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Title: The Clue
Author: Carolyn Wells
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Clue
Author: Carolyn Wells

First Published 1909

*

Contents

I - THE VAN NORMANS
II - MISS MORTON ARRIVES
III - A CRY IN THE NIGHT
IV - SUICIDE OR--?
V - A CASE FOR THE CORONER
VI - FESSENDEN COMES
VII - MR. BENSON'S QUESTIONS
VIII - A SOFT LEAD PENCIL
IX - THE WILL
X - SOME TESTIMONY
XI - "I DECLINE TO SAY"
XII - DOROTHY BURT
XIII - AN INTERVIEW WITH CICELY
XIV - THE CARLETON HOUSEHOLD
XV - FESSENDEN'S DETECTIVE WORK
XVI - SEARCHING FOR CLUES
XVII - MISS MORTON'S STATEMENTS
XVIII - CARLETON IS FRANK
XIX - THE TRUTH ABOUT MISS BURT
XX - CICELY'S FLIGHT
XXI - A SUCCESSFUL PURSUIT
XXII - A TALK WITH MISS MORTON
XXIII - FLEMING STONE
XXIV - A CONFESSION

*

I

The Van Normans

The old Van Norman mansion was the finest house in Mapleton. Well back
from the road, it sat proudly among its finely kept lawns and gardens,
as if with a dignified sense of its own importance, and its white,
Colonial columns gleamed through the trees, like sentinels guarding the
entrance to the stately hall.

All Mapleton was proud of the picturesque old place, and it was shown
to visiting strangers with the same pride that the native villagers
pointed out the Memorial Library and the new church.

More than a half-century old, the patrician white house seemed to
glance coldly on the upstart cottages, whose inadequate pillars
supported beetling second stories, and whose spacious, filigreed
verandas left woefully small area for rooms inside the house.

The Van Norman mansion was not like that. It was a long rectangle, and
each of its four stories was a series of commodious, well-shaped
apartments.

And its owner, the beautiful Madeleine Van Norman, was the most envied
as well as the most admired young woman in the town.

Magnificent Madeleine, as she was sometimes called, was of the haughty,
imperious type which inspires admiration and respect rather than love.
An orphan and an heiress, she had lived all of her twenty-two years of
life in the old house, and since the death of her uncle, two years
before, had continued as mistress of the place, ably assisted by a
pleasant, motherly chaperon, a clever social secretary, and a corps of
capable servants.

The mansion itself and an income amply sufficient to maintain it were
already legally her own, but by the terms of her uncle's will she was
soon to come into possession of the bulk of the great fortune he had
left.

Madeleine was the only living descendant of old Richard Van Norman,
save for one distant cousin, a young man of a scapegrace and
ne'er-do-well sort, who of late years had lived abroad.

This young man's early life had been spent in Mapleton, but, his fiery
temper having brought about a serious quarrel with his uncle, he had
wisely concluded to take himself out of the way.

And yet Tom Willard was not of a quarrelsome disposition. His bad
temper was of the impulsive sort, roused suddenly, and as quickly
suppressed. Nor was it often in evidence. Good-natured, easy-going Tom
would put up with his uncle's criticism and fault-finding for weeks at
a time, and then, perhaps goaded beyond endurance, he would fly into a
rage and express himself in fluent if rather vigorous English.

For Richard Van Norman had been by no means an easy man to live with.
And it was Tom's general amiability that had made him the usual
scapegoat for his uncle's ill temper. Miss Madeleine would have none of
it. Quite as dictatorial as the old man himself she allowed no
interference with her own plans and no criticism of her own actions.

This had proved the right way to manage Mr. Van Norman, and he had
always acceded to Madeleine's requests or submitted to her decrees
without objection, though there had never been any demonstration of
affection between the two.

But demonstration was quite foreign to the nature of both uncle and
niece, and in truth they were really fond of each other in their quiet,
reserved way. Tom Willard was different. His affection was of the
honest and outspoken sort, and he made friends easily, though he often
lost them with equal rapidity.

On account, then, of his devotion to Madeleine, and his enmity toward
young Tom Willard, Richard Van Norman had willed the old place to his
niece, and had further directed that the whole of his large fortune
should be unrestrictedly bestowed upon her on her wedding day, or on
her twenty-third birthday, should she reach that age unmarried. In
event of her death before her marriage, and also before her
twenty-third birthday, the whole estate would go to Tom Willard.

It was with the greatest reluctance that Richard Van Norman decreed
this, but a provision had to be made in case of Madeleine's early
death, and Willard was the only other natural heir. And now, at twenty-two,
Madeleine was on the eve of marriage to Schuyler Carleton, a
member of one of the oldest and best families of Mapleton.

The village gossips were pleased to commend this union, as Mr. Carleton
was a man of irreproachable habits, and handsome enough to appear well
beside the magnificent Madeleine.

He was not a rich man, but, as her marriage would bring her
inheritance, they could rank among the millionaires of the day. Yet
there were those who feared for the future happiness of this apparently
ideal couple. Mrs. Markham, who was both housekeeper and chaperon to her
young charge, mourned in secret over the attitude of the betrothed pair.

"He adores her, I'm sure," she said to herself, "but he is too courtly
and polished in his manner. I'd rather he would impulsively caress her,
or involuntarily call her by some endearing name than to be always so
exquisitely deferential and polite. And Madeleine must love him, or why
should she marry him? Yet she is so haughty and formal, she might be a
very duchess instead of a young American girl. But that's Madeleine all
over. I've never seen her exhibit any real emotion over anything. Ah,
well, I'm an old-fashioned fool. Doubtless, they're cooing doves when
alone together, but their high-bred notions won't allow any sentiment
shown before other people. But I almost wish she were going to marry
Tom. He has sentiment and enthusiasm enough for two, and the
relationship is so distant it's not worth thinking about. Dear old Tom!
He's the only one who ever stirs Madeleine out of that dignified calm
of hers."

And that was true enough. Madeleine had inherited the Van Norman traits
of dignity and reserve to such an extent that it was difficult for any
one to be a really close friend.

She had, too, a strange little air of preoccupation, and even when
interested in a conversation would appear to look through or beyond her
companion in a way that was discouraging to the average caller.

So Miss Van Norman was by no means a favorite with the Mapleton young
people in a personal sense, but socially she was their leader, and to
be on her invitation list was the highest aspiration of the village
"climbers."

And now that she was about to marry Schuyler Carleton, the event of the
wedding was the only thing talked of, thought of, or dreamed of by
Mapleton society.

Madeleine, who always kept in touch with Tom Willard by correspondence,
had written him of her approaching marriage, and he had responded by
coming at once to America to attend the ceremony.

Relieved from the embarrassment of his uncle's presence, Tom was his
jovial self, and showed forth all the reprehensible attractiveness
which so often belongs to the scapegrace nature. He sometimes quarreled
with Madeleine over trifles, then, making up the next minute, he would
caress and pet her with the privileged air of a relative.

He was glad to be back among the familiar scenes of Mapleton, and he
went about the town renewing old acquaintances and making new ones, and
charming all by his winning personality.

In less than a week he had more friends in the village than Schuyler
Carleton had ever made.

Carleton, though handsome and distinguished looking, was absolutely
without personal magnetism or charm, which traits were found in
abundance in Tom Willard.

The friends of Schuyler Carleton attributed his reserved, almost
repellent demeanor to shyness, and this was partly true. His
acquaintances said it was indifference, and this again, was partly
true. Then his enemies, of whom he had some, vowed that his cold, curt
manner of speech was merely snobbishness, and this was not true at all.

His manner toward his fiancée was all that the most exacting could
require in the matter of courtesy and punctilious politeness. He was
markedly undemonstrative in public, and if this were true of his
behavior when the two were alone, it was probably because Madeleine
herself neither inspired nor desired terms or acts of endearment.

Tom's attitude toward Madeleine angered Carleton extremely, but when he
spoke to her on the subject he was gaily informed that the matter of
cousinly affection was outside the jurisdiction of a fiancée.

Tom, on his part, was desperately in love with Madeleine, and had been
for years. Repeatedly he had begged her to marry him, and she knew in
her heart that his plea was prompted by his love for herself and not by
any consideration of her fortune.

And yet, should she marry another, all hope of his uncle's money would
be forever lost to Tom Willard.

But prodigal and spendthrift that he was, if Tom felt any regret at his
vanishing fortunes, he showed no sign of it. Save for sudden and often
easily provoked bursts of temper, he was infectiously gay and merry,
and was the life of the house party already gathered under Madeleine's
roof.

The fact that Tom was staying at the Van Norman house, which of course
Carleton could not do, gave Willard an advantage over the prospective
bridegroom, of which he was by no means unconscious. Partly to tease
the imperturbable but jealous Carleton, and partly because of his own
affection for his cousin, Tom devoted himself assiduously to Madeleine,
especially when Carleton was present.

"You see, Maddy," Tom would say, "there are only a few days left of our
boy and girl chumminess. I fancy that after you are married, Schuyler
won't let me speak to you, save in most formal terms, so I must see all
I can of you now."

Then he would tuck her arm through his own, and take her for a stroll
in the grounds, and Carleton, coming to search for her, would find them
cosily chatting in a secluded arbor, or drifting lazily in a canoe on
the tiny, lily-padded lake.

These things greatly annoyed Schuyler Carleton, but remonstrance was
never an easy task for him, nor did it ever affect Madeleine
pleasantly.

"I wish, Madeleine," he had said one day, when he had waited two hours
for her to return from a drive with Tom, "that you would have a little
regard for appearances, if you have none for my wishes. It is not
seemly for my betrothed wife to be driving all over the country with
another man."

Magnificent Madeleine looked straight at him, tilting her head back
slightly to look beneath her half-closed lids.

"It is not seemly," she said, "for my betrothed husband to imply that I
could be at fault in a matter of propriety or punctilio. That is not
possible."

"You are right," he said, and his eyes gleamed with admiration of her
glorious beauty and imperious manner. "Forgive me,--you are indeed
right."

Though Schuyler Carleton may not have been lavish of affection, he
begrudged no admiration to the splendid woman he had won.

And yet, had he but known it, the apparently scornful and haughty girl
was craving a more tender and gentle love, and would gladly have
foregone his admiration to have received more affection.

"But it will come," Madeleine thought to herself. "I am not of the
'clinging vine' type, I know; but after we are married, surely Schuyler
will be less formally polite, and more,--well,--chummy."

Yet Madeleine herself was chummy with nobody save Tom.

They two were always chatting and laughing together, and though they
differed sometimes, and even quarrelled, it was quickly made up, and
forgotten in a new subject of merry discussion.

But, after all, they rarely quarrelled except regarding Madeleine's
approaching marriage.

"Don't throw yourself away on that iceberg, Maddy," Tom would plead.
"He's a truly fine man, I know, but he can't make you happy."

"How absurd you are, Tom! Give me credit, please, for knowing my own
mind, at least. I love Schuyler Carleton, and I am proud that he is to
be my husband. He is the finest man I have ever known in every way, and
I am a fortunate girl to be chosen by such a man."

"Oho, Maddy! Don't do the humble; it doesn't suit you at all. You are
the type who ought to have 'kings and crown princes at your feet.' And
Carleton is princely enough in his effects, but he's by no means at
your feet."

"What do you mean?" exclaimed Madeleine angrily.

"Just what I say. Schuyler Carleton admires you greatly, but he doesn't
love you--at least, not as I do!"

"Don't be foolish, Tom. Naturally you know nothing about Mr. Carleton's
affection for me--he does not proclaim it from the housetops. And I
desire you not to speak of it again."

"Why should I speak of what doesn't exist? Forgive me, Maddy, but I
love you so myself, it drives me frantic to see that man treating you
so coolly."

"He doesn't treat me coolly. Or, if he does, it's because I don't wish
for tender demonstrations before other people. I'm fond of you, Tom, as
you know, but I won't allow even you to criticise the man I am about to
marry."

"Oh, very well, marry him, then, and a precious unhappy life you'll
lead with him,--and I know why."

Madeleine turned on him, her eyes blazing with anger.

"What do you mean? Explain that last remark of yours."

"Small need! You know why as well as I do;" and Tom pushed his hands
into his pockets and strode away, whistling, well knowing that he had
roused his cousin's even temper at last.

In addition to some of her Mapleton friends, Madeleine had invited two
girls from New York to be her bridesmaids. Kitty French and Molly
Gardner had already come and were staying at the Van Norman house the
few days that would intervene before the wedding.

Knowing Madeleine well, as they did, they had not expected confidence
from her, nor did they look forward to cosy, romantic boudoir chats,
such as many girls would enjoy.

But neither had they expected the peculiar constraint that seemed to
hang over all the members of the household.

Mrs. Markham had been so long housekeeper, and even companion, for
Madeleine that she was not looked upon as a servant, and to her Kitty
French put a few discreet questions regarding the exceeding reserve of
Mr. Carleton.

"I don't know, Miss French," said the good woman, looking sadly
disturbed. "I love Madeleine as I would my own child. I know she adores
Mr. Carleton,--and--yes, I know he greatly admires her,--and yet there is
something wrong. I can't express it--it's merely a feeling,--an
intuition, but there is something wrong."

"You know Mr. Willard is in love with Maddy," suggested Miss French.

"Oh, it isn't that They've always had a cousinly affection for each
other, and,--yes, Tom is in love with her,--but what I mean is aside from
all that. The real reason that Madeleine flirts with Tom--for she does
flirt with him---is to pique Mr. Carleton. There! I've said more than I
meant to, but you're too good a friend to let it make any trouble, and,
anyway, in a few days they will be married, and then I'm sure it will
be all right,--I'm sure of it."

Like many people, Mrs. Markham emphasized by repetition a statement of
whose truth she was far from sure.

II

Miss Morton Arrives

The day before the wedding the old house was a pleasant scene of bustle
and confusion.

Professional decorators were in charge of the great drawing-room,
building a canopy of green vines and flowers, beneath which the bridal
pair should stand the next day at high noon.

This work was greatly hindered by a bevy of young people who thought
they were helping.

At last, noting a look of dumb exasperation on the face of one of the
florist's men, Molly Gardner exclaimed, "I don't believe our help is
needed here; come on, Kitty, let's go in the library and wait for
tea-time."

It was nearly five o'clock, and the girls found most of the house
guests already assembled in the library, awaiting the arrival of the
tea-tray.

Several other young people were there also, most of them being those
who were to be of the wedding cortege next day.

Robert Fessenden, who was to be best man, had just come from New York,
and had dropped in to see Miss Van Norman.

Although he was an old friend of Carleton's, Madeleine did not know him
very well, and though she made him welcome, it was with that coldly
formal air that did not greatly attract the young man, but he could not
fail to be impressed by her great beauty.

"Lucky fellow, Carleton," he said to Tom Willard. "Why, that woman
would create a sensation in any great city in the world."

"Yes, she is too handsome to live all her life in a small village,"
agreed Tom. "I think they intend to travel a great deal."

"An heiress, too, I believe."

"Yes, she has all the desirable traits a woman can possess."

"All?" Fessenden's tone was quizzical.

"What do you mean?" asked Tom sharply.

"Nothing; only, if I were to marry, I should prefer a little more
softness of nature."

"Oh, that's only her manner. My cousin is most sweet and womanly, I
assure you."

"I'm sure she is," returned Fessenden, who was a bit ashamed of his
outspokenness; "and she's getting a sterling good fellow for a
husband."

"She is so," said Tom, heartily, which was kind of him, considering his
own opinion of Carleton.

And then both men strolled over to where Madeleine sat at the tea-table.
She was reading a telegram that had just been brought to her,
and she laughingly explained to Tom that it meant a bother for him.

"Miss Morton has concluded to come to the wedding, after all," she
said. "She wrote me that she wouldn't come, but she has changed her
mind, it seems. Now, it does sound ridiculous, I know, but in this big
house there isn't a room left for her but the one you have, Tom. You
see, one bedroom is used for a 'present room,' one is reserved for
Schuyler tomorrow, the bridesmaids have another, and except for our own
rooms, and those already occupied by guests, there are no more. I hate
to ask you, Tom, but could you go to the Inn?"

"Sure, Maddy dear; anything to oblige. But it does seem too bad to turn
me out of your house the very last day that your hospitality is all
your own to offer. Tomorrow the grand Seigneur will be master here, and
my timid little Madeleine can no longer call her soul her own."

This reference to the tall and stately mistress of the house raised a
general laugh, but Madeleine did not join in it.

"I'm so sorry, Tom," she said earnestly, as she looked again at the
telegram she was holding, "but Miss Morton was an old friend of Uncle
Richard's, and as she wants to come here I can't turn her away. And
unless you give her your room, there is no other."

"Nonsense, Madeleine! I'm only joking. Of course I'll go to the hotel.
Only too glad to accommodate Miss Morton. Forget it, girl; I assure you
I don't mind a bit. I'll pack up a few traps after dinner and skip down
to the picturesque, if rather ostentatious, Mapleton Inn."

As Tom spoke he put his arm carelessly round Madeleine's shoulders, and
though scarcely more than a cousinly caress, it was unfortunate that
Schuyler Carleton should enter the room at that moment. A lightning
glance flashed between the two men, and as Tom moved away from
Madeleine with a slightly embarrassed shrug of his shoulders,
Carleton's face grew so stern that an uncomfortable silence fell upon
the guests.

However, the arrival of the tea-tray saved the situation, and Madeleine
at once busied herself in the pretty occupation of serving tea to her
guests.

With an air of jealous proprietorship, Carleton moved toward her and,
looking handsome, though sulky, stood by Willard with folded arms, as
if on guard.

Urged on by a daredevil spirit of mischief, and perhaps remembering
that Madeleine would soon be beyond his reach as Carleton's wife, Tom
also moved toward her from the other side. Endeavoring to treat the
situation lightly, Madeleine held up a newly-filled teacup.

"Who will have this?" she asked gaily.

"I will!" declared Carleton and Tom at the same time, and each held out
a hand.

Madeleine looked at them both smilingly.

Carleton's face was white and set; he was evidently making a serious
matter of the trifling episode.

Tom, on the contrary, was smiling broadly, and was quite evidently
enjoying his rival's discomfiture.

"I shall give it to you, because you look so pleasant," declared
Madeleine, handing the cup to Tom. "Now, Schuyler, smile prettily and
you may have one, too."

But Carleton would not fall in with her light mood.

Bending a little, he said in a tense voice, "I will leave you to your
cousin now. Tomorrow I shall assert my claim."

Though not rude in themselves, the words were accompanied by a harsh
and disdainful glance that made several of the onlookers wonder what
sort of a life the haughty Madeleine would lead with such a coldly
tyrannical husband.

"The brute!" said Tom, under his breath, as Carleton left the room.
"Never mind, Maddy, the old Turk has left you to me for this evening,
and we'll take him at his word."

Suddenly Madeleine's mood changed to one of utter gaiety. She smiled
impartially on all, she jested with the girls, she bewitched the young
men with her merry banter, and she almost seemed to be flirting with
Tom Willard. But he was her cousin, after all, and much is forgiven a
bride-to-be on her wedding eve.

Robert Fessenden looked at Miss Van Norman with a puzzled air. He
couldn't seem to understand her, and was glad when by chance the two
were left comparatively alone for a few moments' conversation.

"A great responsibility devolves on the best man, Miss Van Norman," he
said, in response to a chaffing remark of hers. "I suppose that
tomorrow I shall be general director-in-chief, and if anything should
go wrong, I shall be blamed."

"But nothing will go wrong," said Madeleine, gaily, "and then, think
how you'll be praised!"

"Ah, but you won't be here to hear the praise heaped upon me, so what's
the use?"

"No, I shall be gone forever," said Madeleine, putting on one of her
faraway looks. "I never want to come back to Mapleton. I hate it!"

"Why, Miss Van Norman! You want to desert this beautiful old house?
Schuyler can never find you a home so comfortable and attractive in
every way."

"I don't care. I want to go far away from Mapleton to live. We're going
to travel for a year, any way, but when we do settle down, it will be
abroad, I hope."

"You surprise me. Schuyler didn't tell me this. We've been chums so
long, that I usually know of his plans. But, of course, getting married
changes all that."

"You're a very intimate friend of Mr. Carleton's, aren't you?" said
Madeleine, with a strange note of wistfulness in her voice.

"Yes, I am. Why?"

"Oh, nothing; I only thought--I mean, do you think--"

Rob Fessenden was thrilled by the plaintive expression on the beautiful
face, and suddenly felt a great desire to help this girl, who was
seemingly so far above and beyond all need of help, and yet was surely
about to ask his aid, or at least his sympathy.

"Don't hesitate," he said gently; "what is it, Miss Van Norman? I want
to be as firm a friend of yours as I am of Schuyler's, so please say
what you wish to."

"I can't--I can't," Madeleine whispered, and her voice was almost a
moan.

"Please," again urged Fessenden.

"Do you know Dorothy Burt?" Madeleine then broke out, as if the words
were fairly forced from her.

"No," said Fessenden, amazed; "I never heard the name before. Who is
she?"

"Hush! She's nobody--less than nobody. Don't mention her to me ever
again--nor to any one else. Ah, here comes Miss Morton."

As Fessenden watched Madeleine, she changed swiftly from a perturbed,
troubled girl to a courteous, polished hostess.

"My dear Miss Morton," she said, advancing to meet her newest guest,
"how kind of you to come to me at this time."

"I didn't come exactly out of kindness," said Miss Morton, "but because
I desired to come. I hope you are quite well. Will you give me some
tea?"

Miss Morton was a tall, angular lady, with gray hair and sharp, black
eyes. She seemed to bite off her words at the ends of her short
sentences, and had a brisk, alert manner that was, in a way,
aggressive.

"An eccentric," Rob Fessenden thought, as he looked at her, and
wondered why she was there at all.

"An old sweetheart of Mr. Richard Van Norman, I believe," said Kitty
French, when he questioned her. "They were once engaged and then
quarrelled and broke it off, and neither of them lived happily ever
after."

"As the Carletons will," said Fessenden, smiling.

"Yes," said Kitty slowly, "as the Carletons will--I hope. You know Mr.
Carleton awfully well, don't you? Are you sure he will make our Maddy
happy, Mr. Fessenden?"

"I think so;" and Fessenden tried to speak casually. "He is not an
emotional man, or one greatly given to sentiment, but I judge she is
not that sort either."

"Oh, yes, she is! Maddy is apparently cold and cynical, but she isn't
really so a bit. But she perfectly adores him, and if they're not
happy, it won't be her fault."

"Nor will it be his," said Fessenden, warmly defending his absent
friend. "Carleton's an old trump. There's no finer man in the world,
and any woman ought to be happy with him."

"I'm glad to hear you say that," said Kitty, with a little sigh of
relief. "Do look at that funny Miss Morton! She seems to be scolding
Madeleine. I'm sorry she came. She doesn't seem very attractive. But
perhaps it's because she was crossed in love and it made her queer."

"Or she was queered in love and it made her cross," laughed Fessenden.
"Well, I must go, now, and look up Carleton. Poor old boy, he was a
little miffed when he went away."

After tea all the callers departed, and those who were house guests
went to their rooms to dress for dinner.

Tom Willard, with great show of burlesque regret and tearful farewells,
went to the hotel, that Miss Morton might have the room he had been
occupying.

He promised to return for dinner, and gaily blew kisses to Madeleine as
with his traps he was driven down the avenue.

At dinner, Schuyler Carleton's place was vacant. It had been arranged
next to Madeleine's, and when fifteen minutes after the dinner hour he
had not arrived, she haughtily accepted Tom Willard's arm and led the
way to the dining-room.

But having reached the table, she directed Tom to take his rightful
seat, at some distance from her own, and Carleton's chair remained
empty at Madeleine's side.

At first this was uncomfortably evident, but Madeleine was in gay
spirits, and soon the whole party followed her lead, and the
conversation was general and in a merry key.

The young hostess had never looked more regally beautiful. Her dark
hair, piled high on her head, was adorned with a dainty ornament which,
though only a twisted ribbon, was shaped like a crown, and gave her the
effect of an imperious queen. Her low-cut gown of pale yellow satin was
severe of line and accented her stately bearing, while her exquisitely
modelled neck and shoulders were as white and pure as those of a marble
statue. Save for a double row of pearls around her throat, she wore no
ornaments, but on the morrow Carleton's gift of magnificent diamonds
would grace her bridal costume. The combination of haughty imperial
beauty and a dazzling witchery of mood was irresistible, and the men
and girls alike realized that never before had Madeleine seemed so
wonderful.

After the dessert was placed on the table, Willard could stand it no
longer, and, leaving his own place, he calmly appropriated Carleton's
vacant chair.

Madeleine did not reprove him, and Kitty French took occasion to
whisper to her neighbor:

"'T were better by far to have matched our fair cousin to brave
Lochinvar.'"

Mrs. Markham overheard the quotation, and a look of pain came into her
eyes. But it was all too late now, and to-morrow Madeleine would be
irrevocably Schuyler Carleton's wife.

After dinner coffee was served in the cosy library. Madeleine preferred
this room to the more elaborately furnished drawing-room, and to-night
her word was law.

But suddenly her mood changed. For no apparent reason her gay spirits
vanished, her smile faded away, and a pathetic droop curved the corners
of her beautiful mouth.

At about ten o'clock she said abruptly, though gently, "I wish you'd
all go to bed. Unless you girls get some beauty sleep, you won't look
pretty at my wedding to-morrow."

"I'm quite ready to go," declared Kitty French with some tact, for she
saw that Madeleine was nervous and strung up to a high tension.

"I, too," exclaimed Molly Gardner, and the two girls said good-night
and went upstairs.

Two or three young men who had been dinner guests also made their
adieux, and Tom Willard said, "Well, I may as well toddle to my
comforts of home, as understood by a country innkeeper."

Madeleine said good-night to him kindly enough, but without jest or
gaiety. Tom looked at her curiously for a moment, and then, gently
kissing her hand, he went away.

Mrs. Markham, having seen Miss Morton comfortably installed in what had
been Tom's room, returned to the library to offer her services to
Madeleine.

But the girl only thanked her, saying, "There is nothing you can do
to-night. I want to be alone for an hour or two. I will stay here
in the library for a time, and I'd like to have you send Cicely to me."

A few moments later Cicely Dupuy came in, bringing some letters and
papers. She was Miss Van Norman's private secretary, and admirably did
she fill the post. Quick-witted, clever, deft of hand and brain, she
answered notes, kept accounts, and in many ways made herself invaluable
to her employer.

Moreover, Madeleine liked her. Cicely was of a charming personality.
Small, fair, with big, childish blue eyes and a rose-leaf skin, she was
a pretty picture to look at.

"Sit down," said Madeleine, "and make a little list of some final
matters I want you to attend to to-morrow."

Cicely sat down, and, taking pencil and tablet from the library table,
made the lists as Madeleine directed. This occupied but a short time,
and then Miss Van Norman said wearily:

"You may go now, Cicely. Go to bed at once, dear. You will have much to
do to-morrow. And please tell Marie I shall not need her services
to-night. She may go to her room. I shall sit here for an hour or more,
and I will answer these notes. I wish to be alone."

"Very well, Miss Van Norman," said Cicely, and, taking the lists she
had made, she went softly from the room.

III

A Cry In The Night

"Help!"

The loud cry of a single word was not repeated, but repetition was
unnecessary, for the sound rang through the old Van Norman house, and
carried its message of fear and horror to all, awake or sleeping,
within its walls.

It was about half-past eleven that same night, and Cicely Dupuy, still
fully dressed, flew from her bedroom out into the hall.

Seeing a light downstairs, and hearing the servants' bells, one after
another, as if rung by a frantic hand, she hesitated a moment only, and
then ran downstairs.

In the lower hall Schuyler Carleton, with a dazed expression on his
white, drawn face, was uncertainly pushing various electric buttons
which, in turn, flashed lights on or off, or rang bells in distant
parts of the house.

For a moment Cicely stared straight at the man.

Their eyes met, their gaze seemed to concentrate, and they stood
motionless, as if spellbound.

This crisis was broken in upon by Marie, Madeleine's French maid, who
came running downstairs in a hastily donned negligee.

"Mon Dieu!" she cried. "Ou est Mademoiselle?"

With a start, Carleton turned from Cicely, and still with that dazed
look on his face, he motioned Marie toward the wide doorway of the
library. The girl took a step toward the threshold, and then, with a
shriek, paused, and ventured no further.

Cicely, as if impelled by an unseen force, slowly turned and followed
Marie's movements, and as the girl screamed, Cicely grasped her tightly
by the arm, and the two stood staring in at the library door.

What they saw was Madeleine Van Norman, seated in a chair at the
library table. Her right arm was on the table, and her head, which had
fallen to one side, was supported by her right shoulder. Her eyes were
partly closed, and her lips were parted, and the position of the rigid
figure left no need for further evidence that this was not a natural
sleep.

But further evidence there was. Miss Van Norman still wore her yellow
satin gown, but the beautiful embroidered bodice was stained a dull
red, and a crimson stream was even then spreading its way down the
shimmering breadths of the trailing skirt.

On the table, near the outstretched white hand, lay a Venetian dagger.
This dagger was well known to the onlookers. It had lain on the library
table for many years, and though ostensibly for the purpose of a
paper-cutter, it was rarely used as such. Its edges were too sharp
to cut paper satisfactorily, and, moreover, it was a wicked-looking
affair, and many people had shuddered as they touched it. It had a
history, too, and Richard Van Norman used to tell his guests of dark
deeds in which the dagger had taken part while it was still in Italy.

Madeleine herself had had a horror of the weapon, though she had often
admitted the fascination of its marvellous workmanship, and had said
upon several occasions that the thing fairly hypnotized her, and some
day she should kill herself or somebody else with it.

From an instinctive sense of duty, Marie started forward, as if to help
her mistress, then with a convulsive shudder she screamed again and
clasped her hands before her eyes to shut out the awful sight.

Cicely, too, moved slowly toward the silent figure, then turned and
again gazed steadfastly at Schuyler Carleton.

There must have been interrogation in her eyes, for the man pointed
toward the table, and Cicely looked again, to notice there a bit of
paper with writing on it.

She made no motion toward it, but the expression on her face changed to
one of bewildered surprise. Before she had time to speak, however, the
other people of the house all at once began to gather in the hall.

Mrs. Markham came first, and though when she saw Madeleine she turned
very white and seemed about to faint, she bravely went at once toward
the girl, and gently tried to raise the fallen head.

She felt a firm grasp on her shoulder, and turned to see Miss Morton,
with a stern, set face, at her side.

"Don't touch her," said Miss Morton, in a whisper. "Telephone for a
doctor quickly."

"But she's dead," declared Mrs. Markham, at the same time bursting into
violent sobs.

"We do not know; we hope not," went on Miss Morton, and without another
word she led Mrs. Markham to a sofa, and sat her down rather suddenly,
and then went herself straight to the telephone.

As she reached it she paused only to inquire the name of the family
physician.

Harris, the butler, with difficulty articulated the name of Doctor
Hills and his telephone number, and without further inquiry Miss Morton
called for him.

"Is this Doctor Hills?" she said when her call was answered. "Yes; this
is the Van Norman house. Come here at once. . . . No matter; you must
come at once--it is very important--a matter of life and death. . . . I
am Miss Morton. I am in charge here. Yes, come immediately! Good-by."

Miss Morton hung up the receiver and turned to the frightened group of
servants.

"You can do nothing," she said, "and you may as well return to your
rooms. Harris may stay, and one of the parlor maids."

Miss Morton had an imperious air, and instinctively the servants obeyed
her.

But Cicely Dupuy was not so ready to accept the dictum of a stranger.
She stepped forward and, facing Miss Morton, said quietly, "Mrs.
Markham is housekeeper, as well as Miss Van Norman's chaperon. The
servants are accustomed to take their orders from her."

Miss Morton returned Cicely's direct gaze. "You see Mrs. Markham," she
said, pointing to the sofa, where that lady had entirely collapsed,
and, with her head in a pillow, was shaking with convulsive sobs. "She
is for the moment quite incapable of giving orders. As the oldest
person present, and as a life-long friend of Mr. Richard Van Norman, I
shall take the liberty of directing affairs in the present crisis."
Then, in a softer tone and with a glance toward Madeleine, Miss Morton
continued, "I trust in view of the awfulness of the occasion you will
give me your sympathy and cooperation, that we may work in harmony."

Cicely gave Miss Morton a curious glance that might have meant almost
anything, but with a slight inclination of her head she said only,
"Yes, madam."

Then Kitty French and Molly Gardner came downstairs and stood trembling
on the threshold.

"What is it?" whispered Kitty. "What's the matter with Madeleine?"

"Something dreadful has happened," said Miss Morton, meeting them at
the door. "I have telephoned for Doctor Hills and he will be here soon.
Until then we can do nothing."

"But we can try to help Maddy," exclaimed Kitty, starting toward the
still figure by the table. "Oh, is she hurt? I thought she had
fainted!"

As the two girls saw the dread sight, Miss Gardner fainted herself, and
Miss Morton bade Marie, who stood shivering in the hall, take care of
her.

Relieved at having something to do, Marie shook the girl and dashed
water in her face until she regained consciousness, the others,
meanwhile, paying little attention.

Schuyler Carleton stood leaning against the doorpost, his eyes fixed on
Madeleine's tragic figure, while Kitty French, who had dropped into a
chair, sat with her hands tightly clasped, also gazing at the sad
picture.

Although it seemed hours to those who awaited him, it was but a few
moments before the doctor came.

Doctor Hills was a clean-cut, alert-looking young man, and his quick
eyes seemed to take in every detail of the scene at a glance.

He went straight to the girl at the table and bent over her. Only the
briefest examination was necessary before he said gently, "She is quite
dead. She has been stabbed with this dagger. It entered a large blood
vessel just over her heart, and she bled to death. Who killed her?"

Even as he spoke his eye fell on the written paper which lay on the
table. With one of his habitually quick gestures he snatched it up and
read it to himself, while a look of great surprise dawned on his face.
Immediately he read it aloud:

I am wholly miserable, and unless the clouds lift I must end my life. I
love S., but he does not love me.

After he finished reading, Doctor Hills stood staring at the paper, and
looked utterly perplexed.

"I should have said it was not a suicide," he declared, "but this
message seems to indicate that it is. Is this written in Miss Van
Norman's hand?" Miss Morton, who stood at the doctor's side, took the
paper and scrutinized it.

"It is," she said. "Yes, certainly that is Miss Van Norman's writing. I
had a letter from her only a few days ago, and I recognize it
perfectly."

"Let me see it," said Mrs. Markham, in a determined, though rather
timid way. "I am more familiar with Madeleine's writing than a stranger
can possibly be."

Miss Morton handed the paper to the housekeeper without a word, while
the doctor, waiting, wondered why these two women seemed so out of
sympathy with each other.

"Yes, it is surely Madeleine's writing," agreed Mrs. Markham, her
glasses dropping off as her eyes filled with tears.

"Then I suppose she killed herself, poor girl," said the doctor. "She
must have been desperate, indeed, for it was a strong blow that drove
the steel in so deeply. Who first discovered her here?"

"I did," said Schuyler Carleton, stepping forward. His face was almost
as white as the dead girl's, and he was scarcely able to make his voice
heard. "I came in with a latch-key, and found her here, just as you see
her now."

As Carleton spoke Cicely Dupuy stared at him with that curious
expression that seemed to show something more than grief and horror.
Her emotional bewilderment was not surprising in view of the awful
situation, but her look was a strange one, and for some reason it
greatly disconcerted the man.

None of this escaped the notice of Doctor Hills. Looking straight at
Carleton, but with a kindly expression replacing the stern look on his
face, he went on:

"And when you came in, was Miss Van Norman just as we see her now?"

"Practically," said Carleton. "I couldn't believe her dead. And I tried
to rouse her. Then I saw the dagger on the floor at her feet--"

"On the floor?" interrupted Doctor Hills.

"Yes," replied Carleton, whose agitation was increasing, and who had
sunk into a chair because of sheer inability to stand. "It was on the
floor at her feet--right at her feet. I picked it up, and there was
blood on it--there is blood on it--and I laid it on the table. And then I
saw the paper--the paper that says she killed herself. And then--and then
I turned on the lights and rang the servants' bells, and Cicely--Miss
Dupuy--came, and the others, and--that's all."

Schuyler Carleton had with difficulty concluded his narration, and he
sat clenching his hands and biting his lips as if at the very limit of
his powers of endurance.

Doctor Hills again glanced round the assembly in that quick way of his,
and said:

"Did any of you have reason to think Miss Van Norman had any thought of
taking her own life?"

For a moment no one spoke, and then Kitty French, who, in a despairing,
miserable way, was huddled in the depths of a great arm-chair, said:

"I have heard Madeleine say that some time she would kill herself with
that horrid old dagger. I wish I had stolen it and buried it long ago!"

Doctor Hills turned to Mrs. Markham. "Did you have any reason to fear
this?" he inquired.

"No," she replied; "and I do not think Madeleine meant she would
voluntarily use that dagger. She only meant she had a superstitious
dread of the thing."

"Do you understand her reference to her own unhappiness in this bit of
writing?" went on the doctor.

"Yes, I think I do," said Mrs. Markham in a low voice.

"That is enough for the present," said the doctor, as if to interrupt
further confidences. "Although it is difficult to believe a stab of
that nature could be self-inflicted, it is possible, and this
communication seems to leave no room for doubt.

"Now, the law of New Jersey requires that in case of a death not by
natural means the county physician shall be summoned, and further
proceedings are entirely at his discretion. I shall therefore be
obliged to send for Doctor Leonard before disturbing the body in any
way. He will probably not arrive in less than an hour or so, and I
would advise that you ladies retire. You can of course do nothing to
help, and as I shall remain in charge, you may as well get what rest
you can during the night."

"I thank you for your consideration, Doctor Hills," said Mrs. Markham,
who seemed to have recovered her calmness, "but I prefer to stay here.
I could not rest after this awful shock, and I cannot stay away from
Madeleine."

Kitty French and Molly Gardner, who, clasped in each other's arms, were
shivering with excitement and grief, begged to be allowed to stay, too,
but Doctor Hills peremptorily ordered them to go to their rooms. Cicely
Dupuy was allowed to stay, as in her position of social secretary she
might know much of Madeleine's private affairs. For the same reason
Marie was detained, while Doctor Hills asked her a few questions.

Schuyler Carleton sat rigidly in his chair, as immovable as a statue.
This man puzzled Doctor Hills. And yet it was surely shock enough
almost to unhinge a man's brain thus to find his intended bride the
night before his wedding.

But Carleton seemed absorbed in emotions other than those of grief.
Though his face was impassive, his eyes darted about the room looking
at one after another of the shocked and terrified group, returning
always to the still figure at the table, and as quickly turning his
gaze away, as if the sight were unbearable, as indeed it was.

He seemed like a man stunned with the awfulness of the tragedy, and yet
conscious of a care, a responsibility, which he could not shake off.

If, inadvertently, his eyes met those of Miss Dupuy, he shifted his
gaze immediately. If by chance he encountered Mrs. Markham's sad
glance, he turned away, unable to bear it. In a word, he was like a man
at the limit of his endurance, and seemed veritably on the verge of
collapse.

IV

Suicide Or--?

Miss Morton, also, seemed to have distracting thoughts. She sat down on
the sofa beside Mrs. Markham, then she jumped up suddenly and started
for the door, only to turn about and resume her seat on the sofa. Here
she sat for a few moments apparently in deep thought. Then she rose,
and slowly stalked from the room and went upstairs.

After a few moments, Marie, the French maid, also rose and silently
left the room.

Having concluded it was a case for the county physician, Doctor Hills
apparently considered that his personal responsibility was at an end,
and he sat quietly awaiting the coming of his colleague.

After a time, Miss Morton returned, and again took her seat on the
sofa. She looked excited and a little flurried, but strove to appear
calm.

It was a dreadful hour. Only rarely any one spoke, and though glances
sometimes shot from the eyes of one to the eyes of another, each felt
his gaze oftenest impelled toward that dread, beautiful figure by the
table.

At last Schuyler Carleton, with an evident effort, said suddenly,
"Oughtn't we to send for Tom Willard?"

Mrs. Markham gave a start. "Of course we must," she said. "Poor Tom! He
must be told. Who will tell him?"

"I will," volunteered Miss Morton, and Doctor Hills looked up, amazed
at her calm tone. This woman puzzled him, and he could not understand
her continued attempts at authority in a household where she was a
comparative stranger. And yet might it not be merely a kind
consideration for those who were nearer and dearer to the principals of
this awful tragedy?

But even as he thought this over, Miss Morton had gone to the
telephone, her heavy silk gown rustling as she crossed the room, and
her every movement assertive of her own importance.

Calling up the Mapleton Inn, she succeeded, after several attempts, in
rousing some of its occupants, and finally was in communication with
young Willard himself. She did not tell him of the tragedy, but only
asked him to come over to the house at once, as something serious had
happened, and returned to her seat with a murmured observation that Tom
would arrive as soon as possible.

Again the little group lapsed into silence. Cicely Dupuy was very
nervous, and kept picking at her handkerchief, quite unconscious that
she was ruining its delicate lace edge.

Doctor Hills glanced furtively from one to another. Many things puzzled
him, but most of all he was at a loss to understand the suicide of this
beautiful girl on the very eve of her wedding.

At last Tom Willard came.

Miss Morton met him at the door, and took him into the drawing-room
before he could turn toward the library.

Schuyler Carleton's frantic touches on various electric buttons had
turned on all the lights in the drawing-room. As no one had noticed
this, the great apartment had remained illuminated as if for a
festivity, and the soft, bright lights fell on the floral bower and the
elaborate decorations that had been arranged for the wedding day.

"What is it?" asked Tom, his own face white with an impending sense of
dread as he looked into Miss Morton's eyes.

As gently as possible, but in her own straightforward and inevitably
somewhat abrupt way, Miss Morton told him.

"I want to warn you," she said, "to prepare for a shock, and I think it
kinder to tell you the truth at once. Your cousin Madeleine--Miss Van
Norman--has taken her own life."

"What?" Tom almost shouted the word, and his face showed an absolutely
uncomprehending amazement.

"She killed herself to-night," Miss Morton went on, whose efforts were
now directed toward making the young man understand, rather than
towards sparing his feelings.

But Tom could not seem to grasp it. "What do you mean?" he said,
catching her by both arms. "Madeleine? Killed herself?"

"Yes," said Miss Morton, shaken out of her own calm by Tom's excited
voice. "In the library, after we had all gone to bed, she stabbed
herself with that horrible paper-cutter thing. Did you know she was
unhappy?"

"Unhappy? No; why should she be? Tomorrow was to have been her wedding
day!"

"To-day," corrected Miss Morton. "It is already the day on which our
dear Madeleine was to have become a bride. And instead--" Glancing
around the brilliant room and at the bridal bower, Miss Morton's
composure gave way entirely, and she sobbed hysterically. At this
Cicely Dupuy came across from the library. Putting her arm around Miss
Morton, she led the sobbing woman away, and without a word to Tom
Willard gave him a glance which seemed to say that he must look out for
himself, for her duty was to attend Miss Morton.

As the two women left the drawing-room Tom followed them. He walked
slowly, and stared about as if uncertain where to go. He paused a
moment midway in the room, and, stooping, picked up some small object
from the carpet, which he put in his waistcoat pocket.

A moment more and he had crossed the hall and stood at the library
door, gazing at the scene which had already shocked and saddened the
others.

With a groan, as of utter anguish, Tom involuntarily put up one hand
before his eyes.

Then, pulling himself together with an effort, he seemed to dash away a
tear, and walked into the room, saying almost harshly, "What does it
mean?"

Doctor Hills rose to meet him, and by way of a brief explanation he put
into Tom's hand the paper he had found on the table. Tom read the
written message, and looked more stupefied than ever. With a sudden
gesture he turned towards Schuyler Carleton and said in a low voice,
"but you did love her, didn't you?"

"I did," replied Carleton simply.

"Why should she have thought you didn't?" went on Tom, looking at the
paper, and seeming to soliloquize rather than to address his question
to any one else.

As this was the first time that the "S." in Madeleine's note had been
openly assumed to stand for Schuyler Carleton, there was a stir of
excitement all round the room.

"I don't know," said Carleton, but a dull, red flush spread over his
white face and his voice trembled.

"You don't know!" said Tom, in cutting tones. "Man, you must know."

But no reply was made, and, dropping into a chair, Tom buried his face
in both hands and remained thus for a long time.

Tom Willard was a large, stout man, and possessed of the genial and
merry demeanor which so often accompanies avoirdupois. Save for his
occasional, though really rare, bursts of temper, Tom was always in
joking and laughing mood.

To see him thus in an agonized, speechless despair deeply affected Mrs.
Markham. Tom had always been a favorite with her, and not even
Madeleine had regretted more than she the estrangement between Richard
Van Norman and his nephew. And even as Mrs. Markham looked at the bowed
head of the great strong man she suddenly bethought herself for the
first time that Tom was now heir to the Van Norman fortune.

She wondered if he had himself yet realized it; and then she scolded
herself for letting such thoughts intrude so unfittingly soon. And yet
she well knew that it would not be in ordinary human nature long to
ignore the fact of such a sudden change of fortunes. As she looked at
Tom her glance strayed toward Mr. Carleton, and then the thought struck
her that what Tom had gained this man had lost. For had Madeleine lived
the Van Norman money would have been, in a way, at the disposal of her
husband. The girl's death then would make Tom a rich man, while
Schuyler Carleton would remain poor. He had always been poor, or at
least far from wealthy, and more than one gossip was of the opinion
that he had wooed Miss Van Norman not entirely because of disinterested
love for her.

While Mrs. Markham was busy with these fast-following thoughts a voice
in the doorway made her look up.

A quiet, unimportant-looking man stood there, and was respectfully
addressing Doctor Hills.

"I'm Hunt, sir," he said, "a plain-clothes man from headquarters."

The three men in the room gave a start of surprise, and each turned an
inquiring look at the newcomer.

"Who sent you? And what for?" asked Doctor Hills.

"I've been here all night, sir. I'm on guard in the present room
upstairs."

"I engaged him," said Mrs. Markham. "Madeleine's presents are very
valuable, and although the jewels are still in the bank, the silver and
other things upstairs are worth a large amount, and I thought best to
have this man remain here during the night."

"A very wise precaution, Mrs. Markham," said Doctor Hills; "and why did
you leave your post, my man?"

"The butler told me of what had happened, and I wondered if I might be
of any service down here. I left the butler in charge of the room while
I came down to inquire."

"Very thoughtful of you," said Doctor Hills, with a nod of
appreciation; "and while I hardly think so, we may have use for you
before the night is over. I am expecting Doctor Leonard, the county
physician, and until he comes I can do nothing. I am sure the room
above is sufficiently guarded for the time being, so suppose you sit
down here a few minutes and wait."

Mr. Hunt chose to take a seat in the hall, just outside the library
door, and thus added one more solemn presence to the quietly waiting
group.

And now Doctor Hills had occasion to add another puzzling condition to
those that had already confronted him.

Almost every one in the room was curiously affected by the appearance
of this detective, or plain-clothes man, as he was called.

Schuyler Carleton gave a start, and his pale face became whiter yet.

Cicely Dupuy looked at him, and then turning her glance toward Mr.
Hunt, whom she could see through the doorway, she favored the latter
with a stare of such venomous hatred that Doctor Hills with difficulty
repressed an exclamation.

Cicely's big blue eyes roved from Hunt to Carleton and back again, and
her little hands clenched as with a firm resolve of some sort in her
mind; she seemed to brace herself for action.

Her hovering glances annoyed Carleton; he grew nervous and at last
stared straight at her, when her own eyes dropped, and she blushed rosy
red.

But this side-play was observed by no one but Doctor Hills, for the
others were evidently absorbed in serious thoughts of their own
concerning the advent of Mr. Hunt.

Tom Willard stared at him in a sort of perplexity; but Tom's
good-natured face had worn that perplexed look ever since he had heard
the awful news. He seemed unable to understand, or even to grasp the
facts so clearly visible before him.

But Miss Morton was more disturbed than any one else. She looked at
Hunt, and an expression of fear came into her eyes. She fidgeted about,
she felt in her pocket, she changed her seat twice, and she repeatedly
asked Doctor Hills if he thought Doctor Leonard would arrive soon.

Doctor Leonard did not live in Mapleton, but motored over from his home
in a nearby village. He was a stranger to all those awaiting him in the
Van Norman house, with the exception of Doctor Hills. Unlike that
pleasant-mannered young man, Doctor Leonard was middle aged, of a
crusty disposition and curt speech.

When he came, Doctor Hills presented him to the ladies, and before he
had time to introduce the two men, Doctor Leonard said crossly, "Put
the women out. I cannot conduct this affair with petticoats and
hysterics around me."

Though not meant to reach the ears of the ladies, the speech was fairly
audible, and with a trace of indignation Miss Morton arose and left the
room. Mrs. Markham followed her, and Cicely went also.

Doctor Leonard closed the library doors, and, turning to Doctor Hills,
asked for a concise statement of what had happened.

In his straightforward manner Doctor Hills gave him a brief outline of
the case, including all the necessary details.

"And yet," he concluded, "even in the face of that written message, I
cannot think it a suicide."

"Of course it's a suicide," declared Doctor Leonard in his blustering
way; "there is no question whatever. That written confession which you
all declare to be in her handwriting is ample proof that the girl
killed herself. Of course you had to send for me--the stupid old laws of
New Jersey make it imperative that I shall be dragged out many miles
away from my home for every death that isn't in conventional death-bed
fashion; but there is no suspicion of foul play here. The poor girl
chose to kill herself, and she has done so with the means which she
found near at hand. I will write the burial certificate and leave it
with you. There is no occasion for the coroner."

"Thank God for that!" exclaimed Schuyler Carleton, in a fervent tone.

"Amen," said Tom. "It's dreadful enough to think of poor Maddy as she
is, but had it been any one else who--"

Unheeding the ejaculations of the two men, Doctor Hills said earnestly,
"But, Doctor, if it had not been for the written paper, would you have
called it suicide?"

"That has nothing to do with the case," declared Doctor Leonard
testily; "The paper is there, and is authentic. No sane man could doubt
that it is a suicide after that."

"But, Doctor Leonard, it would seem impossible for a woman to stab
herself at that angle, and with such an astonishing degree of force;
also to pull the dagger from the wound, cast it on the floor, and then
to place her arm in that particular position on the table."

"Why do you say in that particular position?"

"Because the position of her right arm is as if thrown there
carelessly, and not as if flung there in a death agony."

"You are imaginative, Doctor Hills. The facts may not seem possible,
but since they are the facts you must admit that they are possible."

"Very well, Doctor Leonard, I accept your decision, and I relinquish
all professional responsibility in the matter."

"You may do so. There is no occasion for mystery or question. It
is a sad affair, indeed, but no crime is indicated beyond that of
self-destruction. The written confession hints at the motive for the
deed, but that is outside my jurisdiction. Who is the man in the hall?
I fancied him a detective."

"He is; that is, he is a man from headquarters who is here to watch
over the bridal gifts. He came downstairs thinking we might require his
services in another way."

"Send him back to his post. There is no work for detectives, just
because a young girl chose to end her unhappy life."

Doctor Hills opened the library door and directed Hunt to return to his
place in the present room.

Doctor Leonard, still with his harsh and disagreeable manner, advised
Willard and Carleton to go to their homes, saying he and Doctor Hills
would remain in charge of the library for the rest of the night.

Doctor Hills found the women in the drawingroom, awaiting such message
as Doctor Leonard might have for them. Doctor Hills told them all that
Doctor Leonard had said, and advised them to retire, as the next day
would be indeed a difficult and sorrowful one.

V

A Case For The Coroner

It was characteristic of Miss Morton that she went straight to her
own room and shut the door. Mrs. Markham, on the other hand, went
to the room occupied by Kitty French. Molly Gardner was there, too,
and the two girls, robed in kimonas, were sitting, white-faced and
tearful-eyed, waiting for some further news from the room whence they
had been banished.

Mrs. Markham told them what Doctor Leonard had said, but Kitty French
broke out impetuously, "Madeleine never killed herself, never! I know
she always said that about the dagger, but she never really meant it,
and any way she never would have done it the night before her wedding.
I tell you she didn't do it! It was some horrid burglar who came in to
steal her presents, who killed her."

"I would almost rather it had been so, Kitty dear," said Mrs. Markham,
gently stroking the brow of the excited girl; "but it could not have
been, for we have very strong locks and bolts against burglars, and
Harris is very careful in his precautions for our safety."

"I don't care! Maddy never killed herself. She wouldn't do it, I know
her too well. Oh, dear! now there won't be any wedding at all! Isn't it
dreadful to think of that decorated room, and the bower we planned for
the bride!"

At these thoughts Kitty's tears began to flow afresh, and Molly, who
was already limp from weeping, joined her.

"There, there," said Mrs. Markham, gently patting Molly's shoulder.
"Don't cry so, dearie. It can't do any good, and you'll just make
yourself ill."

"But I don't understand," said Molly, as she mopped her eyes with her
wet ball of a handkerchief; "why did she kill herself?"

"I don't know," said Mrs. Markham, but her expression seemed to betoken
a sad suspicion.

"She didn't kill herself," reiterated Kitty. "I stick to that, but if
she did, I know why."

This feminine absence of logic was unremarked by her hearers, who both
said, "Why?"

"Because Schuyler didn't love her enough," said Kitty earnestly. "She
just worshipped him, and he used to care more for her, but lately he
hasn't."

"How do you know?" asked Molly.

"Oh, Madeleine didn't tell me," returned Kitty. "I just gathered it.
I've been here 'most a week--you know I came several days before you
did, Molly--and I've noticed her a lot. Oh, I don't mean I spied on her,
or anything horrid. Only, I couldn't help seeing that she wished Mr.
Carleton would be more attentive."

"Why, I thought he was awfully attentive," said Molly.

"Oh, attentive, yes. I don't exactly mean that. But there was something
lacking,--don't you think so, Mrs. Markham?"

"Yes, Kitty, I do think so. In fact, I know that Mr. Carleton didn't
give Madeleine the heart-whole affection that she gave him. But I hoped
it would all turn out right, and I surely never dreamed it was such a
serious matter as to bring Madeleine to this. But she was a reserved,
proud nature, and if she thought Mr. Carleton had ceased to love her, I
know she would far rather die than marry him."

"But she could have refused to marry him," cried Molly. "She didn't
have to kill herself to get rid of him."

"She didn't kill herself," stubbornly repeated Kitty, but Mrs. Markham
said:

"You don't understand Maddy's nature, Molly; she must have had some
sudden and positive proof of Mr. Carleton's lack of true affection for
her to drive her to this step. But once convinced that he did not care
for her, I know her absolute despair would impel her to the desperate
deed."

"Why didn't he love her?" said Molly, who could see no reason why any
man shouldn't love the magnificent Madeleine.

"I think," said Kitty slowly, "there was somebody else."

"How did you know that?" exclaimed Mrs. Markham sharply, as if she had
detected Kitty in some wrongdoing.

"I don't know it, but I can't help thinking so. Madeleine has sometimes
asked me if I didn't think most men preferred gentle, timid
dispositions to a strong, capable nature like her own. Of course she
didn't express it just like that, but she hinted at it so wistfully,
that I told her no, she was the splendidest, most adorable woman in the
whole world. I meant it, too, but at the same time I do think men 'most
always love the soft, tractable kind of girls, that are not so
imperious and awe-inspiring as Maddy was."

Surely Kitty ought to know, for she was the most delicious type of
soft, tractable femininity.

Her round, dimpled face was positively peachy, and her curling tendrils
of goldy hair clustered round a low white brow, above appealing violet
eyes. A man might admire the haughty Madeleine, but he would
caressingly love bewitching little Kitty, and would involuntarily feel
a sense of protection toward her, because of the shy trustfulness in
her glance.

This was not entirely ingenuous, for wise little Kitty quite understood
her own charm, but it was natural, and in no way forced; and she was
quite content that her lines had fallen in her own pleasant places, and
she left the magnificent Madeleines of the world to pursue their own
roles. But she had admired and loved Maddy Van Norman, and just because
of their differing natures, had understood why Schuyler Carleton's
affection was tempered with a certain sense of inferiority.

"You know," she went on, as if thinking aloud, "everybody was a little
afraid of magnificent Maddy. She was so superb, so regal. You couldn't
imagine yourself cuddling her!"

"I should say not!" exclaimed Molly. "I could only imagine salaaming to
her, or deferentially kissing her hand."

"Yes, that's what I mean. Well, Mr. Carleton got tired of that stilted
kind of an attitude,--or, at least, she thought he did. I don't know,
I'm sure, but she was possessed with a notion that he cared for some
other girl,--some one of the clinging rosebud sort."

"Do you know this?" asked Mrs. Markham; "I mean, do you know that Maddy
thought this?"

"Yes, I know it," asserted Kitty, with a wag of her wise little head.
"I tried to persuade her that no clinging rosebud could rival a tall,
proud lily, but she thoroughly believed there was some one else."

"But Mr. Carleton was to marry her," said Mrs. Markham. "I can't
believe he would do that if he loved another."

"That's what bothered Maddy," said Kitty; "she knew how honorable Mr.
Carleton had always been, and she said that as he was engaged to her,
he would think it his duty to marry her, even though his heart belonged
to some one else."

"Oh, pshaw!" said Molly. "If he was going to marry her, and didn't love
her, it was because of her fortune. Probably his rosebud girl hasn't a
cent."

"Don't talk like that," said Kitty, shuddering. "Somehow it seems
disloyal to both of them."

"But it is all true," said Mrs. Markham sadly. "Madeleine has never
been of a confidential nature, but I know that she had the idea Kitty
tells of, and I fear it was true. And I may be disloyal, or even
unjust, but I can't help thinking Schuyler was attracted by Maddy's
money. He is proud and ambitious, and he would be quite in his element
as the head of a fine establishment, with plenty of money to spend on
it."

"Well, he'll never have it now," said Molly, and as this brought back
the realization of the awful event that had happened, both girls burst
into crying again.

Mrs. Markham, herself with overwrought nerves, found she could do
nothing to comfort the girls, so left them and went to commune with her
grief in her own room.

Meantime the two doctors alone in the library were still in discussion.

"Well, what do you want?" inquired Doctor Leonard angrily. "Do you want
to imply, and with no evidence whatever, that the girl died by some
hand other than her own? Do you want to involve the family in the
expense and unpleasant publicity of a coroner's inquest, when there is
not only no reason for such a proceeding, but there is every reason
against it?"

"I want nothing but to get at the truth," rejoined Doctor Hills, a
little ruffled himself. "I hold that a young woman, unless endowed with
unusual strength, or possibly under stress of intense passion, could
not inflict upon herself a blow strong enough to drive that dagger to
the hilt in her own breast, pull it forth again, and cast it on the
floor, and after that place her arm in the position it now occupies."

Doctor Leonard looked thoughtful. "I agree with you," he said slowly;
"that is, I agree that it does not seem as if a woman could do that.
But, my dear Doctor Hills, Miss Van Norman did do that. We know she
did, from her own written confession, and also by the theory of
elimination. What else could have happened? Have you any suggestion to
advance?"

Doctor Hills was somewhat taken aback at Doctor Leonard's suddenness.
Up to this moment the county physician had stoutly maintained that the
case was a suicide beyond any question, and then, turning, he had put
the question to the younger doctor in such a way that Doctor Hills was
not quite ready with an answer.

"No," he said hesitatingly; "I have no theory to advance, and,
moreover, I do not consider this an occasion for theories. But we must
ascertain the facts. I state it as a fact that a woman could not stab
herself as Miss Van Norman is stabbed, withdraw the dagger, and then
place her right arm on the table in the position you see it."

"And I assert that you are stating what is not a fact, but merely your
own opinion."

Doctor Hills looked disconcerted at this. His companion was an older
and far more experienced man than himself, and not only did Doctor
Hills have no desire to antagonize him, but he wished to show him the
deference that was justly his due.

"You are right," he said frankly; "it is merely my own opinion. But now
will you give me yours, based, not on the written paper, but the
position and general effect of the body of Miss Van Norman?" Put thus
on his mettle, Doctor Leonard looked carefully at the dead girl, whose
pose was so natural and graceful that she might have been merely
sitting there, resting.

He gazed long and intently, and then said, slowly:

"I see your point, Doctor Hills. It was a vigorous blow, suddenly and
forcefully given. It could scarcely have been done, had the subject
been a frail, slight woman. But Miss Van Norman was of a strong, even
athletic build, and her whole physical make-up indicates strength and
force of muscle. Your observation as to her apparently natural position
is all right so far as it goes; but I have observed more carefully
still, and I notice her evident physical strength, which was doubtless
greatly aided by her stress of mental passion, and I aver that a woman
of her physique could have driven the blow, removed the weapon, and,
perhaps even then unconscious, have thrown her arm on the table as we
now see it."

"I thank you, Doctor Leonard," said young Hills, "for your patience
with me. You are doubtless right, and I frankly admit you have made out
a clear case. Miss Van Norman was, indeed, a strong woman. I have been
the family physician for several years, and I know her robust
constitution. Knowing this, and appreciating your superior judgment as
to the possibility of the deed, I am forced to admit your opinion is
the true one. And yet--"

"Besides, Doctor Hills," went on Doctor Leonard, as the younger man
hesitated, "we cannot, we must not, ignore the written paper. Why
should we do so? Those who know, tell us Miss Van Norman wrote it. It
is, therefore, her dying statement. Dare we disregard her last message,
written in explanation of her otherwise inexplicable act? We may wonder
at this suicide, we may shudder at it; but we may not doubt that it is
a suicide. That paper is not merely evidence,--it is testimony, it is
incontrovertible proof."

Doctor Leonard ceased speaking, and sat silent because he had nothing
more to say.

Doctor Hills also sat silent, because, try as he might, he could not
feel convinced that the older physician was right. It was absurd, he
well knew, but every time he glanced at the relaxed pose of that white
right arm on the table, he felt more than ever sure that it had lain
there just so when the dagger entered the girl's breast.

As the two men sat there, almost as motionless as the other still
figure, both saw the knob of the door turn.

They had closed the double doors leading to the hall, on the arrival of
Doctor Leonard, and now the knob of one of them was slowly and
noiselessly turning round.

A glance of recognition passed between them, but neither spoke or
moved.

A moment later, the knob having turned completely round, the door began
to open very slowly.

Owing to the position of the two men, it was necessary for the door to
be opened far enough to admit the intruder's head before they could be
seen, and the doctors waited breathlessly to see who it might be who
desired to come stealthily to the library that night.

Doctor Hills, whose thoughts worked quickly, had already assumed it was
Mrs. Markham, coming to gaze once more on her beloved mistress; but
Doctor Leonard formulated no supposition and merely waited to see.

At the edge of the door appeared first a yellow pompadour, followed by
the wide-open blue eyes of Cicely Dupuy. Seeing the two men, she came
no further into the room, but gave a sort of gasp, and pulled the door
quickly shut again. In the still house, the two listeners could hear
her footsteps crossing the hall, and ascending the stairs.

"Curious, that," murmured Doctor Hills. "If she wanted to look once
more on Miss Van Norman's face, why so stealthy about it? And if she
didn't want that, what did she want?"

"I don't know," rejoined Doctor Leonard; "but I see nothing suspicious
about it. Doubtless, she did come for a last glance alone at Miss Van
Norman, but, seeing us here, didn't care to enter."

"But she gave a strange little shuddering gasp, as if frightened."

"Natural excitement at the strange and awful conditions now present."

"Yes, no doubt." Doctor Hills spoke a bit impatiently. The phlegmatic
attitude of his colleague jarred on his own overwrought nerves, and he
rose and walked about the room, now and then stopping to scrutinize
anew the victim of the cruel dagger.

At last he stood still, across the table from her, but looking at
Doctor Leonard.

"I have no suggestion to make," he said slowly. "I have no theory to
offer, but I am firmly convinced that Madeleine Van Norman did not
strike the blow that took away her life. Perhaps this is more a feeling
or an intuition than a logical conviction, but--" He hesitated and
looked intently at the dead girl, as if trying to force the secret from
her.

With a sudden start he took a step forward, and as he spoke his voice
rang with excitement.

"Doctor Leonard," he said, in a quick, concise voice, "will you look
carefully at that dagger?"

"Yes," said the older man, impressed by the other's sudden intensity;
and, stepping forward, he scrutinized the dagger as it lay on the
table, without, however, touching it.

"There is blood on the handle," went on Doctor Hills.

"Yes, several stains, now dried."

"And do you see any blood on the right hand of Miss Van Norman?"

Startled at the implication, Doctor Leonard bent to examine the cold
white hand. Not a trace of blood was on it. Instinctively he looked at
the girl's left hand, only to find that also immaculately white.

Doctor Leonard stood upright and pulled himself together.

"I was wrong, Doctor Hills," he said, with a nod which in him betokened
an unspoken apology. "It is a case for the coroner."

VI

Fessenden Comes

It was about nine o'clock the next morning when Rob Fessenden rang the
bell of the Van Norman house. Having heard nothing of the events of the
night, he had called to offer any assistance he might give before the
ceremony.

The trailing garland of white flowers with fluttering streamers of
white ribbon that hung beside the portal struck a chill to his heart.

"What can have happened?" he thought blankly, and confused ideas of
motor accidents were thronging his mind as the door was opened for him.
The demeanor of the footman at once told him that he was in a house of
mourning. Shown into the drawing-room, he was met by Cicely Dupuy.

"Mr. Fessenden!" she exclaimed as she greeted him. "Then you have not
heard?"

"I've heard nothing. What is it?"

Poor Miss Dupuy had bravely taken up the burden of telling the sad
story to callers who did not know of it, and this was not the first
time that morning she had enlightened inquiring friends.

In a few words she told Mr. Fessenden of the events of the night
before. He was shocked and sincerely grieved. Although his acquaintance
with Miss Van Norman was slight, he was Schuyler Carleton's oldest and
best friend, and so he had come from New York the day before in order
to take his part at the wedding.

While they were talking Kitty French came in. As Mr. Fessenden began to
converse with her Cicely excused herself and left the room.

"Isn't it awful?" began Kitty, and her tear-filled eyes supplemented
the trite sentence.

"It is indeed," said Rob Fessenden, taking her hand in spontaneous
sympathy. "Why should she do it?"

"She didn't do it," declared Kitty earnestly. "Mr. Fessenden, they all
say she killed herself, but I know she didn't. Won't you help me to
prove that, and to find out who did kill her?"

"What do you mean, Miss French? Miss Dupuy just told me it was a
suicide."

"They all say so, but I know better. Oh, I wish somebody would help me!
Molly doesn't think as I do, and I can't do anything all alone."

Miss French's face was small and flower-like, and when she clasped her
little hands and bewailed her inability to prove her belief, young
Fessenden thought he had never seen such a perfect picture of beautiful
helplessness. Without reserve he instantly resolved to aid and advise
her to the best of his own ability.

"And Mrs. Markham doesn't think as I do, either," went on Kitty.
"Nobody thinks as I do."

"I will think as you do," declared Fessenden, and so potent was the
charm of the tearful violet eyes, that he was quite ready to think
whatever she dictated. "Only tell me what to think, and what to do
about it."

"Why, I think Madeleine didn't kill herself at all. I think somebody
else killed her."

"But who would do such a thing? You see, Miss French, I know nothing of
the particulars. I saw Miss Van Norman for the first time yesterday."

"Had you never met her before?"

"Oh, yes; a few years ago. But I mean, I came to Mapleton only
yesterday, and saw her in the afternoon. I was to be Schuyler's best
man, you know, and as he didn't come here to dinner last night, I
thought I'd better not come either, though I had been asked. He was a
little miffed with Miss Van Norman, you know."

"Yes, I know. Maddy did flirt with Tom, and it always annoyed Mr.
Carleton. Did you dine with him?"

"Yes, at his home. I am staying there. By the way, I met Miss Burt
there; do you know her?"

"No, not at all. Who is she?"

"She's a companion to Mrs. Carleton, Schuyler's mother. I never saw her
until last night at dinner."

"No, I don't know her," repeated Kitty. "I don't believe she was
invited to the wedding, for I looked over the list of invitations.
Still, her name may have been there. The list was so very long."

"And now there'll be no wedding and no guests."

"No," said Kitty; "only guests at a far different ceremony." Again the
deep violet eyes filled with tears, and Fessenden was conscious of a
longing to comfort and help the poor little girl thrown thus suddenly
into the first tragedy of her life.

"It would be dreadful enough if she had died from an illness," he said;
"but this added awful--"

"Yes," interrupted Kitty; "but to me the worst part is for them to say
she killed herself,--and I know she didn't. Why, Maddy was too fine and
big-natured to do such a cowardly thing."

"She seemed so to me, too, though of course I didn't know her so well
as you did."

"No, I'm one of her nearest friends,--though Madeleine was never one to
have really intimate friends. But as her friend, I want to try to do
what I can to put her right in the face of the world. And you said
you'd help me."

She looked at Fessenden with such hopefully appealing eyes, that he
would willingly have helped her in any way he could, but he also
realized that it was a very serious proposition this young girl was
making.

"I will help you, Miss French," he said gravely. "I know little of the
details of the case, but if there is the slightest chance that you may
be right, rest assured that you shall be given every chance to prove
it."

Kitty French gave a sigh of relief. "Oh, thank you," she said
earnestly; "but I'm afraid we cannot do much, however well we intend.
Of course I'm merely a guest here, and I have no authority of any sort.
And, too, to prove that Maddy did not kill herself would mean having a
detective and everything like that."

"I may not be 'everything like that,'" said Fessenden, with a faint
smile, "but I am a sort of detective in an amateur way. I've had quite
a good deal of experience, and though I wouldn't take a case
officially, I'm sure I could at least discover if your suspicions have
any grounds."

"But I haven't any suspicions," said Kitty, agitatedly clasping her
little hands against her breast; "I've only a feeling, a deep, positive
conviction, that Madeleine did not kill herself, and I'm sure I don't
know who did kill her."

Fessenden gave that grave smile of his and only said, "That doesn't
sound like much to work upon, and yet I would often trust a woman's
intuitive knowledge against the most conspicuous clues or evidences."

Kitty thanked him with a smile, but before she could speak, Miss Morton
came into the room.

"It's perfectly dreadful," that lady began, in her impetuous way;
"they're going to have the coroner after all! Doctor Leonard has sent
for him and he may arrive at any minute. Isn't it awful? There'll be an
inquest, and the house will be thronged with all sorts of people!"

"Why are they going to have an inquest?" demanded Kitty, whirling
around and grasping Miss Morton by her elbows.

"Because," she said, quite as excited as Kitty herself "--because the
doctors think that perhaps Madeleine didn't kill herself; that she was--"

"Murdered!" exclaimed Kitty. "I knew it! I knew she was! Who killed
her?"

"Mercy! I don't know," exclaimed Miss Morton, frightened at Kitty's
vehemence. "That's what the coroner is coming to find out."

"But who do you think did it? You must have some idea!"

"I haven't! Don't look at me like that! What do you mean?"

"It must have been a burglar," went on Kitty, "because it couldn't have
been any one else. But why didn't he steal things? Perhaps he did! We
never thought to look?"

"How you do run on! Nobody could steal the presents, because there was
a policeman in the house all the time."

"Then, why didn't he catch the burglar?" demanded Kitty, grasping Miss
Morton's arm, as if that lady had information that must be dragged from
her by force.

Feeling interested in getting at the facts in the case, and thinking
that he could learn little from these two excited women, Rob Fessenden
turned into the hall just in time to meet Doctor Hills, who was coming
from the library.

"May I introduce myself?" he said. "I'm Robert Fessenden, of New York,
a lawyer, and I was to have been best man at the wedding. You, I know,
are Doctor Hills, and I want to say to you that if the earnest endeavor
of an amateur detective would be of any use to you in this matter, it
is at your disposal. Mr. Carleton is my old and dear friend, and I need
not tell you how he now calls forth my sympathy."

Instinctively, Doctor Hills liked this young man. His frank manner and
pleasant, straightforward ways impressed the doctor favorably, and he
shook hands warmly as he said, "This is most kind of you, Mr.
Fessenden, and you may prove the very man we need. At first, we were
all convinced that Miss Van Norman's death was a suicide; and though
the evidence still strongly points to that, I am sure that there is a
possibility, at least, that it is not true."

"May I learn the details of the case? May I go into the library?" said
Fessenden, hesitating to approach the closed door until invited.

"Yes, indeed; I'll take you in at once. Doctor Leonard, who is in
there, is the county physician, and, though a bit brusque in his
manner, he is an honest old soul, and does unflinchingly what he judges
to be his duty."

Neither then nor at any time, neither to Doctor Leonard himself nor to
any one else, did Doctor Hills ever mention the difference of opinion
which the two men had held for so long the night before, nor did he
tell how he had proved his own theory so positively that Doctor Leonard
had been obliged to confess himself wrong. It was not in Doctor Hills'
nature to say "I told you so," and, fully appreciating this, Doctor
Leonard said nothing either, but threw himself into the case heart and
soul in his endeavors to seek truth and justice.

Fessenden and Doctor Hills entered the library, where everything was
much as it had been the night before. At one time the doctors had been
about to move the body to a couch, and to remove the disfigured gown,
but after Doctor Leonard had been persuaded to agree with Doctor Hills'
view of the ease, they had left everything untouched until the coroner
should come.

The discovery of this was a satisfaction to Robert Fessenden. His
detective instinct had begun to assert itself, and he was glad of an
opportunity to examine the room before the arrival of the coroner.
Though not seeming unduly curious, his eyes darted about in an eager
search for possible clues of any sort. Without touching them, he
examined the dagger, the written paper, the appointments of the library
table, and the body itself, with its sweet, sad face, its drooping
posture, and its tragically stained raiment.

In true detective fashion he scrutinized the carpet, glanced at the
window fastenings, and noted the appointments of the library table.

The only thing Fessenden touched, however, was a lead pencil which lay
on the pen-rack. It was an ordinary pencil, but he gazed intently at
the gilt lettering stamped upon it, and then returned it to its place.

Again he glanced quickly but carefully at every article on the table,
and then, taking a chair, sat quietly in a corner, unobtrusive but
alert.

With something of a bustling air the coroner came in. Coroner Benson
was a fussy sort of man, with a somewhat exaggerated sense of his own
importance.

He paused with what he probably considered a dramatic start when he saw
the dead body of Miss Van Norman, and, shaking his head, said, "Alas!
Alas!" in tragic tones.

Miss Morton and Kitty French had followed him in, and stood arm in arm,
a little bewildered, but determined to know whatever might transpire.
Cicely Dupuy and Miss Markham had also come in.

But after a glance round and a preliminary clearing of his throat, he
at once requested that everybody except the two doctors should leave
the room.

Fessenden and Kitty French were greatly disappointed at this, but the
others went out with a feeling of relief, for the strain was beginning
to tell upon the nerves of all concerned.

As usual, Miss Morton tried to exercise her powers of generalship, and
directed that they should all assemble in the drawing-room until
recalled to learn the coroner's opinion.

Mrs. Markham, unheeding Miss Morton's dictum, went away to attend to
her household duties, and Cicely went to her own room, but the others
waited in the drawing-room. They were joined shortly by Tom Willard and
Schuyler Carleton, who arrived at about the same time.

Mr. Carleton, never a robust man, looked like a wreck of his former
self. Years had been added to his apparent age; his impassive face wore
a look of stony grief, and his dark eyes seemed filled with an
unutterable horror.

Tom Willard, on the contrary, being of stout build and rubicund
countenance, seemed an ill-fitting figure in the sad and tearful group.

But as Kitty French remarked to Fessenden in a whisper, "Poor Tom
probably feels the worst of any of us, and it isn't his fault that he
can't make that fat, jolly face of his look more funereal."

"And he's said to be the heir to the estate, too," Fessenden whispered
back.

"Now, that's mean of you," declared Kitty. "Tom hasn't a greedy hair in
his head, and I don't believe he has even thought of his fortune. And,
besides, he was desperately in love with Madeleine. A whole heap more
in love than Mr. Carleton was."

Fessenden stared at her. "Then why was Carleton marrying her?"

"For her money," said Kitty, with a disdainful air.

"I didn't know that," went on Fessenden, quite seriously. "I thought
Carleton was hard hit. She was a magnificent woman."

"Oh, she was, indeed," agreed Kitty enthusiastically. "Mr. Carleton
didn't half appreciate her, and Tom did. But then she was always very
different with Tom. Somehow she always seemed constrained when with Mr.
Carleton."

"Then why was she marrying him?"

"She was terribly in love with him. She liked Tom only in a cousinly
way, but she adored Mr. Carleton. I know it."

"Well, it seems you were right about her not killing herself, so you're
probably right about this matter, too."

"Now, that shows a nice spirit," said Kitty, smiling, even in the midst
of her sorrow. "But, truly, I'm 'most always right; aren't you?"

"I shall be after this, for I'm always going to agree with you."

"That's a pretty large order, for I'm sometimes awfully disagreeable."

"I shouldn't believe that, but I've practically promised to believe
everything you tell me, so I suppose I shall have to."

"Oh, now I have defeated my own ends! Well, never mind; abide by your
first impression,--that I'm always right,--and then go ahead."

"Go ahead it is," declared Fessenden, and then Molly Gardner joined
them. Molly was more overcome by the tragic turn affairs had taken than
Kitty, and had only just made her appearance downstairs that day.

"You dear child," cried Kitty, noting her pale cheeks and sad eyes,
"sit right down here by us, and let Mr. Fessenden talk to you. He's the
nicest man in the world to cheer any one up."

"And you look as if you need cheering, Miss Gardner," said Fessenden,
arranging some pillows at her back, as she languidly dropped down on
the sofa.

"I can't realize it at all," said poor Molly; "I don't want to be silly
and keep fainting all over the place, but every time I remember how
Maddy looked last night--" She glanced toward the closed library doors
with a shudder.

"Don't think about it," said Rob Fessenden gently. "What you need most,
Miss Gardner, is a bit of fresh air. Come with me for a little walk in
the grounds."

This was self-sacrifice on the part of the young man, for he greatly
desired to be present when the coroner should open the closed doors to
them again. But he really thought Miss Gardner would be better for a
short, brisk walk, and, getting her some wraps, they went out at the
front door.

VII

Mr. Benson's Questions

It was some time after Fessenden and Molly had returned from their walk
that the library doors were thrown open, and Coroner Benson invited
them all to come in.

They filed in slowly, each heart heavy with an impending sense of
dread. Doctor Hills ushered them to seats, which had been arranged in
rows, and which gave an unpleasantly formal air to the cozy library.

The body of Madeleine Van Norman had been taken upstairs to her own
room, and at the library table, where she had last sat, stood Coroner
Benson.

The women were seated in front. Mrs. Markham seemed to have settled
into a sort of sad apathy, but Miss Morton was briskly alert and,
though evidently nervous, seemed eager to hear what the coroner had to
tell.

Kitty French, too, was full of anxious interest, and, taking the seat
assigned to her, clasped her little hands in breathless suspense, while
a high color rose to her lovely cheeks.

Molly Gardner was pale and wan-looking. She dreaded the whole scene,
and had but one desire, to get away from Mapleton. She could have gone
to her room, had she chosen, but the idea of being all alone was even
worse than the present conditions. So she sat, with overwrought nerves,
now and then clutching at Kitty's sleeve.

Cicely Dupuy was very calm--so calm, indeed, that one might guess it was
the composure of an all-compelling determination, and by no means the
quiet of indifference.

Marie was there, and showed the impassive face of the well-trained
servant, though her volatile French nature was discernible in her
quick-darting glances and quivering, sensitive lips.

The two doctors, Mr. Carleton, Tom Willard, and young Fessenden
occupied the next row of seats, and behind them were the house
servants.

Unlike the women, the men showed little or no emotion on their faces.
All were grave and composed, and even Doctor Leonard seemed to have
laid aside his brusque and aggressive ways.

As he stood facing this group, Coroner Benson was fully alive to the
importance of his own position, and he quite consciously determined to
conduct the proceedings in a way to throw great credit upon himself in
his official capacity.

After an impressive pause, which he seemed to deem necessary to gain
the attention of an already breathlessly listening audience, he began:

"While there is much evidence that seems to prove that Miss Van Norman
took her own life, there is very grave reason to doubt this. Both of
the eminent physicians here present are inclined to believe that the
dagger thrust which killed Miss Van Norman was not inflicted by her own
hand, though it may have been so. This conclusion they arrive at from
their scientific knowledge of the nature and direction of dagger
strokes, which, as may not be generally known, is a science in itself.
Indeed, were it not for the conclusive evidence of the written paper,
these gentlemen would believe that the stroke was impossible of
self-infliction.

"But, aside from this point, we are confronted by this startling fact.
Although the dagger, which you may see still lying on the table, has
several blood-stains on its handle, there is absolutely no trace of
blood on the right hand of the body of Miss Van Norman. It is
inconceivable that she could have removed such a trace, had there been
any, and it is highly improbable, if not indeed impossible, that she
could have handled the dagger and left it in its present condition,
without showing a corresponding stain on her hand."

This speech of Coroner Benson's produced a decided sensation on all his
hearers, but it was manifested in various ways. Kitty French exchanged
with Fessenden a satisfied nod, for this seemed in line with her own
theory.

Fessenden returned the nod, and even gave Kitty a faint smile, for who
could look at that lovely face without a pleasant recognition of some
sort? And then he folded his arms and began to think hard. Yet there
was little food for coherent thought.

Granting the logical deduction from the absence of any stain on Miss
Van Norman's hands, there was, as yet, not the slightest indication of
any direction in which to look for the dastard who had done the deed.

Schuyler Carleton showed no emotion, but his white face seemed to take
on one more degree of horror and misery. Tom Willard looked blankly
amazed, and Mrs. Markham began on a new one of her successive crying
spells. Miss Morton sat bolt upright and placidly smoothed the gray
silk folds of her gown, while her face wore a decided "I told you so"
expression, though she hadn't told them anything of the sort.

But as Fessenden watched her--the rows of seats were slightly
horseshoed, and he could see her side face well--he noticed that she was
really trembling all over, and that her placidity of face was without
doubt assumed for effect. He could not see her eyes, but he was
positive that only a strong fear or terror of something could explain
her admirably suppressed agitation.

The behavior of Cicely Dupuy was perhaps the most extraordinary. She
flew into a fit of violent hysterics, and had to be taken from the
room. Marie followed her, as it had always been part of the French
maid's duty to attend Miss Dupuy upon occasion as well as Miss Van
Norman.

"In view of this state of affairs," went on the coroner, when quiet had
been restored after Cicely's departure, "it becomes necessary to make
an investigation of the case. We have absolutely no evidence, and no
real reason to suspect foul play, yet since there is the merest
possibility that the death was not a suicide, it becomes my duty to
look further into the matter. I have been told that Miss Van Norman had
expressed a sort of general fear, that she might some day be impelled
to turn this dagger upon herself. But that is a peculiar mental
obsession that affects many people at sight of a sharp-pointed or
cutting instrument, and is by no means a proof that she did do this
thing. But quite aside from the temptation of the glittering steel, we
have Miss Van Norman's written confession that she at least
contemplated taking her own life, and ascribing a reason therefor. In
further consideration, then, of this written paper, of which you all
know the contents, can any of you tell me of any fact or quote any
words spoken by Miss Van Norman that would corroborate or amplify the
statement of this despairing message?"

As Mr. Benson spoke, he held in his hand the written paper that had
been found on the library table. It was indeed unnecessary to read it
aloud, for every one present knew its contents by heart.

But nobody responded to the coroner's question. Mr. Carleton looked
mutely helpless, Tom Willard looked honestly perplexed, and yet many of
those present believed that both these men knew the sad secret of
Madeleine's life, and understood definitely the written message.

Again Mr. Benson earnestly requested that any one knowing the least
fact, however trivial, regarding the matter, would mention it.

Then Mrs. Markham spoke.

"I can tell you nothing but my own surmise," she said; "I know nothing
for certain, but I have reason to believe that Madeleine Van Norman had
a deep sorrow,--such a one as would impel her to write that statement,
and to act in accordance with it."

"That is what I wished to know," said Coroner Benson; "it is not
necessary for you to detail the nature of her sorrow, or even to hint
at it further, but the assurance that the message is in accordance with
Miss Van Norman's mental attitude goes far toward convincing me that
her death is the outcome of that written declaration."

"I know, too," volunteered Kitty French, "that Madeleine meant every
word she wrote there. She was miserable, and for the very reason that
she herself stated!"

Mr. Benson pinched his glasses more firmly on his nose, and turned his
gaze slowly toward Miss French.

Kitty had spoken impulsively, and perhaps too directly, but, though
embarrassed at the sensation she had caused, she showed no desire to
retract her statements.

"I am told," said the coroner, his voice ringing out clearly in the
strange silence that had fallen on the room, "that the initial on this
paper designates Mr. Schuyler Carleton. I must therefore ask Mr.
Carleton if he can explain the reference to himself."

"I cannot," said Schuyler Carleton, and only the intense silence
allowed his low whisper to be heard. "Miss Van Norman was my affianced
wife. We were to have been married to-day. Those two facts, I think,
prove the existence of our mutual love. The paper is to me
inexplicable."

Tom Willard looked at the speaker with an expression of frank unbelief,
and, indeed, most of the auditors' faces betrayed incredulity.

Even with no previous reason to imagine that Carleton did not love
Madeleine, the tragic message proved it beyond all possible doubt,--and
yet it was but natural for the man to deny it.

Doctor Hills spoke next.

"I think, Coroner Benson," he said, as he rose to his feet, "we are
missing the point. If Miss Van Norman took her life in fulfilment of
her own decision, the reasons that brought about that decision are not
a matter for our consideration. It is for us to decide whether she did
or did not bring about her own death, and as a mode of procedure may I
suggest this? Doctor Leonard and myself hold, that, in view of the
absence of any stain on Miss Van Norman's hands, she could not have
handled the stained dagger that killed her. A refutation of this
opinion would be to explain how she could have done the deed and left
no trace on her fingers. Unless this can be shown, I think we can not
call it a suicide."

Although nothing would have induced him to admit it, Coroner Benson was
greatly accommodated by this suggestion, and immediately adopting it as
his own promulgation, he repeated it almost exactly word for word, as
his official dictum.

"And so," he concluded, "as I have now explained, unless a theory can
be offered on this point, we must agree that Miss Van Norman's
unfortunate death was not by her own hand."

Robert Fessenden arose.

"I have no theory," he said; "I have no argument to offer. But I am
sure we all wish to discover the truth by means of any light that any
of us may throw on the mystery. And I want to say that in my opinion
the absence of blood on the hands, though it indicates, does not
positively prove, that the weapon was held by another than the victim.
Might it not be that, taking the dagger from the table, clean as of
course it was, Miss Van Norman turned it upon herself, and then,
withdrawing it, let it drop to the floor, where it subsequently became
blood-stained, as did the rug and her own gown?"

The two doctors listened intently. It was characteristic of both that
though Doctor Hills had shown no elation when he had convinced Doctor
Leonard of his mistake the night before, yet now Doctor Leonard could
not repress a gleam of triumph in his eyes as he turned to Doctor
Hills.

"It is possible," said Mr. Benson, with a cautiously dubious air,
though really the theory struck him as extremely probable, and he
wished he had advanced it himself.

Doctor Hills looked thoughtful, and then, as nobody else spoke, he
observed:

"Mr. Carleton might perhaps judge of that point. As he first discovered
the dagger, and picked it up from the floor, he can perhaps say if it
lay in or near the stains on the carpet."

Everybody looked at Schuyler Carleton. But the man had reached the
limit of his endurance.

"I don't know!" he exclaimed, covering his white face with his hands,
as if to shut out the awful memory. "Do you suppose I noticed such
details?" he cried, looking up again. "I picked up the dagger, scarce
knowing that I did it! It was almost an unconscious act. I was stunned,
dazed, at what I saw before me, and I know nothing of the dagger or its
blood-stains!"

Truly, the man was almost frenzied, and out of consideration for his
perturbed state, the coroner asked him no more questions just then.

"It seems to me," observed Rob Fessenden, "that the nature or shape of
the stains on the dagger handle might determine this point. If they
appear to be finger-marks, the weapon must have been held by some other
hand. If merely stains, as from the floor, they might be considered to
strengthen Doctor Hill's theory."

The Venetian paper-cutter was produced and passed around.

None of the women would touch it or even look at it, except Kitty
French. She examined it carefully, but had no opinion to offer, and Mr.
Benson waited impatiently for her to finish her scrutiny. He had no
wish to hear her remarks on the subject, for he deemed her a mere
frivolous girl, who had no business to take any part in the serious
inquiry. All were requested not to touch the weapon, which was passed
round on a brass tray taken from the library table.

Schuyler Carleton covered his eyes, and refused to glance at it.

Tom Willard and Robert Fessenden looked at it at the same time, holding
the tray between them.

"I make out no finger-prints," said Tom, at last. "Do you?"

"No," said Fessenden; "that is, not surely. These may be marks of
fingers, but they are far too indistinct to say so positively. What do
you think, Doctor Leonard?"

The gruesome property was passed on to the two doctors, who examined it
with the greatest care. Going to the window, they looked at it with
magnifying glasses, and finally reported that the slight marks might be
finger-marks, or might be the abrasion of the nap of the rug on which
the dagger had fallen.

"Then," said Coroner Benson, "we have, so far, no evidence which
refutes the theory that Miss Van Norman's written message was the
expression of her deliberate intent, and that that intention was
fulfilled by her."

Once more Mr. Benson scanned intently the faces of his audience.

"Can no one, then," he said again, "assert or suggest anything that may
have any bearing on this written message?"

"I can," said Robert Fessenden.

VIII

A Soft Lead Pencil

Coroner Benson looked at the young man curiously. Knowing him to be a
stranger in the household, he had not expected information from him.

"Your name?" he said quietly.

"I am Robert Fessenden, of New York City. I am a lawyer by profession,
and I came to Mapleton yesterday for the purpose of acting as best man
at Mr. Carleton's wedding. I came here this morning, not knowing of
what had occurred in the night, and after conversation with some
members of the household I felt impelled to investigate some points
which seemed to me mysterious. I trust I have shown no intrusive
curiosity, but I confess to a natural detective instinct, and I noticed
some peculiarities about that paper you hold in your hand to which I
should like to call your attention."

Fessenden's words caused a decided stir among his hearers, including
the coroner and the two doctors.

Mr. Benson was truly anxious to learn what the young man had to say,
but at the same time his professional jealousy was aroused by the
implication that there was anything to be learned from the paper
itself, outside of his own information concerning it.

"I was told," he said quickly, "that this paper is positively written
in Miss Van Norman's own hand."

Robert Fessenden, while not exactly a handsome man, was of a type that
impressed every one pleasantly. He was large and blond, and had an air
that was unmistakably cultured and exceedingly well-bred.
Conventionality sat well upon him, and his courteous self-assurance had
in it no trace of egotism or self-importance. In a word, he was what
the plain-spoken people of Mapleton called citified, and though they
sometimes resented this combination of personal traits, in their hearts
they admired and envied it.


This was why Coroner Benson felt a slight irritation at the young man's
savoir faire, and at the same time a sense of satisfaction that there
was promise of some worth-while help.

"I was told so, too," said Fessenden, in response to the coroner's
remark, "and as I have never seen any of Miss Van Norman's writing, I
have, of course, no reason to doubt this. But this is the point I want
to inquire about: is it assumed that Miss Van Norman wrote the words on
this paper while sitting here at the table last evening, immediately or
shortly before her death?"

Mr. Benson thought a moment, then he said: "Without any evidence to the
contrary, and indeed without having given this question any previous
thought, I think I may say that it has been tacitly assumed that this
is a dying confession of Miss Van Norman's."

He looked inquiringly at his audience, and Doctor Hills responded.

"Yes," he said; "we have taken for granted that Miss Van Norman wrote
the message while sitting here last evening, after the rest of the
household had retired. This we infer from the fact of Mr. Carleton's
finding the paper on the table when he discovered the tragedy."

"You thought the same, Mr. Carleton?"

"Of course; I could not do otherwise than to believe Miss Van Norman
had written the message and had then carried out her resolve."

"I think, Mr. Fessenden," resumed the coroner, "we may assume this to
be the case."

"Then," said Fessenden, "I will undertake to show that it is improbable
that this paper was written as has been supposed. The message is, as
you see, written in pencil. The pencil here on the table, and which is
part of a set of desk-fittings, is a very hard pencil, labeled H. A few
marks made by it upon a bit of paper will convince you at once that it
is not the pencil which was used to write that message. The letters, as
you see, are formed of heavy black marks which were made with a very
soft pencil, such as is designated by 2B or BB. If you please, I will
pause for a moment while you satisfy yourself upon this point."

Greatly interested, Mr. Benson took the pencil from the pen-rack and
wrote some words upon a pad of paper. Doctor Leonard and Doctor Hills
leaned over the table to note results, but no one else stirred.

"You are quite right," said Mr. Benson; "this message was not written
with this pencil. But what does that prove?"

"It proves nothing," said Fessenden calmly, "but it is pretty strong
evidence that the message was not written at this table last night. For
had there been any other pencil on the table, it would doubtless have
remained. Assuming, then that Miss Van Norman wrote this message
elsewhere, and with another pencil, it loses the special importance
commonly attributed to the words of one about to die."

"It does," said Mr. Benson, impressed by the fact, but at a loss to
know whither the argument was leading.

"Believing, then," went on the lawyer, "that this paper had not been
written in this room last evening, I began to conjecture where it had
been written. For one would scarcely expect a message of that nature to
be written in one place and carried to another. I was so firmly
convinced that something could be learned on this point, that just
before we were summoned to this room, I asked permission of Mrs.
Markham to examine the appointments of Miss Van Norman's writing-desk
in her own room, and I found in her desk no soft pencils whatever.
There were several pencils, of gold and of silver and of ordinary wood,
but the lead in each was as hard as this one on the library table.
Urged on by what seemed to me important developments, I persuaded Mrs.
Markham to let me examine all of the writing-desks in the house. I
found but one soft pencil, and that was in the desk of Miss Dupuy, Miss
Van Norman's secretary. It is quite conceivable that Miss Van Norman
should write at her secretary's desk, but I found myself suddenly
confronted by another disclosure. And that is that the handwritings of
Miss Van Norman and Miss Dupuy are so similar as to be almost
identical. In view of the importance of this written message, should it
not be more carefully proved that this writing is really Miss Van
Norman's own?"

"It should, indeed," declared Coroner Benson, who was by this time
quite ready to agree to any suggestion Mr. Fessenden might make. "Will
somebody please ask Miss Dupuy to come here?"

"I will," said Miss Morton, and, rising, she quickly rustled from the
room.

Of course, every one present immediately remembered that Miss Dupuy had
left the room in a fit of hysterical emotion, and wondered in what
frame of mind she would return.

Nearly every one, too, resented Miss Morton's officiousness. Whatever
errand was to be done, she volunteered to do it, quite as if she were a
prominent member of the household, instead of a lately arrived guest.

"This similarity of penmanship is a very important point," observed Mr.
Benson, "a very important point indeed. I am surprised that it has not
been remarked sooner."

"I've often noticed that they wrote alike," said Kitty French
impulsively, "but I never thought about it before in this matter. You
see"--she involuntarily addressed herself to the coroner, who listened
with interest--"you see, Madeleine instructed Cicely to write as nearly
as possible like she did, because Cicely was her social secretary and
answered all her notes, and wrote letters for her, and sometimes Cicely
signed Madeleine's name to the notes, and the people who received them
thought Maddy wrote them herself. She didn't mean to deceive, only
sometimes people don't like to have their notes answered by a
secretary, and so it saved a lot of trouble. I confess," Kitty
concluded, "that I can't always tell the difference in their writing
myself, though I usually can."

Miss Morton returned, bringing Cicely with her. Still officious of
manner, Miss Morton rearranged some chairs, and then seated herself in
the front row with Cicely beside her. She showed what seemed almost an
air of proprietorship in the girl, patting her shoulder, and whispering
to her, as if by way of encouragement.

But Miss Dupuy's demeanor had greatly changed. No longer weeping, she
had assumed an almost defiant attitude, and her thin lips were tightly
closed in a way that did not look promising to those who desired
information.

With a conspicuous absence of tact or diplomacy, Mr. Benson asked her
abruptly, "Did you write this paper?"

"I did," said Cicely, and as soon as the words were uttered her lips
closed again with a snap.

Her reply fell like a bombshell upon the breathless group of listeners.
Tom Willard was the first to speak.

"What!" he exclaimed. "Maddy didn't write that? You wrote it?"

"Yes," asserted Cicely, looking Tom squarely in the eyes.

"When did you write it?" asked the coroner.

"A week or more ago."

"Why did you write it?"

"I refuse to tell."

"Who is the S. mentioned on this paper?"

"I refuse to tell."

"You needn't tell. That is outside the case. It is sufficient for us to
know that Miss Van Norman did not write this paper. If you wrote it, it
has no bearing on the case. Your penmanship is very like hers."

"I practised to make it so," said Cicely. "Miss Van Norman desired me
to do so, that I might answer unimportant notes and sign her name to
them. They were in no sense forgeries. Ladies frequently have their own
names signed by their secretaries. Miss Van Norman often received notes
like that."

"Why did you not tell before that you wrote this paper supposed to have
been written by Miss Van Norman?"

"Nobody asked me." Miss Dupuy's tone was defiant and even pert. Robert
Fessenden began to look at the girl with increasing interest. He felt
quite sure that she knew more about the tragedy than he had suspected.
His detective instinct became immediately alert, and he glanced
significantly at Kitty French.

She was breathlessly watching Cicely, but nothing could be learned from
the girl's inscrutable face, and to an attentive listener her very
voice did not ring true.

Doctor Leonard and Doctor Hills looked at each other. Both remembered
that the night before, Cicely had stealthily opened the door of the
library and put her head in, but seeing them, had quickly gone back
again.

This information might or might not be of importance, but after a brief
whispered conference, the two men concluded that it was not the time
then to refer to it.

Mr. Carleton, though still pale and haggard of face, seemed to have
taken on new interest, and listened attentively to the conversation,
while big, good-natured Tom Willard leaned forward and took the paper,
and then sat studying it, with a perplexed expression.

"But why did you not volunteer the information? You must have known it
was of great importance." The coroner spoke almost petulantly, and
indeed Miss Dupuy had suppressed important information.

At his question she became greatly embarrassed. She blushed and looked
down, and then, with an effort resuming her air of defiance, she
snapped out her answer: "I was afraid."

"Afraid of what?"

"Afraid that they would think somebody killed Miss Van Norman, instead
of that she killed herself, as she did."

"How do you know she did?"

"I don't know it, except that I left her here alone when I went to my
room, and the house was all locked up, and soon after that she was
found dead. So she must have killed herself."

"Those conclusions," said the coroner pompously, "are for us to arrive
at, not for you to declare. The case," he then said, turning toward the
doctors and the young detective, "is entirely changed by the hearing of
Miss Dupuy's testimony. The fact that the note was not written by Miss
Van Norman, will, I'm sure, remove from the minds of the doctors the
possibility of suicide."

"It certainly will," said Doctor Leonard. "I quite agree with Doctor
Hills that except for the note all evidence is against the theory of
suicide."

"Then," went on Mr. Benson, "if it is not a suicide, Miss Van Norman
must have been the victim of foul play, and it is our duty to
investigate the matter, and attempt to discover whose hand it was that
wielded the fatal dagger."

Mr. Benson was fond of high-sounding words and phrases, and, finding
himself in charge of what promised to be a mysterious, if not a
celebrated, case, he made the most of his authoritative position.

Robert Fessenden paid little attention to the coroner's speech. His
brain was working rapidly, and he was trying to piece together such
data as he had already accumulated in the way of evidence. It was but
little, to be sure, and in lieu of definite clues he allowed himself to
speculate a little on the probabilities. But he realized that he was
in the presence of a mysterious murder case, and he was more than
willing to do anything he could toward discovering the truth of the
matter.

The known facts were so appalling, and any evidence of undiscovered
facts was as yet so extremely slight, that Fessenden felt there was a
great deal to be done.

He was trying to collect and systematize his own small fund of
information when he realized that the audience was being dismissed.

Mr. Benson announced that he would convene a jury and hold an inquest
that same afternoon, and then he would expect all those now present to
return as witnesses.

Without waiting to learn what the others did, Fessenden turned to Kitty
French, and asked her to go with him for a stroll.

"You need fresh air," he said, as they stepped from the veranda; "but,
also, I need you to talk to. I can formulate my ideas better if I
express then aloud, and you are such a clear-headed and sympathetic
listener that it helps a lot."

Kitty smiled with pleasure at the compliment, then her pretty face
became grave again as she remembered what must be the subject of their
conversation.

"Before I talk to the lawyers or detectives who will doubtless soon
infest the house, I want to straighten out my own ideas."

"I don't see how you can have any," said Kitty; "I mean, of course, any
definite ideas about who committed the murder."

"I haven't really definite ones, but I want you to help me get some."

"Well," said Kitty, looking provokingly lovely in her serious endeavor
to be helpful, "let's sit down here and talk it over."

"Here" was a sort of a rustic arbor, which was a delightful place for a
tete-a-tete, but not at all conducive to deep thought or profound
conversation.

"Go on," said Kitty, pursing her red lips and puckering her white brow
in her determination to supply the help that was required of her.

"But I can't go on, if you look like that! All logic and deduction fly
out of my head, and I can think only of poetry and romance. And it
won't do! At least, not now. Can't you try to give a more successful
imitation of a coroner's jury?" Kitty tried to look stupid and wise,
both at once, and only succeeded in looking bewitching.

"It's no use," said Fessenden; "I can't sit facing you, as I would the
real thing in the way of juries. So I'll sit beside you, and look at
the side of that distant barn, while we talk."

So he turned partly round, and, fixing his gaze on the stolid red barn,
said abruptly:

"Who wrote that paper?"

"I don't know," said Kitty, feeling that she couldn't help much here.

"Somehow, I can't seem to believe that Dupuy girl wrote it. She sounded
to me like a lady reciting a fabrication."

"I thought that, too," said Kitty. "I never liked Cicely, because I
never trusted her. But Maddy was very fond of her, and she wouldn't
have been, unless she had found Cicely trustworthy."

"Come to luncheon, you two," said Tom Willard, as he approached the
arbor.

"Oh, Mr. Willard," said Kitty, "who do you think wrote that paper?"

"Why, Miss Dupuy," said Tom, in surprise.

"She owned up to it."

"Yes, I know; but I'm not sure she told the truth."

"I don't know why she shouldn't," said Tom, thoughtfully. And then he
added gently, "And, after looking at it closely, I felt sure, myself,
it wasn't Maddy's writing, after all."

"Then it must be Cicely's," said Kitty. "I admit I can't tell them
apart."

And then the three went back to the house.

IX

The Will

Immediately after luncheon Lawyer Peabody came. This gentleman had had
charge of the Van Norman legal matters for many years, and it was known
by most of those present that he was bringing with him such wills or
other documents as might have a bearing on the present crisis.

Mr. Peabody was an old man; moreover, he had for many years been
intimately associated with the Van Norman household, and had been a
close friend of both Richard Van Norman and Madeleine. Shattered and
broken by the sad tragedy in the household, he could scarcely repress
his emotion when he undertook to address the little audience.

But the main purport of his business there at that time was to announce
the contents of the two wills in his possession.

The first one, the will of Richard Van Norman, was no surprise to any
one present, except perhaps those few who did not live in Mapleton. One
of these, Robert Fessenden, was extremely interested to learn that
because of Madeleine's death before her marriage, and also before she
was twenty-three years of age, the large fortune of Richard Van
Norman, which would have been hers on her wedding day, passed at once
and unrestrictedly to Tom Willard.

But also by the terms of Richard Van Norman's will the fine old mansion
and grounds and a sum of money, modest in comparison with the whole
fortune, but ample to maintain the estate, were Madeleine's own, and
had been from the day of her uncle's death.

Possessed of this property, therefore, Madeleine had made a will which
was dated a few months before her death, and which Mr. Peabody now
read.

After appropriate and substantial bequests to several intimate friends,
to her housekeeper and secretary, and to all the servants, Madeleine
devised that her residuary fortune and the Van Norman house and grounds
should become the property of Miss Elizabeth Morton.

This was a complete surprise to all, with the possible exception of
Miss Morton herself. It was not easy to judge from her haughty and
self-satisfied countenance whether she had known of this before or not.

Fessenden, who was watching her closely, was inclined to think she had
known of it, and again his busy imagination ran riot. The first point,
he thought to himself, in discovering a potential murderer, is to
inquire who will be benefited by the victim's death. Apparently the
only ones to profit by the passing of Madeleine Van Norman were Tom
Willard and Miss Morton. But even the ingenious imagination of the
young detective balked at the idea of connecting either of these two
with the tragedy. He knew Willard had not been in the house at the time
of the murder, and Miss Morton, as he had chanced to discover, had
occupied a room on the third floor. Moreover, it was absurd on the face
of things to fancy a well-bred, middle-aged lady stealing downstairs at
dead of night to kill her charming young hostess!

It was with a sense of satisfaction therefore that Fessenden assured
himself that he had formed no suspicions whatever, and could listen
with a mind entirely unprejudiced to such evidence as the coroner's
inquiry might bring forth.

He was even glad that he had not discussed the matter further with
Kitty French. He still thought she had clear vision and good judgment,
but he had begun to realize that in her presence his own clearness of
vision was dazzled by her dancing eyes and a certain distracting charm
which he had never before observed in any woman.

But he told himself somewhat sternly that feminine charm must not be
allowed to interfere with the present business in hand, and he seated
himself at a considerable distance from Kitty French, when it was time
for the inquest.

A slight delay was occasioned by waiting for Coroner Benson's own
stenographer, but when he arrived the inquiry was at once begun.

At the request of Miss Morton, or, it might rather be said, at her
command, the whole assembly had moved to the drawing-room, it being a
much larger and more airy apartment, and withal less haunted by the
picture of the tragedy itself.

And yet to hold a coroner's inquiry in a room gay with wedding
decorations was almost, if not quite, as ghastly.

But Coroner Benson paid no heed to emotional considerations and
conducted himself with the same air of justice and legality as if he
had been in a court-room or the town-hall.

As for the jury he had gathered, the half-dozen men, though filled with
righteous indignation at the crime committed in their village, wasted
no thought on the incongruity of their surroundings.

Coroner Benson put his first question to Mrs. Markham, as he considered
her, in a way at least, the present head of the household. To be sure,
the house now legally belonged to Miss Morton, and that lady was
quickly assuming an added air of importance which was doubtless the
result of her recent inheritance; but Mrs. Markham was still
housekeeper, and by virtue of her long association with the place, Mr.
Benson chose to treat her with exceeding courtesy and deference.

But Mrs. Markham, though now quite composed and willing to answer
questions, could give no evidence of any importance. She testified that
she had seen Madeleine last at about ten o'clock the night before. This
was after the guests who had been at dinner had gone away, and the
house guests had gone to their rooms. Miss Van Norman was alone in the
library, and as Mrs. Markham left her she asked her to send Cicely
Dupuy to the library. Mrs. Markham had then gone directly to her own
room, which was on the second floor, above the drawing-room. It was at
the front of the house, and the room behind it, also over the long
drawing-room, was the one now devoted to the exhibition of Madeleine's
wedding gifts. Mrs. Markham had retired almost immediately and had
heard no unusual sounds. She explained, however, that she was somewhat
deaf, and had there been any disturbance downstairs it was by no means
probable that she would have heard it.

"What was the first intimation you had that anything had happened?"
asked Mr. Benson.

"Kitty French came to my door and called to me. Her excited voice made
me think something was wrong, and, dressing hastily, I came downstairs,
to find many of the household already assembled."

"And then you went into the library?"

"Yes; I had no idea Madeleine was dead. I thought she had fainted, and
I went toward her at once."

"Did you touch her?"

"Yes; and I saw at once she was not living, but Miss Morton said
perhaps she might be, and then she telephoned for Doctor Hills."

"Can you tell me if the house is carefully locked at night?"

"It is, I am sure; but it is not in my province to attend to it."

"Whose duty is it?"

"That of Harris, the butler."

"Will you please call Harris at once?" Mr. Benson's tone of finality
seemed to dismiss Mrs. Markham as a witness, and she rang the bell for
the butler.

Harris came in, a perfect specimen of that type of butler that is so
similar to a certain type of bishop.

Aside from the gravity of the occasion, he seemed to show a separate
gravity of position, of importance, and of all-embracing knowledge.

"Your name is Harris?" said Mr. Benson. "Yes, sir; James Harris, sir."

"You have been employed in this house for some years?"

"Seventeen years and more, sir."

"Is it your duty to lock up the house at night?"

"It is, sir. Mr. Van Norman was most particular about it, sir, being as
how the house is alone like in the grounds, and there being so much
trees and shrubberies about."

"There are strong bolts to doors and windows?"

"Most especial strong, sir. It was Mr. Van. Norman's wish to make it
impossible for burglars to get in."

"And did he succeed in this?"

"He did, sir, for sure. There are patent locks on every door and
window, more than one on most of them; and whenever Mr. Van Norman
heard of a new kind of lock, he'd order it at once."

"Is the house fitted with burglar alarms?"

"No, sir; Mr. Van Norman depended on his safety locks and strong bolts.
He said he didn't want no alarm, because it was forever getting out o'
kilter, and bolts were surer, after all."

"And every night you make sure that these bolts and fastenings are all
secured in place?"

"I do, sir, and I have done it for many years."

"You looked after them last night, as usual?"

"Sure, sir; every one of them I attended to myself."

"You can testify, then, that the house could not have been entered by a
burglar last night?" asked Mr. Benson.

"Not by a burglar, nor by nobody else, sir, unless they broke down a
door or cut out a pane of glass."

"Yet Mr. Carleton came in."

Harris looked annoyed. "Of course, sir, anybody could come in the front
door with a latch-key. I didn't mean that they couldn't. But all the
other doors and windows were fastened all right, and I found them all
right this morning."

"You made a careful examination of them?"

"Yes, sir. Of course we was all up through the night, and as soon as I
learned that Miss Madeleine was--was gone, sir, I felt I ought to look
about a bit. And everything was as right as could be, sir. No burglar
was into this house last night, sir."

"How about the cellar?"

"We never bother much about the cellar, sir, as there's nothing down
there to steal, unless they take the furnace or the gas-meter. But the
door at the top of the cellar stairs, as opens into the hall, sir, is
locked every night with a double lock and a bolt besides."

"Then no burglar could come up through the cellar way?"

"That he couldn't, sir. Nor yet down through the skylight, for the
skylight is bolted every night same as the windows."

"And the windows on the second floor--are they fastened at night?"

"They are in the halls, sir. But of course in the bedrooms I don't know
how they may be. That is, the occupied bedrooms. When the guest rooms
are vacant I always fasten those windows."

"Then you can testify, Harris, that there was no way for any one to
enter this house last night except at the front door with a latch-key
or through the window of some occupied bedroom?"

"I can swear to that, sir."

"You are sure you've overlooked no way? No back window, or seldom-used
door?"

Harris was a little hurt at this insistent questioning, but the coroner
recognized that this was a most important bit of evidence, and so
pressed his questions.

"I'm sure of it, sir. Mr. Van Norman taught me to be most thorough
about this matter, and I've never done different since Miss Madeleine
has been mistress here."

"That is all, thank you, Harris. You may go." Harris went away, his
honest countenance showing a look of relief that his ordeal was over,
and yet betokening a perplexed anxiety also.

Cicely Dupuy was next called upon to give her evidence, or rather to
continue the testimony which she had begun in the library. The girl had
a pleasanter expression than she had shown at the previous questioning,
but a red spot burned in either cheek, and she was clearly trying to be
calm, though really under stress of a great excitement.

"You were with Miss Van Norman in the library last evening?" began Mr.
Benson, speaking more gently than he had been doing, for he feared an
emotional outburst might again render this witness unavailable.

"Yes," said Miss Dupuy, in a low tone; "when Mrs. Markham came upstairs
she stopped at my door and said Miss Van Norman wanted me, and I went
down immediately."

"You have been Miss Van Norman's secretary for some time?"

"For nearly five years."

"What were your duties?"

"I attended to her social correspondence; helped her with her accounts,
both household and personal; read to her, and often did errands and
made calls for her."

"She was kind to you?"

"She was more than kind. She treated me always as her social equal, and
as her friend." Cicely's blue eyes filled with tears, and her voice
quivered as she spoke this tribute to her employer.

Again Mr. Benson feared she would break down, and changed his course of
questioning.

"At what time did you go to the library last evening?"

"It could not have been more than a few minutes past ten."

"What did you do there?"

"Miss Van Norman dictated some lists of matters to be attended to, and
she discussed with me a few final arrangements for her wedding."

"Did she seem about as usual in her manner?"

"Yes,--except that she was very tired, and seemed a little preoccupied."

"And then she dismissed you?"

"Yes. She told me to go to bed, and said that she should sit up for an
hour or so, and would write some notes herself."

"Apparently she did not do so, as no notes have been found in the
library."

"That must be so, sir."

But as she said this, a change came over Miss Dupuy's face. She seemed
to think that the absence of those notes was of startling importance,
and though she tried not to show her agitation, it was clearly evident
from the way she bit her lower lip, and clenched her fingers.

"At what time did Miss Van Norman dismiss you?" asked Mr. Benson,
seeming to ignore her embarrassment.

"At half-past ten."

"Did you retire at once?"

"No; I had some notes to write for Miss Van Norman, and also some of my
own, and I sat at my desk for some time. I don't know just how long."

"And then what happened?"

At this question Cicely Dupuy became more nervous and embarrassed than
ever. She hesitated and then made two or three attempts to speak, each
one of which resulted in no intelligible sound.

X

Some Testimony

"There is nothing to fear," said Mr. Benson kindly. "Simply tell us
what you heard while sitting there writing, that caused you to leave
your room."

Glancing around as if in search of some one, Cicely finally managed to
make an audible reply. "I heard a loud cry," she said, "that sounded as
if somebody were frightened or in danger. I naturally ran out into the
hall, and, looking over the baluster, I saw Mr. Carleton in the hall
below. I felt sure then that it was he who had cried out, so I came
downstairs."

"At what time was this?"

"At half-past eleven exactly."

"How do you know so accurately?"

"Because as I came downstairs the old clock on the middle landing
chimed the half-hour. It has a deep soft note, and it struck just as I
passed the clock, and it startled me a little, so of course I remember
it perfectly."

"And then?"

"And then--" Cicely again hesitated, but with a visible effort resumed
her speech--"why, and then I came on down, and found Mr. Carleton
nearly distracted. I could not guess what was the matter. He was
turning on the lights and ringing the servants' bells and acting like a
man beside himself. Then in a moment Marie appeared, and gave one of
her French shrieks that completely upset what little nerve I had left."

"And what did you do next?"

"I--I went into the library."

"Why?"

Cicely looked up suddenly, as if startled, but after only an instant's
hesitation replied:

"Because Mr. Carleton pointed toward the doorway, and Marie and I went
in together."

"You knew at once that Miss Van Norman was not alive?"

"I was not sure, but Marie went toward her, and then turned away with
another of her horrid screams, and I felt that Miss Van Norman must be
dead."

"What did Mr. Carleton say?"

"He said nothing. He--he pointed to the written paper on the table."

"Which you had written yourself?"

"Yes, but he didn't know that." Cicely spoke eagerly, as if saying
something of importance. "He thought she wrote it."

"Never mind that point for the moment. But I must now ask you to
explain that written message which you have declared that you yourself
wrote."

At this Cicely's manner changed. She became again the obstinate and
defiant woman who had answered the coroner's earlier questions.

"I refuse to explain it."

"Consider a moment," said Mr. Benson quietly. "Sooner or later--perhaps
at a trial--you will be obliged to explain this matter. How much better,
then, to confide in us now, and perhaps lead to an immediate solution
of the mystery."

Cicely pondered a moment, then she said, "I have nothing to conceal, I
will tell you. I did write that paper, and it was the confession of my
heart. I am very miserable, and when I wrote it I quite intended to
take my own life. When I was called to go to Miss Van Norman in the
library, I gathered up some notes and lists from my desk to take to
her. In my haste I must have included that paper without knowing it,
for when I reached my room I could not find it. And then--then when I
saw it--there on the table--I" Cicely had again grown nervous and
excited. Her voice trembled, her eyes filled with tears, and, fearing a
nervous collapse, Mr. Benson hurried on to other questions.

"Whom does that S. in your note stand for."

"That I shall never tell." The determination in her voice convinced him
that it was useless to insist on that point, so the coroner went on.

"Perhaps we have no right to ask. Now you must tell me some other
things, and, believe me, my questions are not prompted by curiosity,
but are necessary to the discovery of the truth. Why did Mr. Carleton
point to that paper?"

"He--he seemed so shocked and stunned that he was almost unable to
speak. I suppose he thought that would explain why she had killed
herself."

"But she hadn't killed herself."

"But he thought she had, and he thought that paper proved it."

"But why had he need to prove it, and to you?"

"I don't know. I don't know what he thought! I don't know what I
thought myself after I reached the library door and looked in and saw
that dreadful sight! Oh, I shall see it all my life!" At the memory
Cicely broke down again and sank into her chair, shaking with
convulsive sobs.

Mr. Benson did not disturb her further, but proceeded to question the
others.

The account of Marie, the maid, merely served to corroborate what
Cicely had said. Marie, too, had heard Carleton's cry for help, and,
throwing on a dressing-gown, had run down-stairs to Madeleine's room.
Not finding her mistress there, she had hurried down to the first
floor, reaching the lower hall but a few minutes after Cicely did. She
said also that it was just about half-past eleven by the clock in her
own room when she heard Mr. Carleton's cry.

"You knew who it was that had called out so loudly?" asked Mr. Benson.

"No, m'sieu; I heard only the shriek as of one in great disaster. I ran
to Miss Van Norman's room, as that was my first duty."

"Were you not in attendance upon her?"

"No; she had sent me the message by Miss Dupuy, that I need not attend
her when she retired."

"Did this often occur?"

"Not often; but sometimes when Miss Van Norman sat up late, by herself,
she would excuse me at an earlier hour. She was most kind and
considerate of everybody."

"Then when at last you saw Miss Van Norman in the library, what did you
do?"

"Mon Dieu! I shrieked! Why not? I was amazed, shocked, but, above all,
desolated! It was a cruel scene. I knew not what to do, so, naturally,
I shrieked."

Marie's French shrug almost convinced her hearers that truly that was
the only thing to do on such an occasion.

"And now," said Coroner Benson, "can you tell us of anything, any
incident or any knowledge of your own, that will throw any light on
this whole matter?"

Marie's pretty face took on a strange expression. It was not fear or
terror, but a sort of perplexity. She gave a furtive glance at Mr.
Carleton and then at Miss Morton, and hesitated.

At last she spoke, slowly:

"If monsieur could perhaps word his question a little differently--with
more of a definiteness--"

"Very well; do you know anything of Miss Van Norman's private affairs
that would assist us in discovering who killed her."

"No, monsieur," said Marie promptly, and with a look of relief.

"Did Miss Van Norman ever, in the slightest way, express any intention
or desire to end her life?"

"Never, monsieur."

"Do you think she was glad and happy in the knowledge of her
fast-approaching wedding-day?"

"I am sure of it;" and Marie's tone was that of one who well knew
whereof she spoke.

"That is all, then, for the present;" and Marie, with another sidelong,
curious glance at Miss Morton, resumed her seat.

Kitty French and Molly Gardner were questioned, but they told nothing
that would throw any light on the matter. They had heard the cry, and
while hastily dressing had heard the general commotion in the house.
They had thought it must be a fire, and not until they reached the
library did they know what had really happened.

"And then," said Kitty indignantly, in conclusion of her own recital,
"we were not allowed to stay with the others, but were sent to our
rooms. So how can we give any evidence?"

It was plain to be seen, Miss French felt herself defrauded of an
opportunity that should have been hers, but Miss Gardner was of quite a
different mind. She answered in whispered monosyllables the questions
put by the coroner, and as she knew no more than Kitty of the whole
matter, she was not questioned much.

Robert Fessenden smiled a little at the different attitudes of the two
girls. He knew Kitty was eager to hear all the exciting details, while
Molly shrank from the whole subject. However, as they were such minor
witnesses, the coroner paid little serious attention to them or to
their statements.

Miss Morton's testimony came next. Fessenden regarded her with
interest, as, composed and calm, she waited the coroner's
interrogations.

She was deliberate and careful in making her replies, and it seemed to
the young detective as if she knew nothing whatever about the whole
affair, but was trying to imply that she knew a great deal.

"You went to your room when the others did, at about ten o'clock?"
asked Mr. Benson.

"Yes, but I did not retire at once."

"Did you hear any sounds that caused you alarm?"

"No, not alarm. Curiosity, perhaps, but that is surely pardonable to a
naturally timid woman in a strange house."

"Then you did hear sounds. Can you describe them?"

"I do not think they were other than those made by the servants
attending to their duties. But the putting on of coal or the fastening
of windows are noticeable sounds when one is not accustomed to them."

"You could discern, then, that it was the shovelling of coal or the
fastening of windows that you heard?"

"No, I could not. My hearing is extremely acute, but as my room is on
the third floor, all the sounds I heard were faint and muffled."

"Did you hear Mr. Carleton's cry for help?"

"I did, but at that distance it did not sound loud. However, I was
sufficiently alarmed to open my door and step out into the hall. I had
not taken off my evening gown, and, seeing bright lights downstairs, of
course I immediately went down. The household was nearly all assembled
when I reached the library. I saw at once what had happened, and I saw,
too, that Mrs. Markham and the younger women were quite frantic with
fright and excitement. I thought it my duty therefore to take up the
reins of government, and I took the liberty of telephoning for the
doctor. I think there is nothing more of importance that I can tell
you."

At this Fessenden barely repressed a smile, for he could not see that
Miss Morton had told anything of importance at all.

"I would like," said Mr. Benson, "for you to inform us as to your
relations with the Van Norman household. Have you been long acquainted
with Miss Van Norman?"

"About two years," replied Miss Morton, with a snapping together of her
teeth, which was one of her many peculiarities of manner.

"And how did the acquaintance come about?"

"Her uncle and I were friends many years ago," said Miss Morton. "I
knew Richard Van Norman before Madeleine was born. We quarrelled, and I
never saw him again. After his death Madeleine wrote to me, and several
letters passed between us. At her invitation I made a short visit here
about a year ago. Again, at her invitation, I came here yesterday to be
present at her wedding." Miss Morton's manner, though quiet, betokened
repressed excitement rather than suppressed emotion. In no way did her
hard, bright eyes show grief or sorrow, but they flashed in a way that
indicated high nervous pressure.

"Did you know that you were to inherit this house and a large sum of
money at Miss Van Norman's death?" The question was thrown at her so
suddenly that Miss Morton almost gasped.

She hesitated for an appreciable instant, then with a sudden snap of
her strong, angular jaw, she said, "No!"

"You had no intimation of it whatever?"

"No." Again that excessive decision of manner, which to Fessenden's
mind, at least, stultified rather than corroborated the verity of her
statement.

But Coroner Benson expressed no doubt of his witness, but merely said
casually:

"Yet, on the occasion of the tragedy last night, you at once assumed
the attitude of the head of the house. You gave orders to the servants,
you took up the reins of management, and seemed to anticipate the fact
that the house was eventually to be your own."

Miss Morton looked aghast. If one chose to think so, she looked as if
detected in a false statement. Glancing round the room, she saw the
eyes of Kitty French and of Marie, the maid, intently fixed on her.
This seemed to unnerve her, and in a broken, trembling voice, almost a
whine, she said:

"If I did so, it was only with a helpful motive. Mrs. Markham was so
collapsed with the shock she had just sustained, that she was really
incapable of giving orders. If I did so, it was only from a desire to
be of service."

This seemed indeed plausible, and the most casual observer would know
that Miss Morton's "helpfulness" could only be accomplished in a
peremptory and dictatorial manner.

"Will you tell us why Miss Van Norman chose to leave you so large a
bequest, when she had known you so slightly?" asked Mr. Benson.

Fessenden thought Miss Morton would resent this question, but instead
she answered, willingly enough:

"Because she knew that except for my unfortunate quarrel with Richard
Van Norman, many years ago, the place would have been mine any way."

"You mean you were to have married Mr. Van Norman."

"I mean just that."

Miss Morton looked a little defiant, but also an air of pride tinged
her statement, and she seemed to be asserting her lifelong right to the
property.

"Miss Van Norman, then, knew of your friendship with her uncle, and the
reason of its cessation?"

"She learned of it about two years ago."

"How?"

"By finding some letters of mine among Mr. Van Norman's papers, shortly
after his death."

"And in consequence of that discovery she willed you this house at her
death?"

"Yes; that is, I suppose she must have done so--as she did so will it."

"But you did not know of it, and the reading of the will was to you a
surprise?"

"Yes," declared Miss Morton, and though the coroner then dismissed her
without comment on her statements, there were several present who did
not believe the lady spoke veraciously.

Tom Willard was called next, and Fessenden wondered what could be the
testimony of a man who had not arrived on the scene until more than two
hours after the deed was done.

And indeed there was little that Tom could say. Mr. Benson asked him to
detail his own movements after he left the house the night before.

"There's little to tell," said Tom, "but I'll try to be exact. I went
away from this house about ten o'clock, taking with me a suit-case full
of clothes. I went directly to the Mapleton Inn, and though I don't
know exactly, I should say I must have reached there in something less
than ten minutes. Then I went to the office of the establishment,
registered, and asked for a room. The proprietor gave me a good enough
room, a bellboy picked up my bag, and I went to my room at once."

"And remained there?"

"Yes; later I rang for some ice water, which the same boy brought to
me. Directly after that I turned in. I slept soundly until awakened by
a knocking at my door at about two o'clock in the morning."

"The message from this house?"

"Yes. The landlord himself stood there when I opened the door, and told
me I was wanted on the telephone. When I went to the telephone I heard
Miss Morton's voice, and she asked me to come over here. I came as
quickly as possible, and--"

Tom's voice broke at this point, and, feeling that his story was
finished, Mr. Benson considerately asked him no further questions.

XI

"I Decline to Say"

Schuyler Carleton was questioned next, When Mr. Benson asked him to
tell his story, he hesitated and finally said that he would prefer to
have the coroner ask direct questions, which he would answer.

"Did you go away from this house with the other guests at about ten
o'clock last evening?"

"No, I was not here at dinner. I left at about half-past five in the
afternoon."

"Where did you go?"

"I went directly home and remained there until late in the evening."

"Mr. Fessenden was with you?"

"He was with us at dinner. He is staying at my house, as he was invited
to be best man at the wedding."

Though this statement came calmly from Carleton's lips, it was evident
to all that he fully appreciated the tragic picture it suggested.

"He was with you through the evening?"

"Part of the time. He went early to his room, saying he had some
business to attend to."

"Why were you two not here to dinner with Miss Van Norman?"

Fessenden looked up, surprised at this question. Surely Mr. Benson had
gathered odd bits of information since morning.

Schuyler Carleton looked stern.

"I did not come because I did not wish to. Mr. Fessenden remained with
me, saying he did not care to attend the dinner unless I did."

Carleton looked casually at Fessenden as he said this, and though there
was no question in the glance, Rob nodded his head in corroboration of
the witness.

"You spent the entire evening at home, then?"

"Yes, until a late hour."

"And then?"

"I returned here between eleven and twelve o'clock."

"To make a call?"

"No, I came upon an errand."

"What was the errand?"

"As it has no bearing upon the case, I think it is my privilege to
decline to answer."

"You entered the house with a latch-key."

"I did."

"Is that latch-key your own property?"

"For the time, yes. Mrs. Markham gave it to me a few days ago, for my
convenience, because I have occasion to come to the house so
frequently."

"Was it your intention when you went away in the afternoon to return
later?"

"It was."

"Upon this secret errand?"

"Yes."

"Did you expect to see Miss Van Norman when you entered the house with
the latch-key?"

"I did not."

"And when you entered you discovered the tragedy in the library?"

Schuyler Carleton hesitated. His dry lips quivered and his whole frame
shook with intense emotion. "Y-yes," he stammered.

But the mere fact of that hesitation instantly kindled a spark of
suspicion in the minds of some of his hearers. Until that moment
Carleton's excessive agitation had been attributed entirely to his
grief at the awful fate which had come to his fiancée; but now, all at
once, the man's demeanor gave an impression of something else.

Could it be guilt?

Fessenden looked at his friend curiously. In his mind, however, no
slightest suspicion was aroused, but he wondered what it was that
Carleton was keeping back. Surely the man must know that to make any
mystery about his call at the Van Norman mansion the night before, was
to invite immediate and justifiable suspicion.

The court had instructed the district attorney to be present at the
inquest, and though that unobtrusive gentleman had taken notes, and
otherwise shown a quiet interest in the proceedings, he now awakened to
a more alert manner, and leaned forward to get a better look at the
white, set face of the witness.

Carleton looked like a marble image. His refined, patrician features
seemed even handsomer for their haggard agony. Surely he was in no way
responsible for the awful deed that had been done, and yet just as
surely he was possessed of some awful secret fear which kept every
nerve strained and tense.

Endeavoring not to exhibit the surprise and dismay which he felt,
Coroner Benson continued his questions.

"And then, when you discovered Miss Van Norman, what did you do?"

Carleton passed his hand across his white brow. "I hardly know," he
said. "I was stunned--dazed. I went toward her, and, seeing the dagger
on the floor, I picked it up mechanically, scarcely knowing what I did.
I felt intuitively that the girl was dead, but I did not touch her,
and, not knowing what else to do, I cried out for help."

"And turned on the lights?"

"I pushed several electric buttons, not knowing which were lights and
which bells; my principal idea was to arouse the inmates of the house
at once."

"Who first appeared in answer to your call?"

"Miss Dupuy came running downstairs at once, followed by Miss Van
Norman's maid."

"And then you pointed to the paper that lay on the table near Miss Van
Norman's hand."

"Yes; I could not speak, and I thought that would tell Miss Dupuy that
Miss Van Norman had taken her own life."

"You thought, then, that Miss Van Norman wrote the message?"

"I thought so then--and I think so now."

This, of course, produced a sensation, but it was only evidenced by a
deeper silence on the part of the startled audience.

"But Miss Dupuy asserts that she wrote it," said the coroner.

To this Schuyler Carleton merely gave a slight bow of his handsome
head, but it said as plainly as words that his belief was not altered
by Miss Dupuy's assertion.

"Granting for the moment, then," went on Mr. Benson, "that Miss Van
Norman did write it, is the message intelligible to you?"

"Intelligible, yes;" said Carleton, "but, as I have said before,
inexplicable."

This ambiguous speech meant little to most of the listeners, but it
seemed to give Robert Fessenden food for thought, and he looked at
Carleton with a new wonder in his eyes.

"Mr. Carleton," said the coroner, with a note of gravity in his voice,
"I think it my duty to tell you that your own interests require you to
state the nature of your errand to this house last night."

"I decline to do so."

"Then, will you state as exactly as you can the hour at which you
entered the front door?"

"I don't know precisely. But Miss Dupuy has testified that she came
downstairs in response to my call at half-past eleven. I came into the
house a--a few moments before."

"That is all," said the coroner abruptly. "Mr. Hunt, if you please."

The man from headquarters, who had guarded the present room through the
night, came in from the doorway where he had been standing.

"Will you tell what you know concerning Mr. Carleton's entrance last
night?" said the coroner, briefly.

"I was on guard in the present room from nine o'clock on," said Mr.
Hunt. "Of course I was on the watch-out for anything unusual, and alert
to hear any sound. I heard the company go away at ten o'clock, I heard
most of the people in the house go to their rooms right after that. I
heard and I also saw Miss Dupuy go down to the library after that, and
return to her room about half-past ten. I noticed all these things
because that is my business, but they made no special impression on me,
as they were but the natural proceedings of the people who belonged
here. Of course I was only on the lookout for intruders. I heard the
sound of a latch-key and I heard the front door open at exactly quarter
after eleven. I stepped out into the hall, and, looking downstairs, I
saw Mr. Carleton enter. I also saw Miss Dupuy in the upper hall looking
over the banister. She, too, must have seen Mr. Carleton. But as all of
this was none of my business, and as nobody had entered who hadn't a
right to, I simply returned to my post. At half-past eleven I heard Mr.
Carleton's cry, and saw the lights go up all over the house. Anything
more, sir?"

"Not at present, Mr. Hunt. Miss Dupuy, did you hear Mr. Carleton come
in?"

Cicely Dupuy turned an angry face toward Mr. Hunt and fairly glared at
the mild-mannered man. She waited a moment before answering the
coroner's question, and then as if with a sudden resolve she spoke a
sharp, quick "Yes."

"And that was at quarter after eleven?"

"It was later," declared Cicely. "For Mr. Carleton told you himself
that he went directly into the library as soon as he came into the
house, and as I heard his cry at half-past eleven he must have entered
only a few moments before."

Schuyler Carleton stared at Cicely, and she returned his gaze.

His face was absolutely inscrutable, a pallid mask, that might have
concealed emotion of any sort. But there was a suggestion of fear in
the strange eyes, as they gazed at Cicely, and though it was quickly
suppressed it had been noted by those most interested.

The girl looked straight at him, with determination written in every
line of her face. It was quite evident to the onlookers that a mental
message was passing between these two.

"You are sure, Mr. Hunt, that your statement as to the time is
correct?" said the coroner, turning again to him.

"Perfectly sure, sir. It is my business to be sure of the time."

"Mr. Carleton," said Mr. Benson, "there is an apparent discrepancy
here, which it is advisable for you to explain. If you came into this
house at quarter after eleven, and rang the bells for help at half-past
eleven, what were you doing in the meantime?"


It was out at last. The coroner's question, though quietly put, was
equivalent to an accusation. Every eye in the room was turned toward
Carleton, and every ear waited in suspense for his reply.

At last the answer came. The dazed, uncertain look had returned to
Carleton's face and his voice sounded mechanical, like that of an
automaton, as he replied, "I decline to say."

"I think, Mr. Carleton, you can scarcely realize the gravity of the
moment, or the mistake you are making in refusing to answer this
question."

"I have nothing to say," repeated Carleton, and his pallor changed to a
faint, angry flush of red.

"I am sorry," said Mr. Benson gently. He seemed to have lost his
pompous manner in his genuine anxiety for his witness, and he looked
sorrowfully at Carleton's impassive, yet stubborn face.

"As so much hinges on the question of who wrote that paper," he
resumed, "I will make a test now that ought to convince us all. Miss
Dupuy, you say that you wrote it, I believe."

"I did, yes, sir," said Cicely, stammering a little now, though she had
been calm enough a few minutes before.

"Then you know the words on the paper,--by rote?"

"Yes, sir," said Cicely, uncertain of where this was leading.

"I will ask you, then, to take this paper and pencil, your own pencil
and write the same words in the same way once more."

"Oh, don't ask me to do that!" implored Cicely, clasping her hands and
looking very distressed.

"I not only ask you, but I direct you to do it, and do it at once."

An attendant handed pencil and paper to Cicely, and, after a glance at
Carleton, who did not meet it, she began to write.

Though evidently agitated, she wrote clearly and evenly, and the paper
she handed to Coroner Benson a moment later was practically an exact
duplicate of the one found on the library table.

"It does not require a handwriting expert," said the coroner, "to
declare that these two papers were written by the same hand. The
penmanship is indeed similar to Miss Van Norman's, of whose writing I
have here many specimens, but it is only similar. It is by no means
identical. You may all examine these at your leisure and can only agree
to what I say."

The district attorney, who had been comparing the papers, laid them
down with an air of finality that proved his agreement with the
statements made. "And so," went on Mr. Benson, "granting, as we must,
that Miss Dupuy wrote the paper, we have nothing whatever to indicate
that this case is a suicide. We are, therefore, seeking a murderer, and
our most earnest efforts must be made to that end. I trust, Mr.
Carleton, now that you can no longer think Miss Van Norman wrote the
message, that you will aid us in our work by stating frankly how you
were occupied during that quarter-hour which elapsed between your
entering the house and your raising the alarm?"

But Carleton preserved his stony calm.

"There was no quarter-hour," he said; "I may have stepped into the
drawing-room a moment before going to the library, but I gave the alarm
almost immediately on entering the house. Certainly immediately on my
discovery of--of the scene in the library."

Cicely looked defiantly at Mr. Hunt, who, in his turn, looked
perplexed. The man had no wish to insinuate anything against Mr.
Carleton, but as he had said, it was his business to know the time, and
he knew that Mr. Carleton came into the house at quarter after eleven,
and not at half-past.

The pause that followed was broken by Coroner Benson's voice. "There
is nothing more to be done at present. The inquest is adjourned until
to-morrow afternoon. But we have discovered that there has been a crime
committed. There is no doubt that Miss Van Norman was murdered, and
that the crime took place between half-past ten and half-past eleven
last night. It is our duty to spare no effort to discover the criminal.
As an audience you are now dismissed."

XII

Dorothy Burt

The people rose slowly from their chairs, and most of them looked as if
they did not quite comprehend what it all meant. Among these was
Carleton himself. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he was--at least
tacitly--an accused man, and stood quietly, as if awaiting any further
developments that might come.

"Look at Schuyler," said Kitty French to Fessenden. The two had
withdrawn to a quiet corner to discuss the affair. But Kitty was doing
most of the talking, while Fessenden was quiet and seemed preoccupied.
"Of course I suppose he must have killed Madeleine," went on Kitty,
"but it's so hard to believe it, after all. I've tried to think of a
reason for it, and this is the only one I can think of. They quarrelled
yesterday afternoon, and he went away in a huff. I believe he came back
last night to make it up with her, and then they quarrelled again and
he stabbed her."

Fessenden looked at her thoughtfully. "I think that Hunt man testified
accurately," he said. "And if so, Carleton was in the house just
fifteen minutes before he gave the alarm. Now, fifteen minutes is an
awfully short time to quarrel with anybody so desperately that it leads
to a murder."

"That's true; but they both have very quick tempers. At least Madeleine
had. She didn't often do it, but when she did fly into a fury it was as
quick as a flash. I've never seen Mr. Carleton angry, but I know he can
be, for Maddy told me so."

"Still, a quarter of an hour is too short a time for a fatal quarrel, I
think. If Carleton killed her he came here for that purpose, and it was
done premeditatedly."

"Why do you say 'if he killed her'? It's been proved she didn't kill
herself; it's been proved that no one could enter the house without a
latch-key, and it's been proved that the deed was done in that one hour
between half-past ten and half-past eleven. So it had to be Mr.
Carleton."

"Miss French, you have a logical mind, and I think you'd make a clever
little detective. But you have overlooked the possibility that she was
killed by some one in the house."

"Some of us?" Kitty's look of amazement almost made Fessenden smile.

"Not you or Miss Gardner," he said. "But a burglar might have been
concealed in the house."

"I never thought of that!" exclaimed Kitty, her eyes opening wide at
the thought. "Why, he might have killed us all!"

"It isn't a very plausible theory," said Fessenden, unheeding the
girl's remark, "and yet I could think of nothing else. Every instinct
of my mind denies Carleton's guilt. Why, he isn't that sort of a man!"

"Perhaps he isn't as good as he looks," said Kitty, wagging her head
wisely. "I know a lot about him. You know he wasn't a bit in love with
Maddy."

"You hinted that before. And was he really a mere fortune-hunter? I
can't believe that of Carleton. I've known the man for years."

"He must have been, or else why did he marry her? He's in love with
another girl."

"He is! Who?"

"I don't know who. But Madeleine hinted it to me only a few days ago.
It made her miserable. And that's why everybody thought she wrote that
paper that said, 'I love S., but he does not love me.'"

"And you don't know who this rival is?"

"No, but I know what she's like. She's the 'clinging rosebud' effect."

"What do you mean?"

"Just that. You know Madeleine was a big, grand, splendid
type,--majestic and haughty; and she thought Schuyler loved better some
little, timid girl, who would sort of look up to him, and need his
protection."

Fessenden looked steadily at Miss French. "Are you imagining all this,"
he said, "or is it true?"

"Both," responded Kitty, with a charming little smile. "Maddy just
hinted it to me, and I guessed the rest. You know, I have detective
instinct too, as well as you."

"You have, indeed;" and Rob gave an admiring glance to the pouting red
lips, and roguish eyes. "But tell me more about it."

"There isn't much to tell," said Kitty, looking thoughtful, "but there's
a lot to deduce."

"Well, tell me what there is to tell, and then we'll both deduce."

It pleased Kitty greatly to imagine she was really helping Fessenden,
and she went glibly on:

"Why, you see, Maddy was unhappy,--we all know that,--and it was for some
reason connected with Schuyler. Yet they were to be married, all the
same. But sometimes Maddy has asked me, with such a wistful look, if I
didn't think men preferred little, kittenish girls to big, proud ones
like herself."

"And you, being a little, kittenish girl, said yes?"

"Don't be rude," said Kitty, flashing a smile at him. "I am kittenish
in name only. And I am not little!"

"You are, compared to Miss Van Norman's type."

"Oh, yes; she was like a beautiful Amazon. Well, she either had reason
to think, or she imagined, that Schuyler pretended to love her, and was
really in love with some dear little clinging rosebud."

"Clinging rosebud! What an absurd expression! And yet--by Jove!--it just
fits her! And Miss Van Norman said to me--oh, I say, Miss French, don't
you know who the rosebud is."

"No," said Kitty, wondering at his sudden look of dismay.

"Well, I do! Oh, this is getting dreadful. Come outside with me and
let's look into this idea. I hope it's only an idea!"

Throwing a soft fawn-colored cape round her, and drawing its pink-lined
hood over her curly hair, Kitty went with Fessenden out on the lawn and
down to the little arbor where they had sat before.

"Did you ever hear of Dorothy Burt?" he asked, almost in a whisper.

"No; who is she?"

"Well, she's your 'clinging rosebud,' I'm sure of it! And I'll tell you
why."

"First tell me who she is."

"She's Mrs. Carleton's companion. Schuyler's mother, you know. She
lives in the Carleton household, and she is the sweetest, prettiest,
shyest little thing you ever saw! 'Clinging rosebud' just fits her."

"Indeed!" said Kitty, who had suddenly lost interest in the
conversation. And indeed, few girls of Kitty's disposition would have
enjoyed this enthusiastic eulogy of another.

"I don't admire that sort, myself," went on Rob, who was tactfully
observant; "I like a little more spirit and vivacity." Kitty beamed
once more. "But she's a wonder, of her own class. I was there at dinner
last night, you know, and I saw her for the first time. And, though I
thought nothing of it at the time, I can look back now and see that she
adores Schuyler. Why, she scarcely took her eyes off him at dinner, and
she ate next to nothing. Poor little girl, I believe she was awfully
cut up at his approaching marriage."

"And what was Schuyler's attitude toward her?" Kitty was interested
enough now.

Fessenden looked very grave and was silent for a time.

"It's a beastly thing to say," he observed at last, "but if Schuyler
had been in love with that girl, and wanted to conceal the fact, he
couldn't have acted differently from the way he did act."

"Was he kind to her?"

"Yes, kind, but with a restrained air, as if he felt it his duty to
show indifference toward her."

"Was she with you after dinner?"

Fessenden thought.

"I went to my room early; and Mrs. Carleton had then already excused
herself. Yes,--I left Schuyler and Miss Burt in the drawing-room, and
later I saw them from my window, strolling through the rose-garden."

"On his wedding eve!" exclaimed Kitty, with a look akin to horror in
her eyes.

"Yes; and I thought nothing of it, for I simply assumed that he was
devoted to Miss Van Norman, and was merely pleasant to his mother's
companion. But--in view of something Miss Van Norman said to me
yesterday--can it be it was only yesterday?--the matter becomes
serious."

"What did she say?"

"It seems like betraying a confidence, and yet it isn't, for we must
discover if it means anything. But she said to me, with real agitation,
'Do you know Dorothy Burt?' At that time, I hadn't met Miss Burt, and
had never heard of her, so I said: 'No; who is she?' 'Nobody,' said
Miss Van Norman, 'less than nobody! Never mention her to me again!' Her
voice, even more than her words, betokened grief and even anger, so of
course the subject was dropped. But doesn't that prove her anxious
about the girl, if not really jealous?"

"Of course it does," said Kitty. "I know that's the one that has been
troubling Madeleine. Oh, how dreadful it all is!"

"And then, too," Fessenden said, still reminiscently, "Miss Van Norman
said she wanted to go away from Mapleton immediately after her wedding,
and never return here again."

"Did she say that! Then, of course, it was only so that Schuyler should
never see the Burt girl again. Poor, dear Maddy; she was so proud, and
so self-contained. But how she must have suffered! You see, she knew
Schuyler admired her, and respected her and all that, and she must have
thought that, once removed from the presence of the rosebud girl, he
would forget her."

"But I can't understand old Schuyler marrying Miss Van Norman if he
didn't truly love her. You know, Miss French, that man and I have been
stanch friends for years; and though I rarely see him, I know his
honorable nature, and I can't believe he would marry one woman while
loving another."

"He didn't," said Kitty in a meaning voice that expressed far more than
the words signified.

Fessenden drew back in horror.

"Don't!" he cried. "You can't mean that Schuyler put Miss Van Norman
out of the way to clear the path for Miss Burt!"

"I don't mean anything," said Kitty, rather contradictorily. "But, as I
said, Maddy was not killed by any one inside the house--I'm sure of
that--and no one from outside could get in, except Schuyler--and he had a
motive. Don't you always, in detective work, look for the motive?"

"Yes, but this is too horrible!"

"All murders are 'too horrible.' But I tell you it must have been
Schuyler--it couldn't have been Miss Burt!"

"Don't be absurd! That little girl couldn't kill a fly, I'm sure. I
wish you could see her, Miss French. Then you'd understand how her very
contrast to Miss Van Norman's splendid beauty would fascinate Schuyler.
And I know he was fascinated. I saw it in his repressed manner last
evening, though I didn't realize it then as I do now."

"I have a theory," said Kitty slowly. "You know Mr. Carleton went away
yesterday afternoon rather angry at Maddy. She had carried her
flirtation with Tom a little too far, and Mr. Carleton resented it. I
don't blame him,--the very day before the wedding,--but it was partly his
fault, too. Well, suppose he went home, rather upset over the quarrel,
and then seeing Miss Burt, and her probably mild, angelic ways (I'm
sure she has them!)--suppose he wished he could be off with Maddy, and
marry Miss Burt instead."


"But he wouldn't kill his fiancée, if he did think that!"

"Wait a minute. Then suppose, after the evening in the rose-garden with
the gentle, clinging little girl, he concluded he never could be happy
with Maddy, and suppose he came at eleven o'clock, or whatever time it
was, to tell her so, and to ask her to set him free."

"On the eve of the wedding day? With the house already in gala dress
for the ceremony?"

"Yes, suppose the very nearness of the ceremony made it seem to him
impossible to go through with it."

"Well?"

"Well, and then suppose he did ask Madeleine to free him, and suppose
she refused. And she would refuse! I know her nature well enough to
know she never would give him up to the other girl if she could help
it. And then suppose, when she refused to free him,--you know he has a
fearfully quick temper, and that awful paper-cutter lay right there,
handy,--suppose he stabbed her in a moment of desperate anger."

"I can't think it," said Rob, after a pause; "I've tried, and I can't.
But, suppose all you say is true as far as this; suppose he asked
her to free him, because he loved another, and suppose she was so
grieved and mortified at this, that in her own sudden fit of angry
jealousy,--you know she had a quick temper, also,--suppose she picked
up the dagger and turned it upon herself, as she had sometimes said she
would do."

Kitty listened attentively. "It might be so," she said slowly; "you may
be nearer the truth than I. But I do believe that one of us must be
right. Of course, this leaves the written paper out of the question
entirely."

"That written paper hasn't been thoroughly explained yet," exclaimed
the young man. "Now, look here, Miss French, I'm not going to wait to
be officially employed on this case, though I am going to offer
Carleton my legal services, but I mean to do a little investigating on
my own account. The sooner inquiries are made, the more information is
usually obtained. Can you arrange that I shall have an interview with
Miss Dupuy?"

"I think I can," said Kitty; "but if you let it appear that you're
inquisitive she won't tell you a thing. Suppose we just talk to her
casually, you and I. I won't bother you."

"Indeed you won't. You'll be of first-class help. When can we see her?"

While they had been talking, other things had been happening in the
drawing-room. The people who had been gathered there had all
disappeared, and, under the active superintendence of Miss Morton, the
florist's men who had put up the decorations were now taking them away.
The whole room was in confusion, and Kitty and Mr. Fessenden were glad
to escape to some more habitable place.

"Wait here," said Kitty, as they passed through the hall, "and I'll be
back in a moment."

Kitty flew upstairs, and soon returned, saying that Miss Dupuy would be
glad to talk with them both in Madeleine's sitting-room.

XIII

An Interview With Cicely

This sitting-room was on the second floor, directly back of Madeleine's
bedroom, the bedroom being above the library. Miss Dupuy's own room was
back of this and communicated with it.

The sitting-room was a pleasant place, with large light windows and
easy chairs and couches. A large and well-filled desk seemed to prove
the necessity of a social secretary, if Miss Van Norman cared to have
any leisure hours.

Surrounded by letters and papers, Cicely sat at the desk as they
entered, but immediately rose to meet them.

Kitty's tact in requesting the interview had apparently been
successful, for Miss Dupuy was gracious and affable.

But after some desultory conversation which amounted to nothing,
Fessenden concluded a direct course would be better.

"Miss Dupuy," he said, "I'm a detective, at least in an amateur way."

Cicely gave a start and a look of fear came into her eyes.

"I have the interests of Schuyler Carleton at heart," the young man
continued, "and my efforts shall be primarily directed toward clearing
him from any breath of suspicion that may seem to have fallen upon
him."

"O, thank you!" cried Cicely, clasping her hands and showing such
genuine gratitude that Fessenden was startled by a new idea.

"I'm sure," he said, "that you'll give me any help in your power. As
Miss Van Norman's private secretary, of course you know most of the
details of her daily life."

"Yes; but I don't see why I should tell everything to that Benson man!"

"You should tell him only such things as may have a bearing on this
mystery that we are trying to clear up."

"Then I know nothing to tell. I know nothing about the mystery."

"No, Cicely," said Kitty, in a soothing voice, "of course you know
nothing definite; but if you could tell us some few things that may
seem to you unimportant, we--that is, Mr. Fessenden--might find them of
great help."

"Well," returned Cicely slowly, "you may ask questions, if you choose,
Mr. Fessenden, and I will answer or not, as I prefer."

"Thank you, Miss Dupuy. You may feel sure I will ask only the ones I
consider necessary to the work I have undertaken. And first of all, was
Miss Van Norman in love with Carleton?"

"She was indeed, desperately so."

"Yet she seemed greatly attached to her cousin, Mr. Willard."

"That was partly a cousinly affection, and partly a sort of coquetry to
pique Mr. Carleton."

"And was Carleton devoted to her?"

"Must I answer that?" Cicely's eyes looked troubled.

"Yes, you must." Fessenden's voice was very gentle.

"Then he was not devoted to her; in fact, he loved another."

"Who is this other?"

"Dorothy Burt, his mother's companion, who lives at the Carleton home."

"Did Miss Van Norman know this?"

"Yes, she learned of it lately, and it broke her heart. That is why she
was so uncertain and erratic in her moods; that is why she coquetted
with Mr. Willard, to arouse Schuyler Carleton's jealousy."

"This throws a new light on it all," said Fessenden gravely. "And this
Miss Burt--did she return Carleton's regard?"

"I don't know," said Cicely, and her agitation seemed to increase,
though she tried hard to conceal it. "Of course Miss Van Norman didn't
speak openly of this matter, but I knew her so well that I easily
divined from her moods and her actions that she knew she had a rival in
Mr. Carleton's affections."

"Then he cared more for her in time past?"

"Yes, until that girl came to live with his mother. She's a designing
little thing, and she just twisted Mr. Carleton round her finger."

"Do you know her personally, Miss Dupuy?" A look of intense hatred came
over Cicely's expressive face.

"No! I wouldn't meet her for anything. But I have seen her, and I know
perfectly well that Mr. Carleton cares for her more than he did for
Miss Van Norman."

"Yet he was about to marry Miss Van Norman."

"Yes; because they were engaged before he saw the Burt girl. Then, you
see, he didn't think it honorable to refuse to marry her, and she--"

"He had asked her, then, to give him back his freedom?"

"Yes, he had. And Miss Van Norman very rightly refused to do so."

"Oh, Cicely," cried Kitty, "do you know this, or are you only surmising
it?"

"I know it, Miss French. In her sorrow over the matter, Miss Van Norman
often confided in me as in a friend."

"And you were a good friend to her, I'm sure," said Fessenden heartily.
"Now, Miss Dupuy, do you think it could have been possible that Mr.
Carleton came here late last night to ask Miss Van Norman once again to
release him from the marriage?"

"He might have done so," said Cicely in a noncommittal tone. "He was
very much annoyed at her behavior with Mr. Willard in the afternoon."

"But that was on purpose to annoy him?"

"Yes, and it succeeded."

"How do you know all this?"

"Miss Van Norman intimated as much just before dinner, when we were
here alone. She feared Mr. Carleton was so angry he wouldn't come to
dinner at all."

"And he didn't."

"No, he didn't."

"But, Miss Dupuy, it would scarcely be possible to think that if he did
return later to ask his release--it would not be possible to think that
on Miss Van Norman's refusal to release him he was so incensed against
her that--"

"Oh, no, no!" cried Cicely. "Of course he didn't kill her! Of course he
didn't! She killed herself! I don't care what any one says--I know she
killed herself!"

"If so," said Fessenden, "we must prove it by keeping on with our
investigations. And now, Miss Dupuy, will you tell me what was your
errand when you returned to the library late last night, when the two
doctors were alone there in charge of the room?"

"I didn't!" declared Cicely, her cheeks flaming and her blue eyes
fairly glaring at her interrogator.

"Please stick to the truth, Miss Dupuy," said Fessenden coldly. "If you
don't, we can't credit any of your statements. You opened the door very
softly, and were about to enter, when you spied the doctors and
withdrew."

"I went to get that paper," said Cicely, somewhat sulkily.

"Why did you want that?"

"Because it was mine. I had a right to it."

"Then why didn't you go on in and get it? The doctors' presence need
have made no difference."

"I don't know why I didn't! I wish you'd stop asking questions!"

"I will, in a moment. You are sure you wrote that paper yourself?"

"Of course I am!" The answer was snapped out pertly.

"And you wrote it meaning yourself? You didn't write it with the intent
that it should be taken for Miss Van Norman's message?"

Cicely eyes dropped involuntarily. Then she raised them, and stared
straight at Fessenden. "What do you mean?" she asked haughtily.

"Just what I say. Was that written paper an expression of your own
heart's secret?"

It must have been because of Fessenden's magnetism, or compelling
sympathy, but for some reason Cicely took no offense at this, and
answered simply, "Yes."

"Strange," mused Rob, "how that man won so many women's hearts."

"No, it isn't strange," said Cicely, also in slow, thoughtful tones.
And then, suddenly realizing the admission she had made, and seeing how
she had revealed her own secret she flew into a rage.

"What do you mean?" she cried. "I didn't refer to Mr. Carleton."

"Yes, you did," said Fessenden, so quietly that again Cicely was
silent, and Kitty sat surprised almost to breathlessness.

"There is to be only truth between us," went on Rob. "You did mean Mr.
Carleton, by the letter 'S'; but have no fear, your secret shall be
respected. Now we will have only the truth--remember that. So please
tell me frankly at what time you saw Mr. Carleton come into the house
last night?"

"Just a few moments before half-past eleven." Cicely said this glibly,
as if reciting a carefully-conned lesson.

"Wait a moment--you forget that Mr. Hunt fixed the time at quarter after
eleven, and that he saw you looking over the baluster at the same
time."

With an agonized cry of dismay, Miss Dupuy fainted into utter
unconsciousness.

Perplexed and baffled in his inquiries, Fessenden saw that for the
moment Miss Dupuy's physical condition was of paramount importance, and
at Kitty's request he rang for Marie. Even before she came the others
had placed Cicely gently on a couch, and when the maid arrived
Fessenden left the room, knowing that the girl was properly cared for.

Going downstairs again, he was about to make his adieux to Mrs. Markham
and leave the house, when Kitty French, coming down soon after him,
asked him to stay a few minutes longer.

The sight of her pretty face drove more serious thoughts from his mind,
and he turned, more than willing to follow where she led. "Oh, whistle,
and I'll come to you," he whispered. But Kitty had weighty information
to impart, and was in no mood for trifling. They found a quiet corner,
and then Kitty told him that Cicely had regained consciousness almost
immediately, but that just before she did so, she cried out sharply,
"They must not think Schuyler did it! They must not!"

"And so," said Kitty, astutely, "you see, it's as I told you. Mr.
Carleton did kill Maddy, and Cicely knows it, but she doesn't want
other people to find it out, because she's in love with him herself!"

Rob Fessenden gave his companion an admiring glance.

"That's good reasoning and sound logic," he said; "and I'd subscribe to
it if it were anybody but old Schuyler. But I can't and won't believe
that man guilty without further evidence than that of a fainting,
hysterical woman."

"Everybody seems to be in love with Mr. Carleton," said Kitty,
demurely.

"You're not, are you?" said Rob, so quickly that Kitty blushed.

"No, I'm not," she declared. "He's a stunning looking man, and that
superior, impassive way of his catches some women, but I don't care for
it. I prefer a more enthusiastic temperament."

"Like mine," said Rob casually.

"Have you a temperament?" said Kitty saucily. "It isn't at all
noticeable."

"It will be, after you know me better. But Miss French, since you've
raised this question of Miss Dupuy's evidence, let me tell you what it
means to me. Or, rather, what it seems to point to, for it's all too
vague for us to draw any real conclusions. But, as a first impression,
my suspicion turns toward Miss Dupuy herself rather than Carleton."

"Cicely! You don't mean she killed Maddy! Oh, how can you?"

"Now, don't fly into hysterics yourself. Wait a minute. I haven't
accused her at all. But look at it. Miss Van Norman was certainly
killed by Carleton, or by some one already in the house. It has been
proved that nobody outside could get in. Now if the criminal is some
one in the house, we must consider each one in turn. And if by chance
we consider Miss Dupuy first, we must admit a motive."

"What motive?"

"Why, that of a jealous woman. Miss Van Norman was just about to marry
the man Miss Dupuy is in love with. Perhaps--do have patience, I'm
merely supposing--perhaps she has vainly urged Miss Van Norman to give
him up, and, finding she wouldn't do so, at the last minute she
prevented the marriage herself,--putting that paper on the table to make
it appear a suicide. This would explain her stealthy attempt to regain
possession of the paper later."

"Why should she want it?"

"So that it couldn't be proved not to be in Miss Van Norman's writing."

"It's ingenious on your part," said Kitty slowly, "but it can't be
true. Cicely may be in love with Schuyler, but she wouldn't kill Maddy
because of that."

"Who can tell what a hysterical, jealous woman will do?" said Rob, with
the air of an oracle. "And moreover, to my mind, that explains her
half-conscious exclamation of which you just told me. When she said,
'They must not think Schuyler did it,' it meant that she knew he didn't
do it, but she didn't want suspicion to rest on him. That's why she
insists it was a suicide."

So in earnest was Fessenden that Kitty felt almost convinced there was
something in his theory.

"But it can't be," she said, at last, with an air of finality. "It
wouldn't be possible for Cicely to do such a thing! I know her too
well!"

"Then, Miss French, if that, to you, is a logical argument, you must
admit mine. It wouldn't be possible for Carleton to do such a thing! I
know him too well!"

Kitty had to smile at the imitation of the strong inflections she had
used, and, too, she had to admit that one opinion was as permissible as
the other.

"You see," went on Rob quietly, "we're not really assuming Miss Dupuy's
guilt, we're only seeing where these deductions lead us. Suppose, for
the moment, that Miss Dupuy did, during that half-hour in the library,
have an altercation with Miss Van Norman, and just suppose,--or imagine,
if you prefer the word,--that she turned the dagger upon her friend and
employer, wouldn't her subsequent acts have been just as they were? At
Mr. Carleton's alarm, she came downstairs, fully dressed; later she
tried to remove secretly that written paper; always at serious
questioning she faints or flies into hysterics; and, naturally, when
suspicion comes near the man she cares for, she tries to turn it off.
And then, too, Miss French, a very strong point against her is that she
was the last one, so far as we know, to see Miss Van Norman alive. Of
course, the murderer was the last one; but I mean, of the witnesses,
Miss Dupuy was the latest known to be with Miss Van Norman. Thus, her
evidence can not be corroborated, and it may or may not be true. If she
is the guilty one, we cannot expect the truth from her, and so we must
at least admit that there is room for investigation, if not suspicion."

"I suppose you are right," said Kitty slowly; "a man's mind is said to
be more logical. A woman depends more on her intuition. Now, my
intuition tells me that Cicely Dupuy can not be the guilty one."

"At risk of tiresome repetition," returned Fessenden, "I must say again
that that is no more convincing than my 'intuition' that Carleton can
not be the guilty one."

Kitty's smile showed her quick appreciation of this point, and Rob went
on:

"Though suspicion, so far, is cast in no other direction, it is only
fair to consider all the others in the house. This will, of course, be
done in due time. I approve of Mr. Benson, and I think, though his
manners are pompous and at times egotistical, he has a good mind and a
quick intelligence. He will do his part, I am sure, and then, if
necessary, others will be brought into the case. But, as Carleton's
friend, I shall devote all my energies to clearing him from what I know
is an unjust suspicion."

And then Rob Fessenden went away. Mrs. Markham asked him to remain to
dinner, but he declined, preferring to go home with Carleton. He said
he would return next morning, and said too that he meant to stay in
Mapleton as long as he could be of any service to any of his friends.

This decision was, of course, the result of his great friendship for
Carleton, and his general interest in the Van Norman case, but it was
also partly brought about by the bewitching personality of Kitty French
and the impression she had made on his not usually susceptible heart.

And being master of his own time, Fessenden resolved to stay for a few
days and observe developments along several lines.

XIV

The Carleton Household

Mrs. Carleton's dinner table that evening presented a very different
atmosphere from the night before.

The hostess herself was present only by a strong effort of will power.
Mrs. Carleton had been greatly overcome by the shock of the dreadful
news, and, aside from the sadness and horror of the tragedy, she was
exceedingly disappointed at what seemed to her the ruin of her son's
future.

The Carletons were an old and aristocratic family, though by no means
possessed of great fortune.

The alliance, therefore, with the wealth of the Van Norman estate, and
the power of the Van Norman name, seemed to Mrs. Carleton the crowning
glory of her son's career, and she had been devoutly thankful when the
wedding-day was set.

Though stubbornly unwilling to believe it, she had of late been forced
to notice the growing attachment between Schuyler and her own
companion, Miss Burt, and had it not been for the surety of the
approaching wedding, she would have dismissed the girl. But so certain
was she that her son's ambitions, like her own, were centred on the Van
Norman name, she could not believe that Schuyler would let himself
become greatly interested in Dorothy Burt.

But she did not allow for that mischievous Imp of Romance who plays
havoc with hearts without saying "by your leave."

And partly because of her own dainty charm, partly because of her
contrast to Madeleine's magnificence, Dorothy Burt crept into Schuyler
Carleton's affections before either of them realized it, and when they
did discover the surprising fact, it did not seem to dismay them as it
should have done.

But it troubled them; for Schuyler well knew that honor, expediency,
and good judgment all held him bound to Miss Van Norman, and Dorothy
Burt knew it equally well.

And, whether or not with an ulterior motive, she had made no claim on
him from the first. She had admitted her love for him, but in the same
breath had avowed her appreciation of its hopelessness. Even if he
hinted at a possible transfer of his allegiance, she had hushed him at
once, saying it was impossible for him to do otherwise than to be true
to his troth, and that he must forget her, as she should--try to--forget
him.

This nobility on her part only made Carleton love her more, and though
continuing to admire his beautiful fiancée, his real affection was all
for little Dorothy.

She came to dinner that night, soft and lovely in a simple white frock,
her pathetic eyes wide open in grief and sorrow, her rosebud mouth
drooping and tremulous at the corners.

Fessenden watched her. Without appearing to do so, he noted every
expression that flitted across her baby face.

And he was greatly disturbed.

The night before he had paid slight attention to her. To be sure, Miss
Van Norman had spoken her name in the afternoon, but it had meant
little to him, and, thinking of her merely as Mrs. Carleton's
companion, or secretary, he wasn't sure which, he had been
conventionally polite and no more. But to-night she was a factor in the
case, and must be reckoned with.

As Fessenden watched her, he saw, with a growing conviction, as sure as
it was awful, that she was relieved at Miss Van Norman's death.

Gentle, tender little girl as she seemed, it was nevertheless true that
the removal of the obstacle between Carleton and herself gave her only
joy. She tried to hide this. She cleverly simulated grief, horror,
surprise, interest,--all the emotions called forth by the conversation,
which unavoidably pursued only one course. In fact, Miss Burt took her
cue every time from Mrs. Carleton, and expressed opinions that
invariably coincided with hers.

It began to dawn upon Fessenden that the girl was unusually clever, the
more so, he thought, that she was consciously concealing her cleverness
by a cloak of demure innocence, and careful unostentation. Never did
she put herself forward; never did she show undue interest in Schuyler,
personally.

Fessenden reasoned that the game being now in her own hands, she could
afford to stand back and await developments.

Then came the next thought: how came the game so fortuitously into her
own hands? Was it, even indirectly, due to her own instigation?

"Pshaw!" he thought to himself. "I'm growing absurdly suspicious. I
won't believe wrong of that girl until I have some scrap of a hint to
base it on."

And yet he knew in his own heart if Dorothy Burt had wanted to connive
in the slightest degree in the removal of her rival, she was quite
capable of doing so, notwithstanding her very evident effect of pretty
helplessness.

"When an excessively clever young woman assumes an utterly inefficient
air," he thought, "it must be for some undeclared purpose;" and he felt
an absurd thrill of satisfaction that though Kitty French was
undeniably clever, she put on no ingénue arts to hide it.

Then Kitty's phrase of "a clinging rosebud" came to his mind, and he
realized its exceeding aptness to describe Dorothy Burt. Her appealing
eyes and wistful, curved mouth were enough to lure a man who loved her
to almost any deed of daring.

"Even murder?" flashed into his brain, and he recoiled at the thought.
Old Schuyler might have been made to forget his fealty; he might have
been unable to steel his heart against those subtle charms; he might
have thrown to the winds his honor and his faith; but surely, never,
never, could he have committed that dreadful deed, even for love of
this angel-faced siren.

"Could she?"

The words fairly burned into Fessenden's brain. The sudden thought set
his mind whirling. Could she? Why, no, of course not! Absurd! Yes, but
could she? What? That child? That baby-girl? Those tiny, rose-leaf
hands! Yes, but could she?

"No!" said Fessenden angrily, and then realized that he had spoken
aloud, and his hearers were looking at him with indulgent curiosity.

"Forgive me," he said, smiling as he looked at Mrs. Carleton. "My fancy
took a short but distant flight, and I had to speak to it sternly by
way of reproof."

"I didn't know a lawyer could be fanciful," said Mrs. Carleton. "I
thought that privilege was reserved for poets."

"Thank you for a pretty compliment to our profession," said Rob. "We
lawyers are too often accused of giving rein to our fancy, when we
should be strapped to the saddle of slow but sure Truth."

"But can you arrive anywhere on such a prosaic steed?" asked Miss Burt,
smiling at his words.

"Yes," said Rob; "we can arrive at facts."

What prompted him to speak so curtly, he didn't know; but his speech
did not at all please Miss Burt. Her color flew to her cheeks, though
she said nothing, and then, as Mrs. Carleton rose from the table, the
two ladies smiled and withdrew, leaving Rob alone with his host.

"It's all right, old boy, of course," said Carleton, "but did you have
any reason for flouting poor little Dorothy like that?"

"No, I didn't," said Fessenden honestly and apologetically. "I spoke
without thinking, and I'm sorry for it."

"All right--it's nothing. Now, Rob, old fellow, you can't deceive me. I
saw a curious expression in your eyes as you looked at Miss Burt
tonight, and--well, there is no need of words between us, so I'll only
tell you you're all wrong there. You look for hidden meanings and
veiled allusions in everything that girl says, and there aren't any.
She's as frank and open-natured as she can be, and--forgive me--but I
want you to let her alone." Fessenden was astounded. First, at
Carleton's insight in discovering his thoughts, and second, at
Carleton's mistaken judgment of Miss Burt's nature.

But he only said, "All right, Schuyler; what you say, goes. Would you
rather not talk at all about the Van Norman affair?" Fessenden spoke
thus casually, for he felt sure it would make it easier for Carleton
than if he betrayed a deeper interest.

"Oh, I don't care. You know, of course, how deeply it affects me and my
whole life. I know your sympathy and good-fellowship. There's not much
more to say, is there?"

"Why, yes, Carleton; there is. As your friend, and also in the
interests of justice, I am more than anxious to discover the villain
who did the horrid deed, and though the inquest people are doing all
they can, I want to add my efforts to theirs, in hope of helping
them,--and you."

"Don't bother about me, Rob. I don't care if they never discover the
culprit. Miss Van Norman is gone; it can't restore her to life if they
do learn who killed her."

Fessenden looked mystified.

"That's strange talk, Schuyler,--but of course you're fearfully upset,
and I suppose just at first it isn't surprising that you feel that way.
But surely,--as man to man, now,--you want to find and punish the wretch
that put an end to that beautiful young life."

"Yes,--I suppose so;" Carleton spoke hesitatingly, and drew his hand
across his brow in the same dazed way he did when in the witness box.

"You're done up, old man, and I'm not going to bother you to-night. But
I'm on the hunt, if you aren't, and I'm going ahead on a few little
trails, hoping they'll lead to something of more importance. By the
way, what were you doing in those few minutes last night between your
entering the house and entering the library?"

Carleton stared at his guest.

"I don't know what you mean," he said.

"Yes, you do. You went in at eleven-fifteen, and you called for help at
eleven-thirty."

"No,--it didn't take as long as that." Carleton's eyes had a far-away
look, and Rob grasped his arm and shook him, as he said:

"Drop it, man! Drop that half-dazed way of speaking! Tell me, clearly,
what did you do in that short interval?"

"I refuse to state," said Carleton quietly, but with a direct glance
now that made Fessenden cease his insistence.

"Very well," he said; "it's of no consequence. Now tell me what you
were doing last evening before you went over to the house?"

At this Carleton showed a disposition to be both haughty and ironical.

"Am I being questioned," he said, "and by you? Well, before I went to
Miss Van Norman's I was walking in the rose-garden with Miss Burt. You
saw me from your window."

"I did," said Rob gravely. "Were you with Miss Burt until the time of
your going over to the Van Norman house?"

"No," said Carleton, with sarcastic intonation. "I said good-night to
Miss Burt about three-quarters of an hour before I started to go over
to Miss Van Norman's. Do you want to know what I did during that
interval?"

"Yes."

"I was in my own room--my den. I did what many a man does on the eve of
his wedding. I burned up a few notes,--perhaps a photograph or two,--and
one withered rose-bud,--a 'keepsake.' Does this interest you?"

"Not especially, but, Schuyler, do drop that resentful air. I'm not
quizzing you, and if you don't want to talk about the subject at all,
we won't."

"Very well,--I don't."

"Very well, then."

The two men rose, and as Carleton held out his hand Rob grasped it and
shook it heartily, then they went to the drawing-room and rejoined the
ladies.

The Van Norman affair was not mentioned again that evening.

All felt a certain oppression in the atmosphere, and all tried to
dispel it, but it was not easy. Uninteresting topics of conversation
were tossed from one to another, but each felt relieved when at last
Mrs. Carleton rose to go upstairs and the evening was at an end.

Fessenden went to his room, his brain a whirlwind of conflicting
thoughts.

He sat down by an open window and endeavored to classify them into some
sort of order.

First, he was annoyed at Carleton's inexplicable attitude. Granting he
was in love with Miss Burt, he had no reason to act so unconcerned
about the Van Norman tragedy. And yet Schuyler's was a peculiar nature,
and doubtless all this strange behavior of his was merely the effort to
hide his real sorrow.

But again, if he were in love with Miss Burt, his sorrow for the loss
of Madeleine was for the loss of her fortune and not herself. This
Fessenden refused to believe, but the more he refused to believe it,
the more it came back to him. Then there was his new notion, that came
to him at dinner, about Miss Burt. Carleton said she was the ingenuous,
timid girl she looked, but Rob couldn't believe it. Executive ability
showed in that determined little chin. Veiled cunning lurked in the
shadows of those innocent eyes. And the girl had a motive. Surely she
wanted her rival out of her way. Then she had said good-night to
Schuyler nearly an hour before he went over to Madeleine's. Could she
have--but, nonsense! Even if she had been so inclined, how could she
have entered the house? Ah, that settled it! She couldn't. And
Fessenden was honestly glad of it. Honestly glad that he had proved to
himself that Miss Burt--lovely, alluring little Dorothy Burt--was not the
hardened criminal for whom he was looking!

Then it came back to Schuyler. No! Never Schuyler! But if not he, then
who? And what was he doing in that incriminating interval, and why
wouldn't he tell?

And then, idly gazing from his window Rob saw again two figures walking
in the rose-garden.

And they were the same two that he had seen there the evening before.

Schuyler Carleton and Dorothy Burt were strolling,--no, now they were
standing, standing close to each other in earnest conversation.

Rob was no eavesdropper, and of course he couldn't hear a word they
said, but somehow he found it impossible to take his eyes from those
two figures.

Steadily they talked,--so engrossed in their conversation that they
scarcely moved; then Schuyler's arm went slowly round the girl's
shoulders.

Gently she drew away, and he did not then again offer a caress.

Rob sat looking at them, saying frankly to himself that he was
justified in doing so, since his motive effaced all consideration of
puerile conventions. If that girl were really the designing young woman
he took her to be,--more, if she could be the author, directly or
indirectly, of that awful crime,--then Fessenden vowed he would save
Schuyler from her fascinations at the risk of breaking their own
lifelong friendship.

After further rapt and earnest conversation, Carleton took Miss Burt
gently in his arms and kissed her lightly on the forehead. Then,
drawing her arm through his own, they turned and walked slowly to the
house.

A few moments later Rob heard the girl's light footsteps as she came up
to her room, but Carleton stayed down in the library until long after
all the rest of the household were sleeping.

XV

Fessenden's Detective Work

Next morning Rob went over to the Van Norman house with a clearly
developed plan of action. He declared to himself that he would allow no
circumstance to shake his faith in his friend, that he would hold
Carleton innocent of all wrongdoing in the affair, and that he would
put all his ingenuity and cleverness to work to discover the criminal
or any clue that might lead to such a discovery.

Although some questions he had wished to ask Cicely Dupuy were yet
unanswered, Fessenden had discovered several important facts, and,
after being admitted to the house, he looked about him for a quiet spot
to sit down and tabulate them in black and white. The florist's men
were still in the drawing-room, so he went into the library. Here he
found only Mrs. Markham and Miss Morton, who were apparently discussing
a question on which they held opposite opinions.

"Come in, Mr. Fessenden," said Mrs. Markham, as he was about to
withdraw. "I should be glad of your advice. Ought I to give over the
reins of government at once to Miss Morton?"

"Why not?" interrupted Miss Morton, herself. "The house is mine; why
should I not be mistress here?"

Fessenden repressed a smile. It seemed to him absurd that these two
middle-aged women should discuss an issue of this sort with such
precipitancy.

"It seems to me a matter of good taste," he replied. "The house, Miss
Morton, is legally yours, but as its mistress, I think you'd show a
more gracious manner if you would wait for a time before making any
changes in the domestic arrangements."

Apparently undesirous of pursuing the gracious course he recommended,
Miss Morton rose abruptly and flounced out of the room.

"Now she's annoyed again," observed Mrs. Markham placidly. "The least
little thing sets her off."

"If not intrusive, Mrs. Markham, won't you tell me how it comes about
that Miss Morton inherits this beautiful house? Is she a relative of
the Van Normans?"

"Not a bit of it. She was Richard Van Norman's sweetheart, years and
years and years ago. They had a falling-out, and neither of them ever
married. Of course he didn't leave her any of his fortune. But only a
short time ago, long after her uncle's death, Madeleine found out about
it from some old letters. She determined then to hunt up this Miss
Morton, and she did so, and they had quite a correspondence. She came
here for the wedding, and Madeleine intended she should make a visit,
and intended to give her a present of money when she went away. In the
meantime Madeleine had made her will, though I didn't know this until
to-day, leaving the place and all her own money to Miss Morton. I'm not
surprised at this, for Tom Willard has plenty, and as there was no
other heir, I know Madeleine felt that part of her uncle's fortune
ought to be used to benefit the woman he had loved in his youth."

"That explains Miss Morton, then," said Fessenden. "But what a peculiar
woman she is!"

"Yes, she is," agreed Mrs. Markham, in her serene way. "But I'm used to
queer people. Richard Van Norman used to give way to the most violent
bursts of temper I ever saw. Maddy and Tom are just like him. They
would both fly into furious rages, though I must say they didn't do it
often, and never unless for some deep reason."

"And Mr. Carleton--has he a high temper?" Mrs. Markham's brow clouded.
"I don't understand that man," she said slowly. "I don't think he has a
quick temper, but there's something deep about him that I can't make
out. Oh, Mr. Fessenden, do you think he killed our Madeleine?"

"Do you?" said Fessenden suddenly, looking straight at her.

"I do," she said, taken off her guard. "That is, I couldn't believe it,
only, what else can I think? Mr. Carleton is a good man, but I know
Maddy never killed herself, and I know the way this house is locked up
every night. No burglar or evil-doer could possibly get in.'

"But the murderer may have been concealed in the house for hours
beforehand."

"Nonsense! That would be impossible, with a house so full of people,
and the wedding preparations going on, and everything. Besides, Mr.
Hunt would have heard any intruder prowling around; and then again, how
could he have gone out? Everything was bolted on the inside, except the
front door, and had he gone out that way he must surely have been
heard."

"Well reasoned, Mrs. Markham! I think, with you, we may dismiss the
possibility of a burglar. The time was too short for anything except a
definitely premeditated act. And yet I cannot believe the act was that
of Schuyler Carleton. I know that man very well, and a truer, braver
soul never existed."

"I know it," declared Mrs. Markham, "but I think I'm justified in
telling you this. Mr. Carleton didn't love Madeleine, and he did love
another girl. Madeleine worshipped him, and I think he came last night
to ask her to release him, and she refused, and then--and then--"

Something about Mrs. Markham's earnest face and sad, distressed voice
affected Fessenden deeply, and he wondered if this theory she had so
clearly, though hesitatingly, stated, could be the true one. Might he,
after all, be mistaken in his estimate of Schuyler Carleton, and might
Mrs. Markham's suggestion have even a foundation of probability?

They were both silent for a few minutes, and then Mr. Fessenden said,
"But you thought it was suicide at first."

"Indeed I did; I looked at the paper through glasses that were dim with
tears, and it looked to me like Madeleine's writing. Of course Miss
Morton also thought it was, as she was only slightly familiar with
Maddy's hand. But now that we know some one else wrote that message, of
course we also know the dear girl did not bring about her own death."

Mrs. Markham was called away on some household errands then, and
Fessenden remained alone in the library, trying to think of some clue
that would point to some one other than Carleton.

"I'm sure that man is not a murderer," he declared to himself.
"Carleton is peculiar, but he has a loyal, honest heart. And yet, if
not, who can have done the deed? I can't seem to believe it really was
either the Dupuy woman or the Burt girl. And I know it wasn't Schuyler!
There must have been some motive of which I know nothing. And perhaps I
also know nothing of the murderer. It need not necessarily have been
one of these people we have already questioned." His thoughts strayed
to the under-servants of the house, to common burglars, or to some
powerful unknown villain. But always the thought returned that no one
could have entered and left the house unobserved within that fatal
hour.

And then, to his intense satisfaction, Kitty French came into the room.

"Good morning, Rose of Dawn," he said, looking at her bright face. "Are
you properly glad to see me?"

"Yes, kind sir," she said, dropping a little curtsey, and smiling in a
most friendly way.

"Well, then, sit down here, and let me talk to you, for my thoughts are
running riot, and I'm sure you alone can help me straighten them out."

"Of course I can. I'm wonderful at that sort of thing. But, first I'll
tell you about Miss Dupuy. She's awfully ill--I mean prostrated, you
know; and she has a high fever and sometimes she chatters rapidly, and
then again she won't open her lips even if any one speaks to her. We've
had the doctor, and he says it's just overstrained nerves and a
naturally nervous disposition; but, Mr. Fessenden, I think it's more
than that; I think it's a guilty conscience."

"And yesterday, when I implied that Miss Dupuy might know more about it
all than she admitted, you wouldn't listen to a word of it!"

"Yes, I know it, but I've changed my mind."

"Oh, you have; just for a change, I suppose."

"No," said Kitty, more seriously; "but because I've heard a lot of
Cicely's ranting,--for that's what it is,--and while it's been only
disconnected sentences and sudden exclamations, yet it all points to a
guilty knowledge of some sort, which she's trying to conceal. I don't
say I suspect her, Mr. Fessenden, but I do suspect that she knows a lot
more important information than she's told."

"Miss Dupuy's behavior has certainly invited criticism," began Rob, but
before he could go further, the French girl, Marie, appeared at the
door, and seemed about to enter.

"What is it, Marie?" said Kitty kindly. "Are you looking for me?"

"Yes, mademoiselle," said Marie, "and I would speak with monsieur too.
I have that to say which is imperative. Too long already have I kept
the silence. I must speak at last. Have I permission?"

"Certainly," said Fessenden, who saw that Marie was agitated, but very
much in earnest. "Tell us what you have to say. Do not be afraid."

"I am afraid," said Marie, "but I am afraid of one only. It is the Miss
Morton, the stranger lady."

"Miss Morton?" said Kitty, in surprise. "She won't hurt you; she has
been very good to you."

"Ah, yes, mademoiselle; but too good. Miss Morton has been too kind,
too sweet, to Marie! It is that which troubles me."

"Well, out with it, Marie," said Rob. "Close that door, if you like,
and then speak out, without any more beating around the bush."

"No, monsieur, I will no longer beat the bush; I will now tell."

Marie carefully closed the door, and then began her story:

"It was the night of the--of the horror. You remember, Miss French, we
sat all in this very room, awaiting the coming of the great doctor--the
doctor Leonard."

"Yes," said Kitty, looking intently at the girl; "yes, I know most of
you stayed here waiting,--but I was not here; Doctor Hills sent Miss
Gardner and me to our rooms."

"Yes; it is so. Well, we sat here, and Miss Morton rose with suddenness
and left the room. I followed, partly that I thought she might need my
services, and partly--I confess it--because I trusted her not at all, and
I wished to assure myself that all was well. I followed her,--but
secretly,--and I--shall I tell you what she did?"

Kitty hesitated. She was not sure she should listen to what was, after
all, servants' gossip about a guest of the house.

But Fessenden looked at it differently. He knew Marie had been the
trusted personal maid of Miss Van Norman, and he deemed it right to
hear the evidence that she was now anxious to give.

"Go on, Marie," he said gravely. "Be careful to tell it exactly as it
happened, whatever it is."

"Yes, m'sieur. Well, then, I softly followed Miss Morton, because she
did not go directly to her own room, but went to Miss Van Norman's
sitting-room and stood before the desk of Miss Madeleine."

"You are sure, Marie?" said Kitty, who couldn't help feeling it was
dishonorable to listen to this.

"Please, Miss French, let her tell the story in her own way," said Rob.
"It is perhaps of the utmost importance, and may lead to great
results." Then Marie went uninterruptedly on.

"She stood in front of the desk, m'sieur; she searched eagerly for
papers, reading and discarding several. Then she found some, which she
saw with satisfaction, and hastily concealed in her pocket. Miss Morton
is a lady who yet has pockets in her gowns. With the papers in her
pocket, then, Miss Morton looks about carefully, and, thinking herself
unobserved, creeps, but stealthily, to her own room. There--m'sieur, I
was obliged to peep at the keyhole--there she lighted a fire in her
grate, and burned those papers. With my eyes I saw her. Never would I
have told, for it was not my affair, but that I fear for Miss Dupuy. It
is in the air that she knows secrets concerning Miss Van Norman's
death. Ah, if one would know secrets, one should question Miss Morton."

"This is a grave charge you bring against the lady, Marie," said
Fessenden.

"Yes, monsieur, but it is true."

"I know it is true," said Kitty; "I have not mentioned it before, but I
saw Miss Morton go to Madeleine's room that night, and afterward go to
her own room. I knew nothing, of course, of the papers, and so thought
little of the whole incident, but if she really took papers from
Madeleine's desk and burned them, it's indeed important. What could the
papers have been?"

"You know she inherited," began Fessenden. "Oh, a will!" cried Kitty.

"Marie, you may go now," Rob interrupted; "you did right to tell us
this, and rest assured you shall never be blamed for doing so. You will
probably be questioned further, but for the present you may go. And
thank you."

Marie curtseyed and went away.

"She's a good girl," said Kitty. "I always liked her; and she must have
heard, as I did, so much of Cicely's chatter, that she feared some sort
of suspicion would fall on Cicely, and she wanted to divert it toward
Miss Morton instead."

"As usual, with your quick wits, you've gone right to the heart of her
motive," said Rob; "but it may be more serious than you've yet thought
of. Miss Morton inherits, you know."

"Yes, now," said Kitty significantly, "since she burnt that other
will."

"What other will?"

"Oh, don't you see? The will she burnt was a later one, that didn't
give her this house. She burnt it so the earlier one would stand."

"How do you know this?"

"I don't know it, except by common sense! What else would she take from
Maddy's desk and burn except a will? And, of course, a will not in her
favor, leaving the one that did bequeath the house to her to appear as
the latest will."

"Does this line of argument take us any further?" said Rob, so
seriously that Kitty began to think.

"You don't mean," she whispered, "that Miss Morton--in order to--"

"To receive her legacy--"

"Could--no, she couldn't! I won't even think of it!"

"But you thought of Miss Dupuy. Miss French, as I told you yesterday,
we must think of every possible person, not every probable one. These
suggestions are not suspicions--and they harm no one who is innocent."

"I suppose that is so. Well, let us consider Miss Morton then, but of
course she didn't really kill Maddy."

"I trust not. But I must say I could sooner believe it of a woman of
her type than Miss Dupuy's."

"But Cicely didn't either! Oh, how can you say such dreadful things!"

"We won't say them any more. They are dreadful. But I thought you were
going to help me in my detective work, and you balk at every turn."

"No, I won't," said Kitty, looking repentant. "I do want to help you;
and if you'll let me help, I'll suspect everybody you want me to."

"I want you to help me, but this story of Marie's is too big for me to
handle by myself. I must put that into Mr. Benson's hands. It is really
more important than you can understand."

"I suppose so," said Kitty, so humbly that Rob smiled at her, and had
great difficulty to refrain from kissing her.

XVI

Searching For Clues

Believing that Marie's information about Miss Morton was of deep
interest, Rob started off at once to confer with Coroner Benson about
it.

As he walked along he discussed the affair with himself, and was
shocked to realize that for the third time he was suspecting a woman of
the murder.

"But how can I help it?" he thought impatiently. "The house was full of
women, and not a man in it except the servants, and no breath of
suspicion has blown their way. And if a woman did do it, that
unpleasant Morton woman is by far the most likely suspect. And if she
was actuated by a desire to get her inheritance, why, there's the
motive, and she surely had opportunity. It's a tangle, but we must find
something soon to guide us. A murder like that can't have been done
without leaving some trace somewhere of the criminal." And then
Fessenden's thoughts drifted away to Kitty French, and he was quite
willing to turn the responsibility of his new information over to Mr.
Benson. On his way to the coroner's office he passed the Mapleton Inn.
An impulse came to him to investigate Tom Willard's statements, and he
turned back and entered the small hotel.

He thought it wiser to be frank in the matter than to attempt to obtain
underhand information. Asking to speak with the proprietor alone, he
said plainly:

"I'm a detective from New York City, and my name is Fessenden. I'm
interested in investigating the death of Miss Van Norman. I have no
suspicions of any one in particular, but I'm trying to collect a few
absolute facts by way of making a beginning. I wish you, therefore, to
consider this conversation confidential."

Mr. Taylor, the landlord of the inn, was flattered at being a party to
a confidential conversation with a real detective, and willingly
promised secrecy in the matter.

"Then," went on Fessenden, "will you tell me all you know of the
movements of Mr. Willard last evening?"

Mr. Taylor looked a bit disappointed at this request, for he foresaw
that his story would be but brief. However, he elaborated the recital
and spun it out as long as he possibly could. But after all his
circumlocution, Fessenden found that the facts were given precisely as
Willard had stated them himself.

The bellboy who had carried up the suitcase was called in, and his
story also agreed.

"Yessir," said the boy; "I took up his bag, and he gimme a quarter,
just like any nice gent would. 'N'en I come downstairs, and after while
the gent's bell rang, and I went up, and he wanted ice water. He was in
his shirt sleeves then, jes' gittin' ready for bed. So I took up the
water, and he said, 'Thank you,' real pleasant-like, and gimme a dime.
He's a awful nice man, he is. He had his shoes off that time, 'most
ready for bed. And that's all I know about it."

All this was nothing more nor less than Fessenden had expected. He had
asked the questions merely for the satisfaction of having verbal
corroboration of Tom's own story.

With thanks to Mr. Taylor, and a more material token of appreciation to
the boy, he went away.

On reaching the coroner's office, he was told that Mr. Benson was not
in. Fessenden was sorry, for he wanted to discuss the Morton episode
with him.

He thought of going to Lawyer Peabody's, who would know all about Miss
Van Norman's will, but as he sauntered through one of the few streets
the village possessed, he was rather pleased than otherwise to see
Kitty French walking toward him.

She greeted him with apparent satisfaction, and said chummily, "Let's
walk along together and talk it over."

Immediately coroner and lawyer faded from Rob's mind, he willingly fell
into step beside her, and they walked along the street which soon
merged itself into a pleasant country road.

Fessenden told Kitty of his conversation at the inn, but she agreed
that it was unimportant.

"Of course," she said, "I suppose it was a good thing to have some one
else say the same as Tom said, but as Tom wasn't even in the house, I
don't see as he is in the mystery at all. But there's no use of looking
further for the criminal. It was Schuyler Carleton, just as sure as I
stand here." Kitty very surely stood there. They had paused beneath an
old willow tree by the side of the road, and Kitty, leaning against a
rail fence, looked like a very sweet and winsome Portia, determined to
mete out justice.

Though he was himself convinced that he was an unprejudiced seeker
after truth, at that moment Robert Fessenden found himself very much
swayed by the opinions of the pretty, impetuous girl who addressed him.

"I believe I'm going to work all wrong," he declared. "I can't help
feeling sure that Carleton didn't do it, and so I'm trying to discover
who did."

"Well, why is that wrong?" demanded Kitty wonderingly.

"Why, I think a better way to do would be to assume, if only for sake
of argument, as they say, or rather for sake of a starting-point--to
assume that you are right and that Carleton is the evildoer, though I
swear I don't believe it."

Kitty laughed outright. "You're a nice detective!" she said. "Are you
assuming that Schuyler is the villain, merely to be polite to me?"

"I am not, indeed! I feel very politely inclined toward you, I'll
admit, but in this matter I'm very much in earnest. And I believe, by
assuming that Carleton is the man, and then looking for proof of it, we
may run across clues that will lead us to the real villain."

Kitty looked at him admiringly, and for Kitty French to look at any
young man admiringly was apt to be a bit disturbing to the young man's
peace of mind.

It proved so in this case, and though Fessenden whispered to his own
heart that he would attend first to the vindication of his friend
Carleton, his own heart whispered back that after that, Miss French
must be considered.

"And so," said Rob, as they turned back homeward, "I'm going to work
upon this line. I'm going to look for clues; real, material, tangible
clues, such as criminals invariably leave behind them."

"Do!" cried Kitty. "And I'll help you. I know we can find something."

"You see," went on Fessenden, his enthusiasm kindling from hers, "the
actual stage of the tragedy is so restricted. Whatever we find must be
in the Van Norman house."

"Yes, and probably in the library."

"Or the hall," he supplemented.

"What kind of a thing do you expect to find?"

"I don't know, I'm sure. In the Sherlock Holmes stories it's usually
cigar ashes or something like that. Oh, pshaw! I don't suppose we'll
find anything."

"I think in detective stories everything is found out by footprints. I
never saw anything like the obliging way in which people make
footprints for detectives."

"And how absurd it is!" commented Rob. "I don't believe footprints are
ever made clearly enough to deduce the rest of the man from."

"Well, you see, in detective stories, there's always that 'light snow
which had fallen late the night before.'"

"Yes," said Fessenden, laughing at her cleverness, "and there's always
some minor character who chances to time that snow exactly, and who
knows when it began and when it stopped."

"Yes, and then the principal characters carefully plant their
footprints, going and returning--overlapping, you know--and so Mr.
Smarty-Cat Detective deduces the whole story."

"But we've no footprints to help us."

"No, we couldn't have, in the house."

"But if it was Schuyler--"

"Well, even if,--he couldn't make footprints without that convenient
'light snow' and there isn't any."

"And besides, Schuyler didn't do it."

"No, I know he didn't. But you're going to assume that, you know, in
order to detect the real criminal."

"Yes, I know I said so; but I don't believe that game will work, after
all."

"I don't believe you're much of a detective, any way," said Kitty, so
frankly that Fessenden agreed.

"I don't believe I am," he said honestly. "With the time, place, and
number of people so limited, it ought to be easy to solve this mystery
at once."

"I think it's just those very conditions that make it so hard," said
Kitty, sighing.

And so completely under her spell was Fessenden by this time that he
emphatically agreed with her.

When they reached the Van Norman house they found it had assumed the
hollow, breathless air that invades a house where death is present.

All traces of decoration had been removed from the drawing-room, and
it, like the library, had been restored to its usual immaculate order.
The scent of flowers, however, was all through the atmosphere, and a
feeling of oppression hovered about like a heavy cloud.

Involuntarily Kitty slipped her hand in Rob's as they entered.

Fessenden, too, felt the gloom of the place, but he had made up his
mind to do some practical work, and detaining Harris, who had opened
the door for them, he said at once, "I want you to open the blinds for
a time in all the rooms downstairs. Miss French and I are about to make
a search, and, unless necessary, let no one interrupt us."

"Very good, sir," said the impassive Harris, who was becoming
accustomed to sudden and unexpected orders.

They had chosen their time well for the search, and were not
interrupted. Most of the members of the household were in their own
rooms; and there happened to be no callers who entered the house.

Molly Gardner had gone away early that morning. She had declared that
if she stayed longer she should be downright ill, and, after vainly
trying to persuade Kitty to go with her, had returned alone to New
York.

Tom Willard and Lawyer Peabody were in Madeleine's sitting-room, going
over the papers in her desk, in a general attempt to learn anything of
her affairs that might be important to know. They had desired Miss
Dupuy's presence and assistance, but that young woman refused to go to
them, saying she was still too indisposed, and remained, under care of
Marie, in her own room.

Fessenden suggested that Kitty should make search in the library while
he did the same in the drawing-room; and that afterward they should
change places.

Kitty shivered a little as she went into the room that had been the
scene of the tragedy, but she was really anxious to assist Fessenden,
and also she wanted to do anything, however insignificant, that would
help in the least toward avenging poof Maddy's death.

And yet it was seemingly a hopeless task. Though she carefully and
systematically scrutinized walls, rugs and furniture, not a clue could
she find.

She was on her hands and knees under a table when Tom Willard came into
the room.

"What are you doing?" he said, unable to repress a smile as Kitty, with
her curly hair a bit dishevelled, came scrambling out.

"Hunting for clues," she said briefly.

"There are no clues," said Tom gravely. "It's the most inexplicable
affair all 'round."

"Then you have no suspicion of any one?"

"My dear Miss French," said Tom, looking at her kindly, as one might at
a child, but speaking decidedly; "don't let the amusement of amateur
detective work lead you into making unnecessary trouble for people. If
detective work is to be done, leave it to experienced and professional
hands. A girl hunting for broken sleeve-links or shreds of clothing is
foolishly theatrical."

Willard's grave but gentle voice made Kitty think that she and
Fessenden were acting childishly, but after Tom, who had come on an
errand, had left the room, Kitty confided to herself that she would
rather act foolishly at Rob Fessenden's bidding than to follow the wise
advice of any other man.

This was saying a good deal, but as she said it only to herself, she
felt sure her confidence would not be betrayed.

Not half an hour had elapsed when Kitty appeared at the drawing-room
door with a discontented face, and said, "There's positively nothing in
the library that doesn't belong there. It has been thoroughly swept,
and though there may have been many clues, they've all been swept and
dusted away."

"Same here," said Fessenden dejectedly. "However, let's change rooms,
so we can both feel sure." Then Kitty searched the drawing-room, and
Rob the library, and they both scrutinized every inch of the hall.

"I didn't find so much as a thread," said Kitty, as they sat down on a
great carved seat in the hall to compare notes.

"I didn't either," said Rob, "with one insignificant exception; in the
drawing-room I found this, but it doesn't mean anything."

As he spoke he drew from his pocket a tiny globule of a silver color.

"What is it?" asked Kitty, taking it with her finger-tips from the palm
of his hand.

"It's a cachou."

"And what in the world is a cachou? What is it for?"

"Why, it's a little confection filled with a sort of spice. Some men
use them after smoking, to eradicate the odor of tobacco."

"Eat them, do you mean? Are they good to eat?" and impulsive Kitty was
about to pop the tiny thing into her mouth, when Rob caught her hand.

"Don't!" he cried. "That's my only clue, after all this search, and it
may be of importance." He rescued the cachou from Kitty's fingers, and
then, slipping it into his pocket, he continued to hold the hand from
which he had taken it.

And then, somehow, detective work seemed for a moment to lose its
intense interest, and Rob and Kitty talked of other things.

Suddenly Kitty said: "Tom Willard thinks we're foolish to hunt for
clues."

"I think he's right," said Fessenden, smiling, "since we didn't find
anything."

"Oh, he didn't exactly say you were foolish, but he said I was. He said
it was silly for a girl to hunt around under tables and chairs."

"He had no right to say so. It isn't silly for you to do anything you
want to do. But I know what Willard meant. He thinks, as lots of people
do, that there's no sense in expecting to find material evidences of
crime--or, rather, of the criminal. And I suppose he's right. Whoever
murdered Miss Van Norman certainly left no tangible traces. But I'm
glad we hunted for them, for now I feel certain there were none left;
otherwise, I should always have thought there might have been."

"How much more sensible you are than Mr. Willard," said Kitty, with an
admiring glance that went straight to the young man's heart, and stayed
there. "And, too, you always make use of 'clues' if you do find them.
Look how cleverly you deduced about the soft and hard lead pencils."

"Oh, that was nothing," said Fessenden modestly, though her praise was
ecstasy to his soul.

"Indeed it was something! It was great work. And I truly believe you'll
make as great a deduction from that little thing you found this
morning. What do you call it?"

"A cachou."

"Yes, a cachou. The whole discovery of the murderer may hinge on that
tiny clue we found."

"It may, but I can hardly hope so."

"I hope so,--for I do want to prove to Tom Willard that our search for
clues wasn't silly, after all."

And Fessenden's foolish heart was so joyed at Kitty's use of "we" and
"our" that he cared not a rap for Willard's opinion of his detective
methods.

XVII

Miss Morton's Statements

That afternoon another session of the inquest was held.

Fessenden had told Coroner Benson of Marie's disclosures concerning
Miss Morton, and in consequence that lady was the first witness called.

The summons was a complete surprise to her. Turning deathly white, she
endeavored to answer to her name, but only gave voice to an
unintelligible stammer.

The coroner spoke gently, realizing that his feminine cloud of
witnesses really gave him a great deal of trouble.

"Please tell us, Miss Morton," he said, "what was your errand when you
left the library and went upstairs, remaining there nearly half an
hour, on the night of Miss Van Norman's death?"

"I didn't do any such thing!" snapped Miss Morton, and though her tone
was defiant now, her expression still showed fear and dismay.

"You must have forgotten. Think a moment. You were seen to leave the
library, and you were also seen after you reached the upper floors. So
try to recollect clearly, and state your errand upstairs at that time."

"I--I was overcome at the tragedy of the occasion, and I went to my own
room to be alone for a time."

"Did you go directly from the library to your own room?"

"Yes."

"Without stopping in any other room on the way?"

"Yes."

"Think again, please. Perhaps I had better tell you, a witness has
already told of your stopping on the way to your own room."

"She told falsely, then. I went straight to my bedroom."

"In the third story?"

"Yes."

Coroner Benson was a patient man. He had no wish to confound Miss
Morton with Marie's evidence, and too, there was a chance that Marie
had not told the truth. So he spoke again persuasively:

"You went there afterward, but first you stopped for a moment or two in
Miss Van Norman's sitting-room."

"Who says I did?"

"An eye-witness, who chanced to see you."

"Chanced to see me, indeed! Nothing of the sort! It was that little
French minx, Marie, who is everlastingly spying about! Well, she is not
to be believed."

"I am sorry to doubt your own statement, Miss Morton, but another
member of the household also saw you. Denial is useless; it would be
better for you to tell us simply why you went to Miss Van Norman's room
at that time."

"It's nobody's business," snapped Miss Morton. "My errand there had
nothing to do in any way with Madeleine Van Norman, dead or alive."

"Then, there is no reason you should not tell frankly what that errand
was."

"I have my own reasons, and I refuse to tell." Mr. Benson changed his
tactics.

"Miss Morton," he said, "when did you first know that you were to
inherit this house and also a considerable sum of money at the death of
Miss Van Norman?"

The effect of this sudden question was startling.

Miss Morton seemed to be taken off her guard. She turned red, then
paled to a sickly white. Once or twice she essayed to speak, but
hesitated and did not do so.

"Come, come," said the coroner, "that cannot be a difficult question to
answer. When was your first intimation that you were a beneficiary by
the terms of Miss Van Norman's will?"

And now Miss Morton had recovered her bravado.

"When the will was read," she said in cold, firm accents.

"No; you knew it before that. You learned it when you went to Miss Van
Norman's room and read some papers which were in her desk. You read
from a small private memorandum book that she had bequeathed this place
to you at her death."

"Nothing of the sort," returned the quick, snappy voice. "I knew it
before that."

"And you just said you learned of it first when the will was read!"

"Well, I forgot. Madeleine told me the day I came here last year that
she had made a will leaving the house to me, because she thought it
should have been mine any way."

"The day you were here last year, she told you this?"

"Yes, we had a little conversation on the subject, and she told me."

"Why did you not say this when I first asked you concerning the
matter?"

"I forgot it. Miss Morton spoke nonchalantly, as if contradicting
oneself was a matter of no moment.

"Then you knew of your legacy before Miss Van Norman died?"

"Yes, now that I think of it, I believe I did." She was certainly a
difficult witness. She seemed unable to look upon the questions as
important, and her answers were given either in a flippant or savage
manner.

"Then why did you go to Miss Van Norman's room to look for her will
that night?"

"Her will? I didn't!"

"No, not the will that bequeathed you the house, but a later will that
made a different disposal of it."

"There wasn't such a one," said Miss Morton, in a low, scared voice.

"What, then, was the paper which you took from Miss Van Norman's desk,
carried to your own room, and burned?"

The coroner's voice was not persuasive now; it was accusing, and his
face was stern as he awaited her reply.

Again Miss Morton's face blanched to white. Her thin lips formed a
straight line, and her eyes fell, but her voice was strong and
sibilant, as she fairly hissed:

"How dare you! Of what do you accuse me?"

"Of burning a paper which you took secretly from Miss Van Norman's
private desk."

A moment's hesitation, and then, "I did not do it," she said clearly.

"But you were seen to do it."

"By whom?"

"By a disinterested and credible witness."

"By a sly, spying French servant!"

"It matters not by whom; you are asked to explain the act of burning
that paper."

"I have nothing to explain. I deny it."

And try as he would Mr. Benson could not prevail upon Miss Morton to
admit that she had burned a paper.

He confronted her with the witness, Marie, but Miss Morton coldly
refused to listen to her, or to pay any attention to what she said. She
insisted that Marie was not speaking the truth, and as the matter
rested between the two, there was nothing more to be done.

Kitty French said that she saw Miss Morton go into Madeleine's room,
and afterward go upstairs to her own room, but she knew nothing about
the papers in question.

Still adhering to her denial of Marie's story, Miss Morton was excused
from the witness stand.

Another witness called was Dorothy Burt. Fessenden was sorry that this
had to be, for he dreaded to have the fact of Carleton's infatuation
for this girl brought into public notice.

Miss Burt was a model witness, as to her manner and demeanor. She
answered promptly and clearly all the coroner's questions, and at first
Rob thought that perhaps she was, after all, the innocent child that
Carleton thought her.

But he couldn't help realizing, as the cross-questioning went on, that
Miss Burt really gave very little information of any value. Perhaps
because she had none to give, perhaps because she chose to withhold it.

"Your name?" Mr. Benson had first asked.

"Dorothy Burt," was the answer, and the modest voice, with a touch of
sadness, as befitting the occasion, seemed to have just the right ring
to it.

"Your occupation?"

"I am companion and social secretary to Mrs. Carleton."

"Do you know of anything that can throw any light on any part of the
mystery surrounding the death of Miss Van Norman?"

Miss Burt drew her pretty eyebrows slightly together, and thought a
moment.

"No," she said quietly; "I am sure I do not."

So gentle and sweet was she, that many a questioner would have
dismissed her then and there; but Mr. Benson, hoping to get at least a
shred of evidence bearing on Schuyler Carleton's strange behavior,
continued to question her.

"Tell us, please, Miss Burt, what you know of Mr. Carleton's actions on
the night of Miss Van Norman's death."

"Mr. Carleton's actions?" The delicate eyebrows lifted as if in
perplexity at the question.

"Yes; detail his actions, so far as you know them, from the time he
came home to dinner that evening."

"Why, let me see;" pretty Dorothy looked thoughtful again. "He came to
dinner, as usual. Mr. Fessenden was there, but no other guest. After
dinner we all sat in the music room. I played a little,--just some
snatches of certain music that Mrs. Carleton is fond of. Mr. Carleton
and Mr. Fessenden chatted together."

Rob raised his own eyebrows a trifle at this. Carleton had not been at
all chatty; indeed, Fessenden and Mrs. Carleton had sustained the
burden of the conversation; and while Miss Burt had played, it had been
bits of romantic music that Rob felt sure had been for Schuyler's
delectation more than his mother's.

"Is that all?" said Mr. Benson.

"Yes, I think so," said Miss Burt; "we all went to our rooms early, as
the next day was the day appointed for Mr. Carleton's wedding, and we
assumed he wanted to be alone."

Rob looked up astounded. Was she going to make no mention of the stroll
in the rose-garden? He almost hoped she wouldn't, and yet that was
certainly the evidence Mr. Benson was after.

"You said good-night to Mr. Carleton at what time, then?" was the next
rather peculiar question.

It might have been imagination, but Fessenden thought the girl was
going to name an earlier hour, then, catching sight of Rob's steady
eyes upon her, she hesitated an instant, and then said: "About ten
o'clock, I think."

"Mrs. Carleton and Mr. Fessenden went to their rooms at the same time?"

Dorothy Burt turned very pale. She shot a quick glance at Schuyler
Carleton and another at Fessenden, and then said in a low tone: "They
had gone upstairs a short time before."

"And you remained downstairs for a time with Mr. Carleton?"

"Yes." The answer, merely a whisper, seemed forced upon her lips.

"Where were you?"

Again the hesitation. Again the swift glances at Carleton and Rob, and
then the low answer:

"In the rose-garden."

Fessenden understood. The girl had no desire to tell these things, but
she knew that he knew the truth, and so she was too clever to lie
uselessly.

"How long were you two in the rose-garden, Miss Burt?"

Another pause. Somehow, Fessenden seemed to see the workings of the
girl's mind. If she designated a long time it would seem important. If
too short a time, Rob would know of her inaccuracy. And if she said she
didn't know, it would lend a meaning to the rose-garden interview which
it were better to avoid.

"Perhaps a half-hour," she said, at last, and, though outwardly calm,
her quickly-drawn breath and shining eyes betokened a suppressed
excitement of some sort.

"And you left Mr. Carleton at ten o'clock?"

"Yes."

"Do you know what he did after that?"

"I do not!" the answer rang out clearly, as if Miss Burt were glad to
be well past the danger point of the dialogue. But it came back at her
with the next question.

"What was the tenor of your conversation with Mr. Carleton in the rose
garden?"

At this Dorothy Burt's calm gave way. She trembled, her red lower lip
quivered, and her eyelids fluttered, almost as if she were about to
faint.

But, by a quick gesture, she straightened herself up, and, looking her
interlocutor in the eyes said:

"I trust I am not obliged to answer that very personal question."

Like a flash it came to Fessenden that her perturbation had been merely
a clever piece of acting. She had trembled and seemed greatly
distressed in order that Mr. Benson's sympathy might be so aroused that
he would not press the question.

And indeed it required a hardened heart to insist on an answer from the
lovely, agitated girl.

But Mr. Benson was not so susceptible as some younger men, and,
moreover, he was experienced in the ways of witnesses.

"I am sorry to be so personal, Miss Burt," he said firmly; "but I fear
it is necessary for us to learn the purport of your talk with Mr.
Carleton at that time."

Dorothy Burt looked straight at Schuyler Carleton.

Neither gave what might be called a gesture, and yet a message and a
response flashed between the two.

Rob Fessenden, watching intently, translated it to mean a simple
negative on Schuyler's part, but the question in the girl's eyes he
could not read.

Carleton's "No," however, was as plain as if spoken, and, apparently
comprehending, Miss Burt went evenly on.

"We talked," she said, "on such subjects as might be expected on the
eve of a man's wedding-day. We discussed the probability of pleasant
weather, mention was made of Miss Van Norman and her magnificent
personality. The loneliness of Mrs. Carleton after her son's departure
was touched upon, and, while I cannot remember definitely, I think our
whole talk was on those or kindred topics."

"Why did you so hesitate a moment ago, when I asked you to tell this?"

Dorothy opened her lovely eyes in surprise.

"Hesitate! Why, I didn't. Why should I?" Mr. Benson was at last put to
rout. She had hesitated--more than hesitated; she had been distinctly
averse to relating what she now detailed as a most indifferent
conversation, but, in the face of that expression of injured innocence,
Mr. Benson could say no more on that subject.

"When you left Mr. Carleton," he went on, "did you know he was about to
come over here to Miss Van Norman's?"

Again the telegraphic signals between Miss Burt and Carleton.

Quick as a flash--invisible to most of the onlookers, but distinctly
seen by Fessenden--a question was asked and answered.

"No," she said quickly; "I did not."

"You left him at ten o'clock, then, and did not see him again that
night?"

"That is correct."

"And you have no idea how he was occupied from ten o'clock, on?"

"I have not."

"That's all at present, Miss Burt."

The girl left the witness-stand looking greatly troubled.

But the suspicious Mr. Fessenden firmly believed she looked troubled
because it made her more prettily pathetic.

He wasn't entirely right in this, but neither was Dorothy Burt quite as
ingenuous as she appeared.

XVIII

Carleton Is Frank

Nearly a week had passed.

The funeral of Madeleine Van Norman had been such as befitted the last
of the name, and she had been reverently laid away to rest in the old
family vault.

But the mystery of her death was not yet cleared up. The coroner's
inquest had been finished, but most of the evidence, though vaguely
indicative, had been far from conclusive.

No further witnesses had been found, and no further important fact had
been discovered.

Schuyler Carleton maintained the same inscrutable air, and, though
often nervous to the verge of collapse, had reiterated his original
story over and over again without deviation. He still refused to state
his errand to the Van Norman house on the night of Madeleine's death.
He still declined to say what he was doing between the time he entered
the house and the time when he cried out for help.

He himself asserted there was little, if any, time therein unaccounted
for.

Tom Willard, of course, repeated his story, and it was publicly
corroborated by witnesses from the hotel. Tom had changed some during
these few days. The sudden accession of a large fortune seemed to
burden him rather than to bring him joy. But no one wondered at this
when they remembered the sad circumstances which gave him his wealth,
and remembered, too, what was no secret to anybody, that he had deeply
loved his cousin Madeleine. Of the other witnesses, Cicely Dupuy was
the only one whose later evidence was not entirely in accordance with
her earlier statements. She often contradicted herself, and when in the
witness chair was subject to sudden fainting attacks, whether real or
assumed no one was quite sure.

And so, after the most exhaustive inquiry and the most diligent sifting
of evidence, the jury could return only the time-worn verdict, "Death
at the hands of some person or persons unknown."

But in addition to this it was recommended by the jury that Schuyler
Carleton be kept under surveillance. There had not been enough evidence
to warrant his arrest, but the district attorney was so convinced of
the man's guilt that he felt sure proofs of it would sooner or later be
brought to light.

Carleton himself seemed apathetic in the matter. He quite realized that
his guilt was strongly suspected by most of the community, but, instead
of breaking down under this, he seemed rather to accept it sadly and
without dispute.

But though the inquest itself was over, vigorous investigation was
going on. A detective of some reputation had the case in hand
officially, and, unlike many celebrated detectives, he was quite
willing to confer with or to be advised by young Fessenden.

Spurred by the courtesy and confidence of his superior, Rob devoted
himself with energy to the work of unravelling the mystery, but it was
baffling work. As he confessed to Kitty French, who was in all things
his confidante, every avenue of argument led up against a blank wall.

"Either Carleton did do or he did not," he said reflectively. "If he
did, there's absolutely no way we can prove it; and if he didn't, who
did?"

Kitty agreed that this was a baffling situation.

"What about that cachou, or whatever you call it?" she said.

"It didn't amount to anything as a clue," returned Rob moodily. "I
showed it to some of the servants, and they said they had never seen
such a thing before. Harris was quite sure that none of the men who
came here ever use them. I asked Carleton, just casually, for one the
other day, and he said he didn't have any and never had had any. I
asked Willard for one at another time, and he said the same thing. It
must have been dropped by some of the decorator's men; they seemed a
Frenchy crowd, and I've been told the French are addicted to these
things." Rob took the tiny silver sphere from his pocket and looked at
it as he talked. "Besides, it wouldn't mean a thing if it had belonged
to anybody. I just picked it up because it was the only thing I could
find in the drawing-room that wasn't too heavy to lift."

Rob put his useless clue back into his pocket with a sigh. "I'm going
to give it up," he said, "and go back to New York. I've stayed here in
Mapleton over a week now, hoping I could be of some help to poor old
Carleton; but I can't--and yet I know he's innocent! Fairbanks, the
detective on the case, is pleasant to work with, and I like him; but if
he can't find out anything, of course I needn't hope to. I'd stay on,
though, if I thought Carleton cared to have me. But I'm not sure he
does, so I'm going back home. When are you going to New York, Kitty?"

But the girl did not answer his question. "Rob," she said, for the
intimacy between these two young people had reached the stage of first
names, "I have an inspiration."

"I wish I had some faith in it, my dear girl; but your inspirations
have such an inevitable way of leading up a tree."

"I know it, and this may also. But listen: doesn't Schuyler believe
that you suspect him?"

"I don't suspect him," declared Rob, almost fiercely.

"I know you don't; but doesn't Schuyler think you do?"

"Why, I don't know; I never thought about it. I think very likely he
does."

"And he's so proud, of course he won't discuss it with you, or justify
himself in any way. Now, look here, Rob: you go to Schuyler, and in
your nicest, friendliest way tell him you don't believe he did it.
Then--don't you see?--if he is innocent, he will expand and confide in
you, and you may get a whole lot of useful information. And on the
other hand, if he is guilty, you'll probably learn the fact from his
manner."

Rob thought it over. "Kitty," he said at last, "you're a trump. I
believe you have hit upon the only thing there is to try, and I'll try
it before I decide to go to New York. I'll stay in Mapleton a day or
two longer, for the more I think about it, the more I think I haven't
been fair or just to the old boy in not even asking for his
confidence."

"It isn't that so much, but you must assure him of your belief in him.
Tell him you know he is innocent."

"I do know it.'

"Yes, I know that has been your firm conviction all along, though it
isn't mine. But don't tell him it isn't mine; just tell him of your own
confidence and sympathy and faith in him, and see what happens."

"A woman's intuitions are always ahead of a man's," declared
Rob heartily. "I'll do just as you say, Kitty, and I'll do it
whole-heartedly, and to the best of my ability."

Kitty was still staying in the Van Norman house, which had not yet
been, and probably would not soon be, known by any other name.

Mrs. Markham had gone away temporarily, though it was believed that
when she returned it would be merely to arrange for her permanent
departure. The good lady had received a generous bequest in Madeleine's
will, and, except for the severing of old associations, she had no
desire to remain in a house no longer the home of the Van Normans.

Miss Morton was therefore mistress of the establishment, and thoroughly
did she enjoy her position. She invited Miss French to remain for a
time as her visitor, and Kitty had stayed on, in hope of learning the
truth about the tragedy.

At Miss Morton's invitation Tom Willard had left the hotel and returned
to his old room, which he had given up to Miss Morton herself at
Madeleine's request.

Willard without doubt sorrowed deeply for his beautiful cousin, but he
was a man who rarely gave voice to his grief, and his feelings were
evident more from his manner than his words. He seemed preoccupied and
absent-minded, and, quite unlike Miss Morton, he was in no haste to
take even preliminary steps toward the actual acquisition of his
fortune.

Fessenden was curious to know whether Willard suspected that his
cousin's death was the work of Schuyler Carleton. But when he tried to
sound Tom on the subject he was met by a rebuff. It was politely
worded, but it was nevertheless a plain-spoken rebuff, and conclusively
forbade further discussion of the subject. And so as an outcome of
Kitty's suggestion, Fessenden determined to have a plain talk with
Schuyler Carleton.

"Old man," he said, the first time opportunity found him alone with
Schuyler in the Carleton library, "I want to offer you my help. I know
that sounds presumptuous, but we're old friends, Carleton, and I think
I may be allowed a little presumption on that score. And first, though
it seems to me absurdly unnecessary, I want to assure you of my belief
in your own innocence. Pshaw, belief is a weak word! I know, I am
positive, that you no more killed that girl than I did!"

The light that broke over Carleton's countenance was a fine vindication
of Kitty's theory. The weary, drawn look disappeared from his face,
and, impulsively grasping Rob's hand, he exclaimed, "Do you mean that?"

"Of course I mean it. I never for an instant thought it possible.
You're not that sort of a man."

"Not that sort of a man;" Carleton spoke musingly. "That isn't the
point, Fessenden. I've thought this thing out pretty thoroughly, and I
must say I don't wonder that they suspect me of the deed. You see, it's
a case of exclusive opportunity."

"That phrase always makes me tired," declared Rob. "If there's one
thing more misleading than 'circumstantial evidence,' it is 'exclusive
opportunity.' Now, look here, Carleton, if you'll let me, I'm going to
take up this matter. Should you be arrested and tried--and I may as well
tell you frankly I'm pretty sure that you will be--I want to act as your
lawyer. But in the meantime I want to endeavor to track down the real
murderer and so leave no occasion for your trial."

Schuyler Carleton looked like a condemned man who has just been granted
a reprieve.

"Do you know, Fessenden," he said, "you're the only one who does
believe me innocent?"

"Nonsense, man! Nobody believes you guilty."

"They're so strongly suspicious that it's little short of belief," said
Carleton sadly. "And truly, Rob, I can't blame them. Everything is
against me.

"I admit there are some things that must be explained away; and,
Schuyler, if I'm to be your lawyer, or, rather, since I am your lawyer,
I must ask you to be perfectly frank with me."

Carleton looked troubled. He was not of a frank nature, and it was
always difficult for him to confide his personal affairs to anybody.
Fessenden saw this, and resolved upon strong measures.

"You must tell me everything," he said somewhat sternly. "You must do
this at the sacrifice of your own wishes. You must ignore yourself, and
lay your whole heart bare to me, for the sake of your mother, and--for
the sake of the woman you love."

Schuyler Carleton started as if he had been physically struck.

"What do you mean?" he cried.

"You know what I mean," said Fessenden gently. "You did not love the
woman you were about to marry. You do love another. Can you deny it?"

"No," said Carleton, settling back into his apathy. "And since you know
that, I may as well tell you all. I admired and respected Madeleine Van
Norman, and when I asked her to marry me I thought I loved her. After
that I met some one else. You know this?"

"Yes; Miss Burt."

"Yes. She came into this house as my mother's companion, and almost
from the first time I saw her I knew that she and not Madeleine was the
one woman in the world for me. But, Fessenden, never by word or lock
did I betray this to Miss Burt while Madeleine lived. If she guessed
it, it was only because of her woman's intuition. I was always loyal to
Madeleine in word and deed, if I could not be in thought."

"Was it not your duty to tell Madeleine this?"

"I tried several times to do so, but, though I hate to sound
egotistical, she loved me very deeply, and I felt that honor bound me
to her."

"I'm not here to preach to you, and that part of it is, of course, not
my affair. I know your nature, and I know that you were as loyal to
Miss Van Norman as you would have been had you never seen Miss Burt,
and I honor and respect you for it But you were jealous of Willard?"

"My nature is insanely jealous, yes. And though he was her cousin, I
knew Willard was desperately in love with her, and somehow it always
made me frantic to see him showing affection toward the woman I meant
to make my wife."

"She was not in love with Willard?"

"Not in the least. Madeleine's heart beat only for me, ungrateful
wretch that I am. Her little feints at flirting with Willard were only
to pique me. I knew this, and yet to see them together always roused
that demon of jealousy which I cannot control. Fessenden, aside from
all else, how can people think I killed the woman who loved me as she
did?"

"Of course that argument appeals to you, and of course it does to me.
But you must see how others, not appreciating all this, and even
suspecting or surmising that your heart was not entirely with your
intended bride--you must see that some appearances, at least, are
against you."

"I do see; and I see it so plainly that even to me those appearances
seem conclusive of my guilt."

"Never mind what they seem to you, old man; they don't seem so to me,
and now I'm going to get to work. First, as I told you, you are going
to be frank with me. What were you doing in the Van Norman house before
you went into the library?"

Schuyler Carleton blushed. It was not the shame of a guilty man, but
the embarrassment of one detected in some betrayal of sentiment.

"Of course I will tell you," he said after a moment "I went there on an
errand which I wished to keep entirely secret. There is a foolish
superstition in our family that has been observed for many generations.
An old reliquary which was blessed by some ancient Pope has been handed
down from father to son for many generations. The superstition is that
unless this ancient trinket hangs over the head of a bridegroom on his
wedding day, ill fortune will follow him through life. It is part of
the superstition that the reliquary must be put in place secretly, and
especially without the knowledge of the bride, else its charm is
broken. The whole notion is foolishness, but as my wedding was an
ill-starred one, any way, I hoped to gain happiness, if possible, by this
means. Of course, I don't think I really had any faith in the thing,
but it is such an old tradition in the family that it never occurred to
me not to follow it. My mother gave me the reliquary, after my father's
death, telling me the history of it. I had it with me when I was at the
house in the afternoon, and I hoped to find an opportunity to fasten it
up in that floral bower, unobserved. But the workmen were busy there
when I came away, and I knew there would be many people about the next
morning; so I decided to return late at night to do my errand. I had no
thought of seeing Madeleine. There were no bright lights in the house,
and the drawing-room itself was dark save for what light came in from
the hall. I did go into the house, I suppose, at about quarter after
eleven. I didn't note the time, but I dare say Mr. Hunt was correct.
Without glancing toward the library then, I went at once to the
drawing-room and hid the reliquary among the garlands that formed the
top of that bower. As I stood there, I thought over what I was about to
do the next day. It seemed to me that I was doing right, and I vowed to
myself to be a true and loving husband to my chosen wife. I stood there
some time, thinking, and then turned to go away. As I left the room I
noticed a low light in the library, and it occurred to me that if any
one should be in there it would be wiser to make my presence known. So
I crossed the hall and went into the library. The rest you know. The
sudden shock of seeing Madeleine as she was, just as I had come from
what was to have been our bridal bower, nearly unhinged my mind.
I picked up the dagger, I turned on lights and rang bells, not knowing
what I did. Now I have told you the truth, and if my demeanor has
seemed strange, can you wonder at it in a man who experienced what I
did, and then is suspected of being the criminal?"

"Indeed, no," said Fessenden, grasping his friend's hand in sincere
sympathy. "It was a terrible experience, and the injustice of the
suspicion resting on you makes it a hundredfold more horrible."

"When I went back to the house next morning I watched for an
opportunity, and managed, unobserved, to remove the reliquary from its
floral hiding-place. I shall never use it now. There are some men fated
not to know happiness, and I am of those."

"Let us hope not," said Fessenden gently. "But whatever the future may
hold, let us now keep to the business at hand, and use every possible
means to discover the evil-doer."

XIX

The Truth About Miss Burt

Confidential relations thus being established between the two men,
Fessenden wished very much to learn a little more concerning Dorothy
Burt, but found it a difficult subject to introduce.

It was, therefore, greatly to his satisfaction when Carleton himself
led up to it.

"I've been frank with you, Rob," he said, "but perhaps there's one more
thing I ought to confess."

"Nonsense, man, I'm not your father confessor. If you've any facts,
hand them over, but don't feel that you must justify yourself to me."

"But I do want to tell you this, for it will help you to understand my
sensitiveness in the whole matter. As you know, Rob, I do love Dorothy
Burt, and it is only since Madeleine's death that I have allowed myself
to realize how much I love her. I shall never ask her to marry me, for
the stigma of this dreadful affair will always remain attached to my
name, and suspicion would more than ever turn to me, if I showed my
regard for Dorothy. As I told you, I never spoke a word of love to her
while Madeleine was alive. But she knew,--she couldn't help knowing.
Brave little girl that she is, she never evinced that knowledge, and it
was only when I surprised a sudden look in her eyes that I suspected
she too cared for me. And yet, though we never admitted it to each
other, Madeleine suspected the truth, and even taxed me with it. Of
course I denied it; of course I vowed to Madeleine that she, and
she only, was the woman I loved; because I thought it the right and
honorable thing to do. If she hadn't cared so much for me herself, I
might have asked her to release me; but I never did, and never even
thought of doing so--until--that last evening. Then--well, you know
how she had favored Willard in preference to me in the afternoon, and,
though I well knew it was only to tease me, yet it did tease me, and I
came home really angry at her. It was an ill-advised occasion for her
to favor her cousin."

"I agree with you; but from the little I know of Miss Van Norman's
nature, I judge she was easily piqued and quick to retaliate."

"Yes, she was; we were both too quick to take offense, but, of course,
the real reason for that was the lack of true faith between us. Well,
then I came home, angered, as I said, and Dorothy was so--so different
from Madeleine, so altogether sweet and dear, so free from petty
bickering or sarcasm, that for the first time I felt as if I ought not
to marry the woman I did not love. I brooded over this thought all
through the dinner hour and the early evening. Then you and mother left
us, and I asked Dorothy to go for a little stroll in the garden. She
refused at first--I think the child was a little fearful of what I might
say--but I said nothing of the tumult in my heart. I realized, though,
that she knew I loved her, and that--she cared for me. I had thought she
did, but never before had I felt so sure of it,--and the knowledge
completely unmanned me. I bade her good night abruptly, and rather
coldly, and then I went into the library and fought it out with myself.
And I concluded that my duty was to Madeleine. I confess to a frantic
desire to go to her and ask her, even at that last minute, to free me
from my troth, and then I thought what a scandal it would create, and I
knew that even if Dorothy and I both suffered, it was Madeleine's right
to leave matters as they were. Having decided, I proceeded to carry out
my earlier intention of going over to the Van Norman house with the
reliquary. It was so late then that I had no thought of seeing
Madeleine, but--and this, Rob, is my confession--on the way there, I
still had a lingering thought that if I should see Madeleine I would
tell her the truth, and leave it to her generosity to set me free. And
it was this guilty knowledge--this shameful weakness on my part--that
added to my dismay and horror at finding her--as she was, in the
library. I read that awful paper,--I thought of course, then, she had
taken her own life, and I feared it was because she knew of my
falseness and treachery. This made me feel as if I were really her
murderer, quite as much as if I had struck the actual blow."

"Don't take it like that, Schuyler; that's morbid imagination. You
acted loyally to Miss Van Norman to the last, and though the whole
situation was most unfortunate, you were not really to blame. No man
can rule his own heart, and, any way, it is not for me to comment on
that side of the matter. But since you have spoken thus frankly of Miss
Burt, I must ask you how, with your slight acquaintance, you are so
sure she is worthy of your regard."

"Our acquaintance isn't so slight, Rob. She has been some time with
mother,--more than six months,--and we have been good friends from the
first. And I know her, perhaps by Love's intuition,--but I know her very
soul,--and she is the truest, sweetest nature God ever made."

"But--forgive me--she has impressed me as being not quite so frank and
ingenuous as she appears."

"That's only because you don't know her, and you judge by your own
uncertain and mistaken impressions."

"But--when she gave her evidence at the inquest--she seemed to hesitate,
and to waver as to what she should say. It did not have the ring of
truth, though her manner was charming and even naive."

"You misjudge her, Rob. I say this because I know it. And I can't blame
you, for, knowing of my engagement to Madeleine, you are quite right to
disapprove of my interest in another woman."

"It isn't disapproval exactly."

"Well, it isn't suspicion, is it? You don't think that Dorothy had any
hand in the tragedy, do you?" Carleton spoke savagely, with an abrupt
change from his former manner, and as he heard his friend's words, Rob
knew that he himself had no more suspicion of Dorthy Burt than he had
of Carleton. She had testified in a constrained, uncertain manner, but
that was not enough to rouse suspicion of her in any way.

"Of course not!" Fessenden declared heartily. "Don't be absurd. But
have I your permission to put a few questions to Miss Burt, not in your
presence?"

"Of course you have. I trust you to be kind and gentle with her, for
she is a sensitive little thing; but I know whatever you may say to
her, or she to you, will only make you see more clearly what a dear
girl she is."

Fessenden was far from sure of this, but, having gained Carleton's
permission to interview Miss Burt, he said no more about her just then.

For a long time the two men discussed the situation. But the more they
talked the less they seemed able to form any plausible theory of the
crime. At last Fessenden said, "There is one thing certain: if we are
to believe Harris's statement about the locks and bolts, no one could
have entered from the outside."

"No," said Carleton; "and so we're forced to turn our attention to some
one inside the house. But each one in turn seems so utterly impossible.
We cannot even suggest Mrs. Markham or Miss Morton--"

"I don't altogether like that Miss Morton. She acted queerly from the
beginning."

"Not exactly queerly; she is not a woman of good breeding or good
taste, but she only arrived that afternoon, and it's too absurd to
picture her stabbing her hostess that night."

"I don't care how absurd it is; she profited by Miss Van Norman's
death, and she was certainly avid to come into her inheritance at
once."

"Yes, I know," said Schuyler almost impatiently. "But I saw Miss Morton
when she first came downstairs, and though she was shocked, she really
did nobly in controlling herself, and even in directing others what to
do. You see, I was there, and I saw them all, and I'm sure that Miss
Morton had no more to do with that dreadful deed than I had."

"Then what about her burning that will as soon as Miss Van Norman was
dead?"

"I don't believe it was a will; and, in fact, I'm not sure she burned
anything."

"Oh, yes, she did; I heard that French maid's story, when she first
told it, and it was impossible to believe she was making it up.
Besides, Miss French saw Miss Morton rummaging in the desk."

"She is erratic, I think, and perhaps, not overrefined but I'm sure she
never could have been the one to do that thing. Why, that woman is
frightened at everything. She wouldn't dare commit a crime. She is
fearfully timid."

"Dismissing Miss Morton, then, let us take the others, one by one. I
think we may pass over Miss French and Miss Gardner. We have no reason
to think of Mr. Hunt in this connection, and this brings us down to the
servants."

"Not quite to the servants," said Carleton, with a peculiar look in his
eyes that caught Rob's attention.

"Not quite to the servants? What do you mean?"

Carleton said nothing, but with a troubled gaze he looked intently at
Fessenden.

"Cicely!" exclaimed Rob. "You think that?"

"I think nothing," said Carleton slowly, "and an innocent man who was
suspected, I hate to hint a suspicion of one who may be equally
innocent. But does it not seem to you there are some questions to be
answered concerning Miss Dupuy?" Fessenden sat thinking for a long
time. Surely these two men were just and even generous, and unwilling
to suspect without cause.

"There are points to be explained," said Rob slowly; "and, Schuyler,
since we are talking frankly, I must ask you this: do you know that
Miss Dupuy is very much in love with you?"

"How absurd! That cannot be. Why, I've scarcely ever spoken to the
girl."

"That doesn't matter--the fact remains. Now, you know she wrote that
paper which stated that she loved S., but he did not love her. That
initial designated yourself, and, because of this unfortunate
attachment, Cicely was of course jealous, or rather envious, of
Madeleine. I have had an interview with Miss Dupuy, in which she gave
me much more information about herself than she thought she did, and
one of the facts I discovered--from what she didn't say, rather than
what she did--was her hopeless infatuation for you."

"It's difficult to believe this, but now that you tell me it is true, I
can look back to some episodes which seem to indicate it. But I cannot
think it would lead to such desperate results."

"There's one thing certain: when we do find the criminal it will have
to be somebody we never would have dreamed of; for if there were any
probable person we would suspect him already. Now, merely for the sake
of argument, let us see if Cicely did not have 'exclusive opportunity'
as well as yourself. Remember she was the last one who saw Miss Van
Norman alive. I mean, so far as we have had any witness or evidence.
This fact in itself is always a matter for investigation. And granting
the fact of two women, both in love with you, one about to marry you,
and the other perhaps insanely jealous; a weapon at hand, no one else
astir in the house--is there not at least occasion for inquiry?"

Carleton looked aghast. He took up the story, and in a low voice said,
"I can add to that. When I came in, as Hunt has testified, Cicely was
leaning over the banister, still fully dressed. When I cried out for
help fifteen minutes later, Cicely was the first to run downstairs. She
asked no questions, she did not look toward the library, she glared
straight at me with an indescribable expression of fear and horror. I
cannot explain her attitude at that moment, but if this dreadful thing
we have dared to think of could be true, it would perhaps be a reason."

"And then, you know, she tried to get possession secretly of that slip
of paper, after it had served its purpose."

"Yes, and also after you, by clever observation, had discovered that
she wrote it, and not Madeleine."

"Their writing is strangely alike."

"Yes; even I was deceived, and I have seen much of Madeleine's writing.
Fessenden--this is an awful thing to hint--but do you suppose some of the
notes I have had purporting to be from Miss Van Norman could have been
written by Miss Dupuy?"

"Why not? Several people have said the secretary often wrote notes
purporting to be from the mistress."

"Oh, yes; formal society notes. But I don't mean that. I mean, do you
suppose Cicely could have written of her own accord--even unknown to
Madeleine--as if--as if, you know, it were Madeleine herself writing?"

"Oh, on purpose to deceive you!"

"Yes, on purpose to deceive me. It could easily be done. I've seen so
much of both their penmanship, and I never noticed it especially. I've
always taken it for granted that a purely personal note was written by
Madeleine herself. But now--I wonder."

"Do you mean notes of importance?"

"I mean notes that annoyed me. Notes that voluntarily referred to her
going driving or walking with Willard, when there was no real reason
for her referring to it Could it be that Cicely--bah! I cannot say it of
any woman!"

"I see your point; and it is more than possible that Miss Dupuy,
knowing of the strained relations between you and Miss Van Norman,
might have done anything she could to widen the breach. It would be
easy, as she wrote so much of the correspondence, to do this
unnoticed."

"Yes, that's what I mean. Often Madeleine's notes would contain a
gratuitous bit of information about her and Willard, and though she
frequently teased me when we were together, I was surprised at her
writing these things. I feel sure now that sometimes, at least, they
were the work of Miss Dupuy. I can't describe it exactly, but that
would explain lots of things otherwise mysterious."

"This is getting beyond us," said Rob, with a quick sigh. "I think it
my duty to report this to the coroner and to Detective Fairbanks, who
is officially on the case. I thought I liked detective work, but I
don't. It leads one toward too dreadful conclusions. Will you go with
me, Carleton? I shall go at once to Mr. Benson."

"No, I think it would be better for you to go alone. Remember I am
practically an accused man, and my word would be of little weight.
Moreover, you are a lawyer, and it is your right and duty to make these
things known. But unless forced to do so, I do not wish to testify
against Miss Dupuy." Remembering the girl's attitude toward Carleton,
Rob could not wonder at this, and he went off alone to the coroner's.

XX

Cicely's Flight

Mr. Benson was astounded at the turn affairs had taken; but though it
had seemed to him that all the evidence had pointed toward Carleton's
guilt, he was really relieved to find another outlet for his
suspicions. He listened attentively to what Fessenden said, and Rob was
careful to express no opinion, but merely to state such facts as he
knew in support of this new theory:

Detective Fairbanks was sent for, and he, too, listened eagerly to the
latest developments.

It seemed to Rob that Mr. Fairbanks was rather pleased than otherwise
to turn the trend of suspicion in another direction. And this was true,
for though the detective felt a natural reluctance to suspect a woman,
he had dreaded all along lest Carleton should be looked upon as a
criminal merely because there was no one else to be considered. And Mr.
Fairbanks's quick mind realized that if there were two suspects, there
yet might be three, or more, and Schuyler Carleton would at least have
a fair chance.

All things concerned seemed to have taken on a new interest, and Mr.
Fairbanks proposed to begin investigations at once.

"But I don't see," he complained, "why Mr. Carleton so foolishly
concealed that reliquary business. Why didn't he explain that at once?"

"Carleton is a peculiar nature," said Rob. "He is shrinkingly sensitive
about his private affairs, and, being innocent, he had no fear at first
that even suspicion would rest upon him, so he saw no reason to tell
about what would have been looked upon as a silly superstition. Had he
been brought to trial, he would doubtless have made a clean breast of
the matter. He is a strange man, any way; very self-contained,
abnormally sensitive, and not naturally frank. But if freed from
suspicion he will be more approachable, and may yet be of help to us in
our search."

"Of course, though," said Mr. Fairbanks thoughtfully, "you must realize
that to a disinterested observer this affair of Mr. Carleton and Miss
Burt does not help to turn suspicion away from him."

"I do realize that," said Rob; "but to an interested observer it looks
different. Why, if Mr. Carleton were the guilty man, he surely would
not tell me so frankly the story of his interest in Miss Burt."

This was certainly true, and Mr. Fairbanks agreed to it.

Rob had been obliged to tell the detective the facts of the case,
though dilating as little as possible on Carleton's private affairs.

"At any rate," said Mr. Fairbanks, "we will not consider Mr. Carleton
for the present, but turn toward the new trail, and it may lead us, at
least, in the right direction. If Miss Dupuy is innocent, our
investigations can do her no harm, and if she knows more than she has
told, we may be able to learn something of importance. But she is of
such a hysterical nature, it is difficult to hold a satisfactory
conversation with her."

"Perhaps it would be advisable for me to talk to her first," said Rob.
"I might put her more at her ease than a formidable detective could,
and then I could report to you what I learn."

"Yes," agreed the other; "you could choose an expedient time, and,
being in the same house, Miss French might help you."

"She could secure an interview for me quite casually, I am sure. And
then, if I don't succeed, you can insist upon an official session, and
question her definitely."

"There are indications," mused Mr. Fairbanks, "that accidental leaving
of such a paper on the table is a little unlikely. If it were done
purposely, it would be far easier to understand."

"Yes, and, granting there is any ground for suspicion, all Miss Dupuy's
hysterics and disinclination to answer questions would be explained."

"Well, I hate to suspect a woman,--but we won't call it suspicion; we'll
call it simply inquiry. You do what you can to get a friendly
interview, and, if necessary, I'll insist on an official one later."
Rob Fessenden went straight over to the Van Norman house, eager to tell
Kitty French the developments of the afternoon.

She was more than willing to revise her opinions, and was honestly glad
that Mr. Carleton was practically exonerated.

"Of course there's nothing official," said Rob, after he had told his
whole story, "but the burden of suspicion has been lifted from
Carleton, wherever it may next be placed."

At first Kitty was disinclined to think Cicely could be implicated.

"She's such a slip of a girl!" she said. "I don't believe that little
blue-eyed, yellow-haired thing could stab anybody."

"But you mustn't reason that way," argued Rob. "Opinions don't count at
all. We must try to get at the facts. Now let us go at once and
interview Miss Dupuy. Can't we see her in that sitting-room, as we did
before? And she mustn't be allowed to faint this time."

"We can't help her fainting," declared Kitty, a little indignantly.
"You're just as selfish as all other men. Everything must bow to your
will."

"I never pretended to any unmanly degree of unselfishness," said Rob
blandly. "But we must have this interview at once. Will you go ahead
and prepare the way?"

For answer Kitty ran upstairs and knocked at the door of what had been
Madeleine's sitting-room, where Miss Dupuy was usually to be found at
this hour of the day.

The door was opened by Marie, who replied to Kitty's question with a
frightened air.

"Miss Dupuy? She is gone away. On the train, with luggage."

"Gone! Why, when did she go?"

"But a half-hour since. She went most suddenly."

"She did indeed! Does Miss Morton know of this?"

"That I do not know, but I think so."

Kitty turned to find Fessenden behind her, and as he had overheard the
latter part of the conversation he came into the room and closed the
door.

"Marie," he said to the maid, "tell us your idea of why Miss Dupuy went
away."

"She was in fear," said Marie deliberately.

"In fear of what?"

"In fear of the detectives, and the questions they ask, and the
dreadful coroner man. Miss Dupuy is not herself any more; she is so in
fear she cannot sleep at night. Always she cries out in her dream."
Fessenden glanced at Kitty. "What does she say, Marie?" he asked.

"Nothing that I can understand, m'sieu; but always low cries of fear,
and sometimes she murmurs, 'I must go away! I cannot again answer those
dreadful questions. I shall betray my secret.' Over and over she
mutters that."

Fessenden began to grow excited. Surely this was evidence, and Cicely's
departure seemed to emphasize it. Without another word he went in
search of Miss Morton.

"Did you know Miss Dupuy was going away?" he said abruptly to her.

"Yes," she replied. "The poor girl is completely worn out. For the last
few days she has been looking over Madeleine's letters and papers and
accounts, and she is really overworked, besides the fearful nervous
strain we are all under."

"Where has she gone?"

"I don't know. I meant to ask her to leave an address, but she said she
would write to me as soon as she reached her destination, and I thought
no more about it."

"Miss Morton, she has run away. Some evidence has come to light that
makes it seem possible she may be implicated in Madeleine's death, and
her sudden departure points toward her guilt."

"Guilt! Miss Dupuy? Oh, impossible! She is a strange and emotional
little creature, but she couldn't kill anybody. She isn't that sort."

"I'm getting a little tired of hearing that this one or that one 'isn't
that sort.' Do you suppose anybody in decent society would ever be
designated as one who is that sort? Unless the murderer was some
outside tramp or burglar, it must have been some one probably not 'of
that sort.' But, Miss Morton, we must find Miss Dupuy, and quickly.
When did she go?"

"I don't know; some time ago, I think. I ordered the carriage to take
her to the station. Perhaps she hasn't gone yet--from the station, I
mean."

Rob looked at his watch. "Do you know anything about train times?" he
asked.

"No except that there are not very many trains in the afternoon. I
don't even know which way she is going."

Rob thought quickly. It seemed foolish to try to overtake the girl at
the railway station, but it was the only chance. He dashed downstairs,
and, catching up a cap as he rushed through the hall, he was out on the
road in a few seconds, and running at a steady, practised gait toward
the railroad. After he had gone a few blocks he saw a motor-car
standing in front of a house. He jumped in and said to the astonished
chauffeur, "Whiz me down to the railroad station, and I'll make it all
right with your master, and with you, too."

The machine was a doctor's runabout, and the chauffeur knew that the
doctor was making a long call, so he was not at all unwilling to obey
this impetuous and masterful young man. Away they went, doubtless
exceeding the speed limit, and in a short time brought up suddenly at
the railroad station.

Rob jumped out, flung a bill to the chauffeur, gave him a card to give
to his master, and waved a good-by as the motor-car vanished.

He strode into the station, only to be informed by the ticket-agent
that a train had left for New York about a quarter of an hour since,
and another would come along in about five minutes, which, though it
made no regular stop at Mapleton, could be flagged if desired.

A few further questions brought out the information that a young woman
corresponding to the description of Miss Dupuy had gone on that train.

Fessenden thought quickly. The second train, a fast one, he knew would
pass the other at a siding, and if he took it, he would reach New York
before Cicely did, and could meet her there when she arrived at the
station.

Had he had longer to consider, he might have acted differently, but on
the impulse of the moment, he bought a ticket, said, "Flag her,
please," and soon he was on the train actually in pursuit of the
escaping girl.

As he settled himself in his seat, he rather enjoyed the fact that he
was doing real detective, work now. Surely Mr. Fairbanks would be
pleased at his endeavors to secure the interview with Miss Dupuy under
such difficulties.

But his plan to meet her at the Grand Central Station was frustrated by
an unforeseen occurrence. His own train was delayed by a hot box, and
he learned that he would not reach New York until after Miss Dupuy had
arrived there.

Return from a way station was possible, but Rob didn't want to go back
to Mapleton with his errand unaccomplished.

He thought it over, and decided on a radical course of action.

Instead of alighting there himself, he wrote a telegram which he had
despatched from the way station to Miss Kitty French, and which ran:

Gone to New York. Make M. tell C.s address and wire me at the Waldorf.

It was a chance, but he took it and, any way, it meant only spending
the night in New York, and returning to Mapleton next day, if his plan
failed.

He had a strong conviction that Marie knew Cicely's address, although
she had denied it. If this were true, Kitty could possibly learn it
from her, and let him know in time to hunt up Cicely in New York. And
if Marie really did not know the address, there was no harm done, after
all.

The excitement of the chase stimulated Rob's mental activity, and he
gave rein to his imagination.

If Cicely Dupuy were guilty, she would act exactly as she had done, he
thought. A calmer, better-balanced woman would have stayed at Mapleton
and braved it out, but Miss Dupuy's excitable temperament would not let
her sleep or rest, and made it impossible for her to face inquiry
discreetly.

Rob purposed, if he received the address he hoped for, to go to see the
girl in New York, and by judicious kindliness of demeanor to learn more
from her about the case than she would tell under legal pressure.

As it turned out, whatever might be his powers of detective acumen, his
intuition regarding Marie's information was correct.

Kitty French, quickly catching the tenor of the telegram, took Marie
aside, and commanded her to give up the address. Marie volubly
protested and denied her knowledge, but Kitty was firm, and the
stronger will conquered.

Luckily, Marie at last told, and Kitty went herself to send the
telegram.

Marie accompanied her, as it was then well after dusk, but Kitty did
not permit the girl to enter the telegraph office with her.

And so, by ten o'clock that evening, Rob Fessenden received from the
hotel clerk a telegram bearing an address in West Sixty-sixth Street,
which not only satisfied his wish, but caused him to feel greatly
pleased at his own sagacity.

It was too late to go up there that evening, and so the amateur
detective was forced to curb his impatience until the next morning. He
was afraid the bird might have flown by that time, but there was no
help for it. He thought of telephoning, but he didn't know the name of
the people Cicely had gone to, and too, even if he could succeeded in
getting the call, such a proceeding would only startle her. So he
devoted the rest of the evening to writing a letter to Kitty French,
ostensibly to thank her for her assistance, but really for the pleasure
of writing her. This he posted at midnight, thinking that if he should
be detained longer than he anticipated, she would then understand why.

Next morning the eager young man ate his breakfast, and read his paper,
a bit impatiently, while he waited for it to be late enough to start.

Soon after nine, he called a taxicab and went to the address Kitty had
sent him.

Only the house number had been told in the message, so when Fessenden
found himself in the vestibule of an apartment house, with sixteen
names above corresponding bells, he was a bit taken aback.

"I wish I'd started earlier," he thought, "for it's a matter of trying
them all until I strike the right one."

But he fancied he could deduce something from the names themselves, at
least, for a start.

Eliminating one or two Irish sounding names, also a Smith and a Miller,
he concluded to try first two names which were doubtless French.

The first gave him no success at all, but, undiscouraged, he tried the
other.

"I wish to see Miss Dupuy," he said, to the woman who opened the door.

"She is not here," was the curt answer. But the intelligence in the
woman's eye at the mention of the name proved to Fessenden that at
least this was the place.

"Don't misunderstand," he said gently. "I want to see Miss Dupuy merely
for a few moments' friendly conversation. It will be for her advantage
to see me, rather than to refuse."

"But she is not here," repeated the woman. "There is no person of that
name in my house."

"When did she go?" asked Rob quietly--so quietly that the woman was
taken off her guard.

"About half an hour ago," she said, and then, with a horror-stricken
look at her own thoughtlessness, she added hastily, "I mean my friend
went. Your Miss Dupuy I do not know."

"Yes, you do," said Rob decidedly, "and as she has gone, you must tell
me at once where she went." The woman refused, and not until after a
somewhat stormy scene, and some rather severe threats on Fessenden's
part did she consent to tell that Cicely had gone to the Grand Central
Station. More than this she would not say, and thinking he was wasting
valuable time on her, Rob turned and, racing down the stairs, for there
was no elevator, he jumped in his cab and whizzed away to the station.

XXI

A Successful Pursuit

Before he entered the station he looked through the doorway, and to his
delight saw the girl for whom he was looking.

He did not rush madly into the station, but paused a moment, and then
walked in quietly, thinking that if his quest should be successful he
must not frighten the excitable girl.

Cicely sat on one of the benches in the waiting-room. In her dainty
travelling costume of black, and her small hat with its black veil, she
looked so fair and young that Rob felt sudden misgivings as to his
errand. But it must be done, and, quietly advancing, he took a seat
beside her.

"Where are you going, Miss Dupuy?" he asked in a voice which was kinder
and more gentle than he himself realized.

She looked up with a start, and said in a low voice, "Why do you follow
me? May I not be left alone to go where I choose?"

"You may, Miss Dupuy, if you will tell me where you are going, and give
me your word of honor that you will return if sent for."

"To be put through an examination! No, thank you. I'm going away where
I hope I shall never see a detective or a coroner again!"

"Are you afraid of them, Miss Dupuy?"

The girl gave him a strange glance; but it showed anxiety rather than
fear. However, her only reply was a low spoken "Yes."

"And why are you afraid?"

"I am afraid I may tell things that I don't want to tell." The girl
spoke abstractedly and seemed to be thinking aloud rather than
addressing her questioner.

It may be that Fessenden was influenced by her beauty or by the
exquisite femininity of her dainty contour and apparel, but aside from
all this he received a sudden impression that what this girl said did
not betoken guilt. He could not have explained it to himself, but he
was at the moment convinced that though she knew more than she had yet
told, Cicely Dupuy was herself innocent.

"Miss Dupuy," he said very earnestly, "won't you look upon me as a
friend instead of a foe? I am quite sure you can tell me more than you
have told about the Van Norman tragedy. Am I wrong in thinking you are
keeping something back?"

"I have nothing to tell," said Cicely, and the stubborn expression
returned to her eyes.

It did not seem a very appropriate place in which to carry on such a
personal conversation, but Fessenden thought perhaps the very publicity
of the scene might tend to make Miss Dupuy preserve her equanimity
better than in a private house. So he went on:


"Yes, you have several things to tell me, and I want you to tell me
now. The last time I talked to you about this matter I asked you why
you gave false evidence as to the time that Mr. Carleton entered the
Van Norman house that evening, and you responded by fainting away. Now
you must tell me why that question affected you so seriously."

"It didn't. I was nervous and overwrought, and I chanced to faint just
then."

Fessenden saw that this explanation was untrue, but had been thought up
and held ready for this occasion. He saw, too, that the girl held
herself well in hand, so he dared to be more definite in his inquiries.

"Do you know. Miss Dupuy, that you are seriously incriminating yourself
when you give false evidence?"

"I don't care," was the answer, not flippantly given, but with an
earnestness of which the speaker herself seemed unaware.

And Fessenden was a good enough reader of character to perceive that
she spoke truthfully.

The only construction he could put upon this was that, as he couldn't
help believing, the girl was innocent and therefore feared no
incriminating evidence against her.

But in that case what was she afraid of, and why was she running away?

"Miss Dupuy," he began, starting on a new tack, "please show more
confidence in me. Will you answer me more straightforwardly if I assure
you of my belief in your own innocence? I will not conceal from you the
fact that not every one is so convinced of that as I am, and so I look
to you for help to establish it.

"Establish what? My innocence?" said Cicely, and now she looked
bewildered, rather than afraid. "Does anybody think that I killed Miss
Van Norman?"

"Without going so far as to say any one thinks so, I will tell you that
they think there are indications that point to such a thing."

"How absurd!" said Cicely, and the honesty of her tone seemed to verify
Fessenden's conviction that whatever guilty knowledge this girl might
possess, she herself was innocent of crime.

"If it is an absurd idea, then why not return to Mapleton and answer
any queries that may be put to you? You are innocent, therefore you
have nothing to fear."

"I have a great deal to fear."

The girl spoke gently, even sadly, now. She seemed full of anxiety and
sorrow, that yet showed no trace of apprehension for herself.

All at once a light broke upon Fessenden. She was shielding somebody.
Nor was it hard to guess who it might be!

"Miss Dupuy," began Rob again, eagerly this time, "I have succeeded in
establishing, practically, Mr. Carleton's innocence. May I not likewise
establish your own?"

"Mr. Carleton's innocence!" repeated the girl, clasping her hands. "Oh,
is that true? Then who did do it?"

"We don't know yet," went on Rob, hastening to make the most of the
advantage he had gained; "but having assured you that it was not
Schuyler Carleton, will you not tell me what it is you have been
keeping secret?"

"How do you know Mr. Carleton is innocent? Have you proved it? Has some
one else confessed?"

"No, no one has confessed. And, indeed, I may as well own up that no
one is quite so sure of Mr. Carleton's innocence as I am myself. But I
am sure of it, and I'm going to prove it. Now, will you not help me to
do so?"

"How can I help you?"

"By explaining that discrepancy in time, so far as you can. You
testified that Mr. Carleton entered the house at half-past eleven, and
Mr. Hunt said he came in at quarter-past. What made you tell that
falsehood, and stick to it?"

"Why, nothing," exclaimed Cicely, "except that I thought I saw Mr.
Carleton come into the house some little time before he cried out for
help. I was looking over the baluster when Mr. Hunt said he saw me, and
I, too, thought it was Mr. Carleton who came in then."

"It was Mr. Carleton, but he has satisfactorily explained why he came
in, and what he was doing until the time when he called out for help.
Why did you not tell us about this at first?"

"I was afraid--afraid they might connect Mr. Carleton with the murder,
and I was afraid--"

"You were afraid that he really had done the deed?"

"Yes," said Cicely in a very low voice, but with an intonation that
left no doubt of her truthfulness.

"Then," said Rob in his kindest way, "you may set your mind at rest.
Mr. Carleton is no longer under actual suspicion, and you may go away,
as you intended, for a few days' rest. I should be glad to have your
address, though I trust it will not be necessary for me to send for
you; and I know you will not be called to witness against Schuyler
Carleton."

Cicely gave the required address, and though they continued the
conversation for a short time, Rob concluded that the girl knew nothing
that actually bore on the case. Her own false evidence and nervous
apprehension had all been because of her anxiety about Mr. Carleton,
and her fear that he had really been the murderer. Her written paper,
and all the evidences of her jealousy of Miss Van Norman, were the
result of her secret and unrequited love for the man, and her attempted
flight was only because she feared that her uncontrollable emotion and
impulsive utterances might help to incriminate him.

Fessenden was truly sorry for her, and glad that she could go away from
the trying scenes for a time. He felt sure that she would come, if
summoned, for now, relieved of her doubt of Carleton, she had no reason
for refusing any testimony she could give.

It was in a kindly spirit that he bade her good-by, and promised to use
every effort not only to establish Carleton's innocence, but to
discover the guilty one.

When Fessenden returned to the Van Norman house, several people were
awaiting him in the library. Miss Morton and Kitty French were there,
also Coroner Benson and Detective Fairbanks.

"Were you too late?" asked Kitty, as Rob entered the room.

"No, not too late. I found Miss Dupuy in the Grand Central station, and
I had a talk with her."

"Well?" said Kitty impatiently.

"She is as innocent as you or I."

"How did you find it out so quickly?" inquired Mr. Fairbanks, who had a
real liking for the enthusiastic young fellow.

"Why, I found out that she was hanging over the baluster, as Hunt said;
and she did see Carleton come in at quarter after eleven. She then went
back to her room, and heard Carleton cry out at half-past eleven, and
when she discovered what had happened she suspected Carleton of the
deed; and, endeavoring to shield him, she refused to give evidence that
might incriminate him."

"But," cried Kitty, "of course Mr. Carleton didn't do it if Cicely
did."

"But don't you see, Miss French," said the older detective, as
Fessenden sat staring in blank surprise at what he deemed Kitty's
stupidity--"don't you see that if Miss Dupuy suspected Mr. Carleton she
couldn't by any possibility be guilty herself."

"Why, of course she couldn't!" exclaimed Kitty. "And I'm truly glad,
for I can't help liking that girl, if she is queer. But, then, who did
do it?" Suspicion was again at a standstill. There was no evidence to
point anywhere; there were no clues to follow, and no one had any
suggestion to offer.

It was at this juncture that Tom Willard and Schuyler Carleton came in
together.

They were told of Fessenden's interview with Miss Dupuy at the station,
and Carleton expressed himself as thoroughly glad that the girl was
exonerated. He said little, however, for it was a delicate subject,
since it all hinged on Miss Dupuy's affection for himself.

Tom Willard listened to Fessenden's recital, but he only said that
nothing would ever have induced him to suspect Miss Dupuy, any way, for
it could not have been the deed of a fragile young girl.

"The blow that killed Maddy was powerfully dealt," said Tom; "and I
can't help thinking it was some tramp or professional burglar who was
clever enough to elude Harris's fastenings. Or some window may have
been overlooked that night. At any rate, we have no more plausible
theory."

"We have not," said Mr. Fairbanks; "but I for one am not content to let
the matter rest here. I should like to suggest that we call in some
celebrated detective, whose experience and skill would discover what is
beyond the powers of Mr. Fessenden and myself."

Rob felt flattered that Mr. Fairbanks classed him with himself, and
felt anxious too that the suggestion of employing a more skilful
detective should be carried out.

"But," objected Coroner Benson, "to engage a detective of high standing
would entail considerable expense, and I'm not sure that I'm authorized
to sanction this."

There was a silence, but nearly every one in the room was thinking that
surely this was the time for Tom Willard to make use of his lately
inherited Van Norman money.

Nor was Willard delinquent. Though showing no overwillingness in the
matter, he said plainly that he would be glad if Coroner Benson or Mr.
Fairbanks would engage the services of the best detective they could
find, and allow him to defray all expenses attendant thereon.

At this a murmur of approval went round the room. All his hearers were
at their wits' end what to do next, and the opportunity of putting a
really great detective on the case was welcome indeed.

"But I don't believe," said Willard, "that he will find out anything
more than our own men have discovered." The appreciative glance Tom
gave Mr. Fairbanks and Rob quite soothed whatever touch of jealousy
they may have felt of the new detective.

It was Carleton who suggested Fleming Stone.

He did not know the man personally, but he had read and heard of the
wonderful work he had done in celebrated cases all over the country.

Of course they had all heard of Fleming Stone, and each felt a thrill
of gratitude to Willard, whose wealth made it possible to employ the
great detective.

Mr. Fairbanks wasted no time, but wrote at once to Fleming Stone, and
received a reply stating that he would arrive in Mapleton in a few
days.

But in the meantime Rob Fessenden could not be idle.

In truth, he had a secret ambition to solve the mystery himself, before
the great detective came, and to this end he stayed on in Mapleton, and
racked his brain for ideas on the subject.

Mr. Fairbanks was more easily discouraged, and frankly confessed the
case was beyond his powers.

Privately, he still suspected Mr. Carleton, but in the face of Rob's
faith in his friend, and also because of the demeanor of Carleton
himself, he couldn't avow his suspicions.

For since Fessenden's assertions of confidence, Carleton had changed in
his attitude toward the world at large.

Still broken and saddened by the tragedy, he did not show that abject
and self-condemnatory air which had hung round him during the inquest
week.

Kitty French had almost recovered faith in him, and had there been any
one else at all to suspect, she would have asserted her belief in his
innocence.

Carleton himself seemed baffled. His suspicions had been directed
toward Cicely, because he could see no other possibility; but the proof
of her suspicions of himself, of course, showed he was wrong in the
matter.

He could suggest nothing; he could think of nobody who might have done
the deed, and he was thoroughly content to place the whole affair
unreservedly in the hands of Fleming Stone.

Indeed, every one seemed to be glad of the expected help, if we except
Fessenden. He was restlessly eager to do something himself, and saw no
reason why he shouldn't keep on trying until Stone came.

XXII

A Talk With Miss Morton

Of course Fessenden confided his wishes to Kitty French. Equally of
course, that obliging young woman was desirous of helping him attain
them. But neither of them could think of new lines of investigation to
pursue.

"We've no clue but that little cachou," said Miss French, by way of
summing up; "and as that's no good at all, we have really nothing that
can be called a clue."

"No," agreed Rob, "and we have no suspect. Now that Carleton and Miss
Dupuy are both out of it, I don't see who could have done it."

"I never felt fully satisfied about Miss Morton and her burned paper,"
said Kitty thoughtfully.

They were walking along a village road while carrying on this
conversation, so there was no danger of Miss Morton's overhearing them.

"I've never felt satisfied about that woman, any way," said Rob. "The
oftener I see her the less I like her. She's too smug and complacent.
And yet when she was questioned, she went all to pieces."

"Well, as she flatly contradicted what Marie had said, of course they
couldn't keep on questioning her. You can't take a servant's word
against a lady's."

"You ought to, in a serious case like this. I say, Kitty, let's go
there now and have a heart-to-heart talk with her."

Kitty laughed at the idea of a heart-to-heart talk between those two
people, but said she was willing to go.

"It mayn't amount to anything," went on Rob, "and yet, it may. I've
asked Mr. Fairbanks to chase up that burned paper matter, but he said
there was nothing in it. He didn't hear Marie's story, you see,--he only
heard it retold, and he doesn't know how sincere that girl seemed to be
when she told about it."

"Yes, and I saw Miss Morton in Maddy's room, too. I think she ought to
tell what she was up to." So to the Van Norman house went the two
inquisitors, and had Miss Morton known of their fell designs she might
not have greeted them as cordially as she did.


Miss Morton had grown fond of Kitty French during the girl's stay with
her, and she looked with approval on the fast-growing friendship
between her and young Fessenden.

As the hostess at the Van Norman house, too, Miss Morton showed a
kindly hospitality, and though she was without doubt eccentric, and
sometimes curt of speech, she conducted the household and directed the
servants with very little friction or awkwardness.

She was most friendly toward Tom Willard and Schuyler Carleton, and the
latter often dropped in at the tea hour. Fessenden dropped in at any
hour of the day, and of course Mr. Fairbanks came and went as he chose.

Fessenden and Kitty found Miss Morton in the library, and, as they had
decided beforehand, went straight to the root of the matter.

"Miss Morton," Fessenden began, "I want to do a little more questioning
on my own account, before Mr. Fleming Stone arrives. I'm sure you won't
object to helping me out a bit by answering a few queries."

"Go ahead," said Miss Morton grimly, but not unkindly.

"They are a bit personal," went on Rob, who was at a loss how to begin,
now that he was really told to do so.

"Well?"

This time, Miss Morton's tone was more crisp, and Kitty began to see
that Rob was on the wrong tack. So she took the helm herself, and said,
with a winning smile:

"We want you to tell us frankly what was the paper you burned."

Something in Miss Morton's expression went to the girl's heart, and she
added impulsively:

"I know it wasn't anything that affects the case at all, and if you
want to refuse us, you may."

"I'd rather not tell you," said Miss Morton, and a far-away look came
into her strange eyes; "but since you have shown confidence in me, I
prefer to return it."

She took Kitty's hand in hers, and from the gentle touch the girl was
sure that whatever was the nature of the coming confidence, it was not
that of a guilty conscience.

"As you know, Kitty," she began, addressing the girl, though she
glanced at Rob occasionally, "many years ago I was betrothed to Richard
Van Norman. We foolishly allowed a trifling quarrel to separate us for
life. I will not tell you the story of that now,--though I will, some
time, if you care to hear it. But we were both quick-tempered, and the
letters that passed between us at that time were full of hot, angry,
unconsidered words. They were letters such as no human beings ought to
have written to each other. Perhaps it was because of their exceeding
bitterness, which we read and reread, that we never made up that
quarrel, though neither of us ever loved any one else, or ceased to
love the other. At the death of Richard Van Norman, two years or more
ago, I burned his letters which I had kept so long, and I wrote to
Madeleine, asking her to return mine to me if they should be found
among her uncle's papers."

"Dear Miss Morton," said Kitty, "don't tell any more if it pains you.
We withdraw our request, don't we, Rob?"

"Yes, indeed," said Fessenden heartily; "forgive us, Miss Morton, for
what is really an intrusion, and an unwarrantable one."

"I want to tell you a little more," Miss Morton resumed, "and afterward
I'll tell you why I've told it. Madeleine replied with a most kind
letter, saying she had not found the letters, but should she ever do
so, she would send them to me. About a year ago, she wrote and asked me
to come here to see her. I came, thinking she had found those letters.
She had not, but she had found her uncle's diary, which disclosed his
feelings toward me, both before and after our quarrel, and she told me
then she intended to leave this place to me in her will, because she
thought it ought to be mine. Truth to tell, I didn't take much interest
in this bequest, for I supposed the girl would long outlive me. But I
had really no desire for the house without its master, and though I
didn't tell her so, I would rather have had the letters which I hoped
she had found, than the news of her bequest."

"Why did you want the letters so much, Miss Morton?" asked Kitty.

"Because, my dear, they were a disgrace to me. They would be a disgrace
to any woman alive. You, my child, with your gentle disposition, can't
understand what dreadful cruelty an angry woman can be guilty of on
paper. Well, again Madeleine told me she would give me the letters if
they ever appeared, and I went home. I didn't hear from her again till
shortly before her wedding, when she wrote me that the letters had been
found in a secret drawer of Richard's old desk. She invited me to come
to her wedding, and said that she would then give me the letters. Of
course I came, and that afternoon that I arrived she told me they were
in her desk, and she would give them to me next morning. I was more
than impatient for them,--I had waited forty years for them,--but I
couldn't trouble her on her wedding eve. And then--when--when she went
away from us, without having given them into my possession, I was so
afraid they would fall into other hands, that I went in search of them.
I found them in her desk, I took them to my room and burned them
without reading them. And that is the true story of the burned papers.
I did look over a memorandum book, thinking it might tell where they
were. But right after that I found the letters themselves in the next
compartment, and I took them. They were mine."

The dignified complacency with which Miss Morton uttered that last
short sentence commanded the respect of her hearers.

"Indeed, they were yours, Miss Morton," said Fessenden, "and I'm glad
you secured them, before other eyes saw them."

Kitty said nothing, but held Miss Morton's hand in a firm, gentle
pressure that seemed to seal their friendship.

"But," said Fessenden, a little diffidently, "why didn't you tell all
this at the inquest as frankly as you have told us?"

Miss Morton paled, and then grew red.

"I am an idiot about such things," she said. "When questioned publicly,
like that, I am so embarrassed and also so fearful that I scarcely know
what I say. I try to hide this by a curt manner and a bravado of
speech, with the result that I get desperate and say anything that
comes into my head, whether it's the truth or not. I not only told
untruths, but I contradicted myself, when witnessing, but I couldn't
seem to help it. I lost control of my reasoning powers, and finally I
felt my only safety was in denying it all. For--and this was my greatest
fear--I thought they might suspect that I killed Madeleine, if they knew
I did burn the papers. Afterward, I would have confessed that I had
testified wrongly, but I couldn't see how it would do any good."

"No," said Rob slowly, "except to exonerate Marie of falsehood."

Miss Morton set her lips together tightly, and seemed unwilling to
pursue that subject.

"And now," she said, "the reason I've told you two young people this,
is because I want to warn you not to let a quarrel or a foolish
misunderstanding of any sort come between you to spoil the happiness
that I see is in store for you."

"Good for you! Miss Morton!" cried Rob. "You're a brick! You've
precipitated matters a little; Kitty and I haven't put it into words as
yet, but--we accept these preliminary congratulations,--don't we, dear?"

And foolish little Kitty only smiled, and buried her face on Miss
Morton's shoulder instead of the young man's!

And so, Miss Morton's name was erased from Rob's list of people to be
inquired of, and, as he acknowledged to himself, he was quite ready now
to turn over his share in the case to Fleming Stone.

And, too, since Miss Morton had given a gentle push to the rolling
stone of his affair with Kitty, it rolled faster, and the two young
people had their heart-to-heart talks with each other, instead of
adding a third to the interview.

But there was just one more unfinished duty that Fessenden determined
to attend to. Carleton had assured him that he was at liberty to talk
to Dorothy Burt, if he chose, and Rob couldn't help thinking that he
ought to get all possible light on the case before Mr. Stone came; for
he proposed to assist that gentleman greatly by his carefully tabulated
statements, and his cross-referenced columns of evidence.

So, unaccompanied by Kitty, who was apt to prove a disturbing influence
on his concentration of mind, he interviewed Miss Burt.

It was not difficult to get an opportunity, as she rarely left the
house, and Mrs. Carleton was not exigent in her demands on her
companion's time.

So the two strolled in the rose-garden late one afternoon, and Rob
asked Miss Burt to tell him why she hesitated so when on the witness
stand, and why she looked at Carleton with such unmistakable glances of
inquiry, which he as certainly answered.

Dorothy Burt replied to the questions as frankly as they were put.

"To explain it to you, Mr. Fessenden," she said, "I must first tell you
that I loved Mr. Carleton even while Miss Van Norman was his affianced
bride. I tell you this simply, both because it is the simple truth and
because Mr. Carleton advised me to tell you, if you should ask me. And,
knowing this, you may be surprised to learn that when I heard of Miss
Van Norman's death, I--" she raised her wonderful eyes and looked
straight at Rob--"I thought she died by Schuyler's hand. Yes, you may
well look at me in surprise,--I know it was dreadful of me to think he
could have done it, but--I did think so. You see, I loved him,--and I
knew he loved me. He had never told me so, had never breathed a word
that was disloyal to Miss Van Norman,--and yet I knew. And that last
evening in this very rose-garden, on the night before his wedding, we
walked here together, and I knew from what he didn't say, not from what
he did say, that it was I whom he loved, and not she. He left me with a
few cold, curt words that I knew only too well masked his real
feelings, and I saw him no more that night. He had told me he was going
over to Miss Van Norman's, and so, when I heard of the--the tragedy--I
couldn't help thinking he had yielded to a sudden terrible impulse. Oh,
I'm not defending myself for my wrong thought of him; I'm only
confessing that I did think that."

"And how did you learn that you were mistaken," said Rob gently, "and
that Schuyler didn't do it?"

"Why, the very next night he told me he loved me," said the girl, her
face alight with a tender glory, "and then I knew!"

"And your embarrassment at the questions on the witness stand?"

"Was only because I knew suspicion was directed toward him, and I
feared I might say something to strengthen it, even while trying to do
the opposite."

"And you didn't care whether you told the truth or not?"

"If the truth would help to incriminate Schuyler, I would prefer not to
tell it."

The gentle sadness in Dorothy's tone robbed this speech of the jarring
note it would otherwise have held.

"You are right, Miss Burt," said Rob, "and I thank you for the frank
confidence you have shown in talking to me as freely as you have done."

"Schuyler told me to," said the girl simply.

XXIII

Fleming Stone

When Fessenden told Kitty of his interview with Dorothy Burt, she
agreed that he had now followed every trail that had presented itself,
or had been suggested by anybody.

Mr. Fairbanks, too, admitted that he was at his wits' end, and saw no
hope of a solution of the mystery except through the services of
Fleming Stone. And so when the great detective arrived, both Fairbanks
and Fessenden were ready to do anything they could to help him, but had
no suggestions to make.

With her ever-ready hospitality, Miss Morton invited Mr. Stone to make
his home at the Van Norman house, and, as this quite coincided with his
own wishes, Stone took up his quarters there.

The first evening of his arrival he listened to the details of the
case.

Fleming Stone was of a most attractive personality. He was nearly fifty
years old, with graying hair and a kindly, responsive face.

At dinner he had won the admiration of all by his tact and interesting
conversation. At the table the business upon which he had come had not
been mentioned, but now the group assembled in the library felt that
the time had come to talk of the matter.

It was a strangely-assorted household. Tom Willard, though the only
relative of the Van Normans present, was in no way the head of the
house. That position was held by Miss Morton, who, though kind-hearted
and hospitable, never let it be forgotten that she was owner and
mistress of the mansion.

Kitty French was an honored guest, and as Miss Morton had invited her
to stay as long as she would, she had determined now to stay through
Mr. Stone's sojourn there, after which, whatever the results of his
work, she would go back to her home in New York.

Fessenden and Schuyler Carleton had been with them at dinner, and Mr.
Benson and Mr. Fairbanks had come later, and now the group waited only
on Mr. Stone's pleasure to begin the recital of the case.

When Fleming Stone, then, asked Coroner Benson to give him the main
facts, it seemed as if the great detective's work was really about to
begin.

"Would you rather see Mr. Benson alone?" asked Schuyler Carleton,
actuated, doubtless, by his own shrinking from any publicity.

"Not at all," said Stone briefly. "I prefer that you all should feel
free to speak whenever you wish."

Then Mr. Benson set forth in a concise way and in chronological order
the facts as far as they were known, the suspicions that had been
entertained and given up; and deplored the entire lack of clue or
evidence that might lead to investigation in any definite direction.

The others, as Mr. Stone had suggested, made remarks when they chose,
and the whole conversation was of an informal and colloquial nature. It
seemed dominated by Fleming Stone's mind. He drew opinions from one or
another, until before they realized it every one present had taken part
in the recital. And to each Fleming Stone listened with deference and
courtesy. The coroner's legal phrases, Fessenden's impetuous
suggestions, Tom's blunt remarks, Carleton's half-timid utterances,
Kitty's volatile sallies, and even Miss Morton's futile observations,
all were listened to and responded to by Fleming Stone with an air of
deep interest and consideration.

As the hour grew late Mr. Stone said that he felt thoroughly acquainted
with the facts of the case so far as they could be told to him. He said
he could express no opinion nor offer any suggestion that night, but
that he hoped to come to some conclusions on the following day; and if
they would all meet him in the same place the next evening, he would
willingly disclose whatever he might have learned or discovered in the
meantime. This put an end to the conversation, and Mr. Benson and Mr.
Fairbanks went home. The ladies went to their rooms, and Carleton,
Fessenden and Willard sat up for an hour's smoke with Fleming Stone,
who entertained them with talk on subjects far removed from murder or
sudden death.

The next morning Fleming Stone expressed a desire to be shown all the
rooms in the house.

"In a case like this," he said, "with no definite dues to follow, the
only thing to do is to examine the premises in hope of happening upon
something suggestive."

Kitty was eager to be Mr. Stone's guide, and easily obtained Miss
Morton's permission to go into all the rooms of the old mansion.

Fessenden went with them, and though the tour of the sleeping-rooms was
quickly made, it was evident that the quick eye of the detective took
in every detail that was visible. He stayed longer in Madeleine's
sitting-room, but, though he picked up a few papers from her desk and
glanced at them, he showed no special interest in the room.

Downstairs they went then, and found Mr. Fairbanks in the library,
awaiting them. He brought no news or fresh evidence, and had merely
called in hope of seeing Mr. Stone.

The great detective was most frank and kindly toward his lesser
colleague, and made him welcome with a genial courtesy.

"I'm going to make a thorough examination of these lower rooms," said
Fleming Stone, "and I should be glad of the assistance of you two
younger men. My eyes are not what they once were."

Mr. Fairbanks and Rob well knew that this statement was merely an idle
compliment to themselves; for the eyes of Fleming Stone had never yet
missed a clue, however obscurely hidden.

But Kitty, ignorant of the principles of professional etiquette, really
thought that Fleming Stone was depending on his two companions for
assistance.

Tom Willard had gone out, and Miss Morton was looking after her
all-important housekeeping, so the three men and Kitty French were
alone in the library.

In his quick, quiet way Fleming Stone went rapidly round the room. He
examined the window fixtures and curtains, the mantel and fireplace,
the furniture and carpet, and came to a standstill by the library
table. The dagger, which was kept in a drawer of the table, was shown
to him, but though he examined it a moment, it seemed to have little
interest for him.

"There's not a clue in this room," he said almost indignantly. "There
probably were several the morning after the murder, but the thorough
sweepings and dustings since have obliterated every trace."

Somewhat abruptly he went into the large hall. Here his proceedings in
the library were duplicated. "Nothing at all," he said; "but what could
be expected in a room which is a general thoroughfare?"

Then he went into the drawing-room. The other three followed, feeling
rather depressed at the hopeless outlook, and a little disappointed in
the great detective.

Stone glanced around the large apartment.

"Swept, scrubbed, and polished," he declared, as he glanced with
disfavor at the immaculate room.

"And indeed it was quite necessary," said Miss Morton, who entered just
then. "After all those vines and flowers were taken away, and as a good
deal of the furniture was out, I took occasion for a good bit of
house-cleaning."

"Well," said Fleming Stone quietly, "there's one clue they didn't sweep
away. Here is where the assassin entered."

As he spoke Mr. Stone was leaning against the mantel and looking down
at the immaculately brushed hearth.

"Where?" cried Kitty, darting forward, and though the others gave no
voice to their curiosity, they waited breathlessly for Stone's next
utterance.

The hearth and the whole fireplace were tiled, and in the floor tiling,
under the andirons, was a rectangular iron plate with an oval opening
closed by an iron cover. This cover was hinged, and could be raised and
thrown back to permit ashes to be swept into the chute. The iron plate
was sunk flush with the hearth and cemented into the brick-work, and
the cover fitted into the rim so closely that scarce a seam showed.

"He came up through this hole in the fireplace," said Stone, almost as
if talking to himself, "very soon after Miss Dupuy went upstairs at
half-past ten. Before Mr. Carleton arrived at quarter after eleven, the
murderer had finished his work, and had departed by this same means."

While the others stood seemingly struck dumb by this revelation, Kitty
excitedly flew to the fireplace and tried to raise the iron lid, but
the andirons were in the way. Rob set them aside for her, while Stone
said quietly, "Those andirons were probably not there that night?"

"No," exclaimed Kitty; "they had been taken away, because we expected
to fill the fireplace with flowers the next day."

"But how could anybody get in the cellar?" asked Miss Morton, looking
bewildered.

"The cellar is never carefully locked," said Fleming Stone. "I came
downstairs early this morning, and before breakfast Harris had shown me
all through the cellar. He admits that several windows are always left
open for the sake of ventilation, and claims that the carefully locked
door in the hall at the head of the cellar stairs precludes all danger
from that direction."

"But I don't understand," said Mr. Fairbanks perplexedly. "If that
opening is an ash-chute, such as I have in my own house, it is all
bricked up down below, with the exception of a small opening for the
removal of the ashes, and it would be quite impossible for any one to
climb up through it."

"But this one isn't bricked up," said Fleming Stone. "It was originally
intended to be enclosed; but it seems this fireplace is rarely used.
Harris tells me that the late Mr. Van Norman used to talk about having
the chute completed, and having a fire here more often. But the library
wood fire was more attractive as a family gathering place, and this
formal room was used only on state occasions. However, as you see," and
Mr. Stone raised the iron lid again, "this opens directly into the
cellar, and, I repeat, formed the means of entrance for the murderer of
Madeleine Van Norman."

Fleming Stone's voice and manner were far from triumphant or jubilant
at his discovery. He seemed rather to state the fact with regret, but
as if it must be told.

Mr. Fairbanks looked amazed and thoughtful, but Rob Fessenden was
frankly incredulous.

"Mr. Stone," he said respectfully, "I am sure you know what you're
talking about, but will you tell me how a man could get up through that
hole? It doesn't seem to me that a small-sized boy could squeeze
through."

Fleming Stone took a silver-cased tape-measure from his pocket, and
handed it to Rob without a word.

Eagerly stooping on the hearth, Rob measured the oval opening in the
iron plate. Although the rectangular plate was several inches larger
each way, the oval opening measured exactly nine and one-half inches by
thirteen and one-half inches.

"Who could get through that?" he inquired, as he announced the figures.
"I'm sure I couldn't."

"And Schuyler Carleton is a larger man than you are," observed Mr.
Fairbanks.

"That lets Tom Willard out, too," said Rob, with a slight smile; "for
he's nearly six feet tall, and weighs more than two hundred pounds."

"The only man I know of," said Mr. Fairbanks thoughtfully, "who could
come up through that hole is Slim Jim."

"Who is Slim Jim?" cried Rob quickly. "Go for him; he is the man!"

"Not so fast," said Mr. Fairbanks. "Slim Jim is a noted burglar and a
suspected murderer, but he is safely in prison at present and has been
for some months."

"But he may have escaped," exclaimed Rob. "Are you sure he hasn't?"

"I haven't heard anything about him of late; but if he is or has been
away from the prison, it can be easily found out."

"Isn't it unlikely," said Fleming Stone quietly, "that a noted burglar
should enter a house and commit murder, without making any attempt to
steal?"

"He may have been frightened away by the sound of Schuyler's
latch-key," suggested Rob, and Kitty looked at him with pride in his
ingenuity, and thought how much cleverer he was, after all, than the
celebrated Fleming Stone.

Fessenden urged Mr. Fairbanks to go at once and look up the whereabouts
of Slim Jim, and the detective was strongly inclined to go.

"Go, by all means, if you choose," said Fleming Stone pleasantly.
"There's really nothing further to do here in the way of examination of
the premises. I do not mind saying that my own suspicions are not
directed toward Slim Jim, but my own suspicions are by no means an
infallible guide. I will ask you, though, gentlemen, not to say
anything about this ash-chute matter to-day. I consider it is my right
to request this. Of course you can find out all about Slim Jim without
stating how he entered the house."

The two men promised not to say anything about the ash-chute to
anybody, and hot upon the trail of the suspected burglar they went
away.

Miss Morton excused herself, and upon Kitty French fell the burden of
entertaining Mr. Stone. Nor was this young woman dismayed at the task.

Though not loquacious, the detective was an easy and pleasant talker,
and he seemed quite ready to converse with the girl as if he had no
other occupation on hand.

"How wonderful you are!" said Kitty, clasping her hands beneath her
chin as she looked at the great man. "To think of your spotting that
fireplace thing right away! Though of course I never should have
thought of anybody squeezing up through there. And Rob and I spent a
whole morning searching these rooms for clues, and that was only the
day after it happened."

"What an opportunity!" Stone seemed interested. "And didn't you find
anything--not anything?"

"No, not a thing. We were so disappointed. Oh, yes, Rob did find one
little thing, but it was so little and so silly that I guess he forgot
all about it."

"What was it?"

"Why, I've almost forgotten the name. Oh, yes, Rob said it was a
cachou--a little silver thing, you know, like a tiny pill. Rob says some
men eat them after they've been smoking. But he asked all the men that
ever came here, and they all said they didn't use them. Maybe the
burglar dropped it."

"Maybe he did. Where did you find it?"

"Rob found it. It was right in that corner by the mantel, just near the
fireplace."

Fleming Stone stood up. "Miss French," said he, "if it is any
satisfaction to you, you may know that you have helped me a great deal
in my work. Will you excuse me now, as I find I have important business
elsewhere?"

Kitty smiled and bowed politely, but after Mr. Stone had left her she
wondered what she could have said or done that helped him; and she
wondered, too, what had caused that unspeakably sad look in his eyes as
he went away.

XXIV

A Confession

Mr. Taylor, the landlord of the Mapleton Inn, showed a pleased surprise
when Fleming Stone walked into his hotel and approached the desk. The
men had never met, but everybody in Mapleton knew that Fleming Stone
was in town, and had heard repeated and accurate descriptions of his
appearance.

"Perhaps you can spare half an hour for a smoke and a chat," said Stone
affably, and though Mr. Taylor heartily agreed, he did not confess that
he could easily have spared half a day or more had the great detective
asked him.

In the landlord's private office they sat down for a smoke, and soon
the conversation, without effort, drifted around to the Van Norman
affair.

Unlike detectives of fiction, Fleming Stone was by no means secretive
or close-mouthed. Indeed he was discursive, and Mr. Taylor marvelled
that such a great man should indulge in such trivial gossip. They
talked of old Richard Van Norman and the earlier days of the Van Norman
family.

"You've lived here a long time, then?" inquired Mr. Stone.

"Yes, sir. Boy and man, I've lived here nigh onto sixty years."

"But this fine modern hotel of yours is not as old as that?"

The landlord's face glowed with pride. "Right you are, sir. Some few
years ago wife had some money left her, and we built the old place
over--pretty near made a whole new house of it."

"You have many guests?"

"Well, not as many as I'd like; but as many as I can expect in a little
town like this. Mostly transients, of course; drummers and men of that
sort. Young Willard stayed here, when the Van Norman house was full of
company, but after the--the trouble, he went back there to stay."

"Affable sort of man, Willard, isn't he?" observed Stone.

"Yes, he's all of that, but he's a scapegrace. He used to lead this
town a dance when he lived here."

"How long since he lived here?"

"Oh, he's only been away a matter of three years, or that. 'Bout a year
before his uncle died they quarrelled. They both had the devil's own
temper, and they had quarrelled before, but this time it was for keeps;
and so off goes Mr. Tom, and never turns up again until he comes to
Miss Madeleine's wedding."

"Was he in any business when he lived here?"

"Yes, he had a good position as engineer in a big factory. He was a
good worker, Tom was, and not afraid of anything. Always jolly and
good-natured, except when he'd have one of them fearful fits of temper.
Then he was like a raging lion--no, more like a tiger; quiet-like, but
deep and desperate."

Soon after Fleming Stone rose to go. "Thank you very much," he said
politely, "for your half-hour. And, by the way, have you any cachous? I
find I haven't any with me, and after smoking, you know, before going
back to the ladies."

"Yes, yes, I know; but I don't happen to have any. But wait a minute, I
believe Tripp has some." He threw open the door and gave a quick
whistle.

A boy appeared so suddenly that he could not have been far away, and,
moreover, his sharp black eyes and alert manner betokened the type of
boy who would be apt to be listening about.

His hand was already in his pocket when Mr. Taylor said to him, "Tripp,
didn't I see you have a small bottle of cachous?--those little silver
pellets, you know."

"Yessir;" and Tripp drew forth a half-filled bottle.

"That's right. Give them to the gentleman."

"Oh, I only want a couple," said Fleming Stone, taking the vial which
Tripp thrust toward him. "Where did you get these, my boy?"

The boy blushed and looked down, twisting his fingers in embarrassment.

"Speak up, Tripp," said the landlord sternly. "Answer the gentleman,
and see that you tell the truth."

"I ain't going to tell no lie," said Tripp doggedly. "I found this here
bottle in the bureau-drawer of number fourteen a few days ago."

"Fourteen? That's the room Mr. Willard had," said Mr. Taylor,
reflectively.

"Yessir, but he didn't leave them there. They were there before. I seen
'em, and I knew that hatchet-faced hardware man left 'em; then Mr.
Willard, he come, but he didn't swipe 'em, so I did. That ain't no
harm, is it?"

"Not a bit," said Fleming Stone, "since you've told the truth about it,
and here's a dollar for your honesty. And I'm going to ask you not to
say anything more about the matter, for a few days at least. Also I'm
going to ask to be allowed to take a look at room number fourteen."

"Certainly, sir. Tripp, show the gentleman up;" and Mr. Taylor fairly
rubbed his hands with satisfaction to think that he and his premises
were being made use of by the great detective.

"Yessir. It's at the back of the house, sir. This way, sir."

Mr. Stone's survey of the room was exceedingly brief. He gave one
glance around, looked out of the only window it contained, tried the
key in the lock, and then expressed himself satisfied.

Tripp, disappointed at the quickly-finished performance, elaborately
pointed out the exact spot where he had found the cachou bottle, but
Mr. Stone did not seem greatly interested.

However, the interview was financially successful to Tripp, and after
Mr. Stone's departure he turned several hand-springs by way of
expressing his satisfaction with the detective gentleman.

After dinner that evening the group of the night before reassembled in
the library.

A strange feeling of oppression seemed to hang over all. The very fact
that Fleming Stone had as yet said nothing of any discoveries he might
have made, and the continued courtesy of his pleasant, affable
demeanor, seemed to imply that he had succeeded rather than failed in
his mission.

Although genial and quickly responsive; he was, after all, an
inscrutable man; and Mr. Fairbanks, for one, had learned that his
gentle cordiality often hid deep thoughts in a quickly-working mind.

Without preamble, as soon as they were seated Mr. Stone began:

"Employed by Coroner Benson, I was asked to come here to discover, if
might be, the murderer of Miss Madeleine Van Norman. By some
unmistakable evidence which I have found, by some reliable witnesses
with whom I have talked, and by some proofs which I have discovered, I
have learned beyond all doubt who is the criminal, and how the deed was
done. Is it the wish of all present that I should now make known what I
have discovered, or is it preferred that I should tell Coroner Benson
alone?"

For several minutes nobody spoke, and then the coroner said, "Unless
any one present states an objection, you may proceed to tell us what
you know, here and now, Mr. Stone."

After waiting a moment longer and hearing no objection raised, Fleming
Stone proceeded.

"The man who murdered Miss Van Norman entered the house through a
cellar window. He climbed up through the ash-chute in the drawing-room
fireplace."

Although some of Mr. Sterne's hearers had listened to this revelation
in the morning, the others had not heard of it, and every face
expressed utter astonishment, if not unbelief--with the exception of
one. Tom Willard turned white and stared at Fleming Stone as if he had
not understood.

"What?" he said hoarsely.

As if he had not heard the interruption, Fleming Stone went on:

"Who that man was, I think I need not tell you. Is he not already
telling you himself?"

Willard's face grew drawn and stiff, like that of a paralyzed man, but
his burning eyes seemed unable to tear themselves away from the quiet
gaze of Fleming Stone. Then with a groan Willard's head sank into his
hands and he fell forward on the table--the very table at which
Madeleine had sat on that fatal night.

There was a stir, and Schuyler Carleton rushed forward to Willard's
assistance if need be. But the man had not fainted, and, raising his
white face, he squared his shoulders, clenched his hands, and, again
fixing his eyes on those of Fleming Stone, said in a desperate voice,
"Go on."

"I must go on," said Stone, gently. "I know each one of you is thinking
that it is absurd to imagine a man of Mr. Willard's weight and girth
climbing up through the seemingly small opening in the fireplace. But
this can be explained. To one who does not know how, such a feat would
seem impossible, and, moreover, it would be impossible. It is only one
who knows how who can do it. There are men in certain occupations, such
as engineers and boiler men, who are continually obliged to squeeze
through holes quite as small. The regular boiler man-hole is oval, and
measures ten by fifteen inches, but there are many of them in large
tanks which measure even less each way. I had occasion some time ago to
interview an engineer on this subject. He weighed two hundred and
fifteen pounds, and had a chest measure of forty-two inches. He told me
that he could go through a much smaller man-hole than another workman
who weighed only one hundred and sixty pounds, simply because he knew
how. It is done by certain manipulations of the great muscles and by
following a certain routine of procedure. But the method is
unimportant, for the moment. The fact remains, and can be verified by
any engineer. I discovered to-day that Mr. Willard is or has been an
expert engineer, and for many years held such a position in a large
factory right here in Mapleton. As to Mr. Willard's presence in this
house upon that fatal night, a tiny clue discovered by Mr. Fessenden
gives us indubitable proof. Mr. Fessenden found next morning on the
drawing-room floor a cachou. I have learned that these are by no means
in common use in Mapleton, and, moreover, that it is not the custom of
any one of the men now present to use them. I further learned that
after Mr. Willard left here that night to go to the hotel he found by
chance a small bottle of these in the room which was assigned to him. I
am assuming that he carelessly put a few in his pocket, and that in his
struggle through the ash-chute one fell upon the carpet. The room
which Mr. Willard occupied at Mapleton Inn is in the second story, and
its window opens upon a veranda roof which has a gentle slope almost to
the ground. This provides an easy means of exit and entrance, and as
Mr. Willard has no alibi later than half-past ten on that evening, the
time would permit him to come here and go away again before the hour
when Mr. Carleton is known to have arrived."

Then turning and meeting Tom's intent gaze, Fleming Stone addressed
himself directly to him, and said, "Why you chose to kill your cousin,
I don't know; but you did."

"I did," said Tom, in a hollow voice, "and I will tell you why." He
rose as he spoke, and standing by the table, he steadied himself by
placing one hand upon it.

"It was entirely unpremeditated," he said, "and I'm going to tell you
about it, because I owe a confession to Madeleine's memory, though I am
responsible for my deed to no one here present."

Though Willard spoke with no attempt at pride or defiance, his tone
and, look were those of a man hopeless and utterly crushed. He
addressed himself principally to Fleming Stone, looking now and then at
Carleton, but not so much as glancing at any one else.

"It is no secret, I think, that I loved my cousin Madeleine. Many, many
times I have pleaded with her to marry me. But never mind about that.
When I came here to attend her wedding, I couldn't help seeing that the
man she was about to marry did not love and worship her as I did. I
besought her to give him up and to marry me, but she would not listen
to that for a moment. That day before the wedding they had a little
tiff, and Carleton did not return for dinner, though Madeleine expected
him. She was all broken up about this, and was not herself during the
evening. When I left her, at about ten o'clock, to go to the hotel, her
sad face haunted me, and I could not dispel the idea that I must have
one more talk with her, and beg her not to marry a man who did not love
her."

Without seeming to do so, Fleming Stone stole a glance at Carleton. The
man sat quietly, with bowed head, as one who hears himself denounced,
but recognizes the truth.

"I was in my room at the hotel," went on Tom, "and was preparing for
bed when the irresistible impulse came to me to go and see Maddy once
more before her wedding day. I had no thought of wrong-doing. I came
out through the window, instead of in the ordinary way, only because I
knew the inn was about to be closed for the night, and I knew I could
get back the same way. A trellis, that was simply a ladder, reached up
to the low roof, and it was quite as easy an exit as through the front
door. As to the cachous, I had found the stray vial there, and had
slipped a couple in my pocket, without really thinking anything about
it. I don't usually carry them, but they are by no means unfamiliar to
me. I came directly over here, and found the house partially darkened,
as if for the night. There was a low light in the library and hall but
the blinds were drawn, and I could see only a glimpse of Maddy's yellow
dress on the floor. I was about to ring the bell, when I suddenly
thought that I didn't care to rouse the household, or even the
servants, and, remembering the way I often used to get in when I came
home at night later than my uncle approved, I went around and entered
by a cellar window. I came up through the fireplace, exactly as Mr.
Stone has described to you. It is astonishingly easy to any one who
knows how, and quite impossible for one who does not. I crossed the
drawing-room at once, and entered the library. Naturally, I made very
little noise, but still I am surprised that Hunt did not hear me. I did
not try to be entirely silent, for I had no thought of evil in my
heart. Madeleine looked up as I came into this room, and smiled. She
asked me how I got in, and I told her, and we both laughed at some old
reminiscences. I did not see that paper that Miss Dupuy wrote. Then I
told her frankly that I wanted her to give up Carleton, for he did not
love her and I did. When I said that about Carleton, Maddy burst into
weeping, and said it wasn't true. I said it was, and offered to prove
it, and then we quarrelled. To you who do not know our family temper
this may sound trivial, but it was not. We had a most intense and fiery
quarrel, and though probably our voices were not raised--that was not
our way--we were so furious with each other that we were practically
beside ourselves. Maddened, too, by jealousy, and by being baffled in
my errand, I suddenly resolved to kill both my cousin and myself. I
picked up the dagger and told her what I was about to do, being fully
determined to stab her and then myself. She did not scream, she simply
sat there--in her superb beauty--her arm resting on the table, and said
quietly, 'You dare not do it!'

"This threw me into a frenzy, and with one thrust I drove the dagger
home to her heart. She died without a sound, and I pulled out the
dagger to turn it upon myself. But the sight of Madeleine's blood
brought me to my senses. I dropped the dagger and new thoughts came
rushing to my mind thick and fast. Madeleine was dead. I could not
bring her again to life: The fortune was now mine! Would I not be a
fool then to kill myself? I'm not excusing these thoughts; I'm simply
telling the thing as it occurred. I turned and softly recrossed the
hall, let myself down through the drawing-room fireplace, and was back
in my room at the hotel without having met any one going or coming. At
two o'clock I was summoned over here by telephone, and I came. Miss
Morton met me in the parlor, and as there was a bright light there
then, I chanced to see one of those miserable cachous on the carpet. I
picked it up and concealed it, but it warned me; and when Mr. Fessenden
asked me the next day if I had any, I said no. Now I have told you all.
Wait--do not speak! I know you would say that I was a coward not to take
my own life when I intended to. I admit it; I was a coward, but it is
not yet too late for the deed!"

Before any one could move to prevent it Tom had grasped the dagger from
the drawer where it was hidden and plunged it into his own breast. He
sank down into the chair--the very chair where Madeleine had died, and,
dreadful as the occasion was, those who saw him could not but feel that
it was just retribution.

It was Schuyler Carleton who again started forward, and put his arm
around the wounded man.

"Tom," he cried, "oh, Tom, why did you do that?" Carleton then
involuntarily started to pull the dagger away, but Tom stopped him.

"Don't," he said thickly. "To pull that out will finish me. Leave it,
and I have a few moments more!"

"That is true," said Fleming Stone. "Some one telephone for a doctor,
but do not disturb the weapon. Mr. Willard, if you have anything to
say, say it quickly."

"I will," said Tom, quickly; "Fessenden, you are a lawyer, will you
draw up my will?"

Without a word, Rob caught up paper and pen, and prepared to take the
last words of the dying man.

Though not entirely in legal phrasing, the will was completed, and
after a general bequest to Fessenden himself, and directing that all
bills should be paid, and other minor matters of the sort, Tom Willard
left the bulk of his fortune to Schuyler Carleton.

"That," he said, with almost his last breath, "is only a deed of
justice, in the name of Madeleine and myself."

Before the arrival of Doctor Hills, Tom Willard was dead.
Self-confessed, self-convicted, self-punished; but his crime was
discovered by Fleming Stone, and proved by means of a tiny clue.


THE END


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