

Captain Venson laughed. "I get the picture!"

Abell returned from the pantry bearing three rolls on a salver. We each took one. Now Mme. Storey ordinarily does not eat bread with her dinner, and when I saw her break her roll up, and convey part of it to her mouth, I guessed that there was something unusual about that roll. I took the occasion in breaking a piece of my roll, to turn it over, and glance surreptitiously at the bottom. There, pencilled on the hard crust, I read this message: "He knows you."

My breath failed me for a moment. Danger loomed very close. As from a little distance I heard Mme. Storey still chafing Captain Venson. It enabled me to pull myself together.

I realised that Abell, not knowing which roll Mme. Storey would take, must have scribbled his message on the bottom of each. The third roll was lying disregarded by Captain Venson's plate. I glanced at it, longing to see him break it up and destroy the telltale message; but no such luck. M. Pelletier had his eye on it, too. Coming forward upon the pretext of filling his master's wine glass, he contrived to knock the roll to the floor. Picking it up, he handed it to Abell with a gesture ordering him to replace it. Of course, M. Pelletier read the message in that moment.

My breast became tight. I glanced across at my mistress. Of what use was it to keep up the comedy now? Should we not have sprung from our chairs and made a break to escape from that terrible house? Abell would have followed us. I got no encouragement from her. She was saying to Captain Venson in her unconcerned voice, speaking of the violinist: "He's playing that in E minor. It would be amusing to try to accompany him on the piano."

What a woman! I was obliged to sit tight, and control my shaking nerves as best as I could. Mme. Storey was right, of course. The front door was a long way off. Any attempt to escape would only have involved our blind host in the affair to his cost.

A moment or two later Abell went into the pantry for coffee. On this occasion M. Pelletier followed him out. Abell never returned. I heard a smothered exclamation from behind the pantry door, and slight sounds of a scuffle--so slight that Captain Venson's attention was not attracted. I felt sick with apprehension. Mme. Storey's face hardened, but she never interrupted her talk with our host. What could she do? She was unarmed. How can a woman arm herself when she goes out in evening dress?

Mme. Storey looked at me significantly; and from me towards the head of the stairway outside. I got the suggestion, and slipping out of my chair, ran to the stairs, and peeped down. Beside the front door lounged the figure of a man with his hands in his pocket, a big man with a brutal face. This was Gumpold the kitchen man. Returning to my chair, I let Mme. Storey understand with a look that there was no escape that way.

After a considerable wait Mr. Pelletier re-entered the room with a murmured apology. His face bore an ugly smile. At his heels came Barker with the coffee; Barker's sullen face also showed signs of the trouble below stairs. As he handed the cups, Captain Venson became aware that the servant had been changed. "Where is Abell?" he asked mildly.

"Very sorry, monsieur; Abell, he feel indispose'," murmured Mr. Pelletier, with a hateful, complacent air. "Barker will finish serving."

I wondered if they had murdered our friend.

After passing the cigarettes the servants withdrew, and did not appear again. When Mme. Storey had finished her coffee, she said casually:

"Shall I sing to you?"

"I was hoping you would!" said Captain Venson eagerly.

Singing at such a moment! It was like an irrational nightmare!

IX

Mme. Storey sat down at the piano, while Captain Venson, taking a fresh cigarette, flung himself back in an easy-chair with an anticipatory smile on his handsome face. My mistress ran her hands idly over the keys, then paused as if to consider what she should sing. Summoning me to her side with a nod, she whispered in my ear: "There's a telephone booth in the left-hand corner of the hall adjoining the service door. While I am singing, see if you can get a connection. Call Inspector Rumsey..."

"Can't you make up your mind?" put in Captain Venson. "Sing that German song you sang last time. What was it? Der Schönste Engel."

"So sentimental," objected Mme. Storey. The real reason she didn't want to sing it was that it was too short.

"But I liked it," he persisted.

"I suppose my taste is bad."

By elaborating the accompaniment she made it last out long enough for me to accomplish my purpose. I need only say that I found the instrument dead. The wires had been cut. The crafty M. Pelletier was not likely to overlook anything so obvious as that. On my way back, I peeped down stairs, and saw that Gumpold was no longer in sight. Re-entering the drawing-room I spread out my hands to indicate to my mistress that there was nothing doing on the telephone.

When I could get a chance I whispered to her imploringly: "There is no one by the front door now. Let's make a break for it. What else can we do?"

She shook her head firmly. "We'd never make it. The moment the music stops they would be on the alert again. It is only when they hear me singing that they relax their watch..." This while her fingers were playing back and forth over the keys.

"Sing 'Greeting,'" begged Captain Venson.

"All right," she answered. "If I can remember how it begins."

He hummed the air for her a bit off tune.

"Bella," whispered Mme. Storey in my ear, "while I am singing this song have you got nerve enough to steal down the service stair and see what they are up to?"

My heart sunk like a stone; Mme. Storey never recollects, of course, that others may not be as brave as herself; but I clenched my teeth together and nodded.

"Should you meet any of them say that you want to call a taxi and you can't get the telephone to answer."

She started the song. Her voice was as clear and unfaltering as a mellow peal of bells.

Sweetheart, when you walk my way,
Be it night or be it day;
Dreary winter, fairy May,
I shall know and greet you."

I started to kick off my shoes, but she stopped me with a frown. And, of course, if I had met anybody in my stocking-feet, I could never have accounted for myself. So I stole out in my shoes.

The dining-room was dark. How could I know whether anybody was concealed there watching us? I had marked the position of the light switch, and I turned it on. The room was empty. Crossing it, my heart failed me utterly as I put out my hand to push open the door into the service passage. I was so sure I would find somebody behind it. But I went through nevertheless. The passage was dark. I dared not make a light here for fear of betraying my coming to those below. I could not tell whom I might stumble over. I stole down the stairs, guiding myself with a hand on the rail. There was a similar swing door on the lower landing, and it also had a little oblong piece of glass let in at eye level. A beam of light was coming through it.

I peeped through, and the extremity of my fear was a little relieved, for I saw at a glance that the whole gang was gathered in the kitchen; French Dan, the "Professor," Belding, Barker, and Gumpold. But Benny Abell was not anywhere to be seen. For the moment the crooks had forgotten about us. There was trouble between them; their faces were hot and they were angrily disputing, though they kept their voices low.

I had not to look far before discovering the cause of the trouble. Good Heavens! Never in my life have I had such a shock of astonishment. I simply could not believe my eyes. On the kitchen table, under the light, lay a leather suitcase with the cover thrown back, and it was full, literally running over with jewellery. None of your cheap stuff, but only gems of the rarest and choicest description. A mass of diamonds winking under the light like little suns; and I could also catch the creamy glimmer of pearls, the green fire of emeralds, and rubies like bright drops of blood. Imagine a mass of necklaces, bracelets, pins and rings, thrown in anyhow. Some of the smaller objects had dropped out on the table. The value of the stuff was simply beyond computation. I was reminded of the pictures of Aladdin's cave that I had looked at in my childhood.

These swinging doors do not fit very closely, and I could hear almost as well as if I had been in the room with them. French Dan was standing in front of the table in an attitude that suggested he was trying to protect the loot from his rapacious men. I heard him say:

"You get back to the front door, Gumpold, and keep watch."

"Aah," growled Gumpold, "I guess I got a voice in decidin' this matter, ain't I? She can't make a sneak while she's singin' and playin'. I'll slip back as soon as the music stops."

French Dan turned to Barker. This was the one whom Abell had said he had had trouble with. "Go on up to the dining-room, and keep your eye on them."

"To hell with it!" retorted Barker. "I want to know what we're gonna do. I don't trust you, Dan, and you know it! You'd double-cross us all if you got the chance. You're noted for it!"

"You're a liar!" cried French Dan.

"Easy, fellows! Easy, for God's sake!" begged the little Professor in a panic. "If we get to quarrelling everything will be lost!"

The disputants quietened down. There was some mumbled talk that I could not catch. I was wild, as you may suppose, to learn what they were going to do; but Mme. Storey was nearing the end of her song. There were only four verses to it. As soon as she stopped I knew that Barker would return to the dining-room. I had often heard her sing the song. She came to the words: "Here or in the courts of Heaven," which are twice repeated, and I turned and ran noiselessly back up the service stairs.

As I entered the drawing-room, Captain Venson was in the act of praising Mme. Storey for the song. How strange the contrast between that elegant couple in the drawing-room, and the hot-eyed thieves disputing over the treasure in the kitchen! I was barely in time, for Captain Venson turned to the chair where I had been sitting, saying:

"Don't you like that song, Miss Chalmers?"

"It is one of my favourites," I said, trying not to gasp the words out.

Mme. Storey could see by my face that I had startling information. While she played a sort of intermezzo I whispered to her what I had seen. Captain Venson was talking away, and we had to give one ear to him. My mistress's face turned grave, but she never let the music stop for a moment. She whispered:

"Are you willing to try again while I sing another song?"

I nodded. I had been through so much by this time, nothing seemed to matter.

"Sing 'Widmung,'" said Captain Venson. This is another short song.

"After awhile," said Mme. Storey. "Here is one I haven't sung you."

She started the introduction to the Serjeant version of "Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind." This is an old-fashioned song with many repetitions and an elaborate accompaniment that would give me more time. Mme. Storey cunningly interpolated additional repetitions.

"I will make it last five minutes or more," she whispered.

A moment or two later I again had my eye within a couple of inches of the little pane in the kitchen door. All five of the men were still there; still arguing. Gumpold was speaking at the moment that I returned to my post.

"I'm a reasonable man. I admit he's the boss, and I'm willing to obey orders as long as I'm satisfied. But at that I've got the right to have my say. For over two years we been workin' on this plant, and we ain't cashed in a cent. Now we got this damned female dick in the house, and we stand to lose everything we worked for. Well, what we gonna do about it, that's what I want to know!"

Barker broke in passionately: "I told you from the first we ought to have sold the jewels as fast as Dan bought 'em in with the phony bills. But you wouldn't listen to me. And now where are we?"

"Yeah," retorted Dan, "and if we had cashed in as we went along, what would have happened, eh? You would have thrown your money around, and got drunk and blabbed, and within three months the game would have been broke up, and us behind the bars. We went over this in the beginning, and you all agreed it was worth while to save the stuff up for the sake of gettin' a big stake at the final clean-up. What's the use of grousing now?"

"That's all right," said Barker, "but the woman is on to us now. What about our stake now?"

"Well, is it my fault that she's in the house?" snarled Dan. "That's just an accident, kind of."

"Was it an accident that you brought Benny Abell into the house?"

"Well, he can't do no more harm."

"Accident or no, she's on to us," grumbled Gumpold. "What we gonna do?"

"She isn't on to us," said Dan. "She only suspects."

"Aah, Benny Abell must 'a' told her."

"Benny didn't know himself till he come into the house. Since then I've taken damn good care he didn't get no chance to tell her...He can't tell her now."

My blood ran cold at this.

"Aah, we're wastin' time talkin," cried Barker. "She's on to us, and there's on'y one thing to do; take the stuff and beat it quick while she's singing!"

A general murmur of assent greeted this proposition. I sent up a silent prayer that they might be led to accept it. At that moment it was nothing to me if they got away with their fabulous riches, so that my mistress and I were allowed to escape out of that horrible house.

French Dan strenuously opposed it. "Yeah," he said, "and what'll happen? In half an hour the alarm will be raised, and we couldn't realise a dollar on the stuff if we tried to give it away. What's more, we got a hundred thousand dollars in bills still to pass. Once an alarm is raised you might as well stand on the corner and pitch that hundred thousand down a sewer opening. Well, a hundred thousand isn't to be picked up so easy. I'm not gonna let it go without a fight."

One could see that his words impressed them--except Barker, of course. Gumpold said: "What else can we do?"

"Give me twenty-four hours," said French Dan, "and I'll guarantee not only to pass the rest of the bills, but to dispose of the stuff, or most of it."

"Yeah," sneered Barker. "Once you turn over that satchel to French Dan you'll never see him again."

A stream of furious low curses broke from French Dan's lips. I thought he was about to strike the other man down; but no blows were passed. "You cur!" he said. "How much more of this do you think I'm gonna put up with? It's been the same right from the start. You've done nothing but stir up bad blood in the crowd, and sow trouble. You got no ideas of your own; you can only oppose my ideas. I seen from the beginning you was no good, and I had to carry you ever since, a dead loss!"

Once more the Professor essayed the rôle of peacemaker. "Dan! Dan!" he said urgently, "cut it out, for God's sake! They'll hear you upstairs. You're losin' valuable time. What do you care what he says. All the rest of us is with you, Dan."

Gradually French Dan quietened down. "All right," he said sorely, "it's up to you fellows. This plant was my idea. I got the whole thing up, and I've been runnin' it ever since. Ain't I gone out every day and disguised myself and passed the bills in the swellest jewellery shops in the country? And never once failed to get by with it. There ain't another man in the country who could have pulled it off but me. All right; you can choose now; are you with him or with me?"

"Put it to the vote," suggested Gumpold.

"Suits me," said Dan. "Put it to the vote. If you beat it out of here to-night, you stand to lose everything you've worked for. If you stick it out twenty-four hours you got a good chance of realisin' in full."

"I say, stick it," said the Professor promptly.

"Same here," growled Gumpold.

"Me, too," added Belding.

"I say beat it," said Barker with a defiant air.

"You're outvoted, old man," sneered Dan. "No need for me to vote."

"Now you gotta put the other proposition to the vote, too," insisted Barker. "Do we hand over all the stuff for Dan to dispose of, or do we divide to-night, and each man take his own?"

On this vote the current set against French Dan. Only the little Professor, who appeared to be completely under his domination, sided with him. Barker plumed himself on the result.

"I'm satisfied, so I can handle my own," he said.

French Dan gave him a poisonous look.

"Well, that's settled," said Gumpold, with an air of relief. "Now, how are we gonna handle the women?"

You can imagine how I stretched my ears. With a common instinct of caution the five of them drew close together, and French Dan lowered his voice to a whisper. He issued elaborate instructions, illustrated with gesticulations of which I could make nothing. I could not hear a word. I ground my teeth together in my chagrin. The tears sprang to my eyes.

Before he had finished, the five of them suddenly raised their heads, startled. I jumped, too. In my absorption in what they were saying, I had forgotten all about the song. I suddenly realised that it was over. Barker started to move quickly towards the door behind which I stood. I flew up stairs on wings, and across the dining-room. Fortunately, I had not on this trip turned on the dining-room lights, so I was not forced to betray myself by turning them off again as I passed through. As I crossed the hall I heard a door close below. This would be Gumpold returning to his post beside the front door. When I re-entered the drawing-room, looking like a ghost, I expect, and certainly trembling, I found that Captain Venson had already missed me.

"Where were you?" he asked, smiling.

"I went out in the hall to look at your pictures," I said. "I like to move about when there is music."

It got by all right. He and Mme. Storey discussed what she should sing next. Her fingers played back and forth across the keys. As I could, I whispered to her the gist of what I had overheard below. Her face turned very grave.

It was obvious that I must make another attempt to learn what the crooks designed against us. Mme. Storey struck up a jolly old English song called "The Keys of Heaven," which has many verses, and I slipped out of the room again. As I crossed the hall I had a definite hunch that somebody was in the dining-room, and I turned on the light. Barker was revealed, making believe to busy himself amongst the objects on the sideboard. I had caught him fairly; but he faced me with a hardy sneer on his mean face. I suppose he thought that things were so near a show-down it was hardly worth while keeping up the part of the obsequious servant any longer.

"Did you want something, miss?"

"A glass of water," I said. "I thought I had seen it on the sideboard."

"It's in the pantry. I'll fetch it."

When he handed me the glass he could not quite meet my eye; an insolent leer shot out sideways from his pale orbs. I returned to the drawing-room, letting Mme. Storey understand with a glance that nothing further was to be learned via the back stairs. She went on with the song, while Captain Venson listened with his wistful half-smile.

X

Mme. Storey announced that we must go. Captain Venson was in distress. Having exhausted all his arts of persuasion without avail, he sadly pressed the bell for a servant. I waited in the sharpest trepidation. What would they spring now? However, M. Pelletier appeared, looking exactly as we had last seen him in the dining-room; suave, deferential and smiling. It was almost enough to persuade me that I had dreamed what I saw and heard in the kitchen.

"The ladies are going," said Captain Venson. "Please call a taxi."

"Certainly, monsieur."

The arch-hypocrite disappeared within the telephone booth as if to carry out his master's bidding. We proceeded up to the bedroom unaided. When Mme. Storey closed the door, I cried out involuntarily: "Oh, lock it! Lock it! At least we are safe in here!"

She shook her head with a grave smile. "Look," she said, "this door opens in. Locked or not it would be a simple matter to burst it open."

I ran to the open window with the impulse of screaming for help.

"Steady!" she said quickly. "That would do us no good!" She joined me at the window. "In these walls that surround us there is no window that commands this one," she pointed out. "Long before the source of the cries could be established, they would have silenced us. Also the blind man."

My sorely tried nerves gave way at that. Turning, I cast myself upon her. She passed a strong arm around my shaking shoulders.

"Courage!" she murmured. "You have behaved so wonderfully to-night!...Pull yourself together, and tell me all that you can remember of what you overheard downstairs."

I did so. When I came to the part about Benny Abell I began to shake again. "They have not killed him," said Mme. Storey confidently. "Not yet!"

"How do you know?"

"It is true that they are desperate men," she said. "Sooner than lose all that they have worked for so long, they would put us out of the way. But that moment has not yet arrived. It is obvious that they have something else to try first."

"It's the suspense...the suspense," I faltered.

"I know," she said. "But just keep one thing in mind. School yourself not to cry out, not to struggle, whatever happens. If you can do that I promise you that our lives at least will be saved."

It was a simple matter to throw our wraps about us. There was no reason for us to linger in the room; but I simply could not bear to leave its shelter. "Oh, wait! wait!" I begged her.

"Come!" she said firmly. "There is nothing to be gained by this."

"Look at me!" I said, calling attention to my distracted, tear-stained face in the mirror.

"No matter," said my mistress kindly; "Captain Venson can't see you, and it makes no difference about the others now."

So we went down the stairs. Captain Venson was standing at the foot with his friendly smile, and that far-away look in his fine eyes which was the only evidence of sightlessness that they betrayed.

"I'll see you down to the front door," he said.

As we set foot to the first step of the next flight, M. Pelletier--or French Dan, as you like, came up from behind us. "Beg pardon, monsieur, the telephone."

"The telephone?" said Captain Venson, "I didn't hear it ring."

You couldn't catch that rogue napping! "I muffled the bell while mademoiselle was singing," he said smoothly.

"Who is it?"

"I do not know the voice, monsieur. 'E say eet ess important.

"Oh, bother!" said Captain Venson.

Mme. Storey put out her hand. "Good-night," she said. And "Good-night," I added with a sinking heart.

He turned back towards the telephone. In a few seconds he would discover the deception, and I thought we might have waited, but Mme. Storey proceeded firmly down the stairs, and I had to follow. She was determined to keep Captain Venson out of the affair if she could. She knew that he was as brave as he was helpless, and that if he once got a hint of what was going on he would make an uproar that might well be fatal for all of us. She was right, as you will see.

French Dan scampered down the stairs ahead of us, and stood waiting at the front door with his hand on the knob. But the door was not opened for us as we approached. Now for it, I thought. He said smoothly--he was smiling still, but his eyes were as bright and hard as an animal's:

"I am sorry, ladies, but I cannot permit you to leave just yet."

Notwithstanding the control I had put upon my nerves, a little cry escaped me. It was not much more than a gasp, but instantly the man's face became convulsed with rage, like a beast of prey backed into a corner. My heart fainted at the sight. He whipped out a gun.

"If you make another sound," he said, "I'll kill you both--and the blind man!"

There was a silence.

I was frozen where I stood. Beside me, Mme. Storey watched him steadily, all the expression gone from her face.

He resumed more calmly: "I have no wish to injure you. If you do what you're told, no harm will come to you--nor to him. But we are desperate men. If there is any interference with our plans it means death."

There was a footstep on the stairs. Captain Venson was coming down. I thought this must be the end. French Dan pointed peremptorily towards the door into the reception room, which was behind us. We backed into the room. The other four men were lined up in there as still as statues. All four pairs of eyes were fixed on us. French Dan opened the front door and slammed it. He then followed us into the reception-room.

Captain Venson was almost at his heels, feeling his way slowly. As he entered the room, Belding slipped behind him, and drawing a gun, held it within a foot of his master's head. I was sickened by the sight, and the room turned dark before me. Mme. Storey steadied me, with the grip of her cool hand on my wrist.

"Have they gone?" asked Captain Venson.

"Yes, monsieur," said French Dan, deferentially.

The blind man hesitated. A puzzled look flickered across his face; he was half suspicious. Perhaps he had heard the slight cry that I had given. Perhaps he sensed the presence of others in the room. Nobody stirred. "Who is here?" he asked sharply.

"Nobody," purred French Dan. "I just stepped in to switch off the lights."

Only partly satisfied, Captain Venson began to feel his way slowly around the room with outstretched arms, a heartbreaking sight. Belding followed him, pointing the gun. All the servants looked at us as much as to say: One sound out of you, and the trigger will be pulled! They had no difficulty in keeping out of their master's way. He stumbled over a chair and collided with a console. A ghastly game of blind man's buff. Meanwhile, one of them, I think it was Gumpold, got a door opened behind us, and we were pulled through it. One by one the men slipped after us, and the door was softly closed, leaving French Dan alone with his master.

We were now in the long, narrow corridor that I have mentioned as running through from the back of the house to the service door on the street. One of the men had a pocket flash-light. Still without a sound--we were as careful to avoid making a noise as they were--we were shepherded back to the service stairs. It was at this point that I had stood peeping into the kitchen.

A door was opened under the stairs, and by the light of the electric torch I saw another flight leading down into a sub-basement. We were told to descend. There was now no longer any reason to preserve a strict silence. It was unspeakably dreadful to be thrust so deep underground, and my heart sank with every step. The room at the foot was evidently a laundry. From it a passage led forward to furnace room and coal cellar, no doubt. Midway to this passage we came to a heavy, old-fashioned door with a big key in it. We were halted outside the door, and forced to submit to having our hands tied behind us, and our ankles bound together.

It was Barker, the mutinous one, who tied Mme. Storey's hands. They stood a little apart from the rest of us, and she took occasion to whisper to him: "French Dan's got it in for you. You'll never be allowed to leave this house alive. You'd better come in with us!"

He looked at her in a startled way, but said nothing.

French Dan came down during the operations of tying us up. "He's satisfied," he said with a laugh. "Go and put him to bed, Belding."

We were carried into a black, airless hole and laid on the floor. The door was slammed and the rusty lock creaked as the key was turned.

XI

Close beside me out of the blackness sounded a wary voice: "Who are you?"

I almost jumped out of my skin. Then a rush of relief and gladness filled me. Abell's voice! "Benny!" I cried. "Are you all right?

"Right enough," he grumbled. "But trussed up like a chicken...Madame Storey, is she there, too?"

"Present!" she answered coolly, from the other side of me. "But, like yourself, unable to shake hands."

"Oh, this is damnable!" he cried in a breaking voice. "They had me boxed. I was helpless. What must you be thinking of me?"

"I bungled the job myself," she said quickly. "I'm certainly not blaming you!"

"Did they hurt you?"

"Not a bit of it! The worst thing I suffered was the loss of my cigarette-case."

"Ah, don't joke about it!" he cried. "I cannot bear it! I wouldn't mind what they did to me. But to think they should get you!...a woman like you in the power of that foul wretch! Oh...!" The poor fellow beat his head against the floor in his despair.

"Oh, it's not as bad as all that!" said Mme. Storey. "This is uncomfortable, I admit, but they haven't 'got' me yet, nor any of us. If they had intended to bump us off, they would have done it on the spot. No, we shall escape with our lives, but at a considerable loss of reputation, I fear."

"What's the idea, then, sticking us down here?"

"We have later information than yours," said Mme. Storey. "They need another day in order to pass the balance of the counterfeit bills. To-morrow night we'll be set free."

I doubted if Mme. Storey felt as much confidence as her voice expressed. While it might be true that the gang had no intention of deliberately murdering us, the chances were that they would be more concerned in making their getaway next day than in liberating us. Of course, when Captain Venson was deserted by his servants in a body, an investigation would be set on foot, and in the course of time we would be discovered. But before that might we not have suffocated in our black hole?

"It makes me sore to think of French Dan's getting away with his bag full of treasure, and giving us the laugh," said Mme. Storey; "still it's a lot better than having the curtain rung down for good."

"Oh, why didn't you turn away from the house when I warned you!" groaned Abell.

"I'm sorry," said Mme. Storey; "but I never could take a dare."

There was a long silence.

After a while Mme. Storey said cheerfully: "And, anyhow, I've still got one line out. It may hook something."

"What is that?" asked Abell eagerly.

"Oh, I don't want to raise your hopes unduly. Let's wait and see."

Frequent silences fell upon us, though each of us was searching for cheery things to say. During those silences we were all busy in fighting our private terrors. That still, black, airless hole was like a tomb. One imagined that one could feel the earth pressing on one. Such was the stillness that we could hear the breathless ticking of Mme. Storey's tiny watch. The same hideous thought kept striking on my brain like a little hammer: Buried alive! Buried alive! Buried alive!

Finally Mme. Storey said: "Roll over on your stomach, Bella, and let me tackle the knots at your wrists with my teeth."

"Won't do us much good," said Abell dejectedly. "The door is two inches thick, and it opens towards us. Impossible to burst it out. There's no other opening. I had a look at the place when I was shoved in."

"Never mind," said Mme. Storey, "it will give me something to do."

Using her tongue as a guide, she patiently attacked the knots. Hours passed, as it seemed to us, and she appeared to make no progress; but she never gave up. During this time Abell told us his story.

"Trouble started as soon as I was brought into the house," he said. "Barker guessed that French Dan had some idea of replacing him with me, and he did all he could to stir up the other men against me. Told them my coming in would cut down everybody's share. I was not let out of the house, of course. They all watched me. There was a lot of muttering quarrelling, but open trouble didn't break out until last night, and then a situation developed that was a bit more than French Dan could handle, clever as he is.

"They asked him up and down why he had brought me in at the last moment, and he couldn't answer without confessing that he intended to put Barker out of the way. I offered to get out, but they wouldn't let me go after I'd been let in on all their secrets. Barker offered to take his share and get, but they wouldn't hear of that either. Once he was safe with his cut, they feared he would rat on the rest of them. Like all gangs of crooks none of them could trust any of the others. They wrangled in the kitchen half the night without settling anything.

"Now, threats had been made against me, and when we went to bed French Dan took me into his room to sleep, on the pretence of protecting me. As soon as we were alone he opened his scheme to me. That was for the two of us to sneak up to Barker's room--he slept by himself on the floor above, overpower him and give him his quietus. French Dan had a little thin dagger that he proposed to plunge in his heart. Afterwards we would stick him under the floor of the coal-hole in the front cellar. It was paved with loose brick, French Dan said, that would be easy to prise up and put down after. Once Barker was out of the way the other fellows wouldn't care, he said.

"Well, there was a nice proposition to have put up to you in the middle of the night! I refused to have anything to do with it, said I hadn't bargained for a murder, and French Dan got sore. I begged him to let me get out, and end the trouble that way, but he wouldn't. What's more, he said if I made any move to escape from the house he would rouse the whole gang against me. He said he couldn't do anything more for me against them; it would either have to be Barker or me. When he saw he couldn't make me do it, he got sorer and sorer. We spent the rest of the night in that room watching each other, both afraid to sleep.

"To-day French Dan didn't dare to leave the house. Every hand was raised against me now. I was practically kept a prisoner in the kitchen. Now French Dan, in first recommending me to the gang, had told them that I had escaped from Sing Sing, and there was an unexpired sentence against me. Barker went out during the day. He took a train to Sing Sing. By working a little graft in the office he found out that the sentence standing against me had been cancelled by order of the governor. When he returned in the afternoon with this information, the jig was up. French Dan washed his hands of me. I didn't expect to live through the night. They all quietened down against me, and made out everything was all right. That was more dangerous than their threats.

"Their plans were upset by an order from Captain Venson that I must wait on the table when you came to dinner. He liked me, you see. French Dan still made out everything was all right. I was allowed to open the door for you, but he was close behind me. They didn't suspect then that there was any connection between you and me. Up to that time they had only a general suspicion and dislike of you, because you had interfered with them by making friends with Captain Venson. I warned you at the door. If you had taken it, I would have run out with you. They couldn't have touched us in the open street with people passing."

"I was foolish not to," said Mme. Storey frankly.

"No! No!" said Abell. "I see now what I ought to have done. I ought to have charged out of the house carrying you two along with me. But I lost my head for the moment. As soon as the door closed behind you it was too late. But they had as yet no suspicion of you, and I thought you would get through all right."

"What a sight it would have made for the Avenue," murmured Mme. Storey, "if the three of us had tumbled in a heap on the steps!"

"Better that than this!" said Abell bitterly. He resumed: "By this time they had all made up their minds that I had been planted in the house as a spy. It was after dinner had started that Gumpold suggested maybe it was you who had put me there. Maybe you were not the society woman you pretended to be, but a female dick yourself. Somebody mentioned the name of Madame Storey on a chance. Barker searched through a pile of old newspapers until he found a photograph of you. Then the fat was in the fire. It was at this moment that I tried to warn you by scribbling a message on the rolls. French Dan saw that, and you know the rest. The whole gang jumped on me in the pantry, and I was tied up and put down here. I was simply in Hell all this time, not knowing what had happened to you."

"Well, you see it was not so bad as you expected," said Mme. Storey lightly. "We diverted ourselves with music during the evening, and here we are, reunited safe and sound...And now," she presently went on, "Bella's hands are free. She will untie the rest of us, and we can at least move around and stretch our cramped joints."

XII

Abell had matches, and we were able to explore our prison. On three sides it was bounded by the rough stone foundation walls of the house, the fourth side was of matched planking. The place had evidently been a store-room; there were heavy shelves down each side, but these were now empty.

"The lock is screwed on the inside of the door," said Mme. Storey in a hopeful tone. "It was designed to keep people out, not in. If we could improvise a screwdriver we could take the lock off."

"I have a pocket-knife," said Abell.

Breaking off the point of a blade in a crack of the lock, he attacked the first screw. Unfortunately, the knife was of hard and brittle steel, and it kept chipping away. The old screws were rusted fast in their places.

"There is another blade after this one goes," said Abell doggedly.

It seemed as if we must have spent hours in the place, but Mme. Storey's watch revealed that it was only a little past midnight. My mistress's hearing is extraordinarily acute. While Abell was still at work upon the lock without having accomplished anything, she suddenly snatched his hands away. She had heard a sound outside.

"Throw yourselves down as if you were still bound," she whispered. "If there is only one of them, seize him, Benny, when I engage him in talk."

I lay down, took a couple of hasty turns of the rope around my ankles, and put my hands under me. Presumably the others did likewise. The rusty lock creaked, and the flash of an electric torch blinded us. We could not see who held it, but the mean, whining voice betrayed him. It was Barker.

"Well, what's your proposition?" he said. "Quick with it! I can't stop."

"Get us out of here before morning, and I'll protect you from French Dan," said Mme. Storey. "You shall have a sum equal to what your cut would have been."

She purposely spoke very low, so that he was drawn closer to her to hear. After a flash of his light on me and on Abell to assure himself that we were secure, he kept it on Mme. Storey's face. This gave Abell the chance to creep between him and the door. I held myself ready to spring.

"How do I know you won't turn on me once you're out?" whined Barker.

"I've never done it yet," said Mme. Storey.

"They'll keep a watch until morning."

"Just let me get out of here, and I'll undertake to get by them, and get by you, too."

Then Abell leaped, and Barker went down on his face. The flashlight still burning, rolled away on the floor. I flung myself on his head with the instinct of keeping him from shouting for help. But I heard Mme. Storey's voice: "Leave him to us, Bella! Quick, the light!"

Securing the torch, I threw the light on Barker so that they could see what they were doing. Mme. Storey sat on his shoulders, Abell on his legs. I need not have been afraid that Barker would yell for help; he knew that he stood in greater danger of his mates upstairs than of us. He put up a furious struggle on the floor, but uttered no sound. Little by little they got his arms bound behind him, just as ours had been bound a while before; and his ankles lashed together. Mme. Storey took a gun from him. When they arose he lay there, twisting, snarling, cursing horribly, but still careful not to raise his voice. A moment later the three of us were outside in the passage, and the door locked.

"There's one accounted for!" said Mme. Storey with satisfaction.

But there were still four between us and our freedom.

Crossing the laundry, we crept softly up the cellar stairs on all fours. We dared not use the torch. At Mme. Storey's suggestion, we had carried the pieces of rope with us. I had mine loosely knotted about my waist. Mme. Storey went first, gun in hand. We let the door at the head of the stairs stand open. In the service passage outside the kitchen, a beam of light was still coming through the little pane in the swing door. We peeped in. All four men were in the kitchen, all deeply absorbed in the task they had in hand. The way out through the front was therefore clear, nevertheless we lingered for a moment, so extraordinary was the scene before us.

They were all grouped around the centre table. The suitcase was resting on a chair alongside. French Dan had what appeared to be an inventory in his hands, consisting of several pages, Gumpold was taking the jewellery from the suitcase, one piece at a time. Apparently each piece was tagged with a number. Gumpold read off the number, French Dan found it in the inventory, and read off the value of the piece, which was then added to one of five separate piles on the table. The whole table was blazing with gems--an astounding sight. This distribution was not being accomplished without a good bit of discussion. Suddenly French Dan raised his head suspiciously. "Where's Barker?" he asked.

"Went up to his room after cigarettes," answered Belding indifferently.

"He's been gone too long," said French Dan, scowling. "That--would play me a dirty trick if he could!"

"Ain't likely to try it on as long as his stake is still in the concern," said Belding, indicating one of the piles of jewels.

"That's all right," said French Dan, "go see where he is."

Belding started towards the door behind which we stood; we three softly retreated a few yards up the service passage towards the front of the house. Belding ran unsuspectingly up the service stairs.

"Too good a chance to miss!" whispered Mme. Storey. "Come on, Benny! Bella, give me that rope. You stay on watch at the door!"

My heart sank. It was on my lips to whisper: No! No! We have been near enough to death already. Let us get out while the way is clear! But it would have been useless to speak. A mad fit of recklessness had seized on Mme. Storey; there was actually the quiver of laughter in her voice. And in Benny Abell she had a kindred spirit. They ran noiselessly up the stairs. Belding could now be heard on the second flight, I returned to my post at the kitchen door.

Inside, the distribution had been resumed; but French Dan was still uneasy. He raised his scowling face a couple of times and listened. Finally he said: "Jansen, go downstairs and see if everything is all right."

Jansen was the Professor. As he came out I retreated as before. He turned in the other direction, and started down the cellar steps after pushing a button at the top, which turned on the lights in the cellar. I followed to the head of the stairs. I knew well enough what Mme. Storey would have wanted me to do. Fate had delivered the Professor into my hands. A little man, and somewhat enfeebled, he was no more than a match for me. A little bit of the same feeling of recklessness seized on me. I peered down the stairs, half tempted, half afraid. I wanted to do my bit, too. Finally I kicked off my shoes and went down. The laundry was brightly illuminated, but once the man had gone into the passage, I could keep out of his range of view. I heard him at the door of the store-room. "Hey, you in there; can you hear me?"

The feelings of Barker, who was inside, must have been mixed. At any rate, he did not answer, and the professor tried again: "Hey, there, do you want something to eat?"

Not getting any answer, he will open the door and look in, I thought; I was standing within six feet of the man, but hidden from him by a projecting corner. When he opens the door I'll give him a push inside, and lock the door on him...But then, I thought: He'll jump up and beat on the door and yell; and French Dan and Gumpold will be down here long before Mme. Storey and Abell could come to my aid!

I instinctively looked around for a weapon. There was a dismantled washing-machine in the laundry, and the rubber rollers of the wringer lay on the floor. I picked up one of them; a perfect weapon, hard enough to stun a man, and soft enough to dull the sound of its own blow. I am not at all a bloodthirsty person, but I realised I had gone too far now to stop. If the Professor were to come out of that passage, there I was, under the light, and not a corner to hide in, In fact, I did not think at all. I acted by instinct.

He stood there rattling the store-room door, and calling to those whom he supposed to be within. It had evidently occurred to him that we might have freed ourselves, and be lying in wait for him, and he was afraid to open the door. When I realised that he was not going to open it I hesitated no longer. Grasping my roller in both hands, I took two steps forward, and brought it down with all my strength upon his head. He had his back to me, and never saw what hit him. He collapsed like a sack of rags on the floor, and never uttered a sound. I began to shake all over, and the roller dropped from my nerveless grasp. That's what it is to be a woman.

I hastened back across the laundry, and up the cellar stairs, putting out the lights at the top. Before I could reach the door into the kitchen, I became aware of the sounds of a scuffle, not loud, somewhere towards the top of the house. The two men in the kitchen heard it, too; they sprang up; and I pressed myself back into the corner at the head of the cellar stairs. Gumpold came charging out through the swing door, and sprang up the stairs. He had a natural courage. French Dan did not follow him, and for the moment I was at a loss how to act. But Mme. Storey had told me to remain on watch at the kitchen, and I held to that.

After a moment I ventured to peep through the little pane. French Dan was engaged in sweeping all the jewels pell-mell into the suitcase. He snapped it shut, and running across the room, pulled a straw hat out of the drawer of a dresser, and jammed it on his head. He must have had it hidden there in readiness. Picking up the suitcase, he started towards me. There was an evil grin on his face, and his purpose was only too evident; a panicky feeling seized me. Of what use would it be to us to capture the four underlings if the master escaped us, and with the treasure to boot? It was up to me to stop him single-handed.

I backed away down the long dark passage that led towards the service door on the street. I heard him softly approaching. As I came abreast of the door into the reception room, I said low, making my voice as much like a man's as possible: "If you come any farther I'll shoot!"

He gasped in astonishment, and scuttled back to the corner where the passage widened to pass the service stairs. I heard a switch click, and the passage was flooded with light. I whipped inside the reception-room. I knew I was a goner if he once caught sight of me. He must at that moment have been peeping around the corner at the back of the passage, but he couldn't see me.

Another period of inaction, and my nerves began to flutter and jump. The only two exits from the house were now brightly lighted, and I, hidden in the dark reception room, commanded them both. He knew where his enemy was, of course. What would he do? Make a dash for one door or the other; but which? I could not watch both doors simultaneously. I finally shoved two chairs out into the narrow passage, and dropped a third chair on top to barricade that way.

I then lay down on the floor, and peeped around the frame of the door into the main hall. All was quiet and empty. Just beyond the foot of the stairs the wall on my side ran out, narrowing the hall to the dimensions of a passage which ran to the kitchen. I could not see into this narrow part. If he had made a break to get out, what could I have done? Given him a scare, that was all. Just the same, every moment that I delayed his escape worked for our side. I was sick with anxiety not knowing how my mistress and Benny Abell were faring. No sounds now reached me from the upper part of the house.

At the back of the reception room there was a third door that I had scarcely taken account of. I learned afterwards that it led into the cloak-room which occupied the middle part of this floor. This cloak-room also opened on the narrow part of the hall, and that was how he got me. I had no warning of his coming. The first thing I knew a flash was thrown on me from behind, and I heard a hateful croak of laughter. He had discovered that his antagonist was only a woman, unarmed at that.

I sprang for the front door. I had taken notice that it was fastened with a chain, and my instinct was to thrust my arm through the chain, and thus delay French Dan's escape a little longer. He was close at my heels. I got my arm through the chain. Dropping the suitcase, he seized me around the body, but was unable to drag me away. The pain in my arm was excruciating. For a moment or two we struggled there, his frantic smothered curses at my ear. With all my might I called on my friends for aid.

Finally French Dan seizing me low around the hips, hoisted me straight up, and my arm was pulled helplessly through the chain; the tips of my fingers clutched it and gave. He flung me aside on the floor with great force, knocking all the breath out of my body. Unable to move, I had the unspeakable chagrin of seeing him pick up the suitcase, and open the door.

But as he stepped into the vestibule, he came face to face with Mme. Storey. He all but collided with the gun she was presenting at him. "What's the hurry?" she said smiling.

French Dan with a low cry, staggered back into the hall. Mme. Storey followed, kicking the door shut behind her. At the same moment Abell came running down the stairs, took a flying leap over my body, and flung his arms around French Dan from behind.

"Five!" said Mme. Storey lowering the gun. "Not a bad night's work, my children."

In my relief and weakness, I burst out crying like a child.

XIII

A confused scene followed. Captain Venson came down the stairs, clad in a dressing-gown. His head was up, and the sightless eyes flashed; a tragic figure, helpless and unafraid. Of old habit, he had snatched up his service revolver; but what he expected to do with it I'm sure I don't know. "What is going on here?" he demanded.

"It's all right," cried Mme. Storey, "your friends are in control."

An extraordinary astonishment broke in his expressive face. "Miss Underhill!" he cried. "How did you get back here?

"I never left," she said demurely. "Not Miss Underhill, but Rosika Storey, at your service."

He looked, if possible, even more amazed. "Madame Storey!" he murmured. "What does it mean?"

"Well, it's quite a long story," she said; "briefly, you've been surrounded here by a gang of counterfeiters, and we have just rounded them up."

His first feeling, naturally enough, was one of injury. "Oh," he said with a laugh that did not hide his chagrin, "and I thought you came to see me!"

"So I did," said Mme. Storey quickly. "It was not until I got inside the house that I discovered this situation."

"What gang do you mean?" he asked.

"The admirable Monsieur Pelletier," she said dryly; "Belding, Barker, Gumpold, and a fifth man whom you were housing without suspecting it. He operated the printing press in the middle room of the top floor."

"Good God!" said Captain Venson. "...And Abell?"

"He is my assistant. He is now holding Monsieur Pelletier, who is better known as French Dan."

"Who else have you with you?"

"Just my secretary Miss Brickley alias Chalmers."

"Good God!" cried Captain Venson again. "Just two women and a man against these five scoundrels."

"Yes," said Mme. Storey, smiling broadly, "we collared them one at a time, and we're feeling immensely proud of ourselves...Just wait a minute till I get this fellow tied up, and I'll tell you all about it."

When I was able to speak I asked her how on earth she had contrived to turn up so opportunely outside the front door.

"We were delayed by Belding, who barricaded himself in a room," she said; "but Gumpold fell right into our arms. I was afraid I couldn't make it in time by the stairs," she added carelessly. "I dropped out of the drawing-room window."

All we had with which to tie up French Dan was cord, cut from the portieres. However, Mme. Storey continued to stand over him with the gun, while Abell slipped out of the house to fetch the police. In a moment or two a couple of patrolmen arrived. Abell meanwhile had got Inspector Rumsey on the telephone, who asked us to keep the prisoners in the house until he could get there.

He arrived in short order. Our honest friend's face was a study when the situation was explained to him. Indeed, he roundly abused Mme. Storey for taking such a risk without consulting him.

"Well, to be honest with you," she said laughing, "I didn't know what I was up against until I got inside; and then I couldn't get out again."

When the prisoners had been taken away under a proper escort, the five of us gathered in Captain Venson's dining-room for some refreshments, which Abell foraged for in pantry and refrigerator. The story was then told in detail. At intervals Captain Venson with his absurd face of astonishment ejaculated: "Good God!"

And the worthy little Inspector would come in like his echo: "Good God!"

Mme. Storey got to laughing so she could scarcely go on.

Leaving Abell to look after Captain Venson, Mme. Storey took me home with her for what remained of the night.

An amusing incident occurred next morning. When Mme. Storey and I arrived at the office, a good deal later than usual, we found a harassed looking gentleman waiting in the hall. He introduced himself as an official of the United States Treasury. Somewhat boiled down, his tale was as follows:

"The government is aware of the existence of a plant for the manufacture of bogus ten dollar bills. It is the most perfect counterfeit that has ever been made; so good, in fact, that it has never been detected in the bills passing from hand to hand, or through the banks. The fraud is only discovered by means of the serial numbers, when the bills are returned to the treasury to be checked up and destroyed. And, of course, this may be months or even years after they were first issued, since bills of this denomination may remain in circulation for a considerable period.

"What makes the fraud so diffcult to detect is the fact that the counterfeit bills are printed on the regulation government paper. We know how the counterfeiters got the paper. Nearly three years ago, several bundles of it mysteriously disappeared in transit between the mill and the government printing offices, notwithstanding the elaborate precautions that are taken to prevent such a thing. We have never been able to trace it.

"Well, a year or so after the loss of the paper, the bills began to turn up at the treasury, first one at a time at long intervals, but in gradually increasing numbers, until of late it has become a matter of very serious concern. It so happens that the counterfeit bills have sometimes been returned before the genuine bills bearing those numbers, and have been passed by the treasury, and destroyed. This creates a very embarrassing situation. The bills pass through so many hands before reaching us, that it has been impossible to trace any of them back to their source. Once a counterfeit bill turns up we generally run the makers of it to earth in short order, it is so difficult for them to conceal their plant. But in this case we are evidently up against a new combination. In short, Madam, having failed to catch the gang by the usual methods, I am empowered to ask you if you will undertake the investigation of this matter."

Mme. Storey allowed him to tell his tale without interruption. Keeping a serious face turned towards the worthy official, she favoured me with the ghost of a wink. He concluded by showing us one of the counterfeit bills side by side with a real one. They were apparently identical. It was only when looked at under a strong glass that differences began to appear.

When he looked at her for an answer, Mme. Storey leaned back in her chair, and began nonchalantly: "This bill was printed by the notorious Karl Jansen who is well known to you. In fact, he was employed by the bureau of Printing and Engraving some years ago. He was released from prison about three years ago, and since then I suppose you have been congratulating yourselves that he had turned to honest courses..."

The gentleman's lower jaw was already hanging down an inch or so. "No, we suspected Jansen," he murmured, "but we couldn't find him."

"Jansen could always make a plate," Mme. Storey resumed, "but he lacked the right sort of paper before, and he had no notion of how to pass his product. On this occasion he associated himself with French Dan Vore, another famous rogue, who supplied the necessary executive ability. I have no doubt it was French Dan who engineered the theft of the paper, and I know that it was he who passed the bills, principally in the purchase of valuable jewellery. I can't tell you how much they printed and passed, but it happens they never divided the jewellery, and its value is roughly about a million and a half..."

"Good God!" gasped the treasury official. "But...how did you know...how did they...where did they..."

"One question at a time," said Mme. Storey smiling. "With three other crooks they hired themselves out as household staff to Captain Stephen Venson, a blind gentleman of some means. The printing press was set up on the top floor of the blind man's house where it has been working merrily away for the last two years and more. This house is a mansion in the choicest part of Fifth Avenue, so it is not surprising that you could not find the plant. It was a new combination!"

"Where are they now?" he gasped.

"Lodged in the Tombs," said Mme. Storey serenely. "You may obtain further particulars from Inspector Rumsey of the police. I have no doubt that he has already communicated with the department, and that you will find a telegram at your hotel."

The poor man in his astonishment was wellnigh incoherent. We understood that he was trying to thank us in the name of the government, intimating that he would do his best to have a suitable compensation awarded. Mme. Storey said with her delightful smile:

"Oh, that's all right. There will be no charge. Good-morning."

Benny Abell remained with Captain Venson as his personal attendant and secretary. This was a job much more to Benny's taste than that of operative in a criminal investigation. Captain Venson evinced a boy-like curiosity concerning our business, and expressed a wish to visit us at our office. So a date was set for him to come to tea. Mme. Storey then called up Miss Gloria Suffern, and asked her on the same afternoon, half an hour earlier.

Miss Suffern was prompt, and my mistress occupied that half-hour in telling her the story of what had happened in the blind man's house. The girl's face offered an expressive play of emotions as she listened. She blushed deeply at mention of the bronze head of herself which stood in Captain Venson's room. Her first thought was not of the dangers we had run, but of him. "Oh, poor Stephen!" she murmured. "How terrible that he should have been at the mercy of such a gang!"

"Exactly," said Mme. Storey dryly. "It is really up to some decent person to rescue him."

When the buzzer sounded that announces the arrival of somebody in the outer room, I went out and received Captain Venson from the hands of Abell, who then went off about his own affairs. According to instructions I led our guest directly into Mme. Storey's room. At sight of him the girl sprang to her feet, turning as pale as paper. She was obviously about to fly from the room, but at a glance from Mme. Storey, she dropped back in her chair. Her eyes dwelt hungrily on Captain Venson's face. He, of course, was unaware that there was anybody in the room beside Mme. Storey and me.

My mistress handed him his tea, and kept up a rattle of talk to get us over the first difficult moments. Finally she said to him:

"Do you know I heard a story about you that grieved me. Whenever I hear a story about one of my friends I always charge them with it. It clears the air."

"What did you hear?" he asked, greatly concerned.

"This person said that you were once engaged to Gloria Suffern, and that you broke it off in the most brutal manner."

He smiled a smile of male obstinacy, and refused to answer.

"What was the matter with her?" asked Mme. Storey slyly.

That roused him. "Matter with her!" he cried. "Nothing! She's the finest girl in the world. She's true blue! If there was anything in the gossip you heard that reflected on her it's a lie!"

"Oh, no," said Mme. Storey; "it reflected on you. Why did you break it off?"

"I should think that would be obvious," he said. "I come home from France blinded, and find everybody still in the grip of war hysteria; our maimed heroes, and all that bunk. Gloria with her generous spirit was ready to sacrifice herself. She would have regretted it all her life. Naturally, I broke it off as decisively as could."

"But the war hysteria has passed now," said Mme. Storey, "shouldn't you..."

"No, no!" he said violently, "she has forgotten me!"

"And you...?" asked Mme. Storey softly.

He gave a despairing sort of shrug, and shut his mouth tight.

The girl could stand no more. "Oh, Stephen..." she cried brokenly.

He sprang to his feet. "Gloria!" he cried.

"Here, Bella, this is no place for us!" cried Mme. Storey, dragging me out and slamming the door.


III. — THE ALMOST PERFECT MURDER

Presumably first published in Argosy under a different title
Reprinted in The Almost Perfect Murder, 1933

I

Fay Brunton was one of those stars who suddenly shine out on Broadway in full effulgence, and are almost as quickly darkened. Most people will remember her name, but I doubt if many could name the parts in which she appeared. But to those of us who knew her, she remains a vivid and lovely memory; she was so beautiful! And that was not all of it; beauty is not uncommon on Broadway: it was her great sweetness of nature that endeared her to us; her girlishness; her simplicity. She was not a great actress; her smile was her passport to popular favour.

My employer, Madame Storey, who knows everybody in the great world, had become acquainted with Fay, and through her I had met the girl. By degrees, I can hardly say how, Fay and I had become intimate friends. She brought colour and incident into my life. To a plain Jane like me, she was marvellous. I was the recipient of all her charming confidences—or nearly all; and as well as I could, I steered her with my advice amongst the pitfalls that beset a popular favourite. For one in the limelight she was incredibly ignorant of evil. And you could not bear to show her the ugly side of life.

How bitterly I regretted that I had not warned her against Darius Whittall in the beginning. But I had thought that her natural goodness would protect her. Goodness, however, is apt to be blind. Whittall's name had been connected with Fay's for several months, but he was only one of many. I had hoped that one of the young men would win out; particularly one who was called Frank Esher, a fine fellow. I banked on the fact that Fay had been shy about mentioning his name in her confidences. As for Whittall, he was a notorious evil-liver. His wife had committed suicide some weeks before. To me he was no better than a murderer.

How well I remember the morning that Fay came to our offices to tell us. It must have been November, for the trees in Gramercy Park had shed their leaves, though the grass was still green. This was during Fay's second season when she was appearing with huge success in Wild Hyacinth. She came in beaming, and I marked the gleam of a new pearl necklace under her partly-opened sables. What a vision of youthful loveliness she made, sparkling with a childlike excitement!

She had Mrs. Brunton with her. This lady was not her real mother, but an ageing actress whom Fay had rescued from a cheap boarding-house, and set up as her official chaperone. Such an arrangement is not unusual on the stage. Mrs. Brunton was a typical stage mamma; over-dressed, over-talkative; a foolish woman, but devoted to Fay, and people put up with her on that account.

When Fay came to call, business was dropped for the time being. I took her in to my mistress. What a complement they made to each other! the one so dark and tall and wise; the other simple, fair and girlish. Alongside my mistress, the girl looked the least bit colourless, but that was inevitable. There is only one Madame Storey. Fay was not aware that she suffered by comparison with the other, and if she had known, I doubt if she would have minded.

Mrs. Brunton was in a great flutter. "Oh, I hope we're not interrupting anything important! Fay couldn't wait a minute! What I have been through since last night you wouldn't believe! I didn't sleep a wink! And then to be hauled out of my bed at eight o'clock! Eight o'clock! And dragged here half-dressed. Is there a mirror anywhere? I know I'm a sight...!"

And so on; and so on. The exasperating thing about that woman was that her talk never meant anything. She surrounded herself with a cloud of words. Nobody ever paid any attention to what she said. Talk with her was a sort of nervous habit, like biting the fingernails.

Meanwhile Mme. Storey was gazing into Fay's face with searching kindness. Nervously pulling off one of her gloves, the girl mutely exhibited the third finger of her left hand. I caught a glimpse of an emerald that took my breath away.

"Who is it?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Darius Whittall," she murmured.

It was a horrible shock to me. Fortunately none of them was looking at me at the moment. The thought of seeing my friend in all her youth and loveliness handed over to that murderer—for such he was in all essentials—was more than I could bear. The bottom seemed to drop out of everything.

Mme. Storey's face showed no change upon hearing the announcement, though she must have known Darius Whittall better than I did. She enfolded the girl in her arms, and murmured her good wishes.

Meanwhile Mrs. Brunton in the background was talking away like steam puffing out of a boiling kettle. I perceived a certain glint of anxiety in the old lady's eye; she knew that Darius Whittall was no paragon for a husband. But he was so rich! so rich! who could blame a mother? She was relieved when Mme. Storey appeared to make no difficulties about the match.

"Well, I never thought he'd be the one!" said Mme. Storey with an appearance of great cheerfulness.

"Neither did I," said Fay, laughing.

"Are you dreadfully in love with him?"

"I suppose so...I don't know...Don't ask me to examine my feelings!"

"Look at her!" cried Mrs. Brunton. "Isn't that enough? Radiantly happy!"

"But if you're going to marry the man," said Mme. Storey, laughing, "surely you must know the state of your feelings!"

"I want to marry him," said Fay quickly. "Very much. I suppose it's because he needs me so."

Mme. Storey's expression said: Hum! But she did not utter it. She asked when it was going to be.

"Soon," said Fay. "There's no reason for delay. It will be very quiet, of course."

"Of course," said Mme. Storey.

Fay seemed to feel that some further explanation was required. "It's true his wife has only been dead two months," she said. "But as Darius pointed out, she had not been a real wife to him for years before that."

"Poor woman!" said Madame Storey.

We all echoed that. "Poor woman!"

By this time I was aware that my mistress was not any better pleased with Fay's announcement than I had been; but she was too wise to burst out with objections as I might have done.

"Why do you suppose she killed herself?" she said thoughtfully.

"Oh, don't you know?" said Fay. "She was in love with somebody else. Darius talks about her so nicely. He offered to let her divorce him, but she wouldn't because of her religion. A Catholic, you know. I suppose she could see no way but to end it all. Darius honours her for it."

"Oh, don't talk about it!" cried Mrs. Brunton. "Don't let that cloud darken this happy day! How that poor man has suffered! And such a gentleman with it all. Such delicacy! I could tell you things about him! But never mind!"

What has he given her? I thought.

Fay and Mme. Storey ignored her interruption. "But I think," the former went on with gentle censure, "that she ought to have considered what a dreadful blow it would be to her husband."

"Still," said Mme. Storey dryly, "if she had not done it, you would not be marrying him now."

"No-o," said Fay innocently. "I suppose not...Of course Darius is going to sell the house at Riverdale," she continued with an involuntary shiver. "I shouldn't care to live there where it happened."

Mme. Storey struck out on a new line. "Well! Well!" she said, "what a poor guesser I am! Frank Esher was the one I backed."

I saw a spark of animosity leap out of the old woman's eye. I suppose it occurred to her, too, that my seemingly candid mistress was trying to gum her game.

"Oh, Frank Esher!" said Fay pettishly. "Don't speak of him!"

"He was so good-looking!" said Mme. Storey dreamily.

"Good-looking, yes," said Fay with some heat. "But impossible. You don't know! Oh, impossible!"

"I liked him," said Mme. Storey, "because there seemed to be a genuine fire in him. Most young fellows are so tame! I should have thought he would make a wonderful lover."

Fay, silenced, looked at her with rather a stricken expression in the candid blue eyes.

Mrs. Brunton rushed in to fill the breach. "Fire!" she snorted. "Preserve us from that kind of fire. That's all I have to say. I don't speak of his rudeness to me. I am nobody. He treated Fay as if she was just an ordinary girl. No sense of the difference in their positions. A dreadful young man! He spoiled everything. So different from Mr. Whittall. He is such a gentleman. You never catch him making a vulgar display of his feelings!"

Fay had recovered her speech. "That incident is closed," she said. "Frank was simply a thorn in my side."

But Mme. Storey would not let Frank drop. "By the way, what has become of him?" she asked. "I haven't seen him for ages."

"We quarrelled," said Fay with an impatient shrug. "He Was always quarrelling with me. He said that would be the last time, and he went away somewhere. Peru or China or somewhere. Nobody knows where he's gone. Now I have a little peace."

But the look in her eyes belied her words.

There was a lot more talk. Like every young girl when she first gets herself engaged, Fay could hardly speak a sentence without bringing in the name of her lover. One would have thought Darius was the Oracle. Considering the manner of man he was, it was absurd and it was piteous.

Darius had no objection to her finishing out the run of Wild Hyacinth. But after this season, of course, she would retire. Darius had bought a town house. No, not a big place on the Avenue; Darius hated show. A dear little house in the East Seventies; Darius had said that was the smartest thing now. Very plain outside, and a perfect bower within. Like a French maisonette. Darius had such original ideas. And so on.

When they got up to go, Fay said to me wistfully: "You haven't congratulated me, Bella."

What was I to say? The tears sprang to my eyes. Fortunately she considered that the emotion was suitable to the circumstances. "Oh, I want you to be happy! I want you to be happy!" I stammered.

The words did not please her. She withdrew herself from my arms somewhat coldly.

II

When the door closed behind them I broke down. Mme. Storey looked at me sympathetically. "Ah, Bella, you are very fond of her, aren't you?" she murmured. "This is damnable!"

In my eagerness I involuntarily clasped my hands. "Ah, but you won't...you won't let it go on!" I implored her.

"I?" she said in great surprise. "How on earth could I stop it, my dear?"

"Oh, but you could! you could!" I wailed. "You can do anything!"

She shook her head. "As an outsider I have no business to interfere. And, anyhow, my better sense tells me it would be worse than useless. If I said a word to her against her Darius, she'd rush off and marry him the same day. You saw how she looked at you just now...No! it's a tragedy, but it's beyond our mending. If I have learned anything it is that we cannot play Providence in the lives of others. We can only look on and pity her..."

"That's what your head says," I murmured. "What about your heart?"

She rose, and began to pace the long room. "Ah, don't drag in heart," she said, almost crossly one would have thought; "I can't set out to save every foolish girl who is determined to make a mess of her life!"

"I can't bear it!" I said.

She continued to walk up and down the long room. That room had been expressly chosen for its length, so that she could pace it while she was thinking. How well it suited her! the bare and beautiful apartment, with its rare old Italian furnishings and pictures. She herself was wearing a Fortuny gown adapted from the same period; and when you turned your back to the windows which looked out on matter-of-fact New York, you were transported right back to sixteenth century Florence.

I felt that anything more I might say would only damage my suit, so I remained silent. But I couldn't stop the tears from running down. Mme. Storey looked at me uneasily every time she turned.

"We must get to work," she said crossly. I obediently took up my note-book. "Oh, well," she said in a different tone. "For your sake, Bella..." She returned to her desk, and took the telephone receiver off its hook. "We'll see if we cannot dig up something in the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Whittall's death that will give this foolish girl cause to stop and think what she is doing."

She called up Police Headquarters. "Rumsey," she said, "do you remember the case of Mrs. Darius Whittall who killed herself about two months ago?...Well, I suppose there was an inquest or investigation of some sort, and that the findings are on file somewhere. Come and see me this afternoon, will you? and bring the papers with you. I want to go over them with you...I'll tell you when I see you...Thanks, at four then. Good-bye."

Our worthy friend arrived promptly to his hour. Inspector Rumsey was not a distinguished-looking man, but he was true-blue. He owed part of his reputation, perhaps, to his friendship for my mistress, who often helps him with the more subtle points of his cases. He in return, I need hardly say, is able to render us invaluable assistance.

The papers he laid before my mistress told a simple and straightforward tale. On the night of Sunday, September 11th, Mrs. Whittall had dined alone at their place in Riverdale. Her husband was dining with friends in the city. After dinner, that is to say about nine-thirty, she had complained of the heat, and had asked her maid, Mary Thole, for a light wrap, saying that she would walk in the grounds for a few minutes. Almost immediately after she left the house, the sound of a shot was heard. Everybody in the house heard it, since the windows were all open.

The butler and the second man rushed out to the spot whence it came, a little pavilion or summer-house placed on a slight knoll overlooking the river, about two hundred yards from the house. They found the body of their mistress lying at full length on the gravel outside the entrance to the pavilion. She had evidently fallen with considerable force, for her hair was partly down, the hairpins lying about. An ornamental comb which she wore was found about four feet from her body. One of her slippers was off. So it was judged that she had shot herself within the pavilion, and had fallen backwards down the steps. There were three steps. There was a bullet hole in her right temple, and so far as the servants could judge she was already dead. The revolver was still lying in her partly opened hand. Upon a microscopic examination of the gun later, the prints upon it were found to be those of Mrs. Whittall's fingers.

The body was immediately carried into the house and laid upon the bed. The family physician was telephoned for. The powder marks around the wound could be seen by all. In his confusion and excitement, the butler felt that he ought to notify his master of what had happened before sending for the police. Nobody in the house knew where Mr. Whittall was dining that night, and the butler started telephoning around to his clubs, and to the houses of his most intimate friends in the endeavour to find him. He could not get any word of him. He was still at the telephone when Mr. Whittall returned home. This would be about eleven. Mr. Whittall's first act was to telephone to the local police station. He upbraided the butler for not having done so at once. A few minutes later the police were in the house.

Mrs. Whittall's own maid had identified the revolver as one belonging to her mistress. She had testified that she had seen nothing strange in the behaviour of her mistress before she left the house. So far as she could tell, there was nothing special on her mind. She was a very quiet lady, and saw little company. She had left no letter in explanation of her act. Not more than a minute or so could have elapsed between the time she left the house and the sound of the shot, so she must have proceeded direct to the pavilion and done the deed. Indeed, it happened so quickly it seemed as if she must have run there.

The doctor testified that Mrs. Whittall was dead when he saw her. Death must have been instantaneous. The bullet had passed through her brain and was lodged against the skull on the other side from the point of entrance. Questioned as to her possible reasons for the deed, he said he knew of none. The dead woman was in normal health, and though he had known her for many years, and was a friend, she did not often have occasion to send for him in a professional capacity. She seemed normal in mind. He admitted though, that she might have been seriously disturbed without his knowing anything of it, since she was a very reticent woman, who spoke little about her own affairs.

Mr. Whittall testified that the revolver found in the dead woman's hand was one which he had given her some three months previously. It was a Matson, 32 calibre, an automatic of the latest pattern. She had not asked for a gun. He had given it to her of his own motion, believing that every woman ought to have the means of defending herself at hand. He did not know for sure if she had ever practised shooting it, but he believed not. Only one shot had been fired from it. He understood that she had kept it in the top drawer of the chiffonier in her room, but he had never seen it there. He had not noticed anything unwonted in her behaviour on that day, or he would never have left her alone. It was true, though, that she had suffered from periods of deep depression. She brooded on the fact that she had no children, and looked forward with dread to a childless old age.

Such, in effect, were the contents of the papers which Inspector Rumsey spread before us. Tea and cigarettes followed. Mme. Storey looked disappointed at the outcome.

"Merely a perfunctory investigation, of course," said Inspector Rumsey. "Nobody suspected there might be something peculiar in the case. Nobody wished to turn up anything peculiar."

"I had hoped that there would be enough in these papers to accomplish my purpose," said Mme. Storey gravely. "By showing them to a certain person, I mean. But there is not. So we must dig further into this business. It is not a job that I look forward to!"

"What can you expect to do now, after two months?" said the Inspector.

"Oh, there are plenty of leads. Firstly: if Mr. Whittall was dining in New York that night, it is strange that he should have arrived home in Riverdale as early as eleven."

"Right!"

"Secondly: if it was such a hot night, why should Mrs. Whittall have called for a wrap? When one steps outside to cool off, one doesn't wrap up. It is indicated that she meant to stay out awhile."

"Right!"

"Thirdly: Whittall's explanation of his wife's alleged depression is mere nonsense. It is a simple matter for a rich woman to adopt a child if she is lonely."

The Inspector nodded.

"Fourthly: when a person shoots himself dead one of two things happens. Occasionally the grip on the gun is spasmodic, and remains fixed in death. More often in the act of death all the muscles relax. In that case when she fell from the steps the gun would have been knocked from her hand, just as the comb was knocked from her head. As a matter of fact, they say the gun was found lying in her open hand. I am forced to the conclusion that it was placed there afterwards."

I looked at her, struck with horror.

"In that case she must have been decoyed to the pavilion," said the Inspector.

"That is for us to find out."

"The double identification of the gun as hers is an awkward point to get over," he suggested.

"Matson 32's are sold by the hundreds," said Mme. Storey. "There is no evidence that this one bore any distinguishing marks. Why not another of the same design?"

"In that case Mrs. Whittall's gun would have been found."

"Maybe it was."

The Inspector slowly nodded. "A case begins to shape itself," he said. "What do you want me to do?"

"It is not yet a matter of public interest," said Mme. Storey. "As soon as we have sufficient evidence that it is, we will put it in your hands. In the meantime I wish you'd trace where and when Whittall bought the gun that he gave his wife, and the number of it. You have better facilities for doing that than I have."

He nodded.

III

A pleasant-faced young woman, very neatly and plainly dressed, came into my office somewhat shyly, and mutely offered me a printed slip which had been filled in. I read at a glance that the bearer was Mary Thole, who had been sent by Mrs. ——'s Employment Agency as an applicant for the position of maid. One of our operatives had brought about this visit without the girl's suspecting what we wanted of her. I looked at her with a strong interest. Through my association with Mme. Storey I have learned to read character to some degree, and I said to myself that the lady who secured this girl would be lucky. Good servants are rare.

I took her in to Madame Storey.

"Do you know who I am?" asked my mistress.

"Yes, Madame, I read in the papers..."

"Good! then you know something of my business. I may as well tell you at once that I do not need a maid. That was merely a pretext."

The girl looked at her, greatly startled.

"Oh, you have nothing to fear," Mme. Storey went on. "I merely wished to satisfy myself that you were an honest and a faithful girl. I am satisfied of it. I mean to be frank with you. Mr. Whittall has engaged himself to marry a friend of mine, a beautiful young girl. I think that is a great shame."

"Oh, yes, Madame!" she said earnestly. "He...he is not a good man!"

"So I think myself," said Mme. Storey dryly. "I want you to tell me all the circumstances surrounding Mrs. Whittall's death."

The girl's eyes widened in horror, and she pressed one hand to her cheek. "Oh, Madame, do you think...do you think...that he...!"

"Hush!" said Mme. Storey. "Answer my questions carefully, and we'll see."

The girl went on in a daze, more to herself than to us: "Of course, I always knew it was due to him...in a way...he made it impossible for her to live...but I never thought that he might actually..."

"Don't jump to conclusions," warned Mme. Storey. She reseated herself at her desk.

"May I ask you something?" said Mary humbly.

"Certainly."

"Is it...is it the beautiful young actress, Miss Brunton?"

"Yes. What put that into your head?"

"Well, it came to my mistress's ears that her name was being connected with Mr. Whittall's, and she heard she was a nice girl, so it seemed a great shame to her on the girl's account. So she asked Miss Brunton and her mother to come to Oakhurst—that was the name of the house—to lunch and spend the afternoon. She wanted to stop any scandal that was going about, that might hurt the girl. That was the sort of woman she was; thinking of everybody before herself."

"Hm!" said my mistress, "and did they come?"

"Yes, Madame, and my mistress told me the girl was a dear—that was her own word, and she hoped she could really make friends with her."

"Was Mr. Whittall present at this luncheon?"

"No, Madame. My mistress had fixed a day when she knew he would be out of town."

"When was this?"

"I cannot say to a day. Late in August some time. Two weeks, maybe three, before my mistress died."

"What can you tell me about that visit?"

"Not much, Madame. I was busy about my work, of course. When the car drove up to carry them away, I peeped out of the window, and I had a glimpse of the young lady, as she turned around to say good-bye. Such a beautiful young lady! She was happy and smiling, so I supposed everything had gone well."

"You cannot tell me anything they did?"

"Nothing, except I heard they had tea sent out to the pavilion."

"Who served it?"

"The butler would be at the tea-wagon, Madame, and the second man serving."

"What were the relations, generally, between Mr. and Mrs. Whittall?" asked Mme. Storey.

Mary looked uncomfortable. She said in a low voice: "They were living apart, Madame—though under the same roof, since before I came. They never quarrelled before the servants, of course. They were cold to each other. It was the gossip among the servants that Mr. Whittall was always trying to persuade her to get a divorce, and she wouldn't because it was against the laws of her church."

"So is self-destruction," remarked Mme. Storey gravely.

Mary looked up quickly. Evidently this was a new thought to her.

"You considered that Mrs. Whittall was an unhappy woman?" asked Mme. Storey.

The girl nodded. "But I never heard her complain," she added quickly.

"Had she ever spoken of adopting a child?"

"Not seriously, Madame. Once I heard her say that a child was entitled to a father as well as a mother."

"Now let us come to the day of the tragedy," said Mme. Storey. "I want you to tell me everything that happened that day, beginning with the morning."

"I can't tell you much," said Mary. "What happened at night seems to have driven it all out of my head...It was Sunday. I suppose Madame went to early mass as usual. She would not let me get up on Sunday mornings to dress her, nor would she have the car. She walked to church. Then came breakfast. I tidied up her room then. I don't remember anything about the morning; I suppose she was writing letters. After lunch she slept; I dressed her when she got up. I scarcely saw her during the day. She wanted us to rest on Sundays. Dinner was always earlier; half-past six. I had heard downstairs that the master was dining out. Mrs. Whittall didn't dress for dinner on Sundays. She came up from the table in less than half an hour. I was in her room then..."

"How did she look?"

"Quite as usual, Madame. Calm and pale."

"What happened then?"

"A few minutes later a special delivery letter was brought to the door."

"Ha!" said Mme. Storey. "Why was this never mentioned before?"

"Nobody asked me about it, Madame." For the first time an evasive note sounded in the girl's honest voice.

"Was not such a thing very unusual?"

"No, Madame. Mrs. Whittall's mail was very large, she was interested in so many charities and committees. So many people wrote to her asking for one thing or another. There were often special delivery letters; telegrams too."

"Did you have this letter in your hands?"

"Yes, Madame. I carried it from the door to my mistress."

"Describe it."

"Just an ordinary white envelope with the address written on it. No printing."

"Did you recognise the handwriting?"

"No, Madame."

"Was it a man's handwriting?"

"I don't know. I just gave it a careless glance."

Again the evasive note. However, Mme. Storey chose to ignore it.

"Then what happened?"

"Mrs. Whittall said she wouldn't want me any more, and I went away."

"Then?"

"After a while, an hour maybe, she sent for me back again."

"You found her changed then?"

Mary looked at Mme. Storey in a startled way. "Y-yes, Madame," she faltered. "Her cheeks were red. She was nervous. She tried to hide it."

"Where was the letter then?"

"It wasn't anywhere about. It was never seen again."

"Was there a fireplace in the room?"

Mary looked frightened again. "Y-yes, Madame."

"Did you not look there afterwards—next day perhaps?"

The girl hung her head. "Y-yes, Madame."

"And found some scraps of burned paper?"

"Yes, Madame." This very low. "I swept them up."

Once more, to my surprise, Mme. Storey dropped this line of questioning for the moment. "What did Mrs. Whittall say to you?" she asked.

"She said her afternoon dress was too hot, Madame, and she wanted to change. So I started to get a négligée from the wardrobes, but she said no, she had a fancy to put on her blue net evening dress that she had never worn. She wanted her hair done in a different way, too. I was a long time dressing her. It was the first time I had ever found her hard to suit. At the end she asked for her blue velvet evening cloak, as she wanted to walk in the grounds for the cool."

"Had she ever done that before?"

"Not as far as I know, Madame."

"Describe the blue dress."

"A simple little frock, Madame. Just a plain, tight bodice of charmeuse, and a full skirt of net in points over underskirts of malines. A scarf of blue malines went with it. She had never worn it because she said it was too young for her."

"How old was Mrs. Whittall?"

"Thirty-seven, Madame...She wasn't old at all!" the girl went on warmly. "She was beautiful! She was beautiful all over!"

"Where did she keep her revolver?" asked Mme. Storey.

"In the top drawer of the chiffonier in the bedroom. I could feel it lying at the bottom of the drawer when I put things away."

"Were you in the bedroom when you were dressing her that Sunday night?"

"No, Madame; in the dressing-room, which adjoined."

"Did she leave the room at any time while you were dressing her?"

"No, Madame."

"Did you leave the room?"

"No, Madame. The wardrobes were right there along the wall."

"When she was dressed, who left the room first?"

"She did, Madame. I remained to tidy things up. I was still in the dressing-room when I heard...when I heard..."

"I know," said Mme. Storey gently. "Please attend well to what I am going to ask you. When Mrs. Whittall left the room where did she go?"

"Out through the door into the hall, Madame, and down the stairs. I heard her heels on the stairs. She was in a hurry."

"She did not go into the bedroom first?"

"No, Madame."

"Did she have anything in her hands when she went out of the dressing-room?"

"No, Madame."

"Did the blue cloak have a pocket in it?"

"Only a tiny pocket inside for a handkerchief." Mary held up thumb and finger, indicating a space of an inch and a half.

"Would it have been possible for her to conceal the revolver inside that tight bodice?"

"No, Madame."

"Then I ask you, was it possible that she could have carried her revolver out of the house with her?"

The girl stared at her with wide eyes of horror. "No, Madame! No! No!...I never thought it out before...Oh, my poor mistress!"

She broke down completely. Mme. Storey lit a cigarette, to give her time to recover herself.

"Well, after that we know pretty well what happened," my mistress said soothingly. "Just a few more questions...Did it occur to you at any time before your master came home, to look in the chiffonier drawer to see if Mrs. Whittall's gun was there?"

"No, Madame. I never thought. I scarcely knew what I was doing."

"When did you first see Mr. Whittall?"

"He came running up the stairs to the bedroom where the...where the body was lying. He ordered us all out of the room. 'I must be alone with my dead!' he said. Those were his words. Very dramatic."

"Hm!" said Mme. Storey with a hard smile. "And then?"

"In just a minute he called me back into the room by myself, and started to question me, very excited."

"What sort of questions?"

"I can't remember exactly...Like the questions you were asking me. What she was doing all day? What made her go out, and so on."

"Did you tell him about the letter which came?"

"Yes, Madame, because he asked if any message had come."

"What did he say when you told him about the letter?"

"He didn't say anything, then. Later, when we were waiting to be questioned by the police, he sort of said to me and Mr. Frost, the butler, and Mr. Wilkins, the second man—we were the only ones who knew about the letter; he said maybe it would be better if nothing was said about it, and we agreed, of course, not wishing to raise any scandal about the mistress."

"What can you tell me about his subsequent actions?"

"Well, Madame, whenever he got a chance, I saw him looking, looking about the sitting-room and the bedroom..."

"For the letter?"

"So I supposed."

"Did you know then that it had been burned?"

"Yes, Madame; I had looked before he came home."

"Why didn't you tell him it had been burned?"

"I didn't want to give him that satisfaction."

"What else?"

"Well, as long as the police were in the house, Mr. Whittall was right there with them. After they had gone he went out. He took a flashlight with him, because I could see it flashing down the path to the pavilion. Then I lost him. He was out of the house about ten minutes. When he came back he wanted me to go to bed. But I asked to stay up...by her. He went to bed."

"Can you tell me what became of the pistol that was found in Mrs. Whittall's hand?"

"The police captain took it away with him that night. Later I heard that Mr. Whittall had given it to him."

"Now to go back," said Mme. Storey. "When your mistress sent for you to dress her, you said you found her excited. Do you mean pleasurably so?"

"Yes...no...I can hardly say, Madame. When I thought over it afterwards, I supposed she had made up her mind then to end it all, and was just sort of wrought up."

"That was reasonable. But you know now that you were wrong."

Mary nodded. "I don't know what to think now," she said unhappily.

"That letter," said Mme. Storey—and Mary instantly began to look nervous, "what do you think was in it, Mary?"

"How should I know?" she said. "A girl like me, just a lady's maid."

"But you thought it had something to do with the tragedy."

"Not direct."

"Well, indirectly, then."

"Whatever I may have thought is proved wrong now."

"Tell me what you thought."

"I don't think I ought," was the stubborn reply. "I told you the truth when I said I didn't know the handwriting. It was only a guess."

Mme. Storey tried another tack. "Mary," she said, "Mr. Whittall has told his fiancée that his wife killed herself because she was in love with another man."

"That's a lie!" she said excitedly. "At least, the way he means it. My mistress was a good woman!"

"I am sure of it!" said Mme. Storey gravely. "But I can also understand how a woman, married to a man like Whittall, might conceive an honourable love for another man, and still remain true to her marriage vows."

The girl broke into a helpless weeping. Still she stubbornly held her tongue.

At length Mme. Storey said: "Mary, your mistress was foully murdered. Don't you want to see justice done?"

"Yes!...Yes!" she sobbed. "But I don't see how he could have done it. I don't know what to think! I don't see any use in raking up a scandal!"

"The whole story must be opened to the light now," said Mme. Storey gravely. "If that is done, no possible blame can attach to your mistress's name. Wouldn't you rather tell me here than be forced to tell in open court?"

Mary nodded.

"Then, Mary, from whom did you think that letter had come?"

"Mr. Barry Govett," she whispered.

I exclaimed inwardly. Barry Govett!

"You mustn't lay too much on that!" Mary went on, as well as she could for sobbing. "I am ready to swear there was nothing wrong between them. I don't believe they ever saw each other alone but once. That was at our house in the summer. Mr. Govett called unexpected. He didn't stay but an hour. I happened to go into my mistress's sitting-room where they were, and I saw them. I saw by the way they looked at each other how...how it was with them both. How it would always be. I had never seen anything like that..." She was unable to go on.

IV

Barry Govett was the most prominent bachelor in New York society. I had been reading about him in the papers for years. His name regularly headed the list of men present at every fashionable entertainment, and one was continually being informed of his visiting this great person or that in Newport, Saratoga, Lenox, Tuxedo and Palm Beach. Prominent as he was at this time, he must have been still more prominent a few years ago when the cotillon was still a feature of every ball. I have always wondered what a cotillon was. Barry Govett was the cotillon leader par excellence. They said then that one had to engage him months ahead.

All this I had gathered from the gossip weeklies, which, like every other stenographer whose social life was limited to a boarding-house, I used to read with avidity. Barry Govett was their pièce de resistance. Before all this happened, he was once pointed out to me in court costume at a great fancy dress ball; and I thought then that he had the most beautifully turned leg I had ever seen on a man. He must have been over forty then, but still conveyed the effect of a young man; very handsome in his style. But too much the cotillon leader for me. When I thought over this I wondered what a woman like Mrs. Whittall could have seen in him. One never knows!

The moment he entered the outer office I was aware of a personality. Of course, no man could occupy so lofty a position for years, even if it was only at the head of a frivolous society, without acquiring great aplomb. Close at hand in the daylight, I saw that there was little of the youth remaining about him, though his figure was still slim, but I liked him better than I had expected. He had a long, oval face, almost ascetic looking, with nice blue eyes, though they were always pleasantly watchful, and betrayed little. He was wonderfully turned out, of course, but nothing spectacular. It was the perfection of art that conceals art. I was immediately sensible of his charm too, though I had discounted it in advance. The smile and the bow conveyed no intimation that he saw in me merely the humble secretary.

I took him in to Mme. Storey. She was playing the great lady that afternoon, and the black ape Giannino in green cap and jacket with golden bells was seated in the crook of her left arm. Mr. Govett hastened forward, and gracefully kissed her hand. I wondered if Giannino would snatch at his none-too-well-covered poll. We were always amused to see how the ape would receive a new person. He is an individual of very strong likes and dislikes. However, he only made a face at Mr. Govett, and hissed amicably. Indeed, Mr. Govett held out his elbow, and Giannino hopped upon it, and stroked his face. This was a great victory.

"Dear lady!" said Mr. Govett, "this is an undeserved privilege. To be invited to tea with you, and" (looking around the room) "alone!"

"Just me and Giannino and my friend Miss Brickley," said Mme. Storey.

He whirled around and bowed to me again, murmuring: "Charmed!" My hand was horribly self-conscious in the expectation that he might offer to kiss it. I wondered if it was quite clean. Which way would I look! I could see too that Mme. Storey was wickedly hoping that he might. Fortunately he did not.

"Miss Brickley has been dying to meet you," she said slyly.

"Ah! you do me too much honour!" he said.

I was rather fussed, and therefore I was bound not to show It. "Well, you're such a famous man," I said.

"Now you're spoofing me," he said. "It's not much to be a hero of the society notes, is it?"

Tea was waiting, and we attacked it forthwith. Mr. Govett, stroking Giannino's pompadour, and feeding him sugar, supplied most of the conversation. His gossip was extremely amusing, without being malicious—well not very malicious. No doubt he suited his talk to his company.

Had we heard that Bessie Van Brocklin was going to give a zoological dinner? It was in honour of her new cheetah. He didn't know quite what a cheetah was; the name sounded ominous. The Princess Yevrienev had promised to bring her lion cubs, and the Goldsby-Snows would be on hand with their falcons. Somebody else had a wolf, and he had heard a rumour that there was an anaconda being kept in the dark. Oh, and of course, there were plenty of monkeys in society, zoological and otherwise. It ought to be a brilliant affair.

Had we heard the latest about Freddy Vesey? Freddy had been dining with the Stickneys, who were the last householders on Madison Square. Carried away by his boyhood recollections of old New York, Freddy had leaped into the fountain, causing great excitement among the park-benchers. An Irish policeman was convinced that it was an attempted suicide. Freddy had argued with him at length from the middle of the fountain. Freddy had refused to come out until the policeman promised to let him off. No, Freddy had not undressed before jumping in, he was happy to say, and thereby the world was saved a shocking disclosure of the means by which he preserved his ever youthful figure.

All the while this was going on, I could see that Mr. Govett was wondering why he had been asked to tea with us. He knew, of course, that we had something more to do than gossip in that place. But he betrayed no particular anxiety.

Finally they lighted their cigarettes. Giannino, who adores cigarettes, though they invariably make him sick, coolly stole Mr. Govett's from between his lips, and fled up to the top of a picture frame, where he sat and mocked at us. I dislodged him with a stick which I keep for the purpose, and depriving him of his booty, carried him to his little house in the middle room. When I came back Mme. Storey was saying: "Have you heard that Darius Whittall is going to marry Fay Brunton?"

"That was a foregone conclusion, wasn't it?" said Mr. Govett with a shrug.

"Not to me!"

"Ah, yes, of course, the adorable Brunton is a friend of yours." I could see by his eyes that he was thinking: Is this what I was brought here for?

"Is Whittall a friend of yours?" asked Mme. Storey.

"No!" he said shortly.

"Barry, you and I have known each other for a good many years," said Mme. Storey, "and I have confidence in your discretion, though you always make-believe not to have any..."

"Thanks, dear lady."

"What do you think of me?"

"I think you're an angel!"

"Oh, not that tosh!"

"I think you're the greatest woman in New York!"

"That's not what I want either. In all these affairs that I have been engaged in, are you satisfied that I have always taken the side of decency?"

"Oh, yes!" he said quite simply. "What a question!"

"Good! Then I ask for your confidence in this affair. I am investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of Mrs. Whittall."

He gave a start, which he instantly controlled. One could not have said that he showed more than anybody might have shown upon hearing such an announcement. "Good Heavens!" he murmured, "do you think there was anything more than..."

"She was murdered, Barry."

"Oh, my God!" he whispered. His face turned greyish; his hands shook. I thought the man was going to faint; but even while I looked at him, he steadied himself. I never saw such an exhibition of self-control. He drew a long breath.

"How can I help?" he asked quietly.

"By being quite frank with me."

He looked at me in a meaning way.

"Miss Brickley is familiar with all the circumstances," said Mme. Storey, "and she possesses my entire confidence. Nothing that transpires in this room is ever heard outside of it, unless I choose that it shall be."

"Of course," he murmured. "Still, I don't see how I..."

"Mrs. Whittall was lured out to the pavilion by a letter which we have reason to suppose she thought you had written."

He jumped up involuntarily, staring at her like one insane; then dropped limply into his chair again. It was some moments before he could speak. "But I never wrote to her in my life!"

"Then how could she have known your handwriting?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Well, I mean nothing but social notes; answers to invitations and so on." He saw that he had made a slip, and added hastily: "How do you know that she did recognise my handwriting?"

"We mustn't waste the afternoon fencing with each other," said Mme. Storey mildly. "You are aware of something that would help me very much in this matter."

"What makes you think so?" he asked with an innocent air.

"You betrayed it just now. It leaped out of your eyes."

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean."

"Barry, nothing can be altogether hidden. Your secret is known to a few people."

"I have so many secrets!" he said with a silly-sounding laugh.

"You were in love with her."

"If you imply by that..." he began excitedly.

"I imply nothing. From all accounts Mrs. Whittall must have been a saint."

"She was," he said. "And of course I loved her. Everybody who knew her loved her. In our world she moved like a creature apart. She was really good."

"Of course," said Mme. Storey. "But that is not what I mean."

He remained obstinately silent.

"Why did you call on her unexpectedly one afternoon last summer?" Mme. Storey asked bluntly.

He stared at her in confusion. "Why...why for no special reason," he stammered.

"On that afternoon," pursued my mistress relentlessly, "you told her that you loved her, and she confessed that it was returned."

He suddenly gave up. "Rosika, you are superhuman!" he said simply. "I am in your hands...we all are!" He relaxed in his chair, and his chin sank on his breast. The guard had fallen from his eyes, and he looked old and heart-broken. Mme. Storey gave him his own time to speak.

"You understand," he said at last, "my only object in trying to put you off was to protect her memory—not that it needed protection, but only from misrepresentation."

"I understood that from the beginning," said my mistress.

"It is true that I was in love with her," he went on. "Since many years ago. Almost from the time that Whittall first brought her home. We called her St. Cecilia. I watched her once cutting roses in her garden, when she didn't know anybody was near. At first it didn't hurt much. I had no aspirations. She was like a beautiful dream in my life, which redeemed it from triviality. I fed my dream with what glimpses of her came my way.

"Later, all that was changed. It hurt then! Because I knew that she must be unhappy, and I longed to make her happy. I wanted her so! Up to the afternoon that you spoke of we had scarcely ever been alone together, and we had never exchanged any intimate speech. But before that, even in a crowd, I had been aware that she had a sympathy for me. In short, she loved me. You may well wonder at that—a man like me! But you see...she saw beneath the grinning mask I wear. She brought out the best in me, that I have hidden for so many years. Even then I had no thought of...I knew her too well!

"And then on the day you speak of, a note was brought to me by special delivery from her. I had stored away scraps of her handwriting; invitations and so on, and I never doubted but that it was from her. Just four words: 'Come to me quickly!' I flew. When I entered her sitting-room, she seemed surprised, but I thought that was just a woman's defence. I took her in my arms. She surrendered for a moment, just a little moment; then she thrust me away.

"She denied having written to me. For a moment I did not believe her—I had already burned the note, so I could not show it to her; however, she made it abundantly clear she had not written it. Then we realised somebody must be trying to entrap us, and we were alarmed. But she said nobody could hurt us if we kept our heads up and walked straight. She sent me away. Yes, it was for good! for good! There was never any doubt about that. We were never to attempt to see each other alone; we were not to write—except in case of desperate need. It was I who exacted that. If the need was desperate, either of us might write to the other.

"When I heard of her death—by her own hand as I thought...I felt betrayed; I felt if things had come to that pass she might have sent for me first...Oh, well, you are not interested in my state of mind! How gladly I would have put a pistol to my own head! I did not do so because I could not bear to sully her name by having it connected with mine. And so I kept on with the same old round, showing the same old grin! I dared not stop for fear of people saying: 'Oh, old Barry Govett is broken-hearted because of, well, you know!'...A pretty world, isn't it?" He finished with a harsh laugh.

Nobody said anything for a while.

Finally he raised his head. "But you have given me a renewed interest in life," he said grimly. "The same hand that forged that letter to me afterwards forged the letter that lured her out to the pavilion."

"There can be no doubt of that," said Mme. Storey.

"By God!" said Govett quietly. "If the law doesn't get him, I will!"

"Slowly!" said Mme. Storey. "There is no proof yet."

V

I see upon referring to my notes that this took place upon a Friday afternoon. Mr. Govett had not much more than left our place when Fay Brunton dropped in. She looked sweet enough to eat. To our relief she had left the inevitable mother behind on this occasion. Fay did not take tea, but dined at six in order to have a short rest before going to the theatre. She had just fifteen minutes before dinner, she said, and had rushed around to tell us—her news, after what we had just heard, was like a bombshell. I could scarcely repress a cry of dismay.

"Darius and I have decided to get married on Sunday morning."

My mistress never changed a muscle of her smile.

"What!" she said with mock reproach, "must you abandon us so soon?"

"I am not abandoning you!" said Fay, giving her a kiss. "It's the most wonderful plan!" she went on happily. "You know little Larrimore, my understudy, who is dying to have a chance at the part? Well, she is to have it. For a whole week! It's all been fixed up. It will be given out that I am indisposed. The fact of our marriage will be allowed to leak out later. And if Larrimore makes good she can keep the part. It's only that I don't want anybody to lose any money through me.

"We are to be married on Sunday morning in the hotel. Strictly private, of course. And immediately afterwards we'll hop on a train for Pinehurst. Think of Pinehurst after weather like this! And what do you think? Darius has secured the loan of a private car from the president of the railway! I've never been in a private car; have you? And then a whole wonderful week in the woods!"

"Wonderful!" cried Mme. Storey, and there was not a tinge of anything but sympathy in her voice. "But am I not to see you again? Tomorrow is Saturday, and you have two performances."

"How about tonight after the show?" suggested Fay.

Mme. Storey shook her head. "I have an engagement." (This was not true.) "How about tomorrow night after the show?" she went on. "I must have a chance to give you a little party before you step off into the gulf. Come here. My flat is too far up-town."

Fay looked dubious. "I should love it," she said, "but Darius, you know. He hates parties."

The expression in my mistress's eyes said: Damn Darius! But she laughed good-humouredly. "Oh, I don't mean a party, my dear. Just you and Darius and Mrs. Brunton; Bella and I."

"I should love it," said Fay. "If Darius doesn't mind."

"Why should Darius mind?" demanded my mistress. "Doesn't he like me?"

"Oh, yes!" said Fay quickly. "He admires you ever so much!"

"Then why should he mind?"

The girl could not withstand the point-blank question. "Well, you see," she faltered, "he thinks...that you do not like him very much...that you disapprove of him."

"Fay," challenged my mistress, "have I ever by word or look given you any reason to suppose such a thing?"

"Oh, no, Rosika! And so I have told him. Over and over...But he still thinks so."

"Now, look here," said Mme. Storey. "I am never the one to interfere between a married pair—or a soon-to-be-married pair, but you must make a stand somewhere, my child, or you'll soon find yourself a loving little slave. I mean when you are in the right. Now this particular notion of Darius's is a silly notion, isn't it?"

"Y-yes," said Fay.

"Then you should not give in to it...But look here, I'll make it easier for you. Let's pretend that it's your party. You tell Darius that you have asked Bella and me to your hotel for supper after the show on your last night, and he could not possibly object, could he?"

Fay's face lighted up. "Oh, no!" she cried. "That will be splendid!"

"All right!" said Mme. Storey. "Expect us about quarter to twelve. You'll have it in your own rooms, of course, where we may be quite free."

"Now I must run!" said Fay.

"Oh, wait a minute!" pleaded Mme. Storey, slipping her arm through the girl's. "This is the last moment I shall see you alone! There are so many things I want to talk to you about!...And now you have driven them all out of my head...Is the little nest ready in the East Seventies?"

"It will be when we get back from Pinehurst." Fay launched into an enthusiastic description.

"And what happens to Oakhurst?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Oh, didn't I tell you? Darius has put it into the hands of Merryman. It's to be sold, lock, stock and barrel."

"And quite right, too...By the way, do you know what Darius's movements will be tomorrow? I must see him if I can, in order to remove this ridiculous wrong impression he has got of me."

"You're so kind, Rosika! All I know is, he's going to sleep at his rooms in the Vandermeer tonight, in order to be on hand early for all the things he has to see to tomorrow."

"Well, I'll call him up at the Vandermeer."

Arm in arm, they had been moving slowly out through my office with me at their heels. They had now reached the door. Mme. Storey kissed the girl fondly. My mistress was playing an elaborate game, but at least there was nothing insincere about that gesture.

"One last thing," she said. "I want to make you a little gift of some sort..."

Fay made a gesture of dissent.

"When the news comes out you will be showered with all sorts of useless things. I should like to give you something that you want. What shall it be?"

"Oh, I'd much rather leave it to you, dear."

"Well, I must think of something original." She feigned to be considering deeply. "I have it!" she said. "I will give you a beautifully mounted gun with your name chased on the handle. Every woman ought to have a gun."

"Oh, thank you!" said Fay. "But I have one! Darius says too that every woman ought to have a gun. He gave me one months ago."

"Oh, yes, I remember," said Mme. Storey. "What sort of gun?"

"A Matson 32, automatic."

I shivered inwardly. Did the man buy them wholesale?

"Do you carry it about with you?" asked Mme. Storey, laughing.

"Oh, no," said Fay simply. "I keep it in my bottom drawer."

"Ah, well, I'll have to think of something else then," said Mme. Storey.

They embraced, and Fay went.

The instant the door closed after her, Mme. Storey said to me: "Quick, Bella! Your hat!" She went to the window to wave her hand to Fay when she issued below. While standing there, she continued to speak rapidly to me. "Pick up a taxi, and go to Merryman's. That's the big real estate office on Madison Avenue near Forty-Fourth Street. If it's closed, you'll have to look up the address of one of the partners in the telephone book, and go to his house. Apologise for disturbing him and say that your employer (who wishes to remain unknown for the moment) has just learned that the Whittall property in Riverdale has come into the market. Ask for an order to view the place tomorrow. Explain that, owing to your employer's leaving for the West, tomorrow is the only day he will have for the purpose...Wait a minute! Fay is just getting into her car...Now she's off. Run along!"

VI

Next morning we drove up to Riverdale in Mme. Storey's own limousine, but instead of her regular chauffeur, we had Crider at the wheel, an admirable fellow, quiet and keen; the chief of all our operatives. I pointed out to Mme. Storey that if anybody at the house was curious about us, it would be an easy matter to find out who we were by tracing the number of our licence.

"It doesn't matter," she said. "By tonight it will all be decided one way or the other."

Riverdale, as everybody knows, is not a "dale" at all, but a bold hill on the mainland, just to the North of Manhattan Island. On the one side it overlooks the Hudson River; on the other the flat expanse of the Bronx with Van Cortlandt Park. The original village may have started down by the river, but now the whole rocky height is thickly covered with handsome new villas standing in their limited plots. It is an exceedingly well-to-do community, but not fashionable. Fashion has fled farther from town. "Oakhurst," however, is a survival. It was built and laid out by the first Darius Whittall in the days when "a mansion on the Hudson" was synonymous with everything that was opulent and eminent.

The grounds were of considerable extent. We drove in through beautiful wrought iron gates and past a lodge in the English style. The house was invisible from the road. We wound through a wood of evergreens and oaks before coming to it in the midst of its lawns. It was a long, irregular structure built of native stone. It had no particular architectural pretensions, but the years had mellowed it. It looked dignified and comfortable. This was the back of the house really; the principal rooms faced the glorious prospect over the Hudson with the Palisades beyond.

We drove up under a porte cochère, and upon alighting, were received by an irreproachable butler. This must have been Frost. I showed him our order to view the place, and Mme. Storey expressed a wish to be shown the grounds first. Whereupon he handed us over to the second man, a sort of embryo butler; younger, fresh-faced; not yet able to subdue his curiosity and interest at the sight of a woman so beautiful as Madame Storey. He conducted us around the side of the house to the head gardener, who was directing the operations of several men engaged in setting out shrubs.

So we began our perambulations. There was only one thing about the grounds that really interested us; i.e., the pavilion; but of course we said nothing about it, waiting until we should arrive there in proper order. In front of the house the ground fell away gradually in beautiful flower-beds and terraces, to the edge of a steep declivity which dropped to the river. The steep part was wooded in order to mask the railway tracks below. At this season it was all rather sere and leafless, except the grass, which was clipped and rolled to the semblance of green velvet. Stables, garage and other offices were all concealed behind shrubbery to the north of the house.

We could see the pavilion off to the left as we faced the river; that is to say the southerly side. On this side the hill ran out in a little point ending in a knoll, and on the knoll was the pavilion, in the form of a little Greek temple with a flattened dome and a circle of Doric columns. The winding path which led to it was bordered with rhododendrons, backed with arbour vitæ. As we approached, I pictured the beautiful woman running down that path thinking she was going to the man she loved, and I seemed to hear the shot that ended everything for her. At the foot of the three steps one instinctively looked for bloodstains in the grey gravel; but, of course, all such marks had been erased long since.

Mme. Storey said to the gardener: "I should like to sit down here for five minutes to look at the view. Will you come back?"

The man bowed and hurried away to look after his subordinates.

As we mounted the three steps Mme. Storey laid her hand against the first pillar to the right. "Here," she murmured, "the murderer waited concealed, gun in hand."

I shivered.

Inside, there was a circle of flat-topped marble benches. The view from that spot is world famous. One could see both up and down the glorious river for miles. Only within the last few years the foreground had been defaced by the cutting of new streets and the building of showy houses.

"Our first job is to decide how the murderer got here," said Mme. Storey. "He must have familiarised himself with the spot beforehand."

"But, of course, he knew the spot!" I said, in surprise.

"Mustn't jump to conclusions, my Bella!" she said with a smile. "To go upon the assumption that we already know everything would only be to warp the judgment. All that we can say so far is, some person unknown to us stood behind that pillar and shot Mrs. Whittall."

I thought she was over-scrupulous.

As soon as we looked down to the left, the means of access was clear. The present boundary of the Whittall property was only about a hundred feet away on this side. It was marked by a rough stone wall, not very high; any determined person could have scrambled over it. On the other side of the wall a new street had been laid off down to the river. There were several new houses looking over the wall, and a boating club house down at the end. Once over the wall it was an easy climb through the dead leaves and thin undergrowth up to the pavilion.

"If one followed that street back over the hill and down into the valley on the other side," said Mme. Storey, "it would bring one out somewhere in the vicinity of the subway terminal at Van Cortlandt Park. That is the way he came. You cannot trace anybody on the subway."

She went on: "Now, what did Whittall do with his wife's revolver?"

"A search?" I asked anxiously, thinking what a little time we had.

"Oh, sit down," she said, suiting the action to the word. "And appear to be enjoying the view like me." She produced a cigarette, and lighted it. "Let us search in our heads first. Let us put it through a process of elimination. We have something to go on in this instance because we know our man."

She presently went on: "During that minute when he was left alone with the body, he took the revolver out of the drawer and dropped it in his pocket. All during the time when the police were in the house it lay there in his pocket, burning him! As soon as he could, he left the house with his little flashlight as Mary has told us, and came this way. He was looking for the letter then. He was afraid that his wife might have carried it out in her hand, and dropped it when she fell. Not finding any letter he had to dispose of the gun. Well, there he was. He dared not stay out more than a few minutes. Put yourself in his place, Bella. What would he do with it?"

I shook my head helplessly.

"I think his first impulse would be to toss it from him as far as he could," Mme. Storey resumed. "But it was night, you see, and the risk would be too great that the morning light would reveal it. There are too many men working on this place! For the same reason he wouldn't dare hide it in the shrubbery. He would next think of burying it, but I don't suppose Whittall had ever dug a hole in his life. Besides, he would have to get a tool, which would take time, and anyway, where in this carefully manicured place could he have buried it without leaving tell-tale marks? Then there's the river, that's the ideal hiding-place. But it's too far away. It would take him twenty minutes to go and come, not counting the time he spent looking for the letter, and we have Mary's word for it that he was not out of the house more than ten...I think he would have risked the trip to the river, Bella, had he not known of water nearer to. For a guilty person with a heavy object to hide instinctively thinks of water!"

We saw the gardener returning along the path.

Mme. Storey smiled on him. "I have a horror of mosquitoes," she said to him as he came up, "and I want to ask you if there is any standing water on the place, or nearby. Any pond or pool or basin."

"No, Madame," was the reply. "Nothing of that sort anywhere in the neighbourhood."

"But are you sure?" she persisted sweetly. "They say that even a pan of water is enough if it's allowed to stand."

"Well, there's an old well down at the foot of the front lawn," he said good-humouredly. "But I hardly think the insects could breed there, because it's twenty feet down to the water."

"Still I'd like to look at it," said Mme. Storey. "If you wouldn't mind."

"Certainly, Madame."

He pointed out a path which led down to the right. As he led the way, he gave us the history of the old well. "The original house on this property stood on the edge of the steep bank, and this was the well belonging to it. When Mr. Whittall's grandfather pulled the old house down, he did not fill up the well, but built an ornamental well-house over it. But the late Mrs. Whittall thought it was incongruous, as it was, and she had it removed. Her idea was to bring over an antique well-curb from Italy, but for some reason this was never done, and so at present it just has a temporary cover over it."

In a hundred yards or so we came to the spot. It was on the lowest level of the gardens and terraces in front of the house, One could picture the old-fashioned farmhouse which had once stood there. The magnificent elm which had shaded it had been allowed to remain. The brickwork of the well projected a few inches above the ground, and over it had been laid a heavy wooden cover with a trap in the middle, having a ring.

"Will that open?" asked Mme. Storey, pointing.

He got down on his knees to pull it up, looking bored at these vagaries of my mistress, but still respectful.

"I want to look in it," she said.

He made place for her, and she in turn got down on her knees to peer into the black hole.

Suddenly she clasped her breast. "Oh, my pin!" she cried, "It fell in!" And got up with a face of tragedy.

The old gardener scratched his head. I think he was a Scotsman. He looked utterly disgusted. Oh, the folly of these gentlefolk! his expression said.

"It must be recovered!" my mistress said agitatedly. What an admirable actress she was! "It must be recovered! I value it above price!"

"Well, ma'am, I suppose it can be got," the man said slowly. "There's not above three feet of water in the bottom. I have a block and tackle in the toolhouse. I will send one of the men down."

"My chauffeur shall go down," said Mme. Storey.

"No need of that, ma'am."

"No, I insist! My chauffeur shall go down. If the others will help him I shall see that all are well rewarded for their trouble. And you, too!"

"As you wish, Madame." He went off to summon help.

With a slight smile, Mme. Storey pressed an emerald barpin that she had unfastened from somewhere or other into my hand, and sent me for Crider. I found him still sitting like a wooden image at the wheel of the car. I gave him the emerald, which he pinned inside his clothes, and whispered his instructions. His eyes gleamed. We returned to the old well.

The under-gardeners had gathered to help, and the old man was dragging block and tackle towards the spot.

"This will take some time, I suppose," said Mme. Storey when he came up. "We had better be looking over the house while we wait."

So we went back up the slope.

We had no particular interest in the interior of the house, but we went over everything dutifully under the guidance of the butler. It was one of the most attractive houses I ever was in. If I had never heard anything else about the mistress of it I would have known by the inside of her house that she was a superior woman. It had nothing of the awful perfection usual to the houses of the very rich; nothing of the museum look. It was full of character. There were no "period" rooms.

In order to give Crider plenty of time we made our tour last as long as possible, but we had returned to the main floor before any word came from him. There was a central hall which was furnished with comfortable chairs. Mme. Storey said to the butler:

"If we may, we will wait here a little while. It is so cold outside."

"Certainly, Madame," he said, and withdrew. We had a feeling, though, that he was lingering somewhere close by. Well, after all, we were strangers in the house.

In a few minutes we heard a car approach swiftly through the crunching gravel, and come to a stop with a grinding of brakes. Mme. Storey and I looked at each other significantly. She shrugged. We heard the car door slam outside, feet came running up the steps, and the front door was flung open. There stood the master of the house. The light was behind him, and I could not read his expression.

The thought instantly flew into my head that the butler, recognising Mme. Storey, or perhaps suspecting us on general principles, had telephoned to him. He had had just about time enough to drive up from town.

VII

"What! Mme. Storey!" Whittall cried very affably. "What a surprise! I had no idea that you were interested in my property. Why didn't you let me know?"

She ignored the question. "It is beautiful!" she said blandly, "but I am afraid it is too expensive for me."

They shook hands. I could see his face now. He had it under pretty good control, but his eyes were narrow and sharp with curiosity. He was a handsome man in his way, with dark, bright eyes in which there was something both defiant and shifty. It was the look of a schoolboy who knows he has a bad name, and is determined to brazen it out. Why had not Fay Brunton's instincts taken alarm? I wondered. But perhaps Whittall only had that look when he faced my mistress.

"Oh, it's too expensive for anybody to own as a residence now," he said with a laugh. "I supposed it would be bought by a real estate operator, and subdivided...Have you seen everything?"

"Yes, thank you," said Mme. Storey. "We were just waiting for a few minutes. I had the misfortune to lose a piece of jewellery in the grounds, and they are looking for it."

"Ah, I am so sorry!" While he smiled in polite sympathy, his sharp eyes sought to bore into her, but my mistress's face presented a surface as smooth as tinted china.

"We might as well go and see what they are about," she said, moving towards the door.

"Don't hurry away!" he begged. "I don't often have the chance of entertaining you."

However, at this moment the butler appeared, to announce that Madame's pin had been found, and we all moved out to the front steps. Crider was there, and the head gardener. Crider passed over the emerald, and with a meaning look gave his mistress to understand that he had been successful in his other quest. A great relief filled me. Whittall had not come home in time to frustrate us. Mme. Storey was loud in her protestations of thankfulness. She opened her purse to reward the gardener and his men.

"Where was it found?" asked Whittall.

The gardener spoke up. "At the bottom of the old well, sir."

It must have given Whittall a hideous shock. I scarcely had the heart to look at him. He uttered no sound; his eyes were divested of all sense. His florid face went greyish, leaving a network of tiny, purplish veins outlined against the greyness. Several times he essayed to speak before any sound came out.

"Come inside a minute," he gabbled. "Come inside...come inside!"

Mme. Storey looked at Crider, and he followed us inside. My mistress had no notion of trusting herself alone with that madman. Whittall led the way across the hall, walking with such quick short steps as to give almost a comic effect. He opened the door of the library for us to pass in. He was for shutting it in Crider's face, but Mme. Storey stopped him with a steady look. So Crider entered and waited with his back against the door. It was a beautiful, quiet room upholstered in maroon, with three tall windows reaching to the floor.

Whittall was in a pitiably unnerved state. Consider the height that he had fallen from. On the eve of his marriage, too. He drew a bottle from a cabinet, and poured himself a drink with shaking hands. Gulped it down at a draught. He went to the windows and jerked at the curtain cords senselessly, though they were already opened to their widest. Again, one was reminded of something comic in his attempt to make out that there was nothing the matter. Finally he asked in a thick voice:

"Am I to have any explanation of this extraordinary visit?"

"I would not insist on it, Whittall," said my mistress, almost regretfully, one would have said.

"I do insist on it," he said quickly.

"Very well. It was not an emerald pin, of course, that I was looking for at the bottom of the well."

"What was it then?"

She turned to the door. "What did you find there, Crider?"

"A Matson 32 automatic, Madame. The magazine is full."

"Hand it over!" said Whittall.

Crider, naturally, made no move to obey.

"This is mere folly," said my mistress calmly; "it is to be handed over to an authority higher than yours."

"Of what do you accuse me?" he cried wildly.

"Of nothing yet, except throwing this gun down the well."

"It's a lie! It's a lie! I never saw it before!"

"Then why all this excitement?"

He turned away biting his fingers.

"This is worse than useless," said Mme. Storey. "Open the door, Crider."

Whittall instantly became abject and cringing. "Wait a minute!" he implored. "Give me a chance to explain. Oh, my God! this frightful unexpected accusation has driven me out of my senses. Give me a chance to recover myself. Don't you see what you are doing? You are ruining me beyond hope. And all for nothing! All for nothing! I am as innocent as a child!"

I am afraid we all smiled grimly at this last cry of his. However, Mme. Storey waited.

"Give me a little time!" he muttered. He took another drink. He then said in a stronger voice: "Send those people out of the room, and I'll tell you all."

"These two are my trusted employees," said Mme. Storey. "We three are as one. You may explain or not, just as it suits you."

After a moment's hesitation he said: "I will explain on one condition, that, if my explanation is a reasonable one, you promise you will not proceed against me immediately. But if you are determined to proceed against me anyhow, what's the use of my telling you anything. You can go ahead and be damned to you."

This was too much for Crider. "I'll trouble you to be civil to Madame Storey," he said, flushing.

My mistress silenced him with a gesture. To Whittall she said coolly: "I am not prepared to proceed against you yet. As to the future I make no promises. Are you willing on your part to give me your word of honour that you will not marry until this matter is cleared up?"

"Certainly!" he said quickly. "Word of honour...But, don't tell Fay yet. It would break her heart."

"I have no intention of doing so, yet," said Mme. Storey dryly.

There was a considerable silence.

"We are waiting for the explanation," said Mme. Storey at length.

Whittall turned around. He had evidently decided on his course. "It is true that that is my wife's gun," he said without hesitation, "and that I threw it down the well. But I swear as God is in His Heaven that I did not shoot her. The reason I acted as I did was to prevent a scandal. I immediately suspected that she had been murdered. Well, a dirty scandal would not have given her back to me; it would only have besmirched her reputation still further."

"I know all about the 'other man,'" said Mme. Storey coolly. "I have talked with him. If you are suggesting that he shot her, I answer that it is impossible that he could have done so."

Whittall's face was a study while she was saying this. Finally he shrugged. "In that case," he said sullenly, "I know no more than the next man who did it."

"What gave you reason to suspect that it was murder?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Oh, the general circumstances."

"Nobody else suspected such a thing."

He shrugged indifferently.

Nothing more seemed to be forthcoming, and presently Mme. Storey said: "Your explanation so far is no explanation."

He turned away, visibly in a state of indecision. Then he flung around again. "Oh, hell! I suppose it's all got to come out now!" he cried. "I was warned of her murder!"

"Beforehand?" Mme. Storey asked sternly.

"No. What do you think I am?...Shortly after it was committed. That is why I came home so early...I was dining with a friend. I was called to the telephone. A voice, unknown to me, said without any preliminary explanation: 'Your wife has just been shot. If you want to avoid a nasty scandal, you had better hurry home and dispose of her revolver, so that it will look like a suicide.'"

I could not help smiling at this tale. It sounded so preposterous. Mme. Storey, however, was grave enough.

"A man's voice or a woman's voice?" she asked.

"A man's."

"Can you offer corroboration of this?"

"Certainly."

"Where were you dining, and with whom?"

"What right have you to cross-examine me?" he said, scowling.

"Oh, if you'd rather tell the district attorney..." said Mme. Storey calmly.

"I was with Max Kreuger, the manager of Miss Brunton's company," he said sullenly. "We were at the Norfolk. It is not a hotel that I frequent, but we had some private business to discuss, and I didn't want to be recognised."

"Yet the person who called you up knew where to find you?"

He flung out his hands violently. "You'll have to figure that out as best you can! It beats me!"

Mme. Storey took a thoughtful turn up and down.

Whittall went on: "It has been established by a dozen witnesses that the fatal shot was fired at nine-thirty. Kreuger will testify that at that hour I was dining with him in the Norfolk—ten miles away from here. So your case against me collapses. Kreuger will tell you further that about ten minutes past ten I was called to the 'phone. Naturally I did not tell him the nature of the message I received. But he'll tell you that I left immediately. Before eleven I was back here. I suppose the taxicab driver who brought me here can be found too, if he is looked for...Kreuger is in his office now. Come with me and question him, and let this ridiculous charge be laid once and for all."

Mme. Storey agreed to the proposal. Again she pointed out to Whittall that she had not yet made any charge.

There was a brief discussion as to how we should dispose ourselves for the drive to town. Naturally we did not intend to let Whittall out of our sight. I thought we all ought to go in Mme. Storey's car, but she ruled otherwise. She and I and Whittall would ride in his car, she said, and Crider could bring her car along after.

While Whittall waited for us in his car, biting his fingers with impatience, Mme. Storey gave Crider his private instructions: "Do not follow us, but drive to your own place as quickly as possible, and change. Telephone Younger to come and get the car. You had also better get in touch with Stephens. Get back to the Adelphi theatre as soon as you can. Whittall will be there in Max Kreuger's office. You and Stephens between you are to keep Whittall under observation until further notice, reporting to me at my office by 'phone as often as you are able."

That was hardly a cheerful drive. Mme. Storey and Whittall sat side by side on the back seat without exchanging a single word the whole way. Whittall crouched in his corner, scowling and biting his fingers. If Fay could have watched him then, that in itself ought to have given her pause. Whittall had a skilful chauffeur, of course. He had a special instinct to warn him of a traffic policeman. When the road was clear he opened his throttle to its widest, and we sped like a bullet. Then at certain moments he abruptly slowed down, and sure enough, presently the brass buttons would appear. We made Times Square in twenty-five minutes.

The Adelphi was one of the newer theatres in that neighbourhood. Its name has been changed now. At this time Whittall was reputed to be the owner, but I do not know if this was so. It was perfectly clear though that Max Kreuger was Whittall's creature. Wild Hyacinth, I should say, was not showing at the Adelphi, but at the Yorktown, farther down Broadway, which had a greater seating capacity.

A deceitful air of activity pervaded the offices. Apart from rehearsals, theatrical business seems to consist of lengthy conversations which end exactly where they begin. There were a number of depressed-looking actors of both sexes sitting around the outer office waiting for an interview with the manager. Yet Kreuger as we presently discovered was alone in his office, with his heels cocked up on his desk. Whittall marched straight into the private office with us at his heels. Snatching the cigar from his lips, Kreuger leaped to his feet. He was a rosy, plump little man of the type that I have heard described as a fore-and-aft Jew; a blond. He looked astonished, as well he might, at the combination which faced him.

Without the slightest preamble, Whittall cried out with a wave of his hand: "There he is. Ask him what you want." And went to the window where he turned his back to us.

Kreuger, greatly flustered, began to pull chairs out, and to mumble courtesies.

"Never mind, thanks," said Mme. Storey. "We won't sit down. Just answer a few questions, please. It is by Mr. Whittall's wish that we have come."

"Anything, Madame Storey, anything within my power!" the little man murmured fulsomely.

"What were you doing on the evening of Sunday, September 11th?"

Kreuger was horridly taken aback. He stared at us in a witless fashion and pulled at his slack lower lip. His distracted eyes sought his master for guidance, but received none, Whittall's back being turned.

"Well, speak up, can't you?" barked Whittall, without turning around.

"Yes...yes...of course," stammered Kreuger, sparring for time. "Let me see...September 11th...I can't seem to remember offhand. I shall have to look it up."

"That was the night of Mrs. Whittall's death," Mme. Storey reminded him.

"Oh, to be sure! that dreadful night!" said Kreuger in suitable tones of horror. "That was the night of the private showing of the super-film 'Ashes of Roses.' I looked in at that."

This was certainly not the answer that Whittall looked for. He whirled around with a face of terror. I rejoiced that we had caught the villains napping, as it seemed. Something had gone wrong with their concerted story.

"Tell the truth!" gasped Whittall.

"Eh?...What?" stammered Kreuger, blinking.

"Tell the truth, I said!" cried Whittall in a fury, banging the desk.

"Oh, to be sure! To be sure!" stuttered the demoralised Kreuger. "Mr. Whittall and I had dinner together that night. At the Hotel Norfolk."

I smiled to myself. This came a little late, I thought. It sounded as if it had been got by heart.

"Why did you not say so at once?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Well, it was a private meeting, Madame. We had business to discuss. I didn't think that Mr. Whittall wanted it known."

"At what time did you meet?"

"Half-past seven."

"Describe what happened."

"Well, we had our dinner. Afterwards we went out to the smoking lounge. Shortly after ten, a boy came through paging Mr. Darius Whittall. Mr. Whittall was surprised, because he had not thought that anybody knew where he was. Everybody in the room looked up, hearing that name. At first Mr. Whittall wasn't going to identify himself. Just some trifler, he said, or a newspaper reporter. But he was curious to find out who had got hold of his name. So after the boy had gone on, he went out to the office. In a minute or two he came back. He looked very agitated. All he said was: 'Something wrong at home.' He got his hat and coat, and jumped in a taxicab."

"Now are you satisfied that I didn't do it?" cried Whittall.

"Quite!" said Mme. Storey.

I was surprised at this answer. Still I supposed she had her own reasons for making it.

She asked them both a number of further questions, which they answered readily. Whittall rapidly quieted down. It had the effect of a genuine cross-examination, but knowing my mistress so well, I could see that she was only stalling for time. She did not want Whittall to get away from there until Crider was waiting outside to pick him up. Nothing of moment to the case was brought out by their answers.

Finally we went. The street outside was crowded, and I could not pick out Crider anywhere, but I had no doubt he was safely at his post. Just the same I felt that we were doing wrong to go away and leave Whittall like that, free to work his own nefarious schemes. And as we drove away in a taxicab I voiced something to that effect.

"But we have no reason to order him detained," said Mme. Storey calmly. "He didn't shoot his wife."

"What!" I cried, astonished. "You still doubt that!"

"No," said Mme. Storey, smiling at the heat I betrayed. "I'm sure he didn't."

"But obviously that man Kreuger was ready to swear to anything that would please him!"

"Obviously!" she agreed.

"And the story about the telephone call—fancy anybody calling him up and saying: 'Your wife has been shot.' Just like that. Why, it's preposterous!"

"Quite!" said Mme. Storey. "Whittall is far too clever a man to have offered me so preposterous a story if it were not true. There is nothing so preposterous as the truth sometimes."

"Well, if he didn't do it himself he certainly had it done," I said excitedly. "And that telephone message was from his hireling telling him that the job was accomplished."

But Mme. Storey still shook her head.

"What makes you so sure Whittall wasn't responsible?" I asked helplessly.

"It's so simple," she said. "If Whittall had plotted to shoot his wife, he would have shot her with her own gun, wouldn't he? And then we never would have known."

I looked at her in silence. Why, of course! My theory went down like a house of cards.

"No," she went on gravely, "here's the best part of the day gone, and we're almost where we were yesterday evening...Well, not quite. Because Whittall told one little lie, which will appear later."

"Then are we up against a blank wall?" I asked, discouraged.

"Oh, no," was her surprising answer. "I know who did it."

I looked my breathless question.

But she only shook her head. "No evidence," she said, frowning. "Not a shred! It's almost the perfect crime, my Bella!"

VIII

Mme. Storey and I returned to the office. We found her car waiting out in front for orders. The chauffeur, Younger, handed over the gun fished from the well at Oakhurst, which Crider had given him for safe keeping. Mme. Storey, in my presence, marked the gun for subsequent identification. We found a number of matters awaiting our attention, which we got out of the way as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, we ordered in a light lunch of sandwiches and milk.

While she munched her sandwiches, Mme. Storey paced slowly up and down the long room, considering deeply. With the last bite she evidently finished mapping out her course of action. Her first move was to call up Fay Brunton in her dressing-room at the theatre. They had an aimless friendly talk, which was, however, not so aimless on my mistress's part as might have been supposed, for she found out: (a) that Fay had not seen nor heard from Darius Whittall since we had left him: (b) that she was still looking forward to the supper party in her rooms that night. I also marked this bit:

"I saw the new film 'Ashes of Roses' last night," said Mme. Storey. (I knew this was not true.) "Have you seen it?" Fay's answer ran to some length. It was evidently in the negative, for Mme. Storey said: "Well, you ought to. It's really quite tremendous." The talk then passed to other matters.

Mme. Storey then called up Inspector Rumsey at Headquarters. She asked him if he had succeeded in tracing Whittall's purchase of the guns. He replied that he had full information. She then got him to tell her what his movements would be that afternoon and night, so that we could get in touch with him any time we might need him.

Crider called us up to report that Darius Whittall had called upon the President of the —— Railroad. Crider was not able to say, of course, what was the occasion of the visit. Upon hearing this Mme. Storey instructed Crider to send Stephens to the —— Terminal to find out as best he could what order had been received respecting the President's private car.

I must try to set down in order all that we did that afternoon. The significance of much of it did not become clear to me until night. First; an operative was despatched to the garage run in connection with the Hotel Madagascar (where Fay lived) with instructions to learn what he could about the movements of Miss Brunton's cars on the night of September 11th. Fay kept two cars; a brougham which was driven by a chauffeur and a smart little convertible that she drove herself. It appeared that in this very up-to-date garage a complete record was kept of the movements of all the cars stored there. Every time they went out their mileage was taken, and again when they came in. This was to prevent their use for unauthorised purposes.

Second; an operative (this one a woman) was sent to interview Miss Beatrice Dufaye, the well-known cinema star, in the guise of a representative of some mythical magazine. Miss Dufaye was the star of "Ashes of Roses," a picture which was the sensation of the moment, and at present she was resting at her country place at Glen Cove before starting work on her next picture. Among other things, this operative was instructed to ask certain questions relative to the private showing of "Ashes of Roses" on September 11th. This had been made a great social occasion in theatrical circles.

A third operative was instructed to learn the present whereabouts of Mr. Frank Esher. Esher, you will remember, was the young man who was deeply in love with Fay Brunton, and for whom we suspected she had a tenderness in return. After a quarrel or a series of quarrels, he had flown off to parts unknown. This operative was furnished with the address of his last employers, his club, and his last home address.

Finally I received my assignment. "Bella," said my mistress, "I want you to go to Tiffany's with me, to help choose Fay's wedding present."

It struck me as very strange that we should spend our time this way when matters were at such a critical juncture; and especially as we were determined to prevent this wedding if we could. However, I said nothing. We used up a good hour choosing the most beautiful amongst all the tiny platinum and jewelled watches they showed us.

"Take it to the hotel," said Mme. Storey, "and give it to her maid to keep until Fay returns from the theatre. You may let the maid have a peep at it as a great favour. This ought to put you on an intimate footing at once. You will no doubt find her packing her mistress's things for the journey tomorrow. It will seem quite natural for you to show curiosity in Fay's pretty things. Take plenty of time. Fay cannot get home until nearly six if she comes at all. Ordinarily, on matinée days, she has dinner in her dressing-room. I want you to find out what Fay was doing on the night of September 11th."

"What Fay was doing?" I echoed, greatly disquieted.

Mme. Storey looked at me in a way which did not allay my uneasiness. "Have patience, Bella. I cannot yet foresee how all this is going to turn out."

She drove off up to Riverdale again with the object of recovering the gun which Whittall had presented to the Captain of the precinct. It was from this gun that the fatal shot had been fired.

I proceeded to the Madagascar, that towering palace of luxury. Fay, like most women in her position, had two maids, one of whom waited upon her in the hotel, and one at the theatre. I was already slightly acquainted with Katy Meadows, her hotel maid, and of course the nature of my errand immediately broke the ice between us. Katy was a pretty, vivacious Irish girl with naturally rosy cheeks. Fay spoiled her. Katy looked on me as a sort of superior servant like herself, and was quite free with me. She went into raptures over the watch.

Just as Mme. Storey had said, I found her packing. Fay's things were spread over the whole suite. I did not have to express any curiosity, for Katy insisted on showing me everything; hats, wraps, dresses, lingerie, shoes in endless profusion. It was immoral that one woman should possess so much, but oh! what a fascinating display! Unfortunately, I had something else on my mind, and was unable to give myself up to the contemplation of it. The suite consisted of three rooms; a corner sitting-room with Fay's bedroom on one side and Mrs. Brunton's on the other.

After we had finished rhapsodising over the watch I lingered on. Katy was bustling from room to room bearing armfuls of Fay's things that had to be packed. She was in a great state of fluster.

"Four o'clock!" she cried. "Mercy! I must get a move on me! They're going to have a supper party here after the show, and everything must be out of here before that, and the place tidied up...But don't you go, Miss Brickley. Sit down and talk to me. It keeps me going..."

In the end it was not at all difficult to get what I wanted. I led up to the matter as I had heard Mme. Storey do over the 'phone.

"I went to see 'Ashes of Roses' last night. It's a dandy picture. Have you seen it?"

"No," said Katy. "I must wait until it shows in the cheaper houses."

"That was a great party they had the night of the private showing last September," I went on. "I suppose your folks went. They say all the famous people on Broadway were there."

"Mrs. Brunton went," said Katy unsuspiciously, "but at the last moment Miss Fay wouldn't go. Said she didn't feel good."

"I thought she was never sick," I ventured.

"Oh, not sick," said Katy. "Just wanted to stay quiet and read. I left her in bed reading. I remember that's the night I saw A. J. Burchell, in 'Well-Dressed Wives.' Don't you love him?"

So much for that.

While I was in the suite, things were still arriving from the shops. I remember I was looking at a marvellous négligée when the telephone rang. From Katy's responses I understood that it was Fay calling from the theatre. Fay was evidently issuing somewhat complicated instructions, to which Katy returned breathless affirmatives.

Katy finally hung up, and turned around with wide eyes. "What do you think!" she cried. "They've changed all their plans. They're going away this evening instead of tomorrow morning!"

I thought that was the end of everything. Mme. Storey had gone up to Riverdale, and I didn't know when she'd get back. Luckily Katy was too much excited herself to notice the effect that her announcement had on me.

"For the Lord's sake," she cried. "You never know what they're going to do next!...I'm to pack the dressing-case and the small wardrobe trunk, and leave everything else to Maud. I'm to take the things to the —— Terminal—my own things too, and meet them in the Grand Concourse at six-thirty!"

There was only one thing for me to do, and that was to get out as quick as I could. Which I did. What was I to do? I felt desperate. If I tried to go after Mme. Storey, likely I would only pass her somewhere coming back. I didn't dare call up the police station at Riverdale, because I didn't know if she would give her right name there, and if I mentioned it, I might upset all her plans. There was nothing for it but to return to the office and wait for her. At the worst, I was prepared to go myself to the Terminal, and denounce Whittall in public, though I died for it.

To my great relief that was not required of me. At the end of an hour, Mme. Storey came into the office bringing a very pretty young lady whom I had not seen before. She introduced her as Miss Larrimore. I was too excited at the moment to remember that this was the name of Fay's understudy.

"Miss Larrimore wanted to see our offices," Mme. Storey explained amiably.

Perceiving from my face that something had happened, Mme. Storey allowed the girl to pass on into the long room, while she lingered in my office. I hurriedly made my communication. Mme. Storey was not in the least disturbed. Indeed, she laughed merrily.

"I fancied that some such move might be made," she said. "So I kidnapped Fay's understudy. I expect they're looking for her now."

"But...but where did you find her?" I asked, amazed.

"Oh, I knew that after reporting at the theatre for every performance, she was free to go home if Fay had turned up in good health. So I went to her boarding-house, and asked her to go for a drive. We'll take her back directly. It will be fun!"

From her handbag Mme. Storey took an automatic pistol, and put a mark on it in my presence, before dropping it in the drawer of my desk. This weapon was identical with the one which had been recovered from the well at Oakhurst that morning.

My mistress did not hurry herself at all. After showing Miss Larrimore her artistic treasures she announced that she would drive her up-town. "I'm going to drop in on Fay at the theatre," said Mme. Storey. "You come along too."

It was not the first time that Mme. Storey and I had applied at the stage door of the Yorktown theatre, and we were admitted without question. The star of the company was allotted two rooms on the level of the stage; the outer was used to receive her friends in, while the inner was devoted to the mysteries of make-up and dress. When the outer door was opened we heard the voices of several people within. Mme. Storey slyly bade Miss Larrimore to enter first, while she hung back with a smile. Cries of relief greeted the understudy.

"Oh, here you are!"

Then Mme. Storey entered with me at her heels. They were all there; Whittall, Kreuger, Mrs. Brunton and Fay. My mistress's appearance created a startling effect. Whittall was arrested in full flight, so to speak. The man froze where he stood. His face turned livid. Kreuger was frankly terrified; while Mrs. Brunton was herself, for once. She snarled. She could not have known what had taken place that day, but she saw clearly enough that her darling scheme was endangered. Fay swam towards us, perfectly candid in her gladness. Whittall made an involuntary move to stop her—then he saw it was useless.

"Rosika and Bella!" cried Fay. "What a lucky chance! I was just about to write you. Darius said it would sound too casual to telephone. I am afraid our little party for tonight must be off, my dears. But Darius says we shall have a big one as soon as we get back. Our plans are all changed. It turns out that the private car is required in New York on Tuesday, and we have to use it tonight or not at all. I suppose I am silly, but my heart was set on that private car. So we're off at seven o'clock. Miss Larrimore will play my part tonight. We'll be married in Pinehurst tomorrow."

Mme. Storey looked at Whittall with a cold smile. He visibly writhed under it. He had given her his word of honour, you remember. The tension of that moment was almost unbearable. Everybody in the room was aware of it except the two girls who were laughingly whispering about the night's performance. There was something inexpressibly touching in the sight of their happy ignorance.

Finally Mme. Storey spoke. "I'm afraid I've got the thankless job of throwing a monkey-wrench into the works," she said.

"What do you mean?" asked Fay, laughing.

"I can't let Mr. Whittall go away tonight."

One can imagine what a hell of rage and frustration Whittall was undergoing during those moments. I don't suppose that the arrogant millionaire's will had ever been crossed before.

"What!" said Fay, opening her eyes wide.

"Some time ago," said Mme. Storey coolly, "Mr. Whittall promised to back me in a scheme I was getting up to open a studio building for poor artists. My plans are ripe now, and I have called a meeting for tomorrow. I am counting on him."

"Oh, but surely," said Fay, more and more surprised, "under the circumstances, can't somebody appear for him? can't it be put off for a few days?"

"No," said Mme. Storey with cold firmness.

From astonishment Fay graduated to indignation. Suspecting enmity in my mistress, she turned from her. "Darius!" she said.

What a bitter moment for him! He hesitated. His eyes glittered in the direction of my mistress with an expression of reckless rage. But upon meeting her cold glance they fell again. He knew that the word "murder" had only to be whispered to destroy his chances for ever. "I gave her my word," he mumbled, grinding his teeth. "I've got to stick to it."

Fay's gentle eyes flashed. She could see now that there was much more in this than appeared on the surface. But pride would not allow her to ask any more questions. She was much angrier at her renegade lover than she was at Mme. Storey.

"Oh, well, of course it doesn't make any difference," she said, tossing her head. She slipped her hand under Miss Larrimore's arm. "I'm only sorry on your account, my dear." She drew the other girl into the inner room.

IX

The events which succeeded this scene were simply baffling to me. Katy was ordered back from the station to the hotel, and told to unpack all her mistress's things and put them away. The private car was cancelled. At this, Mrs. Brunton could no longer contain her feelings. She burst out at Mme. Storey wildly.

"How dare you come here interfering in our private affairs! What does your silly meeting mean to us when Darius and Fay are going to be married! I never heard of such a thing..."

The outburst was quite natural. Mrs. Brunton had had a hard life, and Whittall's twenty millions blinded her to all other considerations. There is no doubt but she loved Fay as if she had been her own child.

Now Whittall, when he heard this, executed a rapid volte-face. A moment before he had seemed absolutely suffocated with rage against Mme. Storey; now he turned against Mrs. Brunton, and roughly silenced her. "Mme. Storey is our friend," he said. "You have no reason to speak to her in that manner. This is important. She knows what she is doing."

Mrs. Brunton didn't know what to make of it, and no more did I. To my further astonishment, Mme. Storey allowed a reconciliation to be patched up, and when I left she and Whittall were chatting together as amicably as you please. Since Fay was to go on as usual, her supper had been ordered in. I can't tell you what happened after that, because I had been sent to the office with private instructions to receive the reports of the various operatives who had been detailed on the case, and forward them to Mme. Storey at the theatre. I supposed that she and Whittall remained at the theatre throughout the performance, exchanging compliments—and watching each other.

During the evening Mme. Storey called me up to say that the little party would take place in Fay's rooms after the performance as at first arranged, and that I was to be there. She instructed me to get in touch with Inspector Rumsey, and to ask him to be waiting in the lobby of the Madagascar at quarter to twelve. I possessed no key to Mme. Storey's plans, and this latter message caused a feeling of dread to weigh on my breast.

In due course I went home to change my dress, and then proceeded to the hotel. I saw the Inspector waiting in the lobby, and nodded to him as I passed. When I was shown up to Fay's suite I found that I was the first to arrive. Katy pounced on me to learn the inner reasons for her mistress's second extraordinary change of plans, but I had no heart to gossip with the maid.

There was a table ready set for six persons. It looked lovely with its snowy cloth set off with glass and silver and flowers. All around the white panelled walls relieved with an old messotint or two there were pink-shaded lights bracketed in threes, and casting down a pleasant glow on the comfortable furniture covered with crisp cretonnes. Only the most expensive places dare to be as simple as that. There were flowers everywhere in the room. To me there was a horrible irony in the sight of all this dainty preparation for such a scene.

Fay, Mrs. Brunton, Darius Whittall and Kreuger came in together. Their faces gave nothing away.

"Where is Mme. Storey?" I asked involuntarily.

"She'll be up directly," said Fay. "She met a friend in the lobby."

I supposed this was Rumsey.

Fay and Mrs. Brunton disappeared within their respective bedrooms to remove their wraps. When Fay left the room something of the inferno of passion that was consuming Whittall broke through the mask he wore. He looked at me as much as to say: What the hell are you doing here? I paid no attention. Mme. Storey entered, and he smiled at her obsequiously. Mme. Storey lit a cigarette, and lingered in the sitting-room exchanging some trivial remarks with Whittall until Fay returned. She then said something about tidying herself, and entered Fay's room alone.

When she came back we sat down at the table, and the waiters entered. Mme. Storey, alone of the women, was not in evening dress, nevertheless by her mere presence she dominated the scene. Everybody else was trying to be funny. There was a ghastly hollowness about it. Whittall was the loudest of all. Fay seemed pleasant towards him, but I suspected that her pleasant manner concealed a certain reserve. Mrs. Brunton seemed to be satisfied that everything was going well, as long as there was plenty of noise.

Fay occupied the place of honour at the head of the table, with Mme. Storey on one hand, and me on the other. Kreuger sat next to Mme. Storey, and Mrs. Brunton next to me. Whittall faced Fay across the table. Fay, I remember, was wearing a pale pink gown embroidered with self-coloured beads in a quaint design. It lent her beauty an exquisite fragility. When he thought nobody was looking at him, I would catch Whittall gazing at her like a lost soul.

The meal, I suppose, left nothing to be desired. I cannot remember what we ate or drank. Some day I hope I may be invited to such a perfect little supper when my mind is at peace. This one was wasted on all of us. It was soon over, and the cigarettes lighted. Mrs. Brunton chattered on.

"There was twenty-one hundred dollars in the house to-night. That's a hundred and fifty more than capacity."

"How do you do that sum?" asked Whittall facetiously.

"Standees," said Mrs. Brunton. "...And what a house! So warm and responsive. I could have hugged them to my breast!"

"Rather an armful," put in Whittall.

"And when she finished her waltz song, didn't they rise to her! Oh, it was wonderful! Never have I heard such applause! And didn't she look sweet when she came out to acknowledge it? I declare her pretty eyes were full of real tears!"

"Well, I thought maybe it was the last time," said Fay.

"I thought they would never let her go!" Mrs. Brunton rhapsodised. "She took fourteen calls!"

"Oh, mamma!" protested Fay, laughing. "Draw it mild!"

"Fourteen!" said Mrs. Brunton firmly. "I said it, and I stick to it! Fourteen!"

She appealed to Whittall and to Kreuger, and they made haste to agree in order to shut her up.

"One doesn't have to exaggerate the successes of a girl like Fay," she went on complacently. "I saw Mildred Mortimer and her mother hidden away at the back of the house. I can. imagine what their feelings were!"

Such was Mrs. Brunton's style. She turned it on like a tap. She had been something of a beauty in her day, and she looked quite handsome tonight in her black evening gown, with her hair freshened up with henna, and prettily dressed.

Whittall, I remember, made an effort to break up the party. "Fay, you look tired," he said. "I think we'd better beat it."

Fay protested. Kreuger, always eager to take a hint from his master, pushed his chair back. No one else moved. I saw Mme. Storey, for whom this suggestion was really intended, glance at her wrist watch. Then she helped herself to a cigarette, and gave the conversation a fresh start.

The crisis was precipitated by an innocent question of Fay's. "Why are you so quiet, Rosika?"

"I am thinking of that poor lady who is dead," said Mme. Storey gravely.

It was like an icy hand laid on each heart there. A deathly silence fell on us. It seemed to last for ever. I felt paralysed. Mrs. Brunton was the first to recover herself. She was afraid of Mme. Storey, and dared not be openly rude, but her anger was evident enough in her voice.

"Oh, I say! What a thing to bring up at such a time and place! I'm surprised at you, Mme. Storey!"

"We are all thinking of her," said Mme. Storey. "It would be better to clear our minds of the subject."

"I wasn't thinking of her, I assure you!"

Even the gentle Fay was resentful. "It's not fair to Darius," she murmured.

"Darius is a man and must face things!"

I glanced at Whittall. He had the look of one braced to receive a fatal stroke.

"I am so sorry for her!" murmured Fay distressfully. "I often think about her and wonder...But, Rosika, is it my fault that I am happy? that I have everything, while she is dead?"

Mme. Storey made no reply to this.

"She solved her problems in her own way!" cried Mrs. Brunton excitedly. "Who shall blame her? Can't you leave her in peace?"

"She did not kill herself," said Mme. Storey slowly. "She was murdered."

Again that awful silence. Horror crushed us.

Whittall lost his grip on himself. "You promised me...you promised me...!" he cried shakily, "that you would not tell her..."

"We had better not talk about promises," said Mme. Storey with a steady look at him.

"Darius!...you already knew this!" gasped Fay.

He could make no answer.

Fay turned to Mme. Storey. "Rosika...how do you know?...how do you know?" she faltered.

"She received a letter that evening which drew her out to the pavilion. She was unarmed when she left the house."

"Then it's quite clear," said Fay, laughing hysterically. "The letter must have been from her lover. He pleaded with her for the last time, and when she was obdurate he shot her in a fit of desperation."

"She was shot within three minutes of leaving the house," said Mme. Storey relentlessly. "Not much time for pleading. No! Somebody was waiting for her in the pavilion with the gun ready."

"But it must have been her lover!" wailed Fay.

Mme. Storey sat looking straight ahead of her, pale and immovable as Nemesis. "It was somebody who is amongst us here," she said.

You could hear the tight breasts around the table labouring for breath. Each of us glanced with furtive dread at our companions. Whittall broke again.

"Well, who?...who?...who?" he cried wildly, "Out with it!"

"Somebody amongst us here?" quavered Mrs. Brunton in a high falsetto. "I never heard of such a thing!"

The ageing woman with her touched-up cheeks and dyed hair looked like a caricature of herself. Everybody around the table looked stricken, clownish, scattered in the wits. I'm sure I was no exception. Only my beautiful mistress was as composed as Death.

"Fay," she asked, "what were you doing on the evening of September eleventh?"

I turned absolutely sick at heart. Mrs. Brunton and Whittall loudly and angrily protested. The exquisite girl shrank away from Mme. Storey, and went as pale as paper. Apart from the noisy voices of the others I heard her dismayed whisper.

"Rosika!...I?...I?...Oh, Rosika, surely you can't think that I..."

"This is too much!" cried Mrs. Brunton, jumping up. "Must we submit to be insulted here in our own rooms? Mr. Whittall, are you going to permit this to go any further?"

"No!" cried Whittall, banging the table. "This woman is taking too much on herself! She has no right to catechise us!"

Mme. Storey looked at me. "Bella," she said, "admit the gentleman who is waiting outside."

As well as my legs would serve me I got to the door. Inspector Rumsey was in the corridor. He came in.

With a wave of the hand, Mme. Storey introduced him to the gaping company. "Inspector Rumsey and I are acting in concert in this matter," she said. "I suppose you will allow that he has a right to ask questions."

Rumsey quietly sat down in a chair away from the table.

"Now, Fay," said Mme. Storey.

The girl raised her gentle eyes in an imploring and reproachful glance upon her friend. "Oh, Rosika, how can you?" she murmured.

Mme. Storey's face was like a mask. "I must do my duty as I see it. Answer my question, please."

Fay put a hand over her eyes. "That was the night of the first showing of 'Ashes of Roses'," she murmured. "I did not go. I was not well. I went to bed when Mamma went out."

"But you got up again," said Mme. Storey remorselessly. "I have a report from the garage where you keep your cars, stating that you telephoned for the convertible at 8.10 that night, and that it was handed over to you at the door of your hotel five minutes later. It was returned to the garage at half-past ten."

"Oh, yes," murmured Fay feebly. "I forgot."

Mrs. Brunton and Whittall looked dumfounded. As for me, I simply could not believe my ears.

"Where did you go?" asked Mme. Storey.

"I...I was just driving around for the air. I don't remember exactly."

"According to the custom of the garage," Mme. Storey continued, "a reading of the speedometer was taken when the car went out, and again when it was returned. The elapsed mileage was twenty miles. That is just the distance to Riverdale and back."

Fay sat up suddenly. "I never went to Riverdale!" she cried sharply.

"Then where did you go?" persisted Mme. Storey.

A deep blush overspread Fay's face and neck. "Well, if you must know," she said a little defiantly, "I picked up Frank Esher in front of his house and took him for a drive."

Again Mrs. Brunton and Whittall looked at her open-mouthed.

The Inspector spoke up cheerfully. Like everybody else, he wished to be on Fay's side. "That will be easy to verify," he said, taking out his note-book.

"Unfortunately," said Mme. Storey coldly, "Mr. Esher has disappeared."

"Well, anyhow," cried Whittall, "you can't convict her of a crime simply because she chanced to take a drive that night. It's ridiculous!"

"Ridiculous!" echoed Mrs. Brunton.

"I have not yet done," said Mme. Storey. "Inspector, will you please state what you learned respecting the purchase of the guns."

Rumsey consulted the note-book. "On May 24th Mr. Darius Whittall purchased two Matson 32 calibre automatics from Lorber and Staley's. He has an account there. Those were the only pistols of that design he ever purchased from them. One was numbered 13417, the other 13418."

Mme. Storey turned to Whittall. "Are you willing to concede that you gave one of these pistols to your wife, and one to Fay?" she asked.

"I refuse to answer without advice of counsel," he muttered.

"It doesn't matter," said Mme. Storey, undisturbed; "for we already know from other sources that you gave one to your wife and one to Fay, making the same remark to each...Fay, where is yours?"

"In the bottom drawer of my bureau," came the prompt reply.

"Will you fetch it, please?"

Fay called for Katy. The girl immediately appeared in the doorway, looking white and scared. Evidently she had overheard at least part of what had occurred.

"Bring me the gun from the bottom drawer of my bureau."

The strangeness of this request completed the demoralisation of the maid. She stood there like one incapable of motion. Fay herself sprang up and ran into the next room. From there we heard her cry:

"It's gone!"

Then her excited questioning of the maid. Katy swore that she had neither touched nor even seen the gun. She had not yet reached that drawer when her packing was interrupted, she said. The girl got the idea, somehow, that her own honesty was in question. She had no idea that her words were convicting her mistress. Fay finally came back to her seat with a wandering and vacant air. She kept repeating: "I can't imagine...! I can't imagine...!" The Inspector looked very grave.

Mme. Storey remorselessly resumed: "I recovered Mrs. Whittall's pistol this morning. It is in my possession, properly marked for identification. The number of it is 13417. The pistol found in Mrs. Whittall's hand, that is to say the one from which the fatal shot was fired, was subsequently given by Mr. Whittall to the Captain of the precinct. I obtained it from the Captain this afternoon. The number is 13418. Here it is."

She produced the weapon from a little bag that she carried on her arm. She handed the sinister black object to Rumsey, who read off the number, 13418, and handed it back to her.

At first I couldn't take it in. Neither could Fay. Her wandering eyes, like a child's, searched from one face to another for the explanation. Mrs. Brunton and Whittall were sitting there, literally frozen with horror. Rumsey had got up. It was from his grave and compassionate gaze at Fay that I realised she stood convicted in his eyes. What a dreadful moment!

Fay burst into tears, and dropped her head between her outstretched arms on the table. "Oh, how can you!...How can you!" she sobbed.

At that something seemed to break inside of me. I forgot everything; my duty to my mistress; everything. I was only conscious of the weeping girl whom I loved. I got to my feet. "It's a shame! It's a shame!" I heard myself crying. "She didn't do it! She couldn't have done it! Look at her! What does your evidence amount to beside that!"

Fay reached for me like a frightened child, and I took her in my arms.

Mme. Storey never looked at me. No muscle of her face changed. "The rest lies with you, Inspector," she said quietly.

Rumsey's distress comes back to me now. Then I was oblivious to everything. "It will be all right...It will be all right," he kept saying. "I'm sure that a further investigation will clear everything up. But I'm sorry...I would not be justified...I must ask the young lady..."

Mrs. Brunton jumped up with a shriek. "Is he going to arrest her!"

"Don't call it an arrest, ma'am; a brief detention..."

"Oh, no! no! no!" Mrs. Brunton flung herself down beside the girl, and wrapped her arms around Fay's knees. "It's all lies!" she cried. "All lies!...It was I who shot Mrs. Whittall!"

I have scarcely the heart to describe the painful scene that followed. Fay was broken-hearted, of course, but the shock to her proved to be less than Mme. Storey had feared. It turned out that for weeks past, Fay had divined that her companion was carrying a load of guilt on her breast, though, of course, the girl had no idea of its nature. She was already secretly estranged from the woman who passed as her mother.

Nevertheless she loyally wished to accompany her to Police Headquarters, but the rest of us dissuaded her from it. Kreuger went with Mrs. Brunton, but Darius Whittall remained with us. He had to learn his fate. Before Mme. Storey and I, he said with a despairing hangdog air:

"It was not my fault, Fay."

She looked at him with gravely accusing eyes. There was nothing childish about her then. "No," she said quietly, "but you were not sorry when it happened." Unfastening the pearls from about her neck, and drawing off the ring, she handed them over.

He knew it was final. He went away, a broken man. When we three were alone together, Fay wept again. Mme. Storey looked as uncomfortable as a boy in the presence of emotion. From the little bag she took the gun she had produced at the table.

"Here is your gun, Fay," she said. "I took it out of your drawer when I went into your room to change my hat."

We opened our eyes at that. Nothing so simple had ever occurred to us.

"I hope you can forgive me for those terrible moments I gave you," Mme. Storey went on. "I couldn't help myself. That woman covered her tracks so well, there was nothing for it but to force a confession."

Fay forgave her freely.

"I owe Bella an apology, too," Mme. Storey said with a rueful glance in my direction. "For keeping her in the dark. You see, I needed that outburst from Bella to give the scene verisimilitude."

This made me feel rather foolish, but of course I was not troubling about a little thing like that then.

"I am alone now," sobbed Fay.

Mme. Storey murmured the name of Frank Esher. "I suggest that that woman may have fomented the trouble between you and him because he was poor," she said.

"She was always against him," Fay agreed.

"Why don't you write to him now?"

"I don't know where he is!" mourned Fay.

"In care of the British-American Development Company, Georgetown, British Guiana," said Mme. Storey dryly.

"Oh, Rosika!" This with her face hidden on my shoulder.

"In fact, why not cable?" said Mme. Storey.

"Oh, Rosika. You do it for me."

"Well, as a matter of fact, I have cabled already," said Mme. Storey.

I cannot do better than conclude by appending Mrs. Brunton's subsequent confession to the police—her real name was Elinor Tinsley. All that was so baffling in the case therein becomes clear.

"I am aware that anything I say may be used against me. I want to tell the truth now. I'm glad it's out. It was too great a load to bear. I did it for her; for the one whom I called my daughter. I loved her as much as I could my own child. In spite of all I said, I knew that she had not sufficient talent to maintain her as a star. So many new faces coming to the front each year. I wanted to secure her future. I wanted her to have the best.

"When Mr. Whittall began to pay her attention I saw our chance in him. But his wife was in the way. He was anxious for a divorce, but she wouldn't. I couldn't forget about it. I brooded and brooded on it. I felt I had to act quickly, because Mr. Whittall had a reputation for fickleness. I was afraid he'd take a fancy to somebody else. Once he told me the name of a man he thought his wife was secretly in love with—I won't mention it here; and that gave me my first idea.

"I got a sample of Mrs. Whittall's handwriting by writing her a begging letter under an assumed name, and I practised and practised until I was able to imitate it. Then I sent a letter as coming from her to this man I told you about, hoping that it would result in throwing them into each other's arms, and that there would have to be a divorce then. But weeks passed and nothing happened. I was no further forward than before.

"Then one day Mrs. Whittall asked my daughter and me to have lunch and tea with her at her place. And when we were having tea out in the pavilion, the whole thing seemed to unroll itself before me. I thought of the first showing of 'Ashes of Roses' that was coming soon, and what a good chance that would give me, and I made up my mind I would try again that night. I knew I wouldn't have any trouble with Fay, because she doesn't care for pictures, and I could easily persuade her not to go.

"I got a sample of that man's handwriting on another pretext, and I practised until I was able to write a letter that looked like his. I bought the gun at —— (a big department store) for cash, so the sale couldn't be traced. I knew the kind of gun Mr. Whittall had bought for his wife, and I got the same. I wanted to make it look like suicide. Then I wrote a letter to Mrs. Whittall in this man's name, asking her to come to me, for God's sake, in the little pavilion at nine-thirty that night. Of course, she ought to have known, after the other letter, but I figured if she was in love she wouldn't stop to think. If she hadn't come, I'd just have tried something else. I sent the letter the same afternoon with a special delivery stamp on it. Through a messenger it could have been traced.

"My daughter and I had special invitations to see the private showing of 'Ashes of Roses' that night. Without seeming to, I persuaded Fay to stay at home. I took a taxicab to the theatre, arriving there about eight-fifteen. I had the gun in my reticule. I greeted many friends in the lobby, so I could prove an alibi if anything went wrong. I took a seat on the side aisle, beside one of the exits, and when the lights were put out, it was easy for me to slip out through that exit without anybody seeing.

"I took the West Side subway to the end of the line, and walked up the hill to Riverdale, and on down the other side towards the river. I had fixed in my mind the road that ran alongside the wall of the Whittall property. I climbed the wall, and went up the hill to the pavilion. I was in plenty of time. I took the gun in my hand and waited, hidden behind a pillar. I kept my gloves on so I wouldn't leave any fingerprint on the gun. When Mrs. Whittall came running in, I pressed the gun to her temple and pulled the trigger. She fell back outside. She never made a sound. I closed her hand over the gun as well as I could, and went back the way I came.

"I had found out from Mr. Kreuger that he and Mr. Whittall would be dining at the Hotel Norfolk that night. I wanted to warn Mr. Whittall to secure his wife's gun. I knew he'd be glad enough to hush up any scandal. But I was afraid to stop at Van Cortlandt for fear somebody might remember seeing me in a telephone booth. So I rode on the subway down to 145th Street, and telephoned from a pay station there. Then I rode on the subway down to Times Square, and took a taxi to the hotel. That is all I have to say."


IV. — MURDER IN MASQUERADE

First published as "The Butlers's Ball" in Argosy, June 28, 1930
Reprinted in The Almost Perfect Murder, 1933

Cover Image

Argosy, June 28, 1930, with "The Butlers' Ball"



I

There were eight of us seated around the table, all in costume and masked. Of the eight the only one I knew was my employer, Mme. Storey. She had come as Queen Anne Boleyn in a superb black velvet costume with hoops and stays.

The dancers in the hall outside had unmasked long ago, but when midnight was approaching Mme. Storey had suggested to our little party that we would have more fun if we kept our masks on. Where all were unknown to each other there could be no inhibitions, she said; and the proposal was enthusiastically carried. The champagne and the fun flowed fast and furiously, but I couldn't help feeling from a certain tenseness in the atmosphere that there was more going on than appeared on the surface.

In the midst of it all Mme. Storey's partner, a stalwart, attractive young man in the gay costume of Harlequin, suddenly leaned back in his chair and lifted his mask—"to get air," he said.

I had a glimpse of a handsome, reckless, slightly drunken face, and then the mask snapped back. But the damage was done. It was immediately apparent to me that several people around the table had recognised our Harlequin—particularly the two women who faced us. I knew it by the rigid, snake-like poise of their heads. They stopped laughing and I could imagine the cold glare of jealous rage behind their masks.

The woman to the left who was of mature figure was dressed as a harem favourite, and somebody had christened her Zuleika. In addition to the mask her face was further hidden by a veil covering the lower part of her face. The one on the other side was a slender girl whose trim figure was cunningly set off by a sailor suit. She had earned the name of Jackie, of course.

The man between them was all rigged out in the fantastic costume of a Turkish Janizary or something, enormously tall hat, voluminous breeches and a curved sword called a yataghan. We had christened him Abdullah.

It soon became evident from Abdullah's sneering remarks that he also knew Harlequin, and hated him. Harlequin himself appeared to be too much uplifted by wine to realise the damage he had done in lifting his mask. Or else he didn't care. It was the annual ball of the Butlers' Association in Webster Hall over on the East Side. Mme. Storey had heard of the affair through Crider, one of her operatives who was at that time serving as butler to the Creighton Woodleys, in an effort to clear up the robbery of Mrs. Woodley's jewels. The Woodleys' former butler, a man called George Danforth, had been given a clean bill of health by the police. Nevertheless, it was believed to have been an inside job, and our man Crider had been put in in Danforth's place to see what he could learn. Danforth presumably had got another job.

I knew nothing of the details of this Woodley jewel robbery, being all tied up at the time in the tangle of the Lear Caybourn case. In our office we were so swamped with criminal investigations that my employer had to delegate part of her work to me. Mme. Storey always says she would like to get out of the criminal part of our business; pure psychology is her line. However, she admits there is money in crime; also publicity. And publicity leads to more money.

I remember when our dresses for the ball were sent home I protested at their richness and elegance. "They will make us too conspicuous at a servants' ball," I said.

"We wish to be conspicuous," she answered, and even then I did not catch on. "This ball is going to surprise you, Bella," she added with a twinkle in her eye.

It did. But incidentally I may say that it surprised her too.

I was dressed as an Italian page of the Renaissance period; brown silk tights, velvet doublet and a cunning little cap over one ear. I blushed when I put on the tights, but I felt all right as soon as I got behind a mask. I really have very nice legs. Mme. Storey says I don't know how to ballyhoo my own charms. She christened me Lorenzo, and I answered to it all evening.

Mme. Storey as Queen Anne Boleyn in her gleaming black dress without any note of colour was easily the finest woman present. Harlequin told her so instantly, and thereafter he never left her side. I did not lack for partners myself, but I confess I was a little scared amongst all those strangers, and I took care to keep my chief within sight.

It is curious to see how, even at a masked ball, the different cliques will form. Gradually, as the best-dressed and most elegant persons present, our little company of eight came together.

It was Mr. Punch who asked us to supper in a private room upstairs. He was the best turned-out of any of the men. A small man with a considerable paunch, the part suited him. Everybody knows the costume, doublet and knee breeches of alternate stripes of green and red velvet; white silk stockings and shoes with big silver buckles; grotesque hump and tall cap with the point turned down in front. A tiny gold bell hung from the point of his cap and tinkled every time he turned his head.

I got my second great surprise when I saw the supper room to which we were led, the banks of roses on the table, the magnums of champagne cooling in buckets of ice. At a butlers' supper! Of course Mr. Punch might have lifted the champagne from his master's cellar, but he must have paid for the roses. One would think it had taken a whole month's wages.

The eighth member of the party was a big man dressed in the flaming costume of Mephistopheles complete with horns and forked tail. He had a mask with headpiece that covered him entirely. All you could see of the man himself were his rolling eyes.

The mask was fixed in a devilish leer, though the voice that came out of it was mild enough. Such are the inconsistencies of a masquerade party. This man spoke with an English accent, and he was the only one who resembled one's idea of a butler.

"They are not butlers tonight," Mme. Storey whispered to me; "they are only men."

Upon taking our places we discovered that the bank of roses which filled the whole centre of the table was interspersed with dozens of tiny coloured electric lights. As soon as we had finished eating somebody suggested turning out the main lights of the room in order to show up the table decorations. This was done, and the effect was weird in the extreme. Imagine those little lights, red, green, purple, amongst the roses, throwing up changing shadows on the grotesque, masked faces around the table. Mr. Punch at the head and Mephisto at the foot looked like figures out of a nightmare. But it was all good fun.

Mephisto made a flowery speech to the effect that he had Henry the Eighth safe in hell, where he was making him pay with interest for his cruel treatment of the beautiful Anne Boleyn four hundred years ago. He described his torments with comic effect. Mr. Punch, not to be outdone, cut the little golden bell from his cap and begged the fair Anne to accept it as a keepsake.

"Back up! Back up, Punch!" cried Harlequin. "What do you mean making up to the ladies with that hump on your back?"

Mr. Punch wiggled his hump comically. "You don't know the half of it, my boy," he retorted good-naturedly; "that ornament gives me personality."

A laugh went around the table. It was at this moment that Harlequin, in a moment of forgetfulness, raised his mask, and I saw that we were in for trouble.

There was a silence while the two women across the table slowly stiffened. There was a great contrast in their appearance—the big woman in the flowing draperies of a Turkish houri, and the slender girl in the trim sailor suit; but Zuleika and Jackie were alike in their feelings. They had just had wine enough to make them forget concealment. A woman's naked jealousy is not pretty. Their masks gave nothing away, but I could fairly feel their ugly feelings coming across the table in waves.

The handsome Harlequin was oblivious of it. He jumped up and raised his glass. "Bottoms up! Bottoms up," he cried recklessly. "The party's getting slow!"

Abdullah in his grotesque high-crowned hat leaned across the table with a sneer—he was seated between the two women. "As usual, you're liberal with the wine when another man is buying," he said.

It was evident that all three people across the table knew Harlequin too well for their own peace of mind, though they seemed to be unknown to each other.

Harlequin paid no attention, having already launched forth in a speech. The men were always making speeches. What this one was about I couldn't tell you; a lot of windy, humorous nonsense. Abdullah sat opposite, glowering and fingering his glass; muttering to himself. Finally he said aloud:

"Oh, we've heard that before. Change your line! Change your line!"

Harlequin, feeling that he had the crowd with him, hooted with laughter. "Better a monkey than a crab," he retorted.

Abdullah sprang up from the table, trembling. "How about a blackguard?" he snarled. "A foul, lying blackguard!"

Harlequin gave a leap and quicker than I could follow the blow, struck him on the side of the head. Abdullah rocked drunkenly and the tall hat rolled to the floor. He seemed not to know how to defend himself, but just stood there taking Harlequin's lightning blows. His one idea was to keep his adversary from unmasking him; he pressed a hand over his mask to keep it on.

The wildest confusion followed. To my astonishment the two women who had seemed to be enraged at the gay Harlequin now turned on Abdullah, and the unfortunate Janizary was badly knocked about before aid could reach him. Following a blind instinct we all rushed to get into it, either to join the mêlée or to stop it, I can hardly say which. Only Anne Boleyn stood coldly to one side.

It was an ugly scene; men punching and cursing; women screeching and clawing. When the two women were pulled away from Abdullah, they attacked each other. I have a vague impression that some of the dancers ran in from the hall, and were hustled out again by Mephisto. I know that a couple of waiters appeared and helped to stop the fight.

Suddenly it was over. Harlequin and Abdullah were separated and pressed back. Harlequin was laughing. He had lost his mask for good now. The handsome, masculine face showed with extraordinary vividness amongst all the masked ones. I had never seen the man before that night.

I heard little Jackie moaning softly: "George! George!"

Zuleika turned on her, snarling: "Shut up, you fool! What is he to you?"

One of Abdullah's cheeks was badly clawed, but he had succeeded in hanging on to his mask.

And then simultaneously we all became aware of the ugly little automatic lying in the middle of the clear space where they had just been struggling. We gazed at it in horror. Nobody could tell how it had got there.

II

"Whose is it?" asked Mr. Punch hoarsely.

There was no answer.

"It must be somebody's," he said, looking from face to face. "Is it yours, Harlequin?"

"No," was the careless answer. "I couldn't hide a gun in this union suit."

It was obvious that he spoke the truth.

"Is it yours, Abdullah?"

"No," was the sullen answer. I doubt if anybody believed him.

"Yours, Mephisto?"

"No."

"For myself, I say it is not mine," said Mr. Punch.

One by one the women denied ownership, and the gun continued to lie on the floor. The waiters had retired and I don't believe they had noticed its presence in all the confusion.

Nobody would touch it for fear of incriminating himself. Finally Anne Boleyn came forward and coolly picked it up. My employer was the only one to whom it could not have belonged, because up to that moment she had never been on that side of the table. She opened the magazine.

"Fully loaded," she said.

Emptying the shells into her hand, she showed them to us all, and dropped them in a pocket of her skirt. She then tossed the gun carelessly on the table. It fell at the place to Mr. Punch's right; that is to say where Anne Boleyn had previously been sitting.

"The owner can claim it upon presentation of check," she said lightly.

"You seem to be well accustomed to firearms, Anne," remarked the plump Zuleika acidly.

"Now come, now come, ladies and gentlemen," said the suave Mr. Punch, rubbing his hands together. "We were all having a lovely time. Do not let this little unpleasantness spoil our evening. Let bygones be bygones. Take your seats again, I beg. There are still two magnums to be opened!"

Harlequin's face lighted up at the mention of more wine. As to the others, I cannot say what was passing in their minds, but nobody made any move to leave. I was desperately anxious to get away from there. In the general movement around the table I managed to whisper in Anne's ear:

"Oh, please, let's get out of this. There is certain to be more trouble."

"We must see it through, Bella," she murmured. "Crider is outside if we need help."

Harlequin stood behind Anne Boleyn's place holding her chair ready for her, but she coolly usurped Jackie's seat on the other side of the table at Mephisto's right.

"Jackie, you run around and take my old place," she said to the girl in the sailor suit.

Jackie obeyed with alacrity, for it placed her next to Harlequin. His face turned dark. "What's the matter?" he growled to Anne Boleyn.

"Oh, I've had enough of you for the present," she answered good-naturedly. "I want to commune with the devil awhile."

A laugh travelled around at Harlequin's expense, and he went as flat as a punctured tyre. It was a good stroke of policy on Mme. Storey's part. For a while it made things easier all around the table. Unluckily the situation was more serious than either of us suspected. Nothing we might have done could have averted what happened.

There was a very curious thing about that gun. When the waiter entered to serve more wine, Mr. Punch whispered quickly: "Cover the gun."

When I looked it was lying in front of Abdullah's place. How it got there I couldn't tell you. Nobody saw it moved around the table. Abdullah nervously dropped a napkin over it. As the champagne circulated the gun was forgotten again. It seemed of no importance because it was not loaded.

The waiter turned on the main lights of the room in order to see how to serve the wine. When he retired he turned them out again, and we sat once more in the agreeable van-coloured glow like that of a Christmas tree. The door of the room was closed in order to keep out wandering groups of masqueraders. Like most masked balls, this was a very bibulous party.

Mr. Punch and Mephisto at head and foot of the table both worked hard to make things go. The latter gave us a rendition of "Casey Jones," which I suppose was all the rage when he was young. But Abdullah and Zuleika would not join in the chorus. Moreover, Harlequin soon tired of the sailor lassie, and started talking to Anne Boleyn across the table, whereupon Jackie became enraged again. That party was doomed from the moment when Harlequin had first raised his mask.

However, Mr. Punch was not yet at the end of his resources. He stood up at the head of the table, and rapped for order. He was a really impressive figure because his make-up was so good. He had some sort of a tin piece in his mouth that caused him to squeak and whistle in the manner one associates with Mr. Punch, and he sawed his arms just like the little figures operated by a hand from beneath. His false chin waggled in the most realistic manner. It brought back all the Punch and Judy shows of one's childhood, and most of us were immediately reduced to helpless laughter. Laughter puts you off your guard, and I foolishly began to think that the trouble was over.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he squeaked, "if you will be kind enough to give me your attention for a few moments I will recite for you the early history of the immortal Mr. Punch. Laying aside the tragedy which overtook him, I am sure you will be glad to learn how Mr. Punch fell in love. It seems that when he was a young man..."

At this moment the table lights went out, and the room was plunged into total darkness. A loud "Oh!" of astonishment escaped from us all. Immediately afterward there was a flash and a shot across the table from me, followed by a heavy crash immediately on my left where Harlequin sat.

I instinctively slid under the table, and most of the others did the same. I brushed against Anne Boleyn under there, and smelled her perfume. In my terror I flung my arms around her, but she roughly thrust me away, and scrambled out of my reach. I was paralysed with terror.

Then I heard the click of a switch and the electrolier went on, flooding the room with light. Mr. Punch's terrified voice gasped:

"For God's sake, come out, all of you."

The others crept out and I followed. What a frightful moment that was! Harlequin was stretched out on the floor beside his overturned chair with a bullet-hole in his forehead. One glance at him was enough. He was stone dead.

Abdullah was sitting directly across the table staring, as if frozen, at the place where Harlequin had been. He was the only one who had not moved from his chair. He could not see the body where it had fallen. Before him lay the gun. Mephisto snatched it up out of his reach. Mr. Punch was by the door. It was he who had switched on the lights.

There was a significant silence in the hall outside. Evidently they had heard the shot out there, and had stopped dead in their tracks. Presently we heard running feet approaching. Mephisto darted to the door and turned the key. People rattled the lock and pounded on the panels.

"What's the matter? What's the matter?" they cried.

"'S all right," said Mephisto in a carefully schooled voice. "Just a little friendly tussle. No harm done!"

"Open the door!" they commanded.

"You go to hell," said Mephisto, pretending to be a little drunk. "This is a private party. We don't want no intruders. 'S all right, I tell you."

The running feet retreated from the door again. We were too much concerned with the horror inside the room to consider what they might do out there.

Jackie cast herself down beside the body. "Oh, my darling! My darling!" she moaned. "Speak to me!"

Her mask had fallen off, revealing a pale, pretty face convulsed with grief. The girl was a stranger to me, but it was terribly affecting.

Zuleika ran around the table, and attempted to drag her away. "Who are you?" she cried. "Let me get a look at you. Why, I never saw you before! What right have you here?"

"Well, who are you?" retorted Jackie.

The older woman snatched her mask off and thrust her distorted face close into the girl's. "Look at me! Look at me!" she screeched. "I'm his wife, that's who I am!"

Jackie collapsed in helpless weeping.

The raging Zuleika turned on Abdullah then. "He did it!" she cried. "He was right beside me. There's the murderer! Unmask him!"

Abdullah, with a terrified gesture, clapped a hand over his mask. Mephisto held the woman back from attacking him.

"I didn't do it!" Abdullah kept crying hysterically. "I swear to God I am innocent. I never fired a gun in my life!"

No one paid any attention to that. We had all seen the flash of the pistol from the spot where he sat. Moreover, it was soon proved that the table lights had not gone out by accident. The connection which was plugged into the floor under the centre of the table, between Abdullah and Harlequin, had been kicked out. Abdullah's feet had been the nearest to the plug, though any one of the four women might have reached it with a foot. Mr. Punch at the head of the table and Mephisto at the other end were too far away to have reached the plug.

All this happened in much less time than it takes me to write it. Anne Boleyn was standing a little apart from the others, watching and listening. I remembered that she had been the last to creep out from under the table.

"How did the gun get loaded again?" she asked quietly. We looked at one another blankly.

"Well, it was lying under the napkin all that time," suggested Mr. Punch slowly. "Abdullah might have slipped it out and reloaded while we were singing."

"It's a lie!" cried Abdullah. "I never touched it! I have no shells on me. Search me! Search me!"

"You wouldn't need any more now," Mr. Punch dryly remarked.

It is difficult for me to write about these moments calmly. Most of us were in a state bordering on hysteria. Every second produced a new sensation. As long as Jackie lay on the floor Abdullah could not see her. When she arose he had his first glimpse of her unmasked.

"Oh, my God! Is it you?" he cried. "I might have known it."

She paid no attention to him. She suddenly began to screech loudly: "Let me out of here! Let me out of here!" Running to one of the windows, she pulled back the portières and raised the sash. "There's the fire escape," she screamed. "We can get out this way!"

Panic is catching. There was a general rush to follow her, but Mr. Punch dragged her back from the window and stood blocking the way. "Wait a minute! Wait a minute!" he cried, waving his hands, struggling for calmness. "If we beat it we'd only incriminate ourselves. Get back, you fools. You didn't all do it. You've got nothing to fear. Get back, I say. I've got a character to lose, if you haven't. I'm going to see this thing through. Get the police."

We moved back from the window. His logic was unanswerable.

He seemed to have an impulse of mercy then. "Give the guilty man a chance if you want," he said with a glance at Abdullah. "If you're willing to let him go, it's all right with me. Give him a chance for his life. We can shout for the police when he starts down the ladder."

Pandemonium arose at this.

"Yes!" cried the good-natured Mephisto.

"No," screamed Zuleika, "let him go to the chair."

Abdullah himself settled the matter by refusing to go. "I didn't do it," he gabbled over and over. "I'm innocent—I swear it!"

"All right," said Mr. Punch with a shrug. He closed the window.

The next thing I remember (you must keep in mind that this whole scene lasted but about three minutes) was seeing Zuleika in a corner of the room busy with a powder pad and a tiny mirror. Like most women no longer young, as soon as she began to get a grip on herself her first thought was to repair the damage to her make-up. It was absolutely a pitiable sight to see her dabbing at her cheeks, because the woman's eyes were quite daft.

Suddenly Abdullah levelled a shaking forefinger at her and yelled: "She's left-handed!"

It was true; Zuleika had started to apply lipstick with her left hand.

"She's left-handed! She's left-handed!" yelled Abdullah.

"Well, what of it?" said Zuleika, staring, lipstick poised in air.

"She sat at my right," cried Abdullah. "The shot was fired beside me. She's left-handed! She did it!"

"You lie!" cried Zuleika, showing her teeth. She had been a dark beauty in her day. The rest of us simply gaped at this new turn.

"If she is his wife she had good cause to do it," shrilled Abdullah. "He was always running after other women. He took my girl from me! Zuleika snatched up the pistol beside me. She did it! I will swear it on the Book!"

"You lie!" repeated Zuleika. "You accuse me," she cried suddenly; "how about her?" She pointed to the tall figure of Anne Boleyn quietly watching. "She was supposed to have emptied the magazine, wasn't she? She played a sleight-of-hand trick on all of you, that's what! Why did she change her seat at the table? So she could slip between me and Abdullah when the lights went out and fire the shot! Take her mask off, and let's have a look at her!"

Mme. Storey smiled coldly at this tirade. She did not have to protect her mask, because there was nobody present with nerve enough to touch it. "I was the first one under the table," she said quietly.

"Then how did the gun get loaded again?" Zuleika furiously demanded. "You were the last one to touch it."

"No," said Anne Boleyn. "Because somehow it got moved from my old seat next to Harlequin around to Abdullah's."

This forgotten fact was received in a dead silence.

"Let me have a look at that gun, please," said Anne Boleyn to Mephisto, who had been keeping it all this time.

"Don't give it to her!" cried Zuleika.

"I've emptied it," muttered Mephisto. "We don't want any more shooting."

"You may keep it in your own hands," said my employer coolly. "I only want to look at the top of the barrel."

She glanced at it as Mephisto held it, and then threw a bombshell among us by saying: "This is not the gun I emptied and threw on the table."

We stared at her. Mephisto instantly became panicky. "I have no other gun on me," he stammered.

"I didn't say you had," she said.

"How do you know it's not the same gun?" cried Mr. Punch.

"Because I marked it when I unloaded it," she answered. "I scratched the barrel with my ring."

"Another gun?" said Abdullah huskily. "What has become of the first one?"

"That's what we'd all like to know," she said blandly. "Please stand where you are, and I'll try to dope it out."

She did not have to speak twice, for all were arrested by the new and peremptory tone in her voice. Stepping to the left of the head of the table—that is to say, almost on the spot from whence the shot had been fired—she went on thoughtfully: "The murderer had to make a quick substitution of the loaded gun for the empty. He or she had to hide the empty gun instantly—too dangerous to keep it on the person. He would have to take the handiest place, trusting to retrieve it later. Well, in any room there are only a limited number of hiding-places..."

The bright eyes through the slits in the mask travelled slowly around the room and finally came to rest on a wine bucket standing on the floor alongside the mantelpiece almost directly behind Abdullah's chair. The empty bottle was now sticking upside down in the ice and water. She pushed up her sleeve a little way, and thrust her hand into the water alongside the bottle. She drew it out, grasping a second gun identical with the other.

Glancing at the barrel, she said casually: "There's the scratch I made behind the sight if any of you are interested in checking it up."

III

The silence in the room was broken by Zuleika, who said with a sneer: "Easy enough to find something when you know where you put it."

The effect of this remark was only to focus suspicion on Zuleika herself.

Abdullah muttered in a dazed way: "Two guns? Two guns? That lets me out, don't it?"

"Why should it?" demanded Zuleika. "You could hide a gross of guns in that costume. I knocked against one of them when I sat down at the table!"

Zuleika, it appeared, was ready to charge anybody with the murder.

"It's a lie!" whined Abdullah.

Mme. Storey meanwhile was comparing her gun with the one Mephisto held.

"Same style and make," she remarked. "No doubt they were carried by the same person."

We now heard a sound that threw everybody except Anne Boleyn into another wild panic. It was the distant clanging of a gong in the street. Instantly it was clear to us all that the people outside had sent for the police. With a moan of terror, Jackie ran to the window and threw it up. Mr. Punch made no move to stop her now. Out she went, followed by Zuleika and Abdullah. When it came to the point, Abdullah was not so anxious to face the police after all.

Myself, I was wild to follow. The dead man on the floor, the clanging of that horrible gong, the thought of a fight with the police—it was too much. My nerve failed me completely; but I waited for some sign from my employer. Mr. Punch seemed to have lost his head, too. He stood there biting his fingers in a horrible state of indecision. Mephisto at the window shouted to him:

"Come on! Come on! You can't face this out alone, you fool!"

Mr. Punch flung up his arms.

"All right," he cried. "You are all witness that I didn't want to go. If you must go, I've got a car in the street. I'll get you away." He turned to us and shouted: "Come on! They're already in the building."

Mme. Storey gave me a sign, and I hustled after Mephisto. I left her and Mr. Punch contending which should go last. She got her way.

Out on the fire escape my head reeled. The pattering of those descending feet on the iron steps below me made me shudder. It is a sound which suggests fire and catastrophe.

The fire escape was on the rear of the building. Late as it was, lights went up in the windows of the surrounding tenements, and bodies hung half out.

"What's the matter?" they cried back and forth to each other. "There they go! Look at them!"

Mr. Punch stood by my side, stamping with impatience, while Anne Boleyn was still only two-thirds down. "Come on! Come on!" he whispered frantically.

"Coming!" she answered serenely.

She reached the ground just as the police started issuing from the window above. Scrambling over the fence any way we could, we found ourselves in a narrow passage which communicated with the next street. The others were hovering in the mouth of the passage, uncertain where to turn.

"This way!" whispered Mr. Punch, taking the lead.

We ran around the first corner into an alley. It was evident from the sounds that a crowd was gathering in front of Webster Hall, but by the grace of Providence the dark streets behind were empty. Mr. Punch flung open the doors of a big limousine standing in the alley. He took the wheel, and all the rest of us piled in pell-mell behind. When he started the engine the sound brought men running from the front of the hall to the other end of the alley, and the cry went up:

"There they go!"

The gong began to clang again.

As we crossed the street in the rear of the hall, the police were coming out of the passageway by which we had escaped a minute earlier. One of them shot at us. I saw the sparks where the bullets ricochetted from the paving stones. But we were only in sight for a moment before plunging into the second block of the alley, and they were all on foot. There was no car at hand for them to seize.

The awful strain relaxed a little. What a strange crew we were in the back of that limousine! All masked and watching each other out of the corners of the eye-slits. The two women had resumed their masks, though what they expected to gain by it now, it would have been hard to say. And what a load we carried beside the seven people! Love, hatred, guilt, suspicion, and fear, all squeezed up together as in an affectionate embrace.

Something, I don't know what, the suggestion of a new sound behind us perhaps, prompted me to peep under the curtain over the rear window. To my dismay I discovered that a light car filled with policemen had crept up almost upon us, and was gaining rapidly. There was no particular reason why I should have feared the police, but I was terrified sick at the thought of more shooting.

"Oh, they're coming!" I gasped.

Scarcely slackening speed at all, Mr. Punch turned the first corner to the left. The heavy limousine reeled, teetered, slid, while we held our breath and clutched at one another. But the four wheels came down to earth again and we rushed through the side street in safety. Not so the policemen. The light car skidded half across the street, leaped to the sidewalk and crashed to a standstill against the house-fronts. I only hope the poor fellows in it were not seriously hurt.

That was the end of pursuit. Mr. Punch turned a few more corners and then, slackening speed, put on his mask and spoke to us through the front window. He was less suave now.

"I can take you folks to a place where you'll be absolutely safe until you can get some proper clothes. But, naturally, I don't want you to know where it is. Pull down the blind over the front window. If I catch anybody peeping I'll put you out in the street just as you are."

"That's fair enough, Punch," said Mephisto. "I won't let anybody look out."

"I want to go home!" wailed Jackie like a child.

"Nothing doing, sister," said Mephisto. "We're all in this thing together, and we got to stick together."

So the front curtain was pulled down. It made little difference to me, because I had no idea where we were anyhow. But I didn't like Mr. Punch's proposition a little bit. It was too smooth to come from an honest man, and Mephisto had fallen in with it a little too quickly. I began to feel as if they were all crooks together. My anxiety was chiefly on Mme. Storey's account. A woman as famous as she is has to be wary. She has many enemies. However, as she seemed to accede to it, there was nothing I could do.

The whole business of trying to escape from the police seemed senseless to me, and I could not imagine how Mme. Storey had come to fall for it. You can't trifle with murder. But presumably she knew what she was doing. She always does.

The red-clad devil produced a packet of cigarettes and offered them around. Only Anne Boleyn helped herself with a cry of thankfulness. "That's what I wanted!" She and Mephisto lighted up.

"Well, the worst appears to be over," said Anne.

Over? Our troubles are just starting, I thought. But I saw that her object was to recommend herself to these people as a good pal, and I kept my mouth shut.

"Yes," said Mephisto. "Mr. Punch seems to be a man of resource."

"Have you any idea who he is?" she asked offhand.

"Not the slightest. But he must work for very fine people, judging by the car."

Mr. Punch drove for a considerable distance, but from the number of turns we made, I judged he was merely trying to confuse our sense of direction.

Finally we came to a standstill. Opening the front window a crack, Mr. Punch said: "Sit still until I give the word."

I was greatly tempted to peep around one of the blinds, but I noticed that Mephisto was watching us narrowly. As it was, Jackie happened to push one aside for a moment with a movement of her shoulder, and I got a glimpse through the glass of the door. But all I saw was a dark and deserted street with lamp-posts at intervals. It was a fashionable quarter of the town, that was all I could tell.

I heard the squeaking of hinges, and afterward the car moved forward for a few yards and stopped again. A gate closed behind us, and Mr. Punch opened the car door. He had on his mask.

"Here we are," he said.

We were in a private garage that had once been a stable. Another handsome car lay alongside us, and through an open door we could see the disused stalls beyond. Opening a small door, Mr. Punch led us all out into a narrow courtyard with the stars overhead and the dark bulk of a great mansion looming before us.

"You will be safe here," he said. "My employers have gone south for the winter."

"How about your licence plates?" asked Abdullah anxiously. "The police in the small car certainly got the number."

"That won't do them any good," answered Mr. Punch with a laugh. "I always fasten on false plates when I go out in the evening—just to be on the safe side, you know."

He unlocked a door into the rear of the house, and switched on lights in the passage. I noticed that after we had all passed in, he locked the door with a key, and dropped it into his pocket. This did not make me feel any easier in my mind. In fact this so-called place of safety scared me more than the supper room at the hall, where there had been at least a crowd outside within call. The big house was as silent as the grave.

We crossed a spacious old-fashioned kitchen, and mounted a flight of stairs to the main floor. It was a really palatial mansion in the older fashion, with an immense central hall running through it, and a suite of three superb drawing-rooms on one side.

Everything had been dismantled in the absence of the family; hangings and rugs removed and all furniture and pictures swathed in white dustcloths. I noticed that all the windows on the first floor were closely boarded up outside, and I suspected that there was no way out except by the basement door to which Mr. Punch held the key.

He led us into the middle drawing-room and turned on a single bulb in a wall bracket, which created just a little island of light amid the crowding shadows. Queer-shaped objects peeped out of the corners; a shrouded harp, a statue on a pedestal with a sheet thrown over it and tied around its middle.

On either side opened a wide archway revealing a yawning pit of blackness beyond. To my disordered imagination the ceiling looked a hundred feet high. Our motley crew of masqueraders were like a little company of ghosts stealing through some long-deserted hall.

Jackie glanced around her, and fell to shivering. "What did you bring me here for?" she whimpered. "I want to go home."

"I reckon you're all wondering why I brought you here," said Mr. Punch suavely, "and you're certainly entitled to know. This is it. It's up to us to discover amongst ourselves who shot George Danforth, so that we all won't have to suffer for the crime of one."

George Danforth! The name rang familiarly in my mind. Then suddenly I recollected that George Danforth was butler at the Creighton Woodleys' when the big jewel robbery took place. So Mme. Storey's caprice in attending the butlers' ball was something more than a caprice.

IV

We four women were shown into a dressing-room on the first floor of the mansion to tidy up after our strenuous escape from Webster Hall. Naturally Mme. Storey and I did not unmask in the presence of the others. Those two, masked also, would not approach within a yard of each other. Suspicion divided us all. My employer and I lingered in the room until they had gone out, so that we could have a word or two together. What a relief it was to raise our masks!

"Are you scared, Bella?" she asked, smiling.

"You know I am," I answered tartly. "So there's not much use in denying it."

There was a telephone in the room. She took down the receiver and listened. "Dead," she told me, hanging up again.

"Where do you suppose Crider is?" I asked nervously.

"Heaven knows!" she said. "I couldn't foresee any such outcome as this, and he has no instructions to cover it. The poor fellow will be wild with anxiety...We may solve our case through this accident," she went on thoughtfully, "but it's risky—it's risky!"

"Oh, what does a jewel robbery matter beside a murder?" I said, shuddering.

"It's all part of the same thing," she said gravely.

I stared. "Do you know where we are?" I asked. She shook her head. "I thought I knew most of the great houses in New York, but I've never been in this one. There can't be many of the type left. It's on Fifth Avenue, I should say, and probably it's somewhere in the Sixties. We'll dope it out before we leave. Ha!" she cried, suddenly pointing to the telephone instrument; "there's our clue! The telephone number is Buckingham 4-3773."

"But you can't go through the telephone book looking for that number!" I objected.

"I won't have to," she said, tapping the directory. It had been slipped inside an elaborately tooled leather cover which bore a big V on the front. "Undoubtedly the family initial," she said.

The Social Register lay beside the telephone book, and Mme. Storey picked up the blue volume as affording a narrower field for her search. Almost immediately she said: "I have it! A. A. Vandegrift. I was nearly right. This house is on Madison instead of Fifth, and behind St. Patrick's Cathedral. We have often passed it!"

"What does Vandegrift do?" I asked.

"Do?" she said, smiling. "He's a rich man of the third generation. He sits in a window of the Union Club during the rare periods when he favours New York with his visits and complains that times are not what they were."

"It's too bad the Social Register doesn't give the butlers' names, too," I suggested.

"I know it now, without that!" she said. "Crider told me that the president of the Butlers' Association was the Vandegrifts' butler. His name is Alfred Denby. That identifies Mr. Punch. We are making headway, my dear."

"We'd better go out or they'll be getting suspicious," I said, nervously.

"Just one moment! Mr. Punch, I take it, is preparing to hold a sort of hearing. I want you to testify against Abdullah."

"But I don't know anything against him."

"Then make something up. You'll see why later. And don't mind if I get you all tangled up on cross-examination. I don't want them to suspect we're working together."

We adjusted our masks and left the room.

Mr. Punch had placed a little table for himself under the single light in the middle drawing-room. He sat behind it on a sofa with six chairs in linen covers ranged in a semi-circle before him. It was certainly the most grotesque court ever held—if you could call it a court: Mr. Punch and six mummers. But all the fun had gone out of this mummery. The participants were distracted with grief, fear and suspicion.

He began in his suave and reasonable voice: "Abdullah—or whatever your name may be—all the evidence seems to point to you as the one who shot George Danforth. But we want to give you every chance. Have you got anything to say for yourself?"

"I didn't do it!" cried Abdullah. "I had no gun!"

"You knew who Danforth was?" Mr. Punch snapped.

"Sure, I knew," he said sullenly. "Everybody connected with the Association knew him."

"Then you're connected with the Association?"

No answer.

"You hated Danforth?"

"That's no proof," muttered Abdullah. "Plenty of others had it in for him. He was a blackguard with women."

Zuleika snatched off her mask, revealing her passionate gipsy face. "That's a lie!" she cried.

"A lie!" added Jackie with scarcely less violence.

Now that he was dead, I saw that both these women were getting ready to sanctify him. Well, that's the way women are!

"One minute, ladies," said Mr. Punch smoothly. Turning to Abdullah, he said: "If you didn't shoot him, who did?"

"The gun was fired beside me," said Abdullah. He leaned forward and looked at Zuleika. "I believe she did it!"

"He's lying, and he knows he's lying!" cried Zuleika, jumping up.

"No doubt," said Mr. Punch suavely, "but can you prove it?"

She glared around at us as if we were all her enemies. "Yes, I can," she said. "I'm a good shot with a pistol, and I don't care who knows it. But if it had been me I would have had to shoot on the level with my eyes. It's the only way I can shoot. And this gun was fired low down. As if it was resting on the edge of the table!" The woman was suddenly overcome by a hard dry sobbing. She covered her face with her hands and ran into the dark room adjoining.

"Can anybody confirm that?" demanded Mr. Punch. "You, Jackie, you were immediately across the table from the gun."

"She's right," said Jackie, sniffing. "The shot came from low down."

"What can you say, Lorenzo?" he said to me. "Did you see the flash?"

I shook my head. "Only the reflection. The flash was hidden behind the bank of flowers. The pistol was fired from the edge of the table, right there at Abdullah's place."

Mr. Punch rubbed his hands in satisfaction. "That seems to be conclusive then. That lets Zuleika out. Either Abdullah fired the shot, or it was somebody who came between him and Zuleika. That could only have been you, Anne Boleyn."

"Mercy! I didn't shoot Mr. Danforth," she said with pretended nervousness. "Why, I scarcely knew him!"

He pounced on this admission. "Then you did know him?"

"I only met him once before tonight," she said. "It was at a cabaret in Harlem. It was then that he gave me a ticket to the ball tonight, and asked me to meet him there."

"Will you unmask, miss, so we can all see your face?" he asked suddenly.

My heart skipped a beat, for of course Mme. Storey's photograph has been published repeatedly. Everybody knows her face. But she was equal to the situation.

"I won't be the only one to show my face," she said, drawing back. "I'll take off my mask if you will."

He dropped the subject. "Can you prove to us," he said, "that you could not have fired the shot?"

"What do you expect me to say?" she answered with an innocent air. "If those were my two guns I would not have produced the second one, would I? I would not have shown you that they were of the same make."

"Of course, of course," said Mr. Punch suavely. "It stands to reason you didn't do it."

He next turned his attention to me. "Who brought you to the ball?" he asked.

Instantly I had to find a plausible answer. It came without thinking. "Mr. Smith," I said.

"What Mr. Smith? Where does he work?"

"I don't know," I said. "I only met him on his evenings off. He brought me to the ball."

"How was he dressed?"

"As Pierrot. There were so many of them I lost him. I didn't care."

"Will you unmask for us?"

Now my face is unknown to fame, and it occurred to me that I would inspire these people with confidence if I obeyed. So I lifted my mask for a moment and let it snap back. I saw the corners of my employer's mouth twitch. She approved of what I had done. And Mr. Punch was satisfied.

"What can you tell us about this business?" he asked.

It was clear to me by this time that he was only interested in getting evidence against Abdullah, and I tried to play up to him.

"Well, I could see that Abdullah was sore against Harlequin," I said. "He was watching him all the time."

"We know that already," said Mr. Punch. "What else?"

"Well, just before the lights went out I saw him lift the cloth and look under the table."

"Good!" cried Mr. Punch. "He wanted to see how to disconnect the lights. Will you tell this to the police?"

I nodded.

"Aw, you're all against me!" cried Abdullah despairingly, and my conscience reproached me. But I was only following instructions.

Mr. Punch turned to Mephisto. "Can you add anything?" he asked. He never asked Mephisto to unmask, and so I judged he already knew him.

"Well," said Mephisto with an air of seeming reluctance, "when the two of them were fighting I saw Abdullah pull the gun. He dropped it on the floor when they were separated."

"You lie!" cried Abdullah. "You're swearing my life away! If you saw this why didn't you say so before?"

"I didn't want to make trouble," said Mephisto deprecatingly. "I always want to avoid trouble. In the heat of passion any man is likely to do something he regrets afterward. As long as the gun was unloaded I thought it was all right. Never occurred to me you would be carrying two guns."

"I didn't even have one gun!" cried Abdullah.

Nobody paid any attention to what he said.

"Now we're beginning to clear this thing up," said Mr. Punch in great satisfaction. "We'd all be better off if you had taken my advice and seen it through on the spot. Will you swear to what you have said before the police, Mephisto?"

"If I must, I must," said the big man, spreading out his hands. "Though I don't wish the poor fellow any harm."

By this time Zuleika had returned to the room and seated herself as far as possible away from Jackie.

"Mrs. Danforth," said Mr. Punch, "will you swear that you knocked against the gun in this man's pocket when you seated yourself at the table?"

"Sure!" she said with a poisonous glance at Abdullah.

By this time the concerted plan to railroad the unfortunate fellow, whether innocent or guilty, was becoming almost more than I could stand in silence. I glanced anxiously at my employer, wondering when she was going to take action.

Mr. Punch was not yet through with him. "Jackie," he said to the girl, "you were directly across the table when the shot was fired. You ought to be able to tell us more about it."

Abdullah sprang up and approached the girl. "Kitty, for God's sake, don't join in this!" he cried brokenly. "You know me, Kitty. You used to be fond of me. Have you forgotten all that?"

"Don't touch me!" she cried, shrinking from him. "You are not worthy to tie his laces!"

"Sit down!" shouted Mr. Punch, pounding the table. The broken Abdullah dropped in his seat. "Then you know who he is," he continued to Jackie.

"Sure," she said sullenly. "I knew him as soon as he knew me. It's Frank Harris!"

Leaping up again, Abdullah tore off his mask and cast it on the floor. "Look your fill at me!" he cried recklessly. "Yes, I'm Frank Harris! What have I done to any of you that you're all trying to send me to the chair?"

Again we had that dramatic shock when another of the masked faces was suddenly revealed. Under stress of his feelings the man's face was scarcely human. But he looked like an ordinary, honest sort of fellow. You couldn't help but pity him.

"A member of the Executive Committee!" exclaimed Mr. Punch in a scandalised voice. The air was full of hypocrisy.

Jackie had no mercy on the poor wretch. These delicate girls can be as cruel as Satan when their feelings are aroused. "I'll tell you something more about him!" she cried stridently. "When he says he never handled a gun he lies! For six months past every hour he could get he's been practising with a pistol in a gallery on Fourteenth Street. He's a dead shot!"

Mr. Punch smiled cruelly between the false nose and chin. "I guess we've heard enough," he said. "Let's take him to the police."

V

At last Mme. Storey spoke up—but she seemed to have no more mercy for the snivelling Abdullah-Harris than the rest of them. "You'd better make him come clean first," she suggested. "If he's going to deny everything the police will hold us all."

A general murmur of assent went around.

"I won't confess!" shouted Harris. "You can all be damned! Take me to the police! I'd sooner face them than a set of vultures like you!"

Mr. Punch tried in vain to browbeat the man into making a confession, but Harris only cried and cursed and turned stubborn. Finally Anne Boleyn said smoothly:

"Let me see what I can get out of him."

With a shrug, Mr. Punch moved over on the little sofa, and she sat on the other end, making two judges instead of one. She lit a cigarette and deliberated between every question she asked, blowing the smoke in the air.

"Harris, you're taking the wrong line altogether," she began smoothly. "If Danforth was a blackguard, as you say, let that be your defence. If you can prove it, no jury would convict you."

Harris calmed down, and scowled at her suspiciously. He didn't know how to take this. On the other hand Mrs. Danforth was angered by it.

However, Anne Boleyn smiled at her as much as to say, "I'm only trying to entrap the man," and the other woman subsided.

"Harris," said Anne Boleyn, "you knew George Danforth tonight even before he raised his mask. I was watching you."

"Well, what of it?" he grumbled.

"How did you know him?"

Harris twisted in his chair. "If you must know, Mr. Denby, our president, told me Danforth was going to wear a Harlequin outfit. With that lead I recognised him from his figure."

Mr. Punch's make-up hid his face well, but I could imagine that this disclosure made him uneasy. His whole poise towards my employer betrayed it.

"Was Mr. Denby aware that you were sore at Danforth?" asked Anne Boleyn.

"Sure," said Harris. "I told him how he had taken my girl, and he said he was a blackguard. Mr. Denby's a good friend of mine. He wouldn't let you hound me like this if he was here."

"If Danforth was a blackguard why wasn't he fired from the Association?"

"President Denby didn't want to do it," said Harris. "He thought it would make too much talk."

"And what did Danforth say?"

"Danforth went around bragging that they couldn't fire him out because he had too much on Denby."

"What did he mean by that?"

"I don't know. I didn't pay no attention. Danforth was a crook."

"Where has Danforth been working since he left the Creighton Woodleys?"

"Hasn't been working anywhere. Just swelling around. He said the Association would have to support him as long as he lived."

"But Mr. Danforth took me home in a high-powered car that time," said Anne Boleyn. "He wore diamonds. He gave suppers to the ladies. Was the Association paying for all that?"

"I didn't believe they were," said Harris. "Danforth was a crook."

"But don't you know?"

"No," said Harris sullenly. "That's up to the treasurer, Mr. Ebbitt."

"But you're a member of the Executive Committee."

"We left everything to Denby and Ebbitt. Those two are the strong men of the Association. They have a powerful hold on the members."

"What gave them such a powerful hold?" asked Anne Boleyn softly.

"Well, during their term of office they have added a hundred thousand dollars to our benefit fund. And fifty thousand to the Women's Auxiliary. They are fine men."

"Where did they get it all?"

"From investments. Mr. Ebbitt, the treasurer, takes the dues and invests the money in Wall Street and cleans up. He then hands the money to me for the benefit fund. I run that," Harris said, with a pitiful sort of pride.

"Has the treasurer ever made a report to the Association?"

"Nobody wants a report as long as the money's coming in."

"When did he last pay in something to the fund?"

"Six weeks ago. Ten thousand. But he took that back again."

"Why?"

"Said he saw a chance to double it on the Street."

"Six weeks ago? Wasn't that just the time when Danforth came out with his big car and his diamonds?"

"Well—yes," muttered Harris dubiously.

I could well believe that this line of testimony was making Mr. Punch sweat, but he couldn't say anything without showing his hand. However, Mephisto interfered.

"What's all this got to do with Harris's shooting Danforth?" he protested. "You ain't getting anywhere, miss."

"I'm trying to prove that Danforth was an out-and-out scoundrel," she said sweetly. "If I can show Harris that he has a first-rate defence, he'll confess and we can all go home."

Mephisto was obliged to make believe he was satisfied, but I doubted it.

"Danforth was a scoundrel all right," muttered Harris.

"But I'll never confess!"

Anne Boleyn took a new line. "Where did you get that costume?"

"What's that got to do with it?" he answered sullenly. "I've nothing to conceal. I hired it at Steele Bros., costumiers."

"Who sent you to them?"

"President Denby. He told me he seen this Turkish costume there just my size, and I went and got it."

"How was President Denby masked tonight?"

"I don't know. Nobody knew. He said he could have more fun if they didn't recognise him for the president."

"And treasurer Ebbitt?"

"I don't know that neither. He's a serious-minded man. Maybe he didn't come to the ball."

Mme. Storey then resumed her original line of questioning. "When did President Denby and Danforth first quarrel?" she asked.

"Just about that time," said Harris. "Six weeks ago."

"This would be just after Danforth had been cleared by the police of complicity in the Creighton Woodley robbery."

"Yeah. Mr. Denby wasn't on to him then. He wanted to show his confidence in Danforth and he offered to put him in on the Executive Committee. But Danforth refused, and there was trouble."

"Did you overhear their quarrel?"

"Well, they were in the private office with the door closed and I was outside," said Harris. "I just heard a word or two."

"What was it?"

"Well, I heard Danforth shout out: 'When I gave you the layout I thought it was only talk! You tricked me!' I didn't pay no attention. I knew Danforth was crooked."

"What else?"

"Later Danforth hollered: 'I was an honest man until this happened! You made a crook out of me!' That's a laugh, all right. Mr. Denby making a crook out of that rat!"

"Did you tell Mr. Denby what you overheard?"

"No, I made out I didn't hear nothing just to save trouble."

"Did you hear anything else?"

"The last thing Danforth said was: 'I got hold of the receipt you gave Tony Yellow for the money. Never mind how. I got it!' And with that he came bursting out of the private office——"

Mr. Punch could stand no more. He sprang up, trembling with rage.

"You lie!" he cried.

"Liar yourself," retorted Harris. "If Mr. Denby was here, he'd bear me out! He's a good friend of mine."

"This is Mr. Denby," said Anne Boleyn. "Let him speak for himself."

Now, Mr. Punch was a quick-witted man, and he realised if he delayed an instant in taking up her challenge he would only come off worse in the end. He snatched off his mask.

"Sure I'm Denby," he cried to Harris. "And I was a good friend of yours, Frank. But you can't save yourself from this murder by a tissue of lies!"

The false nose and chin still grotesquely obscured his real features, but they all knew him now. A murmur of amazement went around. Poor Harris gaped at him like a clown. The man's instinct warned him he had been tricked, but his wits were not sharp enough to work it out.

Mr. Punch then turned furiously on my employer. "Who is this woman that's so keen about our private affairs?" he cried. "Take off your mask, miss, and let's have a look at you!"

She coolly lifted it, and faced him out with a dry smile. Mr. Punch went staggering back.

"Rosika Storey!" he gasped. "Oh, my God! The detective!"

For a moment there was complete silence in the room. Mme. Storey's beauty and her contemptuous assurance laid a spell on them. In her superb black gown she looked the queen. They stared at her open-mouthed. Nobody moved.

Then Mr. Punch began to recover himself. A dark flush spread underneath his make-up. He smiled grimly.

"Do you realise what this means?" he said to the others. "This woman is out to smash our organisation. She cares nothing about the murder. She's after our benefit funds. Well, you're all members. Going to stand for it?"

"No! No!" they cried. It was strange to see how they instantly drew together when their money was threatened. Danforth's wife and his mistress forgot their jealousy; even Frank Harris, the poor fool they were trying to railroad to the chair, joined in with them. He was one of those morons who can conceive of nothing higher than a blind loyalty to the organisation. Mephisto obviously was hand in glove with Mr. Punch now as he had been throughout.

They all began to shout together: "She did it! She did it! She shot Danforth. I saw her do it, I'll swear to it!"

Harris put in: "She come between me and Zuleika and fired at him crouching down. I felt her there. I smelled her perfume. I'll swear to it!"

It was like an infernal chorus.

"We'll all swear to it! She can't get off!"

Which shows how much dependence you can place on human testimony!

Mr. Punch, however, had more sense.

"Quiet, you fools!" he shouted with an angry gesture. "You couldn't touch her. She has too much prestige. She's too clever for you. She'd go on the stand and make monkeys of you all. Besides, there's this other strange woman. They're in together. They would support each other on the stand."

Mephisto furiously shook his fist at us. "These spies shan't wreck our organisation!" he cried.

"Sure!" agreed Mr. Punch cunningly. "The money is rolling in without the slightest risk to us, and we want to enjoy it! If we stick together we five can make a little central finance committee."

This appealed to their cupidity.

"What will we do with them?" cried Mephisto.

All faces were unmasked now except for Mephisto's grinning headpiece.

"Well," began Mr. Punch. He paused, and that hideous smile spread between hooked nose and chin. "She's a clever woman, but she and her fellow spy are only mortal...And this is a nice quiet house!"

The two women cried out a little. They were willing to swear our lives away, but outright murder scared them. As for me, all the blood in my veins turned to water. I moved closer to Mme. Storey. She was smiling scornfully. The black pit of the front drawing-room yawned at our backs.

"Leave this to me," Mr. Punch said to the women. "I'll take the responsibility. All you've got to do is to stand by me afterward. There's a grand cellar under this house," he went on, smiling. "And the family won't be back for three months."

Mephisto drew the gun he had kept all this time and coolly reloaded it.

"Put it up!" said Mr. Punch sharply. "We'll do this quietly."

Mme. Storey affected to laugh with quiet amusement.

"Look in the back room," she said.

All five heads turned as one. She touched my hand, and we melted noiselessly into the darkness behind us.

VI

We had only one second's respite, of course. They discovered they had been tricked, and Mr. Punch yelled: "Watch the basement stairs! It's the only way out! Come on, Ebbitt!"

Mme. Storey seized my hand, and we headed diagonally across the front drawing-room for the main hall. As we reached it, our pursuers came tumbling out of the middle room. The grand stairway was immediately before us, and we sprang up. There was no other place to go. Terror lent wings to my heels. I never ran so fast in my life.

As Mr. Punch came through the lower hall, he paused to press some switches, and the whole central well of the house became flooded with light. Punch and Mephisto leaped up the stairs after us.

We opened the first door we came to, ran in, slammed it, and shot a bolt. Almost immediately the two men flung themselves against the other side. This was one of the principal bedrooms of the house.

Immediately it was only too apparent to us that the windows were boarded up like those below, and we could neither escape that way nor summon help. We had only run from one trap into another.

We heard the men run along the hall outside, and immediately guessed there was a way into our room from the front. I was for trying to find the communicating door, but she prevented me.

"Must get out of this," she muttered.

She softly drew the bolt, and we stole out into the stair hall again. Frank Harris and the two women were watching at the foot of the stairs. All three of them were infected with the blood lust now.

The third floor of the house was all cut up into a maze of small rooms and passages in which we lost ourselves hopelessly. In the dark it was impossible to figure out the plan. We could no longer hear our pursuers—crouching in wait at some strategic corner, we supposed. It was agonising not to know.

"There must be back stairs," whispered Mme. Storey. "Look for them."

In slowly feeling our way along the wall of a passage, I leave you to imagine my feelings when my groping fingers suddenly touched fingers exploring from the other direction.

I screamed like a madwoman. Luckily the man was scarcely less startled than I. Mme. Storey and I dashed away down the passage, collided with the wall at the end, crossed some sort of open space, and hid ourselves in another passage before we dared draw breath.

"We are in the front of the house now," she whispered. "We must find the back stairs."

Finally the suspense became unsupportable. Having crept back to the beginning of the passage, we peeped around the corner. There they crouched waiting, Punch and the Devil, the latter still masked.

They sprang at us and we fled back through the passage. We were quicker than they. There was a door around the corner, and we got it closed and bolted behind us as they flung themselves against it. I heard Punch roar with laughter.

"We've got them now!" he yelled.

We were in a small bedroom, evidently a servant's room, with a window opening on the air shaft. Through the skylight at the top of the shaft we saw that day was breaking. I heard Punch say: "Drive your foot through a panel of the door!"

A tiny room opening on a shaft and those fiends outside! Our position seemed absolutely desperate and I'm afraid I began to cry. Mme. Storey's face was sternly composed.

The door held for a brief while against Mephisto's furious blows, and Mme. Storey still had a trick up her sleeve. There was the window of another room cater-cornered across the air shaft, and while I steadied her she leaned far out of our window and got it opened. We then with considerable difficulty crossed over from sill to sill. I never could have made it had not the Devil been at my heels.

The room we entered was evidently lived in, and I gasped with relief to see that it had two unshuttered windows opening on the blessed outer air! But first we had to barricade the way we had come. With immense exertions we managed to shove a heavy wardrobe in front of the window on the shaft. This offered a formidable obstacle to anybody on the insecure perch of the window sill, and we did not believe they could follow that way. There was still the door of the room, of course. We discovered that it was locked, and no key in it.

When we had time to look about us we saw a man's personal belongings scattered about; clothes, shoes, knick-knacks on the dresser. On the wall was a framed photograph of an Association picnic.

"Ah," said Mme. Storey dryly. "Mr. Punch's own room!"

There was a ball of string lying on the bureau that she pounced on with the light of triumph in her eye. "If we get out alive we'll hang him with this!" she cried, and thrust the ball in the pocket of her skirt.

I could make nothing of this at the moment. A sudden thought had caused my heart to sink like a stone.

"If it's his room he has the key in his pocket!" I gasped.

Mme. Storey's eyes flashed around the room, searching. She snatched up a stick-pin from the bureau, stuck it diagonally in the lock, then hammered it with a boot so that it crumpled up inside the lock and the head broke off.

"He won't get a key in there in a hurry," she remarked.

By this time the two men had broken into the little room on the shaft. They must have been astonished when they found it empty. But when they saw the wardrobe backed up against the other window on the shaft they knew where we had gone.

"They're in my room!" yelled Mr. Punch. "Come on!"

A moment later he was trying to insert his key in the lock. Failing in that, they kicked the panels. Fortunately those were stout doors. "Wait a minute!" said Punch. "Fetch the fire axe from the head of the stairs."

Meanwhile Mme. Storey and I were busy shoving the bureau in front of the door, and the bed against the bureau to give them plenty to chop through. Then we ran to an outer window.

It was half day and the city lay in a curious stillness under the cool sky. Madison Avenue ran under the window, and across the way we could see the apse of St. Patrick's between the priests' residences flanking it on either side. The street lights were still burning and the early cats were coming out to sniff in the gutters. The only human in sight was an honest policeman leaning against a fire box on the corner, idly swinging his club on its thong. As I was about to yell, Mme. Storey clapped a hand over my mouth.

"If we raise an alarm they'll escape us!" she cried.

She picked up a hairbrush, and leaning out the window tapped it against the wall of the house. It made only a little sound, but in the stillness of early morning it was sufficient. The policeman looked up and saw us. What a strange shock he must have received, seeing Anne Boleyn and Lorenzo hanging out of the top window of an apparently shut-up house at dawn! One can imagine the eyes fairly starting from his head. Mme. Storey gave him the most dramatic pantomime of distress and terror, wringing her hands and alternately pointing inside the house and towards the fire box. All the time she was murmuring to me:

"That ought to fetch him! That ought to fetch him!"

I don't know what he thought, but there was obviously only one thing for him to do. He yanked open the door of the fire alarm box, and pulled the hook inside. He then ran down the side street to try to get in the building from the rear.

For a moment or two there was silence in the room. I was desperately trying to figure how long it took firemen to reach a fire. The beating of my heart almost suffocated me. The silence must have alarmed Mr. Punch outside, for he vigorously rattled the door and called out:

"You, in there!"

Mme. Storey winked at me and answered in a trembling voice: "Oh, spare us! Spare us!" I wondered how she could joke at such a moment.

Mephisto arrived with the axe and they tackled the door. It proved to be a tough job, because the passage was too narrow to swing the axe effectively.

Almost immediately I heard the distant clang of the engines, and then I saw the wisdom of Mme. Storey's ruse. The men with the axe were making too much noise themselves to hear the engines. Even if they did hear they wouldn't connect it with us. After all, it's a common enough sound in the city. Mr. Punch had fairly to hew the door in pieces before he could get sufficient leverage to push the furniture out of the way.

Meanwhile Mme. Storey and I were hanging out of the windows. When the fire trucks swept up below we stretched out our arms to the men just like all the pictures of distressed females we had seen. They swung the big hook and ladder truck around with marvellous skill, and started the machinery going, and the great ladder raised up and extended itself until it dropped with a light tap against our window sill. They had judged it to a hair. Then the men came scrambling up like monkeys.

Firemen are such handsome, well-built fellows, and so modest! Everybody loves the firemen, because they don't interfere with us as the police do—they only save our lives!

The firemen were in the act of scrambling over the sill at the precise moment when our two enemies, having succeeded in shoving the bureau a foot or two from the door, appeared from behind it. The surprise was mutual. Seeing the grotesque figure of Mr. Punch, axe in hand, and Mephisto, horns and tail, the firemen may well have thought they were in a madhouse.

"What's the matter here?" stammered the leader.

Mme. Storey, with a twinkle in her eye, said courteously: "I'm sorry, chief, there's no fire. But these gentlemen were bent on murdering us."

Mr. Punch and Mephisto turned to run, but the firemen leaped on their backs and quickly secured them. Such grand fellows! I disgraced myself by going into hysterics when it was over.

VII

The next scene took place at Police Headquarters. Of course a general alarm had been sent out for our party and the police had been combing the town for us all night. So we were rushed direct to Headquarters. I doubt if the building had ever witnessed a more bizarre scene than the seven of us in fancy dress lined up before the lieutenant at the desk. Ebbitt, the fat treasurer of the Butlers' Association, now carried Mephisto's grinning headpiece under one arm, while his spiked tail dragged forlornly on the ground. Ebbitt had just such a smooth and flabby face as you might expect in the butler who deferentially fills your glass.

At first we were all treated as malefactors alike. When Mme. Storey explained who she was the lieutenant received it with an air of incredulity that was far from polite. In fact he jeered. Whereupon she insisted on having our friend Inspector Rumsey sent for. After he got there all was clear sailing.

I cannot end my story better than by giving you my employer's statement to the police.

"In the course of my investigation of the Creighton Woodley jewel robbery," she said, "certain facts turned up which suggested to me that there was a very profitable racket being worked by an inner ring of the Butlers' Association in connection with expert jewel thieves. But it was difficult to secure evidence.

"The annual masked ball of the Butlers' Association to-night gave me an opportunity of mixing with these people in disguise, so I attended the ball and took with me my secretary, Miss Brickley. I also had an operative mixing with the dancers, but we became separated from him.

"As it drew on towards midnight my secretary and I were invited to join a supper party in a private room given by Mr. Punch here. I accepted because I suspected from his air of authority that he was an important man in the Association. Later I discovered that he was none other than Alfred Denby, the president, and the man I was most anxious to watch. The gentleman in red, yonder, is Ebbitt, the treasurer of the Association.

"Unfortunately I had no knowledge beforehand that there was trouble within the Association itself, or I could have taken steps to prevent the murder at the supper table. The murdered man, as you may know, is George Danforth, who was butler to the Creighton Woodleys at the time of the robbery, and, of course, a member of the Association. I am prepared to offer proof of every statement I am going to make to you. All this evidence turned up after the murder.

"Danforth was a handsome, pleasure-loving man, very popular among the ladies. Technically he was an honest man, and they tricked him into giving the layout of his master's house, and the information that enabled a successful robbery to be carried out. Danforth, you remember, was called away on the night of the robbery, and had therefore a perfect alibi.

"But he knew then, of course, that he had been tricked. Honesty is all a matter of degree. If he had been absolutely honest he would have taken his story to the police. But he saw a way of supporting himself in luxurious idleness and he fell for it. They offered to admit Danforth to the inner ring, but he refused, and he proceeded to blackmail the Butlers' Association out of large sums of money.

"The Creighton Woodley robbery was actually committed by Antonio Pagliariello, more commonly known as Tony Yellow. He is no stranger to you. Alfred Denby gave Tony a receipt for the money turned over to the Butlers' Association as their share of the loot, and in some manner this receipt came into Danforth's hands. Probably Tony double-crossed the Association and gave the paper to Danforth. It would be like him. This paper constituted Danforth's hold over the Association. It will undoubtedly be found among the dead man's effects." Mme. Storey paused, with a slight smile at the police officials' surprise.

"The inner ring," she went on, "resolved to put Danforth out of the way. They planned to use this man here, Frank Harris by name, as their instrument, but when they were unable to fan Harris's hatred of Danforth up to the killing point, Denby, the president, made up his mind to kill Danforth himself and fasten the murder on Harris. The inner ring had nothing against Harris, who was a loyal member of the organisation, though not a party to the crookedness of the inner ring. Harris was a stupid sort of fellow, they figured, who would never see through the plot.

"The supper party tonight was staged for the murder. Mr. Punch there, or Denby, made sure of his men, Danforth, Harris, and Ebbitt—he had previous knowledge of the costumes they were going to wear; but apparently he picked up some of the women at random. So cunningly thought out was his plan that he wished to have strangers present to give disinterested testimony later. That is how my secretary and I happened to be included in the dinner party.

"A quarrel between Harris and Danforth lent the whole thing realism. At the proper moment, when Mr. Punch was on his feet making a speech, the lights went out and the shot was fired. When the lights were turned on again the smoking revolver lay in front of Harris.

"But Harris had not fired the shot, gentlemen. Mr. Punch had prepared a simple and ingenious scheme for disconnecting the lights under the table. He tied a string to the plug in such a manner, leaving two ends, that when he pulled one end it disconnected the lights, and when he pulled the other it loosened the string and he could gather it all in his hand, thus removing the evidence. When the lights went out he knelt on the floor between Mrs. Danforth and Harris, and fired. He dropped the gun on the table in front of Harris, and a second later he was turning on the switch by the door.

"In the confusion following upon the murder there was a general desire to escape. Mr. Punch, confident in the cleverness of his plot, was dead against it. He insisted on facing the thing out. But a few minutes later, when I had shown up the trick of substituting the guns, he became suspicious of me and encouraged a general flight from the scene. I was afraid he would escape—at that moment I hadn't yet discovered his identity, or that he would destroy valuable evidence; I had to act on the instant and so I made believe to run with them.

"He carried us to the house of his employers which has been shut up for months, an ideal base of operations for Mr. Punch. When he discovered who I was, he determined to put me out of the way. That's the whole story, gentlemen.

"Now, as to my evidence: When the shot was fired, like nearly everybody else present, I slid under the table. I took the opportunity of doing a little searching under there. By that time Mr. Punch had pulled away the string, of course, but I found, driven into the bottom of the table, the little staples by which he had led the two ends of the string to his right hand and to his left. They are still there, mute evidence of Mr. Punch's crime.

"I knew then what had happened, but it would not have been sufficient evidence to take into court, and I was obliged to search farther. When he went to the window of the supper room to try to prevent the others from leaving, I saw him drop something out, and later when we all left, I found the length of string entangled in the fire escape. Here it is, gentlemen.

"Still, a piece of string is only a piece of string, and I felt that I had not enough yet. My third find clinched the whole matter. On the bureau of Mr. Punch's own room, I picked up this ball of string. The same kind of string as the piece I just handed you. A brand new ball, you see, shows no dust nor marks of handling. Only one piece has been cut from it. String of this kind is made up into balls of one hundred and fifty yards. You can verify that from the makers. If you unwind this ball you will discover that it makes exactly one hundred and fifty yards, when joined with the piece I first handed you. That's all."


V. — THE DEATH NOTICE

First published in Argosy, December 27, 1930
Reprinted in The Almost Perfect Murder, 1933

Cover Image

Argosy, December 27, 1930, with "The Death Notice"



I

I disliked the man's voice even before I took in the sense of what he was saying; a slow voice that seemed to dwell with pleasure on its own malice. He said over the wire:

"Is Madame Storey there?"

"Who is this speaking?"

He laughed sarcastically. "Oh, I haven't the pleasure of her acquaintance."

"What do you want to speak to her about?"

"That I can only tell her."

"Well, I'm sorry," I said, "but I am instructed not to disturb her unless I know it is for a good reason."

"To whom am I speaking?" he asked.

"Miss Brickley, Madame Storey's secretary."

"I have heard of the admirable Miss Brickley," he said with his insulting laugh. "I feel quite safe in sending her my message by you."

Then he paused, and I said: "Well?"

I could hear his breathing over the wire. He must have had his lips almost directly against the transmitter. "I have a communication to make in which Madame Storey is sure to take a keen professional interest," he drawled. "There is going to be a murder committed at number — East 75th Street this morning."

"What!" I gasped.

He laughed, well pleased with the effect of his words.

"Wait a minute," I stammered. "I'll connect you with Madame Storey."

"Oh, you can tell her," he said, and hung up, still laughing.

It gave me a nasty shock. My hand was trembling violently when I put up the receiver. Common sense suggested that it was only a hoax, but the ugly voice out of the unknown acted powerfully on my nerves.

Going into her office, I found her sitting at the big table writing a personal letter. She had a cigarette between her lips and was holding her head on one side in the familiar way to keep the smoke out of her eyes. At sight of my face she removed the cigarette and smiled provokingly. She is always amused by my agitations.

"Well, what is it now?" she asked.

I told her.

"Damn the telephone!" she said pleasantly. "It puts us at the mercy of every lunatic in the five boroughs."

"It's certainly a hoax," I said.

"Undoubtedly. Just the same, we dare not ignore it."

"After all, it's a matter for the police to attend to."

"Quite," she said, taking up her pen again. "Call up Rumsey and pass the buck to him."

While I was waiting for my call a sudden exclamation escaped from my employer. "What number did you say?"

"— East 75th Street."

"Good Lord! that's Mrs. George P. Julian's new house. I suppose I'll have to go there anyway."

I groaned in sympathy, for I had had ample experience of that lady's foolishness in the past.

When I got Inspector Rumsey on the wire, I handed over the instrument, and Mme. Storey told him what had happened. He evidently asked for further particulars about Mrs. Julian, for she went on to say:

"She's a widow with twenty million dollars, and she's almost the perfect fool. Need I say more? A sugar-bowl for every new fakir who sets up shop. I've already got her out of several scrapes, and that's why, God help me! I am elected to be her friend. Her principal is tied up in a trust fund, but she has over a million a year income, and that's the honey that attracts the bees."

He asked her about her previous relations with Mrs. Julian.

"Well, she was one of Jacmer Touchon's patients. She got me some evidence against him without knowing that she was doing it, and I'm really in her debt on that score. Before that I saved her from handing over half a million to the notorious Walter Hanley. My first meeting with her was at the time of the Miller Moore case. Moore had been bleeding her for a couple of years. I succeeded in sending him to Sing Sing, you may remember."

When she had hung up, Mme. Storey said: "Rumsey is satisfied it's a hoax. He says as long as I feel obliged to go to Mrs. Julian's house he won't bother to send anybody...He says I can attend to it better than any man," she added, with a side-long smile in my direction.

"Humph!" I said, "he can afford to be flattering when he's getting your services for nothing."

We 'phoned for a taxi and locked up the office. Though my employer affected to treat the matter lightly, I noticed a certain gravity in her expression, and on the way up I asked her if she thought it possible that Mrs. Julian's life was in danger.

She shrugged impatiently. "Sooner or later that woman is certain to get into trouble. So prominent, so wealthy, so foolish! It's a fatal combination."

"But if her money's all tied up in a trust fund, wouldn't it be like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs?"

"So it would seem. But there is this to consider. She has a habit of giving out largesse with a good size string attached to it. She gives these crooks great sums of money in the guise of loans. There is no record that any of it was ever paid back. But when she sours on her dear friends, she is apt to demand her money, and there have been some very ugly scenes. That might supply a motive."

We drew up in front of one of the newer mansions that line the blocks east of the Park. It was one of those houses that embody every known luxury and extravagance—except the trifling matter of sunshine. The few rooms which faced the narrow street got a certain amount of light, but as the house (as well as all its neighbours) covered about ninety per cent, of its lot, all the other rooms had to be content with electric light bulbs. Why be rich, one might ask, if you can't have sunshine? There is no answer. The rooms were filled with art treasures from every quarter of the globe, but you got no definite impression except that of mere expensiveness.

To match everything else, Mrs. Julian had the most expensive of butlers. His name was Bunbury, and he had been with her for years. He was a very handsome man. He seemed to have raised butlering to heights before undreamed of. He was like a celebrated actor playing the part of butler on the stage.

When my employer asked for Mrs. Julian, Bunbury looked deeply distressed. He knew that Mme. Storey was no ordinary caller to be turned away. "Mrs. Julian was not expecting you," he suggested.

"No," said Mme. Storey blandly. "But that will be all right." She walked in.

"I'm sorry," he stammered, following us, "but Mrs. Julian is very much engaged. I have positive instructions not to disturb her."

"I'm sorry too," said Mme. Storey, "but I have to see her. It is a matter of the greatest importance."

"Madam, I cannot...I cannot..." he protested.

"What's she doing?" asked my employer bluntly.

"She's...er...she's having a séance," he replied, embarrassed.

Mme. Storey started up the sweeping staircase with me following her, and the butler bringing up the rear, all but wringing his hands. "Madam, I beg of you...I beg of you..."

"I will take the responsibility of disturbing her," said Mme. Storey serenely. "...If I insist on going in, you can't very well stop me, can you?" she added.

"It's as much as my place is worth," he whimpered.

"Very well, if you get fired I'll find you another place. You're an excellent servant."

He gave up.

The plan of the house was simple. On the first floor above the street there was a superb central hall with a peristyle of tall marble columns. The staircase swept on up behind the columns. In the front was an immense salon; in the rear a dining-room. The doors of the salon stood open and there was no séance going on in there. It could hardly be in the dining-room, so we kept on up.

The next floor was devoted to Mrs. Julian's personal suite; boudoir, bedroom, dressing-rooms and so forth. All the doors giving on the hall were closed. From behind a door in the front came the steady drone of a single voice—a disquieting sound. Mme. Storey made unhesitatingly for that door, and opened it. The butler had faded away.

II

The room was dark except for a patch of uncertain light towards the left. I had an impression of several motionless figures sitting around, and I saw a ghastly distorted face in the dim light. It seemed to have no body. It made my blood run cold. I almost cried out, though I guessed there was trickery in it.

The voice ceased when we opened the door. There was a silence, then Mrs. Julian's voice, sharp and angry, demanding:

"Who is it? How dare you come in here?"

"Sorry, Aline," said Mme. Storey calmly. "I had to speak to you."

Mrs. Julian did not instantly recognise the voice. She continued to cry: "Get out! Get out!" The strange figure in the middle of the room broke in sulkily: "It is useless. Everything is spoiled now. You had better turn on the light."

Mme. Storey pressed the switch which was beside the door, and the lights flooded on. The room was Mrs. Julian's boudoir, and it presented a very odd scene. When I say the house had no character I should except the boudoir. That had plenty of character—of the wrong sort. A sea of baby-blue brocade with a foam of lace upon it. One might have guessed at a glance that this room expressed the soul of an elephantine blonde woman of fifty-odd.

To the left stood an elegant little lacquer table with a carved teak-wood stand upon it supporting in turn a crystal globe. This was a beautiful object, reflecting as it did all the lights in broken shining particles. One can easily understand how a crystal globe has always been an object of mystery. A foot or so above the globe hung a lamp concealed within a black shade. It was the light from this falling on the crystal which had created the eerie glow I had first seen.

Beside the table stood a theatrical figure, a short, plump man in a frock-coat that was too tight for him. He had a chocolate-coloured face and shifty black eyes. His lank black hair was plastered over his temples in the very manner of an oily schemer. His shallow eyes rolled viciously at us. Anybody but Mrs. Julian would have distrusted him at sight.

Beyond the table in an over-stuffed baby-blue armchair sat Mrs. Julian, overstuffed herself, and enveloped in God knows how many yards of lavender chiffon. Her face which is naturally red showed a bluish hue under the powder. Perhaps that's why she wore lavender. She was a good-natured creature in her way, and I knew that my employer had a kind of fondness for her.

Along the far side of the room sat three other persons, two men and a woman, of whom I shall have more to say directly. All three had an unwholesome look like things that wanted the sun.

Mrs. Julian's puffy face presented a study when the lights went up. Dark with anger under her make-up, nevertheless she knew she could not afford to quarrel with Mme. Storey. She bit her lip and looked at the floor.

"It is nothing," she muttered; "only...at such a moment of emotional tension it's a shock to have it broken."

My employer instantly took her cue from the scene.

"I know," she said sympathetically. "But I had a strong premonition that you needed me, Aline, and I hurried right here. You can't stop to question such feelings. I wouldn't let the servant keep me out."

This sort of talk was well calculated to impress Mrs. Julian. She looked at Mme. Storey, surprised to hear it from her, and began to melt. "Oh, Rosika! But I am all right, darling!"

"I'm so glad!" said Mme. Storey, taking her hand.

The East Indian, seeing the current turning against him, became sulkier than before. He placed the crystal and its stand in the middle of a brilliant silk handkerchief and began to tie up the ends in Oriental fashion. "With your permission I will retire," he said stiffly to Mrs. Julian.

"Oh, please don't go," said Mme. Storey in seeming concern. "I am so interested in everything pertaining to the psychic...Introduce me, Aline."

"This is Professor Ram Lal," said Mrs. Julian a little unwillingly. Perhaps she suspected my employer of irony. "Madame Rosika Storey."

All the persons in the room glanced at Mme. Storey with fear and dislike. I began to feel there must be some foundation for the warning we had received, and a nasty chill struck through me. Was it possible that this scowling Oriental meditated an attack on Mrs. Julian, and one of his rivals, getting wind of it, had telephoned us?

"Do go on with your demonstration, Professor," said my employer cajolingly. "All my life I have been fascinated by the mystery of the crystal, and have been longing to meet somebody to elucidate it."

"I am sorry," he said with the pompous air that such people are bound to assume, "but the precious filaments that bind us to the infinite are too tenuous to be joined immediately when once they are snapped."

Mme. Storey listened to him with pretended respect. "Then let us sit and talk awhile," she said, matching his tone. "Let us try to put ourselves in tune with the infinite so that new filaments may be woven." Drawing a chair up beside Mrs. Julian, she produced her cigarette case. I sat down behind them.

Mrs. Julian, finding her friend so unexpectedly sympathetic, sighed with satisfaction, and took a cigarette. "Sit down, Ram Lal," she said carelessly.

He dared not go then, though I fancy he was still suspicious of Mme. Storey. Declining a cigarette, he sat down on the other side of the table with an air of forced patience.

"Do uncover the precious crystal," begged Mme. Storey. "I love to lose myself by gazing in its depths."

He obeyed with an ill grace.

"How inexpressibly beautiful!" she murmured. "The clear transparent sphere which seems to conceal nothing yet hides all! It is symbolic of the whole cosmos!"

Mrs. Julian, now completely persuaded, leaned over and patted her hand. "Oh, Rosika, it is so sweet to hear you talk like this! Of course you're the cleverest woman in the world, but sometimes I have felt that...that...well, you know..."

"That I lacked soul?" murmured Mme. Storey reproachfully. "Oh, Aline, how could you!"

There was good comedy in this, but I felt no inclination at the time to smile. The East Indian's ugly expression kept me on tenterhooks.

"I see that Madame Storey is one of us," he murmured. "A true psychic!"

Mrs. Julian was quite carried away. The folds of lavender chiffon undulated with emotion. "Oh, Rosika, you have no conception of what a wonderful man he is!" she whispered. "In Ram Lal I have found a bridge to the beyond! He reads both the past and the future. I know that what he foretells of the future will come true because he is never wrong about the past. As soon as he begins to read the sphere the veils fall one by one!"

"Oh, my dear, how wonderful! And what does he say is in store for you?"

A shudder of ecstasy passed through Mrs. Julian's vast bulk. "Happiness!" she whispered; "a great happiness!"

Such a rigmarole! I had all I could do to keep from snorting out loud. It made me mad that such a fool should have so much money to throw to the dogs while intelligent people have to get along with the barest necessities.

Ram Lal was not supposed to hear Mrs. Julian's praises, but of course he could guess what she was saying. He lowered his eyes in mock modesty, but the smirk around his lips gave him away.

"And the wonder of it is," Mrs. Julian went on, "this is only an ordinary crystal, though it was the best to be bought in New York." She dropped her voice again. "Just wait until the great Julian crystal is finished, my dear!"

"What's that?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Ram Lal is having the biggest and most flawless crystal made that the world has ever seen!" she whispered. "It's a secret as yet between him and me. It's going to cost a hundred thousand dollars! Ah! just think what that will reveal!"

I wondered if she had given him the money yet. It seemed to me the whole situation depended on that.

"And I mean to build a perfect temple to house the perfect crystal!" she whispered ecstatically. "So that all men may be permitted to share in universal knowledge. That shall be my contribution to my age!"

"But I thought it was against the law," suggested Mme. Storey dryly. "Crystal-gazing, I mean."

"Only if you take money for it," said Mrs. Julian a little sharply. Evidently this unpleasant feature had been forced on her attention before. "I shall endow the temple, of course, so that knowledge may be free to all!"

Mme. Storey, while she occupied herself with the East Indian, did not overlook the other persons in the room. "Introduce me to the rest of your friends, Aline," she said pleasantly.

Mrs. Julian threw them an inattentive glance. Clearly their noses were out of joint for the time being. "Dr. Cushack, Mrs. Bracker, Mr. Liptrott," she said carelessly.

My employer arose and shook hands with each of them affably. The doctor was a small man with an inferiority complex; looked very fierce, squared his shoulders and talked in a deep bass voice. He had a small waxed moustache and used a slight foreign accent. That was to convey the idea that he had been educated abroad, you understand. He had the cheek to kiss my employer's hand in the Continental manner.

"I see that Madame Storey has a great sense of humour," he said, with a glance of contempt in Ram Lal's direction.

She made believe not to get it. "Oh, I hope so," she said with a silly-sounding laugh, and passed on to the next one.

Mrs. Bracker was one of these skinny little women who have reduced to within an inch of their lives. All the make-up in the world could not hide the gaunt lines of under-nourishment and the haggard eyes. She was, God save her! a beauty-culturist. She took Mme. Storey's hand in both of hers.

"It is an honour to meet the great Madame Storey," she simpered, while her eyes glittered with dislike. Well, naturally a beauty culturist wouldn't have much use for the real thing.

The third was an old man dressed in a respectable black suit. He talked a little like a down-Easter. He was like any other old man, except that his eyes had a crazy expression. As Mme. Storey approached him he fumbled with the straps of a square leather case, and drew from it a weird-looking box with various cords and attachments hanging from it.

"I am the discoverer of the invisible ray," he said impressively, "with which I shall rejuvenate mankind."

He plugged one of the cords into an outlet and a hissing, crackling sound issued from the box. My employer stepped back, a little disconcerted.

"Oh, for goodness' sake turn that thing off, Liptrott," said Mrs. Julian pettishly. "I've had enough of it!"

He obeyed for the moment, but presently I saw him slyly turn it on again. He played with it like a child, perfectly oblivious to the rest of us.

Professor Ram Lal's good humour having been restored, Mrs. Julian suggested that he resume the séance. Immediately there were objections from the other three.

"My dear Aline, the excitement is so bad for you!" said Mrs. Bracker.

"You promised to let me give a demonstration today," grumbled the old man.

Dr. Cushack produced an elegant Russian leather case from his breast pocket. Upon being opened two rows of little vials containing drugs were revealed. "At least you should take your medicine first," he said.

The sight of the drugs made me jumpy. Was this the potential murderer? I wondered. Was he going to poison her before our very eyes?

However, Mrs. Julian waved the dose away. "I don't need it," she said. "Ram Lal does me more good than medicine."

The East Indian stood up, pushed his chair back against the wall, and smoothed down his frock-coat. He glanced with insulting complacency at his beaten rivals. He made caressing passes with his hands over the crystal sphere. He was excessively vain of his hands, which were soft and plump with tapering fingers manicured to the limit. They looked vicious to me.

"Lights, please," he drawled affectedly.

Nobody moved, and Mrs. Julian said sharply: "Turn off the lights, Dr. Cushack."

Nothing in the room was visible except the lambent crystal, the pale hands waving over it, and the smooth inhuman face in the reflected light, staring at it with an awful intentness. He began to mutter something in an uncouth tongue that was supposed to be Hindoo, but was more likely mere gibberish. Pure trickery, but horribly effective. In spite of myself I felt the unreasoning terror of a child. Goose-flesh rose slowly all over my body.

The man was clearly working himself into a hysterical state. As he went on his voice became convulsed; a vertical vein stood out on his forehead, and his lips turned back over his ugly, misshapen teeth. My own teeth were chattering. Trickery...trickery...I kept saying to myself, but I could not break the spell.

Finally he began to speak English in jerky phrases with long pauses between. "I perceive...I perceive a hill-top garden...It is winter, and the ground is covered with snow...The garden is ringed with evergreen trees weighted under snow...But at either end there is an opening amidst the trees which looks out over snowy hills and valleys..."

"It is my place at Newtown to the life!" gasped Mrs. Julian. "Yet he has never been there!"

I would have been willing to bet that he had been there.

"...An elegant woman comes through a gate from a lower level...She bears herself like a queen...Though it is winter she is clad in the rosy veils of Springtide..."

This was evidently intended for a portrait of Mrs. Julian.

"...As she advances the snow disappears...The garden breaks into leaf and flower; the distant hills turn green...Now I perceive a great throng of people silently gathered under the trees...Their faces aspire with gladness; they raise their arms above their heads...For the queenly woman has brought light into their lives...the light of universal knowledge...!"

The man now appeared to be completely possessed. His head rolled from side to side, only the eyes preserving their level stare at the crystal like water in a swaying vessel. He seemed to be speaking under an immense compulsion; his voice was hoarse and broken; a line of white foam edged his lips. It was too horrible, yet I could not drag my eyes away.

"There is a little pavilion in the centre of the garden...It is completely embowered in vines...I cannot perceive what is inside...The woman advances towards it with firm proud steps...Ardent...aspiring with an inward fire...She goes inside...She finds..." He stopped. His eyes rolled up in his head until only the whites showed.

"Oh, tell me! tell me!" gasped Mrs. Julian.

"Joy supreme!" he yelled—and his body crashed to the floor in a heap.

We all cried out. Mme. Storey sprang up, and ran to the light switch. Nobody else stirred. The room was flooded with light again, and I covered my face with my hands. I heard my employer say in a crisp, resolute voice:

"What is this?"

Mrs. Julian had put her handkerchief to her eyes. "It always ends this way," she whimpered. "He gives so much! The strain is more than mortality can bear. He will come to directly."

Mme. Storey relaxed. "Oh," she said, "probably epilepsy. I have heard that a fit can be induced in this manner."

"Oh, Rosika, how can you!" said Mrs. Julian tearfully. "...Please ring for the servants," she added in a more matter-of-fact tone.

The bell was alongside the mantel behind us. Bunbury and a second man entered almost immediately. It seemed as if they must have been expecting a summons.

"Assist Professor Ram Lal to the retiring room," said Mrs. Julian.

Bunbury took him by the shoulders, the other by the heels. His head lolled from side to side in a horrible manner, and his eyes were open. The two servants had impassive faces, yet it was clear they didn't like their task. They started for the door. Suddenly the butler dropped the body with a horrid thud on the floor. Somebody screamed.

Bunbury turned a livid face towards his mistress. "My God, madam! He's stopped breathing! He's dead!" he gasped.

III

How shall I describe the scene of confusion that followed? I was dazed. To see death strike in such an unexpected direction; to see a man die without any visible reason for it; it was too horrible. I could not collect my faculties.

The second man, when he discovered he was carrying a corpse, crumpled up in a dead faint. Bunbury dragged him out into the hall. Mme. Storey started to telephone for the police. At the first sound of the word police, Cushack, Mrs. Bracker and Liptrott made a dash to get out of the room.

"Don't let them out of the house!" cried Mme. Storey, 'phone in hand. But what could I do?

We found an unexpected aide in Bunbury. He ran in with outstretched arms blocking the way. His eyes flashed compellingly, and he had forgotten the smooth ways of the butler. "Stay where you are!" he cried. "Nobody leaves this room until the police come!" He kicked the door shut behind him.

The two men yelled to get out, the woman screamed in insensate terror. "Be quiet, you fools!" cried Bunbury. "You are only convicting yourselves!"

His strong voice quieted them. They returned across the room trembling, and turned their backs on the body. Mme. Storey pulled down a portière and covered it.

The police were in the house within a few minutes, bringing their own doctor. Inspector Rumsey followed close behind them. Our old friend's face was grave.

"This will look bad for me," he said to Mme. Storey; "after having disregarded your warning."

"My fault," she said. "You put it up to me and I failed you."

"Who could have foreseen this?" he said gloomily.

An examination of the body failed to reveal the cause of death. There was no wound upon it. The supposed East Indian's skin was really as white as yours or mine. He was discovered to be a drug addict. A hypodermic needle was found on him together with a half-filled bottle of cocaine. There were marks of the needle on his arms and legs, but apparently the needle in his pocket had not been used within the last half-hour or so.

"I should say heart failure at a venture," said the police doctor.

"I have reason to believe he was murdered," said Mme. Storey.

"Then it must be poison. Somebody else may have jabbed a needle in him. Could that have happened while the séance was going on?"

"Quite easily," she answered. "It was dark in the room and our eyes were fastened on Ram Lal's face. Somebody might have crept along the floor."

I was looking at that sweating trio when she said it, and I saw strange glances of terror pass between them. If they were all in this together they must have foreseen what would follow, and why should they look at each other? It was completely baffling.

The body was removed from the house for an autopsy.

Inspector Rumsey then set about searching the suspected persons. Dr. Cushack came first. When the pocket medicine case came to light, the Inspector handed it over to the doctor for examination. The latter whistled upon reading the labels on the vials.

"A choice collection of poisons!" he remarked. "Some of them so rare I am not familiar with their properties...Do you use nothing but poisons in your practice?" he queried sarcastically.

"I don't practice," muttered the young man. "I am engaged in research. Poisons happen to be my speciality."

"Which poison were you intending to give Mrs. Julian?" asked Mme. Storey dryly.

Cushack paled. I suppose he had forgotten that incident. "No poison! No poison!" he stammered. "This bottle," he pointed to one of the vials, "is marked antimony, but it only contains bicarbonate of soda. I...I...These labels...are just a bluff."

Everybody smiled.

"If you don't believe me, analyse them! analyse them!" he cried.

One of the little vials was empty, which was suggestive if not exactly incriminating. It bore no label. Nothing else of interest was found upon him.

Next came the woman. From the side pocket of her smart jacket the Inspector lifted a little leather case which, upon being opened, revealed a hypodermic needle. She screamed at the sight of it.

"That's not mine! I never saw it before! I don't own such a thing! I don't know how it got into my pocket! You put it there yourself!"

"That's what they all say," remarked the Inspector wearily.

"I swear it! I swear it!" she screamed.

"Don't swear to me," he said. "You'll have plenty of it to do later."

She raved and beat her breast, but whether it was innocent or guilty terror I declare I could not tell. After all, they look much the same. You have to go by the evidence.

The old man Liptrott was fairly gibbering with fright when the Inspector reached him. It was impossible to get a sensible word out of him. Only crazy talk about his machine. Nothing incriminating was found on him. But Mme. Storey pointed out that the mysterious apparatus was plugged into the wall at the moment of Ram Lal's death, therefore the old man could not be freed of suspicion until the nature of his machine had been investigated.

"It couldn't hurt a fly!" cried Liptrott. "It's to save life, not to destroy it!"

"I'll put it in the hands of an expert for examination," said Inspector Rumsey.

The old man looked at him aghast. Then suddenly frantic, he aimed a kick at his beloved machine that would certainly have destroyed it, had not Mme. Storey coolly moved it out of the way. A policeman flung an arm around the old man.

"It's the work of a lifetime!" he raved. "They'll steal it from me! They'll steal it!"

As they were about to be taken away Mme. Storey said in that dangerously pleasant way of hers: "Which one of you sent me, or caused to be sent me, a message this morning warning me of what was going to happen?"

They stared at her blankly.

"Somebody telephoned me that a murder would be committed here this morning."

I shall never forget the looks of consternation that spread over those three faces. For the moment they were incapable of replying. Then each stammeringly denied all knowledge of the telephone call. Again they glanced at each other in fear and suspicion. One thing was clear, they were speaking the truth then. Such perfect surprise could not have been assumed. That, I suppose, was what my employer was after.

IV

I need hardly say that the case created a first-class sensation in the press. Mrs. Julian's wealth and prominence; the suggestions of mystery and chicanery; the weird Oriental flavour; it had everything. The public excitement seriously hampered the police and Mme. Storey in their work, but of course we could not blame the newspapers for making the most of a good story.

The reporters were already waiting for us in a body when we returned to the office. Mme. Storey is popular with these boys because she deals fairly with them. She will keep back information when it seems necessary, but she does not lie to them. She now gave them the plain facts of what had happened in Mrs. Julian's house, and asked them to withhold comment until the result of the autopsy became known.

"But the man is certainly dead," said one.

"Quite!" said my employer with a dry smile. "But it is possible he died from natural causes."

They glanced at each other peculiarly, and young Winship of the Morning Press dropped a bombshell at our feet by asking:

"Is it true, Madame Storey, that an unknown person called you on the telephone this morning, and warned you that a murder would be committed at Mrs. Julian's house?"

She bit her lip in chagrin. "Where did you hear that?" she asked.

"My city editor told me to ask you."

"We all heard the story," said the others in chorus.

Before she answered them Mme. Storey had me call up the city editor of the Morning Press. He told me he had been given the story by an anonymous person over the telephone, and that, of course, he would not run it unless Mme. Storey confirmed it. Presumably the same message had been sent to all the papers.

This put my employer in rather a difficult position. But she settled it promptly. "Yes, it is true," she said. "I thought it was a hoax, but I immediately called up Inspector Rumsey to tell him, and I went myself to Mrs. Julian's house."

She was immediately bombarded with questions. "If you knew it, why didn't you stop it? Why did you allow the séance to go on?" And so forth. And so forth.

"No more now," she said firmly. "I'm going to ask you boys to say nothing about the telephone call until we find out where we stand."

"Why? Why?" they asked.

"Well, for one thing, I'd like to disappoint the mysterious gentleman who is so keen about having it published."

They were all willing to keep this piece of information back for twenty-four hours except a man on one of those irresponsible sheets that would sacrifice their mothers if there was a sensation in it. I need not name it. This man slipped out of the room, and we knew he had run off to his office with the story. That let them all out, of course. They beat it for their offices.

My employer merely shrugged. "We can't reform the press," she said. "We have to work with it as we find it."

An hour or two later the first editions came out with scare heads. Well, it was a juicy story. We got a shock when we read it, for, in spite of the care Mme. Storey had taken to prevent such a thing, it included a preposterous interview with Mrs. Julian.

We taxied to her house at once, for there was no telling how she might react to the story of the telephone warning. Just as we were setting out, we received some interesting particulars from the police as to the so-called Ram Lal's antecedents.

Bunbury let us into Mrs. Julian's house. As befitted the perfect butler his aspect was calm and grave. You would never have guessed from him that a tragedy had been enacted upstairs that day. After all, he was the only person in the house who had kept his head, and Mme. Storey smiled at him encouragingly.

"How is your mistress, Bunbury?"

"Calm, madam."

"Bunbury, for her own sake you ought not to let her talk to newspaper reporters."

He shrugged deprecatingly. "What can I do, madam? I perceived from the first that it would be unwise, but she ignored my suggestions. I cannot aspire to influence her actions."

"What time did Ram Lal arrive here this morning?"

"Ten o'clock, madam."

"Did you notice anything unusual about him?"

"No, madam, I perceived nothing out of the way."

"Did he talk to anybody before he saw Mrs. Julian?"

"No, madam, I showed him directly to the boudoir. Dr. Cushack and Mrs. Bracker were already there. Mr. Liptrott came later."

As we moved towards the stairway Mme. Storey saw by Bunbury's face that he wished to say more. She paused.

"If I might add a word," he went on apologetically, "—I hope it is not unbecoming from one in my position—I have worked for Mrs. Julian for eight years and I am sincerely attached to her. I hope you will give her a good talking to, madam. She will listen to you. From the first I perceived that something like this was bound to happen—indeed I feared it might be worse."

"I'll do my best, Bunbury," said Mme. Storey gravely.

We went on up to the boudoir. That woman's folly was simply incredible. We found her swathed in black chiffon, her face made up dead white. She was seated in front of the lacquer table, on which she had placed a photograph of the smug and unpleasant Ram Lal flanked with lighted candles. Turning on my employer like a tragedy queen, she shot out an accusing forefinger.

"You knew what was going to happen! And you didn't prevent it! I could almost call you his murderer!"

"Be yourself, Aline," said Mme. Storey calmly. "I thought it was a hoax. We are continually being hoaxed over the telephone."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

"Well, you are not a person that one tells things to. You carry on so!"

I doubt if this reached Mrs. Julian's understanding.

"I thought the threat—if there was a threat—was directed against you," Mme. Storey went on. "Who could ever have foreseen that it was worth anybody's while to murder Ram Lal?"

It was useless to try to reason with Mrs. Julian. She raved on, calling on Heaven to witness what a pure and holy man had been struck down. There was a sort of complacency in her that suggested she was thoroughly enjoying her own dramatics. Exasperating. However, Mme. Storey merely smoked on and let her rave. When she could get a word in edgewise, she said:

"When you quiet down we will discuss how to set about finding the murderer. That's all we can do for Ram Lal now."

This started Mrs. Julian off at a new tangent. "She did it!" she cried. "That woman! She was jealous of my favour. Oh, what black ingratitude! After the thousands I have spent on her!"

"How could she have done it?" asked Mme. Storey mildly.

"Stole up to him when it was dark, and stuck the poisoned needle in his leg!...I saw her! I saw her!" she cried wildly.

Mme. Storey was not impressed. "Why didn't you say so at once?" she asked.

"I was too much shocked. I didn't realise...But I saw her, I tell you!"

"Now come, Aline," said my employer. "Are you prepared to go on the stand and swear that you saw Mrs. Bracker do it?"

Mrs. Julian began to falter. "Well...no...But she did it just the same. They found the needle on her, didn't they?"

"She claimed that it was planted in her pocket."

"That's a lie, anyhow! She bought that needle a week ago. I know that."

Mme. Storey took more interest. "That's important if true. How do you know it?"

"One day after she had been here I found a little package on the table wrapped in druggists' paper. Not knowing whose it was, I opened it, and the hypodermic needle was inside. She was quite embarrassed when I asked her about it. Said she had bought it for a friend."

"Was the name of the druggist on the paper?"

"Yes. It was Almon and Emory."

"Can you fix the date?"

"Let me see...I was wearing my new pink dress when I handed it to her. That was Saturday. It must have been Friday when she bought it."

"Friday, February fourth," said my employer. "Make a note of it, Bella...How long have you known the woman?"

"About a year. She brought a letter from Mrs. Applewhite recommending her as a reducer."

"Who's Mrs. Applewhite?"

"Oh, she was my most intimate friend at that time, but we've quarrelled since. She's just a woman that you meet in hotels."

"Mrs. Bracker was a reducer?" prompted Mme. Storey.

"Yes, she had a new idea. No fasting, no drugs. She just demonstrated slimness."

"Eh?" said Mme. Storey, running up her eyebrows.

"Will-power," said Mrs. Julian.

"Hers or yours?"

"Oh, hers entirely. That's what I paid her for. I had nothing to do but sit and relax."

"I see."

"Seemed so modest and sensible," Mrs. Julian went on. "And you gotta admit her methods had been successful in her own case. She used to weigh 176 pounds. That little woman. Showed me photographs of herself step by step. She took off 68 pounds without denying herself a thing!"

"Did you see her eating everything?"

"No. She never took her meals here."

"I thought not. Go on."

"It was lovely to be able to eat as much as I wanted," said Mrs. Julian innocently. "I do enjoy my meals so. And I lost weight all the time!" She sprang up, gave her skirts a flirt in front of the mirror, and looked at herself coyly over her shoulder. "You gotta admit, Rosika, that I'm ever so much slenderer than I was last year."

"Optimist!" murmured Mme. Storey under her breath. "How much money have you given her?" she asked aloud.

"Latterly it's been five hundred a week. She claimed to be giving me her entire time. She didn't have to be with me, she said. She could sit in her own room and concentrate on my slenderness. She showed me the scales every week."

"Doctored," said Mme. Storey. "You hadn't stopped paying her, had you? Why was she jealous of Ram Lal?"

"Well, she wanted me to settle a lump sum on her."

"Had you promised to do so?"

"Not exactly promised. I couldn't seem to get the money together. I gave it all to Ram Lal."

"How much?"

"A hundred thousand for the crystal. I was trying to get two hundred thousand together to purchase a site for the temple. Nobody knew about the money I gave him. That was a secret between Ram Lal and me."

"I wonder if it was!" remarked Mme. Storey. "...How about Liptrott?" she went on.

"Oh, just a harmless lunatic," said Mrs. Julian impatiently. "I've been keeping him for years. There's that machine of his. Supposed to restore youth. He's always after me to start a company to manufacture it. Once I thought there was something in it, but latterly Mrs. Bracker and Dr. Cushack seemed to be doing me so much good I hadn't much time for Liptrott."

"So Dr. Cushack has been doing you good, too," said Mme. Storey.

Mrs. Julian paused and her fat face started to work like a child's about to cry. "I thought he was," she wailed. "But my family doctor says he's just been feeding me morphine!...Cushack said it was a rare drug called adrianum. He imported it from the Great Gobi desert in China, and it cost five hundred dollars a gram...Oh, it made me feel so good!" she added, dissolving into tears altogether.

"I don't doubt it," said Mme. Storey. "You need a nurse."

"I know it!" wailed Mrs. Julian. "I have the heart of a child!"

"For goodness' sake why don't you make friends with decent people?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Nobody likes me except the people I give money to," mourned Mrs. Julian.

My employer and I looked at each other. It was only too true!

"Where did you meet Cushack?" asked Mme. Storey.

"At one of Mrs. Piper's teas. She always has such clever people. He attracted me from the first because he talked so intellectually. I adore intellect. Had diplomas from all the best foreign universities. He had a new theory. Toxi-therapy, he called it."

"It's new all right," murmured my employer.

"You know, it means fighting poison with poison. It certainly sounded convincing. I asked him if my nervousness came from a poison, and he said certainly, and told me of this wonderful new drug. And after he had been to see me a few times I took some."

"You let him give you a poison!" exclaimed Mme. Storey.

"Oh, he took some himself first," said Mrs. Julian with her innocent baby stare. "He carried around the most terrible poisons, and took them quite freely, because he had made himself immune."

Mme. Storey could only shake her head. "How about Ram Lal?" she asked. "Did you meet him at a tea?"

"No, he wrote asking me to help the starving millions in India. No thought of self. I didn't pay any attention to his first letters; I get so many! But later he said something that proved he was psychic."

"What was that?"

"Oh, you'll only laugh. He wrote that the feeling kept coming to him that I was starving too, in the midst of my riches, and he was holding a thought of spiritual sustenance in his mind."

"So you asked him to call."

"Yes. Oh, my dear, if you could have seen him you wouldn't scoff. So thin and emaciated; his great eyes burning with an other-worldly light! He had spent years in abstinence and meditation."

"Seems to have put on flesh since," murmured Mme. Storey.

"Well, yes, a little...But, oh, my dear! a true mystic! There was a little crystal on my desk, just an ornament. His gaze fastened on it and he began to read the past and the future. Imagine my joy!"

"How about the starving millions in India?"

"Well, we found that the reports were much exaggerated."

"The truth is," said Mme. Storey relentlessly, "Ram Lal's brown skin went no farther than his neck and wrists. I am informed by the police that his right name was Sam Gumpel. He was the son of an East Side tailor who threw him out years ago because he wouldn't work."

Mrs. Julian buried her face in her hands. "No! No!" she wailed. "I will not believe it! Oh, spare me my last illusion!" But in her heart she knew it was true.

"I assume you paid all these people by cheque?" said Mme. Storey.

Mrs. Julian, weeping, nodded her head.

"Then I want you to make me a list from the stubs of all the sums you have given them with the dates."

She promised to do so.

"Last year," said Mme. Storey severely. "I found you in the hands of a witch-doctor and a woman who called herself a physi-meliorator. What has become of them?"

"I sent them away," whimpered Mrs. Julian. "Bunbury caught them faking and told me."

"With you," my employer went on, divided between pity and exasperation, "life seems to be just one damn faker after another. What's to become of you if you go on like this? I can't spare the time to get you out of your scrapes."

"What am I to do?" wailed Mrs. Julian in one of her rare bursts of honesty; "anybody with a slick tongue can get around me!"

"Hire a watch dog to stand between you and such people. Get an incorruptible woman for a secretary; one who will tell you the truth!"

"Where could I find such a one?"

"I'll find her for you...But mind you, if you fire her for telling you the truth, I swear I'll have you declared incompetent by the courts!"

"Oh, I'll do anything you say, Rosika! Anything!"

V

Inspector Rumsey was in our office to report on what the police had been doing, and to confer with my employer. I should point out that Mme. Storey's connection with this case was purely ex officio. It was entirely a police matter, and she worked with them merely because her reputation was involved owing to that confounded telephone call.

At the same time we were quietly busy on our own account. Crider and Stephens, two of our best men, had been detailed to watch the Julian house and to report on all who entered or left it. I had verified the sale of the hypodermic needle to Mrs. Bracker. Mme. Storey had sent for a transcript of the examination of the three suspects by the police, and was studying it. Psychology is her forte.

Everything still waited on the result of the autopsy. Dr. Chisholm, the toxicologist who was conducting it, had promised to meet the Inspector in our office at eleven.

"What progress have you made since I saw you?" asked Mme. Storey.

"I have been progressing backward," the Inspector bitterly answered.

She laughed and pushed the cigarettes towards him. "Well, it isn't the first time we've been stumped, old friend."

"It seems as if there was a regular conspiracy to baulk me!" he went on, pounding his thigh. "Matson, who runs the homicide bureau in the district attorney's office, won't act. Says the case is a mare's nest. In short, he leaves me holding the bag. On the other hand, the three suspects have engaged Jim Shryock to represent them. The cleverest and most unscrupulous shyster in New York! He's been a thorn in my side for years!"

"Has he made any move?"

"Yes. He's given me forty-eight hours to have his clients arraigned before a magistrate, or he'll swear out writs of habeas corpus, he says. When there is a suspicion of murder a magistrate would hold them upon the least bit of evidence. But I haven't even that. Shryock knows that he has me!"

"Oh, well," said Mme. Storey soothingly, "the result of the autopsy may force him to change his tune."

"I don't know," said Rumsey darkly. "He seems damn sure of himself."

"What have you learned about these people?"

"Very little. On the woman's cards she gave her address as the Hotel Vandermeer. I found for a fact that she had been living there nearly a year. An expensive suite. The management denied that she's been carrying on any business in the hotel."

"They would say that anyhow."

"Sure. She had her own telephone. The servants said she had no visitors. I found cocaine in powder form in her room, so I assume she is an addict. Nothing to throw any light on her past except half a dozen family photographs. I'm trying to trace them through the names of the photographers that appear on the cards."

"Here's a lead," said Mme. Storey. "I find that Mrs. Bracker purchased a hypodermic needle from the firm of Almon and Emory on February fourth. She presented an order for it signed by Dr. A. Cushack."

Rumsey sat up with a jerk. "Good!" he cried. "Then it was her needle that we found on her. It implicates them both. Now we have the beginning of a case!"

"We may have," said Mme. Storey cautiously.

"As to the Doctor," the Inspector went on, "I have had the contents of his medicine case analysed, and the so-called poisons turn out to be harmless. Common salt; coloured water; alcohol and the like. One contained morphine but not in sufficient quantity to kill. The fellow was actually speaking the truth!"

"Even a liar has to sometimes," murmured Mme. Storey.

"I visited his office; a single room in a commercial building on Forty-Second Street. There was chemical paraphernalia lying about; retorts, bottles, etc. No drugs. Nothing to show he had been working there lately."

"Probably cleaned up in expectation of a search," suggested Mme. Storey.

"No doubt," said Rumsey gloomily.

"Did you question the office cleaners?" she asked.

"Not yet."

"I'll do that when we learn the result of the autopsy."

"Very well...There were no letters or personal papers," he resumed. "To my surprise, his diploma turned out to be genuine. He was graduated from Jefferson five years ago, and admitted to practice in this state the same year."

"You have inquired at the college?"

"Yes. Members of the faculty identified him from a photograph. Was remembered as a sharp lad but an indifferent student. Not well liked."

"And Liptrott?" asked Mme. Storey.

"I have been able to piece together a fairly complete life story for him. Has lived at the Sanford House on West Eleventh Street for many years. An ancient hotel now much run down. Has several important inventions to his credit, but the money he got for them has been spent long ago. He is alone in the world now. Is considered slightly cracked by his associates in the hotel.

"There is no doubt that he has gone deeply into the nature of electrical phenomena. I had an expert from the G.E. laboratories to study his machine. Could make nothing of it. Says it appears to be a senseless conglomeration of tubes and wires and magnets. But he will not swear there is nothing in it without having some knowledge of what Liptrott was after. The longer you study electricity, he says, the greater respect you have for its possibilities."

"Quite," said Mme. Storey.

"I found cocaine in liquid form in Liptrott's room," said the Inspector, "but no needle. He's evidently an addict too. He's been whining for it all day. I don't know what's coming to the world!"

"Oh, the world is much as it always was," returned Mme. Storey. "These people belong to a special class, moral invalids; it's natural they should turn to drugs to buoy them up...I suggest you give him a needle to steady him," she went on. "Bring him up here with his machine before lunch, and let him give you and me a demonstration."

Rumsey agreed.

"What have you learned about Ram Lal?" she asked.

"A month ago he rented a house on West Seventy-Ninth Street near Columbus Avenue. No one there when I entered it yesterday. Had been lavishly furnished in Oriental style. According to the neighbours he employed several servants, but they had vanished. I found nothing that threw any light on the manner of his murder."

Promptly at eleven the buzzer sounded in the outer office announcing the coming of Dr. Chisholm. He was the most famous toxicologist in New York and a good all-round man. We had had dealings with him before.

I led him into Mme. Storey's room. His face was giving nothing away. The Inspector jumped up eagerly. He could scarcely wait for polite greetings to be exchanged.

"Well, doctor?"

Dr. Chisholm spread out his hands deprecatingly. "The result of the autopsy is nil," he said. "I cannot tell you what killed Ram Lal."

It was a bitter disappointment. Inspector Rumsey dropped back into his chair with a grunt. My employer carefully knocked the ash off her cigarette.

I pushed forward a chair for the doctor. For a moment there was silence in the room. Finally Mme. Storey said incredulously:

"A man dies, and with all the resources of science at your command you cannot say why!"

"He died because his heart stopped beating," he replied. "I don't know why it stopped."

"No trace of poison in his blood?"

"None whatever."

"Or in his stomach?"

"None."

"How could he have been poisoned through the stomach?" put in Rumsey.

"To be sure," said Mme. Storey; "but I didn't want to overlook anything...But do men die like that?" she went on to the doctor. "Without any apparent reason for it?"

"Oh, yes, Madame."

"Healthy men?"

"Few men over forty can be said to be perfectly healthy. His lungs showed some infiltration due to old tubercular lesions. His heart was a little enlarged, but without any pericarditis. There were also some suspicious spots in the pelvis. All common conditions."

"But none of them sufficient to have caused death?"

"Not ordinarily."

"Then if this was just an ordinary case the report would be that the man died of...?"

"Heart failure, Madame."

Mme. Storey and the Inspector looked at each other. Rumsey was very glum.

"But there are poisons, doctor," my employer insisted, "that may kill without leaving any trace of themselves in the body?"

"There are such poisons," he answered cautiously, "but naturally they are not known outside the laboratory. We never meet them in practice."

"There is a possibility this crime may be the work of a chemist."

"I am aware of it."

"Would you be kind enough to prepare me a list of such poisons together with their properties and effects so far as known?" she asked.

"Certainly, Madame."

"What's the use?" said Rumsey. "Even though there are such poisons, how can we go beyond the body?"

"Every precedent has to be created in the first place," she answered smiling.

"I say we're stalled," he said with his harassed air. "Aren't we justified now in assuming that it was only a coincidence?"

"How do you mean?"

"Well, a practical joker calls up and tells you there is going to be a murder at Mrs. Julian's. You go there, and a man happens to die from natural causes."

Mme. Storey slowly shook her head. "That would be stretching the arm of coincidence too far. I don't believe he died a natural death, and you don't believe it. The public would never believe it, and if we tried to put it over it would only react to the damage of our own reputations."

"But what can we do?" he said helplessly. "There is no case!"

"We must build up a case."

"Have you a theory?" he asked eagerly.

"I have a theory," she answered dryly, "but the evidence is insufficient."

They agreed among themselves to withhold the result of the autopsy for a few hours, or at least until Dr. Chisholm had time to read up on the rare poisons that might have been administered to Ram Lal. However, as he was in the act of taking his leave, the telephone rang and a man's voice inquired for him.

I handed the instrument over to him. He presently clapped a hand over the transmitter and lifted a dismayed face.

"It's the city editor of the Morning Press," he said. "He tells me somebody has just called him up to say that the autopsy on the body of Ram Lal revealed no trace of poison. He wants me to confirm it. At my office they told him I was here."

Inspector Rumsey jumped up, swearing roundly. My employer used no expletives, but her face turned grim.

"This is the fine Italian hand of the murderer again," she said quietly. "He is vain of his crime."

"But the suspects are all locked up!" cried the perplexed Inspector. "How could they reach a telephone?"

She did not answer. "If the truth is out we would only make ourselves ridiculous by denying it," she said to Dr. Chisholm. "Tell the city editor his information is correct."

He did so, and hung up. Both men looked to my employer for inspiration. She arose and paced the long room, thinking hard. At last she said:

"When you find yourself up against it, unexpected measures are called for. Jim Shryock dares you to produce the suspects for a hearing two days hence. Why wait until he is ready? Shryock is famous for his success in making away with evidence. I suggest you produce them before a magistrate this afternoon."

"They'll be set free!" cried Rumsey.

"It doesn't matter much," she said impatiently; "none of those three is the actual murderer...Have them up this afternoon. Summon your witnesses to court. But do not let the suspects be arraigned until just before court adjourns. If the case goes over until the next day so much the better. I take it you can arrange that?"

"Sure!" said the puzzled Rumsey. "Anything you say. But what's the idea. Just give me a hint of what you're up to so I won't make any mistake."

"It's simply this," she answered. "I want to collect the whole dramatis personæ in court this afternoon, and keep them there, so that I can do some intensive work on the case without interference."

"How about Liptrott?"

"I'll attend to him while I'm eating my lunch."

VI

In order to save time I had a light lunch sent in for Mme. Storey. She was eating it when Liptrott was brought up from Headquarters carrying his precious box. His guards were invited to wait in the hall. Inspector Rumsey who had been away on some errand returned about the same time.

I have already described the old man with his decent black clothes and old-fashioned Yankee manner. There was no look of the potential murderer about him. On all subjects but one he seemed perfectly sane and shrewd, but when that blessed machine came up, his tongue went wild. Such borderline cases, of course, may be extremely dangerous.

"He's happy again," the Inspector whispered to Mme. Storey. "They gave him another needle."

And indeed the old man seemed as pleased as a child at a party. My employer had me order in some good cigars for him. He bit the end off one, and lighted it with gusto.

"The real Havana, mem. Once I smoked none but the best myself."

We grouped ourselves around the big writing-table.

"Mr. Liptrott," said Mme. Storey, "I didn't have them bring you up here to be worried with questions about that terrible affair yesterday. I am just curious about that wonderful machine of yours, and I'm hoping you'll give me a demonstration."

He sprang up with alacrity. "Happy to oblige, 'm."

I was sitting on Mme. Storey's right with my note-book on the table. The Inspector was opposite her with his chair turned half around so he could watch Liptrott. The old man carried his apparatus to the nearest outlet in the baseboard, and lifted out the smaller box with the cords dangling from it, and switches and dials on top. Plugging it in, he turned a switch and I heard the familiar buzzing and crackling. The sound brought back the whole horrible scene in Mrs. Julian's boudoir.

Satisfied that it was working all right, he switched it off and gave us a little lecture. I shall not try to repeat it all. A crazy mixture of electrical and physiological terms, it sounded like utter nonsense to me. For instance:

"...And so, mem, just as a man-made generator gathers the vital principle out of the air and sends it to us in a current that we can use for light and power, so nature's generator which is the body, absorbs life through its organs. But as the body machine wears out it becomes less able to transmute raw life to its own uses, and so our vitality fails.

"My machine replaces the organs and glands of the body. It takes raw electricity from the power station and digests it into a form that the body can use. I am no quack doctor. I make no claim that it can cure disease. I only say that it will furnish you with the vitality necessary to resist disease and to keep you young."

The obvious question was, why didn't he renew his own visibly failing vitality? However, nobody put it to him.

"How wonderful!" said Mme. Storey. "Can you give us all a sample now?"

"Not all of you at once," he said. "One at a time. I must first find out the measure of a person's vitality, and set the machine accordingly. No two persons are the same."

"I see," said Mme. Storey. "We are all like radio receiving sets that only pick up the wave lengths for which we are set."

"Same principle, mem."

You see there was a crazy plausibility about his spiel. I could understand how a woman like Mrs. Julian might be deceived by it for a while.

Liptrott held out a small zinc cylinder that was connected to the machine by a cord. "If you'll grasp this a minute the dial will register."

Mme. Storey obeyed, and he read off the dial: "Seven four seven, point two five. Your vitality is very high, mem. You would not need my machine for many a year to come."

"That's nice. I suppose it won't hurt me."

"Oh, no. Nobody feels so good but what they couldn't feel better."

He took the cylinder from her. "What must I do now?" she asked.

"Nothing, mem. You may sit and eat. The best of my machine is, the user don't have to devote any time to it. You can go on about your business and it will still be doing its work as long as you're in the same room."

"How convenient!"

Seating herself, she took another sandwich. Meanwhile Liptrott turned a switch, and the crackling recommenced. He had set up a little vertical steel disc on top of the box, and turned it towards Mme. Storey. For a while nothing was said.

"Do you feel anything?" he asked at last.

"A sort of pleasant warmth stealing through my veins."

"That's it!" he cried exultantly. "Increased vitality...I am only giving you a very little," he added. "Too much would be dangerous, very dangerous!"

It was impossible to tell from Mme. Storey's expression whether she was really impressed or not. Rumsey was watching her covertly.

Liptrott presently switched off the current. "That's enough," he said, "or you wouldn't get any sleep tonight."

"I am tingling all over," she said.

He carefully deposited the box in its case together with the various cords and handles, and locked it up. He then stood up with a manner that he intended to be very dramatic, but it was pathetic in one so old. His eyes were quite daft then.

"Now that I have convinced you of the worth of my invention," he said, "I have a statement to make."

Mme. Storey was calmly eating. "What is it?"

He folded his arms like an old-time actor. "It was me who killed Professor Ram Lal."

"Good God! how?" exclaimed Rumsey.

"With my machine. I gave him the full charge. It killed him. I told Mme. Storey over the 'phone I was going to do it."

"Yours was not the voice I heard over the 'phone," I said.

"I changed my voice to sound young."

"What did you do it for?" demanded the Inspector.

"He was a blackguard and a swindler! I killed him to save Mrs. Julian."

"Is there anything in this?" said the Inspector turning to Mme. Storey.

She glanced at the old man enigmatically. "I find it hard to believe," she said, "because I only experienced good from the machine." Clearly, this was to draw him out.

Mildly as the doubt was expressed, it roused Liptrott to a crazy fury. In order to justify his invention he was willing, it appeared, to send himself to the chair. "It's true! It's true," he cried stamping on the floor. "What can build up can also destroy! If I had an animal here, a dog, a cat, a bird, I could prove it to you. I would kill it before your eyes."

My employer pretended to raise objections. "I don't want anything killed."

"Then I won't kill it," said Liptrott. "I'll just drive it crazy for a while. That will show you...Send out to an animal store," he begged; "get a guinea pig, a young dog, anything that has life!"

The upshot of this strange scene was that I was presently despatched to the basement to borrow the house cat from the engineer.

He had his machine out of the box again, and was testing it when I entered. He had calmed down, but his glance was still perfectly insane. "It will be a little difficult to take her register," he said. "You had better hold her since she's accustomed to you."

I held the cat on her back in my lap, putting the zinc cylinder against her breast as Liptrott told me, while he steadied her hindquarters. She was a gentle cat and made no protest at first, but suddenly with a loud miaow, she leaped from my lap and running to the door, scratched at it, and looked at me reproachfully over her shoulder.

"I have her register!" cried Liptrott, glancing at his dial. "It is seven six eight. A very strong cat. So much the better!"

Switching on the current he turned the steel disc in the direction of the cat. She, seeing that no further move was made against her, sat down with admirable composure, and started licking her paw.

It all seemed like crazy nonsense to me, nevertheless my heart was beating fast. There was something uncanny about it. There was no sound in the room but the muffled crackling and buzzing from inside the box.

Suddenly the cat with an uneasy whine arose and stood as if listening, twitching her tail. She crouched and whimpered, twisting her head from side to side. Then with a cry she began to run. She ran straight into the wall. She seemed to have increased to twice her size and her tail stood up as thick as a fox's brush. Faster and faster she ran like a creature possessed, until she seemed to be running straight around the walls.

Liptrott switched off the current. He laughed and slapped his thigh in childish delight. "Now will you believe me! Now will you believe me!" he babbled.

I stared at him in horror. Crazy he certainly was, but it seemed to me that he possessed the power of life and death in that black box!

"Good God, then it's true!" muttered the Inspector. "It was he who killed Ram Lal!"

"He had no more to do with Ram Lal's death than I had," said Mme. Storey coolly from her chair. "I suspected it from the first. Now I know it. There is nothing the matter with the cat but a shot of cocaine. I saw him give her the needle while Bella held her."

Poor Rumsey looked excessively foolish. I know I felt so.

Liptrott, when his trick was exposed, snarled with rage, and started cursing us all. His guards led him away.

"Nothing in it but a crazy desire to win notoriety for his machine," said Mme. Storey. "There's no use bringing him up in court. Better take him home to his hotel."

VII

Since I had inside information that the suspects in the Ram Lal case were not to be arraigned until near the close of the session, I did not go to court until after four. The place was the West Side Court on Fifty-Third Street. I was provided with a witness' card which would admit me to a seat on the front benches.

The gross figure of Jim Shryock was lolling in the corner seat of the front row. With a sneer fixed in his face, he was idly trimming his nails. An entirely unscrupulous lawyer with mysterious political affiliations, he was one of the most sinister figures in New York. Everybody knew he was a crook, but it seemed impossible to reach him. In the end I'm glad to say, Mme. Storey caught him with the goods. But that's another story.

I was astonished to see that he had old Liptrott sitting beside him. At the moment I was unable to figure out the significance of this move. Liptrott was quiet enough then.

The magistrate was McManigal, one of the newer appointees who take themselves very seriously.

As the moments passed, the frown on Inspector Rumsey's face deepened. He knew that he was doomed to cut a ridiculous figure in court unless Mme. Storey came to his aid before our suspects were arraigned.

Finally their names were called, and they were brought in. Cushack was trying to look nonchalant, while Mrs. Bracker was tight-lipped and defiant. Both wished to have it understood that though they happened to be arraigned together, there was no connection between them. Jim Shryock arose lazily, and entered the enclosure to whisper with them.

Rumsey started a speech to the bench relating all the circumstances of Ram Lal's death. He was obviously sparring for time, and his Honour soon became impatient.

"Inspector, it's scarcely necessary to go into detail concerning a matter that has been so thoroughly written up in the newspapers. Just present your evidence against these persons and I'll hold them."

Rumsey bowed, and called to the stand a clerk from the store of Almon and Emory who testified to the sale of a hypodermic needle to Mrs. Bracker, and identified the order she had presented for it signed by Dr. Cushack. The clerk was followed by a policeman who testified to the finding of a needle on Mrs. Bracker after the death of Ram Lal. Inspector Rumsey then called me to the stand to testify as to the obvious jealousy and hatred that Cushack and Mrs. Bracker had exhibited towards Ram Lal.

"Is that all?" asked the magistrate, running up his eyebrows.

"That is all, your Honour."

Shryock spoke up. "If you please, your Honour, Mrs. Bracker would like to testify in her own behalf concerning that needle."

She was put on the stand and sworn. In her neat, close-fitting grey suit and shaped hat she was as smart as paint. Just the same she was a horrible-looking woman with those ghastly starved cheeks, and mouth like a red gash in her powdered face. She sat down, crossed her legs and spread her gloves on her knee with a great pretence of self-possession.

"Do you admit buying the needle at Almon and Emory's?" asked Shryock smoothly.

"Certainly. But that was not the one they found in my pocket."

"One moment! Just confine yourself to answering my questions, please...For what purpose did you buy that needle?"

"Well, I told Mrs. Julian I bought it for a friend," she said volubly, "but that was only a stall. I'm not an addict but I take cocaine occasionally for my neuralgia. And Dr. Cushack told me it was nicer to take it in liquid form. So I bought the needle. But I didn't like taking it that way, so I threw it away."

"Oh, you threw it away. Where?"

"One night when I was crossing Brooklyn Bridge in a taxi I threw it out of the window."

"What about the needle that was found in your pocket?"

"I know nothing about that!" she cried stridently. "It wasn't mine! It was planted on me!"

"All right," said Shryock. "That's all." He turned to Rumsey. "Will you question her, Inspector?"

"No," said Rumsey glumly.

Shryock's next move was to put Liptrott on the stand. "When Ram Lal fell down dead in Mrs. Julian's boudoir," the lawyer sad, "I understand that you and these two people were seated behind him and to one side against the wall."

"Yes, sir." The old man was perfectly composed. "I was nearest to the Hindoo, then Mrs. Bracker, then the Doctor."

"Did either of those persons move from their places while the séance was going on?"

"No, sir. They never moved."

"Are you sure?"

"Sure I'm sure. They couldn't have reached the Hindoo without passing in front of me."

"All right. Now I've got just one more question to ask you." Shryock glanced around the court as much as to say there was something good coming. "Can you tell me anything about the hypodermic needle that was found in Mrs. Bracker's pocket?"

A foolish grin spread over the old man's face. He scratched his neck with a forefinger. "Sure," he said, "that was my needle. I planted it in her pocket."

His words created a mild sensation in the room. All realised that what little was left of the Inspector's case had gone glimmering.

"Why did you do that?" asked Shryock.

"Well, when I seen Ram Lal was dead I thought maybe they'd try to hang it on me," the old man said with his witless grin. "I had the needle in my pocket, and I thought they'd make out I'd given him a shot of something since I was the nearest to him."

"That's all," said Shryock in high satisfaction.

"I protest, your Honour," said Rumsey indignantly. "This man is out of his wits. He's not a fit witness. I can prove it if you give me time."

"Just a minute, Inspector," said the magistrate. "As I understand it, this man Liptrott is an addict. You found a bottle of cocaine on him, but no needle. Is that right?"

"Yes."

"Did you ever find his needle?"

"No."

"Then the chances are he's speaking the truth."

"I insist he's not a proper witness," said Rumsey, snatching at anything to gain a moment or two.

The magistrate shrugged. "Can you offer any evidence that Ram Lal died of poison?" he asked.

"No, your Honour."

"Then it doesn't matter whether this man's testimony is proper or not. You have no case, Inspector. And I have no alternative but to..."

He was interrupted by the entrance of Mme. Storey.

She entered by the side door smiling and beautifully dressed. She was carrying a small satchel and a man and a woman followed her; new witnesses, I assumed. They were unknown to me. Inspector Rumsey's glum face cleared as if by magic. A murmur of gratification travelled around the court—then dead silence. All knew her, of course, from her oft-published photographs. As a star attraction Mrs. Julian was nowhere alongside Mme. Storey. The people's silence seemed to say: Now we'll get a run for our money.

And they did.

VIII

Before I go on with my account of the magistrate's hearing I should explain that amongst the list of rare poisons furnished by Dr. Chisholm, there was one that could be quite simply prepared by distilling and redistilling a substance that is in universal use. This stuff may be purchased in any quantity from druggists or department stores, yet the poison derived from it is one of the deadliest known; moreover, it kills without leaving any trace of itself in the body.

The process of distilling is now so generally understood, that all the doctors in the case agreed it would be against the public interest to advertise this formula. Consequently this poison was never named in the case, and of course I must not name it here. I will simply call the stuff X and the poison distillate DX.

Magistrate McManigal greeted Mme. Storey gallantly and invited her to a place on the bench. As she seated herself she said:

"I have brought a little additional evidence in this case."

Ah! with what a sharp anxiety Cushack and Mrs. Bracker glanced at her then! The little doctor lost his nonchalance. Jim Shryock chewed the ends of his ragged moustache, sneering still.

"Do you wish these persons to be called to the stand?" asked the magistrate.

"First of all I would like Mrs. Bracker to answer a few questions if she is willing," she said politely.

The woman glanced anxiously at Shryock, and he answered for her. "Certainly! She is not obliged to answer the questions unless it suits her."

So Mrs. Bracker took the stand again.

Mme. Storey began in a voice as mild as milk—it is at such moments that she is most to be feared: "I suppose you were well acquainted with Ram Lal through having met him at Mrs. Julian's so often."

"No, indeed!" said Mrs. Bracker with a toss of her head. "I never aspired to be his friend. I had nothing whatever to do with him."

"What is your explanation of his death?" asked Mme. Storey innocently.

"Oh, I suppose he had a stroke of some sort. Not surprising with the life he led."

"What about his life?"

"Don't ask me! One couldn't help hearing stories about what went on at that elegant seraglio of his on Seventy-Ninth Street."

Mme. Storey made no attempt to follow up this lead. "I suppose you have witnessed many of Ram Lal's séances at Mrs. Julian's?" she said.

"Sure," was the indifferent reply.

"Weren't you impressed by them?"

"No!"

"Then you believe they weren't genuine?"

"He was just a common faker!" said Mrs. Bracker scornfully. "That's known now, isn't it? East Indian! Huh!"

"But he seemed to me to be completely possessed," said Mme. Storey blandly; "to be lifted right out of himself as you might say."

Mrs. Bracker merely laughed disagreeably.

"Did they always end the same as yesterday in a sort of fit?"

"Sure! That was part of his game."

"But how could he fake that?" said Mme. Storey. "The frothing at the mouth and all."

"Used to slip a wafer in his mouth," said Mrs. Bracker laughing. "Sort of soapy wafer. That made the froth. It's an old trick."

"Did you see him do that?" asked Mme. Storey feigning to be greatly surprised.

"Sure. I used to watch for it."

"Did you see him do it yesterday?"

"Sure. I saw his hands go up."

"Thanks, that's all," said Mme. Storey unexpectedly.

Mrs. Bracker stared at her hatefully. She felt that she had been tricked somehow. "What's that got to do with me?" she demanded.

"Nothing whatever," said Mme. Storey sweetly.

Mrs. Bracker stepped down in somewhat of a fluster.

"What do you expect to show by this line of questioning?" the magistrate asked Mme. Storey. We all pricked up our ears for her answer. She said: "The first assumption was that Ram Lal had been poisoned through being jabbed by a hypodermic needle. That theory won't hold water. I now aim to show that he was poisoned by the wafer which he took into his mouth a few seconds before he died."

"But the poison, Madame?"

"I'm coming to that," she said pleasantly. "...I should now like to put this woman on the stand that I have brought with me. Mrs. Euphemia Larkin. She is really Inspector Rumsey's witness, but he hasn't had an opportunity to talk to her. So if you will permit me I will question her."

"Certainly," said the magistrate. "We are not sticklers for formality here. All we want is to bring out the truth."

Shryock arose with his disagreeable smile. Just the same the man was a little worried. "Excuse me, your Honour, but it is five o'clock. I'm sorry to have to mention it, but I have an important engagement..."

You could hear the whole room take a breath. They were afraid that the curtain was going to be rung down just at the most exciting moment. Well, his Honour was only human and he didn't want to miss the dénouement either.

"Will it take long?" he asked Mme. Storey.

"Less than ten minutes, your Honour."

"We will proceed."

Mrs. Larkin was a typical New York Irish char woman, a racy specimen. Still youngish and not at all bad-looking, she proudly displayed her Sunday clothes on the witness stand. A little intimidated by finding all eyes upon her, she was nevertheless enjoying her conspicuousness.

"What is your employment, Mrs. Larkin?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Cleaning woman in the Stilson Building on Forty-Second Street, ma'am."

Mme. Storey opened the satchel she had brought and took from it two square-sided quart bottles such as druggists use, a piece of wrapping paper, a length of string and a pink ticket. "Do you recognise these things?"

"Sure!" said Mrs. Larkin. "Them's the things I give you in my rooms a half-hour ago."

"Where did you get them?"

"Picked 'em out of the waste basket in room 1014 of my building."

"You can swear that it was room 1014?"

"Sure! Them's druggists' bottles, and 1014 is a doctor's office sort of, with a laboratory and all."

"When did you find them there?"

"Night before last at cleaning time."

"You are sure of the time?"

"Absolutely. I mind taking them home with me."

"What did you take them home for?"

"Well, bottles come in handy," said Mrs. Larkin with a grin that set the whole court roaring. "As for the paper I took that to wrap the bottles in. They had come in that paper because the creases just fitted. And the string."

"How about this pink ticket?"

"That's a sales ticket from the cut-price drug-store in the Stilson Building. I pick up a lot of them in the waste baskets. If you save them till you get a hundred dollars' worth they give you a dollar credit in the store."

"Who is the tenant in room 1014?"

"Dr. A. Cushack."

"Do you know him?"

"No'm. He's always gone home before I do my work."

"That's all, thank you," said Mme. Storey.

Mrs. Larkin stepped down, a little disappointed that her turn had been so brief.

"If Dr. Cushack is willing to testify as to these bottles..." Mme. Storey began politely.

He was already on his feet. "Sure!" he cried. "I want the court to know what was in them!" He took the stand with a truculent air. The word natty might have been coined to describe that little man. A day in jail had rubbed none of the bloom off him. He pretended to be swelling with indignation like a little turkey cock.

"You admit, then, that these were your bottles," said Mme. Storey.

"I can't identify them," he said with a conceited laugh, "but if she says she got them out of my waste basket it's all right with me...Tell the judge what was in them."

"Each bottle contained X," said Mme. Storey carelessly.

"Yeah, X!" he cried, thrusting out his chin at her. "I use it in my lab. work. I couldn't do anything without it. Everybody uses X for one thing or another. Thousands of bottles are sold every day. Is there any harm in X?"

"Why, no," said Mme. Storey. "...But a little goes a long way. I was just surprised that you used so much."

"Oh, I don't know how long I've had those bottles on hand."

That was his first slip. "I know," said Mme. Storey quietly. "You bought them the same day."

He stared at her speechlessly. She merely exhibited the sales slip.

"You can't prove anything by that!" he cried. "They don't enter the items on the sales slips. Only the amounts."

"Quite," said Mme. Storey. "The bottles are each marked thirty-nine cents. The slip is for seventy-eight."

"That doesn't prove anything. It's only a coincidence. Half the articles they sell are priced at thirty-nine cents."

"Well, what else did you buy that day?" She glanced at the slip. "February ninth."

He was dumb.

Mme. Storey gave him a brief respite. It was her way with a witness. "What's your idea of this case?" she asked confidentially. "Was Ram Lal poisoned?"

He rose to it immediately. "It's an open question," he said importantly. "As a toxicologist I aspire to do a little investigating myself when I get out. It's an interesting case!"

She returned to the charge. "What did you do with two quarts of X the day before yesterday?"

"I was conducting an experiment," he answered warily.

"Of what nature?"

"I refuse to answer. I make my living out of my experiments."

"No other drugs were found in your laboratory."

"Well, I used everything up."

"What did you do with the result of your experiment that day?"

"Poured it down the wash-basin. It was unsuccessful."

"Then why not tell me what other drugs you used; where you got them and so on."

"Why should I?" he parried.

"Ever hear of distillate of X?" she asked casually.

Some of the pink faded out of his cheeks. "Yes," he said. "Poisons are my speciality."

"You are familiar with its properties then?"

He hesitated briefly before answering. "I have read about it. Never experimented with it."

Mme. Storey started on another line. "Where did you go when..."

He interrupted her excitedly. "No, you don't! I perceive what you're after! You can't make an insinuation like that before the court without following it up!"

"All right," she said good-naturedly. "I'll follow it up. Did you make distillate of X in your laboratory the day before yesterday?"

"No!" he shouted. "It's false!" He wiped his face.

"What time did you leave the office that day?" she asked.

"I don't remember," he said sullenly.

"Now come," she said cajolingly; "only the day before yesterday."

"About six," he muttered.

"Where did you go?"

"Home."

"By the way, where do you live? I don't think I have been told."

"Hotel Shirley."

"Oh, the Shirley. Did anyone there see you come in?"

"I got my key from the desk as usual. It's not likely the clerk could remember that night amongst the others."

"Where did you dine?"

"At the hotel."

"Alone?"

"Yes."

"Do you always occupy the same seat?"

"Yes."

"With the same people more or less at the surrounding tables?"

He saw where these apparently innocent questions were tending, and turned scared and stubborn. "I won't answer!" he cried shrilly. "I won't answer any more. If you're trying to pin this thing on me I don't have to answer!"

"Why, of course not!" said Mme. Storey with undisturbed good humour. "You may step down."

She then called the man she had brought with her, a lean young fellow with a bright eye. His name was given as John Withy; his occupation, free-lance writer.

"Where do you live?" she asked.

"Number —— West Forty-Seventh Street."

"What sort of building is that?"

"An old residence which has been rebuilt into stores, offices and small apartments. It's a walk-up building."

"Where are your rooms?"

"I have a one-room and bath apartment third floor rear."

"Have you ever before seen the man who last testified here, Dr. Cushack?"

"Yes, ma'am. Saw him in my building day before yesterday. That was Wednesday. About six-thirty p.m."

"Under what circumstances?"

"Well, I was coming home to wash up for dinner and I found him standing in the hall outside my door. Seemed funny, hanging around like that. So I left my door open when I went in to sort of keep an eye on him. My friend who lives in the front is out of town, and I thought maybe he aimed to get in there. But another fellow came upstairs in a minute or two, and it seemed this one was just waiting for him. The second fellow was the man who rents the hall room next to mine. Alfred Somers is the name in his letter-box downstairs."

"Did you hear what they said to each other?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Just a word or two. Somers says: 'Have you got it?' and this man"—he nodded in the direction of Dr. Cushack—"says: 'Yeah.' Somers says: 'Come on in,' and they went into his room. This sounded kind of mysterious to me, and I wanted to hear more. There is an old door between my room and Somers' which is locked now and the cracks stuffed with paper. I put my ear to the crack and I hear Somers say: 'How can I fix the wafer with this?' And this man said: 'Just pour a few drops on it and let it soak in.' That was all I could hear, and I thought nothing of it at the time."

"Mr. Withy," said Mme. Storey with delicate impressiveness, "I want you to look around this courtroom and see if you can pick out the man you know as Alfred Somers."

I jumped, her move was so absolutely unexpected. A breathless silence fell on the courtroom as young Withy's eyes passed from face to face. It was apparent to all that this Somers must be the actual murderer of Ram Lal.

Withy's eyes travelled slowly along the front bench, came to Bunbury and stopped there. "Why," he said in a surprised voice, "why, that's the man!"

Court and spectators were held in a spell. Bunbury jumped up with a face as grey as ashes; then dropped back in his seat laughing. From the end of the bench Jim Shryock laughed loudly to create a diversion. As for me, I was stony with astonishment.

Shryock was quickly on his feet. "Your Honour, I must protest!" he cried. "This accusation is laughable, but is likely to do serious harm to a faithful servant and an honest man! Why, Bunbury has been working for Mrs. Julian for eight years. What possible motive..."

"I beg your pardon," interrupted Mme. Storey with a wicked smile, "are you representing Bunbury too?"

She had him there, but he didn't care so long as there was no jury present. "No!" he cried theatrically. "My words are dictated by motives of humanity."

She enjoyed a little private laugh at the notion that Jim Shryock had taken a case out of humanity.

"Mr. Bunbury, may I have the privilege of representing you here?" asked Shryock with a bow.

"Please do," mumbled the butler. He was a wretched figure then.

"Then I ask again," shouted Shryock, "what possible motive could this man have had for committing such a crime?"

"This is only a preliminary hearing," said Mme. Storey, "and it's not necessary to try the whole case. However, I am perfectly willing to give you the information. It is true that Bunbury has been working for Mrs. Julian for eight years. During that time a whole procession of fakers and charlatans has succeeded in wheedling great sums of money out of his mistress. Naturally, it made him sore to see all that going out of the house. He began to wonder if he couldn't divert the golden stream in his own direction. The knowledge of Mrs. Julian's character that he had gained, and his familiarity with every detail of her life and affairs gave him a special advantage. Naturally, he couldn't swindle her in his own person, so he engaged catspaws as they came along, Mrs. Bracker, Dr. Cushack, Ram Lal, and taught them how to do it."

"We have only your word for this, Madame," said Shryock sarcastically. "And you still haven't answered my question. If Ram Lal was Bunbury's own man, why in heaven's name should he murder him?"

"Because Ram Lal held out on him," said Mme. Storey sweetly. "It was partly out of revenge, and partly as an object lesson to the other faithful workers. Mrs. Julian has furnished me with a list of all the sums she has given these three people with the dates. On the other hand my operatives have secured lists of Bunbury's deposits in his several bank accounts.

"These lists will be offered in evidence, of course, and we will show that for every payment made by Mrs. Julian, Bunbury deposited half the amount next day. With one exception. Mrs. Julian gave Ram Lal one hundred thousand dollars two weeks ago. Bunbury got none of that."

Shryock shrugged elaborately. It was all he could do. "Well, when I see your evidence," he said with a sneer, "I'll meet it."

"It is sufficient," said Magistrate McManigal. "I will hold these two persons as accessories before the fact. Inspector, I presume you will take care of Bunbury."

"I will, your Honour," said Rumsey grimly.

Bunbury had already recovered himself by the time they came to lead him out. He was a very remarkable man. His vanity was hurt by the recollection of that moment of weakness, and he was bound to make a good exit. He walked to where Mrs. Julian sat, and made a low bow.

"My keys, Madam," he said, handing them over: "I trust you will find everything in order at home."

Mrs. Julian was too much overcome to say a word.

Bunbury then faced the policeman who was ready to attend him. "Keep your hands off me," he said with dignity. "I shall make no resistance." He then walked out with the air of a martyr going proudly to the stake. If it had been in the theatre he would certainly have got a big hand.

IX

Mme. Storey, Inspector Rumsey and I had dinner in a little Italian restaurant on Fifty-Second Street where the spaghetti with anchovies is something to dream about. We all felt the blessed sense of relaxation that follows on the completion of a tough bit of work. It was fun to hold a sort of post-mortem on the case.

Mme. Storey said: "The first thing that struck me was that Ram Lal was a stupid fellow playing a clever part. Particularly after I got his history from the police. Before the Ram Lal episode he was nothing but a sneak thief, the lowest order of crooks. This suggested that he must have been drilled in the art of crystal-gazing. His whole spiel sounded like something learned by rote.

"When I watched Mrs. Bracker and Cushack and read the transcript of their examination by the police I saw that they also were much too stupid to have thought up the parts they were playing—both parts, by the way, devilishly well calculated to deceive a woman of Mrs. Julian's character. There was a certain affinity too, in all these games. This put the idea into my head that there was a superior intelligence directing all three of them."

"When did you begin to suspect Bunbury?" I asked.

"Just as soon as I decided there was a master mind behind the three puppets, my intuition suggested that it was Bunbury. Many little straws pointed in that direction. Bunbury was the only person who possessed the requisite knowledge of Mrs. Julian's character. Believe me, nothing can be hidden from our servants! Then I learned from Mrs. Julian that Bunbury had been instrumental in getting the previous lot of fakers fired. All except Liptrott, whom he probably regarded as harmless. And for one brief moment in the boudoir I had a glimpse of the power that underlay the butler's smooth mask. He quelled Cushack and Mrs. Bracker with a word...But on the whole it was chiefly a question of style."

"Style?" we echoed.

"Style is a mysterious thing," she went on. "You can't describe it, but you can feel it. You have noticed I suppose, that Bunbury talks in a style of false elegance. Upper servants are much given to it. 'Elegant,' by the way, is one of the words that are frequently on his lips. Few use it nowadays.

"Well, in Ram Lal, in Mrs. Bracker and in Dr. Cushack I kept hearing echoes of Bunbury's style. It is largely in the use to which words are put. Besides 'elegant' notice how every one of them says 'perceive,' a book word, when he means 'see.' And the word 'aspire,' generally used in an incorrect sense, is continually on their lips. Besides others. When pupils are taught by rote the master's voice may be clearly heard.

"It is obvious that master minds do not work for nothing, and when I checked up what Mrs. Julian had paid out with what Bunbury had received, the motive for the crime became obvious. Ram Lal was too successful. He felt that he had become independent of his master. He had defied the master, and so he had to be made to feel his power."

"But," I objected, "if it was Bunbury who warned us, when we got to the house he tried to keep us out of the boudoir!"

"Think back, Bella," she said with a smile. "The objections he raised were of a sort to make us determined to enter!...It is one thing to know who committed a crime and another to produce sufficient evidence to obtain a conviction," she went on. "The men I assigned to watch Mrs. Julian's house followed Bunbury to his room on Forty-Seventh Street, and so we discovered where he was accustomed to meet and instruct his accomplices. His Academy of Faking you might call it. But by the time they could get inside he had made a clean sweep of everything in the nature of evidence, of course. Bunbury made no such clumsy mistake as Cushack who threw the bottles in his waste basket.

"I questioned a dozen people in the house before I turned up ore in the person of Withy. However, the word 'wafer' which Withy overheard had no significance until after I had tricked Mrs. Bracker into testifying that Ram Lal had taken a wafer. Then it took on a deadly effect. When one of these watertight crimes once springs a leak, it is all over."

"It's lucky for the sake of justice that Bunbury telephoned you that day," remarked Rumsey.

"Yes, that was his weakness," said Mme. Storey. "Like all criminals of his type, Bunbury is devoured by a secret vanity. The result of too many years' suppression as a butler perhaps. When his plot was all ready to shoot he was so crazy about it, it looked so absolutely detection proof, that he couldn't bear to let it work unseen. So he gave me a ring. It was obviously an afterthought because his associates were not informed of it. And he might have got away with it, too, had it not been for his fatal style!"


VI. — TAKEN FOR A RIDE

First published in Argosy, December 14, 1929
Reprinted in The Almost Perfect Murder, 1933

Cover Image

Argosy, December 14, 1929, with "Taken for a Ride"



I

The seats sent to Madame Storey and I were in row S about half-way back in the immense auditorium; the opera was Siegfried. The Terwilliger box was still unoccupied when the curtain went up, and I had to possess my soul in patience during the long first act, which was played to a completely darkened house. I was so excited I could give less than half my attention to the music. Owing to the prominence of the persons concerned, our new case bade fair to be one of the biggest things Mme. Storey had ever undertaken. Terwilliger is a name to conjure with all over the world. The Terwilligers are our Rothschilds.

The moment the lights went up I turned my head over my shoulder. The Terwilliger box is in the centre of the golden horseshoe; that is to say, where the royal box would be if this did not happen to be a republic. The party had come. In the right-hand corner I recognised the effulgent Mrs. Terwilliger in green velvet and diamonds, but the other two ladies were strangers to me. Neither could I identify the three gentlemen in the obscurity of the back of the box. I speculated vainly upon which might be Dr. Felix Portal, head of the Terwilliger Institute, and an even more famous man, if that is possible, than his wealthy patron. It was Dr. Portal who was responsible for our presence in the opera house that night.

We did not immediately leave our seats for the intermission, since we had no wish to advertise our presence generally in the foyer. We waited until people were beginning to drift back down the aisles before we got up and mixed with the gossiping, cigarette-smoking throng outside. When the bell rang to give warning of the second act we scurried along like everybody else, and so contrived it that the rising of the curtain found us in the secluded corridor back of the parterre boxes. It was quickly emptied of all save ourselves. When we were satisfied nobody was observing us, we opened the door leading into the Terwilliger box.

The door does not lead directly into the box but into a charming little ante-room furnished like the rest of the magnificent old building in red and gold. There were dainty little sofas and chairs with curved legs as in a boudoir. We were separated from the box proper by heavy velvet curtains which are kept closely drawn during the performance. As we entered, the curtains parted and a man whom I knew must be Dr. Portal joined us with a polite smile.

As in the case of most great men one's first impression was disappointing. He was a small man, and instead of the noble and venerable head I expected, I beheld a somewhat sharp physiognomy with a long nose and a retreating forehead. But I had not been a moment in his company before the real distinction of the man became apparent. I observed that the back part of his head was fine and full, and that, they say, holds the really important part of the brain. He had a noble eye, too, blue and gleaming with an inward fire. It had the curiously remote glance of one who dwells mostly in the realm of thought. It expressed an attractive compound of wisdom and innocence. His voice too, had the measured quality of one who thinks before he speaks. Oh, there was no doubt that he was one of the exceptional men of our time.

Outside, the auditorium had been darkened again and the violins were making the whole house throb with feeling. It provided a strange accompaniment to the interview which followed. There was a deprecating quality in Dr. Portal's smile that was very winning, considering what a great man he was. In other words, he was a little in awe of the beautiful Madame Storey.

"So good of you to respond to my appeal for aid!" he murmured.

"Not at all," she answered quickly. "I feel flattered in receiving an appeal from you." And she meant it. She brought me up. "My secretary, Miss Brickley. I want her to take notes of what you tell me, so that I won't have to waste your time by asking you to repeat any of it later."

We sat down, Mme. Storey and Dr. Portal side by side on a little sofa, and me facing them with my note-book on my knee. Once the courteous greetings had been exchanged, deep harassed lines appeared in the famous scientist's face. Whatever this business might be, clearly it was no joke to him. He showed a curious petulance also, as if the scientist in him resented being dragged down from the calm realms of thought.

"You will think the manner of this appointment very strange," he said. "The truth is, I find myself followed and watched wherever I go, and I wished to keep it a secret, at least for the present, that I was consulting you."

"You did right," said Mme. Storey. "Please go on."

The voice of the young Siegfried was now ringing through the house, supported by the murmuring violins. It lent an almost unbearably emotional effect to the doctor's tale of murder.

"It concerns the shocking accident which happened at the Institute a month ago," he began. "My principal assistant, Dr. Edgar McComb, was found shot dead in his office. I suppose you read of it at the time. It has attracted very little notice simply because there were no sensational circumstances to whet the public appetite. Now that a month has passed it remains just as much of a mystery as it was on the morning the body was discovered. The police pretend to be working upon the case still, but they have nothing to go on. No clues of any sort. Nobody saw the assailant enter or leave the building; no finger-prints were found in the room save those of the doctor himself. And what is even more baffling, no possible motive for the crime has been unearthed. Dr. McComb had no enemies; no difficulties either financial or amatory. He was happily married, and his private life was a model of regularity. Some have thought it must have been the chance act of a madman, but that theory won't hold water either; because the doctor must have made an appointment to meet his assailant in the laboratory that night, and must have admitted him to the building. What is more, they were heard talking quietly together shortly before the shot must have been fired."

"Who heard them talking?" asked Mme. Storey.

"The night watchman, Amadeo Corioli. In making his rounds through the bacteriological laboratory at ten o'clock he saw a light in Dr. McComb's office, and heard the sound of quiet voices as he passed the closed door. An hour later, when he passed, the light was out, and he supposed the doctor had gone home. Either Dr. McComb or I or both of us often worked in the laboratory until late. The body was discovered by the cleaning women in the morning."

"But a month has passed, doctor," said Mme. Storey reproachfully. "What can I hope to do with so cold a trail?...Why didn't you consult me sooner?"

"Ah, I wish I had! I wish I had!" he said with a painful gesture. "But to tell you the truth, it never came close to me until a few days ago. I was content to leave it to the police."

"Never came close to you?" said my employer. "What do you mean by that?"

He answered her indirectly. His agitation was visibly increasing. "True, the morning after the tragedy," he said, "Mrs. McComb, who was in a highly hysterical state, accused me in veiled terms of being responsible for her husband's death. I was inexpressibly shocked by the scene, but naturally I ascribed it to her condition. I never gave it a moment's thought until two or three days ago when I noticed that I was being watched and followed. It was a strange experience for me to have!...Then I began to perceive that the attitude of those who surround me at the Institute had changed subtly. Something ugly had come into their regard." The speaker shuddered. "Ugh! it was horrible! Finally I demanded an explanation from one of the young doctors in whom I have confidence. He told me..." For the moment Mr. Portal seemed to be unable to continue. "He told me," he said brokenly, "that a story was going around that I, actuated by a mean jealousy of a brilliant rising man, had procured the death of Edgar McComb!"

Mme. Storey and I gazed at him incredulously. It seemed impossible to believe that one whom the whole world looked upon as the high priest of science should be mixed up in anything like this!

In his agitation Dr. Portal sprang up and struck his clenched hands against his breast. Fortunately the swelling music drowned the sound of his voice. "Me! Me!" he cried; "accused of murder! Me, whose life has been as open as the day! Whose every thought has been given to my work! Is it not unjust? Is it not incredible that such a story should be circulated and believed? My informant said that he didn't believe it, but that there was no chance of stopping it now!"

"They circulate it, but I doubt if they believe it," said Mme. Storey gravely. "It is a common human failing."

"But how terrible...how terrible to be the victim of such a slander!" cried Dr. Portal brokenly. "It has completely unnerved me! It comes between me and my work. I can do nothing! And my work has reached a fatally critical point where every ounce of ability that I possess is required of me. The polio serum..."

"What is polio?" asked Mme. Storey quickly.

"Ah, pardon!" he said, with a distracted gesture. "A bit of laboratory slang. Polio is short for poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis. I have been working on it for many years. I have not yet succeeded in isolating the bacillus, but I have prepared a serum from the blood of immune monkeys which, in the case of monkeys anyhow, arrests the paralysis. I am not quite ready for human experiments, but I soon will be—if I am only left in peace!...Meanwhile the number of cases is daily increasing. Everything points to a coming epidemic. There is not a day to lose!"

Mme. Storey, too, had risen. She had instantly made up her mind as to the rights of this case. "How proud I will be if I can contribute to your work by ever so little!" she said, impulsively taking his hand. "I beg of you to put this preposterous slander out of your mind, and return to your work. Leave this to me. I promise you if I live I will lay it in its grave for ever!"

The doctor, as a man will, immediately began to make light of his own emotion. "There...there," he said, shaking her hand, "my mind is relieved already. I feel safe in your hands. As for the expenses connected with this affair..."

"Not a word as to that," she said, holding up her hand. "That's my part...All you have to do is to answer a few questions...Where were you on the night Dr. McComb was shot?"

"Fortunately I can produce an alibi," he answered with a wry smile. "I attended a reception at the National History Museum to visiting British scientists. Hundreds of people must have seen me there...However," he went on bitterly, "I understand that I am not accused of firing the shot myself. They believe that I had it done."

"What exactly did Mrs. McComb say to you on the morning after?"

"She said: 'This is your work! This is your work! Now I hope you're satisfied! For years you have been trying to keep him down, and when you found you could no longer do so you turned to this!' And much more to the same effect. No precise charge."

"Hm! jealousy," remarked Mme. Storey.

"Oh, yes, that had often peeped out," said Dr. Portal. "Such a pity! So unnecessary!"

"What sort of woman is Mrs. McComb?"

"A good enough sort as women go," answered Dr. Portal carelessly. "Highly conventional. Ambitious. On that account I considered her influence over her husband unfortunate. A scientist cannot afford to consider ambition; he cannot consider anything in the world but science!"

"You have not much use for women, I take it, doctor," suggested Mme. Storey with a dry smile.

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," he protested. "Have I not put myself in your hands?...The only thing I have against women is that they demand too much time. For me life is not long enough to include both science and women."

"It is a pity," murmured Mme. Storey. "Where is Mrs. McComb now?"

"She has gone abroad. I believe Mrs. Terwilliger sent her."

"Ah! a mistake in tactics. Perhaps we will have to bring her back...Now tell me what you can about the crime, doctor."

"That is next to nothing," he said, spreading out his hands.

"You have spoken of the bacteriological laboratory. What sort of a place is it?"

"It is a small separate building connected with a main group by a covered passage. Dr. McComb and I have been working there exclusively during the past year. The monkeys that we use in our experiments are kept on the top floor. Some of them are sick, you see, and there is a male nurse on duty throughout the night just as if they were human. Dr. McComb's private office and my office were on the floor below."

"The nurse heard no sound?"

"No, Madame. The walls are thick."

"Describe the finding of the body."

"It was found by a cleaning woman at eight o'clock on the morning of November 9th. When she opened the door she saw the doctor slumped down in his chair with a bullet-hole in his forehead. His body was already stiff. He had evidently been shot from in front as he sat upright in his chair. The bullet had gone completely through his head and had lodged in the hard plaster of the wall behind him. A curious thing was, that the murderer had gone to the trouble to dig it out of the plaster and carry it away with him."

"Nothing strange in that," remarked Mme. Storey. "He had evidently heard of the new science of ballistics which enables us sometimes to trace the bullet back to the gun from which it was fired."

"Another strange feature," Dr. Portal went on, "is that the body was stripped of every trifling article of value; a seal ring, a cheap watch and a dollar or two in money, which was the most the doctor ever carried. It seems incredible that a man should be murdered for that."

Mme. Storey made no comment.

"Moreover," said the doctor, "the unfortunate man must have made an appointment to meet the murderer in the laboratory, for there was no work to call him back that night. We had discussed it in the afternoon. And he must have let the man in himself. Why should he have made an appointment with a robber?"

"Obviously robbery was not the murderer's main object," said Mme. Storey. "But having killed his man, he saw no reason why he should overlook any little objects of value. From that I infer the shot was fired by a professional criminal."

"Now I call that clever!" said Dr. Portal admiringly. "Already we are making progress."

"But we have a long, long way to go," said Mme. Storey, smiling. "How about the Italian watchman?"

"He has been repeatedly questioned by the police. No suspicion attaches to him, I understand. He can account for every minute of his time that night by the time clocks he is obliged to punch as he makes his rounds through the buildings."

"But it only takes a fraction of a second to shoot a man," Mme. Storey pointed out.

"What object would he have? He knew Dr. McComb carried nothing of value upon him?"

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey frankly. "Have you any theory as to what happened?"

"None whatever," said Dr. Portal, spreading out his hands. "All I can tell you is, that McComb appeared to me to be in a highly nervous state during the last days of his life. But I have no idea what was troubling him."

Mme. Storey and I left the opera house in a curious state of exaltation induced by the insinuating violins and the poignant tenor voice. I felt (and Mme. Storey confessed the same) that we were like two crusaders sallying forth to do battle for the benefactor of mankind against the powers of evil.

II

We proceeded directly to my employer's little house on East Sixty —— Street. It was still something short of ten o'clock, and Mme. Storey telephoned immediately to Inspector Rumsey. Upon being assured that the matter was of first-rate importance, the Inspector said he would motor right down to join us.

Inspector Rumsey glanced at Mme. Storey with pleasure when he came in. He is a little man of quite undistinguished appearance whose whole study it is to render himself still more inconspicuous. Ordinarily his face is as inscrutable as one of the little crooks whom it is his business to track down, but in my employer's presence he relaxes and becomes quite human. He is a first-class police official and absolutely incorruptible.

Mme. Storey went directly to the point. "Are you keeping Dr. Felix Portal under surveillance?"

"I am," he answered unhesitatingly.

"Why?"

"Well," he said deprecatingly, "I received an anonymous letter suggesting that he was responsible for the death of Edgar McComb."

"An anonymous letter!" said Mme. Storey disgustedly.

"Sure," he said calmly; "I despise them as much as you do. But in a case of this sort where I was absolutely up against it I could not afford to ignore it. The letter was typewritten on a sheet of cheap paper, and it had been mailed in the corridor of the general post office. I have been unable to trace it."

"What did it say?"

"It said: 'The story is going around that Dr. Portal did for Dr. McComb. You had better look into it.'...How did you become interested in the case, if I may ask?"

"Between ourselves," said Mme. Storey, "Dr. Portal has consulted me."

"You mean he has engaged you to solve this mystery?"

"Yes."

"Well, that was a bold move!"

"If he is guilty it would be. But surely you do not think that he..."

"I have no opinion," said Inspector Rumsey, spreading out his hands. "All my investigation has shown is that he might have done it."

"But, good heavens!" cried Mme. Storey, sitting upright, "why should he have done it?"

"Professional jealousy," suggested the Inspector. "Dr. McComb, a much younger man, had been making great strides lately. His name was continually in the newspapers."

"But Dr. Portal is not the man to care about that," said Mme. Storey. "Look you, for fifteen years he's been at the head of the Terwilliger Institute and one of the most conspicuous citizens of New York. Yet one almost never meets him at public functions. And in all those years I have never seen a published photograph of him. I did not know him to-night until he introduced himself. Is that the record of a man who is keen about newspaper publicity?"

Inspector Rumsey did not answer.

"It is sacrilege to think a man like that in connection with a sordid murder!" Mme. Storey went on earnestly. "I should say if there is one disinterested man in this world of money-grubbers that man was Felix Portal!"

"Even so," said the Inspector with quiet obstinacy, "everybody knows that the higher the flights a man is capable of, the lower he may fall. The whole history of crime testifies to it."

"You have several children, haven't you?" said Mme. Storey, suddenly taking a new line. "What are their ages?"

"The youngest is three and the oldest eleven," said the Inspector with a smile.

"All within the danger limits for infantile paralysis," she murmured.

"Don't speak of it!" he said with a painful gesture. "It's a nightmare!"

"They say we are headed straight for an epidemic."

"It's horrible!" cried the Inspector. "A man is so helpless! When I see it coming I wish I could send them all up on a mountain top where they could be cut off from everybody!"

"That's what Dr. Portal is working on now," said Mme. Storey quietly; "working to save your children, all the children. He had almost attained success when this..."

Inspector Rumsey fairly groaned in his distress. "I've got to do my duty. I had hoped that he would never hear this story. Never discover that he was being watched."

"Well, he knows it now," she said gravely, "and his work is at a standstill...You say he might have done it," she presently went on, "but he says he was at the Natural History Museum all evening where hundreds of people saw him."

"That is true and not true," said the Inspector. "He made a speech of welcome at nine o'clock and of course everybody in the building saw and heard him. But after he stepped down from the platform at nine-twenty, I am unable to find anybody who saw him until supper was served at eleven."

"That is no proof that he wasn't there."

"No, but unfortunately I have learned that a taxicab was called to the museum at nine-thirty, and that a man was driven from there to the corner of Avenue A and Seventy-Fourth Street, which, as you know, is just around the corner from the Institute. Well, if he could taxi over there he could taxi back, of course, in plenty of time for supper."

"Did this passenger resemble Dr. Portal?" Mme. Storey asked anxiously.

"Ah, there we are up against it again. The driver of that taxi has left his job, and I have not been able to find him."

"Pretty slim evidence," suggested Mme. Storey.

"Surely," he agreed. "But in the face of it, how can I give up watching Dr. Portal."

"Well, now the situation is somewhat altered," she said. "Dr. Portal has engaged me to solve this mystery. That's pretty strong evidence of his good faith in the matter. If I assure you that I mean to devote my whole time to the case, are you willing to call off your dogs? You and I will still be working together, of course."

"Sure," cried the Inspector heartily. "And darn glad of the excuse to let up on the doctor!"

They shook hands on it.

"Now tell me all you know about the case," said Mme. Storey, lighting a fresh cigarette.

It required a full hour for the Inspector to relate all the work he and his men had done. I shall not weary you with the recital, for there was little of it that proved to be of any service to us. Nothing in Dr. McComb's past life, nor in Dr. Portal's either, threw any light on the crime. In an association of five years they had never been known to quarrel, or even to have a serious difference of any kind. The only thing in the way of complete harmony was Dr. McComb's ambition—and that was mostly Mrs. McComb's.

As a matter of fact Mme. Storey had to begin from the beginning. It was a single word dropped by Inspector Rumsey which gave her her lead. In one of the gossiping stories patiently run down by the police, a young interne of the Institute had used the phrase: "As it was told to me, Dr. Portal hired a gunman to put McComb out of the way." This yarn was traced back to Mrs. McComb; but when the police questioned her she denied having said it. In fact she denied ever having charged that Dr. Portal was responsible for her husband's death. This was manifestly a falsehood. It was no doubt the Terwilligers who, with the best intentions, had shut the woman up. Mrs. McComb was the kind of woman who would be very much in awe of multi-millionaires.

"At any rate," said Mme. Storey, "'gunman' is our line."

"I have not neglected that line," said the Inspector. "The possible hired killers are pretty well known to us. Well, every man of that sort has been able to account for his actions on the night of November 8th."

"But there are always new killers coming up," suggested Mme. Storey.

"Sure," said the Inspector gloomily, "there are always youngsters who are crazy for a chance to qualify in that class. It is looked upon as the head of the criminal profession."

"Then we will assume," she said, "that this was a first killing by a man who had already served an apprenticeship in lesser crimes."

"But it was Dr. Portal who was said to have hired the gunman," said the Inspector, frowning.

"Well, maybe he did," said Mme. Storey airily. "In any case it provides us with a starting point."

III

Before we went to bed that night we made an appointment with Dr. Portal to come to his laboratory next day. What she had learned made it necessary for her to have another talk with him, Mme. Storey told him. After that she did not expect to trouble him again until she had arrested her man. She insisted that there was no need for secrecy now, and in fact she advised him to tell his associates that he had engaged her to clear him from the absurd scandal that had clouded his name. "Let the matter be dragged out into the open," she said.

The great Terwilliger Institute, as everybody knows, stands in its own fine park on the bank of the East River. I should very much have liked to have gone over the whole place, but there was no time for that. We confined our attention to the bacteriological laboratory, which was for the time being entirely devoted to the researches of Dr. Portal and his assistants. The ground floor was given up to an immense general laboratory with apparatus of every description; the second floor was divided into special laboratories and offices, while the third floor housed the monkeys and other animals used in their work. I did not go up there.

The three of us were in his private room, an office rather than a laboratory, bare and speckless as a hospital ward. Mme. Storey said lightly:

"Among the different versions of the story which have been going the rounds, there was one to the effect that you hired a gunman to do the deed."

"How absurd!" said the doctor, half-amused, half-angry. "How on earth would I set about to hire a gunman?"

"Have you never known a man of that sort?" asked Mme. Storey carelessly.

Dr. Portal suddenly checked himself. "Why...why, yes I did," he said blankly. "How strange! It happened just a little while before the tragedy...It never occurred to me there might be a connection between the two...Why, there couldn't have been!"

"Nevertheless, tell me about it," said Mme. Storey.

Dr. Portal looked out of the window. His gaze became still more remote as he called up the past scene. "When you have been concentrating on a difficult problem for many hours—or days," he began slowly, "there comes a moment when the brain seems to slip its cogs, and you become conscious of a great weariness. It is a sort of warning signal, I suppose, and I always heed it at once. Generally I take a little walk in the grounds. Sometimes just a few minutes' relaxation is enough to restore me."

"I expect this habit of yours is well known," suggested Mme. Storey.

"No doubt. No doubt," he said. "There are certain individuals of the neighbourhood with whom I have become quite well acquainted through meeting them in the grounds. When I came here years ago the grounds were closed to the public, but I persuaded my patrons to open them. It is a crowded neighbourhood and there are too few parks. Moreover, I like to walk about and watch the people, and talk to them. But I have not always the courage to open a conversation. You will think it very silly, I am sure, at my age to be so diffident. I am glad when anybody speaks to me."

"I can understand that," murmured Mme. Storey.

He glanced at her gratefully. "I lead too solitary a life, having no family," he went on. "I get up in the morning and go to work. Most days I work until it is time to go home and go to bed again. I have myself pretty well disciplined—but not completely disciplined. There is something in me that sometimes rebels against this dryness, something that longs for colour and drama in life. I tell you this in order to explain what happened."

Mme. Storey nodded.

"One sunny afternoon," he went on; "it was just a few days before the catastrophe here; let me see, the following day was a Saturday; that would be two Saturdays before the tragedy, October 30th; I was sitting on a bench in the grounds throwing bread crumbs to the sparrows when a young fellow came along and sat down on the other end of the bench. I was immediately and strongly attracted to him..."

"Why?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Well...I suppose it was the attraction of opposites. He was the exact antithesis of what I had been as a young fellow. He existed purely on the physical plane, one would say. A superb physical specimen; comely, vigorous and alert. He was very well dressed in a somewhat flashy style. I was surprised at his interest in me, for such a one naturally has little use for an old fogey of a scientist. From his handsome dark eyes and smooth, firm, dusky skin I put him down as an Italian, and as a matter of fact he told me later that his name was Tito Tolentino..."

"A mellifluous moniker," put in Mme. Storey with a dry smile; "probably assumed for the occasion."

"No doubt," said Dr. Portal. "Indeed, when we became better acquainted he confessed that he went under many names. An amazing tale."

"Don't skip any of it," warned Mme. Storey.

"He was a mere lad," the doctor went on, "not more than nineteen I should say, but he had an uncanny air of experience and assurance. I am rather alarmed in the presence of hard-boiled youths, but on this occasion I wasn't required to make any overtures, for he immediately started talking to me. With his uncanny sharpness he perceived that I was diffident, and laid himself out to put me at my ease, just as if he had been the elderly man of the world and I the gawky stripling."

Mme. Storey and I smiled at the picture this called up—the great scientist and the gunman! "What did he talk about?" asked my employer.

"It was about the sparrows at first. How they must have recognised that I had a good nature since they came right to my feet. Then he went on to tell me about himself; how he was the sole support of his widowed mother and small brothers and sisters; how he worked in a printing shop all night, slept in the mornings and came out in the afternoons for a breath of air. All this was delivered in a snuffling, self-righteous kind of voice. I suppose he thought this was the proper way to recommend himself to me; but it only made me uncomfortable—it was so false, so out of character with the flashy clothes and the hard, handsome, predatory eyes that searched me through and through while he snuffled."

"He knew who you were?" suggested Mme. Storey.

"Yes; it did not occur to me then, but he must have known. From the first, I remember, he addressed me as 'Doctor'; he knew I was the head of this institution."

"Go on, please."

"In the end he perceived, I suppose, that I didn't believe a word of his self-righteous story. With that unnatural penetration of his he saw that the way to win me was by confessing his sins. At any rate he suddenly changed his tone. 'Aah, that's all baloney,' he said with a laugh. 'The truth is, I'm a bad egg, doctor. I shook my folks long ago. I play a lone hand. Never did an honest day's work in me life!' My heart warmed to him when he said this. It cleared the air. We got along famously after that."

Dr. Portal paused with his attractive smile, so shy and wise. He may have been innocent of the ways of the world, but he was nobody's fool. Always ready to smile at himself.

"How can I convey to you the extraordinary effect his story had on me?" he presently went on. "It laid a spell on my imagination. It was the first time in my life that I had ever come into contact with lawlessness, and all the starved lawlessness in my own nature leaped to meet it. Already at nineteen this lad had quaffed life to the dregs, whereas at fifty-nine I had not even tasted it! I felt a kind of shame for my wasted opportunities."

Mme. Storey did not miss the irony in this. They laughed together.

"Of course it was only a mood," he said; "the result of too many suppressions. If I had a son I would say to him: 'Don't be too good when you're young, or the devil will get you later!'"

"I suppose women played a considerable part in his story," she suggested.

Dr. Portal held up his hands expressively. "Amazing! Amazing!" he murmured. "An incredible point of view! Such a complete absence of inhibitions! Such coolness and matter-of-factness! Apparently when Tolentino saw anything that pleased him he just reached out and took it, as one might help oneself to a peach from a dish! Of course he had been very much favoured by nature for this pursuit. Such a handsome little blackguard! The things he told me took my breath away. Girls everywhere; all kinds of girls; even girls of position, society girls. He used to pick them up at afternoon tea dances. 'They like a fella to be bad,' he said with his sly grin." The doctor shook his head mournfully.

"What was the upshot of this remarkable conversation?" asked Mme. Storey.

"The upshot was," said Dr. Portal, "that I came to myself with a start to find that the sun was going down and that I was thoroughly chilled. When I got up to leave, my new friend suggested that we ought to meet again, and I eagerly agreed. I was still under his spell. He said as long as I was interested in that side of life, he'd like to take me around town and show me some places, and we agreed to meet at six the next evening at the Queensboro Bridge entrance. I chose a distant point because I was none too anxious to have my associates at the Institute see the kind of company I was mixing with. He promised to have a car."

"Good heavens!" cried Mme. Storey, "after all you had been told were you not afraid to trust yourself in his hands?"

Dr. Portal looked at her in surprise. "Why, no," he said. "The idea of danger to myself never crossed my mind. Who would want to injure me?"

Mme. Storey smiled at him somewhat grimly. "And you went?"

"Certainly, I went," he said, "and had one of the most interesting evenings I have ever spent...though I got a little tight," he added deprecatingly.

"Well, I expect that was good for you," said Mme. Storey.

"Yes," he agreed innocently. "I tackled my work with fresh energy next day."

"Well, tell us all about it."

"Unfortunately my sense of direction is poor, and I cannot describe just where he took me," said Dr. Portal. "One turned innumerable corners and pulled up in front of one door after another. I never knew where we were."

"What kind of car was it?" asked Mme. Storey.

"A little sedan, quite new, but I didn't notice of what make."

"Oh, well, it hardly signifies. It was undoubtedly stolen for the occasion and abandoned at the end of the evening. Go on, doctor."

"First we drove far down town into the crowded East side. We went into a basement restaurant there. It had no lights nor sign outside, but it was quite a large place and well filled. There was a little space for dancing in the middle. We ate our dinner there, and Tito pointed out all the celebrities of the place. There was a woman—I forget her name—who had been tried for the murder of her husband so many times, the jury disagreeing on each occasion, that finally the District Attorney had become discouraged, and she was allowed to go free, though everybody knew she had done it. Then there was Monk Eyster, the famous gang leader, and many other notorious criminals whose names were strange to me. It was a thrilling experience for me."

"Did these people appear to know your companion?" asked Mme. Storey.

"No. Nobody spoke to us."

"Naturally, he wouldn't have dared take you to any place where he was known. Go on."

"Afterwards we went to a sort of club on the second storey of a building. There were only men in this place. It was the headquarters of the stick-up fraternity, Tito said, and while we knocked the balls around a pool table, he told me who the different men were, and described their hair-raising exploits. Everyone was wanted by the police."

Mme. Storey smiled at him indulgently. "Did anybody speak to your friend here?"

"No."

"Humph!" she said, "he probably made up the story out of whole cloth."

"Perhaps," said Dr. Portal a little ruefully, "but it was very exciting at the time...Afterwards he said he knew of a roadhouse up in Westchester County that was the worst place of all. Everything went there, he said, and nothing went any farther. But I would be all right, he said, as long as he was with me...So we drove for a long time in the little car. It must have been somewhere north of the city, because I remember crossing the Harlem River, and passing through the suburb of Williamsbridge. I saw the name on a railway station. We came to the roadhouse..."

"Was it so very wicked?" interrupted Mme. Storey, smiling.

"Well, I didn't see anything out of the way," returned the doctor innocently, "but then I am not accustomed to such places. I wouldn't have known what to look for. As a matter of fact I had a drink or two there, and I am not quite so clear afterwards as to what happened. All I remember is that I became excessively talkative—it was a great relief!"

"What did you talk about?" asked Mme. Storey.

"I can scarcely tell you. I suppose it was about the polio serum which fills my mind to the exclusion of everything else. In looking back on it I am astonished at the patience of young Tito in letting me run on so. It could not have been interesting to him. In spite of all, there must have been something genuinely friendly in him, don't you think?"

"I wonder!" said Mme. Storey grimly. "Go on."

"The next thing I remember is finding myself in the little car again, still driving away from town. For some reason or another we drew up alongside the road, and remained there a while, I still talking. It must have been a very lonely spot; there were woods on either side of the road; no cars passed that way. In my slightly fuddled condition all this seemed perfectly natural. I was still talking garrulously about my work, I remember, when I happened to notice that Tito was playing with an ugly little automatic gun on his knees..."

"Good God!" murmured Mme. Storey, aghast.

The doctor, however, was entirely unconcerned. "I remonstrated with him," he said. "I told him to put the thing away before there was an accident..."

"And then what?" asked Mme. Storey tensely.

"He put it in his pocket," he said calmly; "and we drove home. That's all."

"And that is the strangest part of all!" cried Mme. Storey. "What could have persuaded him to spare you?"

"Hey?" said Dr. Portal, blinking.

"Don't you realise that you were taken for a ride?" she said.

"Certainly I was taken for a ride..."

"No! No! I mean in the special sense of that phrase; the sense in which it is used in the underworld. You were taken out to that lonely spot to be shot, and your body thrown into the woods. The mystery is, how you contrived to escape!"

"Why should anybody want to shoot me?" gasped the doctor.

"You escaped," she went on, "but Dr. McComb was not so lucky!"

"Do you mean to say that Tito shot McComb?" he cried.

"I don't know. Another tool may have been used in that case. Tito was only a hired assassin, of course. There may have been several. What is clear is that somebody had it in for the whole Terwilliger Institute!"

"Why? Why? Why?" asked the dismayed doctor. "We injure nobody. We threaten nobody's interest. Our work is for the benefit of the whole community!"

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey sombrely. "It shall be my task to find out. Our only clue lies through this Tito."

"How terrible!" murmured Dr. Portal, thinking of his near escape. "And I suspected nothing!"

"Give me the best description of him that you can," she said.

The doctor spread out his hands. "I'm afraid I'm not very good at it...nineteen or twenty years old; about my height but much more muscularly built. Very quick and graceful in his movements. Brown eyes; smooth, warm-coloured face that still preserved some of the roundness of boyhood; regular white teeth. Ordinarily he wore a mask over his face; his expression was perfectly inscrutable..."

"This tells me next to nothing," said Mme. Storey. "Try to give me something characteristic, something peculiar."

"Well, he had a trick of keeping a perfectly smooth face and speaking out of one corner of his mouth," said Dr. Portal.

"No good!" said my employer ruefully. "They all do that...Did he mention any names in his story? Did he ever let fall what they called him?"

Dr. Portal shook his head. "No, I noticed that he was careful about names. It was always 'him' or 'her' or 'this fellow' and 'that fellow.'"

"Then how about place names?" she asked. "Did he ever mention the names of any places that he frequented?"

After thinking awhile the doctor said: "Yes. He spoke of Bleecker Street. More than once I remember him saying: 'I went down to Bleecker' or 'I ran into him on Bleecker.'"

"That helps a little," said Mme. Storey, "but not much. Bleecker is the main street, the white-light district for the whole of little Italy...Can you give me anything else?"

After further thought the doctor brightened. "Here's something," he said. "On the occasion of our second meeting he appeared wearing a coon-skin coat like a college boy."

"Now we're getting on," said Mme. Storey. "Coon-skin coats cannot be very common down on Bleecker Street."

"But he didn't wear it down there," said the doctor. "I chaffed him about it a little, and he said he wouldn't dare be seen in it around home. He said he always hired it when he wanted to step out up-town. When I expressed my surprise that you could hire anything so valuable as a fur coat, he said he had a pull with the old clo' man, that they did business together regularly."

"Then our first task must be to find that old clo' man," said Mme. Storey.

IV

My instructions were to find a cheap restaurant or lunchroom along the most frequented part of Bleecker Street, and to get into conversation with the lady cashier. I chose three-thirty as the hour when such places would be least busy. I was disguised as a servant girl on her day out. I found my lunchroom and ordered a piece of mince pie and a cup of coffee for which I had not the least desire.

When I paid my check I lingered beside the cashier's desk with a smile of foolish good-nature.

"I allus eats my lunch late," I said. "You kin take your time and eat comfortable wit'out bein' pushed by the crowd."

The cashier's glance said that she didn't give a damn if I never got any lunch, but I didn't care. I had her penned behind her little counter where she couldn't escape. By degrees I came round to the inevitable "boy-friend." She yawned behind her manicured fingers. I told how my boy-friend was going to take me to a dance at Webster's Hall on Sat'ay night. I described the dress I was going to wear.

"Pink satin with ribbon dangles ending in little pompoms!" she repeated, elevating her plucked eyebrows as much as to say: You would!

"I do hate to wear me old coat goin' in," I said. "If they was on'y some place I could hire a fur coat I wouldn't mind spendin' the money. I don't care what I spend to look good. That's me. My boy-friend, he said he'd hire a coon-skin coat to match me if he knew where to go for it."

"Go to Ikey's at — Sixth Avenue," she said; "they hire fur coats for ladies and gents. It's the on'y place I know of."

"Is zat so?" I said, and talked on for a while. Finally I drifted out followed by a crushing glance from the lady cashier.

I proceeded directly to Ikey's, which is on Sixth Avenue not far from Bleecker Street. Ikey, I learned from Mme. Storey, had long been suspected of being a fence, but the police had never succeeded in getting the goods on him. At any rate he is the friend of every crook in town. He sells more than old clo's. He will outfit you with any kind of a disguise that you require, and is prepared to sew you up on the spot.

Unlike other stores, Ikey puts his worst foot foremost. All the shabbiest and most disreputable garments are on display, while the fancier articles are only brought out upon demand. To the hook-nosed saleslady who approached me (they have them of both sexes) I said:

"Me brutter wants to hire one of them coon-skin coats like college boys wear for an evenin'. Have you got any?"

After consultation with somebody in the rear the saleslady reported: "Yeah, we got them coats for hire, but you'll have to put up a hundred dollars deposit."

"A hundred dollars!" I cried. "He might as well buy him a coat."

"What ja expect?" she asked scornfully. "That ya could walk out with a fur coat for fi' dollars? You git your money back when you bring it in."

"Well, I'll take a look at it," I said.

She presently flung the coat across the counter; quite a luxurious-looking garment. But all that interested me about it was a card tied to the collar bearing mysterious letters and figures. I supposed that this was the record of the times it had been given out and returned, like a library card. All I could read were the final entries. There was a C on each line followed by two dates. I made believe to look the coat over, and even tried it on, but the woman kept the card out of my reach. Finally I said:

"I don't know if me brutter wants to put up a hundred bones on it. Got any utters?"

"That's the on'y coon-skin coat."

"Then show me somepin cheaper. Somepin with an elegant fur collar, like."

To my joy she went away leaving the coat lying on the counter with the card attached. I made haste to examine it. The first entry on the card read: "Chico, — Bleecker," and then the dates presumably when it was given out and returned. All the subsequent entries merely had a C and two dates. Apparently it had never been taken out but by the one person. A great satisfaction filled me when I read the last date that it had been taken out; October 30th. This was the night Tito had taken Dr. Portal for a ride. There could be but little doubt this was the right coat.

Well, I got out of Ikey's with a vague statement that I would "tell me brutter," and hastened back to Bleecker Street. The number I was in search of proved to be just across the street from my lunch-room. There was a shoe store on the street level, and a tenement overhead. In the narrow entry alongside the store there was a row of letter-boxes with names in them, mostly Italian, which suggested nothing to me. "Chico" was a common nickname, and not of very much use in running my man down. As I stood there in uncertainty, a loiterer on the pavement outside said:

"Who ya lookin' fer?"

"Chico," I said at a venture.

"Oh, Chico Cardone," he said. "He boards with Mrs. Mora, top floor."

I climbed the stairs with a heart full of gratitude towards my unwitting helper. Luck was with me today.

The upper floors were still unchanged from Bleecker Street's palmy days when the house had been a private dwelling. That is to say, all the rooms opened directly on the stair hall. I knocked at the principal door on the top floor and it was opened to me a crack by a handsome Italian girl with a sullen expression. On the way up I had evolved a new story.

"Excuse me, dearie," I said in the oily voice of the low-grade book agent, "have you any young men in your family?"

"No," she said, and made as if to slam the door, but I shoved my foot forward and held it open. "Wait a minute, dearie," I said glibly. "I got a publication here no young man can afford to be without..."

"Take your foot away!" she said angrily, and added a good masculine oath. "There's no young men here."

"Excuse me," I said again, "but the name of a Mr. Cardone was give me as a boarder here."

"He just rents the middle room from me mutter," she said, with a jerk of her head towards the next door. "He don't board here. Anyhow he ain't home now."

"Well, I'll come back tonight," I said.

"That won't do you no good," she said with a curious bitterness. "Nights you'll find him at Luigi's café."

With that she aimed a kick at my foot and I hastily withdrew it. The door slammed, and I went downstairs with a light heart. I smiled to myself, thinking of the girl's bitterness. Had Dr. Portal's handsome little blackguard been trifling with her affections, I wondered.

I returned to the office full of the consciousness of work well done.

"Good!" said Mme. Storey when she heard my tale. She called up Benny Abell, who is our principal liaison officer with the underworld; "Benny," she said over the wire, "I want to visit Luigi's café at Number — Bleecker Street tonight. Get busy and find somebody who knows the joint and can take me. I'll disguise myself, of course, so I won't look out of place there. You'd better come along too."

When I was for retiring to the back room to scrub the paint off my face and resume my own clothes, she said: "Why go to all that trouble? With a change of dress you'll do very well for tonight as you are. We can eat here before we start."

V

We met our men at nine o'clock that night in a cheap Italian restaurant near Washington Square, so that we could have a couple of hours in which to familiarise ourselves with the parts that we were to play later. In addition to Benny Abell Mme. Storey had called upon George Stephens, another operative, because the plan she had in mind called for two men in addition to the Italian who was to conduct us to Luigi's.

This case followed soon after the Jacmer Touchon affair during which Mme. Storey had been obliged for purposes of disguise to cut her hair short. Her hair was now about two inches long, and tonight she wore it in a tangle of dark curls all over her head like a tousle-headed boy. It lent her an impudent prettiness that was irresistible. Wherever we went that night men's eyes followed her. She was wearing a smart cheap little red dress and called herself Madge Regan. She has the art of making herself look common without losing anything of her attractiveness.

As for me, I modelled myself upon her so far as I was able. Luckily when she was present I was not obliged to do much talking.

At eleven o'clock the Italian joined us. Benny introduced him simply as Joe. Benny refused to vouch for him beyond a certain point, consequently he was not taken into our confidence. He supposed that we were a party of people from uptown who had disguised ourselves in order to see a little low life.

We went on to Luigi's. It was in the basement of one of the ancient buildings on Bleecker Street that still retained its old-fashioned high stoop. A barber shop occupied the parlour floor, and presumably there was a tenement above. My heart sank at sight of the place. True, I knew that Mme. Storey had taken Inspector Rumsey into her confidence, and that several plain-clothes men were hanging about the neighbourhood ready to aid us if necessary; but what good would they be to us, I asked myself, if they arrived on the scene after we had been shot?

Luigi's was a depressing-looking joint and I felt sorry for those who had to take their pleasure there. There was a long room beside the entrance passage with a row of little tables around it and a narrow space for dancing in the middle. It was absolutely empty. Behind it was a smaller room with a bar where several men were drinking and talking loudly.

The real sanctum sanctorum of Luigi's was in the rear. It was a sordid, dirty little room, evidently part of an extension to the main building. A heavy fog of tobacco smoke filled the air. It was only big enough to hold four tables, of which two were occupied when we entered. A large party of young men pressed around a table in one of the farther corners playing some sort of gambling game with a deal of noisy talk. Beside the door sat three girls with a depressed-looking man who was paying very little attention to them. The girls were evidently employees of the place, but business was poor, and they had fastened to the man merely to keep themselves in countenance.

I could not help looking at them curiously. They started to talk brightly among themselves when we entered, but it was a hollow pretence. What a life! One of them, I was surprised to see, was as fresh and pretty as a schoolgirl, a tiny little thing formed like a fairy, with the pure oval face that painters love to depict. I noticed that she was continually glancing in a sullen fashion at the group of noisy young men. I supposed that she had a sweetheart amongst them, and resented the fact that he preferred to gamble rather than talk to her.

We seated ourselves around the table in the other far corner, that is, next to the gamblers. Presumably our man was amongst them, but we were careful, of course, not to betray any curiosity concerning them. We ordered grappa, the fiery liqueur that is so popular south of Washington Square, and busied ourselves in our own talk. Benny was supposed to be my boy-friend, while the tall Stephens devoted himself to "Madge," as we called her. Joe appeared to be what he in fact was, merely our conductor.

The waiter came and went noiselessly between us and the bar. He was an unnaturally pale and haggard little fellow who looked as if he had never seen the sun. Occasionally a fat Italian entered the room, very flashily dressed and having a big watch chain with a bunch of charms and a diamond flashing on his fat finger. He jingled his charms, exchanged loud witticisms with the players while he gave us all the once-over with his hard glittering eye, and went out again. This, we learned, was the genial proprietor.

As opportunity offered I sized up the card players. Some of them had their backs to us, but as the game progressed they shifted their places from time to time, and in the end I was able to get a look at each one of them. Nearly every man at the table answered in a general way to the description furnished by Dr. Portal. Nineteen or twenty years old; well-dressed in a somewhat flashy style, good-looking in the Italian manner. Handsome, black eyes, and well-oiled black hair.

After eliminating the ill-favoured ones and those who were clearly more than twenty years old, my choice finally narrowed down to a warm-coloured young man who sat with his back against the end wall, while his hard eyes travelled from face to face of the other players. He was certainly the best-looking one at the table; his features had a grace and harmony that would have earned him a good living as an artists' model; moreover, there was that hint of boyish roundness in his cheeks that Dr. Portal had spoken of.

Presently I noticed that it was towards this face that the sullen eyes of the little girl at the next table were so often directed. Was she another victim to his infernal good looks? He paid no attention whatever to her. Finally one of the other players addressed him as "Chico" and he answered. Mme. Storey and I exchanged a fleeting glance.

As soon as we had spotted our man, Mme. Storey began to make play to attract his attention. She did not immediately look at him, but addressed herself rather to Stephens in a drawling, provocative voice that was bound to arouse Chico's notice. Not more than five feet separated their chairs. Chico, hearing that siren voice, looked—and having looked once, looked again. The tousled curls netted his fancy. However successful he may have been with women it was not often that one so beautiful as Mme. Storey could have come his way. He stared. Finally she allowed their glances to cross; she sneered at him lazily. At the implied challenge his eyes began to burn. It was a fascinating game to watch, but so dangerous it fairly made me sick with apprehension.

It was not long before the little girl at the other table perceived what was going on. Her friends addressed her as Tina. She rose quickly, and edging herself close to Chico's chair, stood between him and the charmer at our table. It was a childish and rather piteous manoeuvre; the little thing's face was tormented with jealousy. She put her hand on Chico's shoulder. This proprietary gesture caused the other players at the table to grin, and their grins enraged the conceited Chico.

"Get out of here!" he snarled; and added a coarse oath.

Tina, with a flippant parade of indifference, returned to her former place, and began to talk animatedly to the other girls. But her eyes were tragic. It wrenched one's heart to see it, but of course a poor little may-fly like that could not be allowed to interfere with Mme. Storey's plans. If she got hurt that was her lookout.

Mme. Storey and Chico continued to fence with their insolent glances, each making out to scorn the other. The old, old game. Chico was evidently an adept at it. Finally, according to pre-arrangement, Stephens began to quarrel.

"Turn around!" he said harshly. "You can look at me, see? I didn't bring you here to hand out smiles to another fellow!"

"Aah, what's the matter wit' ya?" retorted the supposed Madge stridently. "You don't own me. My eyes are my own, I guess, and I can do what I want wit' 'em. You ain't so much to look at as I can see."

Stephens subsided into a sullen muttering, and Madge (it is easier under these circumstances for me to refer to her as Madge) smiled at Chico in open defiance. Presently Stephens broke out again, and Benny and I made believe to be trying to soothe him. More drinks were ordered at our table. The card players grinned at Chico. Apparently they were quite accustomed to seeing him as the storm centre when there were women around. Chico went on playing his cards with an air of absolute indifference.

Stephens alternately quarrelled with Madge and ordered up fresh drinks. It was a very pretty bit of character acting that he was giving. It was a common sort of scene in that place and nobody paid much attention. Once Luigi with his hard eyes and his unctuous voice gave us a jocose warning to cut it out. Finally Stephens, making believe to be thoroughly drunk, jumped up.

"Aah, come on home," he snarled. "I'm not gonna stand for this."

My heart beat like a trip-hammer as the critical moment approached. I could scarcely fetch my breath.

"Go home yourself if you don't like it," retorted Madge. "I'm well enough pleased. I'll stay here with Benny and Belle."

Benny and I got up. "No! No!" we said. (All this had been rehearsed beforehand.) "Come on, Madge, let's all go. George is gettin' ugly now. You know what he is. We'll quiet him down outside."

"No!" cried Madge obstinately. "Just because he's turned ugly he's not gonna spoil my fun! You can all go home and be damned to you! I'm stayin'!" And she sent a sidelong smile in Chico's direction.

Stephens appeared to be infuriated by this smile. Seizing Madge by the wrist, he jerked her roughly to her feet. "You come on!" he cried.

She tore herself free. "Lea' me alone!" she yelled. "You ain't got any rights over me!"

In the background Benny and I made soothing noises. "Aw, let her alone, George, and she'll come...Aw, come on, Madge, you see how he is!" And so on.

But Stephens seized her bodily and started dragging her towards the door. Madge fought like a wildcat. Stephens kept her in front of him so that she could not reach his face with her nails. Benny and I made futile attempts to separate them. Behind us play had stopped, and the twelve players watched the struggling couple with cold, mask-like faces. They were not the sort to interfere in what did not concern them.

"Lemme go! Lemme go! or I'll kill ya!" yelled Madge.

He had shoved her almost to the door when suddenly she reached down, snatched a gun out of the top of her stocking, and wrenching herself around, pressed the muzzle to his side. Everybody in the room saw the act. They did not know that gun was loaded only with blanks. There was a deafening report. Stephens released the girl and went staggering back against a table, pressing his hand against his side.

"I'm shot!" he groaned.

Madge stood there in a daze with the smoking gun in her hand. Benny disarmed her without resistance, and dropped the gun in his pocket. He then turned to support the wounded man. He ordered Joe, the Italian who had come with us, to take his other side. Stephens sagged between them in a most realistic way, his hand still pressed over his wound, his head hanging on his breast. I felt the same horror as if it had all been real. The absolute stillness of everybody else in the room was uncanny. Most of the faces bore cynical sneers. It was no business of theirs.

The door banged open and Luigi and his waiters ran in. The fat man was livid and moist with excitement. "Who done it?" he yelled.

"She did! She did!" cried Benny, pointing a shaking forefinger at Madge. "She shot my pal!" And he put his arm lovingly around Stephens' shoulder.

"Get him out of here! Get him out of here before he drops!" yelled Luigi. "My God! I can't have him dyin' on me! This will ruin me if it gets to the police!"

"We'll get him out if you'll call a taxi," growled Benny.

Luigi scampered away to do his bidding, and Benny and Joe slowly followed him out of the room, supporting the fainting man between them. All this happened so quickly that the bystanders had no time to wonder why no blood appeared around the hand that Stephens was pressing to his side. Madge made a move to accompany them, but Benny turned on her violently.

"Get back!" he snarled. "Ain't you done harm enough?"

Presumably they got their cab, for they did not return. Madge and I were left behind. She dropped in a chair and, spreading her arms on the table in front of her, hid her face upon them. I sat down beside her, and put an arm around her shoulders.

"Oh, why did you do it? Why did you do it?" I moaned.

Play started again at the next table as if nothing had happened. At the other table the three girls, with painful sneers in Madge's direction, resumed their low-voiced talk.

In a few moments Luigi came bustling back into the room. "Now, then, girl," he said harshly, "out with ya! Ye're lucky to git off so easy. Never let me catch you in my place again. I don't care who brings ya."

Madge raised a dry-eyed, terror-stricken face. "I dassent...I dassent go out in the street," she said hoarsely. "Benny'll be layin' for me. He took me gun off me. He'll git me for this."

"That's nothin' to me," said Luigi. "Out wit' ya!"

"Oh, I dassent! I dassent!" whispered Madge, glancing around desperately for help.

Chico gave over his hand to the man who was standing next him, and arose with a swagger. "That's all right, Luigi," he said with a lordly indifference, "these ladies are wit' me, see? I'm buyin' for them. What'll you have, girls?"

"You're a fool, Chico," said Luigi, shrugging, "you had oughta leave the women alone. You're like to get plugged yourself for this." However, his scorn was tempered by a grin. Chico was evidently a favourite.

"Thanks for the tip," said Chico insolently. "I know my business."

Little Tina suddenly sprang up, livid and trembling with passion. "You would, would you?" she cried. "With the likes of that! She's a murderess! Put her out! Put her out!"

Everybody turned on Tina. "Yah! are you tryin' to make trouble now?" snarled Luigi. "I don't have to take it from you! Git your things and git, see!" He pointed a stubby forefinger towards the door.

Tina's voice rose shriller and higher, but Luigi bellowed her down. "Git!...Git!...Git!"

The girl suddenly collapsed and stumbled out of the room, weeping tempestuously. There is no justice in such matters. Luigi followed her out.

VI

In obedience to a glance from Madge I moved around to the other side of the table, leaving the place next to her for Chico. We sat down. More grappa was brought to our table, and everything went on just as if there had been no shooting five minutes before. I may say that Madge and I made no pretence of drinking all this stuff. Luigi didn't care, of course, so it was ordered often enough. The full glasses were whisked away from in front of us, and I have no doubt brought back again directly afterwards.

It was very thrilling to find oneself so close to the redoubtable Chico. He was so frankly the preening, strutting male I was almost ashamed to look at him. "Aah! buck up, girl!" he said to Madge with his scornful grin; "you're too good-lookin' a girl to mind a little thing like that! Nobody's gonna do anything to a girl like you!"

However scornful his words might be, there was a dangerous purring quality in his voice whenever he addressed a woman that was—well, weakening! The little wretch was too good-looking, too sure of himself. It wasn't fair. Madge permitted herself to smile wanly in his direction.

"What's yer name?" he demanded. "Me, I'm Chico Cardone."

"Madge Regan," she said.

"And who's she?" he asked, with a contemptuous jerk of the head in my direction.

"Me sister Bella."

"Well, say, they ain't nobody layin' fer Bella outside," he said coolly. "Why can't she beat it home?"

"Nix," said Madge. "Me and Bella allus sticks together."

"Aah," he drawled, at once contemptuous and cajoling, "send her home, go on."

"No," said Madge.

Their hard glances contended for the mastery. In the end it was Madge who faced him out. Chico was inveigled by the touselled head. "Well, drink hearty," he said, lifting his tiny glass. No more was said about sending me home.

Chico, with his insolent narrowed eyes fixed on her face, picked up her hand and fondled it. "Pretty damn quick on the draw aw right," he said grinning. "Me, I like 'em dangerous, meself. They's some kick about a girl that totes a gun. What makes me tired is the kind that blubs all over the place...Just the same when you go out wit' me I'll make sure first-off you ain't got no gun in your stockin' before I git it meself."

Madge pulled her hand away. "I ain't gonna get messed up with you," she said, giving him scorn for scorn.

"Why ain't ya?"

"Too many women runnin' after ya. I don' hafta enter no free-for-all to git a fella."

"Is zat so?" drawled Chico.

"You heard me."

"Nobody ever caught me by runnin' after me. I pick me own."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah!"

It is impossible to convey in words the spirited exchange of glances that passed back and forth. I wondered where Mme. Storey could have learned the technique of Bleecker Street love-making. She was as good as Chico. "You don't exactly hate yerself, do ya?" she asked with arch scorn.

"Why should I?" retorted Chico grinning. "I never lie to a woman."

"No, you don't!"—very sarcastically.

"Sure, I don't. That's what makes 'em sore. They expect a man to lie."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah! But I allus give it to 'em straight." He drew her arm through his, and leaned warmly towards her. "Listen, kid," he murmured thrillingly, "I'm for you, see?...There it is, you can take it or leave it, and I ain't sayin' you're the on'y girl in the world neither."

"Nor are you the on'y fella," she retorted.

Luigi had returned to the room and was watching the couple with a cynical grin. The scene between them was interrupted by the clanging of a gong in the street. Everybody looked at the door uneasily. The haggard little waiter ran in.

"The police," he gasped; "the police..."

A window was thrown up and Chico went over the sill, pulling Madge after him by the hand. Chico never thought of me, but you may be sure I stuck close to them. We dropped on damp flagstones outside, with a high wooden fence looming before us. There was a ladder lying in the yard, which Chico placed against the extension. We scrambled up, and he pulled it after us. We crossed a flat tin roof that crackled underfoot, and went over another window sill into the main house. We found ourselves in a bedroom. There were actually two people lying in the bed. One rose up as we crossed the room, but Chico said: "'S'all right, Mike;" and he lay down again. It was like a crazy dream.

Gaining the main hall of the house, we went up three more flights of stairs, and up another ladder. Chico pushed open a scuttle, and once more we found ourselves under the sky. Chico carefully closed the scuttle. I had a momentary impression of peaceful still beauty high above the confusion of the town. The sky threatened rain, and the low-hanging clouds reflected the street lights with a delicate pinkish radiance.

Chico ran over the roofs pulling Madge after him, and I close at their heels. We climbed over the low parapets that separated the houses. The noises of the street came up to us slightly muffled. I counted the houses we crossed. On the fourth house Chico dropped to his knees beside a little skylight in the roof, and lifted it.

"This is me own room," he said. "We'll be as safe here as in church."

He dropped out of sight into the black hole, and presently his voice came back: "Wait till I shove a table under, and then let yourself down easy." And a moment later: "Now!"

I had a moment of horrible panic when Mme. Storey dropped into the blackness, thinking she might be spirited away from me. But when I let myself down, I found the table under my feet, and Chico's hand to guide me. He steered me to a bed.

"Sit there," he said. "I gotta close the shutter before I light up."

Mme. Storey was beside me. I was trembling like an aspen leaf, and she pressed my hand to reassure me. By a little catch of laughter in her breath I knew she was enjoying every moment. Well, that is her way. It made me a little sore at the time, because my nerves were in strings.

The light flashed on, and I beheld a sordid little inside room with only the skylight overhead to admit light and air. It was closely shuttered now. The place was clean enough, but utterly cheerless; the sagging iron bed on which we sat, the rickety pine table; a cheap bureau marked all around the edge with the burns of innumerable cigarette butts; and two broken chairs. The only humane touch in the room was a photograph stuck in the glass on the bureau. Curiously enough it was not of a woman, but a handsome Italian boy, thirteen or fourteen years old.

Chico stood before us grinning. "Well, here we are!" he said. "On'y I wish to God Bella was home and in bed."

Madge now assumed a sullen and rather scared look. "If she wasn't here I wouldn't stay," she muttered.

"Would you sooner run out into the arms of the cops?" asked Chico teasingly.

"Yes, I would," she muttered. "When can I get out of here?"

"I don't care if you never go," said Chico ardently.

Now that we had separated him from the gang, Chico showed us a new aspect of his character. He was not on parade now. There was no necessity for him to play the part of the swaggering little bravo, who felt nothing and cared for nothing. Now that he had us practically at his mercy, something perilously like decency and kindness appeared in his hard face. I gradually lost my fear of him.

"Aw, I ain't a gorilla," he said cajolingly to Madge. "I ain't a gonna bite ya. What ya scared of, kid? You was game enough when the utter fella got ugly."

Gradually Madge allowed herself to be won back to a smile. In his room, however, her manner was entirely different from what it had been in the café. There were no more scornful challenges from her dark eyes. She was friendly and gentle as if she trusted him—and Chico responded to it. Nobody is completely bad, of course. He talked to her like any simple fellow to his girl.

Chico poured out the story of his life and adventures as if it was relief to unburden himself. It was a lurid tale. He was mum as to the particular incident in which we were interested. He still boasted, of course, but there was a simplicity about his recital that disarmed one. The poor lad's moral values were hopelessly confused: he boasted of his crimes, and apologised for his better impulses.

Madge took advantage of a lull in his talk to ask: "Who's that a pitcher of in your bureau?"

Chico sprang up and fetched it to the bed. "That's me kid brutter, Tony," he said eagerly. "Ain't he a swell-lookin' kid?" The question unlocked the last stronghold of Chico's guarded breast. There was something almost piteous in his eager fondness. "Say, I cert'ny am foolish about that kid," he went on. "Have to keep it dark around the fellas or they sure would razz me...There's on'y the two of us, him and me. Our folks is all dead, and I'm raisin' the kid, see? I mean, I'm payin' for his raisin'. I got him in the Paulist Fathers' school up-town. Damn good school, too. The sons of judges and doctors and politicians and all kinds of high-ups go there, and my Tony's as good as the best of them!"

"The sons of doctors and lawyers and all!" exclaimed Madge as if amazed.

"Sure, I know you'll t'ink I'm a fool," said Chico shamefacedly, "but that kid's gotta have the best education money kin buy. None of the rough stuff for him; none of what I went troo. Me, I got my education in the prisons. He don't know where the money comes from that pays his bills. He thinks I'm a travellin' man. Gee! it would raise a stink up in that school if they ever found out, eh? But I'll take care of that. The on'y thing that bothers me is, suppose I was to get mine sudden. Suppose I stopped a bullet or got sent up for a long stretch. I tell ya that shakes me nerve. What would happen to the kid if I kicked out?"

"Maybe the fathers would keep him just the same," suggested Madge.

"Maybe," said Chico frowning, "but I wouldn't want him to be a charity pupil. He has his pocket-money with the rest of them, and belongs to the swell clubs. He's on the basket-ball team—the junior team—and he plays football too. He's gonna be a regular husky when he gits his growt'. Bigger'n me. Sometimes I go up to watch their games, but he don't know I'm there."

"Don't you ever see him?" asked Madge in surprise.

"Sure, I go up there sometimes," said Chico uncomfortably, "but it's a kind of a strain to hafta talk to the priests and all. I'm afraid of givin' the snap away. So mostly I make out I'm travellin'. I took him to the movies once or twict on a Sat'day aft-noon, but hell! you never know what yer gonna see in them movies. They puts ideas in a young kid's head."

"Ain't it the troot!" murmured Madge, entering fully into sympathy with his story.

"I feel just like a fat'er to that kid," said Chico with an attractive, shamefaced laugh. "Ain't it hell to be a fat'er! Allus worryin' about him, how to keep him from learnin' bad and all; allus thinkin' he's gonna get one of these diseases that kids get."

"Like infantile paralysis," suggested Madge softly.

"Oh, God! that's the worst," said Chico. "Fair puts me in a sweat just to think of it. And they say there's an epidemic comin' on."

"I read in the papiss how there was a doctor guy gonna wipe out infantile paralysis," said Madge. "At the Terwilliger Institoot."

Chico made no answer.

"Did you read that?" she asked.

"No. I didn't read it," he said slowly. "But I know that doctor guy; Dr. Felix Portal."

"Sure, that was the name," said Madge; "you know him?"

There was another pause, then Chico said impulsively: "Say, if you'n me's gonna be pals I'll tell you this." Apparently he looked around at me here. "Do you t'ink Bella's asleep?" he asked apprehensively.

"Sure, she'll sleep wherever you put her down," said Madge.

"Listen," said Chico lowering his voice—and you can imagine how I stretched my ears for what was coming; "there was a fella hired me to take Dr. Portal for a ride."

"What!" cried Madge.

"Yeah, and I took him, too. Way to hell and gone up in Westchester County. And I had me gun in me hand ready to smoke him, and I couldn't do it."

"Why?"

"Because he was talkin' about this now, infantile paralysis, and how he was gonna save all the kids from it, and I happened to t'ink about my Tony, and I couldn't do it. I put the rod in me pocket and I drove the old man home. And I ain't never regretted it neither, though it cost me a grand."

"But what fellow would want to bump him off?" asked Madge.

Chico turned wary again. "I'm not tellin' that," he said shortly.

"But there was some trouble up there," said Madge. "Anot'er doctor guy was shot. I read it in the papiss. Don't re'clect his name. Was you in that too?"

"Aah, you wanta know too much fer yer own good," said Chico, wary, but perfectly good-tempered.

"I don't want to pry into yer secrets," said Madge with an offended air, "on'y it seems funny why anybody would want to go after two doctor guys who was on'y workin' to save the kids."

"Yeah, and it is funny too, if the troot was known."

That was as far as she could get him. Mme. Storey let the talk drift away to other matters. Before she could bring it back we were startled by hearing a slight, peculiar tap on the door. Madge and I sprang up in alarm.

"'S'all right," said Chico soothingly. "That's the knock of a friend." Going to the door, he opened it an inch or two. Madge and I were out of the range of vision of whoever stood outside. "What's the matter?" asked Chico. "Must be near four o'clock."

"Well, you ain't in bed yet," responded the voice of an angry woman. "Who you got in here? I'm gonna see!"

She pushed past Chico and I saw the handsome, buxom Italian girl who had opened the door to me that afternoon. My heart sank like a stone. The worst of it was, I was sitting up on the bed, staring directly at her. It was too late then to lie down and make believe to be sleeping. My only hope of escaping recognition lay in the fact that it had been pretty dark in the stair hall that afternoon.

"Two of 'em!" she cried furiously. "Two of 'em! Here's a nice thing! Bringin' 'em in here right next to me mutter's room! You got no shame at all!"

Chico was much more respectful towards this girl. I suppose she had some sort of hold over him. "Now Ria, now Ria," he said placatingly, "you get this wrong! I never seen these ladies before tonight."

"The more shame to you!" she cried, "bringin' 'em here! Huh! Ladies! Don't make me laugh!"

"You can see for yerself there's nothin' wrong," protested Chico. "We was just sittin' talkin', like."

"Yeah, and you was tellin' 'em all you knew, eh? I could hear you talkin' through the wall!"

"I just brought 'em in here to get 'em out of the way of the police," said Chico.

"That's a likely story! Maybe they're police spies theirselves!"

It was only the random shot of a jealous woman, but it made my blood run cold. She came closer to the bed, peering into our faces. "I thought so!" she cried in shrill triumph. "They are spies! Anyhow, the red-headed one is," pointing to me.

Our backs were against the wall then. "It's a lie!" cried Mme. Storey. "It's a lie!" I echoed. "You're crazy!" muttered Chico.

"Crazy, am I?" sneered the Italian. "She come to the door this afternoon lookin' for ya. Made out to be a book agent. 'Mr. Cardone's name was give me,' says she so nice. Yah! Well, I didn't suspect nothin', and I told her she'd find you at Luigi's speakeasy tonight. She did find you there, didn't she? And now you've told her everythin' you know!"

Who could ever have foreseen this? It was just a rotten piece of luck. Chico backed away from the bed, his face turning pale and hard. His hand went slowly to his hip, and reappeared grasping an ugly little automatic. I closed my eyes, thinking our last moment had come.

"Oh, spare her! spare her!" I moaned.

"Be quiet, Bella," commanded my employer.

The Italian girl cried out too. "Chico, no! no!"

He had become the hard and self-controlled little gunman again. "Shut your noise," he growled out of the corner of his mouth. "I'm not gonna croak them...Call your dad."

The girl stuck her head out of the door and called tremulously: "Padre! Padre!"

Chico and Mme. Storey measured their steely glances against each other. "I thought you was on the square wit' me," sneered Chico. "You fooled me nice, didn't ya? I gotta hand it to ya."

"I shall be on the square with you," she answered. "You'll see it yet."

"Yeah? You're no Bleecker Street girl. I can see it in your eye. You've got the look of one of the high-ups."

A burly Italian shuffled into the room clad in slippers, pants and shirt, with his suspenders hanging. He too had a gun in his hand. I was sick with terror. "What's the matter, kid?" he growled.

"Ria says them two women are police spies," said Chico. "Maybe they are and maybe they ain't. I ain't takin' no chances. Keep them here while I make a getaway, that's all. Give me ten minutes and then let 'em go, see? Let 'em go and be damned to 'em!"

Chico thrust the photograph in his breast pocket and snatched up his cap. He had had this cap during our flight over the roofs.

"Where's your overcoat?" asked Ria.

"Left it at Luigi's. Get it tomorrow, will ya?" Without another glance in our direction, he made for the door.

The tears were rolling down Ria's round cheeks. "Oh, Chico mio," she mourned.

He paused only long enough to jerk up her chin with his forefinger and print a kiss on her lips. There was something infinitely savage and graceful in the gesture. He sped downstairs. Ria wept unrestrainedly. Mme. Storey's face was like a mask. I was surprised to see her take his escape so calmly, but I was not familiar with all the details of the arrangements she had made in advance.

Chico's footsteps died away as he descended through the house. Then suddenly far below we heard the sounds of a scuffle followed by a heavy fall. After a moment a voice, not Chico's, cried exultantly: "I have him!" A breath of relief escaped Mme. Storey.

The other Italian's face turned black with rage. "By God! they've got him!" he cried. "But I've got you!" And he raised the gun.

Once more Mme. Storey and I looked straight into the face of death. She never flinched. Ria flung herself on her father. "No! No!" she cried. "The police are downstairs. They'll send you to the chair for it! These women are nothing to us!"

While they were still struggling there was a crash overhead. The shutter under the skylight swung down, and a man dropped into the room, landing on his feet like a cat. Another followed. Both were armed. The first was George Stephens, the second, one of Inspector Rumsey's plain-clothes men. In a trice they had the Italian covered, and forced him to drop his gun.

And so we were saved. In the powerful reaction that overcame me, all my strength seemed to desert me for a moment. I dropped on the edge of the bed. Mme. Storey said:

"Give me a cigarette, George."

"Where's Chico?" asked Stephens.

"They have him safe downstairs."

He jerked his head towards the scowling Italian and his daughter. "Shall we take these two along?"

"No," said Mme. Storey, "they are guilty of nothing except standing by a friend."

"But he pulled a gun," objected the plain-clothes man. "I've got to take him up for that."

"It was my gun," said Mme. Storey quickly. "He took it from me."

The gun was returned to her. "Come on," said Stephens; and we filed out of the room. Mme. Storey was the last to go. She slipped the gun to the Italian, whispering: "Take out a permit for it, and you'll have nothing to fear." He stared at her in dumb amazement. Such magnanimity, I suppose, was absolutely unheard of in his world.

VII

Chico was lodged in the Tombs. After a couple of hours' sleep Mme. Storey and I were again hard at work on the case. Events followed fast that morning. Acting upon a suggestion of Mme. Storey's, the police were searching the sewer catch basins in the immediate vicinity of the Institute and in one of them was found an automatic pistol of the latest Rives and Jackson model, 38 calibre, from which one shot had been fired, and also a slightly flattened bullet. The bullet exactly fitted the hole in the plaster of Dr. McComb's office.

Steps were immediately taken to trace the sale of the pistol by means of the manufacturer's number, and in the meantime I was sent up-town to secure some photographs of Dr. McComb if that were possible, and also to run down Amadeo Corioli, the night watchman at the Institute, and invite him to visit Mme. Storey's office. A policeman accompanied me upon the latter errand, but as it happened, Corioli came quite willingly. His air of innocence was almost too childlike. In taking these measures Mme. Storey, you will perceive, was following a theory that she had formulated in advance.

By the time I got back to the office it had already been established that the gun in question had been sold on October 28th, to a well-dressed, heavy-built man about forty years old; red-faced and wearing glasses; had the look of a professional man. When photographs of Dr. McComb were shown the clerk, he positively identified him as the purchaser. McComb had been shot with his own gun.

The final links were forged by the testimony of little Tina, the girl who had been so rudely ejected from Luigi's. The police rounded her up and brought her to our office shortly before noon. Corioli, meanwhile, was being detained in our back room. Still wearing her bedraggled party dress, her make-up ruined by tears, and almost paralysed with terror, Tina was indeed a pitiable little object. Mme. Storey applied herself to soothing her fears. It was a long time before she could persuade Tina that she was not accused of anything herself, but was merely wanted as a witness.

"We know," said Mme. Storey, "that Chico Cardone shot a man called Dr. McComb on the night of November 9th."

This was news to me, and I strongly doubted if my employer was sure of it yet either. It is frequently necessary, of course, to take this attitude in dealing with a witness.

"I don't know nottin' about it!" cried Tina. "I swear before God I don't know nottin'!"

"You are not suspected of knowing anything about it," Mme. Storey patiently explained. "I just want you to answer a few questions referring to circumstances that led up to it."

"I don't know nottin' about it," wailed Tina.

"You wouldn't want to see Chico go to the chair, would you?"

This was answered by a mute shake of the head amidst a fresh flood of tears.

"Then if you help me to prove that someone was behind him in this killing, that somebody put him up to it, he will get off easier."

At this point Corioli was introduced into the room.

"Have you ever seen this man before?" asked Mme. Storey.

Corioli scowled a mute threat at the girl, but she answered truthfully. "Yes, I see him. He come to Luigi's sometime. Ev'body at Luigi's know him."

"Did he ever bring a stranger to Luigi's?"

"Yes. One time he bring a man from up-town."

"What sort of looking man?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Big man," said Tina; "red face; wear glasses. Look lika politician."

"Look at these," said Mme. Storey, calling the girl's attention to the photographs of Dr. McComb spread upon her desk. "Did you ever see this man?"

"Sure," said Tina with rising excitement; "that is the up-town guy Amadeo bring to Luigi's. You know t'at? How you know t'at?"

"When was this?" asked Mme. Storey.

Tina shrugged. "How can I tell? It was before election, because I t'ink he was politician."

"Long before election?"

The girl shook her head. "Jus' two, t'ree days."

"See if you can't fix the exact night in your mind," said Mme. Storey persuasively.

Tina shook her head helplessly. However, after thinking it over for a moment or two, she suddenly said: "It was Wednesday night. I know that because the next night there was an orchester. Luigi hires an orchester Thursday nights."

"The Wednesday before election," said Mme. Storey turning back the pages of her desk calendar; "that was October 27th. Good! Now we are making progress...What happened on this Wednesday night?"

"Amadeo Corioli, he call Chico over," said Tina. "Introduce him to the up-town guy. They talk quiet. By and by Amadeo go away an' the up-town fella and Chico they talk long time so quiet. I know they fixin' up some job toget'er. Afterwards I ask Chico what he want but Chico on'y laugh...The nex' night he come again..."

"So he came again the next night?" repeated Mme. Storey.

"Yes. That was the orchester night. I wouldn't dance because I scare for Chico. I watch them two. They not talk so long this night. I see the up-town guy slip Chico little box under the table and Chico put it in his pocket. When the uptown feller go home, Chico go in wash-room. After he come out I find the little box empty on the wash-room floor, and the paper and string..."

"Was there anything written on the box? any label?" asked Mme. Storey eagerly.

"There was a label say: 'One Rives and Jackson automatic pistol, 38 calibre.'"

"This was on the night of October 28th," said Mme. Storey in high satisfaction, "and we already know that Dr. McComb had bought the gun that afternoon. On the following day Chico scraped acquaintance with Dr. Portal. Our case is complete!"

I was far from seeing it myself at that moment. When the witnesses had been taken away and my employer and I were alone, I said helplessly: "I can't understand it! It seems that Dr. McComb himself handed the gun to Chico with which Chico shot him ten days later!"

Mme. Storey was in a deep study. "Think it over," she said with a provoking smile. "...The problem that confronts me is, what to do with Chico?"

As a result of her deliberations she finally called up the District Attorney, also Inspector Rumsey and Dr. Portal, and arranged for us all to meet at the Institute after lunch, and for the Inspector to bring Chico. The District Attorney at this time was Frank Everard, a first-class man, and one with whom we maintained excellent relations.

And so the last scene of all took place in the bare little laboratory office with Dr. Portal, all in white, presiding over it like a disembodied face. From time to time I saw him glancing wistfully at Chico, and I suppose he still felt a sneaking fondness for the lad. And I confess I did myself. At this moment my heart was heavy for the little gunman. Chico, of course, had resumed his hard, professional air. His face was like a mask.

Mme. Storey said: "Dr. Portal, I promised I would not trouble you again until I had found the man who shot Edgar McComb...Well, there he is."

"I'm sorry...I'm sorry," murmured Dr. Portal commiseratingly. "Why did he do it?"

"Why did you do it, Chico?" asked Mme. Storey.

"I ain't sayin' I done it," replied Chico with a hardy swagger. "I ain't sayin' nottin' a tall."

"Well, I'll tell you why he did it," said Mme. Storey gravely. "McComb had hired him to shoot Dr. Portal."

We all exclaimed in astonishment. "Oh, good God!...no!" gasped the horrified Dr. Portal.

"When he saw that the poliomyelitis serum was going to be a success McComb wished to reap the full glory," she went on relentlessly. "He foresaw that it would be one of the great accomplishments of science that would make its discoverer forever famous."

"What saved Dr. Portal?" asked the District Attorney.

"At the moment that Chico had his gun in his hand Dr. Portal saved himself by speaking of what he was about to do for the children. As it happens, Chico has a young brother who is the dearest thing on earth to him."

Chico suddenly lowered his head. The poor lad could not bear to have us see the softness that overcame him at the mention of Tony.

"I suppose Chico brooded upon it afterwards," Mme. Storey went on. "It occurred to him that McComb could easily find another instrument to carry out his will. He shot McComb to save Portal...I'm not saying that his reasoning was very good, but anyhow, that is what happened."

"Strange are the workings of the human heart!" murmured Dr. Portal. The rest of us were silent in amazement.

"I called you gentlemen together to put it up to you what is to be done with Chico?" Mme. Storey went on. "He killed the man, and ordinarily it would be our duty to let justice take its course with him. But it seems to me that this is a case where justice would not be justice. How can we punish him for acting upon what was a generous impulse, however misguided? And how can we let him bear the brunt when the real instigator of this crime—I refer to Mrs. McComb—cannot be reached by the law? What do you say, Mr. District Attorney?"

Mr. Everard did not answer immediately. He looked very uncomfortable. Dr. Portal broke the silence by saying in his quiet, deliberate way:

"I have a solution to propose."

Everybody looked at him. Chico forgot his unnatural self-control, and gazed at him with the wild hope of any lad in the shadow of the electric chair.

"I need a human subject in my experiments," said Dr. Portal. "If Chico is willing..."

"What does the District Attorney say?" asked Mme. Storey quickly.

Everard's face cleared. "I say that if Chico volunteers this," he replied unhesitatingly, "I will not undertake a prosecution."

"Then, Chico, it is up to you," she said with a curious gentleness.

"I...I don't get it," he said hoarsely.

"Listen, Chico," said Dr. Portal rising. There was something magnificent about the little man at that moment; the disembodied face was pure intelligence. "I propose to make you sick with this disease that you know about, poliomyelitis or infantile paralysis, and then I propose to cure you with my new remedy. I believe that I can cure you, or I would not propose the experiment, but there is a certain risk, of course, because it has not been tried before on a human being."

Chico's lips were parted. He was breathing hoarsely. "And...and if it works," he stammered, "then you can give it to all the kids that gets sick?"

"That is the idea."

"But...but my kid!" cried the poor lad; "suppose it don't work? Suppose I kick out, or ain't able to do nottin' no more? What will happen to Tony?"

"Oh, let me take that on myself," said Dr. Portal, deeply moved; "let me bring him up as if he were my own son."

"I'd like to share in that," said Mme. Storey quickly.

"And I," murmured the District Attorney.

Chico stiffened his back, and endeavoured to call back the old swagger. "All right, Doc, I'm on!" he said flippantly. "But make it snappy, Doc. Don't let me be t'inkin' about it too long."

"Now's as good a time as any," said Dr. Portal. "Come on upstairs."


VII. — IT NEVER GOT INTO THE PAPERS

First published in Argosy All-Story Weekly, March 24, 1928
Reprinted in The Almost Perfect Murder, 1933

Cover Image

Argosy All-Story Weekly, March 24, 1928, with "It Never Got Into the Papers"



I

Commodore Varick died very suddenly about half-past five in the afternoon. The cause of death was given as heart failure induced by a violent attack of gastritis. The news caused a great shock because the Commodore was looked upon as a man in the very prime of life. As a matter of fact, he was fifty-five, but so brisk, well-preserved and straight-backed a little man as to seem years younger. He used to drive on the Avenue in his open automobile, sitting up on the back seat with a haughty stare just like royalty, with his bodyguard sitting in front.

I received my first news of the affair from Mme. Storey when she came into the office the following morning. The Varicks were friends of hers. Tossing a newspaper on my desk, she said:

"Poor Bill Varick is gone. Shockingly sudden. I dined there two nights ago."

She went on into her room and I read the paper. It had spread itself on the event, of course, for Commodore Varick was more than a mere individual, he was an institution. There was a three column head on the first page, and a half page obituary inside, reciting the Commodore's life story, and the history of his family. He was the fourth William Henry Varick of his line, and his name was woven into the very texture of the annals of New York if not of all America. In fact, all over the world, Varick has become a synonym for the American millionaire.

The third William Henry left a number of sons and daughters, consequently the fourth William Henry, he whose obituary I was reading, did not inherit his entire fortune. But he was the head of the clan, and still an enormously rich man. This one's accomplishments had been mostly in the social line. He married an ambitious woman, and New York soon became too small for them.

The title of Commodore had been bestowed on him by our most important yacht club. His yacht Manahatta, a dream of luxury, was a familiar sight in the harbours of the old world. Before the war he had entertained the King of England on board; besides King Leopold of Belgium and a host of lesser potentates. And, of course, he was always in the forefront when royalty visited our shores. The Princess Cristina von Habsburg was staying at his house at the moment of his death. The mere recital of his clubs filled a long paragraph, and all in all the newspaper did not exaggerate in terming him "our first private citizen."

And now he was dead after half an hour's illness, and his mantle had fallen on the muscular shoulders of that delightful scapegrace, William Henry Varick fifth, better known as Hank Varick. In the newspapers of late, the fame of the Commodore himself had been overshadowed by the escapades of his son. I did not suppose that he was any worse than other young men, nor did I believe more than half I read about him. He was a sort of crown prince, and his slightest actions were, therefore, front page stuff.

Apparently the reporters followed him all around the country on the chance of picking up copy. The stories were of the usual sort where youth, irresponsibility and wealth are in conjunction. He was handicapped by being an only child. At this time I had never seen him, but his oft published photographs depicted a handsome, stalwart, laughing young fellow. All the gifts of the gods were his.

I was still reading the newspaper when Inspector Rumsey entered my office. Rumsey had an admirable command of his features, but at this moment he was plainly disconcerted. It startled me. "What's the matter?" I asked.

"A bad business," he said curtly. He nodded towards the next room. "Is she down yet?"

"Yes," I said. "Go right in."

"You'd better come in, too," he said. "She'll want you to hear this."

I locked the outer door to guard against interruptions, and followed him full of trepidation. I had never seen the matter-of-fact Inspector so upset, and it had the effect of a convulsion of nature.

In the long room Mme. Storey, clad in one of the clinging Fortuny robes that become her so well, was lounging with her elbows on the big Italian table, a negligent cigarette in one hand, and in the other a lump of sugar that she was holding up for Giannino the ape to nibble at. At sight of our good friend's face, she straightened up and let Giannino have the lump of sugar. "What is wrong?" she asked.

"I'm in the deuce of a hole!" he said in a voice of extreme bitterness. "I'm a poor man, but I would give a thousand dollars to be away on my vacation this minute!"

"Can I help?" she asked.

"If you won't, nobody can," he said laconically.

From his inside breast pocket he took an envelope and handed it to her. I was looking over her shoulder. It was a cheap commercial envelope of the sort that is sold by the million. It had come through the mail. It was addressed in block letters very painstakingly formed:

INSPECTOR RUMSEY
POLICE HEADQUARTERS
CITY

Inside there was a little slip of white paper on which was lettered in the same manner:

COMMODORE VARICK WAS POISONED

None of us spoke. For the space of thirty seconds or so the room was so still you could hear Giannino's little teeth nibbling at the sugar. The possibilities that loomed ahead of us were truly dreadful.

Then the Inspector broke out: "There may be nothing in it. Very likely it's the work of the sort of crank that such an occasion always brings to light."

"Yet, you've got to take notice of it," Mme. Storey put in quietly.

"Sure," he cried, "that's the damnable part of it! There may be something in it. And if it should come out later that I had been warned, and had taken no action, I'd be ruined."

"What are you going to do?" she asked.

"What am I going to do?" he echoed. "Push in amongst the cardinals and bishops and governors and senators who are leaving their cards at the house this morning, and demand that an autopsy be performed?"

"It is a bad business," murmured Mme. Storey.

"The reporters are there," he went on, "and even my appearance at the house at such time would be enough to start an ugly scandal. Or anybody connected with the department that I might send. And suppose I get my autopsy, and everything proves to be all right, the scandal will go on just the same. The public will never believe but that Commodore Varick was poisoned, and that we were all engaged in a conspiracy to hush it up. A nice figure I would cut!"

"I see what you're getting at, Inspector," said my employer with a very dry smile.

"You're a friend of Mrs. Varick's," he said cajolingly. "You could go to the house to leave your condolences without exciting any remark. I suppose you would be going there anyway this morning."

She nodded.

"Show her this communication privately," he went on, "and tell her from me that I am very reluctantly forced to insist on an autopsy. I'll send doctors not known to be connected with the department to the house at any hour she sets. It can be performed in perfect secrecy, and if everything proves to be all right, as I am sure it will, no whisper of it need ever reach the press."

Mme. Storey arose and took a turn down the room. Her brows were knitted. "Really, Inspector, this is a bit thick!" she said. "You find yourself in a hole, and you're attempting to climb out on my shoulders! I think a lot of you, my friend, but..."

"Oh, leave me out of it," he said earnestly. "I'm not thinking of myself so much as of the Varick family. I hate the idea of starting an unnecessary scandal at their expense. And with death in the house at that. Why, the reputation of a grand old family like that is like a work of art that cannot be replaced. I don't want to have a hand in defacing it. It's the property of the public, so to speak, and you and I are servants of the public, aren't we?"

Mme. Storey smiled at his ingenious sophistry. While he was speaking she had made up her mind for quite different reasons. "Since you put it that way I can't very well refuse," she said ironically. "I will go. It is necessary to act quickly. I will change my dress. You will come with me, Bella."

II

The Varick house was a great palace of Vermont marble occupying a frontage of half a block on the Avenue, facing the Park. It was one of the older houses of that neighbourhood, and was already at this time becoming hemmed in by hotels and apartment houses; but it had been rebuilt and modernised on several occasions, and was still among the two or three most imposing dwellings in town. There was a grand effect in its severity and plainness that the French châteaux and Italian palazzi strive for in vain.

We drove up in a taxicab which looked rather undignified amidst the long line of elegant private cars crawling up to the front door through the side street. But Mme. Storey cared nothing about that. The arrangements at the house were perfect, of course. There was a footman on the sidewalk to open the door of our car, another to open the great steel grille lined with plate glass, a third to receive our cards and to separate the sheep from the goats, and still others to usher us the way we should go. Back of them all stood the majestic figure of Jarboe, the Varick butler, overseeing all. All the men servants were dressed in black morning coats.

This ceremony was taking place in a superb marble hall that ran right through the centre of the building flanked by a double row of antique marble pillars, and ending in a great bay filled with gigantic tropical ferns. In the centre of the hall was a little fountain of porphyry, and a great shallow stairway with a wrought steel balustrade swept up at the right. Among the visitors the merely great left their cards and went out again, but the very great were ushered into the state drawing-room at the left to be received by Mr. Varick's brother, while members of the family connection were ushered into a more intimate room on the right.

We hardly belonged to any of these categories but Mme. Storey caught the eye of Mr. Jarboe who came directly to us, a signal honour. To him she whispered her request to be allowed to see Mrs. Varick.

"Mrs. Varick is seeing nobody," he answered with a slightly shocked air.

"May I send her a message?"

"Certainly, Madame."

She scribbled a few words on her card, and handed it to him. She asked if we might wait in a place where we would see nobody, and we were therefore shown into a soberly furnished office behind a masked door.

Presently a footman came to say that Mrs. Varick would see Madame Storey, and led us, not up the great stairway, but into a little elevator hidden in the wall, where no one saw us enter. We alighted in another noble hall panelled in oak, and lighted by a great dome of Tiffany glass. There were a dozen doors all around, and I wondered mightily what was behind them all. Our conductor opened one of them, and we found ourselves in a foyer with more doors. The interior of that house was like a maze, and I wondered if the occupants ever got lost in it.

The footman opened another door, and we found ourselves in Mrs. Varick's boudoir. I had merely the impression of an amber effect, luxurious and flattering to the complexion. The mistress of it all was seated in a chaise longue holding a cigarette between fingers that trembled slightly. She was most beautifully dressed, not all in black; black and white. I remember it struck me as strange that she should be wearing a hat. Later I learned that she never appeared in the daytime without one. It was a lovely French hat partly shadowing her face, and the whole effect was of some rare and exquisite orchid—a little withered. Servants were continually coming and going, and she was issuing instructions with a forced air of calmness very painful to see.

While Mme. Storey approached her, I remained standing near the door. Thus I was out of earshot, but I could follow all that occurred with my eyes. Mrs. Varick was surprised to see my employer at such a time, and more than a little inclined to resent my presence. Mme. Storey hated what she had to do—I could tell it from her stony expression, but went about it directly and simply. Finally she drew the fateful slip of paper from its envelope, and showed it to Mrs. Varick.

When the widow read the words upon it, she forgot that she was a great lady. A little strangled cry escaped her, and she clapped the back of her hand to her mouth, that piteous gesture common to all women. Several of the women in the room ran to her side, but she waved them back.

"Leave me! Leave me!" she said sharply. "...All except you!" She clung to a slender blonde girl in black. This, I presently learned was her personal secretary, Estelle Gilsey. "Look! Estelle, look!" she whispered, showing the slip.

The girl cried out strangely, seemed about to faint. This, I remember, struck me as rather excessive in one who was merely a paid employee.

I drew a little closer to the group. To Mme. Storey, I heard Mrs. Varick say in a strained voice: "But this is probably the work of some mischief-maker, some insane person!"

"That is what we think," said my employer.

"Then why torment me with such a suggestion?"

Mme. Storey patiently explained the situation.

"Oh, why isn't Henry here!" mourned Mrs. Varick. She referred to her son. It appeared that nobody knew where he was. They were telegraphing all over the country for him.

Mrs. Varick angrily repudiated the suggestion of an autopsy, and my employer with the greatest gentleness and patience undertook to show her that she had no choice in the matter, that even the great Mrs. Varick was amenable to the commands of the law, and that we were all working to save her feelings, and the feelings of the family so far as it might be done. Finally, with a flood of tears she gave in. The tears relieved her, I think. The secretary did not cry; throughout all that followed, white-faced and stunned, she was a more tragic figure than the widow.

Mrs. Varick clung to my employer's hand now. "Rosika, you manage everything," she said imploringly. "You are so wonderfully capable! There is nobody else I can trust. Oh, keep it out of the newspapers! And above all, don't let my husband's family know!"

"I will do my best," said Mme. Storey gravely.

In two minutes she had Inspector Rumsey on the wire, and within a quarter of an hour, the three doctors appointed by the police department had been admitted to the house by a rear door. They were all men of discretion, and in order to guard against possible leakages, they had volunteered to conduct the autopsy entirely by themselves without the usual assistants. The body of Mr. Varick was still lying in his bedroom, and there they operated. No one else was permitted in the room. The servants, I think, must have suspected what was going on, but they were wonderfully loyal. No whisper of it was ever revealed.

During the dreadful period of suspense that followed, Mme. Storey and I remained in the boudoir with Mrs. Varick and Miss Gilsey. My employer having explained who I was, Mrs. Varick no longer resented my presence. She lit one cigarette after another in her trembling hands, and tossed them away after a puff or two. I do not remember that a single word was exchanged. I spent the time looking at Miss Gilsey who was very beautiful, and who seemed to be of a gentle and open nature; but she was like one who had received a blow on the head, not quite all there. I wondered at it.

At length Dr. Pulford the senior of the three physicians, came in. His face was like a mask, revealing nothing. He said in measured tones:

"I regret to have to inform you that Commodore Varick met his death as a result of having taken poison through the mouth. It was one of the alkaloids, probably aconite, which is the most powerful of the alkaloids, but it will require an analysis to determine that for certain."

With a sigh like an infant, Mrs. Varick fell over sideways into the arms of her secretary. The girl's face was like death.

III

Dr. Pulford brought Mrs. Varick around by simple measures. The poor woman then went off into a helpless, shaken weeping, very affecting to see. But notwithstanding her high position, her air of authority, she was a shallow woman. Her husband's untimely end did not distress her so much as the threatened family disgrace. The girl, Estelle Gilsey, who never made a sound, took it much harder, really; but I couldn't tell what was the nature of her feeling, whether grief, horror, fear or guilt.

Mrs. Varick's whole cry was to keep it out of the newspapers. "Rosika, I depend on you for that," she wept, fondling my employer's hand.

"My own idea would be to keep it secret as long as possible," said Mme. Storey dryly, "simply in order that the guilty person might not escape. However, the police must decide."

"The police!" cried Mrs. Varick. "Oh, keep them out of the house! That would kill me! Rosika, you take charge of everything. I engage you for that purpose. Money, you know, is no object."

"But I could not accept an engagement on such terms," said Mme. Storey. "My object would be the same as that of the police, to discover the truth."

"Of course! Of course!" cried the weeping woman. "But you do it. They ought to let you do it. You are far cleverer. Keep the police out of the house!"

"Inspector Rumsey must decide that," said my employer. "...There is one thing that I would recommend," she added. "Under the circumstances a public funeral would scarcely be permitted. Let all the arrangements be cancelled, and let it be given out that Commodore Varick is to be buried privately at the convenience of the family."

"Even that would create a scandal!" cried Mrs. Varick.

"But not so great a scandal as the other," remarked Mme. Storey dryly.

"Have the orders given!" cried the distraught widow.

When Dr. Pulford took his leave, Mme. Storey signed to me to detain him outside the room. There she presently joined us.

"Can you add anything to what you have told us?" she asked.

He shook his head. "Not much at this time. Commodore Varick died as the result of having taken a powerful dose of a poison, probably aconite."

"A very large dose?"

"Yes, Madam, it must have killed him almost instantly. Well, in half an hour perhaps; in an hour at the outside."

"Putting aside the possibility of suicide for the moment, how could he have been induced to take it?"

Dr. Pulford shrugged and spread out his hands. "How can one say? It is true that aconite, like all the alkaloids, has an intensely bitter taste, but on the other hand, an infinitesimal quantity would be sufficient. As small a quantity as one three-hundredth of a grain is enough to set up symptoms. How much Commodore Varick got I cannot say; half a grain, maybe."

"Could it have been administered in tea or coffee?"

"It is possible."

"Could the symptoms have been mistaken for those of gastritis?"

"Evidently they were," returned Dr. Pulford dryly. "Was there only one physician present when he died?"

"Only Dr. Slingluff, the family physician."

"A very distinguished man," said Dr. Pulford prudently. "It seems a little strange, but I should not like to commit myself."

"Is there any antidote for aconite poisoning?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Atropine," he answered promptly.

"Could aconite in so highly concentrated a form be readily procured?" was her next question.

"It is in the pharmacopoeia," he said. "Aconitina is the terra applied to the alkaloid. Therapeutically it is little used nowadays; it would be difficult to obtain, but possible."

"One last question, doctor. In poisoning cases of this sort, does the victim retain consciousness until the end, or near the end?"

"It is usual," he said gravely.

"Thank you very much."

He went away. We had no sooner returned to the boudoir than a footman entered to announce that Dr. Slingluff was in the house and wished to know if Mrs. Varick desired to see him. Mme. Storey and I exchanged a glance. Coming at this moment, it seemed almost as if the family doctor had received some intimation through the air of what was going on. At Mme. Storey's suggestion Mrs. Varick retired to her bedroom, and we waited in the boudoir for Dr. Slingluff. It was curious to see how completely my employer had assumed command in the great house. From Mrs. Varick down, all yielded her implicit obedience. At such moments Mme. Storey is very impressive. Her beautiful face becomes as cold and grave as a sybil's. Only the glowing dark eyes reveal the forces within.

Dr. Slingluff was in the forefront of his profession. Having started many years before as a general practitioner, he had gradually won to a commanding position as a heart specialist. It was only for the Varicks and a few other old family friends that he still acted as a general consultant. He was a handsome, dignified man about sixty, with an open face, a man you would like ordinarily; but I noticed that he changed colour at the mention of my employer's name; in fact, I saw a fine sweat spring out on his forehead, and that hardened my heart against him.

Mme. Storey went to the point as directly as an arrow.

"I am Rosika Storey," she said. "Mrs. Varick has asked me to see you. It has been discovered that Commodore Varick met his death by poison. For the moment, I am acting for the police."

At the word "poison" the doctor went staggering back, and his face became ghastly. But he was not surprised. "Oh, my God!" he gasped. "Who told them?"

This answer clearly revealed guilty knowledge, but for the moment Mme. Storey affected not to notice it.

"I am not at liberty to divulge that," she said.

He made a desperate effort to recover himself. "Poison!" he said, straightening up; "this is preposterous!"

"It was revealed by an autopsy."

He was freshly shaken. "An autopsy!" he stammered. "Without my knowledge."

"By order of the police," said Mme. Storey.

Some moments passed before he could give a coherent account of the death-bed scene. "At a few minutes before five yesterday," he finally began, "I was called to the telephone by William Gabbitt, the Commodore's valet. Gabbitt told me that his master was very sick; that he had found him lying helpless on the floor of his bedroom; that it seemed to be a gastric attack such as he had had before, only worse. So I hastily gathered a few things together, digitalis..."

"Digitalis?" she interrupted, "what was that for?"

"Heart," he said, "that was the danger. I instructed my secretary to telephone for Orrin, the stomach specialist, and I ran here—I live just around the corner. I was here within five minutes of receiving the call, but I instantly saw that my old friend was done for; he was already at the point of collapse."

"Who was with him?"

"Gabbitt, and Jarboe, the butler. I sent for Mrs. Varick, but she was out of the house. I wouldn't allow anybody else in the room. I did all the things that one does, but it was too late. I sent Gabbitt running to my office for atropine, and Jarboe to the pantry for an ice-pack. Before either of them got back the Commodore was dead."

"Atropine?" said Mme. Storey, softly, "is that a gastric remedy?"

"I wanted it to accelerate the beating of his heart."

"Why didn't you bring it with you?"

"One can't foresee everything."

"Then you were alone with him when he died?"

"Yes."

"Why did you send Jarboe out of the room? There were plenty of footmen."

"To tell you the truth, I couldn't bear to have a servant see my friend in such an extremity."

"Was he conscious?"

"I cannot say for certain. He was incapable of speaking."

"Then he said nothing to you before he died?"

"Not a word, Madame."

"H'm!" said Mme. Storey. I knew the same thought was in her mind as in my own; that it was very painful to see a naturally decent and upright man struggling to tell a convincing lie. I wondered what had taken place in that death chamber.

"Was it not rather unwise to have no other witness to his death?" asked Mme. Storey.

Dr. Slingluff drew himself up. "Well, I did not expect anybody to accuse me of having poisoned my friend," he said with dignity.

"Nobody has," said Mme. Storey mildly. "Had you no doubts as to the cause of death when you signed the certificate?"

"I would not have signed it if I had had. Doctor Orrin joined with me in signing it when he came."

"Did he suggest an autopsy?"

"No, he was quite satisfied with my explanation. Every one of us makes mistakes."

"This one is likely to have important results for you, doctor," said my employer mildly.

"Ruinous!" he cried in despair.

While she was still questioning him, we heard the sounds of a commotion out in the middle of the house, a new voice, young and ringing. At the sound of it, Dr. Slingluff turned paler still.

"Henry!" he gasped. "Oh, God! I can't face him now!"

With that he turned and fled through a door. It gave on some sort of service passage. Presumably he knew his way about the house. Mme Storey and I looked at each other.

"Shouldn't he be stopped?" I said.

"He is not the sort of man who can escape," she said. "We can always find him."

"Was it he?" I stammered.

She slowly shook her head. "He wouldn't have sent for the antidote," she said.

"But he knows who did it!"

"So it would seem," she said with her most cryptic air.

A young man burst into the room, followed by several persons. I don't know who they were, servants of some sort, I assume. All these people moved surrounded by a mob of dependants of one sort and another. The young man turned around and waving his arms, cried: "Get out! Get out!" They melted silently through the door, and closed it.

I recognised the heir to the Varick millions, a handsome young giant with a mop of tawny hair, and eyes as blue as the sea. At the first sight of him something went out of me to him that I could not get back again. I soon learned that it was the same with everybody, man, woman or child, but especially women, of course. I could even see by the softened expression in Mme. Storey's eyes that she felt it, too. I cannot explain it; he was handsome and vigorous, but so is many another young man who leaves you cold. I do not care for young men, as a rule. This one had the combined attraction of a boy and a man, but that was not the whole of it. There was something you could not resist. If he had been a longshoreman's son it would have been the same.

At the moment the tears were coursing down his cheeks. He was quite unashamed of his emotion. In fact, he was so distraught by emotion that he accepted the finding of two strangers in his mother's boudoir as a matter of course. He started speaking as if he had always known us.

"My father!" he cried, searching our faces for some hope. "Is it true? Is it true? Is he dead?"

"He is dead," said Mme. Storey.

"Oh, nobody will ever know what this means to me!" he cried, clapping his hands to his head. "Fathers always die, of course, but this is different!" He turned to us again with streaming eyes. "Because I was a bad son to him! a bad son! And now I can never make it up to him!"

His mother heard his voice and came running in from her bedroom, followed by her secretary. She precipitated herself into her son's arms. From his protective attitude one might have supposed him to be the parent.

"Poor little mother!" he crooned. "Poor little mother! This is hard on you!"

But a strange thing happened. Over his mother's head he exchanged a look of the most poignant meaning with the girl behind her. Their very souls were in that glance, then both quickly lowered their eyes. Mme. Storey did not miss that swift look, of course. I knew it by her great carelessness of manner.

I could not bear to be present at so intimate a family scene, and I turned my back on it. But I could not avoid hearing what went on; the widow's self-pitying complaints, and her son's clumsy attempts to comfort her. There was something shocking in seeing the great Mrs. Varick go all to pieces. The exquisite and flower-like woman was sadly wilted now. So incoherent and disconnected was her speech that it gave no hint of the real situation beyond the fact that her husband had died with frightful suddenness. In the end the girl spoke, electrifying us all by saying, in a curiously breathless voice: "Henry, your father was poisoned. There has been an autopsy."

He dropped his mother, and stepped back. "Poisoned!" he said hoarsely. "Poisoned!...Then God help us all!"

Mme. Storey caught my arm and led me from the room. The others never noticed whether we were there or not. In the little foyer I resisted, thinking of my employer's duty in the case.

"It is terrible!" I said, "but should you not stay? Will not the truth come out?"

"Enough has come out for my present purpose," she said dryly.

IV

We made a tour of Commodore Varick's private suite under guidance of Gabbitt, the English valet. This Gabbitt was a quaint-looking person, like the figure of a barber out of an old-fashioned print; a neat, brisk, spare little man with a great bush of hair that looked as if it had been artificially curled. One expected to see a comb sticking in it ready for use. It would have been impossible to guess the man's age. It transpired that he had served the Commodore for over twenty years. He was devoted to his master, but took the present situation very philosophically. He had the air of a man who has seen so much that nothing can astonish him any more. He answered Mme. Storey's questions promptly and with seeming candour. It did not appear to occur to him that, as one of the last persons who had seen Commodore Varick alive, he might be under suspicion too.

First we entered a plainly-furnished room at the north end of the second floor, that Gabbitt called the office. There was a young woman operating a typewriter here, who neither paused in her work nor so much as looked around when we passed through. This struck me as strange. I wondered what on earth she could be writing at such a time. Adjoining the office was the Commodore's study, a handsome corner room corresponding to Mrs. Varick's boudoir at the other end of the house. It was luxuriously furnished in masculine style with immense leather-covered easy-chairs grouped round the fireplace, and many rare sporting prints hanging from the panelled walls.

Mme. Storey's first examination of this room was hasty, but she did not miss much. A sheet of paper lying with others on an open escritoire attracted her attention. There was a drawer below with a key in it. She put the paper in the drawer, locked it and took the key. "Something I will study later," she said.

Outside the study there was a little foyer, and from that a short passage leading to the other rooms of the suite. Opening off the passage were, in order, a serving pantry, a little bedroom for Gabbitt, and the Commodore's bathroom. Here Mme. Storey opened a wall cabinet. Her eyes skated rapidly over the miscellaneous articles on the shelves, and fastened on two kinds of medicine; a liquid, and some capsules in a little pasteboard box. She asked what they were.

"Digitalis in the bottle, 'm," said Gabbitt. "For the heart. Fifteen drops in water three times a day. The capsules were for the digestion; one after every meal."

"The Commodore was taking these at present?"

"Yes, ma'am. The prescriptions were refilled regular."

We took these medicines, and afterwards sent them to a chemist to be analysed.

Next came the dressing-room, another comfortable lounging place, with a dressing-table, chiffoniers, and with clothes presses built into the walls. Beyond it was the Commodore's bedroom, where his body still lay. A man was on guard there. I averted my eyes from the bed. Mme. Storey did not examine the body at this time, but merely inquired what lay beyond the farther door. It was Mrs. Varick's bedroom, Gabbitt said, and beyond that were the other rooms of her suite. Both suites extended along the Fifth Avenue front of the house. Between the two of them, these little people, neither of whom exceeded five feet six in height, spread themselves over eight or more immense private chambers. Such is earthly glory!

We returned to the study, where Mme. Storey questioned Gabbitt at some length. The valet told how he had been having tea in the servants' hall when a call over the house 'phone summoned him to his master. He found the Commodore lying in agony upon the floor of the dressing-room. I omit the harrowing details. Assisting his master to his bed, Gabbitt telephoned for the doctor and for Jarboe. He tried to get Mrs. Varick, but she was out of the house. During the brief interval that elapsed before the arrival of the doctor, the valet applied what restoratives his experience suggested.

"Gabbitt, did you suspect poison?" Mme. Storey asked. (I ought to state that the valet knew by this time what had happened.)

"Well, ma'am," he answered, "I think the thought was somewhere in the back of my head, but I did not acknowledge it. Being but a servant, I left it to my betters."

In one respect Gabbitt's story differed sharply from Dr. Slingluff's. Up to the moment that he was sent out for atropine, the Commodore's mind, he insisted, was perfectly clear. The sick man would allow no one to be sent for but his wife and the doctor. He evinced an agonising anxiety lest the doctor might not come in time, but it was not with any idea that he could be saved. He knew he was dying.

"Did he suggest that he had been poisoned?"

"No, ma'am, no! He kept sayin' it was gastritis."

"H'm!" said Mme. Storey.

"He said one thing that was strange," Gabbitt went on, biting his lip—it was the first evidence of emotion the little man had shown; "He says, 'Gabbitt, if I should go out of my head, I beg of you never to repeat what I say! Bury it in your breast!'" The little valet turned away and made believe to arrange some objects on the table. "That hurt me, ma'am," he murmured. "But I didn't let on anything. I just pressed his hand, and he seemed satisfied...As if I would have given him away! After twenty years!..."

He straightened up and went on in his ordinary voice: "There was no need for me to go for the atropine, but I got the idea the Commodore had something private to tell the doctor, so I left the room. I have seen men die before, and I knew that neither atropine nor nothing else could save my master then. I wasn't gone but ten minutes. When I got back he was dead."

"Gabbitt," said Mme. Storey, "who was the last person he saw before he was taken sick?"

"Why, ma'am, so far as I know it was Miss Priestley," was the answer. "Him and her had their tea together every afternoon at four when he was home."

"Miss Priestley?"

"His secretary, 'm. That is to say, his literary secretary. That is the young lady who is working the typewriter in the next room."

"Why do you call her literary secretary?"

"To distinguish her from his private secretary and his financial secretary. Those two are gentlemen. The Commodore was writing his memoirs, and Miss Priestley was engaged to help him with that. Every afternoon from two until four, when his engagements permitted, they worked together, and after tea the young lady went home."

"And tea was served yesterday as usual?"

"Yes'm. I took it in myself from Hannaford, one of the maids, and set it out on this very table. Then I called my master, and went down to my own tea in the servants' hall."

"What did the tea consist of?"

"Just thin bread and butter, 'm, and a plain cake. The Commodore ate very plain, along of his gastritis, but he does love his tea—did love it, I mean. He would drink two or three cups of an afternoon."

"Gabbitt, tell me the exact arrangement of the tea tray," said my employer. While she listened to him, she lit a cigarette.

"Yes'm. All they sent up from downstairs was the bread and butter and the cake; also cream if required; the Commodore did not use it himself. The Commodore's own special brand of tea I keep up here in a silver tea-caddy, also the silver kettle which plugs into an electric outlet. The Commodore had his own notions about how tea should be made; he wanted every cup made separate. So the tea was put into silver tea balls which were dipped into the cups after the boiling water was drawn."

"Did the Commodore do this himself?"

"Oh, no, 'm. If there was a lady at the table she did the honours."

"Did the Commodore take his tea weak or strong?"

"Very strong, 'm. He liked to taste it bitter."

"Did the Commodore and Miss Priestley always have tea alone together?"

"No, 'm. There might be other guests from time to time. Or if the Commodore had special guests, Miss Priestley might take her tea in the housekeeper's room."

"When you were called back upstairs had the tea things been removed?"

"I can't say, ma'am. I was too excited to take notice. After my master was dead I tidied up, not knowin' what else to do. They was gone then."

Mme. Storey pressed out the lighted end of her cigarette in an ash tray. "All right, Gabbitt; thank you very much," she said. "We had better talk to Miss Priestley, since she is close at hand."

V

When we entered the office for the second time, the girl arose from her machine and turned around as if she had guessed what we came for. I was astonished when I saw her. Certainly the Varicks, both husband and wife, had a flair for beauty in choosing those who served them. Miss Priestley was a very Juno, a maiden Juno, tall and dark with Juno's short upper lip, straight nose and haughty glance. Superb! However, I withheld my judgment for a while because I have learned that these goddess-like shells sometimes house very small souls. I wondered if the solution to the mystery lay in her. She was visibly all keyed up, but that was natural. She had herself under good control.

She knew as much as Gabbitt did of the situation, consequently it was not necessary to enter into explanations. My employer introduced herself, and, in order to persuade the girl to relax, murmured the obvious things about what a sad occasion it was, etc., etc. The secretary rose to it like any woman—in words, but with a curiously monotonous voice like a child repeating a lesson. Her remote glance did not share in what she was saying. She was like a beautiful statue with a phonograph inside it.

"Yes, I have lost more than my job here," she said, "I have lost a friend. All I can do for him now is to finish his work." She waved her hand towards the machine.

"Sit down," said Mme. Storey soothingly. "I am told that you were perhaps the last person to see the Commodore before he was taken sick, and I look to you to help me."

"Certainly," said Miss Priestley—but she did not sit. "Anything I can do. However, I am not the one you are looking for."

Her odd manner intrigued my employer. "No?" she said with half a smile. She was studying the girl through her lashes.

The secretary went on in her toneless voice: "You have been told that I had tea with the Commodore yesterday, but I did not."

"Who did?"

She made a slight gesture with her hand. "Secrecy was enjoined upon me, but I suppose everything has got to come out now. It was the Princess Cristina von Habsburg."

The amused look faded out of Mme. Storey's eyes. "So?" she said quietly. "What were the circumstances?"

"Commodore Varick wished to have a private talk with the Princess without anybody in the house knowing about it. Everything is gossiped about so. The Princess is staying in the house. As soon as the tea had been brought, and Gabbitt had gone down to his tea, I was sent to fetch her. Her suite is on the south side of the house. I brought her to the door of the Commodore's study, and then I went down and had tea with Mrs. Colford in her room."

"Mrs. Colford being the housekeeper?"

"Yes."

"What did Commodore Varick want to talk to the Princess about?"

Miss Priestley answered with a perfectly expressionless face: "I don't know. That is outside my province."

It was pretty clear that she was lying here, but it would have done no good to tax her with it. Mme. Storey went on: "How long did she remain in his study?"

"I can't tell you. I did not see her again. After I had finished my tea, I went home. That was before the news of the Commodore's illness had got about. I knew nothing of it until I read it in the newspaper this morning."

"What a shock it must have given you!" murmured Mme. Storey.

"Yes," said the girl. Not a muscle of her face changed when she said it. An extraordinary person.

"Where is the Princess now?" asked my employer.

"I understand that she has left the house, but I cannot tell you where she has gone."

"Let us ask Jarboe." My employer looked about the room. "May I ring?"

"The telephone is quicker," said Miss Priestley. She took down the receiver, and said in the same cold toneless voice: "Please ask Mr. Jarboe to come to the Commodore's office for a moment."

While we waited for Jarboe, Mme. Storey lit a cigarette. Miss Priestley declined one. My employer sauntered about the room making polite conversation. But I knew of old that her mind was not necessarily idle when she was making idle talk. I could see that her eyes were busy; I could see too, that the secretary was covertly watching her with a strained air; and for the dozenth time that day I asked myself: What dreadful secret does this grand house conceal!

Jarboe was quickly at the door. He knew that Mme. Storey was a person to be deferred to. She asked him at once what had become of the Princess.

Jarboe, of course, had had to be taken into the family confidence as far as anybody, but he was the butler of butlers, and though murder stalked through the house, there was not the slightest alteration in his usual demeanour. His superb aplomb might have concealed anything—or nothing. He said:

"Her Highness left the house shortly after four yesterday afternoon, Madame."

"Did you see her go?"

"No, Madame, nobody saw her leave except Wilcox the footman, who was attending upon the front door."

"What did he tell you?"

"He told me that the Princess came running downstairs alone, in a high state of agitation. In fact, she was weeping. Wilcox was very much upset. He thought it most unseemly that her Highness should appear upon the street in such state, and he hesitated about opening the door. She stamped her foot, and commanded him to open it, and of course, he had no recourse but to obey. He came immediately to tell me, and I went to the Princess's suite. I found that her lady-in-waiting, Madame von Hofstetter, did not know that the Princess had left the house. She was greatly upset. However..."

"Wait a minute," interrupted Mme. Storey; "did she have no hat on when she ran out of the house?"

Miss Priestley answered. "She already had her hat on when I fetched her."

"I see. Go on, please, Jarboe."

"While I was still talking to Madame von Hofstetter," he continued, "the telephone rang, and it was the Princess. She ordered Madame von Hofstetter and her maids to follow her immediately to the Hotel Madagascar. They packed very hastily, and left within half an hour."

"Then they were all out of the house before the alarm of the Commodore's illness was raised?"

"Yes, Madame. I sent the trunks to the hotel later."

"Have you any idea of the reason for the Princess's abrupt departure?"

"None whatever, Madame."

Who could say if he was telling the truth?

My employer turned to me. "Well, let us go ask her, Bella."

It turned out that there was quite a crowd hanging about the front door, which included both reporters and photographers. It was of the highest importance that our comings and goings should not be remarked, so Jarboe put us into a car in the rear courtyard of the house. We pulled down the curtains and got out unseen.

"Big game, Bella!" said my employer to me with a curious dry smile. "The Princess is a member of one of the greatest houses of the old world. Her ancestors have ruled for centuries. The ex-King of Saxony is her brother-in-law, I believe, and she calls the King of England cousin. It is the first time we have stalked Royalty!"

"How strange that Priestley girl's manner was," I said.

"That in itself signifies nothing," she answered. "Everybody in the house was acting strangely. Except Gabbitt. Perhaps Gabbitt did it. He was the only one who had his wits about him."

But I did not think she was speaking seriously.

In three minutes we were at the Madagascar. Mme. Storey asked for the manager. We did not suppose, of course, that the Princess had registered under her own name. "A young foreign lady of high position," said my employer. "She came yesterday alone, and was followed later by her companion, and several maids."

"Oh, you mean the Countess von Hilgenreiner," said the manager. "She left an hour ago to go on board the Baratoria."

An exclamation was forced from my employer. "Good heavens! And the Baratoria sails at three!"

Our eyes flew to the clock on the wall. The hands pointed to ten minutes to three. And the pier was three miles away, the streets crowded with traffic! We ran out of the office leaving the manager staring.

"Quick, Bella," cried Mme. Storey. "Jump in that car at the door and drive as fast as you can to the ship. Go down Tenth Avenue."

"I can't possibly make it!" I stammered.

"Go!" she cried. "The ship is connected by telephone. I will get the Commander on the wire and ask him to wait for you. Tell him that there are police reasons for detaining the Countess von Hilgenreiner, or whatever she calls herself. I will follow you as soon as I can pick up Inspector Rumsey. We will need official support in this."

VI

The Baratoria was queen of the Brevard line fleet, and her commander was a knight, Sir Everard Bertram, R.N.R., K.C.M.G., and goodness knows what else beside. I was greatly relieved to see the liner's huge bulk and her four mighty red funnels towering over the pier when I arrived. Evidently the telephone message had got through. On the pier everything was at a standstill; the passengers lining the ship's rails and a great crowd of friends filling the pier openings, everybody wondering no doubt why she did not sail. The gangplanks were still in place and I hastened aboard. At the head of the gangplank a cabin boy was waiting to conduct me to the Captain.

I found him pacing his cabin, watch in hand, a magnificent personage, resplendent in gold braid. Mme. Storey has crossed with him many times, and he knew me by sight. His face cleared when I entered.

"Here you are!" he said. "I thought I recognised Mme. Storey's voice over the telephone, but I feared it might be a hoax. What is the trouble?"

"There is a lady aboard who is wanted by the police," I said.

"What is her name?" he asked, picking up a passenger list.

"When we last met her she was calling herself the Countess von Hilgenreiner. She won't be on your list because her decision to sail was a sudden one."

"What's her right name?"

"Please wait until Mme. Storey comes," I begged him. "She has stopped only to pick up a police official."

In a minute or two my employer came sauntering in, perfectly cool and smiling. She and the Captain greeted each other as old friends. She said immediately:

"I won't waste your time, Sir Everard. I can rely on your discretion. The person we want is the Princess Cristina von Habsburg."

"Good God!" he cried in dismay. "A royal princess! What a frightful scandal this will let loose!"

"I have it in mind," said my employer dryly. "Is she aboard?"

"Yes. I have spoken to her. I had them put her into the Tudor suite on B deck. What is she wanted for?"

"At the moment, as a material witness only. No charge has been laid."

"Have you the police back of you?" he asked anxiously.

Mme. Storey opened her handbag. "Here is a warrant for her arrest. Furthermore, if you will look over the side you will see Inspector Rumsey there in a police launch. I didn't want him to show himself to the reporters on the pier. They hailed me, but I told them I was just coming aboard to bid good-bye to a friend."

"But when you take her ashore the jig will be up. The reporters have interviewed her."

"I don't want to take her ashore," said Mme. Storey coolly. "I want the reporters to think that she has sailed for Europe. It is of the utmost importance that the frightful scandal you speak of should not be released prematurely."

"Then what do you propose to do?"

"I have sailed on vessels when belated passengers were put on board through a door in the hull," said Mme. Storey. "When you get straightened out in midstream can't you open a door on the side hidden from the pier, and put her aboard one of the tugs? The tug can steam off up the river, and by-and-by the police launch will overhaul her, and receive the Princess."

By this time Sir Everard had read the warrant. "Very well," he said. "It shall be done."

"Then come on, Bella," said my employer briskly. "We mustn't hold up the Baratoria a moment longer than necessary."

The bravest of men is subject to terror in some form or another. The magnificent Sir Everard turned pale. "Good God, Madame Storey," he cried, "don't leave me to face that woman alone! Picture me putting a royal princess aboard the tug kicking!"

My employer laughed. It was the first time I had heard that silvery sound all day.

The Captain saw nothing funny in the situation. "Come with me and prepare her for what is to follow," he urged. "The Baratoria can wait for that."

"All right," she said. "Lead the way."

A moment later we were knocking at a door opening from a corridor on B deck. It was opened to us by a worried little lady, very elegant in a German fashion, evidently Madame von Hofstetter. Over her shoulder I glimpsed a delightful little sitting-room with doors opening to the right and left.

"Compliments," said the Captain with stiff courtesy; "I should like to speak to the Princess for a moment."

"I am very sorry," said the lady-in-waiting in excellent English, "but her Highness is seeing nobody."

"I am more than sorry," said Sir Everard dryly, "but I am the Commander of this vessel, and it shall not sail until I have spoken with the Princess."

She had no recourse then but to give way. We entered the room. She tried to make a stand against Mme. Storey and me,

"Who are these persons?" she demanded.

"Representatives of the police," said Sir Everard dryly.

"Oh, Mein Gott!" cried the little lady, and made haste to shut the door behind us. "I will prepare the Princess," she said tremulously, and started to move towards one of the doors.

But Sir Everard was before her at the door. "Pardon me," he said; "there is no time for that. The ship waits. These ladies must be admitted to the Princess immediately. I will wait here."

So Mme. Storey and I entered the adjoining room, a bedroom. It was the first time I had ever been so close to a royal Princess, and I was all eyes. In a word she was an exquisite little person, a blonde with dark eyes. It was not at all one's idea of a German princess, but I recollected that she was of Vienna, the most elegant of European capitals. She was little more than a girl, but so perfect was her finish, her air of distinction, she might have been almost any age. A Dresden china princess, but with nothing insipid about her. She was seated in an arm-chair with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes, but the instant she perceived that we were strangers she sprang up, electrified with indignation.

"What is the meaning of this intrusion?" she cried with a stamp of her foot. "Leave the room!...Madame von Hofstetter, who are these persons?"

But the lady-in-waiting had dissolved in tears, and was unable to explain.

I will pass quickly over the scene that followed. It was a lively one! The little Princess endeavoured to crush us with her royal anger, but she met her match in Mme. Storey, who smiled down at her in an amused and tolerant fashion, and patiently explained that she must prepare to leave the ship.

"This is outrageous!" cried the Princess. "I am the Princess Cristina von Habsburg! Do you not know what that means? I am not subject to your laws! I will communicate with our ambassador!"

"I believe that Austria is now a republic," said my employer mildly.

She never got it. "The City of New York shall suffer for this insult!" she cried. "Why should the police seek to detain me?"

"Commodore Varick died yesterday afternoon," said Mme. Storey.

"Did he?" she said coolly.

"Didn't you know it?"

"No."

Mme. Storey's face turned grimly humorous. "The newspapers..." she began.

The Princess tossed her head. "I don't read your horrible newspapers."

Alas! for royal truthfulness. There was a newspaper lying on the sofa at that very moment, with the name Varick uppermost in the headlines. Mme. Storey pointed to it mutely.

The Princess was not in the least abashed. "I haven't looked at it," she said. "And anyway, what of it? I was merely their guest. I am sorry for them, but it has got nothing to do with me."

"Commodore Varick was poisoned," said Mme. Storey in a low tone, "and you were the last person to see him before he was taken ill."

The Princess stared at her in what appeared to be the purest amazement. One could not be sure, of course. "That was not in the newspaper," she said naïvely.

"No," said my employer dryly.

The little lady was breathing hard with emotion. She seemed to be scarcely capable of speaking. "And do you mean," she gasped, "do you dare to charge that I poisoned him? In heaven's name why should I poison an American millionaire."

"I don't know," said Mme. Storey. She patiently explained the measures she had taken to protect the Princess from newspaper publicity.

"I will not leave the ship!" said the Princess with another stamp of the royal foot.

Mme. Storey shrugged. There was no use waiting for more. The rest was up to Sir Everard. He shook his head lugubriously as we passed him on the way out.

VII

The scene now shifts to Mme. Storey's maisonnette in East Sixty —— Street. The address of this recherché establishment is not in the telephone book, and I shall not give it here. My employer had made an arrangement with Inspector Rumsey to bring the Princess there, and while we waited for them we had a much needed bite of lunch. Mme. Storey ate with an abstracted air, and was disinclined to talk of the case.

In about an hour Inspector Rumsey brought the Princess and Madame Hofstetter along in a taxi-cab, while the two maids followed with two plain-clothes men in another. Maids and plain-clothes men were put into the dining-room to wait, while the rest of us gathered in the 1850 parlour overhead. There was a great change in the little Princess. The royal air was subdued, and she was much like any other frightened girl. But there was a hardness about her that was not girlish. In fact, she was an exotic specimen, quite outside my experience, and I could not make her out. I will say for her that the daughter of a hundred Habsburgs was not craven. She kept her head up.

Mme. Storey's manner towards her was kindly. "Sit down," she said, "and let us talk this matter over quietly. You are not charged with anything."

"Merci, Madame," said the Princess ironically. "May I have a cigarette?"

"Surely!" said my employer, offering the box. "If you'd rather talk to us women alone, Inspector Rumsey will wait downstairs."

"It doesn't matter," she said indifferently. She puffed gratefully at the cigarette.

"Please tell us exactly what took place between you and Commodore Varick yesterday afternoon," said Mme. Storey.

"I cannot do that," said the girl impatiently. "It was a private matter, and has nothing to do with the public or the police."

Mme. Storey drew a long breath for patience. "Pardon me," she said, "but in view of what happened immediately afterwards, it is of the greatest concern to the police, and you must tell."

An agonised look came into the girl's face. "Mon Dieu! it would kill me if these things were printed in the newspapers!" she murmured. "You cannot understand my feelings! You are republicans!"

We Americans smiled a little at this, though goodness knows, it was piteous, too. Mme. Storey said gravely:

"I promise you it shall not appear in the newspapers unless it has some connection with the death of Commodore Varick."

The Princess would not sit down. Standing by the mantelpiece, she began abruptly to tell her story. She did not appear to be of any particular nationality, but was merely of the great world. Only her continuous, slight, graceful gesticulation betrayed her foreignness.

"I met the Varicks last winter at Cannes. They have a big place near there. Pushing people, but not ill-bred for Americans. They courted me, and I, well, my family is ruined, and I cannot afford to be too particular; I allowed myself to be courted. Presently the son was brought forward; a personable young man, but somewhat crude in manner. I took that to be American. He bestowed his attentions upon me. We were seen everywhere together. A few years ago he would never have presumed, but, as I say, my house is fallen, my father is dead, and I must do the best I can for myself. My mother, the Archduchess, was invited to stay with the Varicks. Mrs. Varick sounded her out in respect to the match, and my mother expressed herself as being agreeable to it. No definite proposal was made, but I was given to understand in many ways that all had been arranged. The behaviour of Mr. Henry Varick...possibly I do not understand American customs..."

A spasm of pain passed across the girl's face. She paused before continuing. "When the Varicks departed for New York, I was invited to accompany them, but my mother thought that it would be unseemly for me to do so. It was arranged that I should follow them later, and visit them in New York. My mother having a dread of the ocean, my friend Madame von Hofstetter accompanied me. We arrived a week ago. It was immediately apparent that some hitch had arisen. The manner of both Mr. and Mrs. Varick towards me was strained. Day after day I waited, and the young man did not appear. Finally I learned that he had been in the house and had departed again without seeing me.

"Yesterday afternoon," she continued, "Commodore Varick sent his secretary, and I was conducted with much secrecy to his study. He was in a state of painful embarrassment. From his stammering and beating about the bush I gathered that there was an impediment to the match. Me, I am accustomed to speaking plainly. When I taxed him with it, he said yes, to his great regret, everything was definitely off..." The girl's cheeks flushed red at the recollection. "Mon Dieu! to me, a Habsburg! After I had condescended to these canaille! After I had allowed myself to be brought across the ocean! Dieu! I thought I should die with rage. What could I do? I ran out of the house that moment, and sent back for my servants to follow me."

A silence followed the completion of her story. The little Princess stood there breathing fast. We all felt, I think, that she had been pretty badly used. Finally Mme. Storey said, in a casual manner:

"Before you left the room, had you and Commodore Varick drunk tea?"

The girl struck her forehead. "Let me think! Yes, I remember that tea was made. I made it with little silver balls."

She said this in a seemingly open manner, but she was far from being a simple maiden, and how could one tell?

"Was it drunk?"

"I did not drink any," she said quickly.

"And the Commodore?"

"I do not know...Yes! I have a recollection of seeing him swallow it, of the emptied cup."

"Was this before or after he made his announcement to you?" asked Mme. Storey softly.

"I can't remember," she said listlessly. Then she started. "Before! Before! Before!" she cried excitedly.

"H'm!" said Mme. Storey. She took a turn up and down. "Did Commodore Varick give any reason for breaking off the match?" she asked, off-hand.

The Princess's back was stiff and her chin up as she answered. "Yes, he said the young man was disinclined to it." She got it out all right, then came a disastrous breakdown. She extended her arm along the mantel, and dropping her head upon it, broke into an uncontrollable sobbing. "I wish I was dead!" she gasped. It was piteous.

Madame von Hofstetter flew to her and took her in her arms. The elder woman turned an imploring face over her shoulder towards Mme. Storey. "Where can I take her?" she asked.

"Into my bedroom across the hall," said the latter, opening the door.

They disappeared. When my employer returned, Inspector Rumsey said anxiously: "What do you make of it?"

Mme. Storey's face looked pale and drawn. "The proud little Princess has a heart just the same as any common girl," she said. "She has had the misfortune to give it to Hank Varick, who has more hearts than he can use."

"A nasty case!" said the Inspector. "It will be difficult to bring it home to her. No witnesses."

"I'm not satisfied that she did it," said Mme. Storey, pacing the room.

"But her rage!" he said. "And she comes of bad stock. Those royalties have been accustomed for centuries to remove their enemies in just such a manner."

"Quite!" said Mme. Storey, smiling a little at his honest Americanism. "But I never before heard of a girl who killed the father because the son had jilted her. The motive does not seem adequate. Moreover, it is hardly credible that a royal Princess should be carrying around a dose of aconite ready to administer to anybody who might displease her. Aconite is not a habit-forming drug. Nobody takes aconite for the kick in it."

"Then who did it?" he asked blankly.

"Oh, I'm not saying she didn't do it," said my employer. "Frankly, I don't know. What I do see is, that we have scarcely scratched the surface of this case as yet. There is a deal of hard spade work before us. Is it your wish that I should continue to represent you?"

"Sure!" he cried, "you must not desert me now."

"Very well," she said, "I will return to the Varick house and stay there until I see light. I will communicate with you by telephone when necessary, according to the method we have used before. You and your men must trace that anonymous letter to its source if it is humanly possible to do so. The Princess and her entourage will stay here in my place, under guard. Bella goes with me."

While Mme. Storey was still issuing instructions, her maid Grace entered, bearing a letter on a salver. She said: "This has just come, Madame. It is marked urgent, so I brought it right up."

Mme. Storey put out an inattentive hand for the envelope. But when her eyes fell upon it she started. "Look at this!" she cried, holding it up. The address was printed in the same sort of carefully-formed characters that had appeared on the anonymous letter addressed to the Inspector. She tore it open. It contained a slip similar to that other slip, with a single line of printed characters:

LOOK INTO HANK VARICK'S MOVEMENTS YESTERDAY.

VIII

In my employer's quaint and charming parlour, Mme. Storey and Inspector Rumsey laid out a joint plan of campaign. It was of prime importance to trace the two anonymous letters to their source. The Inspector had already set the police machinery in motion to trace them through the mails, while Mme. Storey was to work to the same end inside the Varick house. It was fairly obvious now that they had originated in the house, since no one knew that Mme. Storey was at work upon the case except certain persons in the Varick household. Inspector Rumsey further agreed to have the recent movements of young Henry Varick investigated as far as possible, and a report prepared for Mme. Storey covering the young man's whole career, so far as the details might be learned from old newspapers, and from inquiries amongst his associates. By this time the Inspector's doctors had definitely reported to him that Commodore Varick had come to his death as the result of a powerful dose of the alkaloid of aconite. Tannin was also found, and the inference was that he had taken the drug in strong tea. But this was not positively established. The police were already at work endeavouring to trace any sales of the drug aconitina that might have been made lately. Sales of this powerful drug were rare.

In order to provide us with additional assistance inside the house, Mme. Storey arranged to have Crider, our cleverest and most dependable operator, apply to Jarboe, the Varick butler, for a job as footman. She arranged with Jarboe later to take him on. The Princess Cristina von Habsburg, her lady-in-waiting and their maids, were to be accommodated in Mme. Storey's maisonnette for the present. Mme. Storey's servants were to feed them and make them as comfortable as possible, and a plain-clothes man would be on guard in the entrance corridor at all hours of the day and night. The Princess was given the privilege of consulting counsel, but she made no move to do so. I need hardly say that she very willingly joined with us in our little conspiracy to keep this case out of the newspapers for the moment. We expected it to break sooner or later.

All these arrangements having been effected, Mme. Storey telephoned to the Varick house for the same car that had carried us away from there three hours earlier. It was a closed car, having shades that pulled down inside the windows, and by this means we returned to the house, through the courtyard, without having been recognised by any of the loungers or watchers in the street. We made our headquarters in Commodore Varick's office on the second floor. It was now nearly six, and Miss Priestley, the "literary secretary," had gone home. We had learned that Mr. Henry Varick was still with his mother, but Mme. Storey made no effort to see him as yet. She wished to avoid giving him any reason to suspect that he was being investigated. We interviewed several members of the household whom I need not mention, since they contributed nothing of moment to the case. My job was to take notes of all interviews.

It was not until Mme. Storey had her second talk with Gabbitt, the Commodore's valet, that we began to strike pay ore. The quaint little fuzzy-headed man made an excellent witness, but how far he was telling the truth, I could never have undertaken to say. He was a philosopher in his way. There was a curious reasonableness about him—I mean, that while he was devoted to his master, he nevertheless felt free to criticise him. At this time we were making a more intensive examination of the Commodore's suite.

"Gabbitt," said my mistress, "what were the relations between Mr. Henry and his father?"

"Bad, ma'am," said Gabbitt. "All the world knows that."

"But how do you mean bad?"

"Well, ma'am, it was the usual thing between a rich father and his son. Particularly when it's an only child. When he was little, Mr. Henry was spoiled, and when he grew up his father blamed him because he turned out wilful."

"When did the trouble between them start?"

"Four, five years ago when Mr. Henry was in college. He was very wild. It was one scrape after another."

"With women?"

"Yes, ma'am, gen'ally speakin'. Mr. Henry complained to me once that it wasn't his fault, that they fair flung themselves at his head. Quite apart from being William Henry Varick, and all that, Mr. Henry is a very attractive young man, so gay and full of life."

"So we have perceived," said Mme. Storey.

"He wasn't to blame for all the trouble, though it is only fair to state that he wasn't no Sir Galahad neither."

"It is scarcely to be expected," said my employer dryly.

"His name made him a fair mark for scoundrels, and there was always somebody, either man or woman, trying to blackmail him. It cost the Commodore a pretty penny to settle with such people. The Commodore was very sensitive about any scandal attaching to the family name. Mrs. Varick would take her son's part, naturally, and there were bitter family scenes. My memory is hazy about the details of these scrapes..."

"Never mind that," said Mme. Storey. "Proceed."

"The Commodore was always reproaching his son for doing nothing but spend money," Gabbitt continued, "and some time after he had left college—he did not graduate—Mr. Henry undertook to go into business on his own account. In college the only thing he had been any good at was chemistry..."

"Oh, chemistry," said Mme. Storey.

"Yes, 'm, and so his thoughts naturally turned towards the chemical business. His idea was to form a combination of all the drug manufacturers in the country, and to found a great research laboratory that would advance the whole business. It looked like a good scheme, and his father backed him heavily, stipulating only that the family name be kept out of it. The Commodore didn't want to be connected with trade in any way."

"Quite!" said my employer.

"It started off all right, but something happened. I don't understand the details. Mr. Henry always claimed that he had been rooked. Very likely he lacked the skill and experience to conduct so vast an enterprise. At any rate, there was a tremendous crash, and whereas it had cost the Commodore a few thousands to get his son out of his college scrapes, his liabilities in the chemical affair ran into the millions. The family finances were seriously affected. It led to a bitter quarrel between father and son, and since that time, Mr. Henry has not been seen much about the house. It is said that he visited his mother secretly. Last summer Mrs. Varick patched up a truce between father and son, and in the fall Mr. Henry accompanied us to Europe."

"Gabbitt," said Mme. Storey, "from your observation, would you say that the affair between Mr. Henry and the Princess Cristina was a serious one?"

"She thought it was," said the little man promptly, "and Mr. Henry was undeniably smitten. But we who had watched him grow up were not taken in by it. He was easily smitten. As soon as we sailed home she passed out of his mind. Why, there was a girl on board ship..."

"Never mind her," said my employer good-naturedly, "but tell me what was the last occasion that Mr. Henry saw his father."

"Day before yesterday, 'm. This is Wednesday, yes, it was Monday afternoon."

"What were the circumstances of his visit?"

"The Commodore had been telegraphing and telephoning all over the country to find him, the Princess Cristina being here. The general feeling amongst us servants was that Mr. Henry was purposely keeping out of the way. Be that as it may, when he was sent for he had to come. He came on Monday afternoon, and there was a terrible quarrel between him and his father in the study. I supposed that it was over the Princess, being as the Commodore's heart was set on that match. I was in and out of the dressing-room and the pantry, and just at the end, Mr. Henry opened the door into the foyer, and I heard his father call after him: 'I never want to see you again!' And Mr. Henry's answer, hard and bitter: 'You shan't!' Then the slam of the door, and Mr. Henry was gone!" Gabbitt made a dramatic pause.

"Go on," said Mme. Storey.

"It had happened before," he resumed, "and I didn't take it so serious. Not until yesterday morning, that is, when the Commodore's lawyer turned up and a new will was made."

"Oh, a new will."

"Yes, ma'am. That had happened before, too. But on former occasions the lawyer had been called in and instructions given him, and after a few days he would come back with the will to be signed. This time the will was made on the spot, so I knew the Commodore was bitter angry. The lawyer wrote it out himself on Miss Priestley's typewriter, and afterwards Miss Priestley and me was called into the study to witness it. It was a short will; scarcely filled one sheet of paper. The top part of the sheet was turned under when we signed, and I don't know what was in it."

We were in the pantry at this moment, and while Mme. Storey listened her eyes were passing along the rows of cups and glasses on the little buffet. "One moment," she said. "Have you got a magnifying glass of any sort? A reading glass will do."

It was fetched her from the study. She examined the shelves. "Gabbitt, how many of these cups did you set out on the tea-table yesterday?" she asked.

"Two, ma'am. No guests were expected."

"Any of these glasses?" pointing to a row of tall, iridescent tumblers.

"No, ma'am. Those are for whisky and soda. The Commodore don't indulge at tea-time."

My employer passed on into the study without offering any comment. "Well, go on," she said, and then, very unexpectedly: "Mr. Henry came back yesterday afternoon?"

"Why no, ma'am," said Gabbitt in great surprise. "Not after such a quarrel!" It seemed to me that he was a little too open-eyed, too innocent then.

"No?" said Mme. Storey carelessly. "Well, that's all now. Thank you very much, Gabbitt."

He lingered in the doorway, eyeing her anxiously. He was longing to ask her a question, but did not dare. Mme. Storey affected to ignore him. He went out.

IX

Mme. Storey questioned several of the servants with a view to learning if young Henry Varick had been in the house on the day before. All blandly denied it, nor could she entrap them into any admission.

"Lying," she said coolly, when the last had gone. "Notice that they did not say, 'I did not see him,' but all said, 'He was not here.'"

"Why not ask Mrs. Varick's pretty secretary, Miss Gilsey?" I suggested. "She could tell you."

"Quite," said Mme. Storey, "and would immediately tell Henry that I had asked. I don't want to put him on his guard. I want to meet him as if by accident, and fall into casual talk. If I am able to bring that about, don't you dare to let a notebook appear. Remember all that passes as well as you can, and put it down afterwards."

With Jarboe, my employer pursued a slightly different method. She told the butler it was necessary for her to have a complete lay-out of the house in her mind, especially the second floor, and the three of us strolled around, while he pointed out the different rooms. Mme. Storey said: "The Commodore's suite, and Mrs. Varick's, which adjoins it, occupy the whole of the Avenue frontage on this floor. I've got that straight. What else is there?"

"On the south side is the guest suite lately occupied by the Princess Cristina," said Jarboe, indicating. "And there's an extra bedroom at the back that was given to her lady-in-waiting. Would you like to see the rooms?"

"Oh, no," said Mme. Storey. "I don't suppose they left anything behind."

"Next to the back bedroom comes the grand stairway," Jarboe continued, "and this passage on the left of the stairway leads to the elevator, and on back to the main service corridor and service stairs."

We looked into the service corridor.

"Next to the passage comes another guest-room," Jarboe said, proceeding; "not occupied at present; and on the north side of the house is Mr. Henry's suite, which consists of study and bedroom. The rooms have been his since his schooldays, and are still kept for him with all his things, though he has had a private apartment outside for the past two years."

It was strange to hear how the perfect butler's carefully modulated voice coloured with emotion when he mentioned the darling of the house.

"Mr. Henry is in the house at present," he went on, "and would, I am sure, be glad to have you see the rooms if I mentioned it to him."

"Never mind, thanks," she said.

"On the third floor," said Jarboe, like the guide on a sightseers' 'bus, "there are twenty-five rooms, including several suites for guests, the housekeeper's suite, rooms for the maids, and so on. The footmen sleep in the building across the court, which was once the stables. Would you wish to go upstairs, Madame?"

"No, thanks," said my employer dryly. "Jarboe," she said, in a voice that arrested his spiel, "there's a door there in the back corner, adjoining Mr. Henry's suite, that you have passed over every time we have been around? Where does that go?"

"Another stairway," he said, with an air of great carelessness.

"And where do the stairs go?"

"Just to a passage below."

"And where does that passage go?"

"Nowhere in particular, Madame, just around the court."

"Who uses that stair?"

"Nobody uses it now, Madame. What it may have been designated for originally, I cannot say."

"Well, let us explore it," said Mme. Storey.

The butler followed very unwillingly. The straight, narrow stairway led us into a bare passage with windows looking out on the court. At the right, this passage ended with a door opening on the main service hall and stairway; at the left, it turned a corner and continued around the north side of the court. On this side there was a small door opening from the passage. My employer, trying it, found it locked. The dignified butler had a very unhappy air. He said: "That door leads into the ballroom, Madame. It is used only when there is an entertainment, to facilitate the service. Shall I send for the key?"

"No matter," said Mme. Storey, continuing.

The passage ended on this side at a heavy door locked by a spring lock on our side. That is to say we could open the door, but could not come back that way without putting it on the latch. The wall we passed through here was over a foot thick; evidently a party wall. On the other side of the door the passage turned sharp to the left again. This part ran on endlessly, and was perfectly dark except for a glimmer of light through a glass door over a hundred feet away. There were no doors in it. It was a weird feature to find in a modern house. The door at the end, we found, gave on the street, but it was ingeniously masked by a stoop built over it. There was a heavy iron grille outside, such as they use to protect basement doors. The street we looked on was one strange to us. However, it was not difficult to deduce that it was the next cross street to the north of that on which the public entrances of the Varick house opened. My employer looked at the disconcerted Jarboe with a smile.

"Jarboe," she said, "you are the chief servant of this household. How ridiculous to pretend that you did not know of the existence of this passage. Why, who sweeps it?"

He spread out his hands in gesture of surrender. "Madame, you must pardon me. A good servant never betrays the private affairs of his master. The habit of years was too strong to be broken."

I thought it rather a neat apology.

"You're forgiven," said Mme. Storey, cheerfully. "Now tell me the history of this passage."

"It was constructed during the last rebuilding of the house," said Jarboe. "The Commodore owns the houses at the back of his property, and had this passage made under one of them so that he could enter and leave his house privately. So many people hang about the front door, newspaper reporters, photographers..."

"Process servers," put in Mme. Storey slyly.

"My master was a man of blameless life," said Jarboe with dignity.

"Oh, quite! I don't blame him. What's the use of being a millionaire, if you can't have a little privacy?"

Jarboe looked relieved. We strolled back.

"Jarboe," said Mme. Storey, "think before you answer my next question. The truth is bound to come out and you can best help the family by assisting me to get at it as quickly as possible...Did young Mr. Henry also use this passage?"

Jarboe stumbled in his speech, gulped hard, and finally blurted out. "Yes, Madame. Mr. Henry was also provided with the two keys necessary to come in this way."

"Did his father know about it?"

"I fancy not, Madame. I fancy Mrs. Varick must have procured the keys for Mr. Henry."

"Ah! Now, Jarboe, the truth! Did not Mr. Henry come in this way yesterday for the purpose of seeing his father?"

"No, Madame, no!" he replied agitatedly.

"But couldn't he have come this way, and gone out again without ever your seeing him?"

"If he had been in the house I should certainly have heard of it, Madame. There are servants everywhere, and everything is talked about among them."

"That is not quite an answer to my question. Is it not possible that Mr. Henry came this way yesterday and went out again without your seeing him?"

"Of course, it is possible, Madame," said Jarboe, with an unhappy air.

X

By-and-by Jarboe came to the office to say: "Mr. Henry Varick's compliments to Madame Storey. He is dining downstairs at half-past seven, and wishes to know if Madame Storey will do him the honour of joining him."

It amused my employer to treat the magnificent Jarboe in an off-hand and facetious manner. "But, Jarboe, I have nothing to wear!" she said.

He never smiled. "Under the circumstances, Madame, I am sure Mr. Henry will understand."

"Very well. Tell him that Madame Storey and Miss Brickley will be happy to join him."

Jarboe looked a little dubious at the inclusion of my name. However, he marched off.

"Mr. Henry has decided to take the bull by the horns," remarked Mme. Storey to me.

When the hour arrived, my mistress and I went slowly down the sweeping stairway arm in arm. How I wish I could convey in a phrase the stateliness of that great house. I think proportion had a lot to do with it. The height and width of those noble halls upstairs and down were in exactly the right relation to their length. There were several footmen in the lower hall in plain evening dress. The astute face of our man Crider was amongst them. Certainly no time had been lost in installing and outfitting him. One of the footmen (not Crider) approached us, saying: "Mr. Henry is in the gold room," and led the way across the hall into the middle one of the three great drawing-rooms that filled the Fifth Avenue side of the house. Our young host came forward to greet us.

"I have already seen you today," he said to Mme. Storey, "but I did not know you. My mother has told me about you now, and what you are doing for us. It is wonderful of you!"

My employer brought me forward: "My secretary, Miss Brickley."

I turned hot and cold when he looked at me. He had the bluest eyes I have ever beheld, blue as the tropical sea. It was perfectly ridiculous, but the same feeling of helplessness came over me every time he looked at me. After a courteous greeting, he paid no further attention to me. Giving an arm to Mme. Storey, he led her through the state suite.

"It was very good of you to have us downstairs," she said.

"Oh," he said, with a painful gesture, "nothing is to be gained by crying and carrying on about our loss. I'm done with crying now. Things have got to go on. I ordered dinner downstairs hoping that I could persuade you to join me. We must become acquainted; we must work together."

"Surely," said Mme. Storey.

I resented her coolness. I was enraged by the thought that she was, as I thought, trying to bring the murder home to him. God forgive me! I was jealous of my mistress. Issuing out of the farther drawing-room, we crossed the great central hall again. The dining-room was opposite. It was another long and lofty room with a row of windows at the end that must have looked out on the court. It was dark except for a cluster of shaded candles on the small table, and another cluster on the sideboard. The density of the shadows made the lofty ceiling recede even farther. I felt like an insect under it. Yet, as I presently learned, this was only the family dining-room. There was a state dining-room somewhere else.

Mr. Varick put Mme. Storey at his right and me at his left. "I ordered a small table," he said, "because the family mahogany is depressing for so intimate a party. Would you like more light?"

"This is perfect," said Mme. Storey.

The meal commenced; hors d'oeuvres, soup, fish, and so on. In the beginning the conversation was merely polite; it seemed to be tacitly agreed that all painful subjects must be deferred until we had at least got our food down. Nobody cared about eating, and many things were sent away untasted. It threatened to go on for ever, until Mme. Storey said in her brusque and humorous way: "Look here, must we eat any more?"

"No, no!" he said, rousing himself. He spoke to the footman behind his chair. "Never mind the game, or dessert. Just fruit, coffee, cognac, and cigarettes."

When this was put on the table the servants left the room for good. Mr. Varick leaned towards my mistress. "Well...what's the real situation?" he asked in a strained voice.

She spread out her hands. "I have collected a lot of information, but I seem to be no nearer a solution. All I have done is to detain the Princess Cristina."

"She could hardly have done it!" he said with a half smile. In spite of grief and fatigue that incorrigible smile was always near the surface. "She had nothing against the old man. If it had been me, now."

"My idea, too," said Mme. Storey. "But I had to prevent her sailing."

Quite simply, and with a glint of mirth in his weary eyes, he told us of his affair with the Princess. To his father his casual frankness must have seemed scandalous, but it is only the way of the younger generation. "It was never put up to me in so many words, but of course I knew they wanted me to marry her. And I was willing; she was easy to look at. Besides, I wanted to please the old boy; I've been a thorn in his side ever since I grew up. I had made such a mess of my own affairs always, I thought they might as well have a try at settling them.

"And so it started. But I soon forgot it was a made-up affair. I had never known anybody like Cristina. In fact, I got perfectly crazy about her, though I suppose it didn't go very deep. But I never let on to her she had me going; I didn't dare. For she was a terrible girl, you know, imperious. Wanted to get her little foot firmly planted on your neck, and keep you down. Well, not for Joseph! So I just joshed her. What a delicious little spitfire! We spent the time quarrelling like devils—and making up. It was a heap of fun. Be cause, you see, in public she was always very much the Princess, and as soon as we got alone together, whew! the lid blew off!

"It wasn't Cristina that I baulked at; I could have tamed the little termagant, and enjoyed doing it. It was her life, her gang, it was everything she stood for that stuck in my crop. I don't know if I can explain what I mean. That crowd of decayed aristocrats and cast-off royalties that fluffs around Europe from one expensive resort to another sponging on millionaires. In a going concern like England, the King is a real person, but the others are just play-actors. The whole business of Highnessing them, and going down on your marrow bones, and slipping them loans on the sly, is a comic sham. Yet my Dad couldn't see it. If he could buy lunch for a hereditary Prince he was happy...Do you know Europe, Madame Storey?"

"I know it," she said dryly.

"Then I need say no more. By God! that atmosphere would have suffocated me! I'm an American. I must have air. I must be free to say my say, and walk out on the show if I don't like it."

"Oh, quite!"

"So I saw almost from the first that marriage was out of the question, and after that I was just out for the fun there was in it. I swear I never thought Cristina was taking it seriously. A hundred times a day she called me a boor, a peasant, a barbarian—with trimmings. She said she'd sooner marry her footman than me. However, since she came to America, I suppose she did take it seriously. Those girls over there don't savvy like ours do. Maybe it's because they don't want to. At any rate, they're not such good sports. Oh, well, anything I ever started was bound to turn out badly."

He swallowed a pony of brandy, and continued: "Where I made my mistake was in not having it out with the old man in plain words. But it was impossible to have a thing out with him, unless you both got in a rip-roaring passion. When I tried to talk to him about it, he turned it aside. So I just drifted. When we left Europe I thought the scheme had been dropped. Wrong again! I was soon made to understand by little things that the match was settled. In short, that I had to marry the girl. That turned me stubborn and I..." He suddenly broke off and took another drink.

"You what?" prompted Mme. Storey.

"Oh, I made up my mind I'd be damned if I would!"

This was obviously not what he had started to say. However, my employer let it pass. "Her coming brought things to a head," she suggested.

"Yes," he said ruefully. "I lit out. But the old man ran me to earth, and I had to come back. Got here Monday, day before yesterday. We had it out then with a vengeance. I tried to reason with him, but he wouldn't listen. Insisted that I had compromised myself. That made me laugh. 'Good God!' I said, 'if a fellow had to marry every girl he had petted, Brigham Young would be nowhere!' He said, in his stiff way: 'It is somewhat different when a Princess is involved!' 'Princess, my eye!' I said; 'her family was kicked out of that job nearly twenty years ago!' We were soon shouting at each other in the old way. He said I had allowed him to commit himself so far that he couldn't draw back, and I said that I didn't give a damn for his commitments, that I was the one who had to marry the girl. He mounted his highest horse. He said that I had to marry the girl, and there was no argument about it, so then I played..." He suddenly bit his lip, and seized his glass again.

"Played your trump card?" suggested Mme. Storey.

"No," he said with an embarrassed smile, "I didn't have any trumps. Played my last card, I was going to say. I said I wouldn't marry her, and stood pat."

There was clearly an important omission here, but as Mme. Storey was not supposed to be examining him, she couldn't very well take notice of it. He went on to describe the final scenes of his quarrel with his father. In doing so he completely forgot himself; his cheeks became flushed, and his eyes sparkled with remembered anger as he acted the scene out. "He said he'd cut me off without a cent! And I said go to it!"

In the middle of this the blue eyes suddenly went blank, and he caught himself up gasping. "Oh, God! what am I saying! And he lying upstairs cold!" He sprang up from his chair, and walked away into the shadows. He leaned his arms against the wall, and dropped his head upon them. It was terribly affecting.

"However, that has got nothing to do with the tragedy of yesterday," said Mme. Storey soothingly.

"No," he said heavily. He returned and dropped into his chair. All the light had gone out of his face. He stared before him, fingering a wine-glass without noticing what he was doing. "That is a complete mystery," he murmured. "Surely the doctors must be mistaken. Who would want to kill my Dad?"

"Did he cut you off?" asked Mme. Storey—though she knew very well.

"Yes," he said indifferently. "Made a new will yesterday morning."

"When did you learn that?"

"Just a little while ago, from my mother. The lawyer has talked to her."

"How did your father receive you yesterday afternoon?" asked Mme. Storey in a conversational tone.

I could have shrieked a warning to him, but anyhow it would have come too late. He fell directly into her trap. "Well, he had quieted down some," he said gloomily. "But he wouldn't let me talk."

A second later he realised that he had betrayed himself. He lifted a ghastly face towards my employer.

"How...how did you know I was here yesterday?" he stammered.

"I didn't know," she answered. "You have just told me."

A horrible silence fell upon us three. I was enraged with my mistress. It didn't seem like the square thing to do, to accept his invitation to dine merely for the purpose of entrapping him. On the other hand I felt a kind of fierce joy in the young man's desperate situation. It seemed to bring me a little closer to him. If the whole world abandons him I will still be his friend! I told myself.

XI

After a while Henry Varick raised his head, and said with a kind of weary defiance: "Well, suppose I did see my father yesterday afternoon? What of it?"

"Nothing," said Mme. Storey mildly. "I am only wondering why you tried to conceal the fact?"

"Well, I was tempted because it seemed easy to conceal it. I came through a secret entrance, and I met nobody. Nobody knew I was in the house except...my mother."

"And Miss Gilsey," put in Mme. Storey.

He stared at her again. "You are a terrible woman!" he murmured. "...Yes, Miss Gilsey saw me come, because she is always with my mother. But she would not have betrayed me."

"Nor your mother's maids?"

"Nor my mother's maids either. I didn't notice whether they saw me or not...As for my reason for concealing my visit, surely that must be clear to you. It appears that my father was taken sick a few minutes after I had left him. Anybody could foresee what a nasty story that would start. The scapegrace son, and all that. My whole past life raked up. My object was simply to keep a dirty mess out of the papers. I had no fear of the outcome. Why, no sensible person would believe that I had done it. A son does not poison his father! It is incredible! Am I a monster?"

Mme. Storey expressed no comment.

"And, anyhow," he went on, "what a fool I would be to make an attempt on my father's life when he had just made a will cutting me off!"

"But you did not know that," she coldly pointed out. "You told me you had just found it out. Yesterday all you knew was that your father intended to change his will. On former occasions it had not been accomplished so quickly."

The young man pressed his head between his hands. "Oh, God! what a frightful position I am in!" he groaned.

"Why did you come back yesterday?" asked Mme. Storey.

"For the most natural reason in the world. I had cooled off. I was sorry for some of the things I had said. I hoped he might be sorry too."

"Were you prepared then to accept the Princess?"

"Oh, no! There was no question about that," he answered quickly. "I just wanted to say I was sorry. I suppose it won't be believed, but I loved my father. Besides, why not confess it? I am only human. I was worried about the will. I care for money as little as any man, but the threat that had been held over me was that Theodore Varick, my father's nephew, was to get it all, in order to carry on the family traditions—Oh, my God! The thought that that...excuse me! that he might be able to crow over me! that snooper! that worm!—he's not a man, he's a water-cooler! Why, for the last five years he's been sucking up to my dad, sympathising with him for having such a graceless son! Gad! once I had the pleasure of smashing his pasty face and I hope to do it again! Anything to keep Theodore out! I came back prepared to eat humble pie, to agree to anything short of marrying myself to that foreign woman."

"You went direct to your mother's room?" prompted Mme. Storey.

"Yes."

"Did you send word to your father that you were in the house?"

"No, indeed, he would only have refused to see me. I went to his study. I went through all the rooms of the two suites so I wouldn't show myself outside."

"Was the Princess still with him?"

"No, he was alone when we..."

"Who was with you?" interrupted Mme. Storey.

"Nobody," he said. "A slip of the tongue. I was thinking of my mother. We had been discussing whether she ought to come with me, but she didn't."

"Now, come," said my employer with dry good-humour. "Isn't it a fact that Mrs. Varick was out of the house altogether at that hour?"

"Well...yes," he said sullenly. "If you know everything already why ask me? She was out. Is that important?"

"No," said Mme. Storey. "Go on."

"Cristina must have just gone, I could smell her perfume, and my father was still fussed."

"That made it more difficult for you then."

"No, on the contrary, I think he was relieved that the thing was done with. He treated me pretty decent—for him. Of course, he was pretty stiff with me, he was never the one to admit he had been wrong. But I think he showed it a little. At any rate, he didn't refuse my hand. He had his tea, and I drank a whisky and soda...Gabbitt must have found the glass! Was it he who gave me away?"

"No," said Mme. Storey. "Every servant in the house knew you had been here, and all of them lied."

"Well, bless their hearts!" he said with a twisted smile. "I seem to get everybody in wrong. It would have been better if I'd never been born!"

"What did your father say to you?" she asked.

"He scolded me for having sneaked into the house secretly. Said it was very infra dig. He was afraid somebody might find me in his study. He sent me away, and told me if I would come back after things had cleared up—by that he meant after Cristina had left the country; she was not named between us—and would come in by the front door, he would be glad to see me."

"He did not refer to the new will he had made?"

"Not a word! He wouldn't, you see, if he was feeling more kindly towards me. He would just tear it up afterwards. At any rate, I thought he had climbed down a good deal, and I went away happy...At Buffalo in the middle of the night the telegram was put on the train that brought me back. And now everything is ruined! My father is dead, and Theodore has his shoes, I suppose!" His head went down between his hands again.

"Where were you going on the train?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Nowhere in particular. Just keeping out of the way until Cristina sailed."

"How unlucky that there was no witness to the final interview with your father," remarked Mme. Storey. It had the sound of a question.

He hesitated for the fraction of a second; his eyes bolted painfully; then he blurted out: "No, there was no witness."

XII

Soon afterwards we left the dining-room, and sauntered down the great hall. Following upon the little outburst of emotion that I have described, we had assumed the ordinary appearances of good form. It is instinctive. Nothing in my employer's manner suggested that Henry Varick had rendered himself an object of suspicion by his disclosures. She talked of ordinary matters in an ordinary manner. He answered in kind, of course, but I could see from his uneasy glances that he did not know what to make of her. He was wondering whether he had to deal with an agent of the police who was trying to entrap him, or with a woman of the world who took everything as it came. As a matter of fact, my employer was both.

"The library is at the other end," he said; "it's a pleasant room. Let's go in there."

It was a most inviting room, but "library" I judged to be a polite fiction; there were no books visible. Though the spring was well advanced there was a wood fire burning on the hearth which gave off a most agreeable warmth. We ranged ourselves before it in luxurious easy-chairs, and talked like congenial acquaintances, who had nothing in particular on their minds. This sort of rambling casual conversation is one of Mme. Storey's most insidious lines of attack, and I could see that Henry Varick was growing more and more visibly uneasy. He must have been under a terrible strain. The only other light besides the fire was given by a shaded reading-lamp in a corner.

I say we talked, but the truth is they talked, while I sat perfectly silent, feeding my infatuation with the sight of that handsome young face in the firelight, haggard with passionate emotion. It was most of all tragic when he smiled in a reckless boy fashion, trying to carry things off lightly. I was in a rapt state, scarcely mistress of myself. It only needed a spark to set me off. While we sat there a footman came in with a note for Mme. Storey. This I judged must come from Inspector Rumsey via the underground channel they had provided. She read it with a bland face, tore it into small pieces, and tossed them on the fire.

"From Inspector Rumsey," she said. "He says he can trace no sales of aconitina recently."

I guessed that there was more in it than this, and so, apparently did Henry Varick. He watched the little pieces catch fire one by one with an expression of baulked curiosity.

More conversation followed. Mme. Storey discussed her work on the case with apparent frankness. Some time afterwards, long enough anyhow for us not to connect what she said with the arrival of the note, she brought the talk around to the plan of the second floor. "In order to be able to figure out what happened, I must have that clear in my mind," she said. "I visited most of the rooms today, but I didn't like to go into your suite without having you along."

There was but one thing that he could reply to this. "Shall we go up now?"

"If you don't mind."

It was rather touching to find in that grand house a simple boy's room. I judged that it had been changed very little since Henry Varick was fifteen or sixteen years old. The school pennants were still tacked on the walls, and that type of picture that adolescent boys like, depicting flamboyant misses in sports clothes. There were fencing foils and masks hung up; a set of boxing gloves; a shotgun, a rifle, and various sporting trophies. There was an armoire full of baseball bats, hockey sticks, tennis rackets and like impedimenta. Evidently young Henry had been no effete son of luxury.

This was the "study," which like "library" downstairs was a misnomer. Two shelves, and those not full, contained all the books. Many of them I noticed dealt with chemistry and drugs. Mme. Storey pulled out a fat green volume that was entitled: Pharmacology and Therapeutics and skimmed through it. "Have you consulted this lately?" she asked.

"Not in years," he said carelessly.

She then did something that I had seen her do before; a simple trick that has an uncanny effectiveness. Holding the book loosely between her two hands, she let it fall open of itself. She repeated this two or three times. "Yet I should say that it has been consulted recently," she said quietly, "and more than once. See! It opens of itself on page 425."

We looked over her shoulder, he on one side, I on the other, and there we saw staring at us from the page a chapter heading: XXI—ACONITINE.

It gave me a horrid shock; Henry Varick, too. He stepped back, his face working spasmodically.

"Well," he said harshly, "does that prove anything?"

"No," said Mme. Storey, closing the book and putting it back.

"Anyhow," he went on, in a loud, strained voice, "I am perfectly familiar with the action of aconite. I wouldn't have to consult that book." This was an answer that cut both ways. The next object of interest in the room was a glass fronted curio cabinet that contained the schoolboy's collections. One saw the usual things neatly set out on the shelves; the minerals, the fossils, the arrowheads and pipe bowls. And on the lower shelves; butterflies, beetles, birds' eggs and miscellaneous souvenirs. It was more comprehensive than the usual youngsters' gatherings, because this boy had been well supplied with money. I could picture the handsome, intent stripling arranging his treasures.

"Where is your collection of drugs?" asked Mme. Storey quietly.

It came like a blow. He caught his breath, and started to answer, but she checked him with a sudden, involuntary gesture. "Ah, don't lie to me!" she said with real feeling. "It shames you and me both. I am to blame. I will deceive you no longer. The letter that I got from Inspector Rumsey said: 'I have learned that Henry Varick while he was engaged in the drug business caused a collection to be made of samples of every drug. The samples were contained in a walnut case which was sent to his home. Presumably the drug aconitina was included amongst the rest, but I cannot verify this at the moment. See if you can trace the case.'"

"I wasn't going to lie to you," Henry Varick said in his rapid, strained voice. "I had such a collection, but I destroyed it two years ago. When the trust busted I was sick of the business. Besides, such a thing was too dangerous to have lying around."

It was only too clear that he was lying then. It made me feel sick at heart.

"How did you destroy it?" asked Madame Storey.

"Burned it up entire in the furnace downstairs."

She said no more, but led the way into the bedroom adjoining, a bare and sparsely furnished chamber almost like a hospital room. Amidst the almost oppressive luxury of that house it was like a breath of fresh air. In one corner stood a narrow white bed.

Mme. Storey stood in the doorway looking around her without speaking. Out of the corner of my eye I could see that the face of the young man beside me was livid and sweating. I suffered with him. Finally, my employer said in a deadly quiet voice: "Turn down the mattress, Bella."

A groan was forced from the young man that seemed to come from his very entrails. "Oh, God! I'm lost!"

With trembling arms I obeyed my mistress. Between mattress and springs there was revealed a flat square walnut box of the sort that artists use to carry their paints in. Evidently, it had been hastily thrust there while a better hiding place was sought, or a chance to destroy it.

"Have you anything to say?" asked Mme. Storey.

He broke into a bitter fleering laughter. "Say? What do you want me to say? You've got a case against me, haven't you? Better proceed with it. I guess I've reached the point where I'd better keep my mouth shut without advice of counsel." This was merely the bravado of one who was half-crazed.

Meanwhile, I had laid the box on the bed, and let the mattress fall back into place. The box was locked.

"Have you the key?" asked Mme. Storey.

"What the use?" he cried. "I admit the stuff was there, and it's gone now." Nevertheless, he produced his keys, and sought for the right one.

"Have those keys ever been out of your possession?" she asked.

"No."

"Was there ever another key?"

"No."

I could no longer keep still. I was in a state approaching collapse myself. "You are convicting yourself!" I cried to him.

"Oh, what does it matter?" he said.

My mistress gave me a curious glance of pity. I didn't want pity from her. In the condition of mind that I was in, she represented the enemy. "When did you put it under the mattress?" she asked.

"This afternoon. I intended to burn it tonight when the house was quiet."

"Oh, keep still! keep still!" I cried, clasping my hands. Neither paid any attention to me.

"Where was it before that?"

"In the curio cabinet."

"Has anybody a key to that cabinet but yourself?"

"No."

By this time the box was open. It was lined with red velvet, and was divided into scores of little grooves holding glass phials full of drugs, stopped with wax or some such substance. Each phial had its label neatly pasted around it; and as a further precaution, there was a number under each groove, and an index pasted into the top of the box. One groove was empty! Under it was the number 63, and our eyes flew to the index above. We read opposite 63—Aconitina.

XIII

Mme. Storey sent for Jarboe, and Mr. Henry was locked in his bedroom. The windows looked out upon a stone paved well or court about thirty feet below, and there was no way he could have escaped short of wings. However, the house was full of the young man's friends, and my mistress telephoned to Inspector Rumsey for a guard to be sent. This man, Manby, was posted in the outer room of the suite. Jarboe was heartbroken by this turn of affairs. We took nobody else into our confidence. When Mrs. Varick learned her son was a prisoner we expected the devil to pay.

Mme. Storey and I slept in the house. Early next morning the body of Commodore Varick was privately removed to the family vault in Woodlawn cemetery, there to await further orders from the police. There had been no official reading of the will, but everybody in the house now seemed to know what it contained. The Commodore had created a great trust fund of which his wife was to be sole beneficiary during her lifetime. Upon her death the fortune was to be divided into three equal parts, of which one was to go to the New York Hospital, one to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and one to Yale University. Mr. Henry's worst fear was not realized inasmuch as Mr. Theodore Varick's name did not appear.

In describing the dramatic scenes that took place inside the house, I must not omit mention of the efficient, but quite unspectacular spade work that was going on outside. There was a small army of operatives engaged on the case. To ensure secrecy, Inspector Rumsey had agreed that, at any rate for the first twenty-four hours, our men should be principally used on this work. Every move of Dr. Slingluff's and Miss Priestley's was shadowed. On Miss Gilsey we could get no line because she lived in the house, and had never left it since the murder. The valet, Gabbitt, and indeed, all the servants in the house were picked up whenever they went out. Frequent reports from these operatives reached Mme. Storey under cover to Mrs. Varick.

In addition to these outside men, our best operative, Crider, was installed as a footman inside the house. Crider's work however, resulted in nothing. He complained that from the very first, every servant in the house was aware of who he was, and became mum in his presence. This looked as if Jarboe had played us false, since none but he knew where Crider had come from. By a clever piece of detective work the police had established that the first anonymous letter (the one addressed to Inspector Rumsey) had been mailed in a pillar box on Lexington Avenue somewhere between 36th and 42nd Streets shortly before eleven on Tuesday night; whereas the second letter (addressed to Mme. Storey) had been dropped in a chute at the branch post office in the Grand Central Station at 3.30 on Wednesday afternoon. The peculiarly formed characters had aided in the tracing of these letters.

A report had been received from the chemists to whom Commodore Varick's medicines had been sent the day before. It was to the effect that they contained nothing but what was represented on the labels; the first, a tincture of digitalis of the usual strength; the second, capsules containing a simple compound of pepsin and bismuth.

Mme. Storey and I established ourselves in Commodore Varick's office. My mistress dictated to me some notes she had taken of an examination of one of the maids while I was busy elsewhere. This maid, Nellie Hannaford by name, had removed the tea things from the Commodore's study. Hannaford said she met nobody in the Commodore's suite. She said that Gabbitt had already been sent for to come to his master, but there were three doors between her and the Commodore's bedroom, and she saw nothing, or heard nothing that led her to suppose the master had been taken sick. In fact, she hadn't heard anything about his sickness until after he was dead.

She said she found on the study table two empty cups that had contained tea, and another cup in the service pantry full of tea that had been made and not drunk. Four of the tea balls had been used, indicating that four cups of tea had been made. The cups belonged to a tea service that was kept in the Commodore's suite, and it was her duty to wash them in the pantry, and return them to the shelves. She denied having found a glass that had contained whisky and soda. (In making this statement we supposed she was lying.)

"Who could the third cup of tea have been for?" I asked involuntarily.

"Think, Bella," said my employer with a smile. "Surely it was obvious when we questioned Henry Varick last night, that he did not go to his father's study alone. Mrs. Varick was out of the house, remember."

The picture of a lovely blue-eyed face rose before my mind's eye, a face stony with distress. Estelle Gilsey! I thought in amazement. Another one! Good Heavens! this young man was entangled amongst women like a horseman in a thicket! While we were still engaged in routine work Miss Priestley entered the room. The tall dark girl still had faintly the look of one suffering from shock. Her curious parrot-like utterance carried out the idea. What she said seemed to have no relation to the remote, sombre glance of her dark eyes. It was her room that we were working in, and Mme. Storey apologised politely.

"Oh," said Miss Priestley with a gesture, "I scarcely know what right I have here now that the Commodore is gone. The bottom has fallen out of everything. It is just a blind instinct that brings me back to finish his work as far as I can...I will carry it into the study if I am in your way."

"No, indeed!" said Mme. Storey. "If anybody moves, it shan't be you. At present we are only engaged in routine work."

Lighting a cigarette, my employer leaned back in her chair, and started chatting with the girl in offhand, friendly fashion. She told Miss Priestley many of the details of the case that had come to light overnight, but not the more important developments. And then, characteristically, she graduated by insensible degrees from the act of giving information into that of seeking it.

"I expect that will be a very interesting book," she remarked, with a nod towards the pile of typescript that the secretary had taken from a drawer.

"Oh, yes!" said Miss Priestley; "the Commodore was acquainted with all of the most eminent persons of his time."

"And, of course, his end will give the book a tragic interest now."

"Oh, don't!" said the girl with one of her curious wooden gestures. "It is too dreadful to reflect that what you say is true!"

"Is it nearly finished?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Yes. I shall be able to bring it up to the end of 1918. That will include all the most interesting parts of the Commodore's life."

"How long had he been working on it?"

"Since last May. It is just a year since he engaged me to help him with it."

"A year!" said Mme. Storey. "Bless me! Isn't that a long time to take in writing a book? I understood that books were written overnight nowadays."

"Not this one," said the girl patting the sheets. "The Commodore took the greatest pains in polishing his style...Besides, you must remember that he was a man of many engagements. He could not spare very much time to it."

"Did he work on it when he was in Europe last winter?"

"No. He had no intention of doing so. The script was left at home."

"What did you do during that time?"

"I stayed at home. The Commodore was good enough to pay me my salary while he was away. I was so familiar with the work that he wished to be sure of getting me to go on with it when he returned."

"Was Mr. Henry interested in this work of his father's?"

"I can hardly say that he was interested in it. Mr. Henry is not very literary."

"But he knew that it existed?"

"Oh, yes. He was in and out of the house all last summer at Easthampton while we were working on it. A reconciliation took place between Mr. Henry and his father in June, and he stayed a month with us."

The conversation was rudely broken off at this point. If my description of the plan of the house was clear, it will be remembered that the room beyond the Commodore's office was Mr. Henry's study. There was a door between, but it was not used. I suppose it had been locked when the rooms were first divided into suites. From the next room we heard a suppressed shriek. Mme. Storey and I both jumped to our feet, but Miss Priestley was before us. That strange girl, as if electrified by the sound, was out of the door like a flash and in through the next door, Mme. Storey and I making a bad second and third. In Mr. Henry's study the situation could be read at a glance. The detective stood barring the way to the bedroom door. Facing him stood Estelle Gilsey frozen with horror, one hand clapped over her mouth as if to still an incontrollable need to shriek. A black dress emphasized the fragility of her fair beauty. She turned to my mistress.

"He won't let me in!" she gasped. "...He is a policeman!...Henry is arrested...!"

Before my mistress could answer her Miss Priestley spoke. The dark girl held herself like a very Juno then, her handsome face icy with scorn. Her self-control was in very odd contrast to her mad dash out of the room just now. Verily, as I knew to my cost, a woman's infatuation leads her to cut strange capers! I perceived in Julia Priestley still another victim. She said with a superb air of scorn: "What are you doing here?"

The blonde girl beyond half a glance paid no attention to her. She repeated her agonised question of my mistress: "Is he arrested?"

"What are you doing in his room?" reiterated Miss Priestley. "In his bedroom? Have you no shame?"

Miss Gilsey turned on her then. It appeared that the blue eyes could flash sparks, too. "What business is it of yours?" she demanded.

"You would not have dared while the Commodore was alive!" cried the other girl. "His body has scarcely been carried out of the house. You are shameless!"

"Be quiet!" cried the blonde girl, stamping her foot. "Everybody knows what's the matter with you!"

What a scene! It appeared that the delicate little thing could show her claws, too. We are indeed all alike under our skins. My mistress was taking it all in with a sphinx-like regard. To add to the confusion Mr. Henry began to pound on the other side of the bedroom door. "Let me out! Let me out!"

Mme. Storey nodded to the detective, who thereupon opened the door. Henry Varick seemed to catapult out of the inner room. He had eyes for none of us except Miss Gilsey. He seized her in his arms. "Oh, my darling!" he murmured.

She, too, forgot the world. Her arms wreathed themselves around his neck. "Henry!...Henry...!" she murmured. I thought she was about to faint.

So it was revealed at last which one among the many girls young Henry favoured. I experienced no feeling of jealousy against Estelle Gilsey. In the first place, I had seen from the beginning that there was some sort of an understanding between them, and anyhow, in my crazy infatuation there was no thought of self. I cannot say as much for Julia Priestley. She surveyed this scene with cold and amused scorn, but the rising and falling of her breast betrayed the inner tempest. She uttered two words: "Good comedy!"

That drew Henry's attention to her. When he perceived who it was he dropped his girl as if she had been red hot. He flushed and then paled, and a craven look came into his face that was very painful to see if you were fond of him. The tall girl seemed taller still, regarding him like an empress with flashing eyes. He could not face the situation. He turned and fled back into his bedroom.

Estelle made as if to follow him. "Henry!" she gasped. But at that moment there was a knock on the outer door, and she stopped. Strange it was to see how we all drew masks over our faces. There was one thing all were agreed upon in that house; to hush things up. Estelle allowed the detective to lock the bedroom door. Meanwhile, Mme. Storey opened the other. It was Jarboe, showing an anxious face. Evidently he had heard something, but had succeeded in keeping the other servants off. Mme. Storey reassured him with a word, and he went away again.

But the interruption had put a permanent quietus on the scene. Both girls had had time to reflect on the danger of giving too much away. Each was now elaborately ignoring the other. As soon as Jarboe was out of the way, the tall beauty marched out of the room with her head up, and, as you might say, all colours flying. When she disappeared the little blonde's head went down, and she began to shake. She struggled hard to get a grip on herself, but couldn't make it. Apparently she thought it was useless to ask to see Henry again. With her face working incontrollably, she suddenly darted for the outer door.

Mme. Storey detained her for a moment. "Keep the secret from Mrs. Varick as long as possible," she said. "Don't return to her until you can show a smooth face."

The girl nodded her head mutely, and flew. When we returned to the next room the other one, extraordinary creature! was tapping away at her typewriter as if she had never left it.

XIV

The next thing that happened was the arrival of Inspector Rumsey at the Varick house. It transpired that Mme. Storey had sent for him before I was up. He arrived in a closed car by way of the courtyard. We three retired into the Commodore's study to consult.

"I must yield up my responsibility in this case," said Mme. Storey at once.

"Hey?" said the Inspector, very much startled. "What's the matter?"

"The situation here grows worse and worse," said my employer, "and I cannot any longer be responsible to the police. It ties my hands. It forces me to act in a manner counter to my best judgment."

"But you have full liberty of action," he protested.

"No, I have not. Sit down, and let me tell you the whole situation," which she proceeded to do. I helped out by reading portions of the notes I had taken.

When she had come to an end the Inspector shook his head heavily. "Bad! Bad!" he said. "I quite understand your feelings. But my duty is clear, of course. I must arrest Henry Varick."

"That is what I expected you to say," said Mme. Storey with a faint smile; "and that is why I must wash my hands of you. Because I am not satisfied that Henry Varick poisoned his father."

My heart jumped for joy hearing her say this. I felt that I had found my dear mistress again. I blamed myself for having doubted even a moment that her heart was in the right place.

"But," protested the Inspector, "Commodore Varick died of a dose of aconite; his son was the last person to be with him before he was taken sick; by his own admission he had eaten and drunk with his father; and Henry Varick had the aconite. Why, it's a prima facie case!"

"Not quite," said my employer. "And anyhow, I don't care if it is or not. I may say that there is even more damaging evidence against Henry Varick. I know it is there, though I have not yet brought it out. It wouldn't make any difference. All the evidence in the world would not satisfy me."

"You are illogical," complained the Inspector.

Mme. Storey arose and tossed her hands up. "Ah, there's the rub!" she cried. "There's the old point of division between you and me. You work by logic, my friend, and I by intuition. Oh, everybody is on your side—everybody except Bella here, who is just another silly woman and doesn't count—lawyers, judges, juries and the great public, all on your side, all they think of is evidence. It's absurd the importance they attach to evidence, which is the most unreliable thing in the world."

"You can't take intuition into a court of law," said the Inspector.

"So much the worse for the court," she retorted. "That's why so many trials are solemn farces. And look at the work it makes for me! Three quarters of my time, I suppose, is spent in digging up 'evidence' to prove what anybody can see is so at a glance!"

It was impossible to tell whether she was speaking quite seriously or not. This was an old subject of dispute between her and the Inspector.

He said: "Well, to return to Henry Varick; what makes you suspect he may not have done it?"

"The whole character of the man, and all the former acts of his life so far as they have come to light."

"I can't go with you there!" said the Inspector. "My whole experience teaches me that murder crops out in the most unexpected places."

I saw a retort spring to my mistress's lips, but she withheld it, for fear, I suppose, of hurting our old friend's feelings. She said: "Granted. I base my opinion of Henry Varick's innocence on what I have observed of him during the past twenty-four hours. On what he said; on the way he looked when he said it; and on the tones of his voice. There are men, of course, who can simulate anything, but he is not one of them. He is just an ordinary, scatterbrained, impulsive young fellow, who has been a little spoiled by too much kindness—especially from our sex; and who has never taken serious thought of anything in his life."

"I have not had the advantage of seeing him," said the Inspector dryly. He thought that Mme. Storey had fallen a victim to the young man's charm like all the other women.

It did not escape her. "It is true, what you are thinking of," she said with a laugh. "I am crazy about him. But, letting that go for the moment, consider his actions. A murder by poison, of course, is not committed in the heat of passion; it requires planning. If he planned this out, is it reasonable to suppose that he would go off to Buffalo, and leave that tell-tale cabinet of drugs here in the house?"

"They always forget something."

"Surely! But not the thing."

"Does your intuition suggest who did commit this murder?" he asked dryly.

"I may have my notions," she said, "but I do not intend to speak of them until I have dug up the necessary evidence."

"How long will that take you?"

"How can I tell?" she said, spreading out her hands. "I may never get it. Lots of things which are as plain as the nose before your face cannot be proven."

"What is the additional evidence against Henry Varick that you spoke of?" he asked. "I suppose I have the right to ask for that."

"Oh, assuredly!" she said, turning away with a gesture. "But it's so painful! so very painful! However, all must come out, of course." She turned back. "Will you promise me not to allow this last disclosure to reach Henry Varick's ears for a week?"

"But why?" he demanded.

"Simply because it would break his heart."

"Oh, very well," he said, a little nettled. He thought we had both lost our heads over the young man.

"Let us find out if Dr. Slingluff is in the house," said Mme. Storey. "He has been making frequent visits to Mrs. Varick."

My heart began to beat as soon as this name was mentioned. From the first I had suspected that the secret was in the possession of the family doctor. Gabbitt was despatched to find him. Within five minutes he returned, having the handsome, dignified practitioner in tow. Mme. Storey introduced the two men to each other. As soon as he learned that he was facing a police officer, Dr. Slingluff began to sweat. He was such a nice looking man that it was painful to see. My employer wasted no time in beating around the bush. She said: "Doctor, we had a painful interview yesterday, and a still more painful one is before us. It was perfectly evident to me yesterday that you were—if you will excuse me, lying! It may have been from the highest motives, but it was nevertheless—lying!"

He puffed out his cheeks. "Madam!" he cried, "Your sex protects you. No man would dare..."

"Why become angry?" she interrupted with a smile. "If I am wrong you can afford to laugh at me."

He subsided.

"What the Inspector and I want to know is," she went on, "why you signed that certificate as you did, when you knew that Commodore Varick had been poisoned."

"I did not know it!" he cried. "I have already told you..."

"Now, doctor," she said cajolingly, "with your skill, your vast experience, you cannot expect us to believe that."

"I don't care whether you believe it or not!" he cried. "It's true!"

"You're a naturally truthful man," said Mme. Storey, "and lying like everything else to be successful requires practice." She pointed to a little diamond-shaped mirror that was let into the top of the escritoire. "Look at yourself in the glass, doctor. If you saw that face upon another would you not say that the man behind it was lying?"

He would not look, of course, but strode away, cursing under his breath.

"Consider a moment," she went on. "I am your friend because I believe that you are actuated by the highest motives. Won't you fare better with me than you would with a bawling lawyer in open court? You can't get away with this. If you persist in trying to do so, an inevitable public humiliation awaits you."

He dropped in a chair and flung up his hands. "Very well," he said, "I was lying!...Oh, God! what a relief!" He wiped his face and forehead with his handkerchief.

"Why did you lie?" asked Mme. Storey.

"Because the Commodore asked me to. He was my oldest friend."

"Asked you to!" interpolated the Inspector in astonishment.

"The moment I clapped eyes on the Commodore I saw that he had been poisoned," said Dr. Slingluff. "I suspected aconite owing to the intolerable prickling of the skin of which he complained. No other poison gives rise to that symptom. I sent Gabbitt on the run to my office for atropine, but I saw that it was too late for atropine or anything else. My real reason was to get the man out of the room because I saw my friend had something of a private nature to say to me. He took one of my hands between his; he was perfectly conscious, but I had to stoop low to hear him. He said: 'Fred, I have been poisoned!' I nodded. He said with an agonised look of entreaty in his eyes: 'Keep it a secret, Fred. It rests with you. Oh, God! don't let me die with the fear of disgrace and horror on me!' And so I promised, and a look of relief came into his dying eyes. Could I have acted differently?"

"Certainly not," said Mme. Storey. "But was that all?"

"That was all."

"You're an enlightened man," she said, "you're the sort of man, I take it, who reserves the right to think and to act for himself on all occasions."

"I hope so," said Doctor Slingluff.

"Well, wouldn't it be consistent with your idea of what is right to give such a promise to a dying man to ease his death, and then break it afterwards if the public interest demanded?"

He saw that he was in a trap, and refused to answer.

"You see," said Mme. Storey mildly, "you have not yet told me why you lied."

Silence from the doctor.

"Commodore Varick also, was a man of the world," she went on, "he must have known that in asking such a thing of you, he was asking you to betray your professional reputation, your duty to the State. Didn't he appear to be aware of this?"

"No," said Dr. Slingluff.

"Didn't he give any reason for making such a request?"

"No!"

"Didn't he," Mme. Storey asked very softly, "didn't he tell you who poisoned him?"

The same symptoms of extreme agitation appeared in the doctor's candid face but he said, as before: "No!"

Mme. Storey sighed. She said: "It may help to clarify the situation if I tell you that Henry Varick has been under arrest since last night. We have built up a strong case against him."

Doctor Slingluff started up out of his chair, and dropped back again in a heap. His eyes seemed to start out of his head in horror. Then he covered his face. "Henry arrested!" he groaned. "Then everything is over!"

"You see there is no further occasion for lying," said my mistress gently.

"No!" he murmured wretchedly. "No! God help us!"

"What were Commodore Varick's last words to you before he died?" asked Mme. Storey.

"He said," came the husky reply, "he said...'Henry poisoned me.'"

I pass over my private feelings at that moment. The others shared them at least to some degree, I fancy. As Mme. Storey had said, the situation was too painful. After the stricken doctor had left the room, Inspector Rumsey turned to my employer in a kind of amazement. "And you knew it all the time?" he said. "You knew what was coming?"

"Yes, I knew it," she said soberly, "in a way."

"How could you have known it?"

"By intuition. There was no other way of accounting for the doctor's agony of mind yesterday when I questioned him."

"Can you still tell me that you are not satisfied as to this young man's guilt?" demanded the Inspector.

"I am not satisfied," said Mme. Storey stoutly. "In this latest disclosure there is merely an emotional effect, there is no proof. You are crushed by the horror of that father's death, believing that his son had poisoned him. Suppose he was mistaken?"

"Impossible!"

"Suppose the Commodore had taken several substances into his mouth about that time, how could he know which might have contained the poison?"

"By the remembered taste afterwards."

"It may have been disguised."

"You are simply hoping against hope," said Inspector Rumsey. "My duty is clear. I must take Henry Varick down to headquarters."

Mme. Storey spread out her hands in surrender.

XV

However, Henry Varick was not taken away just then. Mme. Storey said; "Before we part company in this case, Inspector..."

He interrupted her in great concern: "Part company?"

"Well, hereafter, I suppose you will be for the prosecution and I for the defence. But let us try one last expedient together with a view to discovering the truth."

"What do you propose?" he asked.

"You are familiar with the criminal procedure in France and Italy," she answered; "how they bring accused and accusers face to face in the court room, and let them shout at each other, the idea being that the truth will somehow reveal itself in spite of them. It's not a perfect method, but it has its points; if there must be shouting in court it seems more reasonable to let the principals do it than their hired lawyers, as we arrange it over here. I propose that we have Henry Varick and his accuser in here together."

"But his father was his accuser," objected the Inspector, "and he is dead."

"He has another accuser," said Mme. Storey. "Telephone to Manby to fetch him in here, and I'll produce her."

He did so. Meanwhile Mme. Storey went to the door into the office. When she opened it one could hear the uninterrupted tapping of the typewriter within. She said: "Miss Priestley, will you be good enough to come in here for a moment."

The secretary entered with a look of polite surprise. Inspector Rumsey's eyes opened at the sight of her, and that indefinable change took place in him that one always sees in a man upon the entrance of beauty. My heart began to beat again, foreseeing another painful scene. I wished myself away from there, for I felt that I had had about all I could bear.

A moment later Henry Varick was brought in. The detective was sent back to wait until he was called for again. Henry knew by instinct, I suppose, that the stranger in the room was a police official, and a desperate look came into his eyes. When he saw Julia Priestley also, he changed colour, and looked around him wildly like a trapped creature. All this created a very unfavourable impression on the Inspector. Guilty! his look said just as clearly as if he had enunciated the word. But good heavens! the unfortunate young man was half mad with grief and terror. How could he have looked any differently? If I had been in his place, I should have looked just the same. So far as I could see, Miss Priestley never looked at him.

"Sit down," said Mme. Storey to Miss Priestley. My employer had assumed a bland and smiling air that might have concealed anything.

Henry was not invited to take a chair, but he did so anyway, not having become accustomed as yet to being treated as an inferior. So there we were, the five of us. We were grouped around a table at the end of the room farthest from the fireplace. It was the same table upon which tea had been served two days before—the Commodore's last meal. The Inspector was seated directly at the table, and myself a little behind him. My mistress had told me not to produce a note-book, so I had nothing to do but sit with my hands in my lap and look on. Mr. Henry had his back to the windows, and Miss Priestley was across the room. Mme. Storey was between them, but she did not remain in one position, frequently rising to pace back and forth.

She said to Miss Priestley with her blandest air: "I asked you in, knowing your great interest in this matter. Our labours are completed for the moment. It would not be proper for me to say that Mr. Henry Varick is guilty, but our case against him is complete. He is about to be arrested."

A haunted look came into the young man's face as he listened to this. It seemed like gratuitous cruelty on the part of my mistress, but it was all part of her plan.

"Inspector Rumsey and I want to thank you for the great assistance you have rendered us," she said.

The girl started. "I don't understand you," she said.

"I am referring to the two letters you wrote," said Mme. Storey. "One to Inspector Rumsey and one to me. The first started this investigation, and the second directed it into the right channel."

This was a surprising piece of news to me, and, likewise, to the Inspector. But both of us looked as if we had known it all along.

"I wrote no such letters," said Miss Priestley with an air of great astonishment.

"Oh, I quite understand your reasons for wishing to keep in the background," said Mme. Storey with a friendly smile. "They do you credit. But unfortunately we need you for a witness."

The girl shook her head with a mystified air. "What reason have you to suppose that I wrote the letters you speak of?" she asked.

Mme. Storey went to the escritoire, and unlocked the drawer that I had seen her lock on the day before. From it she took the sheet of paper she had then put away. There was a slip clipped to it that she detached. "This appears to be a sketch for a title page to Commodore Varick's book," she said. "As soon as I saw the lettering I recognised the same hand that had written the two anonymous notes. There is just as much character in block letters, of course, as in written ones. You have a taste for lettering, I see. The characters are formed with care."

Miss Priestley did not turn a hair. Glancing at the paper, she said with a smile: "I am sorry for the truth of your deductions, but that sketch was made by Commodore Varick, not by me."

"That can hardly be," said my employer, still most polite, "because this slip was pinned to it. I read upon it: 'Here is a sketch I have made. I hope you like it.' And signed with your initials: J. P."

"Oh, then I have made a mistake," said the girl with the utmost coolness. "So many sketches were made at different times; some by the Commodore and some by me...However, I know nothing about any anonymous letters."

"Ah, you can't be allowed to keep modesty in the background," said Mme. Storey smiling. "In the net of espionage we have spread you had to be included, of course, and we know all about your movements during the past thirty-six hours. You live in an apartment on Lexington Avenue at Thirty-Seventh Street. From a hall boy there we have learned that you went out about nine-thirty on Tuesday night, returning in a moment or two with a newspaper. The incident was fixed in the boy's mind, because he wondered why you hadn't sent him for it. The late editions that night carried the first news of Commodore Varick's death. When you read that his death had been ascribed to natural causes, you feared that the ends of justice would be defeated, and you wrote the first letter. You came out with it a half-hour or so later, and again the hall boy wondered why you didn't let him post it. But you had a very good reason, of course. It was addressed to Inspector Rumsey at Police Headquarters. Through the post office we have established that that letter was posted on Lexington Avenue somewhere between Thirty-Sixth Street and Forty-Second, and was taken up in the eleven o'clock collection."

Miss Priestley listened to this with an enigmatic smile. It was all a mystery to Henry Varick, of course. He sat forward in his chair listening with strained anxiety.

"The second letter we can bring even closer to you," Mme. Storey went on. "You will remember you and I were talking in the next room about half-past two yesterday, when the name of the Princess Cristina was suddenly injected into the case, and I went tearing off to find her. Again you thought the real criminal was likely to escape, and you sat down and wrote the second note. You left this house at 3.10, somewhat earlier than your custom. You were picked up by a detective and followed. You entered the branch post office in the Grand Central Station, and dropped a letter in a chute. My operative could not see the address; however the post office has reported to us that the second anonymous letter was received through a chute in that post office and cancelled at 3.30."

"Well, I give in," said the girl with a calm gesture. "I didn't want to appear in this horrible case, but I see it is inevitable."

"Inspector Rumsey and I have only one question to ask you," said Mme. Storey. "How did you know that Commodore Varick had been poisoned?"

"I didn't know it," she said quickly, "I only suspected it."

"Your first note stated it as a fact."

"I know. I thought an investigation ought to be made. I thought that would be the best way of bringing it about."

"Oh, quite. What made you suspect that he had been poisoned?"

Miss Priestley hesitated. She glanced fleetingly at Henry through her lashes. "Ought he to be present when I am telling these things?" she asked.

Mme. Storey looked at the Inspector in seeming concern. A glance of intelligence passed between them which the girl could not have seen. "How about it, Inspector?" my employer asked. "Is it proper for him to hear this?"

"Oh, yes," said the Inspector with a judicial air. "A man is always entitled to hear what he is charged with."

I doubted very much if this was the usual practice; however, the girl could have known no better. She resumed with the air of one conscientiously performing a disagreeable duty: "Mr. Henry knew all about poisons. I knew that he had a collection of dangerous poisons. In the past I had heard him talk about poisoning people..."

"Oh, no!" cried Henry in a shocked voice.

The girl looked at Mme. Storey. "I knew this was going to be painful," she murmured.

"Let me explain!" cried Henry desperately. "It is true that I have talked to her about poisons. I have described to her how men would die after having taken different poisons; aconite, strychnine, arsenic and so on; but I never proposed to poison anybody!"

"It is not important," said Mme. Storey smoothly. "The fact that you had talked about poisons is not sufficient in itself to have aroused her suspicions." She turned to the girl. "How did you know that Mr. Henry had been in the house on Tuesday afternoon?"

"I saw him," was the calm reply. She went on: "In my anxiety to keep out of all this, I suppressed part of the truth yesterday. I did not, as I then told you, go downstairs as soon as I had admitted the Princess to the Commodore's study. I went into the office where I had some work to finish. A few minutes later I heard the rumble of a man's voice in this room. I was greatly astonished, because I had not heard the Princess leave, and I knew that the Commodore had no other appointment. In fact, I was alarmed. We all considered it a part of our duty to protect the Commodore from possible intruders. I went to the door between the two rooms and opened it a crack. I saw Mr. Henry in here."

"Was he alone with his father?"

A pinched look came into the girl's face. "No," she said stiffly, "Miss Gilsey was here too—if that is her name."

"Ha!" cried the Inspector.

"I told you that," said Mme. Storey.

"But you only surmised it. This is direct evidence."

My mistress smiled. To the girl she said: "Please describe what you saw in this room."

"Oh, as soon as I saw it was a family matter I closed the door," she said. "I had only the briefest glimpse."

"What did that glimpse show you?"

"As I opened the door I heard the Commodore saying: 'Not a cent! Not a cent! Let the marriage be annulled and I'll settle!'"

Mr. Henry started up. "My father never said that!" he cried.

"Please be silent!" commanded the Inspector.

"What marriage did he refer to?" asked Mme. Storey.

"The marriage between Mr. Henry and Miss Gilsey."

The young man dropped his head between his hands. "I wanted to keep her out of this!" he groaned.

"Oh, they're married, are they?" said my mistress coolly.

The girl's nostrils became pinched again. "He said they were. But that was on the day before. On Monday afternoon Mr. Henry saw his father alone, and they had a violent quarrel. They talked so loud I could hear a good deal in my room. Mr. Henry told his father then that he was married to Miss Gilsey. I don't know if it's true, or if he just said so to get out of the match with the Princess. At any rate the Commodore was infuriated because he looked upon Miss Gilsey as an adventuress. He told his son not to expect a cent from him, and ordered him out of the house."

"That was on Monday," said Mme. Storey; "now, returning to Tuesday, what did you see when you looked in this room?"

"They were grouped around the tea-table—this table. As it happened it was just in line with the crack of the door. The Commodore had that moment risen, and was walking away towards the window there. His back was therefore turned to me. Mr. Henry was standing between me and the table, and his back was towards me. Miss Gilsey was seated at the table with the tea-tray before her, and I could see her face..." The girl hesitated.

"Well?" prompted Mme. Storey.

Miss Priestley was breathing quickly. "Nothing happened," she said with a jerky gesture. "Nothing that I could swear to on the witness-stand. It was just a glimpse...I saw her give him an extraordinary look. His hands were hidden from me...but he bent over the table a little...it seemed to me that the movements of his arms were suspicious...that's all."

It was a horribly vivid picture that she called up. I think we all shuddered. Mr. Henry's face was hidden.

"And from that you thought...?" Mme. Storey prompted further.

"Well, taken in connection with what had happened the day before," said Miss Priestley. "I knew that Mr. Henry feared the will was going to be changed. As a matter of fact it had already been changed, but he could not have known of that. I supposed that he had brought the girl along in a final effort to soften the Commodore's heart, and when that failed he was rendered desperate."

"Quite!" said Mme. Storey.

XVI

It seemed as if Mme. Storey's plan to confront them would come to nothing, owing to Henry Varick's having been utterly crushed by the girl's statement. He sat with his elbows on his knees, and his head pressed between his hands. In order to stir him up, the Inspector said in a rasping voice: "Have you nothing to say, sir?"

The young man started to his feet with a wild, despairing face. "What she says is nearly true," he cried; "but just that little difference makes all the difference between life and death to me!"

"You may question her if you wish," said Mme. Storey.

He quieted down. "I don't want to question her," he said, "but I want to tell her something." He approached the girl, looking at her steadily. Something new had come into his face, something firm and fine; it was the look of a man brought to the last extremity of grief and danger, who is suddenly lifted out of himself.

"Julia, is it worth it?" he said.

She was shrinking away from him with a look of repulsion. "Do I have to submit to this?" she murmured, appealing to Mme. Storey.

"It is his right to break down your story, if he can," said my mistress.

The girl drew a long breath, and stiffened herself. "He can't do that," she said confidently, "because I have said nothing but the simple truth. But let him try." She sat down in the same chair that she had before occupied, and met Henry's glance with a cold smile.

This time his eyes did not quail from hers. "Julia," he went on, in a low, moved voice, "I'm sorry for the way I treated you. I am a coward where women are concerned. I can't bear to hurt them. Ever since I grew up it seems I have been running away from women. And that only made matters worse, of course. I wouldn't face things out. But now I must face things out. If only for once I could find the right words to express the truth! Julia, I treated you badly. Must I die for that?"

He paused, searching her face to see if his words had had any effect. How she was able to withstand the appeal in those deep blue eyes, I could not comprehend. The only sign of emotion she gave was to rise suddenly, and press herself against the wall, as if to get as far as possible from him. Her face was like marble.

"You know that this story you have told will send me to the chair," he resumed. "It's so nearly true that you can tell it with an easy conscience. But is it worth it? In your heart you know that I am incapable of killing my father. You know me! Why, the whole trouble between us arose from the fact that I was too tender-hearted and easy-going, and you were ambitious. You scorned me, remember, because I hadn't the heart to whip a puppy at Easthampton that had nipped me."

I cannot hope to convey in print the moving quality of that grave, young voice, low and shaken in tone. I know the tears were rolling unchecked down my cheeks, and I could see that both the Inspector and my mistress were affected. But the girl listened with a twisted smile in her white face; the smile of one who would die sooner than give in.

"You are mistaken if you think I lied when I told you I loved you," he continued. "Your beauty laid a spell on me. I worshipped your beauty. You possessed me entirely...But I couldn't marry you. Our natures were too different. We would have driven each other mad. I should have told you this, or written it, plainly, but I couldn't bring myself to write the words that would hurt you. I hoped you would just forget me when I went away...But we were happy while it lasted, weren't we? I was in Paradise. If you send me to my death you will forget your anger against me, you will only remember the times that we were happy. How will you feel then? Is it worth it, Julia? I cannot believe that anybody so beautiful can have a bad heart...Do you remember..." He took a step closer to her, and murmured something none of us could hear. "After that," he asked gravely, "after that, can you bring yourself to swear my life away?"

She strained her face away from him. "I'm sorry," she said in an unnatural, twanging voice, "but the truth is the truth! I have nothing to change in what I said."

Henry Varick slowly raised his shoulders, and spread out his palms; then his whole body sagged. "Well, that's that," he said in a flat voice. "I'm done for, I guess." A painful recklessness appeared on his face. "Come on, Inspector!" he cried out. "Come on, old cock, let's go! I don't know where I'm going, but I'm on my way!" He stopped short, and an awful goneness sounded in his voice. "Oh God! I wish it was to the death chamber that you were taking me! That is over in a minute, but the weeks before that...!"

The Inspector seemed disposed to linger, to talk things over with Mme. Storey, and the young man cried out sharply: "Come on! Come on! I can't stand any more of this!"

At a glance from my mistress the Inspector bestirred himself. As the two men reached the door, the girl shrieked. The sound seemed to be torn from her breast. "Stop! Stop! I cannot bear it! I lied!"

The two men turned back. When the girl's unnatural self-control broke, everything went. Her convulsed face seemed scarcely human. It was dreadful to see so complete an abasement.

"I lied!" she moaned. "I lied from beginning to end. He didn't do it! It was I who poisoned Commodore Varick. Oh, what a wretch I am!" She struck her head with her clenched hands.

Henry Varick stared at her like one transfixed with horror. "You killed my father!" he murmured from time to time: "You killed my father!"

I was dazed with the suddenness of it. My mistress motioned to me, and I automatically drew a sheet of paper towards me, and with trembling hands started to take down what the girl said, scarce knowing what I wrote.

Her body swayed forward and back. The words came gabbling from her lips, as if some terror urged her to get it all out before she could think. "I will tell all! It has been in my mind for a long time. But it was Henry that I meant to kill. Because he was false to me. First with that foreign woman, and afterwards with the contemptible Gilsey girl. It was the poisons that put it into my head. Always they were in the next room, tempting, tempting me. I found a key that would open the door, and I could go into Henry's study at any time without anybody knowing. He was never there. There was a book in there, too, that described all the different poisons and how they acted...

"I collected old keys. I bought them in junk-shops and other places, many, many keys, until I had got one that would open the curio cabinet, and a little one that opened the box of drugs. I took out the bottle of aconite, and locked all up again, and threw away the keys. Then I bided my time, and studied how to give Henry the poison. But I could think of no way. I never saw him any more. I wrote asking him to come to see me, but he paid no attention to the letter..."

"She did...she did!" murmured Henry, like one in a trance.

"Then I heard Henry tell his father that he was married to that white-faced blonde, and I went mad...mad! I changed my plan. I couldn't get at Henry, but I had plenty of opportunities with his father. I wanted to strike at them, I didn't care which one. I made up my mind to wait until the Commodore had changed his will, and then kill him. That was to be my revenge. I didn't think until later of putting it off on Henry. That made it sweeter!

"I knew the Commodore took a capsule after every meal. There was a white powder in it that looked just the same as the aconite. I got some empty capsules and filled them with the aconite. There was only enough to fill three. When Henry and the girl were with the Commodore in his study, I sneaked around outside, through the foyer of the suite and into the bathroom. I took the capsules out of the box, put the poisoned ones in, and went back to my room. I watched and listened. I saw Henry and the girl go. The Commodore was half-reconciled to them, and it made me smile to think how I was going to dish them all!

"When the Commodore left his study, I followed and listened at the crack of the door. I heard him go into the bathroom and come out again. Then I knew the thing was done. I knew that I would have just as much time as it would take for the capsule to melt in his stomach. Plenty of time to get away. He returned to his study, but he never saw me. I was back in the office then. I went around through the foyer into the bathroom. There were only two capsules in the box, so I knew there had been no slip-up. I replaced them with two of the harmless capsules, and went downstairs."

So much for the facts of her story. I shall not speak of the unfortunate girl's ravings. It is too painful. Too great an effort of self-control is followed by the collapse of all resistance. It left her exhausted and shaking, finally apathetic. Detective Manby was called in, and she was handed over to his care. Unable to speak above a whisper then, she begged for permission to rest for ten minutes in the office. This was granted.

The other four of us were left looking at each other, scarcely able to comprehend what had happened. I for one was conscious of an immense weariness. I felt as if I should drop in my tracks. But it was a delicious kind of weariness, the feeling that comes after a shattering storm, when you find quiet in your ears once more. Blessed, blessed quiet and peace. At first you can hardly believe it. But I looked at Henry Varick, and there he was, safe, and my heart was content.

He, I think, was the first to speak. "And are you through with me, now?" he asked wonderingly. "Am I free?"

"Free as air," said Mme. Storey, laying a hand on his shoulder. "Go to your wife and tell her. And to your mother. You appear to have lost your fortune, but you have them!"

Gladness shone out in his face like the sun breaking through. He had already forgotten the poor, hysterical wretch in the next room. Well, such is youth! "What do I care for the money!" he cried. "If I am free." He ran out of the room.

"Well, I expect your mother won't let you starve," remarked Mme. Storey dryly. "And wills have been broken before this!"

"And so you were right after all!" said Inspector Rumsey generously.

"As it happens," said my mistress, smiling. "But I was not nearly so sure as I made out to be."

Our excitements were not yet over, for presently Detective Manby burst into the room with a dismayed face. "She has given me the slip!" he cried.

To make a long story short, at a moment when Manby was not looking directly at her, the prisoner had slipped from the office into Henry's study adjoining. Manby was not even aware that she had unlocked the door. She slammed it in his face, and got out into the main hall. By the time Manby got through the two doors, she was nowhere to be seen. None of the servants had seen her. To us, of course, it was apparent that she had gone down the enclosed stair, of which Manby knew nothing, and out through the secret passage. The Inspector was in a rage, but Mme. Storey took it with more than usual calmness.

"It is all for the best," she said enigmatically.

"For the best!" he exclaimed indignantly.

"I take it she has gone home," said my mistress, gravely. "But wherever she has gone she will soon be found, my friend. The resolve to kill herself was in her eye."

"Justice will be defeated!" cried the Inspector.

"Man's justice," murmured Mme. Storey with an imperceptible shrug.

"We must follow her!" cried the Inspector.

"No! Let us not be seen there," said my mistress, laying a hand on his arm. "Send Manby."

And so it was done.

In my note-book I find the following clipping:

"At 11.15 yesterday morning the body of Miss Julia Priestley, 26, was found dead at No. —— Lexington Avenue, with a bullet through the heart. A new .38 automatic was clutched in her hand, and her clothing revealed powder burns. From the position of the body it was apparent that she had stood in front of a mirror to aim the gun. She was found in the bedroom of a small three-room apartment that she occupied alone at the above address.

"The body was discovered by Detective-Sergeant James Manby. Sergeant Manby had been sent to Miss Priestley's apartment as the result of a mysterious message received by Inspector Rumsey at headquarters a few minutes earlier. Inspector Rumsey was advised by a woman's voice over the telephone, that he had better send a detective to the address given. When he asked for particulars, his informant hung up. It is supposed that this was Miss Priestley herself. When Sergeant Manby reached the apartment, he found the door open as if for his convenience. The woman's body was still warm.

"For the past year Miss Priestley was employed by the late Commodore Varick as an amanuensis in the preparation of a book that he was writing. It is supposed that the death of her employer, which came with such shocking suddenness on Tuesday evening, and the consequent loss of her employment, temporarily deranged the young woman's mind. Her nearest relative is a brother living in Cleveland, Ohio, who is on his way to New York to take charge of the body."

And that is all that ever got into the papers.


THE END

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