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Title: The Mystery Of The Second Shot Author: Rufus Gillmore * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1800871h.html Language: English Date first posted: September 2018 Most recent update: September 2018 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - The Black Limousine
Chapter 2. - The Girl in the Doorway
Chapter 3. - A Telephone Number
Chapter 4. - The Girl Seems Strangely Interested
Chapter 5. - A Green Cloth Bag
Chapter 6. - Suspicion
Chapter 7. - Stepdaughter
Chapter 8. - Suicide Cliff
Chapter 9. - The Girl Shields Someone
Chapter 10. - The Chiffon Scarf
Chapter 11. - The Girl and the Shot
Chapter 12. - The Man in the Closed Cottage
Chapter 13. - A Girl Distrusts Ashley
Chapter 14. - A Girl Trusts Ashley
Chapter 15. - Henderson Leaves His Card
Chapter 16. - The Missing Chauffeur
Chapter 17. - Doctor North’s Report
Chapter 18. - The Man on the Marsh
Chapter 19. - A Sealed Mouth
Chapter 20. - Ashley Makes a Friend
Chapter 21. - The Furrow on the Transom Sill
Chapter 22. - Plans
Chapter 23. - The Barred Entrance
Chapter 24. - Alice Thorpe Stands the Test
Chapter 25. - Mrs. Higgins is Discharged
Chapter 26. - The Flight with Thorpe
Chapter 27. - The Experiment
Chapter 28. - What Happened Afterwards
Chapter 29. - A Reporter Kidnapped
Chapter 30. - Henderson Moves
Chapter 31. - The Fate Of Meddlers
Chapter 32. - An Exchange Of Notes
Chapter 33. - Halsey’s Discovery
Chapter 34. - Bulletins
Chapter 35. - Kenney And Easy Measures
Chapter 36. - Kenney And Strong Measures
Chapter 37. - Alice Thorpe Confesses
Chapter 38. - Getting Past An Office-Boy
Chapter 39. - Rewards
Chapter 40. - Walter Thorpe Testifies In His Own Behalf
Chapter 41. - What Happened In The Newhall House
Chapter 42. - A Motive?
Chapter 43. - Governor Field Addresses The Jury
Chapter 44. - The Verdict
A thin-faced young stenographer was the first to suspect. She wrote the same sentence over and over—and listened. In the official refrigerator-like stillness of the Massachusetts Bank Commissioner’s Department, words carried, and the teasing excitement soon took on a meaning. Finally, about half past ten on that Wednesday morning, after a last whispered conference with his chief, Deputy-Commissioner Haswell bolted out of the Department. The thin-faced stenographer allowed him time to reach the elevator; then, she fluttered out into the State House corridor and called aside a reporter who had bribed her with baseball passes. Within ten minutes, the manager of the State House News Service began to telephone the city editor of each Boston daily the significant news: “It looks as though something were about to happen at last to the good old Province Trust Company. That’s all I know. Get busy!”
Eight Boston reporters—among them John Ashley of The Eagle—started on a foot race to State Street. But Deputy-Commissioner Haswell had taken a taxi. They arrived to find the bank closed, policemen driving a gaping crowd off the curb, and a surly sergeant who, stationed at the side door, denied them entrance.
The reporters promptly pooled their interests. The suspension of this venerable trust company marked the first check to the career of a conspicuous citizen. Each reporter knew it to be his business to locate Bertrand Newhall, President of the Province Trust Company, and to note carefully how he bore up.
According to the sergeant at the door, President Newhall was not inside. By adroit team-work, the reporters worried him into calling out one of the clerks, who confirmed his statement. But it was not likely that the president of a defunct bank would be absent from his post at such a crisis. While the rest watched the doors, two reporters hurried to neighboring pay-stations to get past the police by telephone. These returned with the same discouraging news, but the skeptical reporters still hung about the two doors, convinced that they had President Newhall cornered. In the meantime, one of their number had departed, intent upon a simple method of solving the problem.
Through a window bearing a “To Let” sign, with a pair of opera-glasses glued to his eyes, Ashley of The Eagle watched every movement across the street in the Province Trust Company. From this unoccupied office in an upper story, he had a slanting view into the trust company, over the heads of the crowd in the street and unobstructed by the opaque screens in the bank’s front windows.
At the long desk nearest to the great vault, stood Deputy-Commissioner Haswell. He was rapidly examining packages of stocks, bonds and notes, stopping from time to time to speak to a clerk beside him, who thereupon took tally or made notes. Two other men, apparently officials of the trust company, hovered about, alternately answering the Commissioner’s questions and withdrawing to shake their heads in ominous consultation. Scattered behind the grille, a score of clerks kept up a pretense of work; their cocked heads spoke of eager ears kept to the wind. Ashley fixed his glasses upon one after another. President Newhall was not inside the grilled-in-inclosure.
Ashley moved to the other side of the narrow office. Here he secured a view of the president’s and directors’ rooms. The president’s room was occupied only by a stenographer sitting idly at her machine; in the directors’ room, half a dozen men could be discerned through the glass partition grouped in earnest conversation. At each in turn he aimed his glasses and waited patiently until some shift in the talk brought face or profile to view. After a long time, Ashley swung the glasses from his eyes. President Newhall was not there either. If the reporters wished to learn how he took this—the first mishap in his triumphant career—they must hunt for him elsewhere.
Ashley returned the borrowed opera-glasses to the optician on the ground floor. He was about to cross the street to acquaint the other reporters with his discovery, when the vehement talk of a little Italian bootblack caught his attention. The bootblack stood by his stand at the head of the alley opposite the trust company. He was holding forth to a small knot of listeners, talking with the gesture and passion peculiar to the modern Latin. Aimless curiosity sent Ashley to him. Soon his casual curiosity changed to a lively interest. He had come upon information which lent an impetus and an entirely new bearing to the pursuit of President Newhall.
At half past seven that morning, when the bootblack arrived to open his stand, he had found a black limousine stationed before it. As the clocks began to strike eight, the chauffeur jumped out and cranked up the engine. Shortly afterwards, President Newhall came out of the clerks’ entrance of the Province Trust Company. He was smoking a cigar and showed no evidence of flurry. He carried nothing which would indicate that he was leaving for any time or distance. He crossed the street and entered the waiting car. The chauffeur swung away from the curb and the black limousine, with its single passenger, disappeared up State Street.
Ashley’s cross-examination failed to shake the little Italian’s assurance on two points of importance. He was certain that the chauffeur had cranked up before President Newhall came out of the trust company, and he was positive that the chauffeur had started off without directions from Newhall. Apparently, that departure had been carefully planned in advance.
Overhauling the past of a prominent citizen is frequently very like turning over flat stones in a moist meadow. Under the smooth exterior, one should prepare to come upon the slime of hidden motives and all manner of loathsome things scurrying from the light of day.
When Bertrand Newhall, by organizing the Wool Trust, played the part of a pirate in modern business, conservative Boston sneered. When, a few years later, he was caught red-handed in the act of seizing control of the historic Province Trust Company, conservative Boston stopped sneering and began to fight. But Bertrand Newhall was one not only reckless of all Boston business traditions, but also one whose hand was never discerned at its work until the issue was certain. When they sought to snatch from him the presidency of the Province Trust Company, he deftly checkmated every move. When, defeated, they fell to predicting the speedy downfall of this fine old institution, he merely smiled. He could afford to smile. The contest had served to demonstrate to all Boston that this bank was as utterly his as if he had it buttoned inside of his steel-gray waistcoat.
His success against such a powerful alliance of interests made him, through the aid of the newspapers, a man of mark. City editors, sensing in him that disturbance which is news, had played him up as one who fought “the interests.” When he triumphed, they had worked up public interest to a pitch which lent a news value to the printing of his very name. But one side of his character they discreetly avoided. By instinct Bertrand Newhall seemed always to select the way to his ends likely to provoke the most resistance. And never an enemy arose in his path but he stopped to punish him. It is an important principle of successful business men to accept opposition serenely, to waste no time seeking revenge. Bertrand Newhall was an exception. In his malevolent pursuit of an enemy there was never any let up; it revealed a fixity of purpose and a sly cunning amounting to mania.
Bertrand Newhall started the Wool Trust to destroy a competitor in the wool business who had dared to obstruct one of his earlier schemes. His Wool Trust—an enterprise cunning and ruthless as Newhall himself—engaged to transfer the wool of producers direct to consumers on a cooperative basis. Its success would have wiped out one of the city’s foremost trades. Boston wool dealers aligned themselves against it. They closed in and compelled the banks to call their loans to Newhall. But just as they thought that they had him, he suddenly loomed up in control of the Province Trust Company. With a resentment which was characteristic, he now started to punish the banks which had withdrawn their assistance by offering to pay two and one-half and even three per cent, interest upon many of their depositors’ running accounts.
Soon after he won his trust company fight, his first enemy in the wool trade—an old man named Thorpe—stole away to his unoccupied summer home and killed himself. Those acquainted with Bertrand Newhall’s relentless processes knew him to be responsible for the ruin, if not the actual death, of this old man. But what he had done, he had done legitimately, according to the rules of that form of civilized warfare called “business.” No newspaper cared to flirt with libel by laying the crime at his door. In fact, most of them were too deeply involved in making a popular idol of Bertrand Newhall. Moreover, at this juncture, he sent them word that he had just insured his life for half a million dollars. This was a huge policy for any business man to carry on his life at that time. The Boston newspapers featured this news instead.
The long fight against the wool trade had reduced the Wool Trust to an anemic and tottering condition. After Bertrand Newhall assumed charge of his bank, the Wool Trust took on a more healthy outward aspect. President Newhall’s enemies—and they were many by this time—insinuated that this improvement was due to a secret process of blood transfusion from the Province Trust Company. They declared that Newhall had already dissipated his own private means, that he was now engaged—illegally—in transferring the resources of the trust company to his earlier enterprise. But they could offer no proof, and city editors came to regard the insinuations of these men whom Newhall had out-generaled, as founded upon only rancor and spite. Bertrand Newhall, they credited with being too shrewd a man to violate the State Banking Laws.
But the modern newspaper flourishes on crime and has a greedy humor for suspicion. Ashley’s discovery of President Newhall’s sudden and carefully maneuvered exit threaded together all these old rumors. Followed one of those sensational man-hunts in which modern reporters, quicker of scent, get the start of the bigger-footed, smaller-headed police. All that afternoon, a steadily increasing number of reporters ransacked the city in a vain hunt for the missing man.
Ashley returned to The Eagle at about four that afternoon to learn that the police had just joined in the chase, that Newhall was now wanted for misapplication of the funds of the closed bank. With this news came that quick leap of the spirits known only to the reporter who has nosed out “a big story.” But his elation was short-lived.
Now that the police had confirmed Ashley’s suspicions, Henderson, the star-reporter of The Eagle, had taken over the assignment. To Henderson, the worst thing about life was that anyone else should succeed. Ashley had incurred his enmity a few months before by furnishing the clew which enabled the State Police to clear up the famous “Extension Bag Mystery.” Neither reporters nor police had attached any significance to certain faint figures in red chalk upon this grisly receptacle until Ashley, studying them under a microscope, had declared them to be a pawnbroker’s number. Immediately, the State Police had called in every Boston pawnbroker to identify the bag; the one who had sold it was discovered and a murderer run down. Henderson had not liked being beaten by a man on his own paper, and by “a heady young cub” at that. He had it in for Ashley; and all his fellow-reporters knew it.
Ashley found himself cut off midway in his report. Henderson turned his back on him and began coolly to send other reporters over the very ground which he had covered. Retiring to his desk, Ashley was compelled to witness man after man hurry out on the hunt and to feel the eyes of the others upon him, watching how he took his medicine. To add to the insult, Henderson on his way out was stopping casually to make remarks which meant much—and nothing. Ashley jumped up and intercepted him.
“See here, Henderson,” he said calmly, “just where do I fit?”
“Fit?” mocked Henderson, his tone bringing the attention upon them of every man in the room. “Fit!” he repeated. “Why, you don’t fit at all. You’re an accident, a left-over, a tin can on the dump so far as this case is concerned.” He started to pass.
Ashley took him by the arm. “I started this,” he protested, “and don’t you think for a minute that you’re going to lose me in the shuffle.”
Henderson jerked his arm free. “You mix in on this, and I’ll put it all over you,” he threatened; “all over you—so your best friend won’t know you.”
Ashley laughed. Henderson was a soft, spongy man whom he could have thrown like a pillow. His fingers itched—but he laughed.
Henderson’s cheeks turned the color of claret. “If you want to learn who’s boss here, just start something—that’s all I’ve got to say to you—just start something.” Without waiting for an answer, Henderson whirled about and left the office.
Shortly after eleven on that humid June night, Ashley bent his course once again in the direction of Newhall’s city residence. For almost twelve consecutive hours, he had hunted for the missing man without obtaining a single clew. Four times before that day he had returned to this deserted house only to pound vainly upon its boarded-up doors. His first vigorous will for the chase flagged, but the habit persisted, keeping him at it with a dull, senseless obstinacy like the second-wind of a runner.
Not a person was in sight as he turned into Commonwealth Avenue. The rows of deserted houses flung back at him in a persistent tattoo the echo of his own footsteps. The absence of people and all the companionable signs and sounds of life freed his mind, released his thoughts to the far places. For the first time that day the object of his search drifted unnoticed from mind.
Suddenly the door of one of the houses in the dead block was thrown violently open. A young woman burst out. Ashley stopped short, felt his heart cease to pump. It was as though he were crossing a graveyard alone at night; someone had suddenly stepped out from behind a tombstone.
She was fighting for air. She glanced wildly up and down the avenue, saw him, and came rushing down the stone steps. Almost before his mind began to register, she had reached and seized him by the arm.
“Come—come quick!” she gasped. She did not look at him, but towards the house. She did not heed his questions, but only tugged madly at his sleeve. A moment he held back, then he ran with her along the sidewalk, up the steps, into the house.
A few seconds later, Ashley was bending over the body of a man. It lay dull and without show of life upon a landing of the inside staircase to which the girl had dragged him. He turned it over and brought the face to view. Then he shot upright. Even in the dim light which came from a distant room in the hall above, he recognized the strong features. It was Bertrand Newhall.
“Father, oh, father, why did you?—how could you? Oh, father, father!” the girl wailed.
In the horror and amazement of his discovery, Ashley had utterly forgotten her existence. He turned from the set dead face on the landing to the distorted living one on the staircase.
She had collapsed against the banister a few steps below him—a huddle of shaking nerves—as though she dared not come nearer the body. The hand which clung to the rail was as white as her face, the other clutched a large green cloth bag—the kind that lawyers carry. Even in that moment of horror, Ashley noted the curious contrast of this business-like bag with the smartness of her chic summer frock, observed the tight hold she kept upon it, realized that it must have been in her hand all the time.
“Oh, father! father!” she moaned. “He—he has killed himself. Oh, I tried—” her voice broke. After a time, she controlled it. “I tried so hard to reach him in time. Is—is he—?” her voice refused to go on.
Ashley bent over and raised one of Newhall’s arms. There was no perceptible pulse; the hand lay limply in his. He placed the back of his bare wrist close to the man’s lips; no breath fanned it. He turned back toward the girl and solemnly nodded his head.
By a quick leap he managed to catch her as her hand loosened from the rail. He supported her until her body ceased to tremble and her hysterical sobbing quieted. Then she drew away from him.
“What—what am I to do?” she begged.
Ashley led her gently down the stairs and turned on a light. “I am sorry, but I’m afraid you can’t leave yet. The police may want to ask some questions.” He stopped before a chair in the lower hall. “Perhaps you had better sit down here and rest while I telephone for them.”
“The police?” She seemed startled.
“They will have to be notified. Perhaps I could telephone for some of your friends first.”
“There is no one but—” she stopped and bit her under lip; “there is no one I could send for at this hour. I have been abroad and have been home only a few days. I can’t think of anyone,” she explained. She sat down. For an instant, she seemed oblivious of everything. But he had hardly reached the telephone in the back of the hall before she called, “Tell them that my father has committed suicide.”
At the time, this request made little impression on the reporter, but he observed with some surprise the eager tone in which it was uttered.
After an irritating clash with a stupid telephone operator, Ashley secured and notified Police Headquarters. He was on the point of telephoning to his own paper, when it occurred to him that it would be wiser to take advantage of the time before the police came to make a fuller investigation. As he hurried back along the hall, Miss Newhall sprang to her feet.
“You aren’t going to leave me,” she protested tremulously.
“Only to put things back as they were, before the police come,” he explained.
“Oh!” She sank back in the chair. “I won’t mind —if you don’t leave the house. I’m not afraid,” she declared in a voice which shook so that it belied her statement, “only—only I need someone near to tell me what to do when the police come.”
He reassured her and hastened up the stairs.
The body lay upon the upper landing where the front stairway turned at a right angle towards the upper hallway, four steps above. The wound was on the left side, near the heart. Ashley turned on the light in the upper hall and returned to make a more thorough examination. Near the right hand lay a Colt automatic. One shot had been fired from it. After a long search, he found the shell, lying upon one of the lower stairs. He groped about the rest of the stairs and landing without coming upon anything else. Apparently it was a simple case of suicide.
He turned the body back on its left side, as he had found it. As he did so a dark object which it had covered came to sight. He picked it up. It was a chauffeur’s cap. The name of the maker had been torn from it, but the size-tag—7 3/8—remained. With a quickly stifled cry of surprise, he turned the body over again. There were no powder marks upon the clothes.
Puzzled, Ashley again examined the cap. Newhall was a man whom he had often observed motoring about downtown, but never wearing such a cheap cap as this. Whose cap, then, could it be? Replacing the body in its first position, he stepped gingerly over it, up the stairs and into the hall above. A hasty examination showed him nothing of interest there. He passed on to a room opening directly opposite the top of the staircase. The door stood wide open. He peered into it. It was a narrow room, hardly more than a closet, lighted by a single incandescent lamp; it was furnished with a sewing machine, two low tables and a pair of cane-seat chairs. Manifestly, it was a sewing-room. He was about to enter to search it further when, suddenly, he stopped and bent an attentive ear towards the staircase.
The sound of a woman’s voice—lowered for secrecy —came up to him. “Please, oh, please, get me Back Bay 43210,” it pleaded. Now that he gave it attention, he realized that he had heard, subconsciously, these same sounds several times before. Whom could Miss Newhall be calling up with such an attempt at secrecy? He dropped his search, switched off the hall light and hastened quietly downstairs. But his footsteps on the bare hall below no sooner warned her of his approach than she hastily hung up the receiver. She turned toward him; her face flushed.
“I was trying to get a friend of mine, but she was not at home,” she explained, returning to her seat.
A slight emphasis on the “she” made an unpleasant impression upon Ashley.
“I came down to call up a number myself,” he said in excuse. “Are you quite through?” Her assent obliged him to call up The Eagle. It was time that he notified his paper of his discovery. But the receiver was hardly adjusted to his ear, when he was stopped.
“Sorry, madam, Back Bay 43210 doesn’t answer,” the telephone operator informed him.
He gave no evidence of what he had learned, asked for his own number. But he was not to get the news to his paper so easily. He was interrupted by a patrol wagon rolling up to the door. A squad of police scrambled out and entered the house.
At their head and front came Sergeant Smith, big and surly from much ordering about of men. He carried a lantern, which he held up rudely before the girl’s face. “Who are you?” he demanded brusquely.
“I am Miss Newhall,” she replied, pulling back. “It is my father—upstairs.”
“Oh!” Sergeant Smith was surprised, if not softened. “Well, you sit down here,” he ordered. “We’ll take charge of things here.”
At that moment his swinging lantern disclosed Ashley at the telephone. “What are you doing there?” he yelled. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Hang up that telephone and see that you keep away from it,” he interrupted. Then he turned to his men.
“Bill,” he roared, “you take the door and see that no one comes in or goes out without my orders. Come on now, the rest of you, get a move on, light up and search the house.”
Before the arrival of the medical examiner, summoned from his bed, and of the inspector, dispatched from police headquarters, Sergeant Smith and his detail had authority only to search the premises for people and evidence. What they lacked in power, they proceeded to make up in noise, thumping about the house, opening and shutting doors, poking into corners and closets and under furniture.
While his men ransacked the premises, Sergeant Smith, after a hasty survey of the body, mounted guard over Miss Newhall and Ashley. The law prescribes that everyone shall be considered innocent until proved guilty, but there never was a policeman yet who believed or practiced this—least of all Sergeant Smith. The esteem of his superiors was to be earned only by presenting facts to them in the guise of crime, in laying early hands upon somebody who could be made to look guilty. Police practice would excuse his overstepping the bounds of decency, but never his failure to suspect where suspicion could be made to stick. Miss Newhall and Ashley he viewed with suspicion merely because he found them in this strange situation. If he could surprise or bully one or both of them into making any damaging admissions, so much the better for him with the coming inspector.
Ashley, after a question or two, he gave over as too experienced to be trapped into any slip of the tongue; but a woman, if bullied, could usually be startled into giving the cue to anything criminal. He set to work “to throw the scare into her.”
He listened to Miss Newhall’s story with an intimidating silence. When she finished, he began that hectoring which brings on panic.
“You say you reached Boston at nine o’clock and that you didn’t enter this house until after eleven—what were you doing in those two hours?” he demanded.
“I was trying to find my father at the bank and at some of his clubs,” Miss Newhall answered, her eyes flashing at the insult of his manner.
“What clubs?” he snapped.
She named four.
“So you weren’t in your father’s confidence; he couldn’t trust you, couldn’t he?” prodded Sergeant Smith, continuing, before she could answer. “Do you mean to tell me you didn’t know where he was tonight?”
The girl drew back. “I knew he was in Boston,” she admitted, nervously.
Sergeant Smith had been waiting for some just such sign of weakness. “You knew he was in Boston and you knew he intended to commit suicide without moving a finger to prevent him until nine o’clock?” he yelled in a voice calculated to break the windows.
“I—I didn’t know—I—” The girl’s voice trembled, broke.
Ashley, unable to endure the spectacle longer, stepped forward. “You don’t need to answer any more of that man’s questions,” he whispered. She drew back, put Ashley between her and the bullying sergeant.
“What do you mean by buttin’ in? Any more of this and you’ll sleep in a cell,” roared Sergeant Smith, taking a threatening step toward the reporter. “Come back here, I’m not through with you,” he called after the girl.
“You don’t need to obey that order,” Ashley advised her without turning.
Sergeant Smith’s poison ivy complexion caught fire. He swept nearer and hulked threateningly over Ashley. Only the reporter’s unconcern kept the overtowering officer from laying violent hands upon him; in fact, the reporter’s preternatural indifference acted not only as a check but as a shock. Sergeant Smith was the first to give way.
“What’s your full name?” he demanded, retreating instinctively to the secure ground of police routine,
“Business?” snapped the sergeant, while he took breath and bearings.
No modern police officer willingly makes an enemy of a reporter. They have too forbidding a fear of the press and its power to influence public opinion. Sergeant Smith’s embarrassment was one from which he scrambled as best he could, snatching up such remnants of his dignity as he thought he might successfully bear off.
“That’s all very well, young fellow,” he went on in a more man-to-man tone, “but you know what’s coming to a man—reporter or anyone else—who interferes with the police in the performance of their duty, don’t you?”
Ashley smiled. “I surely do,” he replied.
“Then keep out.”
“I want to. Suppose you give me a chance.”
The shaft rankled. Sergeant Smith’s face grew crimson again. The failure of his peace-offering enraged him. He doubled one of his huge fists. But at this moment a commotion at the outside door distracted his attention.
“Where are you, sergeant?” some one, entering, asked in a crisp voice.
Inspector Swett had arrived from Police Headquarters. With an ominous shake of his head toward Ashley, Sergeant Smith moved away to report to his superior. But a still further indignity was in store for him. The inspector wagged his head in obvious indifference to the sergeant’s perfunctory details. In the midst of his report, the inspector’s eyes, wandering, happened to light upon Ashley. He had not forgotten the important aid which this reporter had furnished in solving the famous “Extension Bag Mystery.” Inspector Swett abandoned the still talking sergeant to greet Ashley.
“Hullo, Ashley,” he cried cordially. “How’d you get in?”
“Beat you to it,” answered Ashley, accepting the inspector’s proffered hand. “In fact, you owe it to me that you’re here now.”
“You don’t say? Tell us all about it.” Inspector Swett’s tone, though compounded of good nature, was tinctured with sarcasm.
Ashley laughed. Contact with Inspector Swett had taught him not to trust the inspector’s apparent affability. He knew him to be one of the most obstinate and pig-headed theorists of the department, one who thought to make up with determination that which he lacked in intelligence. At the beginning of a mystery, Swett first formed a theory. This he resolutely held fast to, no matter how much it might be shaken by facts developing later. At the end of every case Inspector Swett could always be found with his original theory in mouth, clinging to it like a bulldog to a stick. His salvation lay in the fact that sometimes he was right.
Instead of taking the inspector’s question seriously, Ashley retorted, “What do you call it, Inspector?”
“It’s suicide, all right, I guess. Newhall was up against it. It was the only way out.”
The sound of a smothered sigh of relief came to Ashley’s ears from behind. He checked a natural impulse to turn and trace it to Miss Newhall. Instead, his eye flew to the inspector and sergeant, again conferring in the front hall. Apparently neither of them had heard it. When he turned carelessly a few moments later, he found Miss Newhall reseated in the hall chair, watching alertly the conference in the front hall. As Inspector Swett, led by the scowling sergeant, started upstairs, she bent toward Ashley.
“Do you think I could go now?” she asked eagerly. Ashley stopped the inspector to ask. She seemed disappointed at his refusal, but made no protest. Ashley would have liked to learn why she fled from the telephone at his approach and, above all, why she was so relieved to have Inspector Swett declare it suicide. But these were matters better investigated later, after the police had gone. He followed the inspector upstairs, interested to watch the police investigation and to hear their dictum.
Inspector Swett, Sergeant Smith and two policemen were gathered about the body. Sergeant Smith and the two policemen were on the steps above, Inspector Swett on those below. As Ashley drew near, he saw the sergeant bend across and whisper something to the inspector.
“That’s all right. It’s a simple suicide; let him come,” the inspector responded.
But Sergeant Smith was evidently nourishing his grudge against the reporter. With a shake of his head, he rose and stalked off along the upper hallway.
Inspector Swett got up at almost the same instant, thus failing to notice his assistant’s defection. “Nothing to it but suicide,” he announced with an air of finality.
The two policemen nodded their heads.
“I never knew Newhall to wear a cap like that,” suggested Ashley.
“My dear boy,” the inspector turned and placed a hand patronizingly on Ashley’s shoulder; “this man knew we were after him; that was his disguise.”
“Nine suicides out of ten occur in bedrooms or bathrooms,” continued Ashley. “Why should this man shoot himself on the stairs?”
“Thought of that,” rejoined the inspector imperturbably. “Now, just you think a minute. This man was alone in a house closed for the summer. No one would be likely to enter it except the watchman, and watchmen have too many houses on their beats to do more than stick their noses into any one. His body might have lain undiscovered for weeks in one of the rooms upstairs. Newhall was wise enough to choose a spot where it would be found, and found soon, son.”
Ashley had to confess himself answered. And yet, Miss Newhall’s anxiety to have her father’s death declared suicide kept his doubt astir. Moreover, could Newhall have shot himself without leaving powder marks upon his clothes? He was on the point of putting this question to Inspector Swett when he was stopped by the arrival of the medical examiner.
Medical Examiner Sorley, grown gray in a numbing occupation, seemed concerned chiefly in getting back to his bed. Kneeling upon the steps, he made a hasty survey of the position of the body. Then he turned it over and examined the wound.
“Bull’s-eye! Right through the heart,” he declared, wiping his hands. He picked up the pistol, broke it, removed the ammunition holder and counted the cartridges.
“Colt automatic,” he muttered, “.32 caliber—let’s see, seven cartridges left in magazine—one in chamber makes eight—well, the maximum load’s nine— yes, it’s been fired, the action’s fouled—found the shell?”
Inspector Swett pointed it out to him upon the stairs. The medical examiner picked it up and compared it with the cartridges in the magazine. “It’s a .32 all right,” he announced. “Anything to indicate this isn’t a clear case of suicide?”
“Not a thing, doctor,” replied Inspector Swett promptly.
From his place on the lower landing to which he had retired at the advent of the medical examiner, Ashley had suddenly become conscious of the intrusion of another face. At the medical examiner’s question, Miss Newhall had risen from her seat in the hall below. Over the stair-rail he saw her face—mouth open, eyes starting—waiting breathlessly for the inspector’s reply. As it came, he saw her draw a deep breath and sit down, as one relieved of a great suspense. As her face disappeared below the rail, Ashley happened to glance up. Over the rail on the floor above, Sergeant Smith was looking down. As he caught Ashley’s eyes upon him, he jerked in his head. But Ashley noted a look on his face which showed that he, too, had seen.
As Ashley left the house to telephone the news to his paper, he came upon Henderson on the steps trying to wheedle his way by the officer at the door. The look of panic on Henderson’s face, together with his own joy at having beaten him, caused Ashley to overlook their recent clash. Drawing Henderson aside, Ashley hastily recounted all that had occurred, including the strange actions of Newhall’s daughter.
“Get me in,” begged Henderson, with sudden eagerness.
“Can’t. I’m in bad with the police myself,” responded Ashley. He explained by telling of his quarrel with Sergeant Smith.
Henderson appeared to drop the idea at once. “You’d better get a move on and telephone in your story,” he suggested. “Going to say anything about your suspicions?”
“Nothing to hang them to yet,” confessed Ashley.
“Take my advice and hold them back,” advised Henderson. “You say the police call it suicide; better keep quiet about what you’ve seen and get the start on them. You haven’t got a leg to stand on yet— there may be nothing to it anyway.”
The advice was good, but Ashley was perplexed that a reporter of Henderson’s “yellow” stripe should offer it.
Hastening back from the pay station in the corner hotel, he found his re-entrance to the house barred by the officer at the door.
“Inspector Swett agreed to let me come back,” expostulated Ashley.
“Sure, but someone slipped by in your place.”
The policeman, grinning, condescended to explain. As soon as Ashley had gone from sight, Henderson had sent in for Sergeant Smith. “After a session down on the sidewalk, the sergeant lets him in and says for me to bar you.”
Henderson had stolen a march on him, probably by making the most of his quarrel with the sergeant. In his dismay, Ashley recognized the futility of appealing to that disgruntled official.
“Send in word that Mr. Ashley wants to see Inspector Swett for a minute,” he requested instead.
“Gone,” replied the grinning officer.
As a last resort, he asked for the unfriendly sergeant.
“No use; he gave me orders not to bother about you. It ain’t no use hangin’ round; you’ve been double-crossed, and by your friend.”
Ashley spent fifteen minutes in getting Inspector Swett on the wire at Police Headquarters. This amused official finally telephoned Sergeant Smith to admit him to the house.
Miss Newhall sprang to meet him, greeted him like a friend of long standing. “That officer says I can go now. Oh, I was so afraid you weren’t coming back!” she exclaimed. From the frightened way in which she drew near and kept close to him, he inferred that she had undergone further badgering during his absence.
“He has called a taxi for me; it ought to be here in a few minutes now—” The upward inflection with which she closed, the expectant look in her eyes, indicated that she depended upon him as her escort.
Ashley had returned with the intention of making a thorough search of the house. To be carried off now meant that he must leave the field clear for Henderson. And yet, perhaps he could not do better than to accompany the girl. Why had the others dropped their surveillance of her? On his entrance Sergeant Smith had gone straight upstairs. Had he or Henderson discovered some clew which rendered the girl of minor import?
“Could you wait just a minute?” he begged.
He tiptoed hastily up the stairs. As his eyes gained the floor above, he stopped. Sergeant Smith was not in sight, but Henderson was on his knees groping about the floor. A slight hiss attracted his attention. Sergeant Smith stood in the door of the sewing-room holding a green cloth bag such as Miss Newhall had carried. At the call, Henderson jumped to his feet. As he did so, Ashley got the impression that he either dropped or stepped on something. At least Ashley noted that, despite his haste, Henderson stooped to pick up something which he looked at and then pocketed. It made but a slight impression on Ashley then. His attention was centered on the green bag which Sergeant Smith was holding up. Leaning eagerly forward, he watched the two men loosen the string about its neck. Henderson’s hand was thrust inside. He was on the point of drawing something from it, when Ashley’s espionage was abruptly terminated by a voice from the lower hall.
“The taxi has come,” Miss Newhall called up to him.
The two men looked toward the stairway and saw him. Sergeant Smith left the bag hanging in Henderson’s hands and crossed the hall.
“Going to take the lady home?” he demanded. There was that in his manner which suggested that if Ashley were unwilling, he intended to perform that duty himself.
Ashley hesitated. What was inside that green cloth bag? Miss Newhall would probably know. Neither Henderson nor the sergeant would willingly allow him to learn, if he remained. No, he would follow its owner and leave the bag to them.
To his dismay, Sergeant Smith followed him down and accompanied them through the sidewalk throng to the waiting taxi. Were they to have his unwished-for company all the way?.
Shouldering back the rallying crowd of reporters, Sergeant Smith stood with one foot on the taxi step, one hand upon the door.
“Where do you want to go?” he asked.
Whether the sergeant went along or not, it would be a mistake to have that swarm of reporters on their heels. Before Miss Newhall could reply, Ashley bent over and drew the curtain on her side of the cab, “Say, Parker House. We must dodge these people,” he whispered.
She did as directed. The sergeant snapped the door shut, went forward and spoke to the chauffeur; soon they were flying down Commonwealth Avenue. Ashley glanced at the seat beside the chauffeur. It was unoccupied. He rose and looked through the window in the rear of the cab. Sergeant Smith was not on behind. Then, as he turned to sit down, he came in for a further surprise. Lying in Miss Newhall’s lap, grasped tightly in both her ungloved hands, lay a green cloth bag.
“Why, I thought the police had taken that,” Ashley exclaimed, pointing at the green cloth bag.
She tightened her hold on it, turned and looked at him with alarm. “N-o-o,” she replied after a moment’s hesitation, “it has never left my hands.”
Then there were two of these green cloth bags. “You were fortunate,” Ashley pursued. “If the police had noticed it, they would probably either have taken it or examined it.”
“That officer made me show him everything in it while you were gone,” she answered; “but he said I could take it away with me.”
If either of the green cloth bags contained anything of significance, it was evidently not this one.
“Did you know that another bag like that was found in the sewing-room upstairs?” he asked.
“No, I didn’t.” The answer was curt, impatient. As though desirous of avoiding further conversation on the subject, she lifted the bag from her lap and placed it out of sight between the further side of the cab and herself. Ashley noted, however, that she still kept one hand tightly clasped upon it.
They reached Arlington Street and the chauffeur turned toward Beacon Hill. “Where shall I tell him to take you?” he asked.
“Oh, yes—I forgot,” she started nervously from the heedless, absent reverie into which she had fallen. “To 24 Beacon Street, please.”
Ashley leaned out the window and told the chauffeur. They were already in the neighborhood. In a few moments the taxi drew up to the curb before an old-fashioned brick and brownstone residence. He jumped out and helped the girl down, stood waiting for her to say good-night. Instead, without a word, she pushed quickly by him and ran up the stone steps. Astonished, he stood looking after her.
“Good-night, Miss Newhall,” he called.
“Oh!” she took her hand from the bell, came running back down the steps to him. She was plainly much agitated, more nervous, it seemed to Ashley, than at almost any moment since he had met her. She stood before him, her hands fluttering and her lips trembling. “I don’t want to—I can’t stay here,” she stammered. “I thought—would you wait?—only a minute?” Without waiting for a reply she pressed Ashley back into the cab and closed the door. “I won’t be long—I—” she did not finish, but ran back up the steps and rang the bell.
Ashley looked at his watch. It was nearly one o’clock. An early morning Boston stillness hung, heavy as coma, over the streets and houses. The muted rumble of the taxi engine beat like a drum against the investing silence. Whom could she be rousing from sleep at this hour? A chaperone? Then why this sudden nervousness and why this secrecy? Why had she pushed him back into the cab and closed the door?
Involuntarily he changed his seat and watched the girl at the top of the steps ringing the bell again and again. After a long time, the door opened. Miss Newhall bent eagerly forward and asked a question. Her voice was lowered; she was evidently determined that Ashley should not hear.
But the sleepy maid who had answered the ring felt no such call for caution. “He hasn’t been here this night,” Ashley heard her declare clearly.
So it was a man whom she was seeking at this hour! Ashley felt the tingle of a thousand bristling suspicions.
“Where is he? Where can I find him? I must see him at once—to-night,” he heard Miss Newhall cry, petulantly. In her agitation she pressed forward, put one hand upon the knob.
The maid drew back, alarmed, closed the door a little. “I—I don’t know, ma’am,” she stammered. “We—we haven’t seen him ourselves since morning.”
Never had Ashley seen a human being more completely transformed than the girl he handed back into the taxi. She had left him tremulous with excitement; she returned crushed, dazed. She fell into the further corner of the seat, unconscious apparently of his very existence. Twice he had to ask her where she now wished to go. And the bag, which hitherto had never left her hand, dropped unheeded to the floor and lay at Ashley’s feet.
He picked it up and placed it on the seat between them. For the first time he had a chance to study her. She was a little older than he had thought—in the early twenties, probably—small and dark and piquant. She had the winsome prettiness of a kitten which insists upon attention, purrs when it is given. Her brown eyes were so big that they made her face seem small. “Spellbinders,” thought Ashley, “and probably nothing but toy emotions behind them.” And yet, she seemed to be suffering from some deep feeling just at present. Was it only because the man she had attempted to find was absent? Was she anything more than the spoiled child which she seemed to him? Was she capable for instance of —
She stirred, caught the conjecture in his eyes, and sat up. There was something quick and uneasy in her action. She studied Ashley furtively for a moment before she spoke.
“I was trying to find my father’s attorney. I wanted to ask him some questions,” she said, as if reading his thoughts.
Ashley made no comments, did not look at her.
“He wasn’t there,” she went on, fencing against his silence with explanation. “It was very silly of me—to take it so seriously, only—”
Her laugh was out of place after the events of the evening; it was forced, unpleasant, led away too obviously from something kept secret. All sorts of suspicions floated into Ashley’s mind. Why should she care what he thought?
“Perhaps I could find him for you—afterwards—if you would give me his name?” he suggested, without looking at her.
“No, I don’t want him now,” she said a little too sharply.
Again his silence seemed to disturb her. “I shall see him to-morrow—soon enough. Aren’t we nearly there?” she veered from the subject. Then, without waiting for an answer, she nervously changed it once more. “My bag!” she cried.
“Did it contain anything valuable?” asked Ashley, casually.
“All my jewelry.”
“You must be more careful of it.” Ashley put it in her hand. “Was there anything valuable in the one at the house? If there was, it ought not to be left there.”
“I don’t know. No, I think not,” she responded indifferently.
“If you will give me your keys, I should be glad to go and make sure,” he pursued.
“You are very good,” she said, “but father wouldn’t leave anything of value in an empty house.”
“I should be very glad of an excuse to get back in the house,” Ashley pressed. “You see, I had to leave it sooner than I intended in order to bring you here.”
“Oh—you are a reporter—I had forgotten—” She considered. “Come to me to-morrow and I will let you have the keys, if you still want them. You have been so kind. I suppose I ought to do that.”
His interest in the bag she carried ceased when he saw her give it up to the clerk at the Touraine for deposit in the hotel safe. And the bag at the house, he was beginning to believe from her indifference, could have contained nothing of importance. Assuredly, he had done well to follow her instead of lingering on at the Newhall house. She had given him much to think about, and one or two clews that he was eager to get free to run down.
The hotel elevator had hardly taken her from sight, when he flew to the Touraine library. Nervously he ran through the pages of the Boston Blue Book until he came upon the following entry:
24, Mrs. Jonathan Thorpe, Wednesdays.
Mr. Walter Thorpe.
Miss Alice Thorpe.
“Thorpe! Thorpe!” muttered Ashley. The name rang a bell in his mind. What had he heard about a man named Thorpe? After a vain attempt to remember, Ashley rushed out into the hotel foyer. The city directory informed him that Walter Thorpe was a member of the firm of Thorpe & Adams, wool commission dealers.
“Wool dealer!” he exclaimed. “Then he is no friend of Newhall’s. What could she want of him to-night?”
While he still strove to decide, he recalled his other clew. Was it possible that both clews connected, led to the same person? He leaped eagerly to the telephone book. Walter Thorpe’s home telephone number was Back Bay 43210. Yes, this was the number Miss Newhall had secretly attempted to get while he was absent upstairs.
Early next morning, behind the locked door of a West End shooting gallery, Ashley conducted an experiment. With the aid of the sleepy proprietor, he stretched a white sheet across the rear. Against this, from varying distances, he fired shot after shot from a Colt .32 automatic. Powder marks showed on the sheet six out of seven times at a distance of thirty inches and every time at a distance of twenty-eight inches.
He had already calculated Newhall’s extreme reach to be from twenty-nine to thirty inches. He had made up his mind that he could not have shot himself from a distance greater than twenty-four or twenty-five inches. The absence of powder marks on his clothes hence bore out his suspicion that Bertrand Newhall had not killed himself.
Much which Ashley had planned to do that day was foiled by the necessity of receiving the congratulations of his fellow-reporters. It takes time to decline courteously fifteen or twenty requests to have a drink; it takes not only time, but thought and attention to respond properly to the gibes of a crowd of reporters congratulating a fellow workman after their own peculiar fashion.
Ames, the stringy, sour-faced city editor of The Eagle, expressed the general attitude when Ashley went in to report. “Excuse me for not rising and coming out to salute you,” he said with mock humility, “but I didn’t know who the loud cheers were for. Thought it was no one but Ty Cobb or Cook or Teddy.”
Sarcasm such as this Ashley took at face value, but the conduct of one man puzzled him. Henderson had changed his attitude toward him completely. Henderson was unexpectedly conciliating—apologetic. “You backed me into a corner, had me screaming for help, all right,” he acknowledged, a smile lolling on his fat face. Later on, he drew Ashley aside. “I’ve quit on this assignment,” he informed him. “It’s yours from now on, if you see anything in it and want it.”
“Guess there’s nothing to it, if you’ve thrown it up,” answered Ashley, smiling.
“That’s what. I don’t see anything to it but a simple case of suicide. The story’s all in as far as I can make out. But I thought from what you said last night—”
“By the way, what did you find in that bag?” interrupted Ashley.
“The queerest assortment of junk you ever heard of. A lot of old daguerreotypes, a tin case full of keys, and a collection of old jewelry that might have belonged to ancestors. Looked as though some one had gone through a trunk and picked out a lot of old stuff to throw away, except that the jewelry was packed in cotton-wool and boxes.”
“Nothing of value?”
“Not except as keepsakes. We thought we had landed something, but—” a wave of his hand disposed of it as trash. “By the way,” Henderson went on easily, “I didn’t want to butt in, so I didn’t say anything to Ames about your suspicions. Go in, tip him off, and get time to run them down, if you think it’s worth while.”
Ashley did not know what to make of this. Henderson had not asked him a question about Miss Newhall, where he had taken her, what she had said and done. In fact, Henderson turned to leave carelessly, as though thoroughly convinced that Ashley had come upon a mare’s nest.
“What convinces you that Newhall shot himself?” Ashley held him.
“Everything. Why, man, think!” Henderson’s manner became for the first time a little querulous. “He was run down—a rat in a corner, without a friend to turn to. It was some God-forsaken country in South America or jail for him. What would a man like Newhall do, caught in such a mess? Pass it all up, wouldn’t he? That’s the answer! Now, I know he had a lot of enemies who would have liked nothing better than to shoot him as full of holes as a sieve. But he did die inside his own house, and there wasn’t a lock, door or window tampered with. I know that because I examined every one. Now, if anyone else shot Newhall, Newhall must have let him in with his own keys. Can you see Newhall doing that? That is, unless,” Henderson grinned, “unless you or his own stepdaughter did the foul deed—you were the only two inside that house when the police arrived.”
“Stepdaughter?” queried Ashley.
“Miss Newhall wasn’t his own daughter, but he was so fond of her that he had her change her name. You don’t really suspect that little doll of doing it?”
“No motive—in sight,” admitted Ashley.
“And you’d have one hell of a hunt to find one,” said Henderson, walking away.
And along early in the afternoon came information calculated still more to discourage Ashley’s suspicions. Medical Examiner Sorley had held his inquest, and found for suicide. In view of the facts, the finding appeared thoroughly to be justified. The police testified that no one had entered the house except with keys; and the watchman and all others possessing keys established conclusive alibis. The secretary of the Wool Trust confessed that it had been on the edge of bankruptcy for weeks owing to lack of ready capital; and Deputy-Commissioner Haswell provided a good and sufficient motive for suicide when he testified that the Province Trust Company was hopelessly involved in the downfall of this other Newhall enterprise.
Against the weight of all this testimony, the absence of powder marks received slight consideration, was set down to the probability that Newhall must have used an underloaded cartridge; and the chauffeur’s cap found with the body was passed by without comment.
But the incredible thing about life is that the young and obstinate should dare to be as young and obstinate as we once were. Ashley refused to accept the verdict, asked to be assigned for further work on the case.
“It’s just like a raw young thing like you to want to keep on with a story after it’s off the hooks, decently interred and dead as a divorced wife,” Ames, the city editor, sneered. “I’ve always found that when a suckling escapes the booze, worse things get to his block! But go on!—go on!—we’re just running The Eagle to educate our promising young men. Go ahead—rattle the bones—and turn in a Sunday story if you’re just bursting with suppressed words.”
“Not much time for that. Can I have help?” demanded Ashley.
Ames grinned. “You can have Conley—if he deigns to be with us to-day,” he said.
Conley was a veteran reporter. That alone explains. Men are veteran reporters for just two reasons—incapacity and capacity. Conley had capacity. As his fellow-reporters put it, “enough beer could not be brewed in one day to do Conley any harm.” But periodically, he forgot and drank hard liquor. And then he became about as reliable as a chauffeur on a joy-ride. Nevertheless, Conley, sober, was an excellent reporter. Ashley gladly accepted his aid.
After pledging him to drink nothing except beer, Ashley sent Conley to get a view of the pistol and the chauffeur’s cap; to trail them back, if possible, to the men who had sold them. If he had time, he was also to interview some of the directors of the Province Trust Company and to pick up any information he could regarding Newhall’s movements for the past few days. These points covered, Ashley set out himself to follow the main track to Miss Newhall. After giving his own testimony at the inquest that morning he had looked for her only to learn that she had testified early and departed. He found now that she had also given up her rooms at the Touraine. The clerk could not tell him where she had gone. Ashley moved away feeling as grieved as if he had just heard of a death in the family.
The summer home of the Newhalls was at Mossett, twenty-five miles away. He had hoped to see Miss Newhall, get the keys, make a thorough inspection of the house where Newhall had died and also pay a visit to the Thorpes—all during that afternoon—and the hotel clock pointed at six minutes of three.
Ten minutes later Ashley was sprinting across the South Station. By nearly knocking the guard at the gate off his feet, he managed to swing, puffing and spent, upon the steps of the last car of the 3.04 train for Mossett.
About forty people alighted from the train with Ashley when it arrived at Mossett, at a little after four. He watched them tumble, laden with bundles, into the waiting carriages, automobiles and buses. Not one did he recognize, but he knew them to be small Boston business men who sought this distant, sleepy little shore town to secure a refuge from the summer heat for their wives and children. By the time he had learned that the Newhall house was over a mile from the station, and that he could best reach it by one of the station buses, this conveyance had filled. He climbed up on the seat beside the driver.
For momentum the bus depended upon an old spavined horse who was induced to believe things were better ahead because a young red-haired boy plied the butt end of a whip so vigorously behind.
“You don’t know whether Miss Newhall came down this afternoon or not, do you?” asked Ashley, partly to call off the driver from his prey.
“Sure,” answered the boy, “she came down on the three and I took her over.” He stopped drubbing the horse to take a look at Ashley. “Be you a relative?” he asked.
“No; just a reporter.”
He was rewarded by another and longer look from the boy. A reporter in Mossett evidently excited as much interest as an actor or a magician.
“Well, you ain’t the only one,” the boy went on after a moment.
Ashley knew that Newhall’s disappearance had sent a flock of reporters to this little town. He said nothing. He was planning what he should do when he reached Second Cliff, the abode of the Newhalls.
“Second Clift’s got a new name now,” the boy broke in with a grin.
“That so?” responded Ashley without interest.
“Use’ter call it ‘Newhall’s Folly’; now he’s gone and shot hisself, we’re callin’ it ‘Suicide Clift.’ ”
Ashley, interested, offered the boy a cigarette, lighted one himself. The overture, as he had expected, kept the boy talking. “ ’Taint the first suicide we’ve had on Second Clift. Old man Thorpe who lived up next to Newhall, shot hisself there a little while ago. Guess it’s contagerous, like scarlet fever.”
“Thorpe!” mused Ashley, carefully dissimulating his attention. “Who was he—some relative of the Newhalls?”
“Relative!” the boy laughed. “Ain’t you never heared of the trouble down here between Newhall and old man Thorpe?”
Ashley shook his head.
“Well, that’s kinder strange—an’ you a reporter!” The boy studied Ashley out of the corner of an eye. Evidently he made up his mind that he was not being beguiled. He went on:
“Thought everybody knowed ’bout that. Old man Thorpe, he come down first an’ put up a real clever house over on the clift. No one thought of buildin’ there before—nothin’ to see but the ocean, an’ ’skeeters so thick they bit a dog to death. Then, he invites his friend, Newhall, to come down an’ see what a fine place he’s got. Newhall comes; somehow he gets looney over the place, too, an’ the first thing anyone knew, he’d bought up all the rest of the land on the clift. Thorpe, he got sore—sorer than a man who’s missed the last train to town. He only had the handfull of land on top the clift where he’d put up his house. He said he tole Newhall he ’tended to buy the rest an’ Newhall was mean enough to get it ahead of him.
“Then Newhall went to work an’ put up a house on the clift as big as a hotel an’ fixed up the whole darn place. His mansion made Thorpe’s house look like a shack. When the old man kicked, Newhall just handed him another left-wallop to the jaw, tole him he’d better get busy an’ buy a balloon or an airship, or somethin’; he wasn’t goin’ to have the old man goin’ and comin’ over his land any longer. You see, Newhall, he’d been sharp enough to buy the only road up the clift. Thorpe, he couldn’t get into or out of his land—not without wings. Thorpe claimed he had a right of way to the road—guess he had, anyways the nail-keg ’tops’ argued it out nights ’round the Post Office stove and said so—but he found it another matter gettin’ it. Newhall put up a fence an’ a trespassin’ sign. Then they both went to law ’bout it.
“Now, I ain’t sayin’ this, but I heard it; they say that Newhall had the whole thing planned, egged the old man on, was just waitin’ to get old Thorpe into court an’ bust him so he could get hold of his little pinch of land, too. By cripes, but he near done it! He skun the old man of his money all right. Newhall was just gettin’ ready to step in, was ’round askin’ one of us to buy it in for him, when one day old man Thorpe sneaks down into the empty house and shoots hisself through the head. Everybody says Newhall druv him to it. An’ now, Newhall, he ups an’ does the same thing hisself! That’s why we’re thinkin’ of callin’ it ‘Suicide Clift.’ Strange, ain’t it, how a man can’t do anybody dirt without gettin’ a wipe in the face hisself?”
But Ashley was too keenly interested in facts to care for their philosophy. “What about the Thorpe house? Did they have to give it up and leave here?” he inquired.
“Not on your life! The old man’s widder an’ son had to mortgage it; they had to yank young Thorpe out of college to keep their heads above water, but they held onto the house. Guess the robins ’ll be wearin’ trousers ’fore they give up that after what’s happened.”
“Why, what else happened?” demanded Ashley.
“Ain’t that enough?” The glint in the boy’s eyes suggested that there was more.
Ashley shook his head. “Go on,” he said.
“Well, young Thorpe, he was girlin’ with Newhalls daughter, an’ they kept it up through ’bout all the trouble between the families. But that was broke off quick after the old man shot hisself.”
Ashley seemed to be much more interested in the end of his cigarette than in his next question. “Are the Thorpes here now?” he asked.
“I dunno. I thought I see young Thorpe down on the marsh this momin’, but the house ain’t been open sence the old man died, an’ he didn’t come on any of the trains or I’d ’a’ seen him.”
“What was he doing on the marsh—fishing?”
“I dunno. Ain’t sayin’ ’twas him. All I know is, I was driving the barge over to the early train when I see somebody that looked like him sittin’ down and lookin’ into the creek over there where it forks. But he didn’t have no fishin’ pole, an’ there ain’t no fish there anyway—’cept clams.”
The bus had separated from the crowd of vehicles which had kept company with it along the main road from the station, had taken to a road which led straight across the marsh. On the left was a wharf or two and a huddle of weatherworn buildings which must be Mossett; on the right from road to horizon stretched a waste of marshland intersected by a shallow stream. About a hundred yards from the road this creek forked, separating into two smaller streams. Ashley turned and looked toward the point on the marsh where the driver thought he had seen Thorpe. A man might have wandered out upon that barren, muddy waste to shoot small birds, but this was not the season for peep or yellow-legs. What, then, could have taken Thorpe out there? Could it have been Thorpe? If it were, had Miss Newhall hastened down here to meet him?
“You get out here, if you wanter go to the Newhalls,” the bus driver broke in on his ruminations. “You take this road right up the clift. I turn off here to the beach with the rest of my load.”
Ashley faced a smooth-surfaced macadam road which began at the end of the long causeway over which he had come. Two great square boulders marked the entrance. Up a rise, short but sharp, the road corkscrewed—in sight for only a few rods at a time. On either side clusters of bushy sumach and elderberry, thick tangles of golden rod, wild carrot and other weeds scrambled to its edge. An occasional birch, cypress or wild cherry tree rose above the shoulder-high vegetation. It was a miniature, half-grown wilderness—utterly untouched—nothing except this ribbon of macadam that promised a house.
As he neared the brow of the hill, he came to a sudden halt. A turn brought him to a grass-grown road leading off to the right through the thick shrubbery. The two roads were kept apart by big posts and a heavily timbered gate. The gate stood open; a key hung in the large padlock. On each side of the gate were huge “No Trespassing” signs—each a defiance to the other.
Here, then, was where the Thorpe-Newhall feud had come to a climax. Here, over a trivial right of way, one man had pitted himself against the other, each had studied how he most might provoke his neighbor. They had locked horns, fought on, each for his eggshell rights, until death, quicker than the courts, stepped in to pass judgment. And now—sole monument to a senseless strife—the gate stood wide open, the key in the padlock.
Following the main road to the left, Ashley found that beyond the next bend it came to the top of the hill. Straight before him lay the rear of a great, spreading colonial dwelling. Its huge chimneys and ostentatious bulk filled the eye with their dimensions. This must be the Newhall summer home. He perceived at once why the driver had referred to it scornfully as a hotel.
Clothes lay scattered on the grass to dry, but he saw no other evidence of occupancy. Passing by the side of the house, he came to its front and, a few feet beyond, to the edge of the cliff. He stopped in amazement. Coming up the road, the hemming-in shrubbery had given him a feeling of being deep in the green country. And here was the ocean—nothing but sea and sky, so far as the eye could see. His first sensation was one of delight at the scope and grandeur of the view. But not a boat or sail relieved the monotony of that stretching waste of blue water. Gradually, it began to wear on him. He moved nearer the edge of the cliff and looked down. Seventy feet below, the sea crept in over piles and masses of rocks. They were stained and hung with seaweed. These, the sea had won from the land and made its own, placing upon them its dark and sinister mark. The effect was bleak—unpleasantly bleak. A step nearer, and the sheer drop to the rocks below brought its inevitable impulse to throw himself over. Drawing back, his eyes fell upon a footpath running along the edge of the cliff. At intervals, the cliff had crumbled away, the worn footpath plunged over the edge to the sea-marked rocks seventy feet below. So this was the depressing site over which two men had fought so bitterly?
And then, Ashley turned and understood. Back toward the west and south stretched the marshes. Their soft, placid green soothed the eye. Beyond were little round hills with roads running like narrow ribbons to their tops. They were dotted with homely, weather-beaten houses. Here and there, these snuggled together in neighborly comfort, and a church spire marked the village. And everywhere was the soft green of the grass and the darker green of the trees. Here the country came down to the sea. When the spectator tired of one, he had but to turn to the other.
A scrubwoman with a broom and pail of water, coming out of the front door of the big house, interrupted Ashley’s reflections. Without noting his presence, she set to work to wash the paint on the front steps. He approached her.
“Is Miss Newhall at home?” he asked.
“You can go in and see,” she replied without looking at him.
Surprised, he went up the steps. Probably she was an extra woman hired for this work. One of the regular maids would meet him inside and take his name to Miss Newhall.
Entering, he heard voices upstairs, but he wandered aimlessly about the hall, looking into the neighboring rooms, without coming upon anyone. Finally he came back and sat down in the front hall. Someone would appear sooner or later.
Having settled this point, he gave attention casually to the voices upstairs. The first words he distinguished caused him to listen, astonished.
“No; I don’t want it—I won’t have it investigated,” he heard a woman declare in the petulant voice which he recognized as Miss Newhall’s.
“Listen! Let me tell you again just what it means, if you don’t,” a man persuaded.
“No; you’re only wasting your time.” Ashley heard the creak of her chair as she rose to emphasize her objection.
“Don’t be headstrong!” His sharp tone showed that the man was near the end of his patience. “I’ve already told you that Mr. Newhall leaves nothing except this insurance—everything else is hopelessly lost. It can’t be possible that you understand me.”
“I do.” Miss Newhall’s voice was icy.
“Wait!” Ashley visualized the man filling the pause by raising a hand in protest. “Let it go as suicide and this house—everything will be swept away—why, you’ll be left without a cent in the world or a roof over your head.”
“No. There’s the trust fund my mother left to me.”
“Your stepfather was the sole trustee of that. Gone, like all the rest.”
“I can’t believe it. He never would have done that—to me.”
“He had to.”
“I tried to get him to take my jewels and he wouldn’t.”
“Your jewels! My dear child, a drop in the bucket!”
“You seem ready to say anything to gain your point. My emerald necklace alone cost twenty thousand dollars. No, now let me talk a while. I know my father better than you do. He was too fond of me to spend my money and leave me with nothing. Even—”
“He did. I know —”
“Even—” Miss Newhall’s voice pierced shrilly through the interruption. “I say, even if he did, it all goes to show that I am right. Every point you have made proves that my father intended to do—what he did.”
The man took immediate advantage of the drop in her voice. “No, you are wrong, entirely wrong. Your father never committed suicide. He told me only the day before that his life was in danger. Not only that, but he told me from whom. On the day of his death, I know that he was to hold a long conference with this man. He telephoned me that he was to meet him again last night. He seemed afraid of the outcome of that talk. It was the first time I ever knew him to be scared of any living thing. It made a strong impression on me. The man he named was one who thought he had a grievance against him—his bitterest enemy. Your father feared him—why shouldn’t he have done it? Let him prove an alibi and clear himself. I didn’t intend to tell you his name, but you make it necessary. It was—”
“Stop!” The girl’s scream brought Ashley to his feet. “Don’t you dare bring his name into this,” cried Miss Newhall, in a voice choked with passion. “I know—I know he had nothing to do with it. Don’t you dare—I won’t have it—do you hear, I simply won’t have it?” Her voice quivered, broke, she began to sob.
“Very well, it’s for you to say. I’ve told you all I know and what I suspect. I won’t do a thing, if you’re determined to go against my advice and act like a silly, senseless child. But—but don’t you come to me with your complaints, if you regret what you are doing.”
The man ceased. The woman kept on sobbing as a woman sobs who intends to win her point.
“Well—” the man’s tone showed that he had given in, “I’ll attend to all those matters about the funeral. Good-bye.”
Ashley heard the man rise and make his way across the floor. The whole scene in the room on the floor above had taken place so quickly, their talk had gathered his attention so utterly that he had not had time to realize what he was doing. The sounds of departure aroused him for the first time to a full sense of the embarrassing situation in which he would be caught. For an instant he wavered; then he opened the front door, fled past the indifferent scrubwoman and hurried away down the road.
Bertrand Newhall haunted by a fear that someone intended to shoot him? Bertrand Newhall confessing such a fear to any human being? The ideas were utterly out of keeping with the known character of the man. Newhall delighted in rather than feared his enemies. Newhall had the reputation of confiding in nobody. Who, then, was the man who had made these amazing statements? And who, above all, was the man whom Miss Newhall would not permit him to name?
Beyond the first curve in the road, Ashley parted the shrubbery and kept sharp watch of the house. He must learn who Miss Newhall’s visitor was. He would leave soon, and he would have to make his departure by this road. Ashley would at least get a glimpse of him.
While he waited, Ashley endeavored to recall the names of Newhall’s enemies. There were many: All the wool trade, several of Boston’s leading financiers who had fought bitterly to keep the Province Trust Company out of his reckless hands and, doubtless, many another, like Thorpe, whose grievance smoldered unnoted. None of Newhall’s business enemies would be likely to take the law into his own hands. Ashley knew, from experience, that men, prominent as Newhall, were usually made away with by women, or by poor people who had suffered obscure wrongs. Of Newhall’s recognized enemies, Ashley could think of but one to suspect.
Thorpe! Yes, he had suffered the greatest injury at Newhall’s hands. And Miss Newhall had led the way straight to him the night before. Ashley felt himself growing more and more positive that Bertrand Newhall could not have died by his own hand. Could Miss Newhall and Thorpe have accomplished the deed in collusion? Everything pointed that way. That would account for—
The whirr of a motor coming up the road interrupted Ashley’s speculations, caused him to hurry to cover. Probably this car had come to take away Miss Newhall’s visitor. After it had passed, Ashley hurried down the road, and chose a hiding place among the undergrowth near the entrance to the road. He had hardly settled back in his retreat before he heard the chauffeur loosen his brake and throw in his speed clutch. The car whizzed by too quickly for Ashley to get more than a glimpse of its passenger through the tangled shrubbery. But, jumping out into the road, he managed to catch its number. He set it down. When he returned to Boston, the Automobile Register would tell him who the owner of that car was. This man might tell more, if discreetly questioned, might even be led to give the name of the man he suspected. But then, this was probably Thorpe.
The scrubwoman was just disappearing through the front door when Ashley returned to the Newhall house. She was a gaunt, flat-chested female with a surly manner.
“Back again, hey?” she scoffed. “I suppose now she’ll be gettin’ rid of me again, sendin’ me out to wash the steps a third time this day.”
“Mrs. Higgins!” called someone behind her sharply. Miss Newhall appeared. She had a chiffon scarf over her shoulders as if about to go out. She stared at Ashley in obvious dismay.
“Oh! how do you do,” she cried. Then, after manifest hesitation, “Won’t—won’t you come in?” She remained standing in the hall. Ashley had an uncomfortable feeling that his presence was unwelcome. Miss Newhall kept her eyes on Mrs. Higgins until she disappeared through a door at the rear of the hall, then she turned and looked at him, expectantly, without saying a word.
“I missed you in Boston.” Ashley felt compelled to explain his presence.
“Yes?” Her manner was cold, inattentive, not calculated to put Ashley any more at ease.
“I hope you haven’t forgotten your promise,” he hurried on.
“My promise?” she asked listlessly.
“I came to ask you for the keys.”
“I have changed my mind about them.” She moved away, without inviting him to follow.
For an instant, Ashley hesitated, then, angered by the cool way in which she broke her agreement, he followed her down the hall, into the library at the right.
At his entrance, she turned and faced him. There was the suggestion of a scowl on her face.
“Do you mind telling me why you changed your mind?” persisted Ashley.
She made an impatient gesture with her hand, sat down.
Immediately, Ashley sat down, also—waited, without saying a word.
She studied him with growing irritation, then she seemed to see the uselessness of prolonging the contest. The scowl disappeared from her face. “Very well,” she said with sudden graciousness, “if you want them so much—I think I’ll get them for you, after all.” She left the room.
She came back and handed him the keys. “I hope you’ll forgive me for being so rude,” she apologized, “but I’ve been terribly upset this morning. As if what has happened were not enough, two of my maids have just left me, absolutely without warning.”
Ashley, wishing to ask her some questions about Walter Thorpe, hastened to make the most of her more courteous treatment. “I’m sorry to hear that,” he murmured. “Can I send some servants down to you when I get back to Boston?”
“Oh, you are going right back?” She gave him a quick look, which showed how relieved she was to learn it.
“I intended to—as soon as I got the keys,” he replied, thinking hard how he could bring Thorpe into the conversation without alarming her. “If I could telephone to an employment agency for you, I should be very glad to.”
“No-o, I guess I won’t bother you,” she responded restlessly. “Thank you very much, though.” She held out her hand.
Ashley took her hand and muttered something conventional, while he, debated inwardly whether it were offered to hasten his departure. She remained standing, gave him no invitation to be seated; slowly the galling conviction came to him: she wished to get rid of him.
The situation hurried him. “I wonder if you would be good enough to tell me something before I go. I’m not keeping you from anything,” he added quickly, as he observed the ungracious frown which greeted his request.
“No—that is—there is something I suppose I ought to attend to immediately.” She moved away from him a little towards the door.
Ashley glared at her in silence, considering whether or not to ask her point-blank if Walter Thorpe were in Mossett.
“Father’s automobile has been found,” she explained when the silence became irksome.
“Found—where?” Ashley jumped as though she had thrown a bomb at him. For a day and a half, reporters and police had been exploring the entire state for traces of this missing car. Its chauffeur would be able to explain where Newhall had been and what he had done on the day of his death.
“The police found it at Westborough—they have just telephoned me.”
“The chauffeur?” Ashley struggled to control his excitement.
“They couldn’t find a trace of him. That’s the strange thing about it. He appears to have simply abandoned it.”
“That’s queer! What sort of a man was he?”
“Oh, I don’t know. The usual sort, I suppose. He had been in father’s employ several years, but he never did anything like this before.”
“He ought to be found at once. Can you give me a description of him?”
“Oh, I don’t care anything about him. I only want to know what to do about getting the car.” Again she moved restively.
“Could you attend to getting it back for me?” she interrupted, ruthlessly.
“Gladly, if you will give me an order.”
She forestalled further questions by hurrying to a desk and writing one at his dictation. As she did so, the chiffon scarf about her shoulders fell to the chair. While she wrote, Ashley prepared the half dozen quick questions about the chauffeur and Thorpe he wished to ask her. But once again she outwitted him.
She rose and handed him the order. “This is very, very kind of you,” she said. “I won’t keep you any longer for fear you will miss your train.”
She turned away, picked up the chiffon scarf from the chair and placed it over her shoulders. The action came as a sudden illumination to Ashley. She was eager to get rid of him. She was going out, and probably she was going to meet Walter Thorpe.
Checking the questions on the tip of his tongue, he took leave and hastened down the road to a point among the shrubbery through which he could watch the Newhall house. In a few minutes his foresight was justified. Miss Newhall appeared around the corner of the house, looked sharply down the road, and then hastened along the path that ran by the edge of the cliff.
Running fast, Ashley came upon the Thorpe cottage from the rear before Miss Newhall arrived at the front. Screened by a wild cherry tree, he studied the house. It was a small Queen Anne cottage, shutters upon all the lower windows, the blinds closed upon all the upper.
“If Thorpe’s in there, he’s hiding like a criminal,” he mused, after a careful examination of the tightly sealed exterior.
A voice, trilling, warned him of the approach of Miss Newhall. She was coming along the path at the edge of the cliff waving her scarf expectantly toward the Thorpe cottage. Was Walter Thorpe within—waiting for her signal? Ashley kept his eyes fastened upon the windows on that side of the house. Watching, he thought he saw one of the blinds shake a little as though someone had started to open it. The girl trilled again. No, the blind remained closed, motionless. In another moment, Ashley doubted whether it had really moved at all.
Miss Newhall stopped, studied the windows on that side a moment, then passed out of sight around the corner. In a few moments, he heard her knock loudly upon the front door. He listened intently; after that, not a sound. Had she been admitted? Growing restive, he left his hiding place and crept up close beside the broad piazza at the front of the house. The opening above at his end would afford a view of its entire length. Crouching, he listened. Not hearing a sound, he rose after a time and looked over. One hasty glance and he drew back with alarm. Miss Newhall was at the front door, one ear against it, her eyes in his direction. Had she seen him? He crouched lower, closer to the house and held his breath, not daring yet to venture the noise of a retreat.
“What do you mean by following me?”
Miss Newhall was regarding him angrily over the end of the piazza. The last thing Ashley wanted to happen had happened. Carefully he had kept from asking her questions which would provoke her suspicion; resolutely he had avoided displaying that curiosity which might rouse her antagonism. And now, he was caught, not only spying on her, but shamelessly eavesdropping. There was only one thing to do. He must brazen it out.
He rose. “Evidently you do not know that I was here first,” he said calmly. “Do you think it queer,” he went on, “that, seeing a girl coming along the cliff trilling and waving her scarf at a closed cottage, my curiosity should have been aroused?”
She regarded him keenly. “Do you know whose cottage this is?” she demanded.
“No—that is, I suppose it’s the Thorpes’. They are the only other people on the cliff, aren’t they?”
“But you promised to go to Boston at once to get our automobile,” she said accusingly.
“There’s no train for three-quarters of an hour. Was it strange that I decided to kill part of the time by wandering up this quaint little road?”
It was plausible. Moreover, it was what she wished to believe. Her face relaxed, the flash faded from her eyes. “I came over here to see if Mrs. Thorpe were here,” she broke out after a moment, avoiding his look. “I did not like to be alone after all that’s happened. But she isn’t—nobody seems to be here. I shall have to get someone else to stay with me. Wait a moment, and I will show you the way back along the edge of the cliff.”
“You didn’t see any signs of anybody, did you?” she asked him suspiciously after they had gone a short distance in silence.
Embarrassed, he hesitated. Should he lie, as she had? And then, while he debated, there came to their ears a sound which swept any further impulse to fence from both their minds.
It was the quick, sharp spat of a shot.
They both stopped. Involuntarily Ashley turned toward Miss Newhall. Her big eyes seemed to be her only living feature. They glittered, widened swiftly with terror. For one moment she stared at him. Then she turned and ran back toward the Thorpe cottage.
Though Ashley ran at his utmost speed, Miss Newhall reached the cottage before him. When he leaped up the piazza steps, she was pounding hysterically upon the front door, tears streaming down her face. “Walter, Walter, Walter!” she called with a frenzy which set his nerves jumping.
Before he could make a move, she turned on him, her hands changed to claws, shaking. “Why don’t you do something—why don’t you do something?” she screamed.
A single glance showed him the futility of attempting an entrance through the shuttered doors and windows of the lower story. Pulling off his shoes he prepared to climb a post to the sloping roof of the piazza. In his ears was the din of her cries, “Walter, Walter, Walter!” increasing his confusion, making his hands clumsy at their work. If she would only stop!
She came running down the steps as he started to climb the post. “Why don’t you do something—why don’t you do something!” she screamed again into his very ears. As he managed at the risk of his neck to clamber up on the steep roof, he heard her racing round and round the house, shrieking, “Walter, Walter, Walter!”
Pulling open the blinds on the nearest window, he tried to open it. It was locked. He smashed the glass, unlocked the window and entered. Leaping across the room, he stumbled over a stool. Hurrying through the still darker hall, he ran into a chair. Turning blindly into the next chamber, he nearly tripped over—
It was the body of a young man. Blood was trickling down his cheek. By his side lay a pistol. Ashley knelt and made a quick examination of the wound. Then he ran downstairs, unlocked the back door and called to Miss Newhall. He had intended to prepare her for what she would find, but she tore by him and rushed upstairs. When he came up, she had the young man’s head in her lap; regardless of the blood which flowed upon her hands and gown; she was kissing him, calling, “Walter, Walter!” in a voice which set Ashley’s nerves on edge.
Then it was Walter Thorpe. Ashley bent down and spoke to her. His words were as unheeded as though he had spoken to stone. He touched her shoulder. “You had better get up now,” he suggested.
She pulled away.
He lost patience. “Get up, if you want to help him,” he said sternly.
“He is dead—he is dead—don’t talk to me—I know he is dead,” she moaned without moving.
“No, I think the shot only grazed his head,” he urged. “Get up! I need your help.”
She sprang up at once. “What can I do?—Oh, let me do something,” she cried.
He realized that if he wished her to regain control of herself, he must keep her busy. “Take my handkerchief, get some water,” he ordered.
In a few seconds she came running back to him. “The water isn’t on—oh, what shall we do!”
“Then we must move him to your house—at once. Come, I need your help.” Together they carried Thorpe away. Ashley allowed her to think she was really sharing the burden, though he permitted little of the weight to fall on her. By the time they reached the Newhall house, she was almost herself again.
Warning her against calling the servants, he carried Thorpe upstairs and deposited him on a couch in one of the chambers.
“I’ll telephone now for a doctor,” she said.
“No. I don’t think I’d do that,” he cautioned her.
“Do you want people to know about this?”
“If you call a doctor he will have to report it to the authorities.”
She hesitated; after a moment she came droopingly back. “Oh, but I’m so worried! You are sure—you are sure it isn’t anything dangerous,” she implored him.
“Yes. I’ll prove it to you now.”
He sent her for water, linen, and antiseptics. He allowed her to help him wash and dress the wound. It was on the right side of the head, above the temple. The bullet had hardly more than grazed the skin. And yet, for so slight a wound, Thorpe had been insensible for an unusually long time.
“You’re deceiving me. Why doesn’t he come to?” demanded Miss Newhall, the first moment he left her unoccupied.
“Wait!” Ashley dashed a little cold water on Thorpe’s white face.
In a few moments Thorpe stirred. His eyes opened, fixed without expression on Miss Newhall standing at the foot of the couch. An instant they stared, gleamless as glass marbles, then they lighted with a look of terror. He fell back, shutting his eyes again. For another instant he lay taut. Then his eyelids lifted slowly, as with the premeditation of cunning. Half-raised, his eyes shot directly to the foot of the couch again. At sight of Miss Newhall he shrank perceptibly. Again he closed his eyes.
“Walter, Walter, don’t you know me?” Miss Newhall seized his hand.
Again came that slow raising of the lids. Then as soon as he saw her, his eyes shut quickly, his hand trembled, fell away from hers; his whole body quivering, he turned his face away to the wall.
Ashley took her gently by the arm. “I think you had better go. Leave him alone with me a little while,” he said, drawing her away.
She shook her head.
“But—” He turned at the sudden stiffening of her attitude.
Thorpe, his eyes full of terror, had raised himself, was frantically struggling to get off the couch. It took all Ashley’s strength to force him back, to pinion him there.
“You must go, or I shan’t be able to keep him here,” he called out to her.
After a moment he heard the door close behind her. As though he also had heard it, Thorpe at once ceased to struggle.
After a time Thorpe raised himself and bent toward Ashley with a strangely earnest gleam in his eyes. His mouth opened as if about to speak. But his tongue mumbled and he made nothing but inarticulate sounds. For some time, he continued, his distorted face showing the eager struggle he was making to say something. Ashley stared at him in dismay; he could not distinguish syllable or word. “What is it? What do you want to tell me?” he kept asking, seeking to encourage the invalid. At last, Thorpe appeared to give up the attempt. With a deep sigh he fell back on the couch and turned his face once again to the wall.
What was the trouble with him? What had he tried so ineffectually to say? A confession?
Rousing himself from reflections which led nowhere, Ashley lifted him, removed his clothes and placed him in the bed on the other side of the chamber. Thorpe’s shoes and trousers were heavily crusted with mud and dust. The mud might have come from wanderings upon the marsh, but the dust had settled deep into the seams; it could have come only from a long walk over dusty country roads. Had Thorpe been in Boston the night before? Had he walked the twenty-five miles to Mossett?
Eagerly Ashley examined Thorpe’s pockets. He found nothing of interest except a bunch of keys. One by one, he compared them with the keys which Miss Newhall had given him. No key to the Boston home of the Newhalls was among them.
Ashley sat down beside him on the bed and questioned him. But the attempt proved fruitless. Thorpe seemed to understand, appeared to do his utmost to answer, but the result, again, was only a few inarticulate and meaningless sounds. After a time, Thorpe stopped trying. He made signs that he was thirsty.
Ashley felt a little uneasy about leaving him alone. Perhaps he could call a maid from the hall. He tiptoed over to the door and opened it quietly. What he discovered on the other side gave him a surprise which he had to suppress as best he could.
Miss Newhall stood in the hall close to the door. Her head and shoulders were still slightly bent forward from the eavesdropping at which he had startled her, but her eyes met his straight in a blaze of defiance.
For an instant Ashley was nonplussed. Of course, this was her own house and perhaps she had a right to listen in these abnormal circumstances. The embarrassing thing was to catch her at it.
“I’ve put him to bed,” he said with an assumed ease, as if her action were a natural one, “but he wants something to drink. Could you send up some water to him and perhaps a little broth or soup might not do any harm?”
She nodded and vanished.
A little later she came into the room herself, bearing the tray. Thorpe seemed to know by instinct the instant she entered. He threw the clothes back and started to get out of bed. Calling to Miss Newhall to go, Ashley grappled with him, managed, after a time, to calm him. Thorpe drank greedily and ate as one famished, gestured for more, but, when denied, sank submissively back in bed. After one apprehensive glance toward the door, he fell asleep.
While he listened to his deep and regular breathing, Ashley realized with a start that he had utterly overlooked the pistol with which Thorpe had shot himself. He had left it at the Thorpe cottage. His own shoes were also there. This was his opportunity to secure them.
Again, Miss Newhall started away from the door as he opened it. Annoyed, he determined to have it out with her. “I shall have to go over to the cottage for my shoes,” he began. “Mr. Thorpe is asleep. Have you a maid I can leave with him while I am gone?”
“I prefer to stay with him myself,” replied Miss Newhall, with acrimony.
“You have seen what has happened,” Ashley answered coldly. “You must promise me not to enter the room or I shan’t feel right about leaving him.”
He was proof against her obstinacy and her entreaties; in the end, she agreed to follow his orders. She brought Mrs. Higgins, the surly scrubwoman, to stay with the patient. After giving her orders to keep perfect silence and to allow nobody to enter the room, Ashley departed.
The pistol with which Thorpe had shot himself proved to be an old-fashioned Colt .22. The shot which had killed Newhall was a .32.
Within ten minutes, Ashley had felt himself close to two things which would establish Thorpe’s connection with the crime; within that space of time, both, first, the keys and now the pistol—had failed to bear witness against him. Ashley secured his shoes, locked the cottage, and returned, keenly disappointed.
Miss Newhall was not in sight. He ran upstairs to Thorpe’s room. Before he opened the door, he heard sounds of trouble. Inside, Thorpe was struggling to get out of bed and Mrs. Higgins was holding him there by main strength. Ashley had arrived just in time, for the woman was spent. Relieving her, he finally quieted the patient; then he turned sternly upon Mrs. Higgins.
“What have you been doing?” he demanded.
“Here, here, now, don’t you be blamin’ me,” she answered tartly. “He was all right till Miss Newhall came buttin’ in.”
Ashley said nothing. He simply looked at her. “Now you can believe me or not,” she went on hotly, “but just as soon as he happened to turn round and see her here, he made a streak for the door. It warn’t no easy thing for the two of us to get him back, either, with him fighting us off and his face working like as he was goin’ to throw a fit. He never said a word, but he never began to let up till she left the room.”
Ashley’s eyes happened to turn to Thorpe. He was regarding them intently, listening. “Is this true?” Ashley asked him, sharply.
Taken by surprise, the patient tried again to speak, but his face went through only the old contortions. Once again he gave up, turned away, as one who shields an infirmity from public view.
At least, he seemed to understand what was said. “I’ll see that she doesn’t come in here again,” Ashley announced loudly for Thorpe’s benefit. Making a sign to Mrs. Higgins to remain, he left the room.
Miss Newhall, coming up, met him at the head of the stairs. There was a rustle to her movement which promised trouble.
“I must see you at once,” she said with asperity. She led the way downstairs into the library. There she faced him with the petulance of a spoiled child.
“You’ve been deceiving me, and I shan’t stand it any longer,” she declared angrily.
Ashley kept his temper, merely stared at her coldly.
“You told me Mr. Thorpe was not dangerously wounded,” she burst out. “You tried to keep me from seeing him, but he is—he is—and the time has come for me to take things into my own hands.” She started to leave the room.
“One minute, Miss Newhall.” Ashley made no move to stop her. “Perhaps you will tell me just what you intend to do.”
She turned and faced him with the noisy spirit of the weak of will. “I intend to send for a doctor, to have him looked after as he ought to be.”
“You know, of course, what will happen, if you do,” he cautioned in a tone which he purposely kept quiet and low.
“I’m very certain what will happen if I don’t,” she said, moving again toward the door.
Ashley said nothing. He must master this woman.
Near the door, she paused. “He’ll die of neglect, and you know it,” she asserted stormily.
Ashley said nothing.
Her hand on the knob, she turned. “Well, what will happen?” she demanded sullenly. And by token of the baffled note in her voice, Ashley knew that he had conquered.
“As soon as a doctor sees him,” he stated, “he will ask how he came by his wound. You will have to tell him, and he will have to report it to the authorities. As soon as the police hear of it, they will ask, ‘But why did he shoot himself?’ They will recall the bad blood between the two families—”
“No, no, no; that is all over!”
“Perhaps—but you can never convince the police. They will insist upon believing the worst.”
Her hand dropped weakly from the knob of the door.
Ashley moved, but away rather than towards her. “No,” he said, “if you intend to send for anyone, take my advice: don’t send for a doctor, send straight for the police. It amounts to the same thing and it will save time.”
Subdued, all the spirit of her opposition gone, she crept to a chair, dropped into it. “What—oh, what are we going to do!” she murmured feebly.
Ashley crossed the room and stood by her. “I know what you’re afraid of,” he said soothingly, “and you had better leave it to me. We need a doctor who will keep Walter Thorpe’s condition secret. I am going to Boston for one—a friend of mine—by the next train. I must tell the Thorpes, too, and keep them from talking. Otherwise, they themselves might start the police on his track. We must keep them off until we learn just what has happened. They will never think of looking for him here. He is safer in this house than in any other place in the world.”
“But you—oh, if I could only trust you!”
“But what else can you do?” Ashley’s voice was stern.
Miss Newhall’s distrust and wilful interference filled Ashley with a lively dislike for the duty which confronted him early that evening in Boston. He felt obliged to notify Walter Thorpe’s family of what had happened, but he shrank from the probability of meeting one or two more women who would insist upon working at cross purposes, who would have to be argued with, and perhaps also beaten into submission.
During the few minutes that he waited for her in the library of her Beacon Street home, Ashley conjectured what Miss Thorpe would be like and prepared for more trouble. She would be frail, faded and forty, he knew; one of those thin, stern spinsters who would delight in disputing every move he made or advised. Either that, or she would be spoiled, petulant, headstrong, like Miss Newhall.
And then, Alice Thorpe entered the room and Ashley experienced that surprise which lies in wait for one who makes imaginary portraits. Alice Thorpe was not frail, faded and forty. Alice Thorpe was no thin, stern spinster. She was—
She was young and blonde—she was slender and graceful; her head seemed to tilt on her slim neck like a flower—and she had blue eyes!
Sometime in every man’s life the miracle happens. And the trouble with miracles is that they have a way of catching one unprepared.
Ashley fought against a sudden embarrassment. After what he had been thinking of her, he felt like a man surprised with his coat off by a pretty girl—yes, by an exceedingly pretty girl.
“I’ve come to bring you some news of—” he began, and hesitated clumsily.
“My brother—of Walter,” she concluded for him. Her words were tense with anxiety, but she whispered them.
“Yes, of your brother,” he agreed.
All the color drew out of Alice Thorpe’s face, she swayed. But before he could reach her, she caught herself up, forced herself back to composure.
“It’s all right—it isn’t so bad as you think—I was inexcusably clumsy,” he said with hurrying sympathy.
But by this time she had herself quite under control. The color began to come back to her face and she managed to give him a faint, reassuring smile. Then she closed the door, stood with her back against it facing him.
“I’m ready for anything, now,” she said. And somehow, these simple words eased the situation appreciably. “Tell me everything as quickly as you can,” she begged.
He managed to get through it haltingly, somehow. The little color which had come back to her face faded out until her lips were wax. She shook with horror when he described the shooting, but her blue eyes kept their steady gaze only to fill as he told her that Miss Newhall wanted her brother to remain in her house.
“Oh, that was so good of her! I can never, never thank her enough!” she said in a voice which trembled and yet was firm. “I must go to him at once. Walter is in no real danger—you are sure?” she asked.
Ashley hesitated. Then the way she leaned towards him, or something in the look in her soft blue eyes made him tell her the truth.
“The wound in itself is very slight,” he said, “but I’m a little troubled by the fact that he seems unable to talk. That is one of my reasons for coming to Boston. I am going to take a doctor back with me.”
“You couldn’t get any doctor in Mossett?” she asked keenly.
She was approaching dangerous ground. “Not the one I wanted,” answered Ashley, evasively.
She seemed to feel his uneasiness instantly, but questioned only with her eyes.
“I wanted to call in a doctor who is a friend of mine—one I could trust—so that the news wouldn’t get out.”
“Oh, you’ve been so thoughtful—so wonderfully thoughtful!” Impulsively, she darted across the room and held out her hand. “There has been so much trouble for my mother and Walter! I can’t tell you how good and kind you have been and how grateful I am.”
Ashley took the little, frail hand with the conflicting feelings of one thanked for something he has done from self-interest. But it made his final confession a little easier.
“I think I ought to tell you, Miss Thorpe, that it wasn’t half as unselfish of me as it looks. You see, I’m a reporter.”
Ashley confessed because he could not help doing it, but he did it with the acutest misgivings. At the word “reporter” women found in such crises usually fled or turned white and trusted not their lips to speak. To his delight, none of the panic, the suspicion, the drawing away from him that he feared took place. There was one silent, palpitating moment, then:
“That doesn’t make what you have done any less kind. You didn’t have to take all this trouble for us. I am sure we can trust you—can’t we?”
The simple, straightforward appeal went right to Ashley’s heart. The youth in him leaped impetuously to answer the lighted entreaty of her eyes.
“I’m ready to do everything in the world for you,” he declared warmly.
The warmth of his offer brought a lovely flush of color back upon her white face. She thanked him shyly and at once proceeded to take him at his word.
“Of course, I want to go to my brother at once,” she said. “It was very good of you and Miss Newhall to look after him, but that is my duty now. I think mother will be able to get along without me as soon as her mind is set at rest about Walter. She didn’t close her eyes last night and worried herself into a high fever. That was why I shut the door—for fear that you might have worse news for us. Would you mind speaking to her a moment? And please be as reassuring as you can—she has just learned of Mr. Newhall’s death and it seems to have alarmed her terribly.”
She left the room to prepare her mother for the interview. Alone, Ashley began to realize the dubious position into which he had got himself. Here he was convinced that Bertrand Newhall had never shot himself, suspecting Walter Thorpe of having committed the murder and yet offering this man’s sister his aid. The Thorpes had surely experienced more than their share of suffering already, with a father dead by his own hand, a mother dangerously ill, a son who had just attempted to take his own life—and no one but this young girl to shoulder the troubles of the entire family. Brave, young girl! Could he fail her in such difficulties?
She was very young and frail and pretty to face what she must soon face. He felt an overmastering desire to help her, to keep things from being true that seemed true.
So far as he knew, he himself, alone, was the only one to connect Walter Thorpe with the crime. And he—what had he in the way of proof? Turned quite about by his sympathy for her, very humanly he began to take her side, to admit that as yet he possessed not a single tangible thing—only a few suspicious circumstances—connecting her brother with Newhall’s death. Why keep on—why himself be the instrument to fasten this last dishonor upon her brother? And yet—and yet, he could not quite bring himself to shirk the issue.
It was in a state of such indecision that Alice Thorpe returned and led him to her mother. The sight of Mrs. Thorpe served only to increase Ashley’s distress. Propped up in bed to receive him, her thin, flushed face warned of an inner excitement that it would be dangerous to increase. Buried in great shadowy sockets, her eyes flared like candles, about to go out.
“My son—my son, he is in no danger?” She released a thin, vein-choked hand from the clothes and stretched it feebly to him along the coverlet.
“No, madam; not in the least. I can give you my word for it.” Ashley took her hand and pressed it gently.
“Thank God! Oh, thank God!” she murmured weakly. Her face worked; Ashley had a feeling that she was about to break into tears. He looked away.
“I want him to come to me—just as soon as he can,” she went on plaintively. “We need him—Alice and I.”
Ashley bowed his head, maintained a respectful silence.
“We have worried so all yesterday, last night and to-day—not knowing where he was—and the news of Mr. Newhall’s death was such a shock. Walter had an engagement with him last night—so much has happened—we were so afraid he might be dragged into it.”
Ashley’s heart lost a beat. Then Thorpe was the man with Newhall the night before!
“We looked for so much from that meeting,” the invalid went on. “It seemed as if all the old trouble between the families might be patched up at last—but last night when Walter didn’t come home, we began to worry “
Ashley looked away, his mind in a panic. Should he stop her? Every word was indicting her own son.
“—we worried about Walter,” she continued more feebly. “Walter gave me his promise not to have any trouble with him—but Mr. Newhall was a very dangerous man. I ought not to speak ill of the dead—but he was capable of anything—it was such a relief to learn that Walter was in Mossett. They don’t suspect him of anything?” she asked suddenly.
Ashley flushed, but his voice was steady. “No, I was at the inquest this morning myself. They called it suicide.” He moved restlessly.
“And Walter’s accident—the wound to his arm is being properly taken care of. It won’t keep him long away from us?”
“No; only a few days probably. Why, he could have come up just as well with me, only we wouldn’t let him take the risk of catching cold in it. No, you mustn’t worry. There isn’t the least need of it.”
Alice Thorpe’s eyes thanked him across the bed for aiding in the necessary deception of her mother. “Mother, we mustn’t keep Mr. Ashley any longer,” she said, smoothing the way for his departure.
A few minutes later she joined him once again in the library downstairs. It was he this time who closed the door.
“Miss Thorpe,” he began, “it may seem meddlesome of me, but your mother ought not to tell anyone else of that meeting last night.”
“You mean my brother’s meeting with Mr. Newhall?”
She caught at once the meaning of his warning. “Yes,” she murmured, “I can see why.”
“As long as only a few people know of it, there can be no danger.”
“How strange it is that that man should be able to cause us trouble even after he is dead!” A shadow fell over her young face. “Do you know,” she went on after a moment in the low voice of confession, “my brother and I have often wished that Bertrand Newhall would die. I know that isn’t a pretty thing for a girl to say, but—” her eyes kindled—“think of what he has done to us all. He killed my father and he made a hopeless invalid of my mother. Do you think he stopped there? No. Then he began to threaten Walter. He told him he would ruin him, too, if we didn’t sell him our place in Mossett. And he tried to do it. When Walter was struggling, oh, so hard, to revive father’s business, he tried to discredit him with the banks from which he had to borrow money. And when this failed, he went further, he kept on. Then he started a rumor that Walter had tried to sell out to him, but that he had refused to buy because he had gone over the books and found the business insolvent. That’s only one more of the cruel, malicious things he has done to us. Do you wonder that I am not sorry for his death? But”—the spirit of her indignation passed as quickly as it had come—“but I know that Walter had nothing to do with it.”
“Why?” The question burst involuntarily from Ashley’s lips.
“Because he would have known that it would kill his mother.”
The complete confidence into which she had taken him urged Ashley to do away with a doubt that puzzled him. “And Miss Newhall—is it true that your brother was engaged to her?”
She answered without hesitation. “Yes, they intend to marry—some time,” she said absently. “It will be easier now.”
Ashley stared at her with not to be concealed astonishment.
Suddenly she started, caught his look, and forced a smile over her saddened young face. “Forgive me for going over all this,” she apologized. “How did I ever come to do it? What were we talking about?” She smoothed a few trespassing strands of golden hair off her clearing brow.
“I asked you to keep your mother from telling anyone else about the meeting last night.”
“Oh, yes—oh,”—her voice took on a pitch of alarm—“but I’m afraid that’s too late!”
Ashley started. “Who else has she told about it?” he asked quickly.
“A reporter who insisted upon seeing her this morning. I didn’t realize the danger. I let him see her because he led me to believe he had news about Walter that he wouldn’t tell to anyone else.”
“And your mother told him what she told me?”
Ashley fought with his alarm. “Who was he?” he asked.
“I don’t remember his name. Oh, wait a minute, his card must be here in the waste-basket.” She ran across the room. A moment later she handed him a little piece of bristol board.
Ashley took the card, glanced at the name upon it and then gazed at her in utter dismay.
Henderson had been there before him!
Henderson on the trail! Then, for the sake of the Thorpes, Ashley knew that he also must keep at it. As he walked slowly down Beacon Hill he tried to determine how Henderson could have found his way so quickly to the Thorpes’. At last it came to him.
“Sergeant Smith called that taxi for Miss Newhall last night,” he reflected. “All he had to do was to pump the chauffeur to learn that we went straight to the Thorpe house.”
But was Henderson on the trail alone or was he working in combination with Sergeant Smith? Ashley recalled that the sergeant had shown Henderson the green bag discovered in the sewing room. This indicated that they might be working together. But how much of what Henderson had learned from Mrs. Thorpe had he shared with Sergeant Smith? If the police were on this trail also, Thorpe might be arrested on suspicion at any moment.
Ashley’s step quickened at the realization of this possibility. He hurried into the Parker House and called up Doctor North. The doctor had been his room-mate at college; he agreed to hasten through his calls and meet Ashley in the South Station about nine that evening.
With nearly an hour and a half on his hands, Ashley emerged from the telephone booth with the discovery that he was hungry. He had not eaten anything since half past five that morning. Calling up Conley, he learned that this worthy had discovered some things not to be revealed over the wire.
Ashley had just ordered his coffee in the big deserted dining-room of the Parker House, when Conley came in and quietly slipped into the opposite seat. For a moment neither of the two men spoke. But Conley’s silence was portentous.
“Well, what have you got on your chest?” Ashley demanded after a fitting interval.
“Enough to give a boarding-house refrigerator a fine fit of indigestion,” responded Conley.
Conley leisurely lighted a cigarette; then he began:
“When I left you, I beat it to the Medical Examiner’s for a squint at the pistol and cap. That gun’s sure a new one, but Newhall never bought it in Boston. I rustled every gunstore here without finding one that had handled that number. But the cap was as easy as a Dutch picnic. It was the cheapest kind of a cloth cap with a pasteboard visor and a 7 3/8 at that. Now a cheap cap like that ain’t sold at so many places, and there ain’t many chauffeurs with a 7 3/8 head. I got next to the man that sold it in the second store I entered.”
“Who bought it?” asked Ashley eagerly.
“Something queer comes in there. It was bought by a short, thick man of about thirty with a wart on his right temple and it was bought a little after eight on the morning of the day that Newhall passed out. The clerk remembered his man because he started away without trying it on. ‘Here, that won’t fit you,’ the clerk yelled after him. ‘That’s all right,’ said the man with the wart, making a quick getaway. Now what do you make of that?”
“Short—thick—thirty—wart on right temple,” repeated Ashley, his face becoming grim. “Why that’s the other end from any description of Newhall!”
“Sure. That lets Newhall out. The man who bought it had on cheap dark clothes and a chauffeur’s cap.”
Ashley reflected. “Tanned face?” he asked, after a moment.
“I have it! It was probably his chauffeur,” Ashley exclaimed with excitement. “Conley, it’s up to us to get a description of Newhall’s chauffeur and see how it tallies.”
“Newhall paid off his chauffeur the day before his death and said he was going to fire him.”
Ashley bent across the table. “Any trouble between them?” he asked quickly.
“No. The same chauffeur took the machine out of the garage the next morning.”
“Then he abandoned it late last night in Westborough,” exclaimed Ashley. “There’s our man—there’s the man I want to get next to right off,” he cried.
Conley checked him with a wave of his hand. “Fine,” he exclaimed scornfully, “fine; if I hadn’t stumbled onto a better lead. I happened to remember this afternoon that Courtney Little was one of the directors of the Province Trust Company. You know Courtney—son of a rich man, shoved on the board to tickle the old man’s vanity and to give the trust company tone. Courtney must have been about as useful as a cat in a kennel, but to himself Courtney was a full formed captain of industry, with one of those pert young minds which just naturally love to rinse themselves out in words. Well, I caught Courtney this morning in his father’s office and he was so sore on Newhall that his tongue couldn’t work fast enough. It seems that Newhall had tired of Courtney, wanted to shelve him and put another man on the board in his place, so Courtney spied on Newhall like a jealous wife to learn who this other man was. Courtney says that Newhall spent several mornings telephoning this man trying to arrange a meeting; Courtney says that he could tell from the talk that this man was one of Newhall’s enemies. Well, finally he did succeed in arranging a meeting—and that meeting was to be held on the very night of Newhall’s death!” Conley made this statement with the air of one who counts on surprise. But the surprise was his own. “You don’t seem particularly feverish over it,” he remarked after a few moments.
Ashley considered him coolly. “That man was Walter Thorpe, wasn’t it?” he asked.
“That’s who!” Conley regarded him with astonishment.
“I want you to drop him and follow up that chauffeur.”
Conley shuffled his feet. “Who is this man Thorpe—a friend of yours?” he demanded.
“No—that is “ Ashley paused, embarrassed. “The fact is, Con, I’m after Thorpe myself and want you to keep quiet about that meeting. Leave him to me. I want you to run down that chauffeur. There’s the man I’d get right after, if I were free to do it.” He avoided further questions by turning over to Conley the order for the abandoned Newhall automobile, and telling him what to do with it.
As they were about to part on the sidewalk outside, Conley suddenly whipped round. “I thought Henderson had thrown up this case,” he exclaimed.
“That’s what he told me, but—what do you know?” demanded Ashley.
“He fed his face this noon along with Sergeant Smith; one of the men spotted them.”
Ashley’s face darkened. “I haven’t said anything about it, Con,” he said, “but I guess we’re likely to find Henderson lined up with the police against us on this case.”
“Just what I suspished,” rejoined Conley. “He bought me a drink this afternoon and started in to pump me. When I sidestepped, he tried to josh me into thinking there was nothing in this, that we were wasting our time.”
“What did you say?” asked Ashley.
Conley grinned. “Me? I just let him think I was little Rollo and maybe.”
Shortly after ten that night Ashley and Doctor North descended from the train at Mossett. In the public conveyance to which they were directed Ashley was surprised to find Alice Thorpe. He introduced Doctor North and then climbed into the seat beside her.
It was a warm night into which the cool of the evening was just beginning to come. A full moon lighted the way, pierced the open sides of the carryall and dwelt like a spotlight upon its occupants. After greeting them, Miss Thorpe sank into a deep silence. Ashley stole a glance at her. In the luminous haze of the moonlight, her averted face stood out like a cameo. What a perfect profile she had! How like a flower her small head tilted on her long graceful neck!
She sat with her hands clasped in her lap, gazing out of the other side of the moving carriage. The slight droop in her figure finally informed against her. Ashley perceived that, believing herself about to take that ride alone, she had been weeping, that now she was silently striving to gain control of her feelings.
His sympathy—silent, as it was—seemed to reach her. She leaned a little toward him. “Doctor North will tell me the truth?” she pleaded.
“Yes. I will make sure that he does.”
“You don’t think that man, Henderson, can do Walter any harm—with what he knows?”
“No—not after your brother tells us all that happened last night.” He cautioned her not to allow the driver to overhear. She bent nearer, her voice sank almost to a whisper.
“He never could have done it,” she murmured. “You believe me?” she asked breathlessly.
“No brother of yours could have done it!” Ashley answered warmly.
His enthusiasm seemed to reassure her. She leaned back in her seat and they rode on for some time in silence. As they started up the cliff road, she bent toward him once again, her shoulder almost touching his.
“I will ask Walter to tell you everything at once,” she whispered. “You will help me to take Walter away. It was very good of Miss Newhall to let him come there, but—but I am sure she will be relieved to have us go—”
Ashley realized that she dreaded meeting Miss Newhall. Of course, the trouble between the families had kept them apart. He did his best to convince her that she would be welcome, but with only partial success. She lingered behind as they went up the steps. Miss Newhall herself opened the door. For a fraction of a second the two women paused uncertainly, gazing at each other, then, simultaneously, they sprang into each other’s arms. There were tears in their eyes and the presence of the two men was absolutely forgotten. Leaving them together in the hall below, Ashley conducted Doctor North upstairs.
As they entered Thorpe’s room, Mrs. Higgins jumped to her feet. But as soon as she saw Ashley, she resumed her seat. Doctor North went at once to the bed and busied himself with his patient. Ashley turned to Mrs. Higgins.
“Any more trouble?” he asked.
“I kep’ her out,” she responded significantly.
“Has he spoken?” he demanded eagerly.
Mrs. Higgins shook her head. “Slep’ most of the time.”
Ashley went over to the bed. Doctor North had removed the bandage, was examining the wound.
“No sign of any fracture,” he pronounced, “yet I see some indications of coma. Has the patient been given any drugs?”
“Nothin’ but water,” broke in Mrs. Higgins, before Ashley could speak.
“There might be some concussion. There sometimes is with such wounds, but—” Doctor North gave his attention once again to the patient. “Turn over on your back,” he ordered sharply.
Doctor North pressed back the pillow under Thorpe’s head. “There—feeling better now?” he asked in a coaxing tone.
Thorpe only stared at him stupidly.
Further attempts to surprise the patient into speech failed as lamentably. At last Doctor North abandoned the effort. He returned once more to the wound, became absorbed in a study of its location.
“Is the patient left-handed?” he inquired suddenly.
Ashley, unable to answer, departed to ask Miss Thorpe. He returned in a few moments. “No. He is right-handed,” he reported.
Doctor North raised Thorpe’s right hand to the light, then dropped it, shaking his head.
“What is it?” exclaimed Ashley.
Without replying, Doctor North signed for Ashley to follow him out of the room. In the hall outside, he gave his opinion.
“My observation of the patient has been too brief to make a final diagnosis,” he declared. “The symptoms might mean either one of two things. The patient may be suffering merely from the after-effects of concussion or he may be affected by a complete paralysis of his speech-center.”
Ashley moved uneasily. “What if it is merely concussion?” he asked.
“One good night’s sleep may bring relief.”
“But if it is the other?”
“If his speech-center is affected, it is impossible to predict. People have been known not to recover their power of speech for days and even weeks. I feel bound to tell you, Ashley,” the doctor went on, “that there is every indication that this is what is the trouble. The patient appears to understand all that is said to him, but to be unable to make any articulate reply. If it were merely concussion, there would, ordinarily be a numbing of all the faculties, not of just this one. The fact that he can understand but not speak argues that his word-center alone is affected.”
Ashley pulled from the discouragement into which Doctor North’s statement had plunged him. “Why did you ask if he were left-handed?” he asked.
“To learn if the wound could possibly have anything to do with the patient’s loss of speech. But when you told me that he was right-handed, you knocked that theory into a cocked hat. Here, let me explain.” Doctor North made a guarded survey of the hall and stairway before going on. “In right-handed people, the active brain-cells of what we call the speech-center are on the left side of the head; just the reverse, if they are left-handed. Now this wound is on the right side of the patient’s head. When you informed me that he was right-handed, it eliminated all probability that his loss of speech could have arisen from that wound. It was on the wrong side to give ground for that theory.”
“You mean that wound has nothing whatever to do with his loss of speech!” Ashley stared at the doctor in utter bewilderment.
“Not unless he is left-handed—as you say he isn’t.”
“Then how?” Ashley stopped perplexed.
“People sometimes lose their power of speech from shock. You just lost it yourself for a moment from surprise at what I told you. In your case the shock was trivial, you have already regained your ability to speak. In the case of this other man, I am inclined to believe that he has suffered some tremendous shock that has simply put his speech-center out of commission—for how long nobody can tell.”
“Yes—some great shock—perhaps before he shot himself,” mused Ashley. “North, we’ve simply got to learn what that shock was.”
The sound of voices in the hall below prevented further discussion.
“You will stay here over night?” Ashley asked.
Doctor North nodded. “I want to have a look at him in the morning.”
The two women were waiting for them at the foot of the stairs. Miss Newhall’s cheeks were wet, and there were traces of tears about Alice Thorpe’s blue eyes.
“How is he?” the two girls asked almost together.
With the physician’s traditional caution when facing an unresolved complexity, Doctor North answered evasively: “He is doing very well, quite as well as could be expected.”
“I want you to tell us if he is in the least danger,” Alice Thorpe said with her extraordinary composure.
Doctor North seemed to take her measure at once. “My dear young woman,” he said, “the wound is not at all serious. The patient seems to be suffering somewhat from shock, but a good night’s sleep ought to do much for that.”
“Can he speak?” cried Miss Newhall.
Doctor North pretended not to hear.
“May I see him?” demanded Alice Thorpe.
“Why, y-es, I think you may see him—if Mr. Ashley has no objection,” responded Doctor North, shifting the responsibility. He avoided further questions by stating that he would like to go to bed, since he must rise early to see the patient and get back to Boston. “There is absolutely no occasion for worry,” he pronounced, as Miss Newhall led him away upstairs.
Ashley conducted Alice Thorpe to her brother’s room and waited outside. He had strong hopes that Thorpe might speak to his sister, but a sense of delicacy kept him from intruding.
She came back almost immediately. “He was sleeping,” she announced. “I didn’t have the heart to wake him. Poor boy!” she whispered, as they walked down the stairs together, “I can’t help thinking that Bertrand Newhall had something to do with this. Others may think quite the opposite, but I know my brother—better probably than anyone else.” They entered the library. Alice Thorpe turned and looked Ashley straight in the eyes.
“Please, please don’t believe anything against him,” she pleaded.
Her request was singularly earnest. It took Ashley by surprise, and—somehow—it hurt. Had Miss Newhall been trying to prejudice her against him?
“I don’t—I assure you I don’t,” he stammered.
Her look partially reassured him, but before he had time to convince himself Miss Newhall came into the room. In a few minutes she gave him ground for his worst fears.
Miss Newhall passed him by without word or glance and stopped before Alice Thorpe.
“How is he?” she demanded with an excitement, almost hysterical. “Tell me—tell me the truth—don’t treat me the way these men have!”
Alice Thorpe put her arms about her and drew her down beside her on the couch. “My dear,” she said in a comforting tone, “Walter was asleep and he needs sleep more than anything else, so I didn’t wake him. Everything will probably be all right in the morning, dear. Try not to worry any more. You have had too much already for one woman to stand.”
“But they won’t let me see him and you will take him away so soon,” complained Miss Newhall.
“No, I think it would be much better to keep him here.”
The two women looked at Ashley. Unconsciously, he had spoken with an air of authority. The dangers hemming in Walter Thorpe, his own suddenly enlarged interest, had made him forget everything else.
“There! What did I tell you?” Miss Newhall’s cry was jealous, triumphant, as though his statement formed a proof of something she had said against him.
Too late Ashley realized the growth of her prejudice, the interpretation she would place on every word and act of his. Silently he waited to learn what its influence would be upon the other girl.
Alice Thorpe raised a protesting hand to Miss Newhall; then she turned toward Ashley. “Do you mean that Walter is too ill to be moved?” she asked in a tone that roused Ashley’s hopes.
“No; I wasn’t thinking of that.”
“Then why? Please tell me frankly.”
There was no prejudice on Miss Thorpe’s part. Ashley felt the relief of her firm faith in him. An overwhelming desire to vindicate himself swept over him, carried him away.
“I will. I will be quite frank,” he replied. “You and I, all of us, know that what has happened to your brother is nothing that concerns the public. But it has come at a most unfortunate time. If the news should get out, the newspapers would connect it with other events—”
“You see! He suspects!”
Ashley turned upon Miss Newhall for the first time. “Not I,” he said bitterly, “but the newspapers and the public. Can’t you see what they would suspect the moment they learned that Walter Thorpe had attempted suicide? And what answer have we for them? None! At least not until Mr. Thorpe can tell us what happened last night and why he did what he did. That is why I think he ought to be kept here, the last place in the world where anyone would expect to find him.”
“Yes—yes,” mused Alice Thorpe, “I can see. The newspapers would connect this with the old trouble between the families. We should have the old scandal revived, aired—”
“Scandal! He means far worse than that,” broke in Miss Newhall.
Alice Thorpe looked at her startled, questioningly. “Worse! What do you mean?” she asked after a moment.
Miss Newhall jumped to her feet. She pointed a finger which trembled with anger at Ashley. “Tell her, tell her,” she screamed; “tell her what you told me— threaten her—threaten her with Walter’s arrest.” Her voice went higher, her manner became more hysterical, with each word. Her mouth quivered, her whole figure shook, she seemed on the very edge of nervous collapse.
The same fear came upon her two listeners at once. Alice Thorpe drew her back to the couch again, spoke soothingly to her; and Ashley, leaving at a sign from her, heard: “He—he thinks Walter is—guilty.” Then followed a paroxysm of sobs.
Ashley mechanically ascended the stairs and entered the room to be his. Upon him was that uncertainty which is the torment of a strong-willed man. Where did he stand now?
His elbow against the frame, he gazed out the window and considered the situation. He had enemies to face now within as well as without the house. Miss Newhall would impugn every motive, distort the purpose of every act. And what must be its effect upon Alice Thorpe? She trusted him—perhaps even liked him. He wanted to help her, to make her like him a great deal more. Could he do it with Miss Newhall’s prejudice working so strongly against him? How long he remained at that window considering, he never knew.
Suddenly, out on the silvery stretches of the marsh, a moving figure caught his attention. It was distant, but the bright moonlight made every action visible. He wondered idly what anybody could be doing out on the marsh at this hour? He looked at his watch. It was nearly midnight. Curious, he watched this man leap ditches and hurry through the thick grass. Whoever he was, he seemed to be in unusual haste and to be making for one particular point. At last he reached the place where the stream running through the marsh forked. He knelt, shaded his eyes and seemed to study the bed of the creek intently. Ashley started. That was the very spot where the bus-driver said he had seen Walter Thorpe that morning. Could it be Thorpe now?
Ashley rushed to Thorpe’s room, only to find him safely abed and asleep. He returned to his espionage. The man on the marsh had evidently located what he was looking for. He removed his shoes and stockings and waded out in the mud. Ashley saw him pick up something, wrap it carefully in his handkerchief and then prepare to leave.
Ashley made quick time down the cliff and across the hither side of the marsh. He reached the bank of the creek just in time to see the man disappearing over the causeway toward the town. In the thick mud of the creek deep holes showed where he had come and gone. Ashley knelt down on the bank near where the tracks ended. Just beyond, he made out a slight depression in the mud. Here must have lain the object which this man had been at such trouble to secure. He leaned far over the bank to learn what it could have been. Then suddenly he whistled.
Stamped in the thick slime, roughly yet clearly, appeared the unmistakable outline of a pistol!
In a tumbled bed, on pillows which burned, and with his mind working like an electric fan, Ashley started at this latest discovery and worked back. Either Henderson or the police had recovered that pistol. What had led them to look for it? Gradually he came back to the house where Newhall’s body had been found. Could they have come upon any clew there which led them to search for this pistol? Across Ashley’s mind flashed certain pictures stored away; Sergeant Smith watching Miss Newhall over the banister; Sergeant Smith exulting in the discovery of the green cloth bag; Henderson delaying to pick up something from the floor before he showed any interest in this bag. For the first time Ashley’s mind jumped upon, seized an overlooked detail. What had Henderson stooped to pick up?
When, hollow-eyed from lack of sleep, Ashley came down stairs at six the next morning he found everybody stirring except Miss Newhall. Alice Thorpe seemed to avoid him, though her greeting was friendly. His information respecting affairs in the house came from Doctor North, who took him up to his room.
“The lady of the house,” began Doctor North, “has an attack of nerves. Also, she seems to have worked up a splendid case of antipathy to you, so I condemned her to her bed and room. This will keep her out of your way—that is, if she obeys my orders,” he amended with a smile.
Ashley thanked him. “Have you looked at Thorpe this morning?” he inquired eagerly.
Doctor North nodded.
“How did you find him?”
Doctor North shook his head. “No better. I am almost ready to diagnose his trouble as complete paralysis of the speech-center.”
The look of trouble in Ashley’s face deepened. “We’ve got to make him talk—somehow,” he urged. “That’s our only salvation.”
Doctor North regarded him gravely. “There’d be almost as much chance with a newly born child,” he announced.
Ashley sank dejectedly into a chair. “Then your medicine has failed to work,” he muttered.
“Those powders,” declared Doctor North, “are merely a bluff. If I didn’t prescribe something, the women would jump to the conclusion that I was neglecting the patient. Hence, a few absolutely harmless powders. In a case such as this, Nature does about all the work. Thorpe is suffering from intracranial pressure or a brain clot produced by some old injury or by shock. In time, this will relieve itself. In some instances, a second shock has been known to accelerate the flow of blood and accomplish a recovery more quickly. But—”
“Shock!” Ashley sprang to his feet. “Why can’t we try one? I simply must know to-day something about what Thorpe went through the other night. What can we do to startle him?”
Doctor North considered.
“I have it!” Ashley’s face lighted up with a sudden hope. “Why not surprise him with his sister? He doesn’t know she is here. For some reason he seems to have avoided his family. Perhaps—yes, that may give him the very shock he needs.”
Alice Thorpe lent herself readily to the experiment when its object was explained to her. She waited patiently outside the door until her brother had eaten his simple breakfast, until he had fallen back on his pillow and closed his eyes. Then, at their signal, she entered.
Alice Thorpe moved quietly across the room—so quietly that Thorpe had not a sound to warn him—and stood silently, expectantly, at the side of her brother’s bed, facing him.
Thorpe opened his eyes slowly as at the coming of a shadow between the light and him. He saw her, sat up, his frame quivering with excitement.
“Oh, Walter—dear Walter!” With a sob so choked with sympathy that it pulled at all their hearts, she leaped upon the bed and threw her arms about him.
His arms closed about her, he kissed her, his lips trembled.
“Walter, darling, tell me—tell me what has happened!”
His jaw dropped. “Er—er—errr!” They saw his tongue lying slack, moveless, impotent, upon the floor of his mouth.
She turned her head away to be able to carry out her part. “Wal-ter, w-e must know—y-you must tell us—somehow!” she managed to say.
Again, those pitiful, rasping, inarticulate sounds which showed his struggle to speak.
Alice Thorpe’s look called upon the two other men for help. Their eyes dropped.
Slowly, grimly, forced to look to make sure of the worst, her eyes crept back to her brother’s. The haunting, intolerable sounds ceased. They stared hopelessly into each other’s eyes. Outside in the hall a broom rasped along the carpet. For many seconds, it was the only sound. Then Alice Thorpe’s breath caught. She threw her arms about her brother’s neck and broke into a choked passion of sobs.
After a time Doctor North took her gently by the arm and led her away. His own cold eyes were suspiciously moist when he returned, but he wasted no time. He went straight to Ashley, whose look was absent, and touched him on the back. “Come,” he whispered, “there’s another thing we might try.” And Ashley blinked the sight back into his eyes and followed him obediently to the bed.
Doctor North took the patient by the arm. “There, there,” he said soothingly, “we’ll have you talking again in no time. Get yourself together. You must help us.”
Thorpe sat up, shook the tears from his face and looked at him.
“Here, take these and try to tell us just what happened.”
Thorpe took the pencil and pad of paper in his hands. After a time, their use seemed to dawn on him. He seized the pencil firmly in his right hand, began awkwardly to use it upon the pad of paper on his knees. The two men crowded behind him at the head of the bed. For a moment over his shoulder they watched in silence. Then they walked away. Thorpe was making only a series of meaningless scrawls.
His hopes here blighted, Ashley had recourse to the alternative hatched out during his sleepless night. Obviously, for the present, no information could be had from Thorpe. He decided, consequently, to explore again the premises where Newhall had met his death, before Miss Newhall should think to demand the return of the keys. He had little hope that Henderson would have left anything there for him to find; but he could not bring himself to remain longer in Mossett, inactive, waiting for Thorpe to speak. He boarded an early train for Boston with Doctor North.
Conley met him at the South Station. “Here’s that telegram you asked me to get at your room,” he said.
Ashley read it, jammed it back into its envelope and then into his pocket.
Conley watched him, frowning; then, as Ashley led the way hastily uptown, began his report.
“I looked up that automobile number for you,” he said, “and that car you saw down at Mossett belongs to Felix Ischenberg, lawyer in the Barristers’ Building.”
Ashley made a note of the fact without comment.
“Ischenberg was Newhall’s lawyer, did most of his dirty work for him; where does he come in on this case?” demanded Conley.
“Can’t stop now. Tell you later,” responded Ashley. “What about the Newhall auto?”
Conley looked mutinous. Ashley had to ask him a second time.
“Back in its garage again,” growled his disappointed assistant. “The chauffeur jumped it on a side street in Westborough between eleven and twelve on the night Newhall cashed in.”
“Nothing to it. Varnish and cushions which belonged.”
“Any trace of the chauffeur?”
“Not so much as a thumb print. No one in Westborough saw hide nor hair of him. Jack,” Conley seemed temporarily to forget his grievance, “that chauffeur’s beginning to look to me like the goods. I looked him up here this morning. He took out the auto before seven on the morning that Newhall died and never a token of him since—dropped out of sight as completely as your dollar in a bucket shop.”
“Go on, Con,” cried Ashley, eagerly.
“His name’s Kenney. I ran him down to a furnished-room house on Tremont Street near Dover—hard neighborhood, hang-out for ‘dips’ and ‘strong-arm men.’ Of course, his landlady was leery—couldn’t get a word out of her with a crow-bar—but I hung round and got next to the cook. Kenney, he gives up his room on the morning he takes out the Newhall auto, says he’s off on a drive to Chicago, doesn’t know when he’ll get back.”
“Took a suitcase with him; left his trunk behind.”
“What about his mail?”
“Told ’em to throw it away.”
The two men looked at each other.
“Con,” exclaimed Ashley after a moment, “it looks to me as though you’d stirred big game! One of us—”
“ ‘One of us,’ ” mocked Conley, “now just you back up! Where do I fit?”
“You can’t expect me to work on in the dark. If you want me to do any real cunning gum-shoe work on this case, come across—put me wise to what you know. Your humble assistant’s getting sore.”
Ashley walked on beside him in silence. “Con,” he said, after they had gone a few rods, “a friend of mine is getting all sewed up in this—I may not want to handle it the way you’d like—I may want to keep it quiet “
“I sorter sensed that much,” proffered Conley.
“Con,” responded Ashley, “I’m afraid the booze might get you.”
Conley laughed mirthlessly. “I got up yesterday morning and drank my bath,” he replied. “I ain’t saying ‘Never again!’ but it’s nothing but beer for me till we get through with this.”
They walked another block in silence. Then, Ashley stopped and turned toward his companion. “Con,” he said, “I’m going to take you in. I don’t know where I stand—I’m worried to death—and I need you with me. I’m going to tell you everything and count on you to keep quiet.”
“You interest me strangely, stranger,” Conley’s words were jocular, but he held out his hand, and his grip was firm.
The two reporters left the bright sunlight of the June day behind and entered the house where Bertrand Newhall had settled his long account. Doors and windows remained tightly sealed against the light; it was like stepping from day into night. As soon as their eyes became accustomed to the blinding darkness, Ashley led the way upstairs.
He switched on the electric light in the hall above. “Henderson was on his hands and knees just about here when the sergeant found the bag,” he muttered. “Let’s see if they left the bag for us first.”
With Conley at his heels, he hurried along the hall into the sewing-room and turned on a light there. On a small oak table lay the green cloth bag. Leaving Conley to examine its contents, Ashley hastened back into the hall.
“Con!” an odd note in his comrade’s cry made Conley drop the bag and hurry out into the hall. Ashley was lying flat on the floor. He had turned back the rug at the side of the hall; his eyes were fixed upon a small mark on the polished surface of the floor. He raised himself on one elbow, moved aside and beckoned Conley to join him. “What would you say that was?” he demanded with suppressed excitement.
Conley crouched down and scrutinized the mark. It was a slight depression in the smooth surface, one such as might be made by a man stepping heavily upon the head of a wire nail. Conley looked up. “Not being on to what you want me to think, I can’t tell you just what it is,” he ventured with a grin.
Ashley’s face failed to relax. “That’s the mark of a shell,” he said, “it lay here among the fringe of the rug and someone stepped on it. The impression is almost perfect. See, you can even make out the groove around the head of the shell. And it’s the shell of a high-power, smokeless cartridge used in an automatic—no other cartridge is made heavy enough to leave such a mark as this.”
Conley examined it again. This time he looked up more seriously. “By God, you’re right, but that means—”
“That means that two shots were fired, that Henderson found the shell the night before last, that he got the pistol out of the creek last night, that he’s known facts all this time we’ve been floundering around trying to substantiate theories. In fact, he’s been gulling us for two whole days, while he worked up a case. Two days’ start!” Ashley groaned.
“The damned crab!” Conley’s face was purple. “So that was why he bought me a drink!” Conley’s fingers worked. “I wouldn’t mind his beating us to it, but to double-cross us like this—perhaps I wouldn’t like to decorate his face for him!”
But Ashley did not heed, nor did he delay by venting his own resentment. “Come on, Con,” he cried, “we’ve got to find the mark made by the other shot.” His quick eye was already gauging distances, his brisk mind was already transforming known facts into events and matching up these events into the probable form of the tragedy enacted in that empty house. He set about putting them in rehearsal.
He placed Conley on the landing of the stairway where Newhall’s body had been found. “You’re just about his height,” he stated. “Now stand here a minute.” He ran up the four steps to the hall above. “This light was out, the only light on was in here.” He switched off the light in the hall, turned on the one in the sewing-room and appeared in the doorway, facing Conley. “Two shots were fired,” he announced; “one by Newhall and the other by someone standing in this hall or sewing-room.” He advanced a few steps into the hall. “Now, the position of the shell shows that one man fired from about here.” He raised his pistol arm. “I could send a ball into your heart from here, just as someone did into Newhall’s; where would your shot go?”
Conley raised his arm. “I could pot any part of you.”
“Miss me—miss me!” ordered Ashley impatiently, “where then?”
“Into the walls on either side—but only a damned fool could miss you from here.”
“Overshoot!” yelled Ashley eagerly.
“Can’t, without going into the ceiling.”
A sudden look of hope altered Ashley’s whole bearing. “Come on, Con, we need stepladders,” he cried. He dashed past Conley.
They secured them from the cellar. Perched on the top of them, in a few minutes the two men were making a careful scrutiny of the ceiling in the upper hall. Not the mark of a shot appeared on it. Ashley went over the entire ceiling again, after Conley had given up. Finding nothing, he moved his stepladder into the sewing-room. There also, the ceiling was unmarred.
The exultation had quite gone from his manner as he clambered down. “Well, I suppose we might as well look for it in the walls,” he said in a tone which betrayed his disappointment. But they went over every part of the three walls of the outer hall and every inch of the four walls of the sewing-room without discovering a trace of a shot.
“He might have undershot. We haven’t been over the rest of this floor,” suggested Conley.
On their knees, they ran their hands over the rug, removed it and went as carefully over the floor beneath.
“If Mr. Bertrand Newhall fired any shot except at himself, he fired a blank cartridge,” declared Conley at last. He went on talking, but Ashley did not listen. He was sitting dispiritedly upon the floor, his head resting upon one hand and knee—the picture of despair. Finally, Ashley roused himself to make a last hopeless survey of the surroundings. His eye fell upon an open transom over the door between the hall and the sewing-room, stopped there.
“You didn’t move that transom, did you?” he cried, suddenly jumping to his feet.
“No.” Conley, sharing his excitement, ran into the sewing-room. Before he could place the ladder there, Ashley had mounted the other one in the hall and was running his fingers nervously over the outer sill of the window. They encountered something. Scrambling up another step, in his excitement, he nearly fell. Saving himself by a quick clutch at the window-frame, his eyes shot to the place where his hand had been.
“Con, Con, I’ve found it!” he yelled in a voice which echoed through the empty house.
Perched on the top of the stepladders, on either side of the open transom, the two men scanned intently a slight furrow in the wood on its outside sill.
“It went in there, through the open transom,” said Ashley. His eyes flashed.
“Yes—but where is it?” demanded Conley.
Ashley already had his eye leveled to the furrow. “It’s right in line,” he said. “Look! look!” He pointed to an iron ventilator high up on the rear wall of the sewing-room. “It went through one of the holes in that,” he cried triumphantly.
“That’s all right,” acknowledged Conley, “but what I would like to know is—‘What of it?’ We knew there had been two shots the minute we found the mark of the other shell. This isn’t proving anything more.”
Ashley smiled. “Oh, Con,” he said happily, “can’t you see? When I stood where this other man stood when he shot Newhall, you said if you overshot me it would go into the ceiling. The man here must have been way back by this doorway when Newhall fired or this shot would have had to go higher to miss him. See! Bertrand Newhall must have fired the first shot.”
Conley gazed through the open transom at his companion on the other side. He fixed an eye to the groove in the transom sill, slanted a look to the landing on the stairs. Gradually his sodden face gleamed. “By gollops! you’re right,” he admitted, “this shot would have gone right through anyone standing out there.”
Conley dropped to the floor, came out and stood looking at his companion. Ashley remained perched on the top of his ladder, meditating. “That’s good as far as it goes,” said Conley, “but it doesn’t clear your friend. Even if Newhall did fire the first shot, Thorpe’s up against a charge of manslaughter.”
Ashley remained silent.
“At best, you dope it out as a duel, don’t you?” persisted Conley.
“Duel!” Ashley jerked free from his abstraction. “Duel!—with one man, disguised, sneaking up a dark stairway and the other standing exposed, the full light from this doorway behind him! That doesn’t explain it to me, knowing the characters of the two men. Thorpe never would have been lured into a duel, and can you see Bertrand Newhall missing his first shot without firing again?” Ashley descended furiously to the floor. “And yet” he fumbled hastily in his pockets—“that telegram you gave me at the station points that way. I telegraphed the manufacturers yesterday and learned that the pistol found with Newhall had been placed by them with Webb & Chase of Worcester. Here’s what Webb & Chase have to say about the man who bought it from them.”
Conley removed the telegram from its envelope and read:
Colt automatic pistols 468,912 and 468,913 sold Wednesday last 10 A. M. Purchaser, E. J. Walsh; short, stout, about thirty, chauffeur’s uniform; large red wart right side of face.
Webb & Chase
Conley’s face set. “Newhall’s chauffeur buys two pistols under a false name, forty miles away, ten or twelve hours before they’re used. Gee! but that shows some classy premeditation!”
“Yes, and Newhall was probably with him. That looks like a prearranged duel, doesn’t it? But wait! While Newhall was buying those pistols, Thorpe was taking leave of his sister and mother in unusually high spirits, admitting that he was to meet Newhall, and predicting a complete reconciliation. Conley,” Ashley paused for a few impressive moments, “there are, so far as we know now, just three men who could throw any light upon what happened here two nights ago. They are Newhall, Thorpe and that chauffeur. Of these, one is dead, another may not be able to speak a word for weeks, and the third has dropped out of sight. It’s up to us to locate that chauffeur, Kenney.”
“Here I am, ready to hop on his trail, but where shall I pick it up?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” mused Ashley. “From the neighborhood in which he lived and from the way he slipped his baggage and left no address, Kenney seems to me like a man with a record. Now he’s probably run away to lose himself in New York— they all go there—and the more we know about him the better. Suppose you go down to Police Headquarters, see if he’s been ‘mugged’ and, if he has, get his record.”
Conley delayed only so long as it took to prove that the shot had passed through the ventilator. They searched in vain for any scar upon the inner register. But, holding lighted matches through its vents, they finally sighted what they sought. The shot had mushroomed against the inside brick wall of the narrow ventilating shaft.
Ashley locked the door upon Conley’s departure, restored things in the house to their proper places and switched out the lights. Then, he sank into a chair in the dark front hall to consider, undisturbed, the baffling perplexities of the case.
Henderson knew that two shots had been fired; Henderson knew of Thorpe’s engagement with Newhall on the night of the latter’s death; Henderson probably had in his possession the second pistol thrown into the creek by Thorpe; Henderson had completed a strong chain of circumstantial evidence against Thorpe. And yet, Henderson had refrained, so far, from announcing a single one of his discoveries in The Eagle. Why? Because he was working in league with the police. As soon as they located and arrested Thorpe, Henderson would print his sensational story, would make the most famous beat in the memory of the Boston press.
And the appearance of that story would prejudice the entire community against Thorpe, would convince the public that he was guilty. Henderson would not state who had bought the cap worn by Newhall; he would not specify who had purchased the pistols. To do this would weaken his story, make it less convincing. And, most important of all, Ashley doubted whether Henderson was aware that Newhall had fired the first shot. That fact alone gave an entirely different aspect to the case.
How could he prevent this frightful injustice from being done to Alice Thorpe’s brother? In between him and his resentment at Henderson’s deception, came a vision of her fair, frail, young figure. He saw her impulsively giving him her hand, thanking him cordially for what seemed to her a personal service. He saw her refusing to consider his protest, insisting on accepting him at his best, saying, “That doesn’t make what you have done any less kind.” The memory warmed, kindled that excitement of the emotions which waits on liking. He chilled as he heard her telling again all the vindictive things Bertrand Newhall had done to her family; he warmed as he recalled her confession and her firm, sure faith in her brother; and through it all, he tingled at memory of how she had trusted him from the very beginning.
What could he do to deserve this? What could he do to increase her liking for him? He was the only one who fully appreciated the unfortunate situation in which her brother stood, the thunderbolt about to fall on him and her. Should he wait meekly and let it fall and crush her?
No, it was the time for action. But what could he do, while Thorpe remained silent and incapable of explaining all these accusing circumstances? It would be only a question of time before Thorpe would be arrested and Henderson would print his damning story.
Ashley drew a quick breath. If he could only write that first story himself! Every fact could be mentioned and the conflicting circumstances handled so as to leave a fair doubt as to Thorpe’s guilt. It would help—that kind of a story!
Gradually a purpose formed in Ashley’s mind. He prepared a plan of action against certain contingencies. This completed, his mind scrambled back to the tantalizing mystery, took up and considered all the known facts, tried to evolve a working theory from them as to what had happened.
Theory after theory, he tried and found wanting.
One—slowly forming in his mind—fitted all the circumstances. But it was caught up and held together by his own wishes. Without supporting evidence, it was too extraordinary even to mention. If he only knew all that had occurred in this empty house two nights before. Had Walter Thorpe really fired that second shot? Why? If he could only be made to speak! A dozen words from him would suffice to justify this theory. How could Thorpe be made to give this necessary evidence?
Suddenly the flash of a new idea lit up Ashley’s face. He jumped up, considered a moment, and then hurried out of the house.
That morning, he held a long talk with Doctor North. Afterwards, Ashley hastily got in touch with Conley. The two reporters took the next train to Mossett.
As soon as they were seated in the train, Conley drew an oblong piece of pasteboard from his pocket and without comment handed it to Ashley. Mounted upon one side were two photographs, one in profile, the other full-face, of a heavy-faced, thick-lipped, small-eyed, young Irishman. His forehead retreated quickly above his eyebrows and his chin as quickly below his lips; the whole effect was weak rather than criminal. On his right temple appeared a large wart.
Ashley turned the card over and read:
Ashley looked up. “That’s our man,” said he, “but the record’s old. Looks as though he had reformed a good many years ago.”
“Did you ever know a confirmed crook of 26 to reform?” Conley asked.
Ashley replied without hesitation. “No—not unless he had squealed on some bigger crook and was afraid of his vengeance.”
“You know what the police dope on these small crooks amounts to?” suggested Conley acidly.
“Yes—about as complete and up-to-date as a cigar-stand in a railroad station—but it’s useless to bother further with Mr. Kenney just now.” Ashley slipped the photograph into his pocket.
Conley fidgeted. “You mean you’re going to let his trail get cold?”
“Con,” responded Ashley with a forced calmness, “we’d only waste our time at present looking for Kenney anywhere east of the Hudson River. He’s gone to New York or somewhere else to lose himself. I don’t undervalue his importance, but it would be like fishing for a watch in the ocean, and”—his look grew troubled—“we’ve got other things to face just now.” He checked further mutiny on Conley’s part by telling him his plans.
When they reached the Newhall house, Mrs. Higgins opened the door the length of the chain-lock and glanced at the two men waiting impatiently upon the front porch. Then, before they could speak, she closed the door and they heard the bolt shoot into place. The reporters looked at each other, speechless.
“We’re almost as welcome as scarlet fever,” ventured Conley.
“Wait a minute! Listen!” warned Ashley.
The sound of women’s voices, raised in argument, came to them through the closed door. Shortly it was opened wide by Alice Thorpe. As they entered they caught just a glimpse of Miss Newhall hastening away into the library.
Alice Thorpe signed for silence and conducted them upstairs to her brother’s room. “Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come back again,” she said, as soon as the door was closed.
Ashley introduced Conley. “Why—has anything happened?” he asked after a hasty glance at her brother asleep upon the bed.
“No—only—one does feel the need of a man about in times like these.” As she turned away, a faint tinge of color came to her cheeks.
Ashley caught the twinkle in Conley’s observant eyes, hastily suggested an explanation for her confusion. “Yes,” said he quickly, “I noticed you were having trouble again with Miss Newhall.”
Alice Thorpe rushed impetuously to the defence of her friend. “You mustn’t be too hard in your judgment of her,” she urged. “I don’t think that you appreciate the situation entirely. Bertrand Newhall showed so hard a side toward everyone else that no one ever suspected how fond he was of Dorothy. You see her only as a spoiled child—well, he made her so. He gave her everything—more than she wanted. I never knew him to deny her but one thing”—her voice dropped—“that was my brother.” After a short pause she went on, “Of course, she was wild about her father. How could she help being fond of one so kind to her? She even gave up Walter for him. And yet, unstrung as she is, she has allowed us all to use her house as though it were our own. I can’t forget that!”
“I didn’t know that Bertrand Newhall was as fond as that of anybody.” Ashley’s interest was heated.
“Yes—perhaps that was why he committed suicide —when he had lost all her money.”
Ashley was staring fixedly out of the window, but it was plain that he saw nothing. Suddenly his face lighted up. His eyes went eagerly to Alice Thorpe as if he wanted to tell her something. Then, as suddenly the light disappeared from his face. Instead of telling her what was on his mind, he turned away and gave his attention to her brother.
Having assured himself that Thorpe was still unable to speak, Ashley withdrew with Conley to the room which he had formerly occupied. The door shut and locked, Conley’s bleary blue eyes kindled with comprehension.
“Jack,” he broke out, “I guess you’re in for a lot of trouble with that other she-one, but Miss Thorpe— she’s the works, take it from me!” His manner was congratulatory; somehow, Ashley found it annoying. He nodded his head and changed the subject.
“Con,” he said, “it’s time we proved up something. I want you to go down on the marsh, get mud on your shoes and then go over to Mossett and look up a boot-black. You ought to find one at the hotel there.”
Conley nodded. “You want me to make sure it was Henderson who got hold of that pistol last night,” he said quickly.
“Yes—and to learn whether Henderson is working here alone or has some of the police with him. We must know at once just how near they are to closing in on us. But be careful—don’t let them shadow you back here.”
“Leave it to me.”
Ashley watched Conley start on a detour of the cliff to avoid the appearance of coming from the Newhall house, then he went quietly downstairs. His plans demanded that he should see Alice Thorpe alone and at once. Hushed voices, coming from the library, warned him that someone was with her—probably Miss Newhall. For some time, he hesitated, then he knocked on the door.
“May I see Miss Thorpe a moment?” he asked without entering.
She appeared in the door, but before he could speak, his eye fell on Miss Newhall standing behind, on guard. He saw at once that she had no intention of leaving them alone together. To avoid a clash, he dissembled his first intention.
“I wonder if I could have some paper—a lot of it—typewriter paper, if there is such a thing in the house?” he asked.
Miss Newhall secured it for him, but she made a point of taking Alice Thorpe away with her, and she still hung about while Ashley received it and expressed his thanks.
Retreating to his room, Ashley left the door open, sat down and listened. Once the closing of a door brought him eagerly to Thorpe’s room. But it was only Mrs. Higgins with food and water for the patient. Again, footsteps, unmistakably Alice Thorpe’s, lured him out into the upper hall. There she was in the front hall downstairs. But Miss Newhall was with her and remained near her with a discouraging persistence. He retreated to his room and did a thousand pointless things to kill time.
Ashley’s face clouded. He had already lost nearly an hour. He could not make a move until Miss Thorpe consented to one thing. He disliked to ask this in Miss Newhall’s presence, but plainly she was determined to keep him from seeing Alice Thorpe alone. Finally, the inaction getting on his nerves, he descended, knocked on the library door and entered.
Alice Thorpe was sitting in a corner of a large, long couch; in her lap, unheeded, lay a book. She was staring so intently out the window that she did not notice Ashley’s entrance. For one hopeful instant, he thought he had found her alone—that Miss Newhall might have been called to Boston by some detail of her stepfather’s funeral; then, a jarring sound drew his attention to the other end of the room. Miss Newhall, had scraped her great high-backed chair violently back. She crossed the big room and sat down beside Alice Thorpe—on guard.
The action was so openly hostile that Ashley felt an involuntary drawing-in of his purpose. He had intended to take Miss Thorpe completely into his confidence. His ire—helped by a slight but disconcerting feeling of jealousy—changed his impulse.
“I hoped to have a talk with you alone,” he said to Alice Thorpe, doing his best to conceal his anger.
“Alice has agreed not to see you alone,” objected Miss Newhall.
Ashley saw Alice Thorpe nod her head, felt that she avoided his eyes. It made him reckless. “It isn’t pleasant to be regarded as an enemy, when you’re doing your best to help,” he said bitterly.
“I form my own opinions of people,” answered Alice Thorpe, quickly, calmly. “You mustn’t jump to the conclusion that I don’t trust you—for I do.”
Very well. Ashley determined to put her to the test. “I had a long talk with Doctor North this morning,” he began. “He told me that your brother is suffering from a small clot of blood upon the brain. Left to himself, it may be a long time before he will be able to speak. All this delay is dangerous. It is vital that we should know—know at once—what he has gone through. We have determined on an experiment.”
Miss Newhall’s eyes snapped. “No,” she cried, starting to rise.
Alice Thorpe drew her back on the couch, took her hand. “Go on,” she said calmly.
“Miss Thorpe, at eight o’clock to-night, I want you to let me take your brother away from here for a few hours.”
Miss Newhall started, laughed mirthlessly. “As if she would let you do that!” she exclaimed scornfully.
Again Alice Thorpe checked her, turned coolly to Ashley. “What for?” she asked.
“An experiment—I cannot tell you more than that now.” Ashley looked significantly toward Miss Newhall.
Alice Thorpe seemed to understand. “Where do you wish to take him?”
“To Boston—in a closed automobile. Doctor North will be with us—that’s all I can tell you. Of course, if you feel you can’t trust me to that extent—”
Alice Thorpe did not hesitate an instant. “Yes.” she murmured, “I feel sure you wouldn’t do anything to harm Walter.”
Her consent came so quickly that it took Miss Newhall by surprise. For a moment she seemed actually to struggle for words. Then she burst into a very transport of rage. “Yesterday he said this was the only safe place for Walter. Now he wants to take him away. You can’t trust him. He intends to turn Walter over to the police—I know—I know—I know!”
Her denunciations of him and his intentions were audible to Ashley all his way back upstairs. He shut his door to keep from hearing them.
All the rest of that morning Ashley, shut in his room, wrote steadily. At one o’clock the luncheon bell rang. He did not hear it. An hour later, Alice Thorpe appeared. He thanked her abstractedly, took the tray which she carried and set it down upon a chair. At three, when she returned, she found him still writing in a room which reeked with cigarette smoke.
“The dishes? Oh! I guess I forgot all about eating,” he stammered. He looked at the food irritably, as though it ought itself to have reminded him. “If you could send Mrs. Higgins up in a few minutes,” he suggested.
Alice Thorpe smiled. “I won’t interrupt you again. Mrs. Higgins has been discharged.”
“Discharged!” Ashley came back at once.
“Yes. Miss Newhall said she caught her listening to us this morning and discharged her on the spot. I’m afraid she was a little hasty about it—that we provoked her and she took it out on Mrs. Higgins, poor woman!”
The news troubled Ashley, but after a time he resumed his writing. When Conley returned, about five that afternoon, Ashley was folding a huge batch of manuscript.
“Hullo, what have you got there?” inquired Conley.
“Something to take the curse off any bad luck. Now, if they get us in a tight place, I’ve got something to pull on them.” Ashley carefully placed the manuscript in his hip pocket.
“Well, here’s hoping,” said Conley. “Oh, I’m with you right up to the yawning, yearning, hungry chasm,” he shifted, in answer to a questioning look from Ashley, “only there’s some sort of low-down hanker in me as says the ‘skirt’ doesn’t live that’s the equal of a good story. Gee! But these women do run us for a little while!”
He failed to get the “rise” he had played for; Ashley appeared about as willing to discuss the point as the umpire in a major-league baseball game. “And then came ‘silence like a poultice’—Clarence, me boy, I tell yer that he l-loves the gyurl as she were himself!” muttered Conley. His twinkling eyes lighted upon the chairful of dishes. “You’re dining early,” he exclaimed.
“I’m lunching late,” responded Ashley quickly, preparing to attack the food.
While he ate, Conley made his report. He had spent most of the morning at the Mossett Inn. Henderson had been there, under an assumed name, since six o’clock the night before, so he had been informed.
“He’s your man on the marsh all right,” Conley announced. “He came back to the inn after twelve last night and made a hit with the woman who runs it by pounding on the door until she got up to let him in. She suspishes him of having bad habits, getting home so late.”
“He has the bad habit of getting ahead of us,” lamented Ashley, thinking of the loss of the pistol. “Is he there alone?”
“Yes, so far as I could learn. That’s what kept me so long. He came back to luncheon about one. I beat it to the barber shop across the street to keep watch. He’s making up to about everybody round, but I didn’t see him talking to anyone who didn’t seem to belong to this mossy little burg and, anyway, he isn’t likely to get much out of them. What do you suppose they take him for?”
Ashley shook his head.
“A lobster-spotter. Many a fisherman round here has been keeping the wolf from the door by selling short-lobsters. They’ve seen him prowling about the cliff and beach over here, added nothing to something, and piped him off for a sure-enough State Inspector. One fisherman, coming into the cove this morning with a boatload of ‘shorts,’ saw Henderson coming down the cliff. My! but he just loves Henderson. He dumped his whole cargo overboard.”
“Coming down the cliff!” mused Ashley. “Well, that shows pretty clearly that he’s trying to locate Thorpe. I wonder if we can manage to get Thorpe away to-night without being seen.”
“Henderson went up to Boston on the four o’clock train.”
Ashley brightened. “Then, if he doesn’t get the six down, we’re safe and—” He did not finish, but his hand rested significantly for a second upon the pocket in which he had placed his manuscript.
Someone, fumbling at the knob of the door, caused Ashley to open it. Outside, stood Alice Thorpe with another great tray.
“I thought you might not care to come downstairs to dinner,” she explained.
Ashley took the tray from her, held it. “I—I have only just eaten what you brought me before,” he stammered.
“But Mr. Conley—I am sure he must want something,” she insisted.
“Seeing I’ve been neither fed nor annoyed by anything except a few shopworn bananas—” Conley made a dive for the tray.
As she went, Ashley heard her laugh—for the first time—and his ears found it good.
Conley jerked off the napkin, squared himself to a pleasant function. “This gets me!” he proclaimed. “Any ‘looker’ like her who’ll bring food for two men, up two flights, without so much as a hint—well, the oil-stove, the dollar-down-and-nothing-after man for me ’n’ her.”
While his companion cleared the plates, Ashley sat in moody meditation. He made up his mind that he must inform Miss Thorpe more definitely regarding his plans. He had intended to, but he had not dared attempt it before Miss Newhall. His chance would come when she returned for the tray.
But one of the maids came for the dishes. The sight of her seemed to recall something to Conley. As soon as she had gone, he turned to Ashley. “By the way,” he broke out, “what’s become of that other biscuit-shooter, the one who tried to bar us out this morning?”
“Miss Newhall caught her eavesdropping and discharged her.”
“What’s the matter?” inquired Ashley quickly.
“Oh, nothing, only the old girl’s over at the Inn where Henderson’s staying. If she’s sore, she may have put him wise.”
To a man of action, suspense is like a nagging wife. During the ensuing two hours Ashley showed so much nervousness that Conley stared at him in surprise. New doubts fogged a course which before had been clear. What could Mrs. Higgins have overheard of his plans? Had she told Henderson? For the first time, he rejoiced that he had not been more explicit. But she might easily have learned that they planned to take Thorpe away at eight that night. Even if she did not know this, all Henderson needed to frustrate his plans was to learn where Thorpe was hidden. Had he gone to Boston for the police—or to write his story? Either of these moves would be fatal to Ashley’s purposes.
Tormented by these uncertainties, he welcomed the work of helping Conley to dress the patient for the journey. Thorpe’s slight wound was healing fast; the prolonged rest and sleep had made him almost himself; only his hanging mouth, his shifting eyes and the way his face twitched when anybody addressed him indicated his condition. They had him ready by seven. Leaving Conley on guard, Ashley ran upstairs to his room.
From its west window, he kept anxious watch of the long causeway which led both to the town and the railroad station. If Henderson returned by the six o’clock train, he was due about now. If he returned with officers to make an arrest, they must cross that causeway.
The west wind brought Ashley the whistle of the train as it entered Mossett. From five to ten minutes must elapse before the conveyances would reach the crossroads at the far end of the causeway. Alternately Ashley paced the room and glared apprehensively out of the window. A cloud of dust warned him of the coming of the faster vehicles. Several automobiles shot down the hill that hid the distant station, rounded the corner and scurried away into Mossett. After an interminable wait came the slower, horse-drawn conveyances. One after another, carriages and buses approached and turned that corner, and then—at last—one bus came straight on over the causeway. Were they in that?
The bright June sun made clear to him only that there were two or three people in the bus. Not until it turned the corner at the foot of the cliff would it present itself broadside and enable him to see more. If Henderson and the police were in it, they would probably disembark at the foot of the cliff. If it stopped there—. Slowly the bus came over the causeway, crossed the bridge, approached the corner. The old horse hauled it along so jerkily that, for one second, Ashley imagined it had stopped. He held his breath. Then it rounded the corner and dragged away toward the beach. Ashley breathed freely. He could make out its passengers now. All of them were women.
Shortly before eight, Doctor North arrived with his own car. To escape meeting Miss Newhall, Ashley went out ahead of the others. Standing within the shadow of the porch, he witnessed a scene which affected him deeply.
The two girls had said good-bye to the patient in his room. There, they had managed to restrain their feelings. But when Thorpe came downstairs with Conley on one side and Doctor North on the other, the sight was too much for them! Alice Thorpe still managed to control herself. She smiled encouragingly at her brother, but her eyes glistened with tears. Miss Newhall, leaning against the library door, sobbed openly. It was like the departure to the hospital of one who might never return. Ashley saw Thorpe’s face twitch, saw him pull at his companions to hasten past.
As the machine started, he had a last glimpse of the two girls, standing in the lighted doorway. Miss Newhall was crying hysterically. He heard her sob, “We shall—we shall—never get him back—I know—I warned you.” He saw Alice Thorpe slip her arm around her waist and try to quiet her. And then—they were gone.
The depression of the scene seemed to hang over the four men in the limousine like an omen. Ashley remembered—too late—that he had neglected to acquaint Alice Thorpe with the nature of their undertaking. He was taking much upon himself. If his scheme should miscarry—a cold chill ran down his back; he shivered. Too late he realized the responsibilities he had assumed. To avoid thinking of these, he turned his mind to the task before him.
“Did you get them?” he asked Doctor North.
Before answering, Doctor North looked first at Thorpe. Then, he drew a pistol from his pocket, and kept it covered with his hand as he passed it across the car. Ashley deftly slipped it into the left-hand outside pocket of his coat. Again, Doctor North went through the same action. This time, Ashley passed along the object to Conley, who disposed of it as quickly in his own right-hand pocket.
“Ready for use?” demanded Ashley.
“Blank—as per instructions,” responded Doctor North.
A chuckle from Conley disturbed the solemnity of the proceedings. “As I’m to be the goat in this little affair, you can’t be too sure of that for me,” he drawled.
“Well, I’m right on hand to attend to you,” replied the doctor.
“We’re chickens to-day and feather dusters to-morrow—I don’t see where you doctors have ever done much to prevent that,” remarked Conley.
Under cover of the jest, the three men took occasion to scrutinize their companion. Thorpe lay back in the corner beside Doctor North apparently oblivious of all that was going on. Now and then, he bent forward to glance out of the window at the shore towns through which they flashed. Always, he returned humbly, unprotestingly, to his corner, his eyes fixed straight ahead. He trusted them, apparently believed they were taking him elsewhere for treatment.
As they approached the outskirts of Boston, Ashley held a whispered conversation with Conley. Then he gave an order to the chauffeur. In a few minutes the car drew up before a small drug store. Conley got out and made for the telephone booth.
He returned and slipped back into his seat beside Ashley. “I talked with Gallagher,” he reported. “He’s no friend of Henderson’s, so he was glad to gum-shoe round for me. He says Henderson came into the office just after five, stopped a few minutes and then hustled out as though chased by an idea.”
“Did he leave any copy?” inquired Ashley anxiously.
“Not so far as Gallagher could learn.”
“Didn’t know where he went?” Ashley asked eagerly.
Conley sniffed. “Did you ever know a lone wolf like Henderson to trust anybody?” he asked scornfully.
“I’d give something to know whether he’s here in Boston or has gone back to Mossett,” Ashley said.
“Take it from me, we’ve got his number in either case. He doesn’t know enough to hurt, does he?”
Ashley did not reply, but, from time to time, thereafter, he bent out of the window and gazed nervously back over the road.
It was a sultry summer night. The benches in the park in Commonwealth Avenue were occupied only by scattered couples, and the sidewalks were deserted except for an occasional pedestrian. Just before ten, a closed automobile, which had several times been driven slowly down one side of the avenue and up the other, suddenly came to a halt before the Newhall residence. Four men descended; then, the chauffeur ran the empty car a short distance along the curb and stopped.
Allowing Thorpe no leisure to observe where he was, Ashley and Doctor North hurried him across the sidewalk into the empty house. On the way, Ashley contrived, unnoticed, to slip the pistol he had received from Doctor North into Thorpe’s right-hand pocket.
Inside, Ashley passed the keys to Conley, who lurked behind at the front door. No lights were turned on to inform the invalid of his surroundings. Doctor North produced a pocket electric lamp. By its focused flashes the two men guided Thorpe along the echoing hall, up the somber staircase. Still unresisting, Thorpe permitted himself to be bustled across the dark upper hall, into the narrow sewing-room. Here, Ashley switched on the light.
On the table lay the green cloth bag with its strange contents. Thorpe’s eyes lighted up. They saw him start, shrink away from it. They held their breath and watched. Thorpe shivered, looked uncertainly around, as if about to run. Suddenly he seemed to take hold of himself. He crossed the room and sat down in a chair beside the table. His left hand closed over the neck of the green cloth bag.
Instantly Ashley and Doctor North withdrew from his sight. They tiptoed along the hall, crept quietly into a neighboring room. For a moment—deathlike silence—not a stir or sound.
Suddenly, far away in the hall below, yet with the electric nearness of sound in a vacant house, they heard the rattle of a key in a lock. Then came the pin-point taps of somebody tiptoeing across the lower hall, the stealthy tread of somebody stealing up the dark stairs.
From their shadowed vantage points, the two men—their nerves a-jump—watched Thorpe appear in the door of the sewing-room. His eyes were starting from his head, his mouth was petrified in a horror-made ellipse, his right hand was closed rigidly upon the pistol in his pocket.
The tread upon the stairs continued. They saw Thorpe, still standing in the doorway of the sewing-room, draw his pistol and struggle piteously to speak.
Crack! Conley had fired first.
Thorpe had fallen back. Now, he gathered himself together and sprang out into the hall.
Crack! Thorpe had fired, too.
The echo of the two shots beat through the empty house. There was the sound of a body falling heavily upon the staircase. Then, silence.
For a few binding moments, every actor in the scene stood still. It was the silence of those who cease to breathe. Then, with a cry, Thorpe ran to the staircase, lifted the body lying upon it and gazed into the face under the chauffeur’s cap.
“It isn’t he,” he muttered. His voice came back with a rush. “Who are you?” he screamed.
The shock had sent the blood flowing through his atrophied brain cell. He allowed the body to drop from his hands to the steps. For one moment he stood as one freeing himself from the last strands of a bad dream. Then he turned and ran down the stairs.
When the three men came upon him in the hall below, he was striving furiously to open the front door upon which Conley had turned the second lock. As Ashley switched on the lights, he turned and faced them.
“I—I—” Thorpe stared at them, dazed; then again he tried the door.
Ashley started toward him. Suddenly, he stopped and stared at Doctor North in blank amazement. Outside someone was putting a key into the lock!
Who could it be? Petrified, Ashley watched Thorpe, waiting cat-like, saw him jerk open the door as it was unlocked, heard the clamor of strange voices as Thorpe flung himself through it. Astounded, he sprang after him.
Outside on the steps Thorpe was struggling in the arms of three policemen!
The jig was up! The experiment had confirmed Ashley’s theory, had afforded him additional clews, had even restored Thorpe’s speech—but at what a cost! Thorpe was under arrest—irretrievably lost— no more information could be obtained from him. Ashley realized this the instant that he observed Sergeant Smith.
Still, something must be saved from this wreckage of his plans. Ashley stood in the shadow of the doorway and looked over the wreckers. His eye fell on Henderson. He sprang back into the hall, grabbed Conley by the arm and turned out the light.
“Con, it’s up to you,” he whispered breathlessly. “Henderson’s out there in the crowd. You’ve got to hide away here until they’re gone. Then beat it to the office. Here’s the story!” He pulled the manuscript from his hip pocket and thrust it into Conley’s hands.
“What about Henderson?” protested Conley.
“Leave him to me!” Ashley’s manner and words were sharp, whetted to the edge of the exigency. He dared not allow Henderson out of his sight for a moment more than was necessary. He had no more than finished with Conley than he had Doctor North by a lapel of his coat.
“North,” he said, “I want your car.”
Doctor North was a man made also for emergencies. “All right, I think I’d just as soon slip away unnoticed,” he said at once.
“Tell your chauffeur to do whatever I order.” Ashley hurried out the door, down the steps, into the gathering crowd.
Henderson saw him, pushed through the crowd to his side. “Well, well, well, see who’s here!” he saluted Ashley. “Bursting with suppressed news? Hadn’t you better hustle that story of yours in?” he asked sarcastically.
Ashley smiled. “Guess The Eagle ‘ll be willing to wait for what I’ve got,” he said significantly.
“Shut off your power, your steering-gear’s busted!” retorted Henderson.
“Wait and see,” said Ashley, confidently.
“You’ve got milk in your gasolene tank and breakfast food in your—” Henderson stopped his teasing; he had to run to make the steps of the starting patrol wagon.
Ashley walked up the street to the North automobile and jumped into the seat beside the chauffeur. “Follow—at a distance,” he ordered. As soon as they were under way, he stole an estimating glance at the driver. He was a thin-faced young Irishman, chewing tobacco.
“Get your orders from Doctor North?” he demanded.
“Sure!” The chauffeur bent a pair of twinkling blue eyes upon him. “Looks as though he’d sold me to you along with the car.”
Ashley smiled grimly. “How are you on night work—good for all night?”
“Well, my father was a night-watchman and my mother a nurse.”
Ashley spread a twenty-dollar banknote upon his knee. “That’s coming to you, if we pull off what I want to,” he promised.
“I can feel it. I’m going to let you call me by my first name,” rejoined the driver without hesitation.
Ashley outlined the part that the automobile was to take in that night’s proceedings. As he finished, the patrol wagon drew up at the police station and the chauffeur, at his direction, brought the car to the curb a few rods away.
Ashley watched the police disembark with their prisoner and enter the station. As soon as he saw Henderson follow them inside, he jumped down from his seat.
“Now’s the time,” he cried. “Get your gasolene tank filled to the brim. The quicker you get back, the more chance we have to make it.”
A gurgle and a rasp—and the automobile was off, drowning with its noise the chauffeur’s rejoinder. Ashley stood on the curb, waiting, plotting. A rasp and a gurgle—and Ashley jumped to escape an automobile which whizzed up to the curb, startlingly fast and close. He turned angrily to protest. Then he laughed. “I guess you’ll do,” he remarked to the chuckling chauffeur. It was his own car.
The chauffeur leaped out. Together they quickly closed the window on the far side of the car. After that, for a long time, they were busy with the mechanism of the door on the far side.
Meantime, Conley, the story buttoned tightly in an inside pocket, waited impatiently for the patrolman to disappear from the front of the Newhall house. Five—ten minutes passed, then he unlocked the inner door and set. an eye to the keyhole of the outer one. He saw no one. He unlocked the outer door and opened it a crack—only to shut it precipitately. On the sidewalk a policeman was carrying on a dawdling conversation with a humble but curious citizen.
Ten minutes longer, chafing and cursing, he listened to the drone of their talk. At last it died away. Conley stepped out and fastened the doors. As his foot touched the bottom step, the policeman, half a block away, hailed him.
Conley ran. Without looking behind he rushed down the avenue, turned the corner, bolted through the long alley and took the next cross-street to Boylston. The motorman of an outward bound electric scrambled his passengers, called Conley rude but immortal names as he grazed its fender. The conductor of an inward-bound car had an attack of heart-failure as, mid-block and on the wrong side, Conley leaped for its footboard. But neither of these irritated employees received the quick answer which turneth on wrath. Panting, Conley wormed his way under the side-rail of the flying electric and fell into a seat between two resentful fat women.
A few minutes after eleven, Henderson came down the steps of the police station and hastened toward the nearest corner for a car. His round face advertised it; he viewed himself with approval; he was tasting the fruits of victory—and they tasted good.
As Henderson neared the North automobile, Ashley gave the chauffeur an order, started to enter the car, then appeared to relent. “Have a ride? he demanded ungraciously.
Henderson saw a chance to make a flourish with his triumph. “Going my way?” he asked, clambering in.
“Guess we’re both bound for the same place,” snapped Ashley, shutting the door behind him with unnecessary violence.
Henderson found an amiable satisfaction in Ashley’s ill temper. It was sauce to his success. He lolled far back in the seat and chuckled. “I knew you had him,” he boasted.
“This afternoon. Take my advice. When you’re hiding a man, don’t have trouble with the help in the house.”
“Yes—I knew you knew. But tell me one thing, why didn’t you arrest Thorpe then?”
“It saved taking the police down, my letting you bring him up here. I had you in sight all the way up.” Henderson was enjoying it keenly, his eyes dwelt on Ashley that he might lose nothing.
Ashley’s discomfort was obvious. “Well, you’ve got him,” he admitted, “but let me tell you one thing, Henderson, no jury will ever find him guilty.”
Henderson answered only with a mocking, tantalizing laugh. “It strikes me you take a heap of interest in that Thorpe family,” he shot at random.
Ashley made no reply.
Henderson’s eyes widened. “Perhaps Miss Thorpe could tell something about that,” he urged.
Ashley leveled his eyes on Henderson. “You can cut that out, Henderson,” he said quietly.
“Ah!” Henderson’s attention floated out the window on this new idea. Suddenly he started. There were no grass-plots like that before the houses on the way downtown. He seized Ashley by the arm.
“Where are you taking me?” he demanded.
“Oh, just on a little drive into the country. You ought to enjoy it on a hot night like this.” Ashley closed the window on his side. As if it were a signal, the car went faster.
Henderson studied the landscape. They were well out on the Beacon Boulevard, bowling along at fifteen miles an hour, and The Eagle—he looked at his watch—went to press in an hour and a half. He made a jump for the door on his side—wrenched violently at its handle.
Ashley made no attempt to stop him. “You might save your strength,” he announced. “That door happens to be wedged.”
Henderson drew back in his seat. It was worse than he thought.
“When does this little joy-ride end?” he asked with poorly assumed good humor.
“Not for several hours.”
Henderson sprang across the car and pounded on the front window. The chauffeur turned—grinned in his face.
Henderson slumped back in his seat and meditated. They had entered the car through the door on Ashley’s side. There lay his way of escape. Waiting until the car was rounding a corner, he threw himself toward it.
But here, for the first time, he encountered active opposition. Ashley’s two arms went round his body just below the shoulders, forced him slowly but steadily back into his seat. The struggle strained Henderson’s muscles, and made him pant.
“I’ll make this cost you something,” he threatened, as soon as he regained his breath.
“I don’t think you’ll ever care to mention this little occurrence to anybody,” returned Ashley, coolly lighting a cigarette.
“I won’t?” yelled Henderson. “Well, I’d just like to know why not.”
Ashley looked at him. “For the simple reason,” he said, “that if this ever gets out, you’ll be joshed out of the business. Don’t you think for a minute that I don’t know just what I’m doing.”
“Huh!” Henderson sneered, but his sneer was the sneer of the trapped. There was no other answer to Ashley’s simple but exact statement. He was too thoroughly enraged to be able yet to hide his feelings. Sitting stiffly in his seat, he waited until he regained his breath, then he jumped once again toward the door on Ashley’s side. The struggle this time was shorter. He landed back in his seat with a thump.
“If I had a gun on me”—his voice so shook with rage that he could not finish. For one moment he sat still, chafing, panting, then his fist doubled, he raised his right arm and aimed a blow with all his remaining strength straight at Ashley’s jaw.
His companion had expected that. From the corner of his eye, Ashley had seen that fist double in preparation for the blow. A quickly raised elbow intercepted it. That blow might have broken his jaw. Even on the arm it hurt. Ashley sprang to his feet, his fists closed, looking for the place to land a blow. But he never did it. In a single instant, his rage cooled, his purpose changed. Seizing Henderson by the shoulders, he jerked him to his feet, shook him as a terrier shakes a shoe and flung him back upon the seat. “Next time you try that—you get yours—good and hard,” he threatened, himself panting.
“To hell with you!” Henderson’s voice quivered, but it quivered with the anger of the vanquished. After a time he fell back in his seat and nursed his fury while the miles rolled by.
Thereafter, he fell back on cunning, watched his chance. It was after midnight now and few were the pedestrians they passed or came up with on the country roads. Vainly, he knocked on the window and cried out to attract their attention. Once, as they neared Framingham, he was filled with hope. A policeman stood stolidly in the middle of the road until the car came to a stop.
“Help, help, get me out of here!” Henderson yelled at the top of his voice, beating on the window. But his very noisiness lent credit to the answer with which Ashley had primed his chauffeur.
“Doctor’s got a drunk. Bound for Brookfield with the D.T.’s. Want him?”
The stolid policeman glanced at Doctor North’s red cross sign painted on the front lamp of the shaking car. “No. Hell! Keep your own trouble!” he said, waving his hand.
They skirted Worcester and still kept on. Unlighted farmhouses and fields silvered frostily by the moon swept by, while Henderson lay in his corner and sulked. As they passed through Webster in one last effort to attract attention, Henderson raised his foot and put it through the window on his side.
But he had thought of this expedient too late. He knew it by Ashley’s low laugh. He turned to find his companion putting back his watch. Henderson sank back in his seat beaten and knowing that he was beaten.
In a moment Ashley let down the broken window and the fresh night air poured into the stifling car. Then he leaned forward and tapped on the front window. The chauffeur looked round and nodded. He backed his car and turned toward Boston. The limousine flew on past village after village and town after town, while Henderson sullenly chewed the cud of failure.
“This is all very well, he broke out after a long silence, “but you can’t kidnap me like this every afternoon and evening. My story’ll come out and you can’t prevent it.”
“Yes,” admitted Ashley, carelessly.
“Then perhaps you’ll tell me why you kept me from getting my beat to-night.”
“I will—when you go.”
“Why not now?” urged Henderson.
“Because you’re feeling ugly enough as it is.”
Day was dawning as the car stopped before the State House and Ashley stepped out to afford egress for his companion.
Henderson had hardly touched foot to ground before he asked again.
“Now,” he cried angrily, “perhaps you’ll enlighten me as to why you robbed your own paper of this scoop?”
“Don’t worry. The Eagle hasn’t lost it,” answered Ashley.
Henderson’s jaw dropped. “What do you mean?” he flared.
Ashley met his eyes coolly. “My story got to The Eagle by 11:15, unless Conley fell down,” he answered.
“You—you—!” gasped Henderson. “I’ll fix you and your crook friends for this!”
Less than five hours’ sleep was Ashley’s portion that night. Shortly after ten the next morning, he was aroused by a yell, outside his door which would have done credit to a hyena. Conley burst into the room, a pack of newspapers in one hand and a crumpled copy of The Eagle in the other which he held high above his head and waved in circles like a rocket.
“We did it,” he yelled, “not a peep in any of the other papers. The beat of a lifetime!”
Ashley snatched from the bed the copy of The Eagle which Conley had thrown ecstatically at his head. “Then the police stood in—they kept the news of the arrest from the other papers for Henderson!” he exclaimed.
“The police! Not only they—the whole push at the office stood in with him.” Conley’s face took on an ugly look.
“What!” Ashley pulled reluctant eyes from the screaming six-inch headlines over his own story.
“Ames, Dolliver, the whole yanking crowd at the office, stood in so close with Henderson that you couldn’t cut the air between without mangling one of them. Why, they had it all framed up! Our story for the rubbish heap!”
“I suspected that.” Ashley managed to loosen his attention from the front page of The Eagle. “Go on, Con, I’m listening,” he added, as his eyes sneaked back to it.
“Henderson told Ames yesterday afternoon that he’d have his story in last night. Dolliver was on the night desk. He said he had orders from Ames and higher up to run Henderson’s story. Wouldn’t even look at ours. Why, between twelve and one last night they almost quit business—they had half a dozen men out trying to find Henderson! I guess you can see how I felt, hanging round, expecting Henderson to blow in any minute, and our story to get a side-wipe to the floor.”
“Well, there’s one advantage, they didn’t turn any passionate rewrite man loose on the stuff.”
Conley smiled grimly. “No. They held off until it was so late that the night-editor came down and got that story with a gun.”
Ashley threw down the newspaper. “Well, that proves one thing.” He began hurriedly to dress. “The time has come for you and me to dissolve partnership.” Conley thrust his chin forward, waved a protesting hand.
“That’s all very well, Con,” rejoined Ashley; “but I have a feeling that something’s going to drop, and it’s up to me to see that you don’t go down with the wreckage.”
Conley laughed scornfully. “ ‘It’s all very well to dissemble your love, but why do you kick me downstairs?’ ” he quoted. “You can pull me off this assignment, if you want to, but—and then, some.”
Something did drop. City editors eat and draw pay; some may be human beings, but few suspect it except the favorites to whom they tie up. Ashley, at least, found no ground for such a suspicion, after being closeted for a few minutes with Athloe Ames.
“Come in—and get the hook,” was the way that sarcastic genius began the interview. The Eagle isn’t the U. S. Supreme Court—it’s a newspaper. You had a good story and you spoiled it. Now, I don’t know just how the Thorpes managed to tamper with you, but the story shows it, and it doesn’t go. Not with us. Not while your Uncle Cy is here sitting on the lid. There’s a small Manila envelope, padded with your unearned increment, waiting for you downstairs—and there’s another for Conley.”
One can harden oneself in readiness for the worst and yet feel the sting when it strikes. Ashley had intended to take his reprimand or his discharge—whichever it might be—with the calmness of one assured that time would prove him right. But he was young and Athloe Ames’ manner roweled. “What’s the matter with my story—I notice you printed it?” he cried indignantly. “There isn’t a fact in it I can’t prove, and it’s a darned good story, if I do have to say it myself.”
Ames regarded him quizzically. “It leans over backward. It doesn’t live up to the headlines; take my advice and let it go at that,” he said, with a faint smile which suggested some other reason which he did not care to lay openly between them.
“You printed it.”
“We’d have canned it, if we could.”
The city editor’s grin told Ashley the rest. He was discharged, not for his story, but for kidnapping Henderson. Ames had been told. Ames had promised not to let on.
“Oh, very well”—Ashley felt a sudden disgust with Ames’ caution—“I guess I don’t belong anyway. If Henderson runs things h—”
“Why drag him in? Never opened my mouth about him. But now that you’ve done it, I don’t mind telling you, young man, that there doesn’t seem to be sea-room here for both of you.”
“I understand. I’m ready to take my medicine. But there’s one thing I want to tell you right now.” Ashley leaned up against the city editor’s desk and looked him in the eye. “Henderson’s way off on this case and he’ll get you in wrong. Of course, if you’re willing to eat crow later, it’s none of my business, but—”
“You’re young enough to try to tell me that, are you? Say, kid, ring off, will you? I’ve got an Irish stew of work ahead of me.” Ames bent over the proofs on his desk.
Ashley saw the futility of attemping to argue his own cause. He shifted quickly to the other one he had at heart. “Very well, but there’s Conley. Take it out of me, if you’ve got to, but Con was only a tool in my hands. I don’t see why “
“Oh, hell! I’ll take him back, if you’ll only get out of here and let me work.”
Head down, not quite so highly pleased with himself, Ashley hurried through the city room of The Eagle and the few men there, guessing his fate, allowed him to pass without remarks. In their cynical argot, “he had been rescued from his job,” but their silence showed their sympathy.
Ashley dropped to the ground floor in the elevator and his feelings dropped with him. After all, Henderson had played the final card, had brought about the disgrace of his discharge. Ashley felt the natural dejection of the man whose enemy has triumphed over him. And, added to this, was the forlorn feeling of the man suddenly out of a job. Where was he to go? What was he to do?
For a time, he watched the forenoon crowd of shoppers hastening to and fro, but their brisk movement irritated rather than soothed him. He had nothing to do. He had just been cast out of one place. He felt a craving to go where he would be welcome. Well, there was one place, at least, where his reception would be different. And it was time, too, that he saw Alice Thorpe and explained why things had happened as they had.
He had called up the Newhall house in Mossett early that morning to explain, only to learn that both girls had already departed for Boston. Bertrand Newhall’s funeral was to be held in Boston that afternoon, but Alice Thorpe would not be likely to attend that. He would surely find her at home with her mother.
While he waited for her once again in the library, he recalled the many things he had to tell her. He would say nothing of his own trouble with The Eagle. She would be sufficiently alarmed over her brother’s arrest. Surely she would realize that this was unavoidable when he disclosed the evidence that Henderson had collected. And how quickly he could reduce her alarm over this mischance when he told her of his own discoveries! He would learn Walter Thorpe’s story, at last, and know how nearly correct was his own theory of what had happened. Then he would offer his services in establishing all the half-proved things favorable to her brother. There was the man whose talk with Miss Newhall he had overheard at Mossett to be found and interviewed; there was Kenney, the missing chauffeur, to be run to earth and this last promised to be no light task. Ashley’s own discouragement vanished; he glowed at the thought of all he would be able to do for her. And then, too, he would see her alone. Was it only last night that he had first seen her alone in this room?
But the fine glow left his face and spirits when Alice Thorpe entered accompanied by a stranger. Her companion was a big, wholesome-looking, inoffensive, business man of about forty, but his very presence interfered with Ashley’s intentions. Service such as he intended could not be offered before witnesses. It was for one ear.
“This is my brother’s partner, Mr. Adams,” Alice Thorpe said, apparently not noticing Ashley’s eagerly outstretched hand.
Ashley took his hand, but turned at once to her. “Could I see you alone for a few minutes, Miss Thorpe—later—whenever it is convenient?” he asked.
“I have been advised not to see you at all.”
Her voice was cool, deliberate. Ashley’s eyes leaped to hers in astonishment. Her eyes met his coldly and then dropped. Her hands were clenched and all the former friendliness was gone from her manner.
Ashley’s pulse beat slowly, then quickened. “I suppose you blame me for what happened last night,” he began meekly, “but when I tell you all the circumstantial evidence they have against him—Miss Thorpe, we couldn’t possibly have prevented your brother’s arrest much longer.”
“Yes—perhaps—” her voice softened a little and her eyes lingered sadly on him a moment before she went on, “but I hardly expected his arrest to come through you.”
“I can’t tell you how sorry I am that it did—it was a risk I felt I had to take—I meant to tell you just what I intended to do, only, trying my best, I couldn’t see you alone and I knew Miss Newhall would make it harder to do what I felt I had to do.”
The strained look left her face, she leaned toward him eagerly. “Why did you have to do it?” she asked hopefully.
“I had to learn your brother’s story. I thought that the shock might make him able to tell it. It did. I—”
“Yes—but one moment, please—why were you so anxious to learn my brother’s story?”
The faint mistrust in her manner hit Ashley like a whip. He looked at her with amazement, silenced, thinking not of question or answer, but of this utter change in her.
“Why did you take him away from Mossett when you yourself said he was safer there?” and the mistrust in her manner had deepened.
“Because—because, the way things were going, it was the only thing to do.”
“Did you intend to use my brother’s story?”
“Yes—to help him.”
“How could you tell what would help him?” She shrank away from him. Suddenly she bent toward him again as one who prepares to receive the last blow. “Please—please tell me that you didn’t write what came out in the paper about him this morning,” she begged.
Ashley flinched. For a moment he was dazed. Then in a flash it all came to him. She could not comprehend what he had succeeded in doing for her and her brother. She saw in his story in The Eagle only the things which seemed to hurt her brother’s case. She could not understand how much more his story helped because it told the facts against as well as for her brother. She thought him a lukewarm champion. How could he make her see her mistake? How could he make this young girl realize that it was better to tell all the facts than only those favorable to her brother? For the first time he reckoned with her innocence, her loyalty to her brother, and knew the delicate yet formidable task they made for him. He hesitated. And while he wavered, wondering where to begin, he heard her sigh.
“Never mind—I won’t ask you to admit it—I see that what they have told me is true—and, oh, I’m so sorry that it turned out this way,” she said in a voice that trembled a little.
“No. I can explain it all to you.” He looked in her eyes and saw in them the judgment of the disillusioned. The sight stopped him, hurt him, touched his pride and ruffled it to the quick. “Don’t be too ready to believe what others say against me,” he said bitterly. “Let me tell you why I—”
“Please don’t—oh, please don’t,” she interrupted tremulously.
“Oh, I wish you would go—I wish you would go and leave me alone with my friends,” she burst out.
He was silenced. “Can’t you still count me among them?” he asked after a moment.
She did not answer. She turned away as if there were but one answer to that question. After a time, the silence became unbearable. She moved toward the door.
At the door she paused as if about to speak. Then without a word she passed out of the room.
Dazed at the unexpected outcome of his visit, Ashley stood staring blankly after her.
“If you have anything you want me to say to her—” Mr. Adams suggested.
Ashley turned toward him with surprise; he had forgotten that he was present. “No—nothing,” he waived.
“Did I understand you rightly? Then you did write the article in this morning’s Eagle?” Mr. Adams’ manner was menacing.
“Yes—what of it?” Ashley’s mounting resentment got the better of him.
“Oh, nothing!” Mr. Adams appeared to wipe his hands of the whole matter.
For one instant Ashley looked him squarely in the eyes. Then, he seized his hat and left the house.
That afternoon Ashley wrote a brief note to Alice Thorpe. He made no attempt to explain. After his reception that morning, he realized that explanations would be futile—for a time—at least while Miss Newhall had her ear. Instead, he assured her that her brother would be freed, that he hoped to help bring this about; would she merely send him the name of the attorney whom the family would retain to look after Walter Thorpe’s interests?
He remained in his room until the answer came.
Dear Mr. Ashley:
Since you were here, I have learned that you were not only the direct cause of my dear brother’s arrest, but also that you later admitted writing that terrible article against him in this morning’s Eagle.
Perhaps your professional duties required this of you, perhaps you even wrote it against your will—I do not condemn you for doing what you were probably obliged to do —but, if you have any regard for our wishes, you will not interfere further with my brother’s case.
This being my own and my family’s earnest desire, there is consequently no occasion for sending you the name of my brothers attorney.
Ashley read it once. Then he read it again. Then he laughed slowly, bitterly. After a time, he sat down and wrote to her again:
Dear Miss Thorpe:
Pardon me, it isn’t pleasant to seem to meddle, but I feared that your attorney might not at once realize the importance of laying hands on the Newhall chauffeur—a man named Kenney—who has disappeared. However, I won’t annoy your attorney. I intend to run down Kenney myself. I can’t drop this here—no, not and retain my self-respect.
He put the letter aside to mail and pondered bitterly the events of that one day. Full of hope, it had begun; empty of fulfillment, it was drawing to an end. He did not hear Conley’s knock upon the door.
“See here, I wouldn’t take it so heavy.” Conley put his hand on the shoulder of the man saturating himself in his misfortunes. “I know of two papers here already looking toward you with jobs.”
Ashley smiled. “So you’ve been hunting a job for me?”
Conley nodded. “Yes—but I hope you’ll throw ’em down, both of ’em. You don’t belong here, you belong in little old New York. Boston’s all right for them as like to ride in swan-boats, but stay here a few years longer and you’ll get so stewed in its isms and wasms that you’ll be thought-jammed. There ain’t any barb-wire around New York. That’s the place for chances and for a man with a full garret like you. Take your wad in your hand and buck it—buck it now!”
Ashley looked at him with surprise. Conley’s enthusiasm was the first flattering thing which had happened to him—since the flood, it seemed. He reached out and took his hand.
“Come on, I’m going out to clear up certain things for my getaway. I’d been thinking of doing that same thing myself.” Ashley led the way out.
He went straight to Mr. Felix Ischenberg, attorney-at-law, Barristers’ Building. Ashley judged that he must be the man of whom he had caught just a glimpse in the automobile at Mossett, but the lawyer placidly denied ever having been in Mossett or ever having held an interview with Miss Newhall. He admitted that he was Bertrand Newhall’s personal attorney. He was ready with information only on one point. Bertrand Newhall, he knew, expected an attack on his life; in fact, Newhall had telephoned him as much on the day before his death. No, there was no particular reason why he should have told him that. The lawyer laughed sneeringly, when Ashley asked him whom Newhall feared. “Don’t you read the papers?” he asked, holding up a copy of The Eagle for that afternoon.
Ashley returned to his room with a collection of the afternoon newspapers. As he expected, they all followed his lead, presented the facts favorable to Thorpe as well as those against him—that is, all except one. The Eagle featured Bertrand Newhall’s funeral, held that afternoon in the little chapel at Mount Auburn Cemetery, wrung all the pathos from it possible. Then, below, it dwelt again on the arrest of Thorpe, By reciting all the known facts against Thorpe and none of those in his favor it suggested a conviction of his guilt.
“Henderson’s hand! He’s going after Thorpe,” muttered Ashley. He threw the paper to the floor in disgust.
Ashley packed his trunk and sent it to the station. Early that evening, he rang the door-bell of the house on Tremont Street where Kenney had lodged.
After a long wait, the mistress, in a long, dragging, soiled wrapper, gaping at the neck, opened the door.
“What about gettin’ a room here?” he asked the woman huskily.
The woman studied his clothes and the furtive manner he assumed. Finally, she let him enter. Without a word, she led him up the ill-smelling stairs to a hall bedroom on the second floor.
“All I’ve got,” she said curtly.
Ashley’s eyes went straight to the small, board-ribbed, much battered trunk against the wall. He saw that there had once been three initials on its end. Two of these had been scratched off, leaving only the final one—a K. The trunk was locked.
“Hello, some dip’s gone and jumped his box,” he exclaimed, kicking it. It moved. Evidently there was little in it.
“That won’t dangle here long ef you want the room,” said the woman.
The room contained nothing else except a bed, a chair and a washstand. Something on the washstand fluttering in the breeze from the open window caught Ashley’s attention. He drifted aimlessly toward it. It was a copy of The Detective, a paper which publishes pictures and the rewards offered for the capture of criminals. On the margin Ashley noticed some figures.
“Well, if here ain’t me old friend, Dick!” he cried, picking it up. After a casual glance at it, he used it to flick some dust from his shoes, kept it in hand throughout the rest of their parley and bore it off with him.
Later, going downtown in the car, he unfolded the paper for a more careful inspection of the inscription. It was as follows:
“It looks to me as though Mr. Kenney had been figuring out what the savings’ banks would pay on ten thousand dollars,” mused Ashley. He refolded the paper and put it away in his pocket.
Ashley returned to his room, changed his clothes and took the midnight train to New York.
His experience in Boston had quite cured Ashley of any desire to work again for a “yellow” newspaper. With the aid of a friend already on its staff, he readily secured a place on the New York Moon. Here nothing counted but work and ability. Within a brief time, Ashley, serving first as a substitute, became The Moon’s regular police headquarters’ man.
From the day of his arrival in New York, Ashley devoted all his leisure to the search for Kenney. He studied the face of every passing chauffeur. He questioned every reporter and policeman with whom he came in contact. About Police Headquarters, inspectors soon came to refer to him jocularly as “the man who wants to find Kenney”; in fact, he was better known by that title than by his own name. And with his fellow-reporters, it was the same; he seldom joined a group of them, but one would begin to hum, “Has anybody here seen Kenney?”
At Police Headquarters, he unearthed nothing to add to what Conley had long ago secured in Boston. He had studied Kenney’s photograph until he no longer needed to consult it in the saloon dives, haunted by beggars and crooks, where he spent most of his evenings. If he ever saw Kenney, he would know him, unless he had changed greatly; he was sure of that; but days ticked away into weeks and weeks pegged away into months without discovering a trace of him.
All this time, Conley kept him informed of developments in Boston. Henderson was still using The Eagle to keep public feeling stirred up against Thorpe. No new evidence had been discovered, but he was continually combining old facts into a new aspect of guilt. His animus he covered by giving it the appearance of a crusade undertaken in the people’s interest. Thorpe had committed a crime, but Thorpe belonged to the so-called privileged classes. He would never be punished for it if The Eagle and the masses did not keep up a hue and cry. That was Henderson’s slogan.
Early in September, Conley sent word that Thorpe was to be haled before the Grand Jury at its next session. “Walsh, the district attorney,” he wrote, “has gubernatorial aspirations—not this year, but later—and he has been so thick with Ames and Henderson lately that they may be pulling off something together. Guess you can put two and two together as well as I can.”
Ashley was called as a witness when the case came up before the Grand Jury. His treatment at its secret session convinced him that the district attorney was hand in glove with Henderson and Ames and determined to win reputation by securing a conviction at any cost.
This saved him from surprise when the Grand Jury later brought in an indictment against Thorpe for murder in the second degree. But it substantiated his worst fears. The district attorney evidently intended to give the encounter the aspect of a duel, fought by agreement in that closed house. This would disjoint, render impotent, every fact which could be brought forward in Thorpe’s behalf. It made his situation most serious. It explained why Bertrand Newhall should have brought Thorpe into his own house. It put an entirely different light upon the fact that Newhall had fired the first shot.
Stirred to action, Ashley resorted to an expedient which he had long neglected because he believed it would prove fruitless. Kenney’s trunk was still in Boston. Ashley inserted the following “Personal” in three New York newspapers:
J. J. K.—Send for your trunk in Boston. Want your address. Important letter. X.
Conley was still in touch with the cook at Kenney’s former lodgings and would let him know at once of any results. But Ashley expected nothing to come of this. His mind was made up; Kenney was too clever a criminal to be snared by such a simple trap. For nearly three months now, Ashley had exhausted every resource without finding a single clew to Kenney’s whereabouts. If he ever found him, it would likely as not be by accident. It was some undertaking this attempt to find one man among four millions. And, as a matter of fact, he did not actually know that Kenney had gone to New York. Other crooks went there to lose themselves but Ashley was just beginning to appreciate the odds against him, when one afternoon he found Jim Halsey’s card in his box. On it was written, “Fell by accident on something about Kenney this morning. Come to see me. Nothing much.”
“Nothing much!” Anything at all would be much. Ashley rushed through his work and hurried into the subway for uptown.
Jim Halsey was an ex-reporter of the Moon who had mingled with the beggars and petty criminals hanging on the fringe of the underworld until he became an authority on their habits and practices. Organized charity had called him away several years before to act as one of its investigators.
Halsey guessed Ashley’s excitement from the pace at which he threaded his way among the other desks at charity headquarters.
“Don’t expect too much,” he began at once. “I’ve got only a little something else about Kenney which may interest you. I was down at the Rogues’ Gallery this morning looking up the record of a vag. who wanted help when I came upon another picture of Kenney. This mug was under the name of James J. Kelliher, but it’s your man and the record with it shows pretty clearly why Kenney quit the game. It seems that the police got some sort of a hold on Kenney a few years ago and for a time they used him as a stool. Later on, the hooks got wise and it wasn’t safe for him to show his face in any of the resorts unless he wanted a knife stuck into his back. That explains why he turned honest and why you’re wasting time looking for him in any of the dives.”
“Kelliher? You’re sure it’s the same man?”
“Positive. Here, pull your picture. I borrowed this one from Headquarters.”
The photographs were of the same man; and the measurements agreed.
“Here, wait a minute! I made a note of the thing which drove Kenney or Kelliher out of the business.” Halsey dislodged a memorandum from the papers on his desk and summarized its contents. “It seems that about four years ago Scranton Red, a notorious yegg, had it framed up to kick in a flour and feed pete up Yonkers way. Kenney got onto it and tipped off the police. Somehow the rest of the yeggs traced it back to Kenney and that must have been just about when he turned honest. Scranton Red got sent up to Sing Sing for five years. Every hook in the business would have had a knife out for Kenney—and Scranton Red—well, when one of those men gets out, about the first thing he does is to settle a score like that.”
“Yes, that would be a splendid club to hold over Kenney, if I could only lay hands on him.” Ashley smiled wearily. “When does Scranton Red get out?”
“Let me see, five years! With time off, he ought to be getting out about any time now.”
“We couldn’t follow his trail to Kenney, could we?”
Halsey laughed. “Not if you want a live man. The minute Scranton Red lays eyes on Kenney, he’s a dead one.”
“I wish you’d learn just when Scranton Red gets out of Sing Sing. He might be useful to me,” suggested Ashley.
“Easiest thing in the world. I’ll find out and let you know,” answered Halsey promptly. “Here, you can have all this dope I gathered about him, if you want it—all except his picture. I promised to send that back to them.”
Ashley slipped the typewritten memoranda into his pocket and took a long look at Scranton Red’s photograph.
This information saved Ashley the necessity of frequenting the saloon dives any longer, but it seemed as though this very thing diminished his chances. He had now no place to look for Kenney except on the streets.
In a week, he heard from Conley. Kenney had neither come nor sent any word to the lodging house on Tremont Street. His trunk was still there.
There is a jaunty certainty about youth which people love to snub and the fates to thwart. This treatment helps. On it, somehow, the obstinate seem to thrive. And it is given: Only the obstinate shall inherit the earth.
Ashley surely deserved better than he fared. All through that fall and winter—without trail or scent— he kept at his hunt for Kenney. And the news from Boston was such as most men would have found discouraging. This, Conley dashed off on copy-paper and sent from time to time in the form of bulletins. As it covers the important developments in the case of The Commonwealth vs. Thorpe, it is here set down.
Never saw such a Grand Jury. Every reporter in Boston has taken a shot at them to learn what happened. Not a leak. Dist. Att. Walsh must have thrown an awful scare into them.
Nothing new. H. still using Eagle to work up the people—masses vs. classes—oh, hell!
Gov. Field hired to take charge of Thorpe’s case. Lawyers call it hopeless. Saw my friend, the cook at Kenney’s late hangout, yesterday. She says three detectives have been there this week after him. Cheer up, if one good live reporter can’t beat out a dozen of these Hessians, label me for the dump!
Henderson’s betting real money that Gov. Field won’t dare to put Thorpe on the witness stand. Took him on myself for a fiver. Any of your money that isn’t working?
What’s the matter between you and Miss Thorpe? Caught in rain this afternoon. Stepped into doorway at White’s. Along comes Miss Thorpe with umbrella—and she bows as she passes me by. While I was still chortling, back she comes and insists on taking me under cover.
“Ha, ha!” says I to me, “she wants news of me friend, Ashley.”
So into our “Suicide weather, ain’t it?” talk, shovels I you. Just mention you, casual-like. Say, can you change your secretive nature insofar as to put me wise why she shut up so quick?
I’m thinking of putting up your name for membership in the Benevolent Order of Bartenders. You’re a nice, sociable friend, are you not? You are—not! All of which appertains to the leaking out of the story of how you abducted Henderson. Ames must have let it out and H. is so sore he can’t stand the touch of padded hands. The story’s going down the line like smallpox. And me one of the last to be on! You mighta put me next. There ain’t no shame in kidnapping a full-grown man.
Passed you up for a time because you wouldn’t answer questions. Decided to forgive you and be friends again. You ought to know it. H. is extending himself in the Eagle agitating an early trial—and Dist. Att. Walsh has lined up with him.
Gov. Field beaten. Thorpe case set for trial in May Session.
I’m handing you the only consolation in sight. Ames and H. have so committed The Eagle against Thorpe that, if they fail to convict him, it’s the sack for them. Understand they have been warned as much by His Alps, The Eagle’s absent but distinguished owner.
Passed Miss Thorpe on the street to-day. She bowed, but—Gee! I felt as though I’d got into a strong draught. Not blaming you. She and her family have troubles enough just now to explain the icy.
Suppose you are called as a witness for Thorpe. I am.
Case opened to-day. Looks as though it would take three or four days to agree on a jury. Gov. Field is challenging every man who says he reads the Eagle. Nice ad. for us! The talk in the corridors is that he’s making a mistake, that this shows how weak he thinks his case is.
Suppose you’re waiting to come over at the last minute. Dist. Att. opened this morning. His address to the jury shows he intends to attack the defendant’s case at its most vulnerable point. “Are we, reasonable people, governed by civilized customs inherited from ages of ancestors—are we, enlightened human beings—to turn back now to the past and put our seal of approval on a practice of the ages of barbarism? Are we to countenance the duello, to legitimatize murder?” That was the drift of his talk. Bosh—but dangerous for Thorpe.
Dist. Atty. surprised everybody this noon by announcing that his evidence was all in. Gov. Field seemed to be taken by surprise. He moved for the discharge of Thorpe. Denied. Then he asked the court to put over the case until next Monday. Dist. Att. argued vehemently against it. Judge finally ruled that defense must open Thursday morning. Are you coming? If you haven’t got Kenney yet, it will be too late.
Ashley received this warning from Conley on Tuesday morning. In the same mail, came a note from Jim Halsey. Scranton Red, released from Sing Sing the previous week, had applied to him for aid, saying that he intended to lead a straight life. He appeared to know nothing about Kenney’s whereabouts; in fact, he pretended not to care, but unquestionably he was on the alert for any trail to the man who had informed on him. Would Ashley like to have a talk with him?
“Oh, if I only had Kenney now!” Halsey’s letter dropped from Ashley’s fingers to the floor, lay there unheeded. Here within reach, offered to his hand, was the club with which he knew he could drive Kenney to confess what he knew, to go back to Boston with him, to do anything he wished.
Ashley rose and walked the floor of his room in a dull rage against himself and life. Some time that day, or the next at the very latest, he himself must start for Boston. In preparation for this, he had secured leave of absence from The Moon. And now, after all, must he return defeated—without Kenney?
How could he do it? How could he face Henderson and Conley, yes, and Alice Thorpe and acknowledge himself beaten? He had made a vow to himself to find Kenney. His self-respect, his one hope of regaining Alice Thorpe’s good opinion, lay in securing Kenney, in dragging him into court.
He jerked from his pocket the soiled and tattered paper which had lately guided his search. Months before he had cut from a telephone book this list of the garages in Manhattan and The Bronx—two hundred and more. Morning, afternoon and night, using every spare minute, he had plodded from one garage to another, checking them off, in his vain quest for the slightest clew. And now—his eye ran hopelessly over the names—more than a dozen remained unvisited, scattered over the uptown cross streets of Manhattan and along the avenues through Harlem and The Bronx. He could not possibly cover them all in the one day, or, at the outside, the two days at his disposal. Why attempt it? Why waste further time in such a vain pursuit?
“Oh, slush!” These questions were the one thing needed. Ashley’s sneer was one of disgust at himself for even entertaining them. With an impatient eye he ran over that list again; then, he took down his hat and set out once more on the hunt.
All that forenoon he gave to a fruitless inquiry at three garages far out in The Bronx. At one that afternoon, back in New York, he issued from the subway and stood waiting at Twenty-ninth Street for a crosstown car bound west. After a few moments he made up his mind that he could reach the garage on Eleventh Avenue, which was his destination, much quicker afoot. He started west at a brisk walk.
“Hey, look out there!” Ashley looked up to the roof of the low building between Madison and Fifth upon the front of which two workmen had just adjusted a sign. He stood aside until the ropes dropped to the sidewalk, read the sign and then moved on.
“ ‘The Elite Garage & Repair Shop, Jas. King, Proprietor,’ I must have covered that,” he muttered, consulting his list as he walked. Yes, it was checked. He crossed Fifth Avenue, Broadway, Sixth Avenue, striving vainly to recall whom he had seen there. “ ‘The Elite—James King!’ ” he repeated again and again to encourage his memory. It failed to catch on a single thing. Near Seventh Avenue, he stopped, baffled, considering whether he should go back to refresh his memory or go on. And then happened one of the actions which made Ashley, Ashley. He turned and went back.
Ashley walked up the runway into the gloomy garage. A young man with old eyes looked up from the car which he was washing and then resumed his work. One look was enough for Ashley. He recalled that this lanky youth’s name was Cy. One night weeks before, he had just begun to ask him questions, when a ramshackle automobile had stopped outside and its driver had called Cy to go to the relief of another car stalled downtown. They had locked up the garage and paid but surly attention to Ashley’s questions.
Giving no further attention to Cy, Ashley turned and glanced into the box of an office at his left. And there he saw that which made his eyes brighten and his breath come quick.
Sitting in a swivel chair at the far end of the office was a short, heavily made man, his back toward him. He was hunched forward over a copy of the Boston Eagle. He was so engrossed in reading the account of the trial of Walter Thorpe that he had failed to hear Ashley’s entrance. But Ashley no sooner stepped inside the office than he either heard his step or felt his presence, for he let the paper drop in his lap and turned in his swivel chair.
There was a large red wart on his right temple. It was Kenney!
“That’s some case—that Thorpe case!” Ashley began pleasantly, waiting for his pulse to drop to its normal beat.
“Yes. You interested in it?” asked Kenney, folding up the newspaper without apparent suspicion.
“Some.” Ashley dwelt on the word, his eyes fixed on Kenney, preparing to strike quick and hard. “Some,” he repeated, “Seeing that I’m over here after Kenney, the missing chauffeur.”
James King, alias James Kelliher, alias James Kenney, looked up swiftly then, as swiftly he looked down. Under half-closed lids Mr. King-Kelliher-Kenney began covertly to study Ashley’s shoes. Evidently, they convinced him that he was not dealing with an officer of the law. The slight stiffness left his attitude. He rose. “Well, I wish you luck!” he said, turning his back on Ashley, opening the account book on the high desk against the wall, bending absorbedly over it.
After a time, Ashley’s persistent silence raised a doubt too painful to stand. “I say I wish you luck,” he repeated, without looking round.
“Don’t bother. I’ve landed him.”
Kenney flung over several pages in the account book at once, buried his nose in it for a long time before he permitted himself to speak. “You don’t say? Where?”
“You’re my man!”
Kenney laughed. “What kind of a con-game’s this you’re trying to put over on me?”
“The con-game’s all yours, Mr. Kenney.”
“Well, King’s the name they fastened on to me in short clothes, but have your little joke, if you want to.”
“Don’t you think you’d better turn round and listen to me for a few minutes, Mr. Kenney?” suggested Ashley good-naturedly.
“If you’ve got anything to say, spill it out. But cut out this Kenney business. My name’s King. I told you that once.”
Ashley smiled. “Then you’re going to keep on denying you’re Kenney?” he asked.
“Sure thing! That name doesn’t ring any bells in me.” Kenney closed the account book with a snap, turned and faced Ashley.
Ashley drew his police photograph from his pocket, crossed the office and handed it to him. “Before we go any further, suppose you take a look at this,” he suggested.
Kenney took the picture, glanced at it with well simulated carelessness, then laughed. “You don’t mean to say you take me for this crook?” he demanded jocularly.
“Glad you take it so good-naturedly. But take a look at the other side.”
Kenney turned it over, allowed his eyes to dwell for a moment on the Bertillon measurements and data. “Well, I see he’s got a wart on his face,” he commented, “but that’s as far as I go with this mug. What’s Kenney done? Why, I never was in Boston in my life.”
“What’s that Boston paper doing on your desk?”
Kenney’s right arm twitched. He felt that Ashley noticed it. He picked up the paper hastily. “What— this? Someone left it here.” He threw it aside and moistened his lips. “Well, this is a good one on me —taken for a crook!” He laughed loudly, nervously. Suddenly he stopped and his eyes fired. “What kind of a bum sleuth are you,” he flared, “insulting me by saying I look like that crook?” He threw the photograph down angrily on his desk and took a step toward Ashley. “Now, get out of here—get out, before I throw you out!”
Ashley refused to bat an eyelash. “Perhaps—after we’ve had our talk,” he rejoined, coolly sitting down.
“This is my answer to you.” Kenney plucked the photograph from his desk, quickly tore it in two.
Ashley sprang on him and pulled the pieces from his hands. Then he dropped one elbow on the desk, rested his head on it and leveled his eyes at Kenney. He was so close that his adversary’s breath fanned his face.
“Kenney,” he said, in a voice so low and quiet that it was menacing, “I’ve got too much on you for you to be foolish. Listen! You bought the cap Newhall had on when he was shot. You bought the pistol with which he was killed. And Bertrand Newhall paid you ten thousand dollars to—”
“How?” The question started involuntarily, burst like soda from a syphon, out of Kenney’s lips. Too late, he checked his tongue and struggled with the surprise and alarm that made his eyes bulge. Too late he realized the slip he had made. His eyes dropped before Ashley’s, roved uncomfortably about the office as those of one cornered, as those of one forced to think only of the terms he could make.
His eye fell upon the open door, left it, returned, left it, came back to it once again and remained. After a time, he gathered himself together, crossed the office and closed it. With his back against it, he faced Ashley, a mere crumpled-up travesty of his former self. “What ten thousand dollars?” he asked, making a last stand.
“The money you bought this business with.”
“You can’t prove it.”
“I can’t prove it!” Ashley’s scorn was certainty. He was leaping from facts known to things guessed with a success which made him bold. “I can’t prove it! Not prove it, with one man drawing the money and you spending it? Yes, yes, I know—no one living saw it passed, but there’s documentary evidence that the money was coming to you. Yes, and here the money is”—the wave of Ashley’s hand included the whole garage—“found on you—not to be got rid of —no, nor explained in any other way.”
Kenney met his eyes as long as he could. “What do you want of me?” he asked throatily.
“I want you to go back to Boston with me by the next train.” Ashley’s move forward said that they must start at once.
“I didn’t know what he wanted the pistols for,” whined Kenney.
“You can testify that.”
“Yes,” sneered Kenney. He moved away from the door and slumped into a chair as if he would be moved only by force.
“You’re not going?” Ashley walked slowly to the telephone, stood by it, waiting for an answer.
“I ain’t said that.”
“You’re going to make me get out extradition papers?” Ashley felt an anxiety which he did his best to hide.
“No. I ain’t said that, neither.”
Ashley took courage from the answer. He left the telephone, stepped boldly across the office and stood over the insubordinate witness. “Now, see here, Kenney,” he said, hotly, “I don’t intend to waste any more time on you. You can come with me voluntarily or I’ll take you by force. It’s up to you. Decide!”
“Oh, I suppose I’ve got to go.” Kenney groaned. “You’ll see I’m used right?”
“Yes.” Ashley jerked out his watch. “Come on, we can just make the three o’clock train.” He put his hand on Kenney’s arm.
Kenney refused to budge. “I’ve got to get somebody to put in charge here,” he objected.
“I want to see my wife first.”
“Very well, I’ll go with you.”
“Give me time, can’t you?” snarled Kenney. “God, I’ve offered to go without papers—now, don’t you push me.”
Ashley stared at him while he took a quick account of his chances. The emergency was not unexpected. But he could afford anything better than the delay necessary to get out extradition papers for Kenney. “I’ve simply got to make that three o’clock train myself,” he suggested gently.
“Well, go ahead. I’m not keeping you. I’ll come over on the five.”
“I suppose I could telephone the man I’m to meet on it—” Ashley’s tone was doubtful, but his eyes never left Kenney.
“No you don’t. If I go, I go alone, without you or anyone else hanging on to my elbow. You let me alone. You hear?”
Kenney spoke with a half-whine, half-snarl. Ashley saw that he was in the surly state of mind of the criminal who has confessed, willing to do his part in his own way, but liable to become sullen if driven.
“You give me your word of honor to take that five o’clock train?” he demanded.
“Very well, I’ll meet you in Boston on its arrival.” Ashley looked hurriedly at his watch again. “I’ve only got ten minutes to make the three train myself. You haven’t got a car you could get me to the station in?”
Kenney fell at once into plans that suited him so well. “Oh, I suppose I’ve got to help you make it,” he said, sulkily. He rose and jerked open the office door, “Here, Cy,” he called, “bring out my Cadillac. I’ve got to be up to the Grand Central before three.” Kenney drove Ashley to the station himself and then, with a curt wave of his hand, started away in the machine. But later Ashley, from a safe point of vantage in the rear smoker, saw Kenney waiting, watching, outside the picket gate to make sure he left on that train.
The sight of Kenney watching his departure assured Ashley of two things. Kenney would return to the Elite Garage; Kenney would probably feel safe from him until five o’clock that afternoon, at least, and probably until ten that night, the time at which his later train was due to arrive in Boston. But Ashley took no chances. He dropped from his train at the 125th Street Station and ran to a telephone booth. First, he called up a private detective with whom he was on friendly terms and arranged to have Kenney shadowed from the moment he arrived back at his garage. As soon as this was arranged for, he held a brief, nervous talk over the wire with Jim Halsey. This was evidently highly satisfactory, for Ashley issued from the booth with a placid smile on his face. Then he hastened to his boarding house, packed a suit case and returned to the Grand Central Station. If Kenney kept his word and started for Boston on the train agreed upon, Ashley was prepared to slip into another car on the same train unnoticed. If Kenney failed to keep faith—well, then he must be forced to go.
From the moment the gate to the five o’clock limited to Boston opened until it closed, Ashley scrutinized every passenger. The result was as he had feared. The gate closed and the train started without Mr. Kenney aboard.
Without delaying a minute, Ashley checked his suit case in the station and made for the telephone pay station. Here, he called up the Elite Garage and the following conversation took place.
“Hello, who’s this talkin’?”
“Cy. What d’ye want?”
“The boss—he there?”
“No—an’ he won’t be.”
“Cut the guff, Cy. When can I find him?”
“I dunno. What d’ye want?”
“Well, it’s like this, Cy. I’m running a Winton Six for a guy with a big, loose roll. It’s his first car —see?—there’s somethin’ doin’.”
“Now, listen to me. This guy’s mine. He’s goin’ to do just about what I tell him. He’s goin’ to be some pickin’. He’s given me orders to find a garage for him and I’m thinkin’—see?—I’m just thinkin’ of turnin’ him over to youse. But I been screwed once. Before you get a look-in, I’ve got to be sure of my rake-off.”
“All right. We’ll treat you right.”
“No, you don’t. Don’t you think you’re going to hog everything I pry out of him. I want my bit.”
“You’ll get it. Who’d you say he was?”
“Just as soon tell you. You couldn’t get a dollar away from him with a wringer without my say-so, but it don’t go. You don’t get next—not on your natural—until I has a talk with your boss first. Now when can I find him?”
“Oh, bring him around. We’ll treat yer right.”
“Nothin’ doin’. When’d you say the boss would be there to arrange the split?”
“Remember, it’s his first car.”
“Say, can’t yer come down here now an’ fix it up with me?”
“And get skun when the boss gets on? Say, Cy, there’ll be somethin’ in it for you, but I’m goin’ to do business this time straight with the boss. Now, it’s up to you. Say, when. There’s plenty of others that would be glad to get next.”
“Could you slide round here about nine to-night?”
“Yes, but you’ve got to have the boss there. I ain’t got no time to lose.”
“All right, I’ll have him here.”
“That’s the wise boy! So long!”
“Hold on, who’d you say you was?”
But Ashley hung up the telephone without answering. In a few minutes, in another booth, he was talking to Jim Halsey.
“Did you get him, Jim?’’ he asked with excitement.
“Sure. Found him over in a Third Avenue barrelhouse, steaming up. He’s here now. Want to talk to him?”
“No, thank you, Jim. I don’t want to appear in this yet. But hold him, will you? I’m at the Grand Central. I’ll be down to see you inside of ten minutes and we’ll plan the whole thing.”
Just before nine that Tuesday night, Ashley turned into Twenty-ninth Street and walked slowly along the south side. Not until he had gone clear to Fifth Avenue did he come upon his friend, Simms, shadowing Kenney. He was keeping watch of the garage through the two plate glass windows of the corner store.
“Are you sure he’s in there, Simms?” asked Ashley.
“Unless he’s jumped the back fence,” answered Simms confidently.
Ashley hurriedly retraced his steps and entered the office of the Elite Garage. His face was grim, lost in the grip of a single dominating purpose; only the hurry in his eyes betrayed his nervousness as to the outcome of this, his final play.
Kenney turned and found him. Kenney grinned. “Back again?” Kenney asked complacently.
“Yes, and this time I’ll see that you don’t slip me again,” answered Ashley sternly, closing the door. “Been talking to a lawyer, I suppose?”
“Maybe. Yes, I’ve been to a mouthpiece and he tells me to sit tight. Go ahead and get out your papers, if you expect to get me.”
“Not now.” Ashley pinned him with a look. “I’ve got something on you, Kenney, that’s worth all the extradition papers all the governors of this state ever signed.”
“That so?” Kenney sneered.
“Kenney, I’m not the only man after you.”
“No?” Kenney’s question appeared careless, but he looked at Ashley with a new and a furtive interest.
“No, there’s one man that’s following you with something worse than handcuffs. And he’s bound to get you, if I don’t.”
Kenney laughed, but he stirred restlessly in his chair and he said nothing.
Ashley followed through. “Yes, you can laugh, but why don’t you answer that telephone that’s been ringing for the last five minutes? Come, now, get up and answer it and if someone wants to talk to a Mr. Ashley, that’s me.”
“Who gave you leave to use my ’phone?” Kenney, with a sour look, answered the telephone. “No, ring off, you’ve got the wrong number,” he yelled in an ugly tone into the receiver, hastily hanging up.
“That call was for me, Kenney.” Ashley took a step toward him.
Kenney did not answer.
“That call was for me, Kenney.”
Kenney met his eye for one sly moment. “Well, if it was, you got left.”
“Don’t you believe it. Inside of a few seconds the same man will ring up the same number again and he’ll keep on until he gets me. Go on, answer and hang up as often as you want to. There’s a man at the other end that wants you worse than I do.”
Kenney asked the question that he hated to ask. “Hell, I’m getting sick of this, who is it?”
“Did you ever hear of a yegg called Scranton Red?”
Kenney shrank away from him. At that instant the telephone near him rang again.
“There it is. Answer it, if you want to,” said Ashley, calmly.
Kenney stared at him as though hoping to read his mind. He made a move toward the telephone and then drew back. After a moment, he moved aside and with a jerk of his head signed for Ashley to answer it.
Ashley sprang across the office. “Hullo!—Yes, is that you, Jim,—Wait just a minute, will you?” Ashley turned to Kenney. “Here, put this receiver to your ear,” he ordered, “the answers will mean a great deal more to you than they will to me. No, you don’t have to do the talking. I’ll attend to that,” he added, as Kenney drew away.
For one moment, Kenney looked at him in feeble protest, then, he accepted the receiver and put it to his ear.
“Got him, Jim?” Ashley asked.
“Yes, he’s right here at my elbow,” Kenney heard Halsey answer.
“My man’ll never believe it.”
“I’ll put him right on the wire. He can hear his voice, and talk to him if he wants to.”
“Wait “ Ashley turned to Kenney. “Do you want to talk to him? That’s the best way for you to make sure.”
The receiver dropped from Kenney’s nerveless hands to the desk, rolled off and hung suspended in the air while Kenney went white trying to get his voice. “For God’s sake—for God’s sake, don’t let him know I’m here,” he begged.
“You can’t be sure we’ve got him unless you hear his voice. You don’t want us to bring him round here, do you?” Ashley persisted.
“Good God, no. I’ll take your word for it. I’ll do whatever you ask—only hang up—keep him away from me,” whispered Kenney brokenly.
Ashley looked at the livid, trembling man lying in a huddle against the desk. Kenney’s eyes were wide with terror, he breathed hard and his hands twitched while he gazed into Ashley’s eyes with a mute appeal for mercy.
“I can count on you this time?” he demanded sternly.
“Yes, yes,” whispered Kenney huskily and then, as though not trusting his voice alone, he nodded his head again and again.
Ashley raised the hanging receiver. He spoke a few words into the telephone. And then he hung up.
Governor Field, counsel for Walter Thorpe, opened the last letter in his mail that Wednesday morning, skimmed through it and then took up once again the letter which he had first opened. This he read twice before dropping it back on the pile with a sigh of disappointment.
Things had broken very badly for Walter Thorpe thus far. District Attorney Walsh, seeking that triumph in a notable trial likely to be helpful to him in state politics, had conducted a peculiarly relentless case. He had established a reasonable motive; he had forged against Thorpe a chain of circumstantial evidence apparently unbreakable; and then, realizing how Governor Field was playing for time, he had forced things by bringing his own side to an unexpectedly early end. Thereafter in Judge Abbott’s private chamber, he had protested successfully against the long adjournment requested by Governor Field. If the defense had not been able to locate the witness or witnesses they needed in eleven months, how could they be expected to do so in one more week? Next week, they would come asking for yet another week and the jury would become restless, forgetful, incapable of returning a verdict based upon the evidence. This was sound argument. Judge Abbott, wishing to be fair to both sides, had adjourned court for but two of the seven days requested by the defense.
To-morrow morning Governor Field must open his case for Thorpe. Its entire bearing depended upon one witness—Kenney. And in that morning’s mail, the private detective agency so long on Kenney’s trail had acknowledged its inability to locate him.
Governor Field had been put in charge of Thorpe’s case because he was the ablest attorney practicing in the criminal courts of Massachusetts. He could not refuse because he was an old family friend of the Thorpes. And this very friendship now placed him in an embarrassing position which he had dimly foreseen. His gray eyes grew dull, one hand wandered among his thin white hair, as he stared at the cards his assistant had just brought to him.
“Minot, give me two more minutes to think, then ask them to come in,” he said with a sudden, nervous decision.
He knew just what Alice Thorpe had come to ask him. Without Kenney he knew that he ought never to allow her brother to take the witness stand, but how was he to deny her appeal without offending her?
The two women who later entered his private office were certainly not in a condition to receive any rebuffs. Alice Thorpe looked harassed and worn—she drooped. The life was gone from her face and manner. Her eyes alone stored up the last flashes of her spirit; even there, that spirit flickered as a light flutters in a strong draught. And if Alice Thorpe drooped, her companion wilted. Miss Newhall’s eyes glittered feverishly. She had the haggard look of one whose pillow has been a sea of tears.
Governor Field put off the hour of reckoning as long as he could by seeing that they were comfortably seated. The constrained silence which followed was broken by Alice Thorpe.
“Mother insisted upon my seeing you, Governor Field,” she said. “I told her we ought not to bother you, but she would have got out of bed to come herself, if I hadn’t.”
Governor Field nodded. “I can imagine her state of mind,” he said, with sympathy.
Alice Thorpe moved nervously. “Mother says she won’t be able to sleep until you agree to put Walter on the witness stand. She thinks he has a right to tell his story. She believes he will be convicted if you don’t.”
The moment had come. Governor Field secured a pencil from his desk, began to measure the span of his fingers upon it while he reflected. Nothing but his silence and that shifting pencil indicated how deeply he was troubled. “I can’t do that, Alice,” he said soberly, “that is, I can’t without giving up our best chance to win.”
Alice Thorpe leaned toward him. “I wish you would trust to my discretion and tell me the truth,” she exclaimed.
“The truth!” The pencil slipped from Governor Field’s hands to the floor. He allowed it to remain there.
“Yes, the truth,” Alice Thorpe repeated. “It may be as well to keep it from mother, but it’s too late to keep it from me. I’ve read the newspapers and I know how small the chance is that you will get Walter off. Don’t try to deceive me any longer, Governor Field, please don’t!”
“Deceive you! My dear child!” he protested.
Alice Thorpe considered him gravely, but she did not falter, “Mother fears you don’t believe Walter’s story,” she said, her sad eyes searching his face for evidence one way or the other.
Governor Field stooped to pick up his pencil. As he rose, his keen gray eyes lingered on her a moment. The harassed, pinched look which had come upon her face affected him deeply. “I think perhaps I had better tell you, after all,” he declared abruptly. “Some things may be difficult for you to understand, but—” He cleared his throat. “In a trial like this we have to bear in mind not so much the truth as the precise effect each piece of evidence will have upon the jury. My colleagues and I all believe absolutely in the truth of your brother’s story, but we also agree that it would be likely to appear incredible to the jury. Now, just as soon as a jury begins to discredit your chief witness, they lose faith in your whole case; they believe nothing—not a single thing! That’s the rock we are trying to avoid. If we had ever so little more evidence in support of Walter’s story, it would be different; we wouldn’t hesitate a moment about putting him on the stand.”
“What more evidence could there be?”
“Kenney. If we had that one man the whole aspect of the case would be changed.”
“Oh! Then we aren’t going to have him?”
Governor Field shook his head. “The detectives— ours and others, too—have been running about madly for months without finding a single clew.” He changed the subject quickly as he observed the effect of the news on her. “But that’s all right,” he went on, “circumstantial evidence is never so strong as it looks. Now, for instance, if you have been reading the accounts of the trial in The Eagle, you’d think—” he stopped, caught by her change of color—“you don’t read that paper?” he asked quickly.
Alice Thorpe nodded.
Alice Thorpe blushed, gave another reason. “I— I guess I wanted to know the worst.”
“You mustn’t. You don’t get the worst. They play up facts so that you get much worse than the worst. It’s the one thing I’ve not been able to explain. The Eagle started out as fair to us as the other papers and then, in one day, it changed, became our worst enemy. Why! they’ve kept out every word of my cross-examination; not a chance have they missed to damage our case. I simply can’t understand their prejudice.”
Alice Thorpe stirred uneasily. “I think I may have caused that,” she confessed after a minute.
“You!” Governor Field stared at her with astonishment.
Humbly, with her eyes on the floor, she told him of Ashley’s connection with the case and how she herself had ended it.
“Ashley! Ashley! Oh, yes, I remember now. He was on my list of witnesses. I wrote him to come to see me. But when he failed to appear, I made up my mind that no one on The Eagle would be likely to help us anyway.”
“I don’t believe—” Alice Thorpe stopped and bit her lip—“perhaps he didn’t come because he failed to get your letter. I remember now that he wrote me at the time that he was going away to find Kenney.”
“Kenney!” Governor Field looked at her sharply.
“You mean to say he recognized Kenney’s importance as long ago as that? Wait—wait a minute, child. I must start things going to get hold of that man Ashley at once.” He pressed the electric button under his desk. When a boy answered, he ordered:
“I want to talk to a Mr. Ashley—reporter on The Eagle—in a hurry!”
The boy returned in a short time. “They say they don’t know any such man, never heard of him.”
“Did you tell them I wanted him?”
“My mistake!” Governor Field dismissed the boy and reached for his own desk-telephone.
“I know his friend, Mr. Conley, is still there—that is, he was a short time ago,” interrupted Alice Thorpe.
“Conley. Good! I’ll try for him.” But even with Conley, he appeared to labor with difficulties. “You say you haven’t anything to tell me about him—does that mean over the ’phone?—Ah!—Then, just tell me where he lives.” Governor Field wrote something on a piece of paper. “Now, if you’ll be good enough to take a taxi up here at my expense.”
Governor Field hung up the receiver. “That’s interesting!” he exclaimed. “But you may or may not come. I don’t think I shall wait for you, Mr. Conley.” He touched his thumb to the button under the desk.
Governor Field handed the slip of paper to the boy who answered. “Get that address for me in New York on the ’phone,” he ordered. “I want a Mr. Ashley. If he’s not there, I’ll talk to anyone who’s got a tongue. Let me know when you get it and I’ll take it in the closed booth in the main office. And—”the boy, hurrying away, stopped at the door—“if a man named Conley calls for me, bring him in instantly. No one else this morning.”
The boy gone, Governor Field sank back in his chair. The necessity for quick action had made him forget the presence of the two women. He was still buried in his thoughts, when the door opened.
“Good morning, Governor,” saluted Conley, “I understand you—” and then he stopped abruptly. His eyes had fallen upon Miss Newhall.
Alice Thorpe bowed to him from across the room. He acknowledged this and took Governor Field’s proffered hand, but, covertly, he glanced from time to time at Miss Newhall. Evidently, her presence made him uneasy.
Governor Field, with other concerns upon his mind, failed to notice; he went straight to the point. “We want to learn,” he said, “if either you or Mr. Ashley know anything about a man named Kenney who was the chauffeur for the Newhalls up to about eleven months ago.”
Conley grinned. “Well, we ought to,” he admitted, ‘‘seeing that I dug up his record and that Ashley’s been on his track for just about that length of time.”
“Can you tell me where that man is now?” inquired Governor Field smilingly.
“No, I can’t.”
“Do you think Mr. Ashley could?”
“I don’t know of anybody more likely to be able to,” responded Conley promptly. “I haven’t heard from him now for over ten days; if that means anything, it means that Ashley’s busy running down a clew.”
“Was Mr. Ashley sent after Kenney by The Eagle?”
“No. He wrote that first article in The Eagle and then he got through. He went over to New York after Kenney on his own hook.”
“Yes, I know; but who is paying his expenses?”
“He’s paying them himself.”
Governor Field frowned. “Do you mean to tell me,” he demanded, “that this man Ashley was sufficiently interested in this case to pay his own expenses for eleven months trying to find Kenney?”
“That’s what!” declared Conley emphatically, his eyes shifting involuntarily to Alice Thorpe.
She blushed and seemed about to speak, but Governor Field did not give her time. “Do you think that, if he knew, Mr. Ashley would be willing to tell us where Kenney is?” he asked.
“He’d be more likely to tell you than anyone else,” affirmed Conley, his eyes once again crossing the room.
“Then, he’s just the man I want to talk to.” Governor Field nodded to the boy who had appeared in the doorway, hurried out after him to take his long distance call on the telephone.
Alice Thorpe crossed the office to Conley. There was an unusual, an almost eager submissiveness in her tone and manner. “Mr. Conley,” she said, “you just said that Mr. Ashley left The Eagle to go in search of this man. Do you mean that he gave up his position to hunt for him?”
Conley shifted uneasily on his feet. “Don’t you know what happened?” he asked.
“No, he didn’t leave, though I let the Governor think so. As a matter of fact, he was discharged.”
“Discharged!” Alice Thorpe’s voice trembled; she stared at him in innocent bewilderment. “Why?” she asked, after a moment.
“No; he didn’t get a chance to leave,” repeated Conley. “He got the sack on account of that first story. That was altogether too easy on your brother to suit some of the people higher up, so they fired him.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry!” The mist in her eyes showed the depth of her penitence. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she repeated. “Will you tell him how sorry I am when you see him?” she asked softly, after a hesitating, uncertain pause.
Conley nodded hastily. His bluntness had cut deeper than he intended. In an eager attempt to remove the sting, he rushed on enthusiastically. “Then I don’t suppose you ever heard how he got that story in. Why he kidnapped the reporter who got your brother arrested and planned to scoop us and the whole push—Jack carried him off bodily in an auto while I hustled in his own story instead. That was the slickest little piece of work ever put over here, now you can just take that from little me.”
Fire began to sparkle on the dew in Alice Thorpe’s eyes. “Tell me—oh, tell me all about it,” she begged eagerly.
Conley began, but Conley’s story had to give way to news of greater moment. Governor Field returned, his round, benign old face smudged by the touch of irritation. “I guess we’ve lost our chance there,” he announced. “Mr. Ashley left his boarding-house in New York yesterday afternoon with a suit case and he did not say where he was going.” He picked up a paperweight from his desk, held it a moment and then threw it down.
“With a suit case!” Conley started. “See here, Governor, that means he was either starting here or after Kenney.”
“Yes, but how are we to know? Suppose he has got track of Kenney and gone after him. How am I to know in time? Without a definite chance of getting this witness, I can’t secure another postponement. My case must open to-morrow. Suppose even that he has got Kenney and brought him on here—where are we to look for them? I need that witness to-day!” Governor Field’s eyes whipped nervously from one to the other, stopped on Conley. “You—would you know where to find them?” he demanded sharply.
Conley slowly shook his head. “I suppose he’d look up either you or me, but I don’t know. I haven’t heard from him for over a week.”
“No friends or relations of his here?”
“None that I know of.”
“No place he’d be likely to go to?’
“No one place more’n another.”
“There you are! He might be right here in town with the very man we need and we not be able to get our hands on them in time. I need Kenney or word of Kenney to-day. He’s vastly more important to this case than I am. Give me that chauffeur and—” Too agitated to finish, Governor Field turned to his desk and picked up the paper-weight again while a grim silence fell on the others.
The timid knock at the door sounded a second time. Governor Field threw down the paper-weight. “Come in,” he called despondently.
The door between was opened softly. In the narrow opening, holding the pass as Leonidas held that other one at Thermopylae, stood a white-faced but resolute little office-boy. Trying to press by him were Ashley and another man. The other man was Kenney.
By gollops! if he hasn’t gone and done it!” Conley cantered to the door, seized the two men and dragged them across the office to Governor Field. “Meet my friend, Mr. Ashley,” he clamored, “and me long lost brother, Mr. Kenney.”
Governor Field beamed and gave them each a hand. “Never gladder to see any two people in my life,” he exclaimed warmly. He found time to exchange only a word with Ashley, however, before he was deserted. Ashley had caught a glance from Alice Thorpe which brought him bounding to her side.
“Oh, I’m so glad you’ve come,” she exclaimed, blushing at the gush of feeling which went involuntarily with her words. “You’re going to forgive me—I never understood all you had done for us until this morning?” Her hand trembled ever so slightly in his and her soft blue eyes pleaded humbly, eagerly.
Her meekness, her earnestness, sent Ashley a sort of joyous unrest. It mixed his hopes and sympathies, flattered, while it provoked him. He wished to stay and yet he yearned to escape.
“All I have done!” He laughed. “Why, I haven’t done anything.”
“Getting that story into your paper—abducting the reporter who had my brother arrested—oh, and I seemed so ungrateful! I understand now so much that I couldn’t before.”
“Ah, I see, someone has been telling tales on me.” He stirred uneasily, tried jocularly to slide past an uncomfortable situation.
She did not protest, only smiled back at him accusingly. “I mustn’t keep you,” she said, noticing the nervous glances of the other men in his direction.
“You’re not going?” he demanded eagerly.
“No.” She blushed. “Not unless I am in the way here.”
Governor Field, having waited impatiently, drew him aside. “This chauffeur,” he asked, glancing uneasily at Kenney, “can we depend on him, and how much?”
“I’ve got a hold on him he isn’t likely to try to break, but—” Ashley paused to take a glance at Kenney himself.
“Yes, I know, I shall take his deposition at once, but will he be willing to do all I ask? Would he be willing to keep in hiding until we call him to surprise the other side?”
Ashley laughed. “Keep in hiding? Why, that’s just what he wants us to let him do.” He explained rapidly the circumstances under which he had forced Kenney to come.
“Splendid! I wouldn’t want a better hold on him.” Governor Field gazed on Ashley with admiration. “Now, I’ll take his deposition myself, against accident, and then turn him loose.” He read and answered at once Ashley’s quick, questioning look. “Oh, of course, I’ll have him shadowed night and day until I need him.”
Ashley nodded. “Not necessary probably, but it’s just as well to be absolutely sure.”
Governor Field looked at him with approval. “Young man,” he said, “I want to have a long talk with you after I’ve taken Kenney’s deposition.”
Ashley looked away. “I’ve been traveling all night. I’ve had to keep so close to Kenney that I’ve hardly more than changed my collar.”
Governor Field smiled. “Yes, and then, of course, you didn’t expect to find women here.”
“Well, I should like time to get in touch with my suit case at the station.”
“Very well, come and see me any time after three this afternoon.” Governor Field beckoned to Kenney and left the room.
But if Ashley really intended to secure his suit case, he was curiously careless about starting for it. Perhaps he had noticed Miss Newhall slip away to take the news to Walter Thorpe. By some abstracted and watchful interest, perhaps he knew that he was alone in that office with Alice Thorpe and one other. And now, Conley, with that tact seldom credited to those hirelings who prey for the news, was managing an escape.
“Bye, Jack, I’ve got a lot to tell you some time when we can get together. Call me up.” With an awkward bow to Miss Thorpe, Conley bolted out of the office.
“Con!” Ashley called after him, but he did no more.
He turned to catch Alice Thorpe looking at him with that deep feeling which calls for light words. A quick flush of color rode upon the pallor of her face and neck as he discovered her.
“It’s just like clearing the stage for the final scene,” he suggested.
“Yes, all the apologies and explanations to be made and the misunderstandings to be cleared up.” She laughed; then suddenly, her face grew grave. “I haven’t attempted to thank you yet. Somehow, when—”
She kept on resolutely. “Somehow, when I get to thinking of all we owe you”—her voice broke—“and how I treated you when you were trying so hard to help us”—her eyes swam—“I just shake all over— I—”
“Please don’t shake all over.” Ashley made a futile attempt to be jocular with a voice that was uncertain.
Alice Thorpe tried to respond, strained to show a smile through the mist in her eyes. “I keep thinking of things to say—but they’re all things I’ve read or heard other people say “
“I feel as if I could give all the rest of my life to—”
“Don’t commit yourself too far. I might take advantage.”
Laughter follows on the very heels of tears. In spite of herself, she laughed at his audacity, a little brokenly, but long enough to give him time; before she could give way again, he was off on a lively but rambling account of his search for Kenney, making fun of what never before had seemed humorous to him, putting his long and obstinate pursuit into the guise of stupidity. It seemed only a moment before Governor Field returned.
“Young man,” he said, raising the deposition in his hand, “you’ve done a wonderful piece of work in getting this man for us. We’ve spent thousands of dollars trying to do what you’ve done. But I shall take pains to see that you are paid for it.”
Ashley frowned. “Governor” he said “if you even think of suggesting to Walter Thorpe that he ought—” and then he stopped, checked by the perplexing series of chuckles of the white-haired counsel.
Governor Field stopped, allowed his gaze to rest whimsically upon Alice Thorpe. “Well, I won’t meddle with things better left in other hands,” he promised. “But you shall be paid—or I’m too old and blind to read the signs in the heavens.”
And to avoid that baleful twinkle in his eyes and what it might lead to in words, Alice Thorpe and Ashley made hasty excuses and fled.
Ashley’s talk with Governor Field extended though the afternoon. Governor Field then insisted upon taking him home for dinner, and it was well along in the evening before he reluctantly allowed him to depart to keep an engagement with Alice Thorpe. The long conference had convinced him of one thing. Ashley had so keen an insight into the case in all its bearings that he must have him at his right hand during the trial.
Thus it came about that counsel for both sides sat each with a reporter at his elbow. Ashley, following Governor Field into the railed-in enclosure of the court, found Henderson’s eye lying in wait for him. Henderson bowed patronizingly, with a lurking grin that spoke well of his assurance. Ashley’s nod was quick, curt, cold, quite different from the look of absolute assurance which he flashed at Alice Thorpe when his back was toward Henderson.
As soon as court opened, Governor Field, in pursuance of carefully laid plans, rose, made a sign to District Attorney Walsh and went forward for a whispered consultation with the judge. He asked for a further postponement. District Attorney Walsh argued vehemently against it and Judge Abbott denied the plea. This was exactly what Governor Field wished. He returned to his seat between Ashley and Minot, junior counsel for the defense, with a disappointment admirably counterfeited. For a time he held an apparently heated conference with these assistants. Then he rose to open the case for Thorpe.
Governor Field’s address to the jury was a plea for sympathy rather than an indignant demand for justice. Again and again, he dwelt upon the enmity of Bertrand Newhall, as if his one hope lay in lodging this firmly in the jury’s mind. A stranger would have said that he was subtly suggesting extenuating circumstances, gently pleading for mercy to a lost cause. Ashley, informed of his plans, was free to watch its effect. Alice Thorpe seemed bewildered, disappointed. District Attorney Walsh’s face was a mask, but Henderson’s was shot with triumph. He continually nudged the silent District Attorney with delight and his glances at Ashley celebrated in advance.
But District Attorney Walsh waited warily. Not until Governor Field completed his lack-luster address and called Walter Thorpe for his first witness, did Ashley see the District Attorney turn and nod smilingly to Henderson as one assured.
Ashley secured Governor Field’s ear. “We’ve got him,” he whispered.
Governor Field’s eyes kept away. The quiet gravity of his face never lifted as he murmured into the ears of his two assistants, “Good! Now, to keep ’em. Remember, I’m after the jury, Minot keeps tabs on the witnesses, and you, Ashley, keep watch of the enemy. Let me know the minute you think you see any change in the District Attorney.” He rose to begin the examination of his client.
Walter Thorpe, on the witness stand, showed a young face naturally grave upon which the past year had etched its lines. His earnest conviction of his own blamelessness, his eager desire to tell everything, promised so well that Governor Field had forborne to coach him for the trial. He knew that Thorpe’s story was one which would be accepted lock, stock and barrel or not at all. If Thorpe tripped or wandered through his eagerness to tell everything, he relied upon his own skill to set him back upon the beaten way; and he counted upon this very unprompted eagerness to gain credit for a tale otherwise incredible.
After the customary preliminary questions, Governor Field started in immediately to lay the foundation of the defense.
Governor Field: “You heard the various witnesses for the Commonwealth testify that ill feeling existed between Mr. Bertrand Newhall and your family?”
Thorpe: “I did.”
Q. “Did any such ill feeling exist?”
A. “Yes, but it was much more one-sided than they showed. Bertrand Newhall ruined my—”
“Your honor, I object!” District Attorney Walsh rose to obstruct the introduction of further evidence needed to condone Thorpe’s offense. He and Governor Field advanced, held a long wrangle, heard only by the presiding judge. Afterwards, the two attorneys returned to their places.
Governor Field: “What evidence, if any, did you yourself see of any such ill feeling?”
Thorpe: “I saw my father driven to take his own life. I saw my mother made a bedridden in—”
District Attorney: “Your honor, I object. I maintain that the witness’s answer is not relevant to the question put by counsel and should be stricken from the records. Counsel asked for evidence that such ill feeling existed and witness replied by giving the results that may or may not have arisen from any such ill feeling. Moreover, I contend that witness cannot jump to conclusions as to why his father committed suicide. It’s against the procedure of the courts and I request that what he testified be stricken from the records.”
Thorpe’s eagerness had overleaped itself. Governor Field admitted the justice of the point made by opposing counsel and took his witness more firmly in hand.
Governor Field: “I want you to give the evidence, if any, of only such ill feeling as you saw with your own eyes. Were you ever present at a quarrel between your father and Mr. Newhall?”
Thorpe: “I was present at the quarrel when my father refused to sell his house and Mr. Newhall threatened—”
District Attorney: “I object.”
Governor Field: (nodding to the District Attorney and then turning to witness): “Tell the court and jury just what you heard each of them say, in their own words, as near as you can remember them.”
Thorpe: “My father said, ‘I don’t care to sell,’ and Mr. Newhall said, ‘I don’t care if you don’t care, I don’t intend to have you for a neighbor of mine any longer, and there’s no use in your acting like a pigheaded old fool about it.’ ”
Q. “Yes—and your father said?”
A. “My father said, ‘You won’t get this property; not without ruining me first.’ ”
Q. “And Mr. Newhall said?”
A. “Mr. Newhall threatened—”
Q. “No, no, no; tell us what he said.”
A. “Mr. Newhall laughed and said, ‘Very well, if it’s ruin you need, it’s ruin you’ll get. I’m not the man to deny an idiot the medicine he needs. If you want what Robinson got—’ ”
Q. “Yes, anything more?”
A. “No, then my mother came out on the porch and induced my father to come away.”
Q. “Did you know this man named Robinson whom Mr. Newhall mentioned?”
A. “Yes, he was a wool dealer, like my father. He had a quarrel with Bertrand Newhall and—”
Q. “What happened to him?”
District Attorney Walsh objected, argued, but Judge Abbott allowed the question to be put again.
A. “He failed in business afterward and left town.”
Q. “Your father later failed in business also?”
A. “He did.”
Q. “And you took charge of his business and investigated the cause of his failure?”
A. “I did.”
Q. “What did you discover to be the cause of that failure?”
A. “An absolutely inexcusable and malicious trick Bertrand Newhall played upon—”
District Attorney: “Your honor, I object, and ask that this answer be stricken from the records.”
Governor Field: (to witness, after signifying his assent): “No, I want you to tell us what the books of your father’s business showed to be the direct cause of his failure.”
A. “They showed that my father had bought a very large clip of wool which he had to sell at a very heavy loss.”
Q. “What occasioned this heavy loss?”
A. “The wool was not up to sample. My father made the mistake of selling it to a mill without inspection after paying for it. Later the mill shipped it back to him and he had to sell it at a loss that wiped out almost all his capital.”
Q. “Was that sufficient to bring about your father’s failure?”
A. “No, but the loss didn’t stop there.”
Q. “State the rest of that transaction.”
A. “My father found too late that this clip of wool had been sold to the dealer from whom he bought it by Bertrand Newhall. He entered suit against the dealer and obtained judgment, but this dealer had gone from the state leaving nothing attachable behind him. My father then entered suit against Newhall himself for conspiracy.”
Q. “What was the result of this last action?”
A. “My father lost because he could not induce the dealer who sold it to him to return and testify against Newhall.”
District Attorney Walsh rose, evidently intending to object to this answer, but Henderson plucked at his sleeve and said something which caused him to smile and sit down.
Q. “This and other suits against Bertrand Newhall put your father under unusually heavy expense.”
A. “They completely ruined him.”
Q. “What happened then?”
A. “My father went away one day to our unoccupied cottage at Mossett and—later we found his body there.”
Q. “He had committed suicide?”
Q. “Was anything found with his body, any letter or writing that you recognized as being in his hand?”
A. “There—there was a letter from him to me.”
Q. “Is this that letter?”
Governor Field took the frayed, soiled half-sheet of notepaper from the witness and waited for the judge and District Attorney to read it. After a long wrangle, he was allowed to introduce it in evidence.
Governor Field (to witness): “This is the letter in your father’s writing which you just mentioned, found with his body?”
Thorpe: “It is.”
Q. “Read it to the court and jury.”
A. (reading): “ ‘Walter, Newhall has succeeded. I am too old to start all over again. Good-bye.’ ”
Governor Field paced to and fro until he had given Thorpe time to regain his composure.
Q. “When you’re ready, you may read the rest of the contents.”
A. (reading): “ ‘Walter, I want you to talk with your mother and promise never to have any further trouble with Newhall. Good-bye.’ ”
Q. “That is all?”
Q. “Your father’s death was a great shock to your mother?”
A. “She has never been out of bed for a day since.”
Q. “Did she ask you to promise her anything in regard to Newhall?”
A. “She made me promise never to have anything whatever to do with him again.”
Q. “Did you keep that promise?”
A. “I did. I never saw him or talked to him again until last June, just before his death.”
Q. “What happened then?”
A. “He called up and asked me to become a director in his Province Trust Company. I refused.”
Q. “Why did you refuse? Had you any additional reasons?”
A. “Yes, after my father’s death he sent an agent to me to try to buy our house in Mossett. When I refused to sell, his enmity seemed to center on me. He used his influence with certain banks to get them to call their loans to me.”
Q. “Were any such loans called?”
A. “Yes; and when I was struggling hardest to build up my father’s business again.”
Q. “Was any reason given for the calling of any of them?”
A. “Yes; the presidents of two of the banks stated to me that they had called them at his request, that they had been asked by him to tell me as much.”
Q. “Did he make any further attempts to injure your business?”
A. “Yes; soon after I had got it on its feet again, he circulated a rumor that I had attempted to sell it to him; but that he had gone over my books and refused to buy because he found it to be insolvent.”
Q. “Had you ever offered your business for sale to him?”
A. “I had not.”
Q. “To return; you stated some time ago that Newhall called up and asked you to become a director in his bank, also that you refused. Did he ask you again?”
A. “Yes; he called up at least half a dozen times more and tried to get me to reconsider. It had been over a year since he had done anything openly against me. He said that he made this to me as a peace offering, but I feared it might be some trick and refused.”
Q. “Was that the last you heard of it?”
A. “No; on the day before his death he called me up and said he was on the brink of failure. He asked me to help him. I refused. He said that all his stepdaughter’s money was involved, that unless the greatest care were exercised, she would be left penniless.”
Q. “Did you then agree to help him?”
A. “I agreed to have a conference with him to see what could be done.”
Q. “Why did you change your mind?”
A. “I—well, I had been engaged to Miss Newhall.”
Q. “You weren’t at that time?”
A. “No; Bertrand Newhall had compelled her to break it off.”
Q. “Did you have this conference with Bertrand Newhall?”
A. “I did.”
Q. “When did it take place?”
A. “At seven-thirty on the night of June 24th last.”
Q. “That was the night that Bertrand Newhall was found dead?”
Q. “Where did this conference take place?”
A. “At his request I took a train to Ashland. He met me at the railroad station with his automobile and we talked things over coming into Boston in it together.”
Q. “Did you leave him when the automobile reached Boston?”
A. “No; we went into his closed house to finish our talk and make plans.”
Q. “This was the house in which his body was later found?”
A. “It was.”
Q. “And on the same night as his death?”
“Mr. Thorpe, tell the court and jury just what happened between you and Mr. Newhall in that house that night.”
Walter Thorpe told his story in a low voice which would have been inaudible in any but that breathless hush of interest which pervaded the court room. Once or twice in the early part of his testimony a woman among the crowd of spectators attempted to whisper, but she soon stopped, confused, silenced, by the attention she attracted. Once a man with a cold began to cough. Angry eyes singled him out, protested, until he rose and squirmed his way out through the packed throng. Another man slipped at once into his vacant seat, and the officer at the door allowed two men to enter in his place. Even this slight confusion so disturbed the tension that Walter Thorpe stopped testifying until it ceased.
“On the way into town in the automobile,” he began, “Mr. Newhall told me how matters stood with him and they were much worse than I had expected. His Wool Trust was bankrupt; his bank wrecked. He expected to be arrested at any moment for the big loans he had made from one to the other. The bank was gone for good and all, he confessed this with a meekness which won me and made me sorry; but, from the wreck of the Wool Trust he believed that part of his stepdaughter’s money might be saved, if someone who knew the wool business would only take charge of it as receiver. This was what he begged me to do, and I finally agreed.
“We went into his closed house on Commonwealth Avenue some time between eight and nine that night to consider what could be done. In the sewing-room upstairs, whose light could not be seen from the street, we made our plans. If he could make a voluntary assignment of the Wool Trust to me before its creditors took it away, something might be saved for his stepdaughter. I can’t understand now how I forgot all the wrongs he had done me and my family, but he seemed so humble and crushed that somehow I did, and then—and then, he promised me something—something that made me forget the enmity he had always shown us.”
“What did he promise you?” Governor Field’s quiet question brought a deep sigh of relief from some woman in the audience, but no one turned to look at her.
“He promised”—Walter Thorpe stopped and gazed pleadingly into his counsel’s gray, unswerving eyes— “he promised—he told me he would let Miss Newhall marry me.”
Governor Field saw the help he needed, led his mind away. “What did Mr. Newhall then ask you to do for him?” he inquired.
Walter Thorpe seemed to gather himself together. “I was to act as receiver for his Wool Trust,” he went on. “He said he had an engagement that night with its largest creditor; he was going to try to get him to agree to this step. He was dodging arrest so he asked me to wait to learn the result from him in that empty house. And then, just as he was going, he gave me a green bag which he said contained all his stepdaughter’s jewels. He said she had asked him to use them, but that he had refused. If everything else went wrong he said that there was an emerald necklace among them for which he had paid twenty thousand dollars; she could raise something from that. But he dreaded being arrested with them in his possession. Worse than that, he didn’t like to take them with him or leave them at home or anywhere else unguarded. He had learned that his chauffeur was an ex-convict; he had caught him looking when Miss Newhall had given him the jewels; he might even have keys to that house, a set had disappeared unaccountably several months before. So he asked me to stay and guard the jewels and he gave me his pistol.”
“You took his pistol?”
“Yes; by this time he had got me so wrought up over the danger of losing the jewels that I took his pistol and promised not to hesitate about using it”
Walter Thorpe drew a long breath. “I sat in the sewing-room at the end of the hall upstairs with the pistol in my pocket and the bag on a table beside me. I heard Mr. Newhall hurry down the stairs; heard him open, close and relock the front door. There wasn’t a sound in that empty house, not so much as the tick of a clock, and I knew he would not be back for probably an hour. The silence began to get on my nerves. I looked at my watch. Only ten minutes had passed. I began to listen to see if I could hear any sounds from the street outside. Suddenly, I thought I heard the click of a key slipped into the lock of a door downstairs. I laughed. Then it seemed as if I heard someone creeping up the stairs. Finally, I simply couldn’t stand it any longer. I got up and went to the door of the sewing-room. And there on the landing of the dark stairway I saw a man crouching against the wall. For a moment I just stood looking at him, paralyzed, then I noticed that he wore a chauffeur’s cap pulled down over his eyes. I thought it was that chauffeur. Newhall was right. The chauffeur had come back to get the jewels. I called out to him to throw up his hands before I even thought to get out my own pistol. He raised a pistol and fired at me while I stood in the doorway trying to get mine out. I heard the shot sing over my head. I got my pistol free, sprang out into the hall and fired, too. I saw him fall on the floor of the landing. I yelled to him but he didn’t answer. After a long time, I ran to him, turned over his body and found—I found— it wasn’t the chauffeur I had shot—it was Bertrand Newhall!”
The witness shuddered, stopped. Governor Field began to pace back and forth, waiting for him to regain control of his shaking figure. Ashley turned a moist eye toward Alice Thorpe. Her handkerchief was at her face; he could see her tremble, but the stifled sobs seemed to come from all women except her. Gradually the coughing and the blowing of noses ceased, but perhaps the silence which followed put a greater strain on the nerves.
“You may go on—when you are ready.” Governor Field’s softened voice broke the strain.
Walter Thorpe straightened up, moistened his lips, tried his voice once or twice before he could continue. “I—I—I remember running down the stairs and I must have got out of that house somehow. The next thing I remember I was running up Beacon Street and a man grabbed me by the arm and spoke to me. I tried to tell him that I was running for a doctor and then I discovered that the shock had been too much for me. I couldn’t move my tongue. I couldn’t seem to say a word. I broke away from him and ran up a side street. A few minutes later, I remember sitting down on the stone steps of my mother’s house on Beacon Street and wondering how I could ever break the news to her.
“I don’t know how long I sat there. It may have been only a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. I tried—kept trying to say something. I couldn’t. At last I got up and walked away. I couldn’t go to my mother in that condition. I couldn’t talk—I must walk about until—I walked about all that night—people may have spoken to me, I don’t know—I don’t even know where I went—but somehow, the next morning, I found myself at Mossett. It was broad daylight and I hid away in our empty summer cottage.
“Some time that morning I found in my pocket the pistol I had used. My mind got on it. To get rid of temptation I slipped out on the marsh and threw it into the creek. Then I returned to the empty cottage. I didn’t dare face anybody, because I couldn’t say a word to explain what had happened. And, above all, I dreaded facing my mother and Miss Newhall. All that day I hid there trying to think out what I should do, and my hope of ever being able to talk again got less and less. Late that afternoon I realized suddenly that I hadn’t eaten anything since the night before. I began to hunt about the house for crackers, wine, anything that would help lift me out of the dangerous state of mind into which I was getting. It was then that I came upon the pistol with which my father had taken his life. I went to a window to throw it far out of my reach, into the ocean, and I heard a voice trilling and saw Miss Newhall coming along the cliff toward the house.
“It was the last straw. How could I explain what I had done? Even if I could tell her—but you see, I couldn’t. I closed the window, crept back into the hall. Before I knew what I was doing, I put the pistol to my head and pulled the trigger.”
Ashley, hastening to the trial the next morning was waylaid in the corridor by Henderson. Evidently Henderson dreaded that Ashley might be feeling too hopeful.
“That’s one grand tale your man, Thorpe, handed us yesterday,” he thrust. “Where’d he get it—out of a dream-book?”
Ashley returned only a confident smile and a more irritating silence.
Henderson’s noisy nature sought relief in words.
“I ain’t saying his story wasn’t a mother’s helper for you with the audience, but the jury we have always with us. Wait till you see how we help ’em pick holes in it and keep it flapping in their faces until they sour on it. Newhall was an awful piece of work, but say, what was his motive? What jury’s going to believe that he stood there in the light and waited for Thorpe to pot him? He had eight more shots left in his automatic; yes, and he could have stayed in the dark and had Thorpe in the light for a marker, if he wanted to. No, each man took his place and fired one shot. It was a duel—nothing else to it! The dream-book gave you a fine story, but come and tag me when you find any motive to fit, will you?”
It is true. A jury does insist upon knowing why. Also, being human beings and like unto us, there is nothing they weary of sooner than a sad tale too often told or incessantly dwelt upon. District Attorney Walsh’s cross-examination of Thorpe made the most of this fickle trait of human nature. For a day and a half, he kept Thorpe tiresomely repeating portions of his story until its dramatic edge wore off and its pathos dried up. This he contrived to do without that nagging of the witness which results in antagonizing the jury. The “twelve good men and true” blamed Thorpe, not the District Attorney, for their weariness. Not until they began to yawn and grow restive did District Attorney Walsh send home those shafts carefully treasured for the end. He stopped pacing up and down before the witness, put his hand to his brow, as if trying first himself to solve a doubt he had come upon. Suddenly his hand dropped, he turned sharply toward the witness and asked:
“Mr. Thorpe, why didn’t Newhall shoot again? Why did he stand there like a target for you to shoot at?”
Governor Field’s objection was sustained by the Court. Thorpe was not compelled to answer. But the question itself had guided the jury to the weak point in the case for the defense.
District Attorney Walsh temporized by asking Thorpe a number of unimportant questions. Then, suddenly, he flashed:
“Yes, but if it wasn’t a duel, as you say, what could have been his motive in letting you shoot him?” Governor Field’s prompt objection kept Thorpe from answering. When it was sustained again by the Court, District Attorney Walsh appeared dismayed at not being allowed to ask the witness this most natural question. With a scowl he declared that he was through with the witness.
And yet, despite these raveling doubts slyly thrust into the minds of the jury, Governor Field appeared to avoid touching upon or furnishing any answer to them. For two more days he contented himself with calling such witnesses as he had to corroborate Thorpe’s story. They were few; they were mainly Thorpe’s near friends and family and they could testify only to apparently immaterial points. And then, his cause languishing for lack of outside, unprejudiced witnesses, Governor Field sprang his first surprise.
“James Kenney,” he called.
Ashley saw the quick look of dismay which passed between Henderson and the District Attorney. He saw Henderson turn, avoid his eyes, and glance anxiously to the rear of the court room. As nobody stirred or rose to answer the call, he watched Henderson’s eye travel back and rest on his with a gleam of derision.
Ashley whispered a few words to Governor Field, then he rose and pressed through the crowd to the swinging doors at the back of the room. He opened one of them and beckoned. Then he wormed his way back once again through the crowd. There was no need to look back. Henderson’s clouded face told him that Kenney was coming into court along the way he made for him.
Kenney slouched to the front, took the oath, and stumbled into the witness stand. But the uneasiness of his witness failed to excite or annoy the senior counsel for the defense. Governor Field became yet a shade calmer, his questions came a little more slowly, more quietly. With an adroit emphasis, he brought out the fact that Kenney had worked for Newhall, that he had always been well treated by his employer and that he had no grievance whatever against him. Then Governor Field began to get testimony from him which gave an entirely different aspect to the case. Kenney declared he had bought the cap and pistols at Newhall’s request. On the night of Newhall’s death, he had driven him in his automobile to the Ashland station, where a stranger had joined them and then he had taken both to the closed house on Commonwealth Avenue. Yes, the stranger who had joined them was Walter Thorpe, the defendant. No, he had not noticed that Mr. Newhall carried any green cloth bag about with him that day. Yes, he probably would have noticed it if he had. No, he had not waited outside with the machine when the two men went into the closed house. He had orders not to do that.
Q. “What were your orders?”
A. “I was told by Mr. Newhall to take the machine out into the country somewhere and jump it.”
Q. “When did he give you this strange order?”
A. “On the day before his death.”
Q. “You are sure of this? It couldn’t have been after meeting Mr. Thorpe at the Ashland station?”
A. “No. I am positive.”
Q. “And he didn’t make any explanation of this strange order?”
A. “No, sir.”
Q. “Nor you ask him any questions?”
A. “No, sir.”
Q. “That was an astonishing thing for the owner of an automobile to order his chauffeur to do, wasn’t it?”
A. “Yes, sir.”
Q. “Why didn’t you ask him any questions about it?”
A. “Because he promised to pay me ten thousand dollars in cash, if I would do everything he asked for two days and not ask any questions.”
Q. “Did he pay you that ten thousand dollars as he agreed?”
A. “Yes, sir.”
A. “He slipped it to me just as they left my machine to go into his Boston house.”
Q. “Mr. Kenney, did you have any idea of what was going to happen that night?”
A. “No, sir.”
Q. “Why did you think he paid you that large sum of money?”
A. “Why, to do what he told me and then drop out of sight.”
“That’ll do.” Governor Field turned smilingly to the opposing counsel. “Mr. District Attorney,” he said quietly, “this man is your witness.”
District Attorney Walsh rose from the hasty consultation he was holding with Henderson. His face wore a flush and he was unquestionably disconcerted. In his excitement, he went at the witness angrily.
“Kenney,” he cried sharply, “who paid you for this?”
And Kenney, rattled by the exasperated tone of his examiner, misunderstood and answered:
“Mr. Newhall, sir.”
“No, no, no,” yelled the District Attorney in a rage at the titter with which both jury and audience saluted his own mistake, “you know very well what I meant. Who paid you to come back here to testify?’’
“No one, sir,” answered Kenney with honesty.
And District Attorney Walsh put him through a grilling cross-examination without weakening in the least Kenney’s value as a witness for the defense.
Governor Field had substantiated Thorpe’s story at material points by an unfavorable witness. But had he overlooked a most important detail? After allowing Kenney to leave the stand, he had joined Ashley and Minot in a consultation which indicated that his case was drawing to an end. Did he propose to close without suggesting any motive, without giving any reason why Newhall should have done what he did?
At last Governor Field brought the whispered conference to an end by a quick nod of his head.
“Asa Brown,” he called.
General Asa Brown, with that white hair and goatee, with that flower in buttonhole, which distinguish a certain neat, gentle, soft-mannered type of old-time Boston business man, rose and made his way with dignity to the witness stand. General Brown was one of the dignitaries of the city whose name always appeared near the top of public committees appointed by mayors and governors to raise money for the stricken in distant cities. General Brown was also the resident agent in Boston for one of the three largest life insurance companies in the country. Governor Field smiled and nodded to him before he began his examination.
Q. “General Brown, of your own knowledge, do you know if the late Bertrand Newhall carried any insurance upon his life?”
A. “Yes, he carried at least half a million dollars that I know of myself; part of this in the company I have the honor to represent; the rest in two other companies with whom I placed it at his request.”
Q. “General Brown, of your own knowledge, can you tell us whether the heirs of the late Bertrand Newhall have made any claim on these companies for the payment of that insurance during the eleven months since his death?”
A. “They have not.”
Q. “General Brown, has your company taken any steps to pay this insurance to his heirs during the past eleven months?”
A. “It has not.”
Q. “General Brown, if the heir or heirs were to demand payment of you of said policy, would you pay it?”
A. “I would not.”
Q. “Why not?”
A. “Because there is a clause in his policies rendering payment unnecessary in case of suicide.”
Q. “Do I understand that you have not paid this policy because you believe that Bertrand Newhall committed suicide?”
A. “That is the reason—precisely.”
Q. “General Brown, have you heard or read Mr. Walter Thorpe’s testimony at this trial to the effect that he himself shot Bertrand Newhall?’’
A. “Yes. I read that. We have had a stenographic report of every word of testimony at this trial since it began.”
Q. “You accept Mr. Thorpe’s statement that he killed Bertrand Newhall?”
A. “I do.”
Q. “And yet you say you believe that Bertrand Newhall committed suicide?”
A. “I do.”
Q. “General Brown, perhaps you will be good enough to tell the court and jury how you reconcile these two apparently contradictory statements.”
A. “I should be very glad to. We consider that Bertrand Newhall planned to have Mr. Thorpe shoot him so that his insurance might be collected.”
Q. “In other words, you mean that he planned every detail of his own death as completely as though he had fired that shot with his own hand?”
Governor Field had established a motive. Governor Field turned swiftly toward the astounded District Attorney.
“Your witness,” he said acidly.
Ashley saw District Attorney Walsh turn angrily toward Henderson, heard the coarse language he used. He saw Henderson get very red in the face, attempt to expostulate, then rise and, with a face grown white from insult, hurry out of the court room.
It was the last day of the trial. The last word of testimony had been introduced; the case had been closed late the previous afternoon; the argument of counsel for both sides and the judge’s charge to the jury were all that stood between it and a verdict.
Ashley glanced through the swinging doors of the court room. Court had opened, but Henderson’s seat was unoccupied. Ashley could not forbear waiting a moment in the corridor for his blustering rival. Instead, came Conley, running down the long hall at the lively pace of news.
“I was waiting to see if Henderson had anything more to say,” explained Ashley, as he took Conley’s hand.
“You’ll have to look for him among the garbage,” answered Conley. “There’s been the devil to pay on The Eagle. His Alps, our glacial boss, blew in on us last night and with him, his ax, McKechnie. The ax has fallen on Ames and Henderson—and what do you suppose?” Conley’s face glowed with suppressed news.
“McKechnie called me into the web this morning and published a spidery suggestion that Henderson’s job was looking my way.”
“Con!” Ashley’s explosion caused the court officer inside the green baize doors to raise a warning finger. “Guess I’ll have to keep my low glad cry for the middle of a twenty-acre lot. But we’ll celebrate and tonight. Miss Thorpe wants you to dine with us.”
“With us?” Conley eyed him quizzically a moment before looking down. “Nothin’ doin’.”
“Don’t belong! Well, come in and tell her. I refuse.”
“Hell!” Conley made a quick grab at his arm. “I’d just jell trying to refuse a looker like her anything. Fix it up for me, Jack, won’t you?”
“I’ll tell her you’re coming.” Ashley paused with one hand on the door. “Coming in?”
“No; only came to bring you the news.” Conley hesitated. “Say, Jack, she really wants me? This isn’t just a ‘nice little doggie, now run along home’?”
“Con!” Ashley glared. “Here, don’t run away, I won’t hit you—not this once.”
Conley stopped and turned. “I’ve got to run or I’ll never do it,” he cried, beaming. “Me for the hives of fashion while the lust is on me. You’ll see me next all Arthured up in one of those open-face, dirge suits that make us look like slabs in a graveyard. Say, Jack, now I’ll have the proper harness to use at your wedding, if your wild Irish friend doesn’t queer you, won’t I?”
Ashley sent a laugh after Conley and entered the court room. His work with Governor Field being completed, at Alice Thorpe’s invitation, he slipped into the seat beside her. She made room for him with a troubled smile. District Attorney Walsh was making his final argument to the jury, warming over facts with the invective of the beaten. As he thundered his orders to the jury not to be misled by romance or sentiment, but to protect the public from this murderer who had taken the law into his own hands, Ashley felt the girl beside him shiver.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered. “He’s beaten and he knows it. He wouldn’t be half so loud and bitter if he didn’t.”
But again and again her eyes turned fearfully to his, and again and again he reassured her.
The District Attorney kept on and on and on. Finally, in a fiery flurry of words, demanding that the jury should put its ban upon this return of the duello, he finished. There were whispered consultations between counsel and judge which in the hush of the court seemed like the low words employed in houses with the dead. Then Governor Field crossed the court room and stood facing the jury.
“Gentlemen of the jury,” he began in a voice so low and easy that it made what he said seem to suggest rather than to instruct, “the man who committed this crime is not the one who has just been tried for it. The man who did commit it—well, he will never be tried for it here. The crime, too, is a new one— one, I believe, that no earthly court or jury has ever ruled upon before. Gentlemen, on you rests a responsibility graver than usual. Your decision in this case will be quoted, will influence counsel, judges and juries from now until the end of time. For a crime is only new for a moment—until others learn of it. . . .
“My brother on the other side, because he had to, has abused the living in a futile attempt to justify the dead. Gentlemen of the jury, my task is a far more unpleasant one. I must tell the truth about the dead to secure justice for the living. . . .
“Bertrand Newhall! This man has been shown to you by witnesses on both sides—I want you to remember that!—as a man of no common hatred. We have heard. A wool dealer named Robinson dares to quarrel with him. What happens to Robinson? Robinson fails, flees for his life. Newhall covets the house and land of his neighbor. That neighbor is an old man. Does this stop Newhall? No. The old man is ruined. He takes his own life. His wife becomes a bedridden invalid. Does Newhall’s persecution stop there? No. His enmity is visited upon the son. He tries to ruin him also—but fails. Gentleman of the jury, can’t you see how such a failure would rankle in a man like Newhall? Can’t you see it eating in, cankering, making him vicious, more relentless, more cunning, until he came upon a plan to destroy this one enemy who had escaped? Why! this last enemy would be the one above all that he would yearn to punish the most. We know it. We have heard the testimony.
“Gentlemen of the jury, consider the type of man and the facts. Could this have been a duel? If so, what need of that green bag filled with valueless odds and ends? Why that trumped-up engagement that would take him away from that closed house for a whole hour? Why his return in ten minutes? And why, gentlemen, why did he come back disguised in a chauffeur’s cap?
“Gentlemen of the jury, this was no duel. If so, why that secret purchase of the cap and pistols? The prosecution in presenting its case insinuated that we ourselves had spirited away Kenney, the Newhall chauffeur. What is the truth? We found him and forced him to return and testify only with the greatest difficulty. Why? Because Newhall had paid him ten thousand dollars to go away and stay away. . . .
“No this was no duel. There is only one theory that justifies all the facts. And it fits—gentlemen, it fits like the right key in the right lock. It explains his disguise and that bag of worthless trifles. It explains the astonishing orders given to the chauffeur, Kenney, one day—don’t overlook that—one entire day ahead. It explains why Newhall paid him that ten thousand dollars to go away and hide.
“Gentlemen, if this was not a duel, what was it? Let us consider the situation of this man Newhall. The State had stepped in and closed his bank. He was about to be arrested for misapplication of its funds. His Wool Trust was bankrupt. He had lost all his own money, all the money he held in trust for his stepdaughter. He was hopelessly ruined and about to be arrested. What does a strong man like Newhall ordinarily do in such a desperate situation? He commits suicide, doesn’t he? But if Newhall committed suicide in any of the known ways his half a million dollars of insurance would not be paid. His stepdaughter, the only one for whom he cared, would be left without any of her own money or his. She might marry the man of his last and strongest hatred, the defendant. Was Newhall the type of man to allow these things to come to pass?
“No, gentlemen, he was not. He planned to commit suicide, but in such a way that his stepdaughter might collect his insurance. Yes, and in such a way that she would never think of marrying his enemy because of the crime he left upon him. How did he do it?
“He lured Thorpe into that closed house. He gave him his loaded pistol. He filled him with fear that his chauffeur would come back to steal those jewels. And then he left the house, to be gone for at least one hour. We have shown you that he had no appointment that night with the man with whom he claimed he had. We have shown you that his chauffeur was not waiting outside, but was miles away, carrying out his part. And then, in less than fifteen minutes, Bertrand Newhall opened the door of his own house and crept up the darkened stairway. How? As the owner of that house would? No; like a thief, with a cap like that of his suspected chauffeur on his head. He took pains to make noise enough to be heard. And he stood there, caught, refusing to make himself known by a word, waiting for Walter Thorpe to shoot him? Why? Yes, and why that first shot fired so carefully over Thorpe’s head? Gentlemen, he had a purpose. He wanted Thorpe to kill him.
“Gentlemen of the jury, the defendant did fire the shot that killed him. You heard him admit it on the witness stand. But does that make him guilty of the crime with which he is charged? If a man throws himself in front of a moving train, is the engineer a murderer? Would you say he was conducting a duel with the victim? Would you arrest and try him for manslaughter? Would you?”
Governor Field stopped. His eyes dwelt upon, asked that question of each man on the jury. Then, he answered it himself, not arrogantly, but with a smile of persuasion:
“No. No jury in the land would consider such a man guilty. That is why I am so well satisfied to leave the fate of my client in your hands, gentlemen of the jury.”
But the glistening hope which Ashley found in Alice Thorpe’s eyes as Governor Field finished lasted only a short way into the slow, cautious charge to the jury now delivered by Judge Abbott.
“He’ll soon be over. He has to do this,” Ashley whispered. “Don’t listen to what he says. Look at Governor Field. See how satisfied he is with what the judge is saying.”
At last the long charge ended. At last the jury to decide the fate of her brother filed through the door at the left of the court room. Ashley came back to her after a short talk with Governor Field.
“Come,” he said, “I am to take you away until the jury reports.”
She looked up at him, pleading. “Please—can’t I wait here?” she begged.
“It will seem longer here,” Ashley suggested, but he sat down at once in the seat beside her.
For a few minutes only Governor Field, the District Attorney and other members of the bar inside the rail took their departure. Then, as time wore on, one by one and two by two the spectators began to weary of the wait and to straggle out.
Ashley looked at Alice Thorpe. The faint smile which she returned told him of the suspense against which she was struggling. He longed to take her mind away from it. And yet, for the turmoil of his own feelings, it seemed hours before he could think of any subject upon which to talk.
“Miss Newhall was not here to-day,” he began at last in a voice that did not sound like his own.
“No, Walter made her keep away, asked her to stay with mother. Walter wants to bring the news to her himself. Suppose the jury doesn’t let him,” her lips trembled.
“They will. Don’t worry. Governor Field stakes his reputation on securing an acquittal.” Ashley looked at her quickly and then away. “Miss Newhall seems very much changed to me,” he floundered on.
“So much meeker and more ready to do as she’s asked.”
“Yes; she’s very much in love with Walter.”
“Not a bit like the spoiled child I thought her at Mossett.”
“No—I never thought of that—perhaps she was rather of a spoiled child there, but she was so afraid of losing Walter—and—well—but she has done everything she has been asked since—everything—”
Her attention became abstracted, slipped away. Ashley looked at his watch, then turned to view the now half-deserted court room. Would that jury never decide? What else could he talk about to relieve her suspense? Suddenly he felt her hand catch at his arm. One of the court officers had entered by the door at the left. The officer walked ponderously around the judge’s bench. They thought he nodded his head to Minot. Yes, Minot had risen, was coming toward them. “They’ve reported,” he whispered, and then he hurried out through the door.
There was the mad scramble back to seats of spectators from the corridor; the slower filling up of the railed-in enclosure; the return of Minot from the telephone, of Governor Field from his office. The court officers took their desks and stands; Judge Abbott entered and ascended the bench; Walter Thorpe was brought in—an endless number of things happened—and then, at last, the door at the left opened, the jury filed in to their seats and there was that deadly silence wherein all bent forward to learn the fate of the defendant.
Walter Thorpe was ordered to stand up.
“Gentlemen of the jury, have you agreed upon a verdict?” Through the waiting stillness, the clerk’s voice came like a drum.
The foreman of the jury rose, “We have,” he answered in a firm voice.
“What say you, Mr. Foreman? Is the defendant guilty or not guilty?”
“Silence in the Court!” The foreman’s words were hardly uttered before the court officers were pounding on their desks, the reporters and spectators scrambling for the door. In the confusion, Ashley felt Alice Thorpe sway toward him, looked into eyes swimming in tears. He held her until she recovered herself. Then he made a way for her through the press of people to her brother.
He waited, spoken to and not hearing, while she and her brother shook hands with the jury, received innumerable congratulations, while people came and went, while the crowd thinned out. He waited while Alice Thorpe threw her arms around Governor Field and placed a kiss somewhere on his smiling face; he waited while Walter Thorpe whispered a word to his sister and then hastened away—and somehow—Ashley could not help it—he felt solitary, overlooked.
But at last she seemed to notice and came running toward him, her face alive with joy. “Oh, I feel as though I could never leave here—not until the last person goes,” she cried. “Oh, oh, oh, I’m so happy I can’t keep still a moment.”
“May I wait for you?” he asked a little sadly.
“If you don’t”—her blue eyes threatened all manner of things, but she was off again in another instant.
Then, finally, she came back to him for the last time. “Now, I’m ready,” she said. “I’ve thanked everybody but you. I didn’t realize how tired I was.”
He led her through the corridors to the great street door of the court house. On the stone steps outside, he suddenly pulled off his hat and held it in front of her face.
“Look out,” he whispered, “there’s the camera squad. You’ll get your picture in the papers.”
“Let them—please.” She gently drew away his hand and smiled at the newspaper photographers who snapped her first and then lifted their hats to her.
“I thought you wouldn’t like it,” he apologized.
“But they’re reporters—like you—aren’t they?” she asked.
The friendship in her words and look ended somehow by making him feel more forlorn. He walked dumbly by her side while she, chattering, led him home.
At the steps, he stopped. “I suppose you will want to be alone with your family now,” he prophesied dismally.
“You are to come in.” She took him by the arm and led him into the library where they had first met. He remembered that time vividly and with regret. Then there was much that he could do for her; now there was nothing. His service was at an end. After the dinner that night he must go back to his work in New York alone, unless—
He looked up suddenly and found her eyes dwelling upon him in a dreamy speculation which ended instantly with a blush. She started, as one caught with eyes freighted with wishes not thus openly to be declared.
“I must go now and prepare mother. She will want to thank you,” she said in a voice that seemed to him a little embarrassed.
He noticed that she made no move to go, that she stood there idly removing her gloves as if to delay her departure to the last moment and something in her embarrassment gave him courage. “Perhaps your mother wouldn’t care to thank me, if she knew what was on my mind,” he ventured.
She continued idly playing with her gloves, silent. After a time, she looked up slowly at him. “What?” she murmured and there was that again in her soft, blue eyes something which gathered his, held them until hers dropped guiltily to the floor.
“Alice!” he sprang forward and took her in his arms.
Afterwards, when it became time for him to leave to dress for dinner, he held her away from him a moment and laughed joyously, teasingly.
She started, looked at him inquiringly.
“Do you remember that day in his office when Governor Field talked of paying me for what I had done?” he asked.
She smiled. “Yes, I was jealous. I wanted to pay you for that myself.”
“You have—a thousand times. But I learned this morning what he meant.”
She kissed him. “What, dear?”
“He says if those three big insurance companies don’t pay me ten thousand dollars out of all I saved them, he’ll surrender his own policies and resign from their boards of directors.’’
“John. Isn’t he a darling!” She kissed him again.
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