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Title:  The Omnibus Fleming Stone
Author: Carolyn Wells
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eBook No.: 1900761h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  July 2019
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cover

titlepage

copyright

The Omnibus Fleming Stone

by
Carolyn Wells

CONTENTS

Vicky Van
Spooky Hollow
The Mystery of the Sycamore
The Curved Blades


 

Vicky Van

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. - Vicky Van
Chapter 2. - Mr. Somers
Chapter 3. - The Waiter’s Story
Chapter 4. - Somers’ Real Name
Chapter 5. - The Schuyler Household
Chapter 6. - Vicky’s Ways
Chapter 7. - Ruth Schuyler
Chapter 8. - The Letter Box
Chapter 9. - The Social Secretary
Chapter 10. - The Inquest
Chapter 11. - A Note From Vicky
Chapter 12. - More Notes
Chapter 13. - Fleming Stone
Chapter 14. - Walls Have Tongues
Chapter 15. - Fibsy
Chapter 16. - A Futile Chase
Chapter 17. - The Gold-Fringed Gown
Chapter 18. - Fibsy Dines Out
Chapter 19. - Proofs And More Proofs
Chapter 20. - The Truth From Ruth

Chapter 1
Vicky Van

Victoria Van Allen was the name she signed to her letters and to her cheques, but Vicky Van, as her friends called her, was signed all over her captivating personality, from the top of her dainty, tossing head to the tips of her dainty, dancing feet.

I liked her from the first, and if her “small and earlies” were said to be so called because they were timed by the small and early numerals on the clock dial, and if her “little” bridge games kept in active circulation a goodly share of our country’s legal tender, those things are not crimes.

I lived in one of the polite sections of New York City, up among the East Sixties, and at the insistence of my sister and aunt, who lived with me, our home was near enough the great boulevard to be designated by that enviable phrase, “Just off Fifth Avenue.” We were on the north side of the street, and, nearer to the Avenue, on the south side, was the home of Vicky Van.

Before I knew the girl, I saw her a few times, at long intervals, on the steps of her house, or entering her little car, and half-consciously I noted her charm and her evident zest of life.

Later, when a club friend offered to take me there to call, I accepted gladly, and as I have said, I liked her from the first.

And yet, I never said much about her to my sister. I am, in a way, responsible for Winnie, and too, she’s too young to go where they play Bridge for money. Little faddly prize bags or gift-shop novelties are her stakes.

Also, Aunt Lucy, who helps me look after Win, wouldn’t quite understand the atmosphere at Vicky’s. Not exactly Bohemian—and yet, I suppose it did represent one compartment of that handy-box of a term. But I’m going to tell you, right now, about a party I went to there, and you can see for yourself what Vicky Van was like.

“How late you’re going out,” said Winnie, as I slithered into my topcoat. “It’s after eleven.”

“Little girls mustn’t make comments on big brothers,” I smiled back at her. Win was nineteen and I had attained the mature age of twenty-seven. We were orphans and spinster Aunt Lucy did her best to be a parent to us; and we got on smoothly enough, for none of us had the temperament that rouses friction in the home.

“Across the street?” Aunt Lucy guessed, raising her aristocratic eyebrows a hair’s breadth.

“Yes,” I returned, the least bit irritated at the implication of that hairbreadth raise. “Steele will be over there and I want to see him—”

This time the said eyebrows went up frankly in amusement, and the kind blue eyes beamed as she said, “All right, Chet, run along.”

Though I was Chester Calhoun, the junior partner of the law firm of Bradbury and Calhoun, and held myself in due and consequent respect, I didn’t mind Aunt Lucy’s calling me Chet, or even, as she sometimes did, Chetty. A man puts up with those things from the women of his household. As to Winnie, she called me anything that came handy, from Lord Chesterton to Chessy-Cat.

I patted Aunt Lucy on her soft old shoulder and Winnie on her hard young head, and was off.

True, I did expect to see Steele at Vicky Van’s—he was the club chap who had introduced me there—but as Aunt Lucy had so cleverly suspected, he was not my sole reason for going. A bigger reason was that I always had a good time there, the sort of a good time I liked.

I crossed the street diagonally, in defiance of much good advice I have heard and read against such a proceeding. But at eleven o’clock at night the traffic in those upper side streets is not sufficient to endanger life or limb, and I reached Vicky Van’s house in safety.

It was a very small house, and it was the one nearest to the Fifth Avenue corner, though the long side of the first house on that block of the Avenue lay between.

The windows on each floor were brilliantly lighted, and I mounted the long flight of stone steps sure of a merry welcome and a jolly time.

I was admitted by a maid whom I already knew well enough to say “Evening, Julie,” as I passed her, and in another moment, I was in the long, narrow living-room and was a part of the gay group there.

“Angel child!” exclaimed Vicky Van herself, dancing toward me, “did he come to see his little ole friend?” and laying her two hands in mine for an instant, she considered me sufficiently welcomed, and danced off again. She was a will o’ the wisp, always tantalizing a man with a hope of special attention, and then flying away to another guest, only to treat him in the same way.

I looked after her, a slim, graceful thing, vibrant with the joy of living, smiling in sheer gayety of heart, and pretty as a picture.

Her black hair was arranged in the newest style, that covered her ears with soft loops and exposed the shape of her trim little head. It was banded with a jeweled fillet, or whatever they call those Oriental things they wear, and her big eyes with their long, dark lashes, her pink cheeks and curved scarlet lips seemed to say, “the world owes me a living and I’m going to collect.”

Not as a matter of financial obligation, be it understood.

Vicky Van had money enough and though nothing about her home was ostentatious or over ornate, it was quietly and in the best of taste luxurious.

But I was describing Vicky herself. Her gown, the skirt part of it, was a sort of mazy maize-colored thin stuff, rather short and rather full, that swirled as she moved, and fluttered when she danced. The bodice part, was of heavily gold-spangled material, and a kind of overskirt arrangement was a lot of long gold fringe made of beads. Instead of a yoke, there were shoulder straps of these same beads, and the sleeves weren’t there.

And yet, that costume was all right. Why, it was a rig I’d be glad to see Winnie in, when she gets older, and if I’ve made it sound rather—er—gay and festive, it’s my bungling way of describing it, and also, because Vicky’s personality would add gayety and festivity to any raiment.

Her little feet wore goldy slippers, and a lot of ribbons criss-crossed over her ankles, and on the top of each slipper was a gilt butterfly that fluttered.

Yet with all this bewildering effect of frivolity, the first term I’d make use of in describing Vick’s character would be Touch-me-not. I believe there’s a flower called that—noli me tangere—or some such name. Well, that’s Vicky Van. She’d laugh and jest with you, and then if you said anything by way of a personal compliment or flirtatious foolery, she was off and away from your side, like a thistle-down in a summer breeze. She was a witch, a madcap, but she had her own way in everything, and her friends did her will without question.

Her setting, too, just suited her. Her living room was one of those very narrow, very deep rooms so often seen in the New York side streets. It was done up in French gray and rose, as was the dictum of the moment. On the rose-brocaded walls were few pictures, but just the right ones. Gray enameled furniture and deep window-seats with rose-colored cushions provided resting-places, and soft rose-shaded lights gave a mild glow of illumination.

Flowers were everywhere. Great bowls of roses, jars of pink carnations and occasionally a vase of pink orchids were on mantel, low bookcases or piano. And sometimes the odor of a cigarette or a burning pastille of Oriental fragrance, added to the Bohemian effect which is, oftener than not, discernible by the sense of smell.

Vicky herself, detested perfumes or odors of any kind, save fresh flowers all about. Indeed, she detested Bohemianism, when it meant unconventional dress or manners or loud-voiced jests or songs.

Her house was dainty, correct and artistic, and yet, I knew its atmosphere would not please my Aunt Lucy, or be just the right place for Winnie.

Many of the guests I knew. Cassie Weldon was a concert singer and Ariadne Gale an artist of some prominence, both socially and in her art circle. Jim Ferris and Bailey Mason were actors of a good sort, and Bert Garrison, a member of one of my best clubs, was a fast rising architect. Steele hadn’t come yet.

Two tables of bridge were playing in the back part of the room, and in the rest of the rather limited space several couples were dancing.

“Mayn’t we open the doors to the dining room, Vicky?” called out one of the card players. “The calorics of this room must be about ninety in the shade.”

“Open them a little way,” returned Miss Van Allen. “But not wide, for there’s a surprise supper and I don’t want you to see it yet.”

They set the double doors a few inches ajar and went on with their game. The dining room, as I knew, was a wide room that ran all across the house behind both living-room and hall. It was beautifully decorated in pale green and silver, and often Vicky Van would have a “surprise supper,” at which the favors or entertainers would be well worth waiting for.

Having greeted many whom I knew, I looked about for further speech with my hostess.

“She’s upstairs in the music room,” said Cassie Weldon, seeing and interpreting my questing glance.

“Thank you, lady, for those kind words,” I called back over my shoulder, and went upstairs.

The front room on the second floor was dubbed the “music room,” Vicky said, because there was a banjo in it. Sometimes the guests brought more banjos and a concert of glees and college songs would ensue. But more often, as to-night, it was a little haven of rest and peace from the laughter and jest below stairs.

It was an exquisite white and gold room, and here, too, as I entered, pale pink shades dimmed the lights to a soft radiance that seemed like a breaking dawn.

Vicky sat enthroned on a white divan, her feet crossed on a gold-embroidered white satin foot-cushion. In front of her sat three or four of her guests all laughing and chatting.

“But he vowed he was going to get here somehow,” Mrs. Reeves was saying.

“What’s his name?” asked Vicky, though in a voice of little interest.

“Somers,” returned Mrs. Reeves.

“Never heard of him. Did you, Mr. Calhoun?” and Vicky Van looked up at me as I entered.

“No; Miss Van Allen. Who is he?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care. Only as Mrs. Reeves says he is coming here tonight, I’d like to know something about him.”

“Coming here! A man you don’t know?” I drew up a chair to join the group. “How can he?”

“Mr. Steele is going to bring him,” said Mrs. Reeves. “He says—Norman Steele says, that Mr. Somers is a first-class all-around chap, and no end of fun. Says he’s a millionaire.”

“What’s a millionaire more or less to me?” laughed Vicky. “I choose my friends for their lovely character, not for their wealth.”

“Yes, you’ve selected all of us for that, dear,” agreed Mrs. Reeves, “but this Somers gentleman may be amiable, too.”

Mrs. Reeves was a solid, sensible sort of person, who acted as ballast for the volatile Vicky, and sometimes reprimanded her in a mild way.

“I love the child,” she had said to me once, “and she is a little brick. But once in a while I have to tell her a few things for the good of the community. She takes it all like an angel.”

“Well, I don’t care,” Vicky went on, “Norman Steele has no right to bring anybody here whom he hasn’t asked me about. If I don’t like him, I shall ask some of you nice, amiable men to get me a long plank, and we’ll put it out of a window, and make him walk it. Shall we?”

We all agreed to do this, or to tar and feather and ride on a rail any gentleman who might in any way be so unfortunate as to fall one iota short of Vicky Van’s requirements.

“And now,” said Vicky, “if you’ll all please go downstairs, except Mrs. Reeves and Mr. Garrison and my own sweet self, I’ll be orfly obliged to you.”

The sweeping gesture with which she sought to dismiss us was a wave of her white arms and a smile of her red lips, and I, for one, found it impossible to obey. I started with the rest, and then after the gay crowd were part way down stairs I turned back.

“Please, mayn’t I join your little class, if I’ll be very good?” I begged. “I don’t want Bert Garrison to be left alone at the mercy of two such sirens.”

Miss Van Allen hesitated. Her pink-tipped forefinger rested a moment on her curved lip. “Yes,” she said, nodding her head. “Yes, stay, Mr. Calhoun. You may be a help. Are you any good at getting theatre boxes after they’re all sold?”

“That’s my profession,” I returned. “I learned it from a correspondence school. Where’s the theatre? Lead me to it!”

“It’s the Metropolis Theatre,” she replied. “And I want to have a party there to-morrow night, and I want two boxes, and this awful, dreadful, bad Mr. Garrison says they’re all sold, and I can’t get any! What can you do about it?”

“Oh, I’ll fix it. I’ll go to the people who bought the boxes you want, and—I don’t know what I’ll say to them, exactly—but I’ll fix up such a yarn that they’ll beg me to take the boxes off their hands.”

“Oh, will you, really?” and the dazzling smile she gave me would have repaid a much greater Herculean task than I had undertaken. And, of course, I hadn’t meant it, but when she thought I did, I couldn’t go back on my word.

“I’ll do my best, Miss Van Allen,” I said, seriously, “and if I can’t possibly turn the trick, I’ll—well, I’ll buy the Metropolitan Opera House, and put on a show of my own.”

“No,” she laughed, “you needn’t do that. But if you try and fail—why, we’ll just have a little party here, a sort of consolation party, and—oh, let’s have some private theatricals. Wouldn’t that be fun!”

“More fun than the original program?” I asked quickly, hoping to be let off my promise.

“No, sir!” she cried, “decidedly not! I want especially to have that theatre party and supper afterward at the Britz. Now you do all you can, won’t you?”

I promised to do all I could, and I had a partial hope I could get what she wanted by hook or crook, and then, as she heard a specially favorite fox-trot being dashed off on the piano downstairs, she sprang from her seat, and kicking the satin cushion aside, asked me to dance. In a moment we were whirling around the music room to the zipping music, and Mrs. Reeve and Garrison followed in our steps.

Vicky danced with a natural born talent that is quite unlike anything acquired by lessons. I had no need to guide her, she divined my lead, and swayed in any direction, even as I was about to indicate it. I had never danced with anyone who danced so well, and I was profuse in my thanks and praise.

“I love it,” she said simply, as she patted the gold fringes of her gown into place. “I adore dancing, and you are one of the best partners I have ever had. Come, let us go down and cut into a Bridge game. We’ll just about have time before supper.”

Pirouetting before me, she led the way, and we went down the long steep stairs.

A shout greeted her appearance in the doorway.

“Oh, Vicky, we have missed you! Come over here and listen to Ted’s latest old joke!”

“No, come over here and hear this awful gossip Ariadne is telling for solemn truth. It’s the very worst taradiddle she ever got off!”

“Here’s a place, Vicky Van, a nice cosy corner, ‘tween Jim and me. Come on, Ladygirl.”

“No, thanks, everybody. I’m going to cut in at this table. May I? Am I a nuisance?”

“A Vicky-nuisance! They ain’t no such animal!” and Bailey Mason rose to give her his chair.

“No,” said she, “I want you to stay, Mr. Mason. ‘Cause why, I want to play wiz you. Cassie, you give me your place, won’t you, Ducky-Daddles? and you go and flirt with Mr. Calhoun. He knows the very newest flirts! Go, give him a tryout.”

Vicky Van settled herself into her seat with the happy little sigh of the bridge lover, who sits down with three good players, and in another moment she was breathlessly looking over her hand. “Without,” she said, triumphantly, and knowing she’d say no word more to me for the present, I walked away with Cassie Weldon.

And Cassie was good fun. She took me to the piano, and with the soft pedal down, she showed me a new little tone picture she had made up, which was both picturesque and funny.

“You’d better go into vaudeville!” I exclaimed, as she finished, “your talent is wasted on the concert platform.”

“That’s what Vicky tells me,” she returned. “Sometimes I believe I will try it, just for fun.”

“You’ll find it such fun, you’ll stay in for earnest,” I assured her, for she had shown a bit of inventive genius that I felt sure would make good in a little musical turn.

Chapter 2
Mr. Somers

It was nearly midnight when Steele came, and with him was a man I had never seen before, and whom I assumed to be the Mr. Somers I had heard about.

And it was. As Steele entered, he cast his eye around for Vicky, and saw her at the bridge table down at the end of the room. Her back was toward us, and she was so absorbed in the game she did not look round, if, indeed, she heard the noise of their arrival.

The two men stopped near the group I was with and Steele introduced Mr. Somers.

A little curiously I looked at him, and saw a large, self-satisfied looking man wearing an expansive smile and expensive apparel. Clothes the very best procurable, jewelry just inside the limits of good taste—he bore himself like a gentleman, yet there was an unmistakable air of ostentatious wealth that repelled me. A second look made me think Mr. Somers had dined either late or twice, but his greetings were courteous and genial and his manner sociable, if a little patronizing. He seemed a stranger to all present, and his eye roved about for the charming hostess Steele had told him of.

“We’ll reach Miss Van Allen presently.” Steele laughed, in answer to the glance, “if, indeed, we dare interrupt her game. Let’s make progress slowly.”

“No hurry,” returned Somers, affably, beaming on Cassie Weldon and meeting Ariadne Gale’s receptive smile. “I’m anchored here for the moment. Miss Weldon? Ah, yes, I’ve heard you sing. Voice like a lark—like a lark.”

Clearly, Somers was not much of a purveyor of small talk. I sized him up for a lumbering oldster, who wanted to be playful but didn’t quite know how.

He had rather an austere face, yet there was a gleam in his eye that belied the austerity. His cheeks were fat and red, his nose prominent, and he was clean shaven, save for a thick white mustache, that drooped slightly on either side of a full-lipped mouth. His hair was white, his eyes dark and deep-set, and he could easily be called a handsome man. He was surely fifty, and perhaps more. Had it not been for a certain effusiveness in his speech, I could have liked him, but he seemed to me to lack sincerity.

However, I am not one to judge harshly or hastily, and I met him half way, and even helped him in his efforts at gay affability.

“You’ve never been here before?” I asked; “Good old Steele to bring you to-night.”

“No, never before,” and he glanced around appreciatively, “but I shall, I hope, come often. Charming little nest; charming ladies!” a bow included those nearest.

“Yes, indeed,” babbled Ariadne, “fair women and brave men.”

“Brave, yes,” agreed Somers, “to dare the glances of such bright eyes. I must protect my heart!” He clasped his fat hands pretty near where his heart was situated, and grinned with delight as Ariadne also “protected” her heart.

“Ah,” he cried, “two hearts in danger! I feel sure we shall be friends, if only because misery loves company.”

“Is it really misery with you?” and Ariadne’s sympathy was so evidently profound, that Cassie Weldon and I walked away.

“I’ll give Ariad her innings,” said the vivacious Miss Weldon, “and I’ll make up to the Somers kid later. Where’d Vicky pick him up?”

“She doesn’t know him at all. Norman Steele brought him unbeknownst.”

“No! Why, Vick doesn’t allow that sort of thing.”

“So I’m told. Any way, Steele did it.”

“Well, Vicky’s such a good-natured darling, maybe she won’t mind for once. She won’t, if she likes the little stranger. He’s well-meaning, at any rate.”

“So’s Ariadne. From her smile, I think she well means to sell him her latest ‘Autumn In The Adirondacks,’ or ‘Lady With A Handbag’.”

“Now, don’t be mean!” but Cassie laughed. “And I don’t blame her if she does. Poor Ad paints above the heads of the public, so if this is a high-up Publican, she’d better make sales while the sun shines.”

“What’s her work like?”

“You can see more of it in this house than anywhere else. Vicky is so fond of Ariadne and so sorry her pictures don’t sell better, that she buys a lot herself.”

“Does Miss Gale know Miss Van Allen does it out of—”

“Don’t say charity! No, they’re really good stuff, and Vicky buys ‘em for Christmas gifts and bridge prizes.”

“Does she ever play for prizes? I thought she liked a bit of a stake, now.”

“Yes, at evening parties. But, often we have a dove game of an afternoon, with prizes and pink tea. Vicky Van isn’t a gay doll, you know. She’s—sometimes, she’s positively domestic. I wish she had a nice husband and some little kiddies.”

“Why hasn’t she?”

“Give it up. She’s never seen any man she loved, I s’pose.”

“Perhaps she’ll love this Somers person.”

“Heaven forbid! Nothing less than a crown prince would suit Vicky Van. Look, she’s turning to meet him. Won’t he be bowled over!”

I turned, and though there were several people between us, I caught a glimpse of Somers’ face as he was presented to Miss Van Allen. He was bowled over. His eyes beamed with admiration and he bowed low as he raised to his lips the dainty, bejeweled hand.

Vicky, apparently, did not welcome this old-time greeting, and she drew away her hand, saying, “not allowed. Naughty man! Express proper compunction, or you can’t sit next me at supper!”

“Forgive me,” begged Somers. “I’m sorry! I’ll never do it again—until after I sit next you at supper!”

“More brains than I thought,” I said to Cassie, who nodded, and then Vicky Van rose from her chair.

“Take my place for a moment, Mr. Somers,” she said, standing before him. “I—” she dropped her eyes adorably, “I must see about the arrangement of seats at the supper table.” With a merry laugh, she ran from the room, and through the long hall to the dining-room.

Somers dropped into her vacant chair, and continued the Bridge game with the air of one who knows how to play.

In less than five minutes Vicky was back. “No, keep the hand,” she said, as he rose. “I’ve played long enough. And supper will be ready shortly.”

“Finish the rubber,—I insist” Somers returned, and as he determinedly stood behind the chair, Vicky, perforce, sat down.

He continued to stand behind her chair, watching her play. Vicky was too sure of her game to be rattled at his close scrutiny, but it seemed to me her shoulders shrugged a little impatiently, as he criticized or commended her plays.

She had thrown a light scarf of gauze or tulle around when she was out of the room, and being the same color as her gown, it made her seem more than ever like an houri. She smiled up into Somers’ face, and then, coyly, her long lashes fell on her pink cheeks. Evidently, she had concluded to bewitch the newcomer, and she was making good.

I drew nearer, principally because I liked to look at her. She was a live wire to-night! She looked roguish, and she made most brilliant plays, tossing down her cards with gay little gestures, and doing trick shuffles with her twinkling fingers.

“You could have had that last trick, if you’d played for it,” Somers said, as the rubber finished.

“I know it,” Vicky conceded. “I saw, just too late, that I was getting the lead into the wrong hand.”

“Well, don’t ever do that again,” he said, lightly, “never again.”

As he said the last word, he laid his finger tips on her shoulder. It was the veriest touch, the shoulder was swathed in the transparent tulle, but still, it roused Vicky. She glanced up at him, and I looked at him, too. But Somers was not in flirtatious mood. He said, “I beg your pardon,” in most correct fashion. Had he then, touched her inadvertently? It didn’t seem so, but his speech assured it.

Vicky jumped up from the table, and ignoring Somers, ran out to the hall, saying something about looking after the surprise for the supper. To my surprise, Somers followed her, not hastily, but rather deliberately, and, quelling an absurd impulse to go, too, I turned to Norman Steele, who stood near.

“Who’s this Somers?” I asked him, rather abruptly. “Is he all right?”

“You bet,” said Steele, smiling. “He’s a top-notcher.”

“In what respects?”

“Every and all.”

“You’ve known him long?”

“Yes. I tell you Cal, he’s all right. Forget it. What’s the surprise for supper? Do you know?”

“Of course not. It wouldn’t be a surprise if we all knew of it.”

“Well, Vicky’s surprises are always great fun. Why the grouch, old man? Can’t you chirrup?”

“Oh, I’m all right,” and I felt annoyed that he read in my face that I was put out. But I didn’t like the looks of Somers, and I couldn’t say so to the man who had brought him there.

“Oh, please! Oh, please!” shouted a hoarse, strange voice, and one scarcely to be heard above the hum of gay voices and peals of gay laughter, “oh, somebody, please!”

I looked across the room, and in the wide hall doorway stood a man, who was quite evidently a waiter. He was white-faced and staring-eyed, and he fairly hung on to a portiere for support, as he repeated his agonized plea.

“What is it?” said Mrs. Reeves, as everybody else stared at the man. “What do you want?” She stepped toward him, and we all turned to look.

“Not you—no, Madame. Some man, please—some doctor. Is there one here?”

“Some of the servants ill?” asked Mrs. Reeves, kindly. “Doctor Remson, will you come?”

The pleasant-faced capable-looking woman paused only until Doctor Remson joined her, and the two went into the hall, the waiter following slowly.

In a moment I heard a shriek, a wild scream. Partly curiosity and partly a foreboding of harm to Vicky Van, made me rush forward.

Mrs. Reeves had screamed, and I ran the length of the hall to the dining room. There I saw Somers on the floor, and Remson bending over him.

“He’s killed! He’s stabbed!” cried Mrs. Reeves, clutching at my arm as I reached her. “Oh, what shall we do?”

She stood just in the dining-room doorway, which was at the end of the long hall, as in most city houses. The room was but dimly lighted, the table candles not yet burning.

“Keep the people back!” I shouted, as those in the living-room pressed out into the hall. “Steele, keep those girls back!”

There was an awful commotion. The men urged the women back, but curiosity and horror made them surge forward in irresistible force.

“Shut the door,” whispered Remson. “This man is dead. It’s an awful situation. Shut that door!”

Somehow, I managed to get the door closed between the dining-room and hall. On the inside were Remson, Mrs. Reeves, who wouldn’t budge, and myself. Outside in the hall was a crowd of hysterical women and frightened men.

“Are you sure?” I asked, in a low voice, going nearer to the doctor and looking at Somers’ fast-glazing eyes.

“Sure. He was stabbed straight to the heart with—see—a small, sharp knife.”

Her hands over her eyes, but peering through her fingers, Mrs. Reeves drew near. “Not really,” she moaned. “Oh, not really dead! Can’t we do anything for him?”

“No,” said Remson, rising to his feet, from his kneeling position. “He’s dead, I tell you. Who did it?”

“That waiter—” I began, and then stopped. Looking in from a door opposite the hall door, probably one that led to a butler’s pantry or kitchen, were half a dozen white-faced waiters.

“Come in here,” said Remson; “not all of you. Which is chief?”

“I am, sir,” and a head waiter came into the room. “What has happened?”

“A man has been killed,” said the doctor, shortly. “Who are you? Who are you all? House servants?”

“No sir,” said the chief. “We’re caterer’s men. From Fraschini’s. I’m Luigi. We are here to serve supper.”

“What do you know of this?”

“Nothing, sir,” and the Italian looked truthful, though scared.

“Haven’t you been in and out of the dining-room all evening?”

“Yes, sir. Setting the table, and such. But now it’s all ready, and I was waiting Miss Van Allen’s word to serve it.”

“Where is Miss Van Allen?” I broke in.

“I—I don’t know, sir,” Luigi hesitated, and Doctor Remson interrupted.

“We mustn’t ask these questions, Mr. Calhoun. We must call the police.”

“The police!” cried Mrs. Reeves, “oh no! no! don’t do that.”

“It is my duty,” said the doctor, firmly. “And no one must enter or leave this room until an officer arrives. You waiters, stay there in that pantry. Close those doors to the other room, Mr. Calhoun, please. Mrs. Reeves, I’m sorry, but I must ask you to stay here—”

“I won’t do it!” declared the lady. “You’re not an officer of the law. I’ll stay in the house, but not in this room.”

She stalked out into the hall, and Doctor Remson went at once to the telephone and called up headquarters.

The guests in the living room, hearing this, flew into a panic.

Of course, it was no longer possible, nor, as I could see, desirable to keep them in ignorance of what had happened.

After calling the police, Doctor Remson returned to his post just inside the dining-room door. He answered questions patiently, at first, but after being nearly driven crazy by the frantic women, he said, sharply, “You may all do just as you like. I’ve no authority here, except that the ethics of my profession dictate. That does not extend to jurisdiction over the guests present. But I advise you as a matter of common decency to stay here until this affair is investigated.”

But they didn’t. Many of them hastily gathered up their wraps and went out of the house as quickly as possible.

Cassie Weldon came to me in her distress.

“I must go, Mr. Calhoun,” she said. “Don’t you think I may? Why, it would interfere greatly with my work to have it known that I was mixed up in a—”

“You’re not mixed up in it, Miss Weldon.” I began to speak a little sternly, but the look in her eyes aroused my sympathy. “Well, go on,” I said, “I suppose you will testify if called on. Everybody knows where to find you.”

“Yes,” she said, slowly, “but I hope I won’t be called on. Why, it might spoil my whole career.”

She slipped out of the door, in the wake of some other departing guests. After all, I thought, it couldn’t matter much. Few, if any, of them were implicated, and they could all be found at their homes.

And yet, I had a vague idea that we ought all to stay.

“I shall remain and face the music,” I heard Mrs. Reeves saying. “Where is Vicky? Do you suppose she knows about this? I’m going up in the music room to see if she’s there. You know, with all the excitement down here, those upstairs may know nothing of it.”

“I shall remain, too” said Ariadne Gale. “Why should anyone kill Mr. Somers? Did the caterer’s people do it? What an awful thing! Will it be in the papers?”

Will it!” said Garrison, who was standing near. “Reporters may be here any minute. Must be here as soon as the police come. Where is Miss Van Allen?”

“I don’t know,” and Ariadne began to cry.

“Stop that,” said Mrs. Reeves, gruffly, but not unkindly. “Stay if you want to, Ariadne, but behave like a sensible woman, not a silly schoolgirl. This is an awful tragedy, of some sort.”

“What do you mean, of some sort?” asked Miss Gale.

“I mean we don’t know what revelations are yet to come. Where’s Norman Steele? Where’s the man who brought this Somers here?”

Sure enough, where was Steele? I had forgotten all about him. And it was he who had introduced Somers to the Van Allen house, and no one else present, so far as I knew, was previously acquainted with the man now lying dead the other side of that closed door.

I looked over the people who had stayed. Only a handful—perhaps half a dozen.

And then I wondered if I’d better go home myself. Not for my own sake, in any way; indeed, I preferred to remain, but I thought of Aunt Lucy and Win. Ought I to bring on them any shadow of trouble or opprobrium that might result from my presence in that house at that time? Would it not be better to go while I could do so? For, once the police took charge, I knew I should be called on to testify in public. And even as I debated with myself, the police arrived.

Chapter 3
The Waiter’s Story

Doctor Remson’s police call had been imperative, and Inspector Mason came in with two men.

“What’s this? What’s wrong here?” the big burly inspector said, as he faced the few of us who had remained.

“Come in here, inspector,” said the doctor, from the dining-room door.

And from that moment the whole aspect of the house seemed to change. No longer a gay little bijou residence, it became a court of justice.

One of the men was stationed at the street door and one at the area door below. Headquarters was notified of details. The coroner was summoned, and we were all for the moment under detention.

“Where is Miss Van Allen? Where is the lady of the house?” asked Mason. “Where are the servants? Who is in charge here?”

Was ever a string of questions so impossible of answers!

Doctor Remson told the main facts, but he was reticent. I, too, hesitated to say much, for the case was strange indeed.

Mrs. Reeves looked gravely concerned, but said nothing.

Ariadne Gale began to babble. That girl didn’t know how to be quiet.

“I guess Miss Van Allen is upstairs,” she volunteered. “She was in the dining-room, but she isn’t here now, so she must be upstairs. Shall I go and see?”

“No!” thundered the inspector. “Stay where you are. Search the house, Breen. I’ll cover the street door.”

The man he called Breen went upstairs on the jump, and Mason continued. “Tell the story, one of you. Who is this man? Who killed him?”

As he talked, the inspector was examining Somers’ body, making rapid notes in a little book, keeping his eye on the door, and darting quick glances at each of us, as he tried to grasp the situation.

I looked at Bert Garrison, who was perhaps the most favored of Miss Van Allen’s friends, but he shook his head, so I threw myself into the breach.

“Inspector,” I said, “that man’s name is Somers. Further than that I know nothing. He is a stranger to all of us, and he came to this house to-night for the first time in his life.”

“How’d he happen to come? Friend of Miss Van Allen?”

“He met her to-night for the first time. He came here with—” I paused. It was so hard to know what to do. Steele had gone home, ought I to implicate him?

“Go on—came here with whom? The truth, now.”

“I usually speak the truth” I returned, shortly. “He came with Mr. Norman Steele.”

“Where is Mr. Steele?”

“He has gone. There were a great many people here, and, naturally, some of them went away when this tragedy was discovered.”

“Humph! Then, of course, the guilty party escaped. But we are getting nowhere. Does nobody know anything of this man, but his name?”

Nobody did; but Ariadne piped up, “He was a delightful man. He told me he was a great patron of art, and often bought pictures.”

Paying little heed to her, the inspector was endeavoring to learn from the dead man’s property something more about him.

“No letters or papers,” he said, disappointedly, as he turned out the pockets. “Not unusual—in evening togs—but not even a card or anything personal—looks queer—”

“Look in his watch,” said Ariadne, bridling with importance.

Giving her a keen glance, the inspector followed her suggestion. In the back of the case was a picture of a coquettish face, undoubtedly that of an actress. It was not carefully fastened in, but roughly cut out and pressed in with ragged edges.

“Temporary,” grunted the inspector, “and recently stuck in. Some chicken he took out to supper. He’s a club man, you say?”

“Yes, Mr. Steele said so, and also vouched for his worth and character.” I resented the inspector’s attitude. Though I knew nothing of Somers, and didn’t altogether like him, yet, I saw no reason to think ill of the dead, until circumstances warranted it.

Further search brought a thick roll of money, some loose silver, a key-ring with seven or eight keys, eyeglasses in a silver case, handkerchiefs, a gold pencil, a knife, and such trifles as any man might have in his pockets, but no directly identifying piece of property.

R. S. was embroidered in tiny white letters on the handkerchiefs, and a monogram R. S. was on his seal ring.

His jewelry, which was costly, the inspector did not touch. There were magnificent pearl studs, a watch fob, set with a black opal and pearl cufflinks. Examination of his hat showed the pierced letters R. S., but nothing gave clue to his Christian name.

“Somers,” said the inspector, musingly. “What club does he belong to?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “Mr. Steele belongs to several, but Mr. Somers does not belong to any that I do. At least, I’ve never seen him at any.”

“Call in the servants. Let’s find out something about this household.”

As no one else moved to do it, I stepped to the door of the butler’s pantry, and summoned the head waiter of the caterer.

“Where are the house servants?” I asked him.

“There aren’t any, sir,” he replied, looking shudderingly at the grisly form on the floor.

“No servants? In a house of this type! What do you mean?”

“That’s true,” said Mrs. Reeves, breaking her silence, at last. “Miss Van Allen has a very capable woman, who is housekeeper and ladies’ maid in one. But when guests are here, the suppers are served from the caterer’s.”

“Then call the housekeeper. And where is Miss Van Allen herself?”

“She’s not in the house,” said the policeman Breen, returning from his search.

“Not in the house!” cried Mrs. Reeves. “Where is she?”

“I’ve been all over—every room—every floor. She isn’t in the house. There’s nobody upstairs at all.”

“No housekeeper or maid?” demanded Mason. “Then they’ve got away! Here, waiter, tell me all you know of this thing.”

The Italian Luigi came forward, shaking with terror, and wringing his fingers nervously.

“I d—don’t know anything about it,” he began, but Mason interrupted, “You do! You know all about it! Did you kill this man?”

“No! Dio mio! No! a thousand no’s!”

“Then, unless you wish to be suspected of it, tell all you know.”

A commotion at the door heralded the coroner’s arrival, also a detective and a couple of plain clothes men. Clearly, here was a mysterious case.

The coroner at once took matters in his own hands. Inspector Mason told him all that had been learned so far, and though Coroner Fenn seemed to think matters had been pretty well bungled, he made no comment and proceeded with the inquiries.

“Sure there’s nobody upstairs?” he asked Breen.

“Positive. I looked in every nook and cranny. I’ve raked the whole house, but the basement and kitchen part.”

“Go down there, then, and then go back and search upstairs again. Somebody may be hiding. Who here knows Miss Van Allen the most intimately?”

“Perhaps I do,” said Mrs. Reeves. “Or Miss Gale. We are both her warm friends.”

“I’m also her friend,” volunteered Bert Garrison. “And I can guarantee that if Miss Van Allen has fled from this house it was out of sheer fright. She never saw this man until to-night. He was a stranger to us all.”

“Where’s the housekeeper?” went on Fenn.

“I think she must be somewhere about,” said Mrs. Reeves. “Perhaps in the kitchen. Julie is an all round capable woman. When there are no guests she prepares Miss Van Allen’s meals herself. When company is present the caterer always is employed.”

“And there are no other servants?”

“Not permanent ones,” replied Mrs. Reeves. “I believe the laundress and chore boy come by the day, also cleaning women and such. But I know that Miss Van Allen has no resident servant besides the maid Julie.”

“This woman must be found,” snapped the coroner. “But we must first of all identify the body. Mason, call up the principal clubs on the telephone, and locate R. Somers. Also find Mr. Norman Steele. Now, Luigi, let’s have your story.”

The trembling waiter stammered incoherently, and said little of moment.

“Look here,” said Fenn, bluntly, “is that your knife sticking in him? I mean, is it one belonging to Fraschini’s service? Don’t touch it, but look at it, you can tell.”

Luigi leaned over the dead man. “Yes, it is one of our boning knives,” he said. “We always bring our own hardware.”

“Well, then, if you want to clear yourself and your men of doubt, tell all you know.”

“I know this,” and Luigi braced himself to the ordeal. “I was waiting in the pantry for Miss Van Allen to send me word to serve supper, and I peeped in the dining-room now and then to see if it was time. I heard, presently, Miss Van Allen’s voice, also a man’s voice. I didn’t want to intrude, so waited for a summons. After a moment or two I heard a little scream, and heard somebody or something fall. I had no thought of anything wrong, but thought the guests were unusually—er—riotous.”

“Are Miss Van Allen’s guests inclined to be riotous?”

“No, sir, oh, no,” asseverated the man, while Mrs. Reeves and Ariadne looked indignant. “And for that reason, I felt a little curious, so I pushed the door ajar and peeped in.”

“What did you see?”

“I saw,” Luigi paused so long that I feared he was going to collapse. But the coroner eyed him sternly, and he went on. “I saw Miss Van Allen standing, looking down at this—this gentleman on the floor, and making as if to pull out the knife. I could scarcely believe my eyes, and I watched her. She didn’t pull the knife, but she straightened up, looked around, glanced down at her gown, which—which was stained with blood—and then—she ran out into the hall.”

“Where did she go?”

“I don’t know. I couldn’t see, as the door was but on a crack. Then I thought I ought to go into the dining-room, and I did. I looked at the gentleman, and I didn’t know what to do. So I went into the hall, to the parlor door, and called for help, for a doctor or somebody. And then they all came out here. That’s all I know.”

Luigi’s nerve gave way, and he sank into a chair with a sob. Fenn looked at him, and considerately left him alone for the time.

“Can this be true?” he said, turning to us. “Can you suspect Miss Van Allen of this crime?”

“No!” cried Bert Garrison and the women, at once. And, “No!” said I. “I am positive Miss Van Allen did not know Mr. Somers and could not have killed an utter stranger—on no provocation whatever.”

“You do not know what provocation she may have had,” suggested Fenn.

“Now, look here, Mr. Coroner,” said Mrs. Reeves very decidedly, “I won’t have Miss Van Allen spoken of in any such way. I assume you mean that this man, though a stranger, might have said or done something to annoy or offend Miss Van Allen. Well, if he had done so, Victoria Van Allen never would have killed him! She is the gentlest, most gay and light-hearted girl, and though she never tolerates any rudeness or familiarity, the idea of her killing a man is too absurd. You might as well suspect a dove or a butterfly of crime!”

“That’s right, Mr. Coroner,” said Garrison. “That waiter’s story is an hallucination of some sort—if it isn’t a deliberate falsification. Miss Van Allen is a dainty, happy creature, and to connect her with anything like this is absurd!”

“That’s to be found out, Mr. Garrison. Why did Miss Van Allen run away?”

“I don’t admit that she did run away—in the sense of flight. If she were frightened at this thing—if she saw it—she may have run out of the door in hysterics or in a panic of terror. But she the perpetrator! Never!”

“Never!” echoed Mrs. Reeves. “The poor child! If she did come out here—and saw this awful sight—why, I think it would unhinge her mind!”

“Who is Miss Van Allen?” asked Fenn. “What is her occupation?”

“She hasn’t an occupation,” said Mrs. Reeves. “She is a young lady of independent fortune. As to her people or immediate relatives, I know nothing at all. I’ve known her a year or so, and as she never referred to such matters I never inquired. But she’s a thorough little gentlewoman, and I’ll defend her against any slander to my utmost powers.”

“And so will I,” said Miss Gale. “I’m sure of her fineness of character, and lovely nature—”

“But these opinions, ladies, don’t help our inquiries,” interrupted Fenn. “What can you men tell us? What I want first, is to identify this body, or, rather to learn more of R. Somers, and to find Miss Van Allen. I can’t hold an inquest until these points are cleared up. Mason, have you found out anything?”

“No,” said the inspector, returning from his long telephone quest. “I called up four clubs. Norman Steele belongs to three of them, but this man doesn’t seem to belong to any. That is, there are Somerses and even R. Somerses, but they all have middle names, and, too, their description doesn’t fit this Somers.”

“Then Mr. Steele misrepresented him. Did you get Steele, Mason?”

“No, he wasn’t at any of the clubs. I found his residence, a bachelor apartment house, but he isn’t there, either.”

“Find Steele; find Miss Van Allen; find the maid, what’s her name—Julia?”

“Julie, she was always called,” said Mrs. Reeves. “If Miss Van Allen went away, I’ve no doubt Julie went with her. She is a most devoted caretaker of her mistress.”

“An oldish woman?”

“No. Perhaps between thirty-five and forty.”

“What’s she look like?”

“Describe her, Ariadne, you’re an artist.”

“Julie,” said Miss Gale, “is a good sort. She’s medium-sized, she has brown hair and rather hazel eyes. She wears glasses, and she stoops a little in her walk. She has perfect training and correct manners, and she is a model servant, but she gives the impression of watching over Miss Van Allen, whatever else she may be engaged in at the same time.”

“Wears black?”

“No; usually gray gowns, or sometimes white. Inconspicuous aprons and no cap. She’s not quite a menial, but yet, not entirely a housekeeper.”

“English?”

“English speaking, if that’s what you mean. But I think she’s an American. Don’t you, Mrs Reeves?”

“American? Yes, of course.”

Chapter 4
Somers’ Real Name

Detective Lowney, who had come with the coroner, had said little but had listened to all. Occasionally he would dart from the room, and return a few moments later, scribbling in his notebook. He was an alert little man, with beady black eyes and a stubby black mustache.

“I want a few words with that caterer’s man,” he said, suddenly, “and then they’d better clear away this supper business and go home.”

We all turned to look at the table. It stood in the end of the dining-room that was back of the living-room. The sideboard was at the opposite end, back of the hall, and it was directly in front of the sideboard that Somers’ body lay.

Lowney turned on more light, and a thrill went through us at the incongruity of that gay table and the tragedy so near it. As always at Vicky Van’s parties, the appointments were dainty and elaborate. Flowers decorated the table; lace, silver, and glass were of finest quality; and in the centre was the contrivance known as a “Jack Horner Pie.”

“That was to be the surprise,” said Mrs. Reeves. “I knew about it. The pie is full of lovely trinkets and little jokes on the guests.”

“I thought those things were for children’s parties,” observed Fenn, looking with interest at the gorgeous confection.

“They’re really for birthdays,” said Mrs. Reeves, “and to-day is Vicky’s birthday. That was part of her surprise. She didn’t want it known, lest the guests should bring gifts. She’s like a child, Vicky is, just as happy over a birthday party as a little girl would be.”

“What does Miss Van Allen look like?” asked the detective.

“She’s pretty,” replied Mrs. Reeves, “awfully pretty, but not a raving beauty. Black hair, and bright, fresh coloring—”

“How was she dressed? Giddy clothes?”

“In an evening gown,” returned Mrs. Reeves, who resented the detective’s off-hand manner. “A beautiful French gown, of tulle and gold trimmings.”

“Low-necked, and all that? Jewels?”

“Yes,” I said, as Mrs. Reeves disdained to answer. “Full evening costume, and a necklace and earrings of amber set in gold.”

“Well, what I’m getting at is,” said Lowney, “a woman dressed like that couldn’t go very far in the streets without being noticed. We’ll surely be able to trace Miss Van Allen. Where would she be likely to go?”

“I don’t know,” said Mrs. Reeves. “She wouldn’t go to my home, I live ‘way down in Washington Square.”

“Nor to mine,” chirped Ariadne, “it’s over on the west side.”

“I don’t believe she left the house,” declared the coroner.

“Tell us again, Luigi,” asked Lowney, “just where did the lady seem to go, when you saw her leave this room?”

“I can’t say, sir. I was looking through a small opening, as I pushed the door ajar, and I was so amazed at what I saw, that I was sort of paralyzed and didn’t dare open the door further.”

“Go back to the pantry,” commanded Fenn, “and look in, just as you did.”

The waiter retreated to the post he had held, and setting the door a few inches ajar, proved that he could see body by the sideboard, but could not command a view of the hall.

“Now, I’ll represent Miss Van Allen,” and Lowney stood over the body of Somers. “Is this the place?”

“A little farther to the right, sir,” and Luigi’s earnestness and good faith were unmistakable. “Yes, sir, just there.”

“Now, I walk out into the hall. Is this the way she went?”

“Yes, sir, the same.”

Lowney went from the dining-room to the hall, and it was clear that his further progress could not be seen by the peeping waiter.

“You see, Fenn,” the detective went on, “from here, in the back of this long hall, Miss Van Allen could have left the house by two ways. She could have gone out at the front door, passing the parlor, or, she could have gone down these basement stairs, which are just under the stairs to the second story. Then she could have gone out by the front area door, which would give her access to the street. She could have caught up a cloak as she went.”

“Or,” said Fenn, musingly, “she could have run upstairs. The staircase is so far back in the hall, that the guests in the parlor would not have seen her. This is a very deep house, you see.”

It was true. The stairs began so far back in the long hall, that Vicky could easily have slipped upstairs after leaving the dining-room, without being seen by any of us in the living-room, unless we were in its doorway, looking out. Was anybody? So many guests had left, that this point could not be revealed.

“I didn’t see her,” declared Mrs. Reeves, “and I don’t believe she was in the dining-room at all. I don’t care what that waiter says!”

“Oh, yes, Madame,” reiterated Luigi. “It was Miss Van Allen. I know her well. Often she comes to Fraschini’s, and always I take her orders. She came even this afternoon, to make sure the great cake—the Jack Horner, was all right. And she approved it, ah, she clapped her hands at sight of it. We all do our best for Miss Van Allen, she is a lovely lady.”

“Miss Van Allen is one of your regular customers?”

“One of our best. Very often we serve her, and always she orders our finest wares.”

“You provide everything?”

“Everything. Candles, flowers, decorations—all”

“And she pays her bills?”

“Most promptly.”

“By cheque?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And there are no servants here but the maid Julie?”

“I have often seen others. But I fancy they do not live in the house. Madame Julie superintends and directs us always. Miss Van Allen leaves much to her. She is most capable.”

“When did you see this woman, this Julie, last?”

“A short time before—before that happened.” Luigi looked toward the body. “She was in and out of the pantries all the evening. She admitted the guests, she acted as ladies’ maid, and she arranged the favors in the pie. It was, I should say, ten minutes or so since she was last in the pantry, when I peeped in at the door.”

“Where was Julie then?”

“I don’t know. I did not see her. Perhaps upstairs, or maybe in the front of the hall, waiting to bring me word to serve supper.”

“Tell me something distinctive about this maid’s appearance. Was she good-looking?”

“Yes, a good-looking woman. But nothing especial about her. She had many gold fillings in her teeth—”

“That’s something,” and Lowney noted it with satisfaction. “Go on.”

But Luigi seemed to know nothing else that differentiated Julie from her sisters in service, and Lowney changed his questions.

“How could Miss Van Allen get that knife of yours?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir. It was, I suppose, in the pantry, with our other knives.”

“What is its use?”

“It is a boning knife, but doubtless one of our men used it in cutting celery for salad, or some such purpose.”

“Ask them.”

Inquiry showed that a man, named Palma, had used the knife for making a salad, and had left it in the butler’s pantry an hour or so before the crime was committed. Any one could have taken the knife without its being missed, as the salad had been completed and put aside.

“In that case, Miss Van Allen must have secured the knife some little time before it was used, as Luigi was in the pantry just previously,” observed Fenn. “That shows premeditation. It wasn’t done with a weapon picked up at the moment.”

“Then it couldn’t have been done by Miss Van Allen!” exclaimed Mrs. Reeves triumphantly, “for Vicky had no reason to premeditate killing a man she had never seen before.”

“Vicky didn’t do it,” wailed Ariadne. “I know she didn’t.”

“She must be found,” said Lowney. “But she will be found. If she’s innocent, she will return herself. If guilty, we must find her. And we will. A householder cannot drop out of existence unnoticed by any one. Does she own this house?”

“I think so,” said Mrs. Reeves. “I’m not positive, but it’s my impression that she does. Vicky Van never boasts or talks of her money or of herself. But I know she gives a good deal in charity, and is always ready to subscribe to philanthropic causes. I tell you she is not the criminal, and I don’t believe she ever left this house in the middle of the night in evening dress! That child is scared to death, and is hiding—in the attic or somewhere.”

“Suppose, Mrs. Reeves,” said the coroner, “you go with Mr. Lowney, and look over the house again. Search the bedrooms and store-rooms.”

“I will,” and Mrs. Reeves seemed to welcome an opportunity to help. She was a good-hearted woman, and a staunch friend of Vicky Van. I was glad she was on hand to stand up for the girl, for I confess things looked, to me, pretty dubious.

“Come along, too, Mr. Calhoun,” said Mrs. Reeves. “There’s no telling what we may find. Perhaps there’s further—tragedy.”

I knew what was in her mind. That if Vicky had done the thing, she might have, in an agony of remorse, taken her own life.

Thrilled with this new fear, I followed Lowney and Mrs. Reeves. We went downstairs first. We examined all the basement rooms and the small, city back yard. There was no sign of Vicky Van or of Julie, and next we came back to the first floor, hunted that, and then on upstairs. The music room was soon searched, and I fell back as the others went into Vicky’s bedroom.

“Come on, Mr. Calhoun,” said Lowney, “we must make a thorough job of it this time.”

The bedroom was, it seemed to me, like a fairy dream. Furniture of white enameled wicker, with pink satin cushions. Everywhere the most exquisite appointments of silver, crystal and embroidered fabrics, and a bed fit for a princess. It seemed profanation for the little detective to poke and pry around in wardrobes and cupboards, though I knew it must be done. He was not only looking for Vicky, but noting anything that might bear on her disappearance.

But there was no clue. Everything was in order, and all just as a well-bred, refined woman would have her belongings.

The bedroom was over the dining-room, and back of this, over the pantry extension, was Vicky Van’s dressing-room.

This was a bijou boudoir, and dressing-table, chiffonier, robe-chests, and jewel-caskets were all in keeping with the personality of their owner. The walls were panelled in pale rose color, and a few fine pictures were in absolute harmony. A long mirror was in a Florentine gilt frame, and a chaise longue, by a reading table, bespoke hours of ease.

Ruthlessly, Lowney pried into everything, ran his arm among the gowns hanging in the wardrobe, and looked into the carved chests.

Again no clue. The perfect order everywhere, showed, perhaps, preparation for guests, but nothing indicated flight or hiding. The dressing-table boxes held some bits of jewelry but nothing of really great value. An escritoire was full of letters and papers, and this, Lowney locked, and put the key in his pocket.

“If it’s all right,” he said, “there’s no harm done. And if the lady doesn’t show up, we must examine the stuff.”

On we went to the third floor of the house. The rooms here were unused, save one that was evidently Julie’s. The furnishings, though simple, were attractive, and showed a thoughtful mistress and an appreciative maid. Everything was in order. Several uniforms of black and of gray were in the cupboard, and several white aprons and one white dress. There were books, and a work-basket and such things as betokened the life of a sedate, busy woman.

We left no room, no cupboard unopened. No hall or loft unsearched. We looked in, under and behind every piece of furniture, and came, at last, to the unescapable conclusion that wherever Vicky Van might be, she was not in her own house.

Downstairs we went, and found Coroner Fenn and Inspector Mason in the hall. They had let Doctor Remson go home, also Garrison and Miss Gale. The waiters, too, had been sent off.

“You people can go, if you like,” Fenn said, to Mrs. Reeves and myself. “I’ll take your addresses, and you can expect to be called on as witnesses. If we ever get anything to witness! I never saw such a case! No criminal to arrest, and nobody knows the victim! He must be from out of town. We’ll nail Mr. Steele to-morrow, and begin to get somewhere. Also we’ll look up Miss Van Allen’s credits and business acquaintances. A woman can’t have lived two years in a house like this, and not have somebody know her antecedents and relatives. I suppose Mr. Steele brought his friend here, and then, when this thing happened he was scared and lit out.”

“Maybe Steele did the killing,” suggested Lowney.

“No,” disagreed Fenn. “I believe that Dago waiter’s yarn. I cross-questioned him a lot before I let him go, and I’m sure he’s telling what he saw. I’ll see Fraschini’s head man to-morrow—or, I suppose it’s to-morrow now—hello, who’s that?”

Another policeman came in at the street door.

“What’s up?” he said, looking about in amazement. “You here, Mr. Fenn? Lowney? What’s doing?”

It was Patrolman Ferrall, the officer on the beat.

“Where you been?” asked the coroner. “Don’t you know what has happened?”

“No; ever since midnight I been handling a crowd at a fire a couple blocks away. This is Miss Van Allen’s house.”

“Sure it is, and a friend of hers named Somers has been bumped off.”

“What? Killed?”

“That’s it. What do you know of Miss Van Allen?”

“Nothing, except that she lives here. Quiet young lady. Nothin’ to be said about her. Who’s the man?”

“Don’t know, except named Somers. R. Somers.”

“Never heard of him. Where’s Miss Van Allen?”

“Skipped.”

“What! That little thoroughbred can’t be mixed up in a shootin’!”

“He isn’t shot. Stabbed. With a kitchen knife.”

“Let’s see him.”

The coroner and Ferrall went toward the dining room, and, on an irresistible impulse of curiosity, I followed.

“Him!” exclaimed Ferrall, as he caught sight of the dead man’s features. “That ain’t no Somers. That’s Randolph Schuyler.”

“What!”

“Sure it is. Schuyler, the millionaire. Lives on Fifth Avenue, not far down from here. Who killed him?”

“But look here. Are you sure this is Randolph Schuyler?”

“Sure? Of course I’m sure. His house is on my beat. I see him often, goin’ in or comin’ out.”

“Well, then we have got a big case on our hands! Mason!”

The inspector could scarcely believe Ferrall’s statement, but realized that the policeman must know.

“Whew!” he said, trying to think of a dozen things at once. “Then Steele knew him, and introduced him as Somers on purpose. No wonder the clubs didn’t know of R. Somers! R. S. on his handkerchiefs and all that. He used a false name ‘cause he didn’t want it known that Randolph Schuyler came to see Miss Van Allen! Oh, here’s a mess! Where’s that girl? Why did she kill him?”

“She didn’t!” Mrs. Reeves began to cry. “She didn’t know it was Mr. Schuyler. She doesn’t know Mr. Schuyler. I’m sure she doesn’t, because we were making lists for bazar patrons and she said she would ask only people she knew, and we tried to find somebody who knew Randolph Schuyler, to ask him, but we didn’t know anybody who was acquainted with him at all. Oh, it can’t be the rich Schuyler! Why would he come here?”

“We must get hold of Mr. Steele as soon as possible,” said Fenn, excitedly. “Breen, call up his home address again, and if he isn’t there, go there and stick till he comes. Now, for some one to identify this body. Call up the Schuyler house—no, better go around there. Where is it, Ferrall?”

“Go straight out to the Avenue, and turn down. It’s No.—only part of a block down. Who’s going?”

“You go, Lowney,” said Fenn. “Mason, will you go?”

“Yes, of course. Come on, Lowney.”

The coroner gave Mrs. Reeves and myself permission to go home, and I was glad to go. But Mrs. Reeves declared her intention of staying the night, what was left of it, in Miss Van Allen’s house.

“It’s too late for me to go down alone,” she said, in her sensible way. “And, too, I’d rather be here, in case—in case Miss Van Allen comes home. I’m her friend, and I know she’d like me to stay.”

Chapter 5
The Schuyler Household

As for me, I began to collect my senses after the shock of learning the true identity of the dead man. Though I had never met him, Randolph Schuyler was a client and friend of my partner, Charles Bradbury, and I suddenly felt a sort of personal responsibility of action.

For one thing, I disliked the idea of Mr. Schuyler’s wife and family receiving the first tidings of the tragedy from the police. It seemed to me a friend ought to break the news, if possible.

I said as much to Coroner Fenn, and he agreed.

“That’s so,” he said. “It’ll be an awful errand. In the middle of the night, too. If you’re acquainted, suppose you go there with the boys, Mr. Calhoun.”

“I’m not personally acquainted, but Mr. Schuyler is my partner’s client, though there’s been little business of his with our firm of late. But, as a matter of humanity, I’ll go, if you say so, and be of any help I can.”

“Go, by all means. Probably they’ll be glad of your advice and assistance in many ways.”

I dreaded the errand, yet I thought if the police had had to go and tell Winnie and Aunt Lucy any such awful news, how glad they’d be to have somebody present of their own world, even of their own neighborhood. So I went.

As we had been told, the Schuyler house was only a few doors below the Avenue corner. Even as Mason rang the bell, I was thinking how strange that a man should go to a house where he desired to conceal his own name, when it was so near his own dwelling.

And yet, I knew, too, that the houses on Fifth Avenue are as far removed from houses just off the Avenue, as if they were in a different town.

Mason’s ring was answered by a keen-eyed man of imperturbable countenance.

“What’s wanted?” he said, gazing calmly at the policemen.

“Where is Mr. Schuyler?” asked the inspector, in a matter-of-fact way.

“He’s out,” said the man, respectfully enough, but of no mind to be loquacious.

“Where?”

“I don’t know. He went to his club after dinner, and has not yet returned.”

“Are you his valet?”

“Yes, I wait up for him. He comes in with his key. I’ve no idea when he will return.”

“Is his wife at home?”

“Yes, Mrs. Schuyler is at home.” Clearly, this man was answering questions only because he recognized the authority that asked them. But he volunteered no information.

“Who else is in the family? Children?”

“No, Mr. Schuyler has no children. His two sisters are here, and Mrs. Schuyler. That is all.”

“They are all in bed?”

“Yes, sir. Has anything happened to Mr. Schuyler?”

“Yes, there has. Mr. Schuyler is dead.”

“Dead!” The imperturbable calm gave way, and the valet became nervously excited. “What do you mean? Where is he? Shall I go to him?”

“We will come in,” said Lowney, for until now, we had stood outside. “Then we will tell you. Are any of the other servants about?”

“No, sir, they are all in bed.”

“Then—what is your name?”

“Cooper, sir.”

“Then, Cooper, call the butler, or whoever is in general charge. And—summon Mrs. Schuyler.”

“I’ll call Jepson, he’s the butler, sir. And I’ll call Mrs. Schuyler’s maid, Tibbetts, if she’s in. And the maid, Hester, who waits on the Misses Schuyler. Shall I?”

“Yes, get things started. Get Jepson as soon as you can.”

“This is an awful affair,” said Mason, as Cooper went off. We were in the hall, a great apartment more like a room, save that a broad staircase curved up at one side. The furnishings were magnificent, but in a taste heavily ornate and a little old-fashioned. There were carved and upholstered benches, but none of us cared to sit. The tension was too great.

“Keep your eyes open, Lowney,” he went on. “There’s lots to be picked up from servants, before they’re really on their guard. Get all you can about Mr. Schuyler’s evening habits from the man, Cooper. But go easy with the ladies. It’s hard enough for them at best.”

The valet reappeared with Jepson. This butler was of the accepted type, portly and important, but the staggering news Cooper had evidently told him, had made him a man among men.

“What’s this?” he said, gravely. “The master dead? Apoplexy?”

“No, Jepson. Mr. Schuyler was killed by some one. We don’t know who did it.”

“Killed! Murdered! My God!” The butler spoke in a strong, low voice with no hint of dramatic effect. “How will Mrs. Schuyler bear it?”

“How shall we tell her, Jepson?” Mason showed a consultant air, for the butler was so evidently a man of judgment and sense.

“We must waken her maid, and let her rouse Mrs. Schuyler. Then the other ladies, Mr. Schuyler’s sisters, we must call them.”

“Yes, Jepson, do all those things, as quickly as you can.”

But the wait seemed interminable.

At last the butler came back, and asked us up to the library, the front room on the floor above. Here a footman was lighting a fire on the hearth, for the house had the chill of the small hours.

First came the two sisters. These ladies, though not elderly, were middle-aged, and perhaps, a few years older than their brother. They were austere and prim, of aristocratic features and patrician air.

But they were almost hysterical in their excitement. A distressed maid hovered behind them with sal volatile. The ladies were fully attired, but caps on their heads and woolly wraps flung round them bore witness to hasty dressing.

“What is it?” cried Miss Rhoda, the younger of the two. “What has happened to Randolph?”

I introduced myself to them. I told them, as gently as I could, the bare facts, deeming it wise to make no prevarication.

So raptly did they listen and so earnestly did I try to omit horrible details, and yet tell the truth, that I did not hear Mrs. Schuyler enter the room. But she did come in, and heard also, the story as I told it.

“Can it not be,” I heard a soft voice behind me say, “can it not yet be there is some mistake? Who says that man is my husband?”

I turned to see the white face and clenched hands of Randolph Schuyler’s widow. She was holding herself together, and trying to get a gleam of hope from uncertainty.

If I had felt pity and sorrow for her before I saw her, it was doubly poignant now.

Ruth Schuyler was one of those gentle, appealing women, helplessly feminine in emergency. Her frightened, grief-stricken eyes looked out of a small, pale face, and her bloodless lips quivered as she caught them between her teeth in an effort to preserve her self-control.

“I am Chester Calhoun,” I said, and she bowed in acknowledgment. “I am junior partner in the firm of Bradbury and Calhoun. Mr. Bradbury is one of your husband’s lawyers and also a friend, so, as circumstances brought it about, I came here, with Inspector Mason, to tell you—to tell you—”

Mrs. Schuyler sank into a seat. Still with that air of determination to be calm, she gripped the chair arms and said, “I heard you tell Miss Schuyler that Randolph has been killed. I ask you, may it not be some one else? Why should he be at a house where people called him by a name not his own?”

She had heard, then, all I had told the older ladies. For Mrs. Schuyler was not old. She must be, I thought at once, years younger than her husband. Perhaps a second wife. I was glad she had heard, for it saved repeating the awful narrative.

“He has not been identified, Mrs. Schuyler,” I said, “except by the policeman of this precinct, who declares he knows him well.”

I was glad to give her this tiny loophole of possibility of mistaken identity, and she eagerly grasped at it.

“You must make sure,” she said, looking at Inspector Mason.

“I’m afraid there’s no room for doubt, ma’am, but I’m about to send the man, the valet, over to see him. Do you wish any one else to go—from the house?”

Mrs. Schuyler shuddered. “Don’t ask me to go,” she said, piteously. “For I can’t think it is really Mr. Schuyler—and if it should be—”

“Oh, no ma’am, you needn’t go. None of the family, I should say.” Mason looked at the elder ladies.

“No, no,” cried Miss Sarah, “we couldn’t think of it! But let Jepson go. He is a most reliable man.”

“Yes,” said Mrs. Schuyler, “send Cooper and Jepson both. Oh, go quickly—I cannot bear this suspense!” She turned to me, as the two men who had been hovering in the doorway, came in to take Mason’s orders. “I thank you, Mr. Calhoun. It was truly kind of you to come. Tibbetts, get me a wrap, please.”

This was Mrs. Schuyler’s own maid, who went on the errand at once. More servants had gathered; one or two footmen, a silly French parlor-maid or waitress, and from downstairs I heard the hushed voices of others.

Tibbetts returned, and laid a fleecy white shawl about her mistress’ shoulders. Mrs. Schuyler wore a house dress of dull blue. Her hair of an ash-blonde hue, was coiled on top of her head; and to my surprise, when I noticed it, she wore a string of large pearls round her throat, and on her hands were two rings, each set with an enormous pearl.

I must have been awkward enough to glance at the pearls, for Mrs. Schuyler remarked, “I dressed so hastily, I kept on my pearls. I wear them at night sometimes, to preserve their luster.”

Then she apparently forgot them, for without self-consciousness she turned to the detective and began asking questions. Nervously she inquired concerning minutest details, and I surmised that side by side with her grief at the tragedy was a very human and feminine dismay at the thought of her husband, stabbed to death in another woman’s house!

“Who is Miss Van Allen?” she asked over and over again, unsatisfied with the scant information Lowney could give.

“And she lives near here? Just down the side street? Who is she?”

“I don’t think she is anyone you ever heard of,” I said to her. “She is a pleasant young woman, and so far as I know, all that is correct and proper.”

“Then why would she have Randolph Schuyler visiting her?” flashed the retort. “Is that correct and proper?”

“It may be so,” I said, for I felt a sort of loyalty to Vicky Van. “You see, she was not acquainted with Mr. Schuyler until this evening.”

“Why did he go there, then?”

“Steele brought him—Norman Steele.”

“I don’t know any Mr. Steele.”

I began to think that Randolph Schuyler had possessed many acquaintances of whom his wife knew nothing, and I concluded to see Bradbury before I revealed any more of Schuyler’s affairs.

And then, Lowney began adroitly to put questions instead of answering them.

He inquired concerning Mr. Schuyler’s habits and pursuits, his recreations and his social life.

All three of the women gave responses to these queries, and I learned many things.

First, that Randolph Schuyler was one manner of man at home and another abroad. The household, it was plain to be seen, was one of most conservative customs and rigidly straightbacked in its conventions.

Mrs. Schuyler was not a second wife. She had been married about seven years, and had lived the last five of them in the house we were now in. She was much younger than her husband, and he had, I could see, kept her from all knowledge of or participation in his Bohemian tastes. They were the sort of people who have a box at the opera and are patrons of the best and most exclusive functions of the highest society. Mrs. Schuyler, after the first shock, recovered her poise, and though now and then a tremor shook her slight frame, she bore herself with dignity and calm.

The two maiden ladies also grew quieter, but we all nervously awaited the return of the butler.

At last he came.

“It’s the master, Madame,” he said, simply, to his mistress as he entered the room. “He is dead.”

The deferential gravity of his tone impressed me anew with the man’s worth, and I felt that the stricken wife had a tower of strength in the faithful servitor.

“I left Cooper there, Madame,” he went on. “They—they will not bring Mr. Schuyler home tonight. In the morning, perhaps. And now, Madame, will you not go to rest? I will be at the service of these gentlemen.”

It seemed cruel to torture them further that night, and the three ladies were dismissed by Lowney, and, attended by their maids, they left us.

“Now, Jepson,” Lowney began, “tell us all you know about Mr. Schuyler’s doings. I daresay you know as much as the valet does. Was Mr. Schuyler as a man of the world, different from his life in this house?”

Jepson looked perturbed. “That’s not for me to say, sir.”

“Oh, yes, it is, my man. The law asks you, and it is for you to tell all you know.”

“Well, then,” and the butler weighed his words, “my master was always most strict of habit in his home. The ladies are very reserved, and abide by rules and standards, that are, if I may say so, out of date to-day. But, though Mr. Schuyler was by no means a gay man or a member of any fast set, yet I have reason to think, sir, that at times he might go to places where he would not take Mrs. Schuyler, and where he would not wish Mrs. Schuyler to know he had been himself.”

“That’s enough,” said Lowney. “I’ve got his number. Now, Jepson, had your master any enemies, that you know of?”

“Not that I know of. But I know nothing of Mr. Schuyler’s affairs. I see him go out of an evening, and I may notice that he comes in very late, but as to his friends or enemies, I know nothing at all. I am not one to pry, sir, and my master has always trusted me. I have endeavored not to betray that trust.”

This might have sounded pharisaical in a man of less sincerity of speech. But Jepson’s clear, straightforward eyes forbade any doubt of his honesty and truth.

Again I was glad that Mrs. Schuyler had this staunch helper at her side, for I foresaw troublous times in store for her.

“And you never heard of this Miss Van Allen? Never was in her house before?”

“Never, sir. I know nothing of the houses on the side blocks.” I winced at this. “Of course, I know the people who come to this house, but there is among them no Miss Van Allen.”

“Rather not!” I thought to myself. And then I sighed at the memory of Vicky Van. Had she killed this millionaire? And if so, why?

I was sure Vicky had never met Randolph Schuyler before that evening. I had seen their meeting, and it was too surely the glance of stranger to stranger that had passed between them, to make a previous acquaintance possible. Vicky had been charming to him, as she always was to every one, but she showed no special interest, and if she did really kill him, it was some unguessable motive that prompted the deed.

I thought it over. Schuyler, at the club, dined and wined, had perhaps heard Norman Steele extol the charms of Vicky Van. Interested, he had asked to be taken to Vicky’s house, but, as it was so near his own, a sense of precaution led him to adopt another name.

Then the inexplicable sequel!

And the mysterious disappearance of Vicky herself.

Though, of course, the girl would return. As Mrs. Reeves had said, doubtless she had witnessed the crime, and, scared out of her wits, had run away. Her return would clear up the matter.

Then the waiter’s story?

Well, there was much to be done. And, as I suddenly bethought me, it was time I, myself went home!

As I passed Vicky Van’s house, on my way home, I saw lights pretty much all over it, and was strongly tempted to go in. But common sense told me I needed rest, and not only did I have many matters to attend to on the morrow, but I had to tell the story to Aunt Lucy and Winnie!

That, of itself, would require some thought and tactful management, for I was not willing to have them condemn Vicky Van entirely, and yet, I could think of no argument to put forth for the girl’s innocence.

Time alone must tell.

Chapter 6
Vicky’s Ways

“Ches-ter Cal-houn! Get up this minute! There’s a reporter downstairs! A reporter!”

My sleepy eyes opened to find Winnie pounding my shoulder as it humped beneath the blanket.

“Hey? What?” I grunted, trying to collect my perceptions.

“A reporter!” If Winnie had said a Bengal tiger, she couldn’t have looked more terrified.

“Great Scott! Win—I remember! Clear out, I’ll be down in a minute.”

I dressed in record time and went downstairs in three leaps.

In the library, I found Aunt Lucy, wearing an expression that she might have shown if the garbage man had asked her to a dance.

But Winnie was eagerly drinking in the story poured forth by the said reporter, who was quite evidently enjoying his audience.

“Oh, Chet, this is Mr. Bemis of The Meteor. He’s telling us all about the—you know—what happened.”

Winnie was too timid to say the word murder, and I was sorry she had to hear the awful tale from any one but myself. However, there was no help for it now, and I joined the group and did all I could to bring Aunt Lucy’s eyebrows and nose down to their accustomed levels.

But it was an awful story, make the best of it, and the truth had to be told.

“It is appalling,” conceded Aunt Lucy, at length, “but the most regrettable circumstance, to my mind, is your connection with it all, Chester.”

“Now, Auntie, have a little heart for poor Mrs. Schuyler, and those old lady sisters. Also for the man himself—”

“Oh, I have, Chet. I’m not inhuman. But those things are in the papers every day, and while one feels a general sympathy, it can’t be personal if one doesn’t know the people. But, for you to be mixed up in such matters—”

“I wasn’t mixed up in it, Aunt Lucy, except as I chose to mix myself. And I’ve no doubt I should have gotten into it anyway. Mr. Bradbury will have a lot to do with it, I’m sure. I’m no better than he to mix in.”

“In a business way, yes. But you were there socially—where a murder was committed—”

Aunt Lucy could have shown no more horror of it all, if I had been the convicted criminal.

“And, I’m glad I was!” I cried, losing patience a little. “If I can be of any help to the Schuyler people or to Miss Van Allen, I shall be willing to do all I can.

“But Miss Van Allen is the—the murderer!” and Aunt Lucy whispered the word.

“Don’t say that!” I cried sharply. “You don’t know it at all, and there’s no reason to condemn the girl—”

I paused. Bemis was taking in my every word with a canny understanding of what I said, and also of what I didn’t say.

“Where do your suspicions tend, Mr. Calhoun?” he said smoothly.

“Frankly, Mr. Bemis, I don’t know. I am an acquaintance of Miss Van Allen and I cannot reconcile the idea of crime with her happy, gentle nature. Nor can I see any reason to suspect the waiter who first told of the matter. But might not some person, some enemy of Mr. Schuyler, have been secreted in the house—”

“A plausible theory,” agreed Bemis, “even an obvious one, but almost no chance of it. I’ve seen the caterer’s people, and they were in charge of the basement rooms and the dining-room all the evening. Unless it were one of the guests at the party, I think no intruder could have gotten in.”

“Well,” I returned, uneasily, for I wished he would go, “it isn’t up to us to invent theories or to defend them. I will answer your necessary questions, but pardon me, if I remind you that I am a busy man and I haven’t yet had my breakfast.”

Bemis took the hint, and after a string of definite and pertinent questions, he left.

Winnie tried to detain him, but my curt courtesy made it difficult for him to linger.

“Oh, Chessy,” cried my sister, as soon as Bemis had gone, “it’s awful, I know, but isn’t it exciting?”

“Hush, Winnie,” reproved Aunt Lucy. “A girl of your age should know nothing of these things, and I want you to put it out of your mind. You can be of no help, and I do not want your nerves disturbed by the harrowing details.”

“That’s all right, Aunt Lucy,” I put in, “but this is going to be a celebrated case, and Winnie can’t be kept in ignorance of its developments. Now be a good sort, Auntie—accept the inevitable. Try to realize that I must do what seems to me my duty, and if that brings us more or less into the limelight of publicity, it is a pity, but it can’t be helped.”

“I agree to all that, Chester, dear. But you are so mixed in it socially. Why did you ever get into that set?”

“It isn’t a bad set, Aunt Lu. It isn’t a fast set, by any means.”

“You wouldn’t see Winnie or me there.”

“No, but a decent man goes to places where he wouldn’t take his women people. Now, let up, Auntie. Trust your good-for-nothing nevvy, and just do all you can to help—by doing nothing.”

“I’ll help you, Chessy-Cat. I’ll do exactly as you tell me, if you’ll only let me know about it, and not treat me like a baby,” said Winnie, who was wheedlesomely assisting my breakfast arrangements. She sugared and creamed my cereal, and, as I dispatched it, she buttered toast and poured coffee and deftly sliced off the top of a soft-boiled egg.

I managed to eat some of these viands between answers to their rapid-fire volley of questions and at last I made ready to go down town.

“And remember,” I said, as I departed, “if a lot of gossippy old hens come around here to-day—or your chicken friends—Winnie, don’t tell them a thing. Let ‘em get it from the papers, or apply to information, or any old way, but don’t you two give out a line of talk! See?”

I kissed them both, and started off.

Of course, I went over to Vicky Van’s first. I had been on the proverbial pins and needles to get there ever since I woke to consciousness by reason of the sisterly pounding that brought me from the land of dreams.

The house had an inhabited look, and when I went in, I was greeted by the odor of boiling coffee.

“Come right down here,” called Mrs. Reeves from the basement.

I went down, passing the closed dining-room door with a shudder. Two or three policemen were about, in charge of things generally, but none whom I knew. They had been relieved for the present.

“You’re still here?” I said, a little inanely.

“Yes,” returned Mrs. Reeves, who looked tired and wan. “I stayed, you know, but I couldn’t sleep any. I lay down on the music-room couch, but I only dozed a few minutes at a time. I kept hearing strange sounds or imagining I did, and the police were back and forth till nearly daylight. Downstairs, they were. I didn’t bother them, but they knew I was in the house, if—if Vicky should come home.”

Her face was wistful and her eyes very sad. I looked my sympathy.

“You liked her, I know,” she went on. “But everybody ‘most, has turned against her. Since they found the man was Randolph Schuyler, all sympathy is for him and his widow. They all condemn Vicky.”

“You can scarcely blame them,” I began, but she interrupted,

“I do blame them! They’ve no right to accuse that girl unheard.”

“The waiter—”

“Oh, yes, I know, the waiter! Well, don’t let’s quarrel about it. I can’t stay here much longer, though. I made coffee and got myself some breakfast—but, honest, Mr. Calhoun, it pretty nearly choked me to eat sandwiches that had been made for last night’s surprise supper!”

“I should think it would! Didn’t any rolls come, or milk, you know?”

“I didn’t see any. Well, I’ll go home this morning, but I shall telephone up here every little while. The police will stay here, I suppose.”

“Yes, for a day or two. Do you think Vicky will come back?”

“I don’t know. She’ll have to, sooner or later. I tried to make myself sleep in her room last night, but I just couldn’t. So I stayed in the music room, I thought—I suppose it was foolish—but I thought maybe she might telephone.”

“She’d hardly do that.”

“I don’t know. It’s impossible to say what she might do. Oh, the whole thing is impossible! Think of it, Mr. Calhoun. Where could that girl have gone? Alone, at midnight, in that gorgeous gown, no hat or wrap—”

“How do you know that?”

“I don’t—not positively. But if she had put on wraps and gone out by either door she would surely have been seen by some one in the house. I’m just sure she didn’t go out by the front street door, for we in the living-room must have noticed her. And she couldn’t have gone out by the area door, for there were waiters all about, down here.”

We were sitting in the front basement room, a pleasant enough place, evidently a servants’ sitting room. Before Mrs. Reeves, on the table, were the remnants of her scarce tasted breakfast. As she had said, the tiny sandwiches and rich salad, which she had procured from the unused stores of the caterer’s provision, did seem too closely connected with the tragedy to be appetizing.

“The kitchen is back of this?” I asked.

“Yes, and dumb waiters to the dining-room. I confess I’ve looked about a bit. I’m not a prying woman—but I felt I was justified.”

“You certainly are, Mrs. Reeves,” I said, warmly, for she was thoroughly good-hearted, and a staunch friend of Vicky Van. “Have you learned anything illuminating?”

“No; but things are queer.”

“Queer, how?”

“Well, you wouldn’t understand. A man couldn’t. But it’s this way. Lots of potted meats and jars of jam and cans of tea and coffee and cocoa in the pantry, but no fresh meat or green vegetables about. No butter in the icebox, and no eggs or bacon.”

“Well, what does that imply? I’m no housekeeper, I admit.”

“It looks to me as if Vicky was leaving this morning—I mean as if she had expected to go away to-day, and so had no stuff on hand to spoil.”

“Perhaps this is her market day.”

“No; it’s queer, that’s what it is. You know sometimes Vicky does go away for days at a time.”

“Hasn’t she a right to?”

“Of course she has. I’m thinking it out. Where does she go? And wherever it is, that’s where she is now!”

Mrs. Reeves’ triumphant air seemed to settle the question.

“But all that isn’t queer, my dear lady,” I said. “We all know Vicky Van gads about a lot. I’ve telephoned her myself twice, and she wasn’t here. Once, Julie answered, and once there was no response of any sort.”

“Yes, I suppose that’s the case. She was going away on a visit to-day, maybe, and so had little food on hand to be disposed of. A good housekeeper would look after that. Of course, it wouldn’t be Vicky’s doing, but Julie’s. That housekeeper is a treasure. She could run a hotel if she wanted to.”

“Then, perhaps,” I mused, aloud, “Vicky ran away and went to the place, wherever it is, that she expected to visit to-day.”

“Oh, I don’t know. This is all merely conjecture. And, too, how could she, in that dress? No, she has gone to some friend in town. She must have done so. A hotel wouldn’t take her in—why,” Mrs. Reeves’ voice broke, “you know that waiter said there—there was blood on Vicky’s gown!”

“Do you believe that?”

“If we believe him at all, why shouldn’t we believe the whole tale? I don’t know Vicky Van, you understand, except as a casual friend. I mean, I know nothing of her family, her past, or her personality, except as I’ve seen her in a friendly way. I like her, thoroughly, but I can’t honestly say that I know her.”

“Who does?”

“Nobody. All her friends say the same thing. She is lovely and dear, but never confidential, or communicative regarding herself.”

“Wherever she went, Julie must be with her,” I suggested.

“I don’t know. I dare say that is so, but how on earth could two women get out of this house without its being known?”

“And yet, they did. Whether alone or together, they both got away last night. You don’t think they’re still concealed in the house?”

“Oh, no, of course not; after the search we made.”

“I can’t help thinking they’ll turn up to-day. Julie, anyway. Why, Miss Van Allen must come back or send back for her valuables. I saw jewelry and money in the dressing-room.”

“Yes; but, of course, they’re safe enough. They’re all in care of the police.”

We were interrupted by the entrance of a policeman and a woman who had come to work.

“She says,” the policeman addressed Mrs. Reeves, “that she was expected here to-day to clean. Now, we can’t let her disturb things much, but she’d better wash up a little, and throw away some of the supper stuff that won’t keep.”

Everybody seemed to look to Mrs. Reeves as a sort of proxy housekeeper, and I wondered what they would have done without her. Though I suppose they would have managed.

“Yes, indeed,” was her glad response. “Let her tidy up these breakfast things I’ve used, and there’s some cups and plates in the kitchen, for I gave those poor policemen some food ‘long ‘bout three o’clock this morning. And she can throw out the melted ice cream, it’s no good to anybody, and it surely isn’t evidence!”

I determined to ask the working-woman some questions, but the police forestalled me.

Ferrall came down and joined us, and spoke to her at once.

“Good morning, Mrs. Flaherty. Don’t you do anything now, but just what you’re told to do. And first, tell us a thing or two. How often do you come here? I’ve seen you in and out, now and again.”

“Yes, I do be comin’ whin I’m sint for; not of a reg’lar day. Maybe wanst a week, maybe of’ner. Thin agin, not for a fortnight.”

“Just as I said,” declared Mrs. Reeves. “Vicky often goes away for days at a time.”

“Shure she does that. Miss Van Allen is here to-day an’ gone to-morrow, but Miss Julie she looks after me wurruk, so she does.”

“She engages you when you are needed?” I asked.

“Yes, sir. They’s a tillyphone in me husband’s shop, an’ if anny wan calls me, he lets me know.”

“When did they tell you to come here to-day?”

“‘Twas yisterday, sir. Miss Julie, she sinds wurrud for me to come this marnin’ to clane, as they do be havin’ a party last night. Ach, that this thrubble should come!”

“There, now, Mrs. Flaherty, never mind your personal feelings. We’re in a hurry.” Ferrall was busy making notes of the information he was getting, and I could well understand, that any side-light on Vicky’s home life was of importance. So I tarried to listen.

“How long have you worked for Miss Van Allen?”

“A matther av a year or more.”

“You clean the rooms upstairs, sometimes?”

“All over the house. Manny’s the time I’ve shwept an’ vacuumed Miss Van Allen’s own bedroom an’ boodore. An’ likewise the music room an’ parlure an’ all. Yis, sor, I’m here frekint.”

“What other servants does Miss Van Allen employ?”

“Nobody that lives in, ‘ceptin’ Miss Julie. But there’s the laundry woman, as comes—though more often the wash goes out. Thin, there’s a chore boy, as runs arrants; an’ sometimes a sewin’ woman; an’ often the caterer man’s dagoes. Yis, an’ a boy, a Buttons you know, to open the dure for, say, an afternoon party. You see, Miss Van Allen is off visitin’ so much, she don’t want steady help.”

“Where does she visit?”

“That I dunno. But go, she does, an’ I’m thinkin’ it’s good times she has. For she comes back, chipper an’ merry an’ glad to see her friends—an’ thin, all of a suddint, up an’ off agin.”

I knew that was Vicky Van’s habit. All that the woman said corroborated my idea of the little butterfly’s frivolous life. So, why should she keep permanent servants if she was at home only half the time? I knew the troubles Aunt Lucy had with her menials, and I approved of Vicky’s wisdom.

“And that explains the empty icebox,” Mrs. Reeves was saying, nodding her head in satisfaction. “Vicky meant to go off to-day, after the house was put in order, and she didn’t want a lot of food left to spoil.”

“Yis, mum,” agreed Mrs. Flaherty. “Shall I wash thim dishes now, mum?”

And she was allowed to set to work.

Chapter 7
Ruth Schuyler

There were many calls on Vicky Van’s telephone that morning. It seemed to me that the bell rang almost continually. The police people answered it, and one time, I was surprised to learn that the call was for me.

I took up the receiver and heard Mr. Bradbury’s voice.

“I called up your home,” he said, “and your sister told me to try this number. Now, look here, Calhoun, I wish you’d go to see Mrs. Schuyler. I’ve talked with her over the telephone, and she asked me to come up there, but I’ve got the Crittendon case on this morning, and I can’t get away very well. So you go and see what you can do for her. She told me you were there last night, and she’s willing to have you in my place.”

I agreed, feeling rather flattered that the rich man’s widow should so readily accept me as Mr. Bradbury’s substitute.

“I’m sorry you’re going there,” said Mrs. Reeves, her eyes filling with tears, as I took leave of her. “Of course, the Schuylers will pump you about Vicky, and try to make you say that she killed that man!”

“I must tell Mrs. Schuyler the truth,” I said.

“Yes, but can’t you give Vicky the benefit of the doubt? For there is a doubt. Why should she kill a man she never had seen before?”

“Perhaps he wasn’t a stranger to her, after all.”

“Why, I heard her say, before he came, that she didn’t know him.”

“You heard her say she didn’t know Mr. Somers,” I corrected. “I’ve been thinking this thing over. Suppose Vicky did know Mr. Schuyler, and when Steele proposed bringing a Mr. Somers—”

“No, you’re all wrong!” she exclaimed. “I saw them when they met, and I’m sure they had never laid eyes on each other before. There was not the least sign of recognition. Besides, that isn’t like Vicky—to have a millionaire and a married man for her friend. That girl is all right, Mr. Calhoun, and I don’t want you to let Mrs. Schuyler think she isn’t.”

“Perhaps Mrs. Schuyler knows something about her.”

“I doubt it. Anyway, you stand up for Vicky, as far as you can do so honestly. Won’t you?”

“I can surely promise that,” I replied, as I started on my errand.

Approaching the Fifth Avenue residence, I looked at the house, which I had been unable to see clearly the night before.

It was large and handsome, but not one of the most modern mansions. Four stories, it was, and as I glanced up I noticed that all the window shades were down. The floral emblem of death hung at one side of the wide entrance, and as I approached, the door silently swung open.

A footman was in charge, and I was ushered at once to the library where I had been some hours earlier. It was not a cheerful room; the appointments were heavy and somber, though evidently the woods and fabrics were of great value. A shaded electrolier gave a dim light, for the drawn blinds precluded daylight.

A soft step, and Mrs. Schuyler came into the room.

Black garb was not becoming to her. The night before, in her blue house-dress, she had looked almost pretty, but now, in a black gown, without even a bit of relieving white at her throat, she was plain and very pathetic.

Her face was pale and drawn, and her eyes showed dark shadows, as of utter weariness. She greeted me simply and glided to a nearby chair.

“It is kind of you to come, Mr. Calhoun,” and the fine quality of her voice and inflection betokened New England ancestry, or training. “As you were here last night—you seem more like a friend than a mere business acquaintance.”

“I am very glad, Mrs. Schuyler,” and I spoke sincerely, “that you look on me like that. Please tell me anything you wish to, and command me in any way I can serve you.”

The speech sounded a little stilted, I knew, but there was something about Ruth Schuyler that called for dignified address. She had the air of bewildered helplessness that always appeals to a man, but she had, too, a look of determination as to one who would do the right thing at any cost of personal unpleasantness.

“It is all so dreadful,” she began, and an insuppressible sob threatened her speech. But she controlled it, and went on. “There is so much to be gone through with and I am so ignorant of—of law and—you know—of police doings.”

“I understand,” I returned, “and anything that you can be spared, rest assured you shall be. But there is much ahead of you that will be hard for you—very hard, and perhaps I can help you get ready for it.”

“Will there be an inquest, and all that?” she whispered the word half fearfully.

“Yes, there must be; though not for several days, probably. You know they can’t find Miss Van Allen.”

“No. Where can she be? I don’t suppose they will ever find her. Why should she kill my husband? Have you any theory, Mr. Calhoun? How well did you know this—this person?”

“Only fairly well. By which I mean, I have met her some half a dozen times.”

“Always in her own house?”

“Not always. I’ve attended studio parties where she was present—”

“Oh, Bohemian affairs?”

“Not exactly. Miss Van Allen is a delightful girl, bright and of merry spirits, but in no way fast or of questionable habits.”

“That’s what they tell me; but pardon me, if I cannot believe a really nice, correct young woman would have a married man visiting her.”

“But remember, Mrs. Schuyler, Miss Van Allen did not invite Mr. Schuyler to her house. As near as we can make out, Mr. Steele brought him, without Miss Van Allen’s permission. And under an assumed name.”

A blush of shame stained her face.

“I realize,” she said, “how that reflects against my husband. Must all this be made public, Mr. Calhoun?”

“I fear it must. The law is inexorable in its demands for justice.”

“But if they can’t find Miss Van Allen, how can they indict her? or whatever the term is. Why can’t the whole affair be hushed up? Personally, I would far rather never find the girl—never have her punished, than to drag the Schuyler name through the horrors of a murder trial.”

“I quite understand your position, but it will not be possible to evade the legal proceedings. Of course, if Miss Van Allen is never found, the affair must remain a mystery. But she will be found. A lady like that can’t drop out of existence.”

“No, of course not. Why, her bills must be paid, her household effects looked after; is she in a house or an apartment?”

“A house. I understand she owns it.”

“Then she must communicate with her business people—lawyer, bank or creditors. Can’t you trace her that way?”

“We hope to. As you say, she must surely return to attend to such matters.”

“And her servants? What do they say?”

I described the unusual menage that Vicky Van supported, and Mrs. Schuyler was interested.

“How strange,” she said. “She sounds to me like an adventuress!”

“No, she isn’t that. She has money enough.”

“Where does she get it?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure. But she is a quiet, self-reliant little person, and not at all of the adventuress type.”

“It doesn’t matter,” and Mrs. Schuyler sighed. “I don’t care anything about her personality. She must be bad or she wouldn’t have killed my husband. I’m not defending him, but men don’t go to the houses of complete strangers and get murdered by them! And I hope she will never be found, for it might bring out a story of scandal or shame that will always cling to Mr. Schuyler’s memory. But, of course, she will come back, and she will plead innocence and lay all blame on Mr. Schuyler. Can’t we buy her off? I would pay a large sum to keep her story from the world.”

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Schuyler, but that can’t be done.”

“I thought you would help me—I’m so disappointed.”

Tears gathered in her eyes, and her voice trembled. I wished Bradbury had had this job instead of myself, for I am soft-hearted where feminine appeal is concerned, and I didn’t know quite what to say.

But just then the two Schuyler sisters came into the library and I rose to greet them.

“Oh,” cried Miss Rhoda, “it’s all too awful! We can’t believe it! I wish I had that girl here! You must find her, Mr. Calhoun—you must!”

“Yes,” chimed in Miss Sarah; “she must be brought to judgment. An eye for an eye and a life for a life. That’s the Scripture law.”

“Don’t talk so, Sarah,” pleaded Ruth Schuyler. “It won’t bring Randolph back, to punish his murderer. And think of the awful publicity!”

“I don’t care for that. Murder has been done and murder must be avenged. I’m ashamed of you, Ruth, if you let any idea of personal distaste stand in the way of righteous law and order.”

“I, too,” agreed Rhoda. “Spare no effort or expense, Mr. Calhoun, to find that wicked girl and have her arrested.”

“I daresay you are right,” and Mrs. Schuyler’s acquiescence showed her to be more or less under the iron hand of the family opinion. “Of course, if you feel that way, I shall raise no obstacle to the law’s progress. Whatever you advise, Rhoda, I agree to.”

“Certainly you do. You are young, Ruth, and you are not a Schuyler. Why, the very name demands the strongest powers of the law. I only fear that the most desperate efforts may not succeed. What is your opinion, Mr. Calhoun? Can they find that woman?”

The scorn of the last two words, as uttered by Rhoda Schuyler’s sharp tongue, is not to be reproduced in print.

“I think most probably, yes, Miss Schuyler. I think she must return sooner or later.”

“Don’t wait for that!” exclaimed Sarah. “Send people to search for her. Scour the country. Don’t let her get away beyond retrieval. Offer a reward, if necessary, but get her!”

“A reward!” repeated Rhoda. “Yes, that’s it. Put it in the paper at once; a large reward for any information of Miss Van Allen.”

“Stay,” I urged; “don’t decide on such measures too hastily. Might you not defeat your own purpose? Miss Van Allen doubtless will see the papers, wherever she may be. If she learns of the reward, she will hide herself more securely than ever.”

“I think so, too,” said Ruth, in her gentle voice. “I am sure, Rhoda, we oughtn’t to do anything like that just yet. Oh, how hard it is to know what to do.”

“Yes, we’ve always deferred everything to Randolph. How can we get along without him?”

“We must,” and Mrs. Schuyler set her pale lips together in an evident determination to be brave and strong. “Now, Mr. Calhoun, what is there to be discussed in a business way? I mean regarding Mr. Schuyler’s business with you or Mr. Bradbury?”

“Nothing at present,” I returned, feeling sure the poor woman had quite enough on her mind. “The will can be examined at your convenience, and any questions of securities or money can rest over for a time. Do you wish any ready cash? Or shall we look after any money matters?”

“Thank you, no. Such things are systematically arranged in the household. Jepson attends to bills and tradesmen. My greatest wish is for a secretary or some person to write notes and look after the flood of letters and telegrams that has already begun.”

I felt surprised, for I had assumed that the rich man’s wife had a social secretary of her own.

“I’ve no one,” she said, in response to my glance, “Mr. Schuyler didn’t wish me to have a secretary, and indeed I didn’t need one. But now—”

“Of course, it is necessary now.”

“Not at all,” interrupted Miss Rhoda. “I am surprised at you, Ruth! You know how Randolph objected to such things, and now, as soon as he is gone, you begin to—”

“Hush, Rhoda,” said Ruth, with gentle dignity. “It was not necessary before, but it is now. You’ve no idea what a task it will be. All our friends and many of Randolph’s acquaintances will call or send messages and they must be acknowledged—”

“And, pray, what else have you to do, but acknowledge them? Sarah and I will attend to our own. A great many, doubtless, but not too much of a task for us, when it is in memory of our dear brother!”

“Very well,” and Ruth spoke calmly, “we will wait for a day or two, Mr. Calhoun, and then, if, as I believe, the matter requires further consideration, we will discuss it again.”

Clever woman, I thought to myself. She isn’t altogether chummy with those old maid sisters, and yet she knows better than to have any open disagreement. I’ll bet she gets her secretary when she gets ready for one! I’ll be on the lookout for the right girl for her.

“When will they bring my husband home?” she continued, without waiting for comment on her decision about the secretary.

“Some time to-day,” I returned, looking commiseratingly at the harassed white face. “Probably this afternoon. Can I take any message regarding the funeral arrangements?”

“Not yet,” and Ruth Schuyler shuddered. “Those details are so terrible—”

“Terrible, yes,” said Miss Sarah, “but they must be looked after. We will see the undertaker’s men, Ruth. I think Rhoda and I will know better what is fit and proper for Randolph’s burial ceremonies than you possibly can.”

I began to realize that the sisters had a family pride which did not include their brother’s wife in their councils. Apparently she was, or they deemed her, of lesser birth or social standing. Personally, however, I greatly preferred the gentle kindliness of the widow to the aristocratic hauteur of the sisters.

Ruth Schuyler made no objection to the proposition, and seemed relieved that her advice would not be required.

“Who is in the house where Mr. Schuyler was—where he died?” she asked, hesitatingly.

“Only the police,” I answered, “unless Miss Van Allen has returned.”

“Were—were there many people there—last night?”

Clearly, she wanted to know more details of the occasion, but didn’t like to show curiosity.

“Yes,” I informed her, “quite a number. It was Miss Van Allen’s birthday, and so, a sort of little celebration.”

“Her birthday? How old was she?”

“I’ve no idea. I should guess about twenty-two or twenty-three.”

“Is she—is—what does she look like?”

The eternal feminine wanted to ask “is she pretty?” but Ruth Schuyler’s dignity scarcely permitted the question. I noticed, too, that the sisters listened attentively for my reply.

“Yes,” I said, truthfully, “she is pretty. She is small, with very black hair, and large, dark gray eyes. She is exceedingly chic and up-to-date as to costumes, and is of vivacious and charming manner.”

“Humph!” sniffed Miss Rhoda, “an actress?”

“Not at all! Victoria Van Allen is a well-bred lady if there ever was one.”

“You are a staunch friend, Mr. Calhoun,” and Mrs. Schuyler looked her surprise.

“I speak only as I feel; I can’t say surely that Miss Van Allen did not commit this crime, for I know there is evidence against her. But I can’t reconcile the deed with her character, as I know it, and I, for one, shall wait further developments before I condemn her. But, of course, Mrs. Schuyler, my personal feelings in the matter have no weight in law, and I stand ready to obey whatever orders you may give in connection with a search for the missing girl.”

“I don’t know exactly what I do want done, yet, Mr. Calhoun,” and Ruth Schuyler glanced deferringly toward the sisters.

“No, we don’t.” For once Sarah agreed with Ruth. “After the funeral, we can set our minds to the finding of the criminal. Of course, the police will do all they can, meantime, to trace her?”

“Of course. And such a plan is best. She may return—”

“To a house guarded by police?” asked Ruth.

“Possibly. If she is innocent, why not?”

“Innocent!” exclaimed Miss Rhoda with utmost scorn.

“Some of her friends think her so,” I observed. “Mrs. Reeves, a lady who was at the party, stayed in the house all night, and is, I think, there still.”

“Why did she do that?” asked Mrs. Schuyler, looking puzzled.

“She hoped Miss Van Allen would return, and she waited there to look after her.”

“That was kind. Who is this lady?”

“She lives down on Washington Square. I only know her slightly, but she is a warm-hearted and a most capable and sensible one. She refuses to believe that Vicky Van—”

“What do you call her?”

“Her friends call her Vicky Van. It—it sort of suits her.”

“From what you say, I judge she is not the terror I thought her at first; but, all the same, she murdered my husband, and I cannot look on her as you seem to.”

“Nor can I blame you. Your feelings toward her are entirely just, Mrs. Schuyler.”

Chapter 8
The Letter-Box

“It’s a queer case,” said Mr. Bradbury to me, when I reached the office that afternoon. “Of course, I know Randolph Schuyler was no saint, but I never supposed he was deep enough in any affair to have a woman kill him. And so near his own home, too! He might have had the decency to choose his lady acquaintances in more remote sections of the city.”

“That isn’t the queerest part to me,” I returned. “What I can’t understand is, why that girl stabbed him. She didn’t know him—”

“Now, now, Calhoun, she must have known him. She didn’t know any Somers, we’ll say, but she must have known Schuyler. A murder has to have a motive. She had provided herself with that knife beforehand, you see, and she got him out to the dining-room purposely.”

“I can’t think it,” I said, and I sighed. “I know Vicky Van fairly well, and she wouldn’t—”

“You can’t say what a woman would or wouldn’t do. But it’s not our business to look after the criminal part of it, we’ve got all we can handle, attending to the estate. And here’s another thing. I wish you’d do all that’s necessary up at the house. I always got along all right with Randolph Schuyler, but I can’t stand those sisters of his. His wife I have never met. But those old Schuyler women get on my nerves. So you look after them. You’re more of a ladies’ man than I am, so you go there and talk pretty when they want legal advice.”

“I’m willing,” I agreed. “I don’t care such a lot for the sisters myself, but Mrs. Schuyler is a young thing, ignorant of her own rights, and those old maids boss her like fury. I’m going to see that she has her own way in some few things, at least. She inherits half the fortune, you know.”

“Yes, and the sisters a quarter each. That is, after some minor bequests and charitable donations are settled. Schuyler was a good sort—as men go.”

“Then men go pretty badly! He was a brute to his wife; I’ve been told he ruled her with a rod of iron, and what he didn’t bother her about, the old sisters did.”

“That’s neither here nor there. Don’t you try to be a peacemaker in that family. I know those two old ladies, and they’d resent anything in the way of criticism of their treatment of their sister-in-law. And, if Schuyler didn’t treat his wife handsomely, she’s rid of him now, at any rate.”

“You’re a cold-blooded thing, Bradbury,” I informed him, “and I am going to do all I can for that young widow. She’ll have a lot of unpleasant publicity at best, and if I can shield her from part of it, so much the better.”

“All right, Calhoun. Do what you like, but don’t get in on the detective work. I know your weakness for that sort of thing, and I know if you begin, you’ll never let up.”

Bradbury was right. I have a fondness for detective work—not the police part of it, but the inquiry into mystery, the deduction from clues and the sifting of evidence. I had no mind to miss the inquest, and I had a burning curiosity to know what had become of Vicky Van. This was not only curiosity, either. I had a high respect and a genuine liking for that little lady, and, as Mrs. Reeves had put it, I was only too willing to give her the benefit of the doubt.

Though I couldn’t feel any real doubt that she had killed Schuyler. As Bradbury said, she didn’t know a Mr. Somers, but she may have known the millionaire Schuyler. I had never seen anything of a seamy side to Vicky’s character; but then, I didn’t know her so very well, and the man was dead, and who else could have killed him?

I went around to the caterer’s on my way uptown that afternoon, and asked him as to the reliability of Luigi and the probable truth of his story.

“That man,” Fraschini told me, “is as honest as the day. I’ve had him longer than any of my other waiters, and he has never said or done anything to make me doubt his accuracy. I believe, Mr. Calhoun, that Luigi saw exactly what he said he saw.”

“Might he not have been mistaken in the identity of the woman?”

“Not likely. I’ll call him, and you can question him.”

This was what I wanted, to question the waiter alone, and I welcomed the opportunity.

“I know it was Miss Van Allen,” was the quiet response of the Italian to my inquiry. “I cannot be mistaken. I had seen her many times during the evening. I, therefore, recognized the gown she wore, of light yellow gauzy stuff and an over-dress of long gold bead fringes. I saw her stand above the fallen body, looking down at it with a horrified face. I saw stains of blood on her gown—”

“Where?” I interrupted. “What part of her gown?”

Luigi thought a moment. “On the lower flounces, as if her skirts had brushed against the—the victim, when she stooped over him.”

“Did she herself observe these stains?”

“Yes; she looked at them, and looked frightened and then she ran to the hall.”

“And you saw no other person near?”

“None.”

“And heard nobody?”

“I heard only the voices from the parlor. There was much noise of laughter and talk there.”

No amount of questioning could change or add to Luigi’s story. It was quite evident that he was telling just what he saw, and had no interest in coloring it to make it appear different in any way. He admired Miss Van Allen, he said she was a pleasant lady and not hard to please if her orders were faithfully carried out. He expressed no personal interest in the question of her guilt or innocence, he simply told what he had seen. I didn’t altogether like his stolid indifference, it seemed impossible there should be so little humanity in a fellow-being, but I knew he was a good and conscientious waiter, and I concluded he was nothing more.

I went home, and, of course, was met by Aunt Lucy and Winnie with a perfect storm of questions.

“After dinner,” I begged. “Let me get a little rest and food, and then I’ll tell you all I know.”

But after a few spoonfuls of soup, Winnie declared I was too nervous to eat and I might as well talk.

“Well, I will,” I said. “But, look here, you two. To begin with, I want you to understand that I’m involved in this matter in a business way, and I’m also interested in a personal way. And I don’t want any silly talk about it’s being unfortunate or regrettable that I should be. It’s a business case, Aunt Lucy, as far as the settlement of Mr. Schuyler’s estate is concerned, and it’s a personal affair that I’m acquainted with Miss Van Allen; and I propose to make more or less effort to find some trace of that girl, and to see if there is any possible chance that she may not be the guilty one after all.”

“Good for you, Lord Chesterton!” cried Winnie. “I always knew you were the soul of chivalry, and now you’re proving it! What are you going to do—to find out things, I mean?”

“I don’t know yet, Win. But if you want to help me, you can do a lot.”

“Indeed, she won’t!” declared Aunt Lucy. “If you have to do these things as a matter of business, I can’t object. But I won’t have Winnie dragged into it.”

“No dragging, Aunt Lu, and nothing very desperate for Winnie to do. But, I’d be jolly glad if both of you would just glance out of the window occasionally and see if you see anything going on at the Van Allen house, that’s all.”

“Oh, I’ll do that!” Winnie cried. “Nobody can see me, I’ll keep behind our curtains, and I can see that house perfectly well.”

“I don’t mean all the time, child. But I do feel sure that Vicky Van will come back there, and if you glance out now and then, you might see her go in or out.”

“But it’s dark,” said Aunt Lucy, who was becoming interested, in spite of her scruples.

“I don’t mean to-night, or any night. But in the daytime. She’s likely to come, if at all, in broad daylight, I think.”

“Aren’t the police keeping guard on the house?” inquired my aunt.

“Only the regular patrolman. He passes it every few hours, joggles the doorknob, and goes on. If Vicky is as clever as I think she is, she’ll time that policeman, and sneak into the house between his rounds. It’s only a chance, you know, but you might see her.”

And then I told them all I knew myself of the whole affair. And seeing that I was deeply into the turmoil of it all, and had grave responsibilities, Aunt Lucy withdrew all objections and sympathized with me. Also, she was impressed with my important business connections with the Schuyler family, and was frankly curious about that aristocratic household. I was asked over and over again as to their mode of living, the furniture and appointments of the house, and the attitudes of the widow and the sisters toward each other.

It was late in the evening before I remembered some important papers Mr. Bradbury had given me to hand to Mrs. Schuyler, and as soon as I thought of them I telephoned to know if I might then bring them over.

“Yes,” came back Ruth Schuyler’s soft voice. “I wish you would. I want to consult you about some other things also.”

The interview was less trying than that of the morning had been. Several matters of inheritance, insurance, and such things were discussed, and Mrs. Schuyler was more composed and calm.

She looked better, too, though this was doubtless due, in part, to the fact that she wore a white house dress which was far more becoming than black to her colorless face and light hair.

“I don’t know,” she said, at length, “whether what I want to say should be said to you or to the detective.”

“Tell me first,” I said, “and I may be able to advise you. In any case, it will be confidential.”

“You are kind,” she said, and her grateful eyes smiled appreciatively. “It’s this. I’d rather not have that—that Miss Van Allen traced, if it can be prevented in any way. I have a special reason for this, which I think I will tell you. It is, that, on thinking it over I have become convinced that my husband must have known the young woman, and the acquaintance was not to his credit. For some reason, I think, she must have forbidden him the house, and that is why he went there under an assumed name. Mr. Lowney succeeded in getting Mr. Steele on the long distance telephone—”

“Why, where is Steele?”

“In Chicago. Mr. Lowney says that he had to go there on the midnight train, and that is why he left the lady’s house—Miss Van Allen’s house, so suddenly.”

“Really? Well, I am surprised. But, go on, what else did Steele say?”

“He said that Mr. Schuyler was with him at the club, and that he, Mr. Steele, said he was going to Miss Van Allen’s party and Mr. Schuyler begged him to take him along, and introduce him as Mr. Somers. It seems he had asked Mr. Steele before to do this, but this time he was more insistent. So Mr. Steele did it. Of course, Mr. Calhoun, I asked Mr. Lowney minutely about all this, because I want to know just what circumstances led up to my husband’s going to that house.”

“Of course, Mrs. Schuyler, you have every right to know. And did Steele say that was Mr. Schuyler’s first visit there or merely his first visit as Mr. Somers?”

“Mr. Steele thought Mr. Schuyler had never been to the house before at all. But may he not have been mistaken? May not Mr. Schuyler have known the lady previously—oh, it is such a moil! But, in any case, Mr. Calhoun, it seems to me that further probing and searching will only pile up opprobrium on the name of Schuyler, and—I can’t stand it. I am so unused to notoriety or publicity I can’t face all the unpleasantness that must follow! Do help me to avoid it, won’t you?”

“I certainly will, if I can. But I fear you ask the impossible, Mrs. Schuyler. The law will not be stopped in its course by personal inclinations.”

“No, I suppose not. What is it, Tibbetts?”

The last question was addressed to her maid, who appeared at the doorway. The sad-faced woman looked at her mistress with a mingled air of deference and commiseration.

“The telephone, ma’am,” she said. “I said you were busily engaged, but it is some young woman who begs to speak to you a moment.”

Mrs. Schuyler excused herself and left the room, and Tibbetts, smoothing down her trim white apron, followed.

“Another would-be secretary,” my hostess said, as she returned. “I don’t know how a report that I wanted one travelled so quickly, but I’ve had three offered since noon.”

“Do the Schuyler ladies still object?”

“No; at least, they are willing. But I don’t want any except a capable one. Not so much experienced, as quick-witted and intelligent. You may as well know, Mr. Calhoun, since you are to look after my affairs, that my late husband was of strictly plain habits. He was almost frugal in his ideas of how little womankind should be indulged in any luxuries or unnecessary comforts. This did not incommode his sisters for they were of the same mind. But I desired certain things which he saw fit to deny me. I make no complaint, I bear his memory no ill will, but I feel that now I may have some of these things. I am my own mistress, and while I have no wish to cast any reflection on Mr. Schuyler’s management of his own house, yet, it is now my house, and I must have the privilege of ordering it as I choose.”

It had come already, then. Ruth Schuyler and her Puritanical sisters-in-law had met the issue, and Ruth had stood up for her rights. I felt that I knew the woman well enough to know she would not have taken this stand so soon after her husband’s death except that some discussion or disagreement had made it necessary for her to assert herself. I bowed in acquiescence, and said, “I am sure, Mrs. Schuyler, there can be no objection to your doing exactly as you please. This house is entirely your own, half Mr. Schuyler’s fortune is yours, and you are responsible to nobody for your actions. If not intrusive, I will offer to look you up a suitable secretary. I have a young woman in mind, whom I think you would like.”

“I am not easy to please,” she said, smiling a little; “I have a very definite idea of what I want. Who is your friend?”

“Not a friend, exactly. An acquaintance of my sister’s, who is eligible for the post, if she suits you. Shall I send her round to see you to-morrow?”

“Yes, please. Your mention of her is enough recommendation. I want, Mr. Calhoun, to do more or less charitable work this winter. That was another of Mr. Schuyler’s whims, to attend to all charities himself, and to object to my giving anything personally. As I shall be quiet and unoccupied this winter, I plan to do some systematic work in a benevolent way. I know this sounds strange to you, that I should be planning these things so soon. But the truth is, I do plan them, purposely, because I don’t want to think about the present horror. I need something to keep my mind from thinking of the awful tragedy or I shall go mad. It seemed to me not wrong to think about some work that should benefit others; and to do this, will give me an outlet for my energies and be helpful to the poor and suffering.”

Ruth Schuyler looked almost beautiful as her face glowed with enthusiasm on her subject. I realized how the nervous, highstrung woman must be torn with agony at the revelations of her husband’s defects and the uncertainty of his honor and morality, and all in addition to the terrible experiences she was undergoing and must yet encounter.

I went home filled with a desire to help her in every way I could, and though I went to my room at once, I could not think of sleep. I felt like planning ways to put the police off the track or finding some method of making them cease their hunt for Vicky Van.

I went down to the library, and sat down for a smoke and a revery. And I sat there until very late, after two o’clock, in fact, without getting any nearer a plan than I was at the start.

It was nearly three, when I concluded that I could sleep at last. I stood by the front window a moment, looking over at Vicky Van’s house, across the street, and a few doors from our own.

As I looked at the darkened dwelling, I saw the front door slowly open. There was no one outside, it was being opened from inside. As I knew the body of Mr. Schuyler had been taken away, and the house had been deserted by all who had been there, and that it was in custody of the police, I looked curiously to see what would happen next.

Out of the door came a slight, small figure. It was, I felt positive, Vicky Van herself! I couldn’t mistake that sleek, black head—she wore no hat—or those short, full skirts, that she always wore. She looked about cautiously, and then with swift motions she unlocked the letter-box that was beside her front door, took out several letters, relocked the box and slipped back into the house again!

Without stopping to think I opened my front door, and flew across the street. Mounting her steps, I rang the doorbell hard. There was no response, and I kept on ringing—a veritable bombardment. Then the door opened a very little bit—I could see it was on a night-chain—and Vicky’s voice said, “Please go away.”

“No, I won’t,” I said, “let me come in.”

“I can’t let you come in. Go away, please.

And then the door closed, in my very face, and though I pleaded, “Vicky, do let me in!” there was no response.

Chapter 9
The Social Secretary

I stood staring at the closed door. What did it mean? Why was Vicky in there and why wouldn’t she let me come in?

Then, as I collected my wits, I laughed at myself. I knew why she was there—to get her mail. Doubtless there were important letters that she must have, and she had dared discovery to come at dead of night to get them. The patrolman was not in sight. She had looked out for this, of course. It was the merest chance that I had seen her, otherwise she would have escaped all observation. At three in the morning there are almost no people abroad in the quieter streets of the city, and Vicky had timed her visit well. Of course, she had her own keys, and I felt sure she had stealthily entered at the basement door, and waited her time to secure the letters from the mail-box.

I looked at the mail-box, an unusual appendage to a private residence, but Vicky was away from home so much, it was doubtless necessary. I tried to look in at a window, but all shades were down and there were no lights inside. I wanted to ring the doorbell again, but a sense of delicacy forbade me. I was not a detective, and if I persisted, I might attract the attention of a passer-by or of the returning policeman, and so get Vicky into all sorts of trouble. I wasn’t tracking the girl down. If she was a criminal, let the police find her, I had no desire to aid their efforts, but I did want to see Vicky Van. I wanted to offer her my help—not in escaping justice, exactly—but I wondered if I mightn’t do some little errands or favors that would show my friendliness.

I went slowly toward home, when I had an inspiration. Hastening into my own house, I flew to the telephone and called Vicky’s number, which I knew well.

I waited some time for a response, but at last I heard Vicky’s voice say, “Who is it, please?”

An impulse of protection for her, not for myself, led me to withhold my name. Nor did I speak hers.

I said, “This is the man who just left your house. I called up to offer help, if I can render you any.”

“That’s good of you,” she returned, in a heartfelt way. “I appreciate such kindness, but you can do nothing—nothing, thank you.”

“At least, talk to me a few minutes. I’m so anxious about you. You are not implicated in the—in the matter, are you?”

“Don’t ask me,” she murmured, in such a serious voice, that my heart sank. “What I did—or didn’t do—must always remain a mystery. I cannot tell you—anything. Don’t ask. And, if you would help me, try your best to have inquiries stopped. Can you do this?”

“I fear not. But can’t I see you—somewhere—and we can talk plainly?”

“Do you want to?”

“Indeed I do.”

“Then you do believe in me? Do you hold me blameless?”

I hesitated at this. I couldn’t lie to her, nor could I rid my mind of the conviction of her guilt I said, “I will, if you assure me that is the truth.”

“I—I can’t do that—good-bye.”

“Wait a minute. Did you know the expected guest was coming under an assumed name?”

“I did not.”

“Did you know any Somers?”

“No.”

“Did you know—the real man?”

“I had met him once, at a dance.”

“Did you like him?”

“I neither liked nor disliked. He was an object of utter indifference to me.”

“Then why did you—”

“Hush! You can never know. I can’t tell you—”

“Then don’t. Please believe I want to befriend you.” The agony and fear in Vicky’s voice thrilled me, and I desired only to shield and protect her. She was so young and alone.

“It is good to have a friendly voice speak to me. But you can only forget me.”

“No, let me do something definite. Some errand of trust, some matter of confidence—”

“Do you mean it? Will you?”

“Gladly! What is it?”

“Then if you will collect my mail from the box at the door, after a few days—say, three days—and put it aside for me. You saw me get it to-night, I suppose, and it is a dangerous thing for me to do.”

“Where are you—I mean, where are you staying?”

“Don’t ask. I am safe. I see the newspapers and I know I am to be hunted down. So I must hide. I cannot face the inquiries—I fear arrest and—and punishment—”

Her tones betrayed guilty fear, and I shuddered at the confirmation of my suspicions. But I would do what I could for her.

“How shall I get your letters?” I asked, and I honestly tried not to disclose my sudden knowledge of her guilt. But her quick ears caught my changed inflection.

“You believe me guilty!” she said, and she stifled a sob. “Yet, still, you will help me! God bless you! Listen, then, for I must stop this talking, it is too desperately dangerous. I will leave the key of the mail box—no, I will send it to you by mail, that will be the safest. Then will you get the letters and put them—where shall I say?”

“I’ll mail them to you.”

“No, that would never do. You can get into this house, can’t you? The police will let you in at any time?”

“Yes, I can probably manage that.”

“Then bring them with you, all of the three days’ mail at once, you understand, and put them in that great Chinese jar, in the music room. The one with the gold dragon on the cover. No one will look there for them. I will manage to come and get them very soon. Please don’t spy on me, will you, Chester?”

The use of my first name was, I knew, inadvertent and unconscious. It thrilled me. There was a marvellous fascination always about Vicky Van, and now, at the end of this my mysterious night telephone conversation, I felt its thrill and I agreed to her plea.

“No, dear,” I said, and not till afterward did I realize the term I had used, “I will not spy. But promise me that you will call on me for any help you may need. And tell me—are you alone or is Julie with you?”

“Julie is with me,” she returned. “She helps protect me, and with your friendship, too, I am blessed indeed. But this is good-bye. I shall leave New York in a few days never to return. I must have that mail, or I would go at once. If you will help me get that, you will do all there is left for any one to do for me in the world.”

Her tone frightened me. “Vicky!” I cried, forgetting all caution. “Don’t—my dear, don’t—” but I could not put in words the fear that had suddenly come to me, and even as I stammered for speech, the click came that told me she had hung up the receiver.

I cursed myself for my stupidity in speaking her name. Such a blunder! Why, it might have been overheard by anybody on the line. No wonder she left me. Doubtless I had driven her from her house.

I flew to the window. Then I remembered I had promised not to spy, and I turned quickly away. If she were about to disappear silently and stealthily from that house, I must not know it.

I went to my room, but not to sleep. Clearly, I was not to know untroubled slumber again very soon. I sat up and thought it all over.

How strange that I should have “spied” on her just at the moment she was secretly getting her letters. But, I realized, I had looked at the house so often it would be stranger still if I had missed her!

And she was to send me her box key, and I was to secrete her letters for her. Important indeed, those letters must be, that she should go to such lengths to get them. Well, I had constituted myself her knight errant in that particular, and I would fulfil the trust.

Beneath the thrilling excitement of the night’s occurrence, I felt a dull, sad foreboding. All Vicky had said or done pointed to guilt. Had she been innocent, she would have told me so, by word or by implication. She would have given me a tacit assurance of her guiltlessness, or would have cried out at the injustice of suspicion.

But none of these things entered into her talk, or even into her voice or intonations. She had sounded sad, hopeless, despairing. And her last words made me fear she contemplated taking her own life.

Poor little Vicky Van. Light-hearted, joy-loving Vicky. What was the mystery back of it all? What could it be? Well, at least, I would scrupulously perform the task she had set me, and I would do it well. I knew I could manage to get into the house by making up some story for the police. But I must wait for the promised key.

With a glimmer of hope that the mailed parcel containing the key might give me a clue to Vicky’s whereabouts, I at last went to sleep.

Next morning at breakfast I said nothing of my night experiences. I told Winnie, however, that she needn’t watch the Van Allen house, as I had heard that Vicky had left it permanently.

“However could you hear that?” exclaimed my wideawake sister. “Have you had a wireless from the fugitive?”

“Something of the sort,” I said, smilingly. “And now, listen here, Win. How do you think that friend of yours, Miss Crowell, would like to be a social secretary for Mrs. Schuyler?”

“She’d love it!” cried Winnie. “Does Mrs. Schuyler want one?”

“Yes, and she wants her mighty quick. From what you’ve said of the Crowell girl, I should think she’d be just the one. Can you get her on the telephone?”

“Yes, but not so early as this. I’ll call her about ten.”

“All right, you fix it up. I expect Mrs. Schuyler will pay proper salary to the right secretary. Of course, Miss Crowell is experienced?”

“Oh, yes,” assured Win, “and I’m sure she’ll love to go. Why, any secretary would be glad to go there.”

“Not just now, I should think,” observed Aunt Lucy. “The amount of work there must be something fearful.”

“It will be heavy, for a time,” I agreed, “but it is only for Mrs. Schuyler’s personal correspondence and business. I mean, the other two ladies would not expect to use her services.”

“All right,” said Winnie, “I’ll fix it up with Edith Crowell, and if she can’t go, I’ll ask her to recommend somebody. Shall I send her there to-day?”

“Yes, as soon as she will go. And let me know—telephone the office about noon.”

“Yep,” Winnie promised, and I went away, my head in a whirl with the various and sundry matters I had to attend to.

I don’t think I thought of the secretary matter again, until at noon, Winnie telephoned me that it was all right. I thanked her, and promptly forgot the episode.

And so it was, that when I reached home that night, I had one of the surprises of my life.

Winnie came to dinner, smiling, and rather excited-looking.

“What’s up, Infant?” I asked. “Have you accepted a proposal from a nice college lad?”

“Huh!” and Win’s head tossed. “I guess you’ll open your eyes when I tell you what I have accepted!”

“Tell it out, Angel Child. Relieve your own impatience.”

“Well, if you please, I have accepted the post of social secretary to Mrs. Randolph Schuyler.”

“Winifred Elizabeth Calhoun! You haven’t!”

“I thought I’d arouse some slight interest,” she said, and she calmly went on with her dinner.

I looked at Aunt Lucy, who sat with a resigned expression, toying with her unused oyster-fork.

“What does she mean?” I asked.

“She has done just what she says,” replied Aunt Lucy. “But only for a few days. Miss Crowell—”

“Let me tell!” interrupted Winnie. “It’s my party! You see, Chet, Edith Crowell is wild to have the place, and is going to take it, but she can’t go until the first of next week. And she doesn’t want to lose the chance, so I went over and told Mrs. Schuyler about it. And then as she was simply swamped with letters and telegrams and telephones and callers, and goodness knows what all, I offered to help her out till Edith can get there. And she was so grateful—oh, I think she is a darling. I never saw anyone I liked and admired so much at first sight.”

“She is charming,” I conceded, “but what a crazy scheme, Win! How did you persuade Aunt Lucy to agree?”

“I managed her,” and Winnie bobbed her wise young head, cannily.

It came to me in a moment. Though not exactly a tuft hunter, Aunt Lucy was deeply impressed by real grandeur and elegance. And it came to me at once, that Winnie’s tales of the great house and the aristocratic people, had a strong influence on our aunt’s views and had brought about her permission for Win to go there for a few days. And it was no harm. It wasn’t as if Winnie were a regular secretary, but just to hold the place for Miss Crowell, was simply a kindly deed.

And so, after dinner, I settled myself in our cosy library for a comfortable smoke, and bade Winnie tell me every single thing that had happened through the day.

“Oh, it was thrilling!” Winnie exclaimed. “Part of the time I was at the desk in the library, and part of the time upstairs in Mrs. Schuyler’s very own room. She was so kind to me, but she is nearly distracted and I don’t wonder! The undertakers’ men were in and out, and those two old maids—his sisters, you know—were everlastingly appearing and disappearing. And they don’t like Mrs. Schuyler an awful lot, nor she them. Oh, they’re polite and all that, but you can see they’re of totally different types. I like Mrs. Schuyler heaps better, but still, there’s something about the old girls that’s the real thing. They’re Schuylers and also they’re Salton-stalls, and farther back, I believe they’re Cabots or something.”

“And Mrs. Schuyler, what is she?” I asked, as Win paused for breath.

“I don’t know. Nothing particular, I guess. Oh, yes, I learned her name was Ellison before she was married, but the sisters don’t consult her about family matters at all. They do about clothes, though. And she knows a lot. Why, Chess, she’s having the loveliest things made, if they are mourning, and the sisters, they ask her about everything they order—to wear, I mean. And, just think! Mrs. Schuyler never wears any jewels but pearls! It’s a whim, you know, or it was her husband’s whim, or something, but anyway, she has oceans of pearls, and no other gems at all.”

“Did she tell you so?”

“Yes; but it came in the conversation, you know. She is no boaster. No sir-ee! She’s the modestest, gentlest, sweetest little lady I ever saw. I just love her! Well, I answered a lot of letters for her, and she liked the way I did it, and she liked me, I guess, for she said she only hoped Miss Crowell would suit her as well.”

“She knows you’re my sister?”

“Of course. But that isn’t why she likes me, old bunch of conceit! Though, I must admit, she likes you, Chet. She said you were not only kind, but you have a fair amount of intelligence—no, she didn’t use those words, exactly, but I gathered that was what she meant. The funeral is to be tomorrow evening, you know. I had to write and telephone quite a good deal about that, though the sisters tended to it mostly.”

“Was there much said about—about the actual case—Winnie?”

“You mean about the murder?” Win’s clear eyes didn’t blink at the word; “no, not much in my hearing. But Mrs. Schuyler wasn’t in the room all the time. And I know Mr. Lowney—isn’t he the detective?—was there once, and I think, twice.”

“Did you see anyone else?”

“Only some of the servants. Mrs. Schuyler’s own maid, her name is Tibbetts, is the sort you read about in English novels. A nice, motherly woman, with gray hair and a black silk apron. I liked her, but the maid who looks after the old sisters, I didn’t like so well.”

“Never mind the maids, tell me more about Mrs. Schuyler. Does she think Vicky Van killed Mr. Schuyler? Since you’re in this thing so deep Win, there’s no use mincing matters.”

“I should say not! Yes, of course, she thinks the Vicky person did the killing. How could she think anything else? And the two sisters are madly revengeful. As soon as the funeral is over, they’re going to work to find that girl and bring her to justice! They say the inquest will help a lot. When will that be, Chess? Can I go to it?”

“No, of course not, Winnie?” This from Aunt Lucy. “It’s one thing for you to help Mrs. Schuyler out in an emergency, but you’re not to get mixed up in a murder trial!”

“An inquest isn’t a trial, Auntie,” and Win looked like a wise owl, as she aired her new and suddenly acquired knowledge. “Can’t I go, Chess?”

“We’ll see, Infant. Perhaps, if Mrs. Schuyler needs your services she may want you there with her.”

“Oh, in that case—” began Aunt Lucy, but Winnie was off again on one of her enthusiastic descriptions of the grand ways of the Schuyler household, and Aunt Lucy was quite willing to listen.

As for me, I wanted the benefit of every possible sidelight on the whole business, and I, too, took in all Winnie’s detailed narrations.

Chapter 10
The Inquest

The inquest was in progress. In the coroner’s courtroom inquiry was being made in an endeavor to discover who was responsible for the death of Randolph Schuyler. The funeral of the millionaire had taken place, and the will had been read, and now the public awaited news of the action of the police in placing the crime and producing the criminal.

The case had become a celebrated one, not only because of the prominence of the victim, but because of the mystery surrounding the young woman suspected of the deed of murder.

Many voluntary witnesses had come forward with additional information regarding Victoria Van Allen, but none of these knew anything more of her relatives or progenitors than I did myself.

Some of these were asked to testify at the inquest, but more were not so called on, as their testimony was in no way material or vital.

I did not propose to attend all the sessions, myself, but I wanted to hear the opening queries and learn just how the case was to be managed.

Doctor Remson told of his examination of Mr. Schuyler’s body and testified that death was practically instantaneous as a result of a single stab of the short, sharp knife. The knife was produced and identified. It had been carefully taken care of and had been photographed to preserve the faint fingermarks, which were on its handle, and which might or might not be the prints of the murderer’s fingers.

The caterer Fraschini told of his orders for the party supper, and of the sending of his best and most faithful waiters to attend to the feast.

Luigi, the head waiter, again went over his story. I had heard this twice before, but I listened with deep interest, and I realized, that, granting the truth of his recital, there was no room for doubt of Vicky Van’s guilt.

I hadn’t of course, told of seeing her take her mail from the box that night, nor of her talking to me over the telephone. Should absolute law and justice call for that information, I might give it up, but at present, I was awaiting developments.

Vicky had sent me her mailbox key, and I had received it duly, by mail. It was not sent by parcel post, nor was it registered—these would have called for the sender’s address—but, sent by ordinary first-class letter post, the flat little key came duly and promptly.

I had not used it yet, the time was not ripe until that same night, and I intended to say nothing of it, until I had fulfilled my promise, if, indeed, I ever told of it.

But Luigi’s story as I heard it again made me shiver with apprehension. Surely, since he saw Vicky right there at the moment, bending over the victim, blood stains on her gown, there could be no loophole of innocence. Had the murderer been some one else, and had Vicky known it, she must have made an outcry—must have accused the guilty party. There was no one whom Vicky loved well enough to wish to shield. And, too, the guests were all in the big living-room; there was no one unaccounted for. If Luigi himself, or any of the caterer’s men had by chance done the deed, Vicky wouldn’t have run away! There was no sense in that. So I could see no possible theory but that of Vicky’s actual guilt. Why she did it, was another story. She may have known Schuyler before, might have known him a long time, might have had her own reasons for wishing him dead; but all that was outside the issue of her criminality. There was no eyewitness of the stabbing itself, but Luigi’s presence on the scene an instant later, left no room for question as to the hand that had held the knife.

The jury seemed to think this. Gravely the men listened to what the Italian told, and their faces showed what they believed.

Then came the guests of the party. One after another, they told the same story. All knew Vicky fairly well, as a pleasant acquaintance; all liked her as a good friend; all enjoyed her as a delightful hostess; and many told individual instances of Vicky’s kind heart and helping hand. Not infrequently had she lent assistance, both financial and in other ways, to these friends of hers. Never, they all said, had they known her to do a mean or deceitful act or to say an unkind or malicious word.

The men spoke of her as a gay, light-hearted butterfly girl, who was a coquette, but who stopped short of a real flirtation; the women gave her such commendation as is rarely given them to their own sex, and declared that Miss Van Allen was a simple, kindly, generous nature without a trace of the disposition which causes a woman to be dubbed a cat.

Norman Steele was present. He explained his sudden departure from the party by the fact that he had to catch an owl train for Chicago. He said, further, that Randolph Schuyler had asked him to take him around to Vicky Van’s, as he wanted to meet her. But he had asked Steele, especially, to introduce him as Mr. Somers. He had given no reason for this, and Steele had thought little of it. Randolph Schuyler was a man whom his friends obeyed, often without question. I understood this. Steele was no more of a toady to the millionaire than most men would be; but a request of Randolph Schuyler’s was not to be thoughtlessly refused, so Steele acquiesced.

He was reticent in further dilating on Schuyler’s character. Said he often called on ladies who could not be called exclusive, but denied knowledge of definite cases or names.

On the whole, Steele’s evidence didn’t get us anywhere. We already knew that Schuyler had gone to Vicky Van’s under an assumed name. The reason for this had little, if anything, to do with what had followed. A connection of some sort, between Vicky and Mr. Schuyler must be traced, in order to arrive at her possible motive. A woman does not stab to kill a chance guest whom she has never met before!

Bert Garrison came next. His talk ran mostly to eulogies of Vicky. The poor fellow was dead in love with her, and had been for many moons, but though Vicky favored him more than some others, yet she gave him no definite encouragement, as he himself ruefully admitted. But he made a desperate effort to show that a girl of Victoria Van Allen’s high character and fine qualities would be incapable of a base deed.

The coroner smiled a little at Garrison’s vehemence, and let him run on for a time, in praise of the absent Vicky.

At last, he said, “And, why, then, Mr. Garrison, in your opinion has Miss Van Allen disappeared?”

“The disappearance is not of her own volition,” declared Garrison; “she has been taken away by somebody and held against her will, in order to make her appear guilty.”

This was a new theory. I might have given it serious consideration had I not had speech with the girl herself. It couldn’t be that Vicky was held captive, since she was at her own house two nights after the crime. But I could see that the jury, and even the coroner and detectives were interested in this idea.

“By whom could she possibly, or theoretically, he thus held?” the coroner asked.

“I don’t know. But assuming some intruder effected an entrance and stabbed Mr. Schuyler, if surprised during or after the act by the sudden appearance of Miss Van Allen in the dining room, he might in some way have gotten her out of the house, and still be keeping her in a hiding-place.”

It was perhaps, a possibility, but I didn’t see how any intruder could do all that, without being seen by the waiters. Unless, perchance, the waiters had been bribed to silence. And that, in the face of Luigi’s earnest, and convincing testimony, I could not believe.

It was a fantastic theory, evolved in the brain of Garrison, for the purpose of diverting suspicion from Vicky Van. However, it seemed to impress the coroner, and he made notes as he dismissed the witness.

Cassie Weldon added one bit of new information. She said, though with evident reluctance, that she had caught a mere glimpse of somebody running upstairs, just before the waiter had come to call for help.

Cassie had not wanted to testify at all. As she had intimated to me, it was detrimental to her work as a concert singer to be mixed up in this affair. But since she had to give her testimony, she apparently felt it her duty to tell the whole truth.

“How could you see the stairs from the living-room?” asked the interested coroner.

“I was near the door, and though I was not looking out into the hall, I had a vague, fleeting impression of somebody running upstairs. I paid no attention to it, of course, but I am sure somebody did.”

“A man or a woman?”

“A woman. That is, I was conscious of a flutter of skirts, but I am not sure it was Miss Van Allen. I didn’t see her clearly enough even to notice the color of her gown. It was merely a glimpse of some one flying round the newel post and up the stairs. It might have been a stranger.”

“You mean, if there were some intruder, it may have been a woman, and not a man?”

“I don’t know, I tell you. I can only say I know somebody ran upstairs. Further than that, I’ve no idea concerning it.”

“It must have been Miss Van Allen,” said the coroner, decidedly; “had it been any other woman, and had she stabbed Mr. Schuyler, Miss Van Allen would not have disappeared. Now, if this woman who ran upstairs was Miss Van Allen, she effected an escape from the upper stories. Is there a skylight exit?”

No one seemed to know, as no one had thought of Vicky Van leaving her house by such means.

But to me, the idea was ridiculous. A girl, in elaborate evening gown, clambering out of a skylight trap-door, to where? Not to a neighbor’s, for Vicky Van knew none of the nearby residents. I had heard her say so, myself. And had she descended into a strange household, and begged for shelter, it would have become known before this.

Well, anyway, the detective Lowney immediately sent an order to have the skylight matter looked into and the proceedings went on.

Ariadne Gale was closely questioned as to how she knew of the picture in the back of Randolph Schuyler’s watch. But she declared that he had shown it to her during their conversation that evening.

“I never saw the man before,” said Ariadne, who unlike Cassie Weldon, rather enjoyed the publicity of the occasion. “I chanced to be about the first girl he was introduced to, when he came into the house. And we had a chat, and when I chaffed him a bit on his dignity and awe-inspiring presence, he refuted it by showing me the picture in his watch. He said it was a little chorus girl he had taken out to supper the night before. I could see the picture had been merely tucked in temporarily, it wasn’t neatly pasted in, as a watch-case picture usually is, and then I chaffed him on his fickleness. Our conversation was the merest foolery, and a moment after, he went over to be presented to Miss Van Allen.”

“You think they had never met before?”

“I’m sure they had not. They looked at each other with the conventional politeness of strangers, I know Miss Van Allen well, and she is not one to dissemble or pretend. I am sure she had never laid eyes on that man before. She simply couldn’t have killed him!”

Ariadne’s further evidence amounted to nothing, nor did that of several other of the party guests who were called on.

Except Mrs. Reeves. She knew more of Vicky’s home life than any of the rest of us, but even she knew nothing of the girl’s origin.

She had first met her at one of Miss Gale’s studio parties, and had taken a fancy to her at once.

“Where did you first meet her, Miss Gale,” the coroner interrupted to ask.

“She came to my studio to look at my pictures,” was the reply. “She admired them, and bought one. She was so pleasant and so interested in my work that she came two or three times, and then I invited her to one of my little studio affairs. She quickly made friends, and she invited us to her house. I went there first about two years ago.”

“So did I,” Mrs. Reeves resumed. “And since then, I have been there frequently, and every time I saw the girl I liked her better. But she was always a bit of a mystery. I confess I tried at times, to learn something of her previous life. But she adroitly evaded my questions, and cleverly changed the subject. I think, however, from chance hints she let drop, that her home was somewhere in the Middle West.”

“An indefinite term,” observed Coroner Fenn.

“It’s all I know.”

“Where did Miss Van Allen go on her frequent absences from her home?”

“That I don’t know, either. Often she’d be away a week, and on her return would tell of a gay house party down on Long Island or a week-end trip up Westchester way, but I don’t remember any definite place she visited.”

“I do,” piped up Ariadne. “She often goes to Greenwich, Connecticut, and to Bronxville. I’ve heard her tell of these trips. She has a wide circle of acquaintances and, of course, she’s a favorite with all who know her.”

“I have a piece of evidence,” resumed Mrs. Reeves, “which I daresay I ought to exhibit. It is a letter from Miss Van Allen, which I received only this morning.”

This caused a sensation. A letter from Vicky Van! Just received! I found myself trembling in my shoes. And I asked myself why. Was I afraid the girl would be caught? Did I want to shield a felon? And I had to admit to myself that I did. I wasn’t in love with Vicky Van, but I had a tremendous interest in her, and I didn’t want that little lone, helpless person haled before a court of justice. Vicky did seem terribly alone. Hosts of friends she had, but no one who was in any way responsible for her, or in a position to help her. Well, if she ever returned, voluntarily or perforce, she would find a friend and champion in one Chester Calhoun, of that I was certain!

Mrs. Reeves handed her letter over to the coroner, and he read it out. It ran:

My dear Mrs. Reeves: You have always been such a good friend to me that I’m writing you just a line. You are everything that is good and kind, and now I’m going to ask you as a final favor to forget Vicky Van at once and forever. I am going away and I shall never return. Don’t think of me any more hardly than you must, but if you can keep any loving little memory of the hours we spent together, I want you to do so. And as a remembrance, I want you to have my little electric coupe. It is in Rennard’s garage, and I have written him to turn it over to you. I shall miss our happy times together, but—I can never come back. Do not worry about me, I am safe. And I am your affectionate Vicky Van.

“You are sure this is from Miss Van Allen?” asked Fenn.

“Oh, yes,” replied Mrs. Reeves. “There’s no mistaking that writing.”

Nor was there. I knew Vicky’s penmanship, and it was most peculiar. Never have I seen such a hand. Angular, slightly backhanded, and full of character, it would be difficult to imitate it, and, too, no one would have any reason to forge that letter to Mrs. Reeves. She had verified Vicky’s statement, and found that a letter to the garage owner had instructed him to give up the car to Mrs. Reeves, and he had already done so, that very morning.

The letters had both been mailed in New York the night before, the postmark showing that they were mailed in the district that included Vicky’s residence.

Was she, then, even now in hiding near her home? Or, had she sent the letters to be mailed by some one else? By Julie, perhaps, who, I felt sure, was with her mistress, wherever that might be.

My leaping thoughts took in all this, and by degrees the slower going coroner, put it in words.

Lowney, the detective, bristled with interest. A clue, he had, he thought, but what a clue! Two letters posted in the city. What did they show of the whereabouts of the missing girl?

Lowney scrutinized the one to Mrs. Reeves. Ordinary paper, such as might be bought in any stationery or department store, no monogram or initial on it, nor was there any maker’s name under the flap.

But a dozen people present testified to Vicky’s handwriting, and the coroner eagerly took possession of the letter.

Sherlock Holmes, I thought to myself, would read that letter, look at it through his good old lens, smell it, and then walk out, and return in a half hour, with Vicky Van in tow!

But for my part, I could see nothing illuminating in that plain paper and envelope, and the letter in the well-known penmanship.

All I gathered was, that wherever Vicky was, she was not only safe but comfortable. The tenor of the note breathed leisure and composure. Clearly, she was not breathlessly hurrying from one place to another, or vigilantly eluding pursuit. She was at ease, with opportunity to indulge in thoughtful kindness to a friend, and to write at length about herself.

At length, yes, but with no hint of her hiding-place nor any clue to it. Poor little Vicky! She seemed so alone—and yet—how did I know? She may have gone to friends or—somehow I hated to think that she had any man who was her legal—or even willing protector.

Yet she said she was safe, and her letter showed no fear of the future. And then again I was stabbed by the thought that perhaps there was no earthly future for Vicky Van. I didn’t want her to kill herself—I didn’t want her to be found and arrested—what did I want? I wasn’t sure in my own mind, save that I wanted her safety above all else. I suppose I believed her guilty—I could believe nothing else, but even so, I didn’t want her brought to bay.

I gave my own testimony, which was all true, and all frank, except that I said nothing of my nocturnal visit to Vicky’s house or of our telephone conversation. If my conscience smote me I combated it with my chivalry, which would not allow me to betray a woman into the hands of the law.

The later witnesses, who were mostly the working people whom Vicky employed by the day, told nothing of her or of her home life. They all spoke of her as a kind lady to work for, though, as a rule, they had not seen her, but had been engaged, directed and paid by the maid, Julie.

It seemed to be tacitly assumed that wherever Vicky was Julie was with her. I had had this information from Vicky herself, but others took it for granted, in the absence of any reason to think the contrary.

The whole day’s session, to my mind, achieved little of useful information. Mrs. Reeves’ letter proved conclusively that Vicky was aware of the search being made for her, and showed her determination not to be found. It was Saturday, and when the inquest was adjourned until Monday morning, I couldn’t help feeling that it might as well have been permanently adjourned, for all the further conclusions it would lead to.

I went home at last, thrilling with the thought that that night I was to get Vicky’s mail from her box and hide it where she had directed. I secretly hoped she might be in the house herself, waiting for it, but scarcely dared believe this would be the case.

Chapter 11
A Note From Vicky

Nor was it. I had secured a latch-key to the house, from the police, who were willing enough for me to search for possible clues, as I had told them I would do.

At their wits’ end to locate Vicky Van, they welcomed my help and felt that as a friend of hers, I might learn more than a disinterested policeman could.

So, well after midnight, watching my chance when the patrolman had just passed on his regular round, I went across the street.

Easily I opened the mailbox and extracted a quantity of letters.

Quietly, then, I opened the house door and went in.

I had provided myself with a pocket flashlight, as I didn’t want to illuminate the house, and I went at once to the music room, to perform my errand.

How strange it seemed! The lovely room, with dainty white and gold furnishings, reminded me so forcibly of the bewitching girl who owned it all. A thousand questions rose in my mind. What would become of that bijou residence? The bric-a-brac and pictures, the rugs and furniture, while not magnificent, were of the best, and many of them costly. The great Chinese vase, into which I was to drop the letters was a gem of its kind, though not anything a connoisseur would covet.

I raised the dragon-topped lid, and let the letters fall in. Replacing the lid, I still lingered. My errand was done, but I felt an impulse to stay. Everything spoke to me of Vicky Van. Where was she now? Making sure that the opaque blinds were drawn, I dared to turn on one tiny electric lamp. The faint light made the shadowed room lovelier than ever. Could a girl of such cultivated tastes and such refinement of character be a—a wrong-doer? I couldn’t say murderer even to myself. Then my common sense flared up, and told me that crime is no respecter of persons. That women who had slain human beings were not necessarily of this or that walk of life. Granted a woman had a motive to kill a man, that motive lay in the impulses of her feminine nature, and revenge, jealousy, fear, love or hate—whatever the motive, it was of deep and over-powering and might find its root in equal likeliness in the breast of queen or beggarmaid. I could not say Vicky was incapable of crime—indeed, her gay, volatile manner might hide a deeply perturbed spirit. She was an enigma, and I—I must solve the riddle. I felt I should never rest, until I knew the truth, and if Vicky were a martyr to circumstances, or a victim to Fate, I must know all about it.

Alone there, in the midnight hours, I resolved to devote my time, all I could spare, my energies, all I could command, and my life, so far as I might, to the discovery of the truth, and I might or might not reveal my findings as seemed to me best.

Leaving the music room, I went back through the long hall, and passed the door of Vicky’s bedroom. Reverently I looked inside. The very walls seemed crying for her to come back. Would she ever so do? I wandered on through the bedroom, and even looked in the dressing room. I felt no compunction. It was not from idle curiosity, rather, I walked as one at a shrine. The exquisitely feminine boudoir was a mute witness to a love of beauty and art. I used only my flashlight, but on an impulse, I turned on one light by the side of the long mirror. I looked in it, as Vicky must often have done when dressing for her parties, as, indeed, she must have done, when dressing that last fatal night and seeing my own grim reflection, I gravely nodded my head at myself, and whispered, “We’ll find the truth, old man, you see if we don’t!”

In the ornate Florentine frame, with its branching arabesques, was a strand of the gold beads that had adorned Vicky’s gown that night. I visualized her, whirling her skirts about before the mirror, with that quick, lithe grace of hers, and catching the fluttering fringe in the gilt protuberance. Perhaps she exclaimed in petulance, but, more likely, I thought, she laughed at the trivial accident. That was Vicky Van, as I knew her, to laugh at a mischance, and smile good-naturedly at an accident.

I lifted the strand of little beads from the entangling frame, and put it away in my pocketbook, as a dear and intimate souvenir of the girl I had known. Then, with a final glance that was a sort of farewell, I glimpsed the pretty, cosy nest, and went downstairs.

Here I paused again. Cassie Weldon had said she could see the staircase from the door of the living-room. I tried it. She was right. A person standing just inside the living-room door, could catch sight of a person on the stairs. And, as Cassie, said, she was not looking that way, but was partly conscious of some one running up the stairs. It might well be. She would naturally give the incident no thought at the moment—it was strange she had even remembered it. And it may have been Vicky. Then she might have descended by the rear staircase, there probably was one, I didn’t know. And anyway, what mattered it how she had left the house? She had left it, and had not returned.

I remembered the allusion to the skylight. In a jiffy, I had run upstairs clear to the highest story. There was a skylight, or scuttle, rather, and it was bolted on the inside.

That settled that. Vicky Van had not climbed out that way, and I for one, never supposed she had.

Strangely reluctant to leave the house, I went downstairs again, looked into the living-room, and passed on to the dining-room. I contemplated the sideboard, in front of which Randolph Schuyler had met his death. Many pieces of silver and glass stood upon it, and all was in order, as if it had been carefully looked after for the party occasion.

Without consciously noting details, I chanced to observe that a small silver-handled carving fork, was lacking its knife. I had no knowledge of Vicky Van’s table appurtenances, but the way the fork lay looked to me as if the knife had lain across it, and had been removed.

I had no concern over it, for I knew the knife that had stabbed Schuyler was now in possession of the police, and this one had doubtless been used in preparation of the supper, if indeed, there was a knife belonging to the fork.

It was a matter of no moment, but somehow it stuck in my mind. If Vicky or rather, if Julie had straightened up things on the sideboard in the process of tidying up for the party, would she not have laid the fork a different way, unless there had been a matching knife to lay across it? I suppose the whole question came into my mind, because at home, we had a beefsteak carving set that always lay crossed on the sideboard. A man gets accustomed to the sight of such household details, and they photographed on his memory.

Well, anyway, I looked for that knife. I even went to the butler’s pantry and looked, but I didn’t see it. The pantry had been hastily evacuated by the caterer’s men, and though tidied, it was not in spick and span condition. You see, having lived so long with two such homey bodies as Aunt Lucy and Win, I was not utterly unversed in domestic matters. The pantry was well equipped with modern utensils and implements, and all its appointments spoke of the taste and efficiency of its mistress.

“Poor Vicky,” I sighed to myself, “poor, dear little Vicky Van!” and then I went softly out of the front door and down the steps.

I went slowly, and looked back several times, in a vague hope that Vicky might emerge from some nearby shadow and go into the house for her letters. But I saw no sign of such a happening, and went on home, my heart full of a gloomy foreboding that I would never see her again.

“Going to work on Sunday, Winnie?” I asked, as next morning, my sister appeared, garbed for the street.

“Not regularly to work, but Mrs. Schuyler wants me to look after some matters of confidence.”

“Oho, how important we are!” I chaffed her. “When does the Crowell lady come into her own?”

“Not for another week. She isn’t quite ready to come, and Mrs. Schuyler is willing to keep me on a while longer.”

“I don’t blame her,” and I looked at my pretty, bright-faced sister with approval. “I say, old girl, s’pose I stroll over with you.”

“Come along. Though I’m not sure Mrs. Schuyler will see you. She usually sends me to receive callers.”

“Well, Little Miss Manage-It, I could even live through that. And perhaps I’ll get a look-in with the fair sisters-in-law.”

“That, surely, if you wish. They’re ready and eager to see visitors. I believe they love to go over the details of the whole affair with anyone who will listen.”

“Oh, come now, Win, not as bad as that.”

“They don’t think it’s bad. They’re bound to track down the Van Allen girl, and they hold the opinion that everybody they get hold of may be an important witness. They go over the reports from the inquest all the time, and can hardly wait till tomorrow to see what will come out next.”

“Me for them,” I responded. “I’d like a good chat on the subject.”

We went over to the Fifth Avenue house, and were admitted by the solemn and wise-eyed butler. I was shown to the library, while Winnie was directed to go to Mrs. Schuyler’s room.

But it was not long before we were all together in the library—widow, sisters, and all, for Lowney had made a discovery and he proposed to tell the family of it.

Win and I were allowed to be present, and the detective showed his new find.

It seems he had been searching the papers and letters of the late Mr. Schuyler. This had been not only permitted by the wife, but had been urged by the sisters, who hoped it might result in some further light on the mysterious Miss Van Allen. And it did. In the desk, in a secret compartment—which was not so secret but that the detective could open it—were a number of letters from feminine pens, and a number of receipted bills for jeweled trinkets, presumably sent to these or other ladies, for they were not of a sort affected by Ruth Schuyler or the two sisters. A blue enameled watch bracelet, and a rhinestone tiara were representative purchases entered on these bills.

But the pile of letters sank into insignificance, when we learned the fact that there was a letter from Vicky Van among them!

Regardless of Mrs. Schuyler’s feelings, Lowney read the letter aloud. This was it:

My Dear Mr. Schuyler:

I enjoyed your supper party, and it was good of you to give me inside information about the stocks. But I must beg of you to cease your further attentions to me, as I cannot number on my list of calling acquaintances the husband of another woman. I am, perhaps, rather prudish in my view of life, but this is one of my inviolable rules.

  Very truly yours,     Victoria Van Allen.

I knew that before. Vicky Van, living alone and unchaperoned, save for the ubiquitous Julie, flouted convention in many ways, but it was as she said, her inviolable rule to receive no married man without his wife at her parties. Nor was there often occasion for her to use this stipulation. The young people whom I had met at her house, had always been maids and bachelors, and now and then, a young married couple who playfully enacted a chaperon part. Mrs. Reeves, a widow, was probably the oldest of the crowd, but she was well under forty.

It was quite true, no married man, and indeed, no man of the type or age of Randolph Schuyler, had ever, to my knowledge, enjoyed the friendship of Vicky Van. But not for a minute, did I think that she would go so far as to kill him for daring to enter her house! That was unthinkable.

And yet, it seemed so to Lowney, and, apparently, to the sisters of the dead man.

She declared that the letter proved that Randolph had intruded on her acquaintance, and she had objected from coyness or coquetry; and that when he persisted, she was so enraged that she flew into a passion and wilfully ended his life.

“I can’t think that,” said Ruth Schuyler, wearily. “It seems more to me as if that letter exculpates the girl. She was quite evidently not in love with my husband, and she honestly tried to make him understand her scruples. So I can’t think she killed him. I did think so at first, of course, but on thinking things over, and in the light of this letter, I begin to believe her innocent. What date does the letter bear?”

“There’s no date,” said Lowney, looking at the paper. “It was not in an envelope—”

“Then how did it reach my husband?”

“Oh, of course, it came in an envelope, I suppose, but I found none with it. So we can’t tell where it was sent, here or to one of his clubs or to his office address.”

“Not here, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Schuyler. “Probably to his club. You are quite welcome to the letter, Mr. Lowney. Make what use you think best of it. If it serves to establish Miss Van Allen’s innocence, I shall be rather glad. But if it seems to throw further suspicion on her, then justice must be done.”

“Of course, it throws suspicion on that woman!” declared Miss Rhoda Schuyler, with a vindictive glance at the letter in Lowney’s hand. “The hussy, to write to Randolph at all!”

“But,” I interposed, unable to stand this unjust speech, “Mr. Schuyler must have made advances to her first.”

“She lured him on. I’ve heard you say yourself, Mr. Calhoun, that this Van Allen person is a siren, a—”

“Now, now, Miss Rhoda,” I began, but the other sister chimed in.

“Of course she is! Of course, the wrong was mostly hers. And she killed Randolph, I know it! Why, the waiter man saw her! Go ahead, Mr. Lowney, hunt her down, and bring her to account. I never shall sleep peacefully until my brother’s death is avenged! I cannot understand, Ruth, how you can be so indifferent.”

A flush rose to Ruth Schuyler’s cheek, and, enlightened anew to her husband’s character by that letter, I began to feel a different sort of sympathy for the widow.

Randolph Schuyler had been unfaithful, he had been domineering and tyrannical, and I knew he had not allowed his wife to have the comforts and luxuries she desired, although he was enormously wealthy.

A social secretary, for instance. Most women of Ruth Schuyler’s rank in society had that necessary assistant, yet, during Schuyler’s life his wife was forbidden the favor.

Winnie had told me this, and had told me much more, that proved how unjust and unkind Randolph Schuyler had been. The sisters, too, shared his views, and as a consequence, the household was run on old-fashioned lines that ill accord with the ways of to-day.

Mrs. Schuyler had in no way complained, Win told me, but it was easily seen how matters stood. It fell to Winnie’s lot to order many things from the shops—stationery, mourning apparel, and house needs. These, my sister said, were ordered with the most perfect taste, but with a lavishness, which was indubitably unusual to Ruth Schuyler.

The sisters exclaimed at the extravagance, but Ruth, though listening politely, serenely went her own way, and carried out her own plans. In the matter of fresh flowers, she was like a child, Win said, and she enjoyed the blossoms she ordered as if she had hungered for them for years. Winnie was growing deeply attached to her employer, if that word is applicable, and Ruth Schuyler was fond of Win.

But I am digressing. Mrs. Schuyler replied to her sister-in-law’s speech by saying, gently, “I am not indifferent, Sarah, but it seems to me we have no real evidence against the girl, and—”

“No real evidence! When she was caught red-handed! Or nearly caught! If that stupid waiter had had sense enough to jump and grab her, we would have had no search to make at all!”

“It may be so, Sarah, you may be right. But until you do find her don’t condemn her utterly. From what Mr. Calhoun has told me of her and from the tone of that letter she wrote to Randolph, I can’t make it seem possible that she killed a man she knew so slightly. And yet, it may be she did.”

“Well,” remarked Lowney, “the note proves that she had seen Mr. Schuyler before, anyway. Then, when he came to her house as Mr. Somers, she was naturally annoyed, as she had asked him not to do so. And all that is against the girl, I say. But it remains to be seen what the coroner’s jury will think of it.”

“They’ll see it in its true light,” declared Rhoda Schuyler. “Of course, she was angry when he came to her house after being forbidden, unless the sly thing wrote the note just to lure him on, but in any case, she was alone with him, she used the knife on him and she ran away. What more evidence do you need? Now, to find her. That’s a task I shall never give up or neglect until I’ve accomplished it.”

“And you are right, Rhoda,” said Ruth, “if the girl is guilty. I hope she will be found, for I’m sure the truth could then be learned, whether she is guilty or not.”

“Will you come, now, Mrs. Schuyler,” said Tibbetts, from the doorway. “The flowers have arrived.”

Ruth, beckoning to Winnie, rose, and the two left the room.

“Perfectly idiotic,” said Sarah, “the way she orders flowers! Fresh ones every day!”

“But hasn’t she a right to spend her own money as she likes?” I defended.

“A legal right, perhaps,” was the retort, “but not a moral right to disregard her husband’s wishes so utterly.”

Chapter 12
More Notes

Next morning at breakfast, there was but one topic of conversation. Indeed, little else had been talked of for days but the Schuyler case and all its side issues.

Winnie held forth at length on the martyrdom Ruth Schuyler had suffered because of the cruelty of her late husband.

“He wasn’t really ugly, you know,” explained Win, “and I don’t say she’s glad he’s dead. But he thwarted her in every little way that she wanted to enjoy herself. They had a box at the opera, and a big country house and all that, but he wouldn’t let her go to matinees or have a motor of her own or buy anything until he had passed judgment on it. She even had to submit her costume designs to him, and if he approved the dressmaker made them up. And he wouldn’t let her have fashionable clothes. They had to be plain and of rich heavy materials, such as the sisters wear. Mr. Schuyler was under the thumb of those two old maids, and Rhoda, especially, put him up to all sorts of schemes to bother Ruth.”

“Do you call her Ruth?” I asked, in surprise.

“Yes, she told me I might. She’s lovely to me, and I’m so glad to do all I can for her. Honest, Chet, she lived an awful life with that man.”

“I’d like to see her,” said Aunt Lucy. “All you’ve said about her, Winnie, makes me a bit curious.”

“So you shall, Auntie, some time. She’s a real friend of mine now, and even after Edith Crowell goes there as secretary, she says I must often go to see her as her friend.”

“She’s charming,” I declared. “Every time I see her I’m more impressed with her gentle dignity. And I don’t know how she can be so decent to those two old women.”

“Nor I,” agreed Win, as Aunt Lucy asked, “Is she pretty?”

“Is she, Winnie?” I said.

“Well, she is and she isn’t. She’s so colorless, you know. Her hair is that flat ashy blonde, and she’s so pale always. Then her eyes and lashes are so light, and—well, ineffective. But her expression is so sweet, and when once in a while she laughs outright, she’s very attractive. And she’s such a thoroughbred. She never errs in taste or judgment. She knows just what to reply to all the queer letters of condolence that come to her, and just how to talk to the people who call. And that’s another thing. She hasn’t any friends of her own age. She knows only the people who belong to the most exclusive set, and they’re nearly all the age of the old sisters. But Mrs. Schuyler is lovely to them. And in her soft pretty black gowns she looks a whole lot better than she ever did in the ones she wore while he was alive. I’ve seen them in her wardrobe, and I’ve seen her try on some that she was going to give away, and they’re sights! Elegant, you know, but not the thing for her. Now, that she can select her own, she has beauties.”

“She certainly must be glad, then, to be freed from such a tyrant,” said Aunt Lucy.

“Now don’t you think that!” insisted Winnie, earnestly. “She may feel, so, ‘way down in her deepest heart, but she won’t admit it, even to herself. And, of course, no matter how much she didn’t love him, she wouldn’t want him taken off that way! No, she’s perfectly all right, and she mourns that man just as sincerely as any woman could mourn a man who didn’t understand her.”

I looked at Win in amazement. Little sister was growing up, it seemed. Well, the experience would do her no harm. Ruth Schuyler’s influence could work only for good, and a taste of real life would give a wider outlook than Win could get at home.

I went down to the coroner’s courtroom. The inquest was proceeding in its usual discursive way, and I sat down to listen for a while. The coroner was hearing reports from detectives who had interviewed the market men and shopkeepers where Vicky Van had bought wares.

It was just what might be expected from any householder’s record. Vicky had always paid her bills promptly, usually by check on a well-known bank. Sometimes, if the bills were small they were paid in cash. In such case Miss Van Allen herself or the maid brought the money; if checks, they were sent by mail. The garage man reported a similar state of affairs. His monthly bills were promptly paid, and Miss Van Allen had found no fault with his service. She was away from home frequently, but when at home, she used her motor car often and was kind to the chauffeur who drove her. This chauffeur told of taking her to the shops, to the theatre, to friends’ houses and to picture galleries—but had never been directed to any place where a lady might not go.

The bank people said that Miss Van Allen had had an account with them for years, but as their depositors were entitled to confidential dealings they would say little more. They stated, however, that Miss Van Allen was a most desirable patron and never overdrew her account or made trouble of any sort.

There was nothing to be gleaned from this kind of testimony. We all knew that Vicky was a good citizen and all this was merely corroboration. What was wanted was some hint of her present whereabouts.

Lowney had tried to get at this by the use of an address book he had found in Vicky Van’s desk. He had telephoned or called on many of the people whose addresses were in the book, but all said over and over what we already knew.

Personally, I felt sure that Vicky was staying with some friend not far from her own house. It could well be, that somebody cared enough for the girl to hide her from the authorities. This, however, argued her guilty, for otherwise, a true friend would persuade her that the wiser course would be to disclose herself to the public.

However, nothing transpired to bear out my opinion, and as the list of witnesses dwindled, no progress was made toward a solution of the mystery. And so, when at last, an open verdict was returned, with no mention of Vicky’s name, I was decidedly relieved, but I didn’t see how it could have been otherwise.

I dropped in at the Schuyler house on my way home. I was beginning to feel on a very friendly footing there, and, partly owing to Winnie’s graphic powers of narration, I took an increasing interest in Ruth Schuyler.

As Win had said, she looked charming, although pathetic in her black robes. She permitted herself a touch of white at the turned-in throat, and a white flower was tucked in her bodice. A contrast, indeed, to the severe garb of the spinster sisters, who looked like allegorical figures of hopeless gloom.

But their manner was more of militant revenge, and, having heard the verdict of the coroner’s jury, they were ready to take up the case themselves.

“Come in, Mr. Calhoun,” they called out, as I entered the library, “you’re just the man we want to see. Now, that the coroner has finished his task, we will take the matter up. Mr. Lowney, I suppose, will continue the search for Miss Van Allen, but we fear he will not be successful. So, we have determined to send for the great detective, Fleming Stone.”

“Stone!” I cried, “why, he won’t work with the police.”

“Then he can work without them,” declared Rhoda, with asperity. “I’ve heard wonderful stories of that man’s success, and we’re going to engage him at once.”

“He’s very expensive,” I began.

“No matter. We’re going to find our brother’s murderer if it takes every penny of our fortune.”

“What do you think of this plan, Mrs. Schuyler?” I asked.

“I’ve not been consulted,” she said, with a slight smile. “Since Mr. Randolph’s sisters choose to adopt it, I have no reason to object. I know nothing of Mr. Stone, but if he is really a great detective, he will not condemn that girl unheard. And if she is proved guilty, of course the claims of justice must be met. Do you know him, Mr. Calhoun?”

“Not personally. I’ve often heard of him, and he’s a wonder. If you want to find Miss Van Allen, you can’t do better than to get him on the trail. If he can’t find her, nobody can.”

“That’s what I say,” put in Sarah. “And if he doesn’t find her, at least we’ve the satisfaction of knowing we’ve done all we could.”

“We thought of offering a reward for information of Miss Van Allen,” added Rhoda, “but if we’re going to get Mr. Stone, wouldn’t it be better to consult him about that?”

“I think it would,” I judged.

Just then Winnie came into the room. She had been writing notes, and she held a lot of unopened letters in her hand.

“Oh, Ruth,” she cried, “what do you think! Here’s the mail, Jepson just gave it to me, and there’s a letter for you from Miss Van Allen!”

“What!” cried everybody at once.

“Yes,” declared Winnie, “I know the hand, it’s the same as was on that letter to Mr. Schuyler. It’s such a queer hand, you can’t forget it.”

She handed all the letters to Ruth, the one she referred to on top.

Mrs. Schuyler turned pale as she looked at the envelope. I glanced at it, too, and without doubt, it was Vicky Van’s writing.

It had been mailed in New York that same morning, and delivered just now, about five o’clock.

“You open it, Mr. Calhoun,” said Ruth, as if she shrank from the task.

I took it gravely, for it seemed to me to portend trouble for little Vicky. Was she giving herself up, or what?

Win handed me a letter-opener, and I slit the envelope.

As they breathlessly awaited my words, I read:

To Mrs. Randolph Schuyler: Dear Madam: It is useless to look for me. To-day I am leaving New York forever. The mystery of Mr. Schuyler’s death will never be solved, the truth never learned. I alone know the secret and it will die with me. You may employ detectives from now till doomsday but you will discover nothing. So give up the search, for you will never find Victoria Van Allen.

There was a pause as I finished reading. Myself, I was thrilled by a certain phrase in the letter. Vicky said, “the secret will die with me.” Again, I felt that she was intending to bring about her own death, and that speedily. Would we know it if she did? I was thinking deeply, when Miss Rhoda, spoke:

“I believe that girl means to kill herself, and I should think she would!”

“Why do you think that?” and Ruth looked up with a startled face.

“It sounds so, and it would be the natural outcome of her remorse at her dreadful deed.”

“I think she must be guilty,” said Winnie, her dear little countenance drawn with grief, as she studied the letter for herself.

None of us said much more. We all were stunned in a way, by this unexpected development, and had to readjust our theories.

“Well,” Miss Rhoda said, decidedly, “I shall consult Mr. Stone, anyway. I’ve written him, and though I’ve not mailed the letter yet, I shall send it off to-night. Then when he comes to talk it over we can see what he says and abide by his judgment.”

“That’s a good idea, Rhoda,” and Ruth Schuyler nodded assentingly; “I, too, want justice, and if Fleming Stone thinks he can find Miss Van Allen, let him do so.”

It was six o’clock then, and Win and I went home, leaving the Schuyler ladies to their own discussions.

Ruth Schuyler’s hand lingered a moment in mine, as I bade her adieu, and she said, wistfully, “I wish you would tell me just what you think we had better do. I am so unaccustomed to judging for myself in any important matter.”

“I think it is wise to get Mr. Stone,” I returned. “In any case it can do no harm, you know.”

“No, I suppose not,” and she gave me one of her rare smiles of appreciation. “I am glad you are looking after us, instead of Mr. Bradbury,” she said further, and I sincerely responded that I was glad, too.

Another surprise awaited me at home. On the hall table lay my own mail, and as I picked it up, and ran the letters over, there was one from Vicky Van.

I hastily concealed it from Winnie’s sharp eyes, for I had no notion what it might divulge, and hurried with it up to my own room.

Impatiently I tore it open and raced through its contents.

Dear Mr. Calhoun:

Thank you deeply for attending to my errand. Owing to your kindness I received the letters I wanted. Now, will you do me one last favor? Come again to the house tonight, and take a small parcel which you will find in the Chinese jar in the music room. Keep this for me and if I do not ask you for it within a year, destroy it unopened. I wish I could be more frank with you, you have proved yourself such a staunch friend, but I cannot control circumstances and so I must bear my fate. I do not know what Mrs. Schuyler will think of it, but I have written her a letter. When you see her, try to make her realize it is useless to hunt for me. Since I can keep hidden for this length of time, my retreat is not likely to be discovered. And now, my kindest of friends, good-bye.

Vicky Van.

I stood, staring at the letter. I read it through a dozen times. Of course, I would do her bidding, but my heart rebelled at the finality of the lines. I knew I would never hear from Vicky Van again. As she said, since we hadn’t traced her yet, we never could.

I wondered where she could possibly be. And Julie, too. Somebody was shielding them both. They couldn’t be disguised or anything of that sort, for they had left the house at dead of night, without luggage or—and I hadn’t thought of this before—without money! How could they have found shelter, save in some friend’s house?

Of course, Vicky could have snatched up a purse as she ran. Perhaps that was what she flew upstairs for. And then, maybe, she went down the back stairs—but no, the waiters must have seen her that way. And Luigi was in the front hall a moment after Vicky disappeared.

Aside from my personal interest, I hated to think I should never know just how she did get away. For now, I had no hope that Fleming Stone or anyone else could ever find the girl. She was too canny to be taken, after her successful concealment so far.

I went downstairs after a time, but I said nothing of my letter to Aunt Lucy or Win.

They were eagerly discussing the latest news, and Aunt Lucy was saying, “Yes, I’ve heard of Mr. Stone, and they do say he’s a marvel. I hope he’ll find the girl, if only to learn the mystery of her disappearance.”

“Oh, he’ll find her,” assured Winnie, “I’ve heard a lot about him over there and he’s a wizard! But I think he’ll have a long chase.”

“Meantime, what becomes of the house?” queried Aunt Lucy. “What does, Chet? Can anyone go in it who likes?”

“No,” I returned, a little shortly, for I foresaw Aunt Lucy had that absurd feminine desire to pry into another person’s home. “It’s in charge of the police, and they won’t let anyone in, without some very good reason.”

“Couldn’t you get in?”

“I suppose I might,” I admitted unwillingly, “if I had any business there.”

“Oh, do get up some business, Chet,” begged Winnie, “and get the keys and let Auntie and me go with you! Oh, do! I’d love to see that girl’s things!”

“Winnie, you’re positively lowbred to show such curiosity!” I exclaimed, angrily—the more so, that I had the house key in my pocket at that moment. But I was glad I had not told them of Vicky Van’s letter to me!

I waited until well past midnight, and then, after seeing the post patrol pass Vicky’s door, I softly went out of my own house, and across the street.

I walked calmly up the steps of Vicky’s home, and sadly put the latchkey in the door—for the last time. I felt as if I were performing funeral rites, and I entered and closed the door behind me, softly, as one does in the house of death.

I went up the stairs, in the gloom. It was not black darkness, for a partly raised blind gave me a glimmer of light from the street. Into the music room I went, and by my pocket flashlight, I took the lid from the Chinese jar. But there was no parcel inside!

Amazed, I threw the light down into the big vase, but it was utterly empty.

There was no use looking elsewhere for the parcel—I knew Vicky well enough to know that she would do exactly as she had said. Or, since she hadn’t, I was sure that she would not have left that parcel in any other hiding-place.

I put the flashlight back in my pocket, and started downstairs.

Slowly I descended, for I still felt a little uncertain what to do. Should I wait for a short time, or go back home and return again later?

I reached the foot of the stairs, and concluded to go home, and then think out my next step.

As I passed the living-room door, I heard a low voice whisper my name.

I turned sharply. In the doorway, I could dimly discern a cloaked figure. “Hush!” she said, softly, and beckoned to me.

It was Vicky Van!

Chapter 13
Fleming Stone

Vicky had said “Hush!” but it was an unnecessary precaution, for I was too stunned to articulate. I peered at her in the darkness and then, unable to control my desire for certainty I flashed my little pocket light on her for an instant.

“Don’t!” she whispered, putting her hands up before her face.

But I had seen. It was really Vicky Van, her smooth black hair looped over her ears, her scarlet mouth, and soft pink cheeks, flushed with excitement of the moment, and her long dark lashes, which suddenly fell beneath the blinding flare of the light, all were those of the runaway girl.

“Don’t talk,” she said, hastily, “let me do the talking. I want you to help me, will you?”

“Of course, I will,” and all sense of law and justice fled before the wave of pity and solicitude for the trembling suppliant who thus appealed to me.

Her voice was indistinct and a little hoarse, as if she was laboring under great mental and nerve strain, and she was so alone, so unprotected, that I couldn’t help promising any assistance in my power.

“There wasn’t any parcel in the big vase,” I said, in a low voice, as she seemed to hesitate about going on with her explanation.

“No, here it is,” and she handed me a little box, “Just put it away safely for the present. And now, this is what I want to ask of you. Don’t let them engage that Mr. Stone, to hunt me down, will you?”

“Why, how can I help it?”

“Oh, can’t you?” and she sounded so disappointed; “I hoped you could persuade Mrs. Schuyler not to have him.”

“But Mrs. Schuyler doesn’t want him, either!” I exclaimed. “It’s those two sisters who insist on getting him. And I never could turn their wills, try as I might.”

“Why doesn’t Mrs. Schuyler want him?”

“Oh, I’m not sure that she really objects to the plan, but, I mean she didn’t seem as anxious as the other two. You see, little girl, the widow of Randolph Schuyler isn’t so bitter against you as the two sisters are.”

“That’s good of her,” and Vicky’s voice was wistful. “But, you know I must remain in hiding—”

“I thought you were going to leave New York?”

“I am. And at once. But if that Mr. Stone gets on my trail, he’ll find me, as sure as fate. And so I risked this interview to try to persuade you to use your influence against his coming.”

“And I’ll do that,” I returned, heartily. “But I feel that I ought to tell you that I doubt my power to dissuade the Schuyler sisters from their determination. And, too, how did you know they thought of getting him?”

“Oh, I see all the papers, you know, and in one of them a reporter gave a personal interview with the Schuyler people, and they hinted at getting that man.”

Vicky sighed wearily, as if her last hope was gone. I was full of questions I wanted to ask her, but it seemed intrusive and unkind to quiz her. And yet, one thing I felt I must say. I must ask her what she knew of the actual crime.

“Tell me,” I blurted out, “who did kill Randolph Schuyler?”

Again I felt her tremble, and her voice quivered as she whispered back, “It must have been some enemy of his, who got in at the window, or something like that.”

My heart fell. This was the sort of thing she would say if she were herself the guilty one. I had hoped for a more sincere, even if despairing, answer.

“But I must send you away,” she breathed in my ear. We were standing just inside the room, and Vicky held her hand on a chair-back for support. There was the faintest light from the street, enough for us to distinguish one another’s forms, but no more. Vicky wore a street gown of some sort, and a long cloak. On her head was a small hat, and a black net veil. This was tied so tightly that it interfered a little with her speech, I thought, though when I had looked at her face by my flashlight, the veil had not been of sufficient thickness to conceal her features at all. I’ve often wondered why women wear those uncomfortable things. She kept pulling it away from her lips as she talked.

“I want my address book,” she went on, hurriedly. “I’ve looked all over for it, and it’s gone. Did the detective take it?”

“I think he did,” I replied, remembering Lowney’s search.

“Can’t you get it back for me?”

“Look here, child, what do you think I am? A magician?”

“No, but I thought you could manage somehow to get it,” her voice showed the adorable petulance that distinguished Vicky Van; “and then, you could send it to me—”

“Where?” I cried, eagerly. “Where shall I address you?”

“I can’t tell you that. But you can bring it here and leave it in the Chinese jar, and I will get it.”

“How do you come in and go out of this house without being seen?” I demanded. “By the area door?”

“Perhaps so,” and she spoke lightly. “And perhaps by a window, and maybe by means of an aeroplane and down through the skylight.”

“Not that,” I said, “the skylight is fastened on the inside, and has been ever since—ever since that night.”

“Well, then I don’t come that way. But if you’ll get that book and put it in the big vase, I’ll come and get it. When will it be there?”

“You’re crazy to think I can get it,” I returned, slowly, “but if I can I will. Give me a few days—”

“A week, if you like. Shall we say a week from to-night?”

“Next Monday? Yes. If I can get it at all, I can have it by then. How shall I let you know?”

“You needn’t let me know, for I know now you will get it. Steal it from Mr. Lowney, if you can’t get it otherwise.”

“But if Fleming Stone is on your trail, will you come for the book?”

“I must,” she spoke gravely. “I must have the book. It means everything to me. I must have it!”

“Then you shall, if I can manage it. It is your book, it has proved of no value as evidence, you may as well have it.”

“Yes, I may as well have it. And now, Mr. Calhoun, will you go, please, or do you intend to turn me over to the police?”

“Vicky!” I cried, “how can you say such a thing? Of course I’ll go, if you bid me. But let me wait a minute. You know you wrote to Ruth Schuyler—”

“Ruth? Is that one of the old sisters?”

“No. Ruth is the widow.”

“Oh, yes, I wrote to her. I didn’t know her first name. I wrote because I thought it was she who is making the desperate search for me, and I hoped I could influence her to stop it. That’s all. I have no interest in Randolph Schuyler’s widow, except as she affects my future, but can you do anything by working in the other direction? I mean can you dissuade Fleming Stone from coming, by asking him not to? You can bribe him perhaps—I have money—”

“Oh, I doubt if I could do anything like that. But I’ll try, I’ll try every way I can, and, if I succeed—how shall I let you know?”

“Oh, I’ll know. If he takes up the matter, it will probably get into the papers, and if I see nothing of it, I’ll conclude you succeeded.”

“But I—I want to see you again, Vicky—”

“Oh, no, you don’t. Why, you don’t know this minute but what I stabbed that man, and—”

“You didn’t, Vicky—tell me you didn’t!”

“I can’t tell you that. I can’t tell you anything. I am the most miserable girl on God’s earth!” and I heard tears in Vicky’s voice, and a sob choked her utterance.

“Now go,” she said, after a moment, “I can’t stand any more. Please go, and do what you can for me, without getting yourself into trouble. Go, and don’t look back to see how I make my exit, will you?”

“Indeed, I won’t do that. Your confidences are safe with me, Vicky, and I will do all in my power to help you, in any way I can.”

“Then go now,” she said, and a gentle pressure of her hand on my arm urged me toward the door.

I went without another word, and neither while in the street, nor after gaining my own house, did I look back for another glimpse of Vicky Van.

And yet, try as I would, maneuver as I might, I couldn’t prevent the arrival of Fleming Stone.

The Schuyler sisters were determined to have the great detective, and though Mrs. Schuyler wasn’t so anxious, yet she raised not the slightest objection, and after some persuasion, Stone agreed to take the case.

I was present at his first call to discuss details and was immensely interested in my first sight of the man.

Tall, well-formed, and of a gravely courteous manner, he impressed me as the most magnetically attractive man I had ever seen. His iron-gray hair and deep-set, dark eyes gave him a dignity that I had never before associated with my notions of a detective.

The Schuyler sisters were frankly delighted with him.

“I know you’ll run down the murderer of my brother,” Miss Rhoda exulted, while Miss Sarah began to babble volubly of what she called clues and evidence.

Fleming Stone listened politely, now and then asking a direct question and sometimes turning to Ruth Schuyler for further information.

As I watched him closely, it occurred to me that he really paid little attention to what the women said, he was more engaged in scanning their faces and noting their attitudes. Perhaps I imagined it, but I thought he was sizing up their characters and their sympathies, and intended looking up his clues and evidence by himself.

“The first thing to do,” he declared, at last, “is to find Miss Van Allen.”

This was what I had feared, and remembering my promise to Vicky I said, “I think that will be impossible, Mr. Stone. She wrote she was leaving New York forever.”

“But a householder like that can’t go away forever,” Stone said, “she must look after her goods and chattels, and she must pay her rent—”

“No, she owns the house.”

“Must pay the taxes, then. Must sell it, or rent it or do something with it.”

“It would seem so,” I agreed. “And yet, if one is wanted for murder one would sacrifice household goods and the house itself in order to escape being caught.”

“True,” and Stone nodded his head. “But, still, I fancy she would return for something. Few women could leave their home like that, and not have some valuables or some secret papers or something for which they must return. I venture to say Miss Van Allen has already been back to her house, more than once, on secret errands.”

Was the man a clairvoyant? How could he know that Vicky had done this very thing? But I realized at once, that he knew it, not from cognizance of facts, but from his prescience of what would necessarily follow in such a case.

“She has her keys, of course?” he asked.

“The police have charge of the keys,” I said, a little lamely.

“I know,” Stone said, impatiently, “but there are doubtless more keys than the ones they have. I should say, that Miss Van Allen took at least the key of one door with her, however hurried her flight.”

“It may be so,” I conceded. “But, granting she has been back and forth on the errands you suggest, it is not likely she will keep it up.”

“No, it is not. And especially if she learns I am on the case.”

“How could she know that?” Ruth Schuyler asked.

“I’m sure Miss Van Allen is a most clever and ingenious young woman,” Stone replied, “and I feel sure she knows all that is going on. She gets information from the papers, and, too, she has that dependable maid, Julie. That woman, probably disguised, can do much in the way of getting information as to how matters are progressing. You see, I’ve followed the case all the way along, and the peculiarities and unique conditions of it are what induced me to take it up.”

“Shall we offer a reward, Mr. Stone, for the discovery of the hiding place of Miss Van Allen?” asked Rhoda, eagerly. “I want to use every possible means of finding her.”

“Not yet, Miss Schuyler. Let us try other plans first. But I must enjoin utter secrecy about my connection with the matter. Not the fact that I am at work on it, but the developments or details of my work. It is a most unusual, a most peculiar case, and I must work unimpeded by outside advice or interference. I may say, I’ve never known of a case which presented such extraordinary features, and features which will either greatly simplify or greatly impede my progress.”

“Just what do you mean by that last remark, Mr. Stone?” asked Ruth Schuyler, who had been listening intently.

“I mean that the absolutely mysterious disappearance of the young woman will either be of easy and simple solution, or else it will prove an insoluble mystery. There will be no half-way work about it. If I can’t learn the truth in a short time, I fear I never can.”

“How strange,” said I. “Do you often feel thus about the beginning of a case?”

“Very rarely, almost never. And never have I felt it so strongly as in this instance. To trace that girl is not a matter of long and patient search, it’s rather a question of a bit of luck or a slight slip on her part, or—well—of some coincidence or chance discovery that will clear things at one flash.”

“Then you’re depending on luck?” exclaimed Rhoda, in a disappointed tone.

“Oh, not that,” and Stone smiled. “At least, I’m not depending entirely on that. If luck comes my way, so much the better. And now, please let me see the notes Miss Van Allen has written.”

None was available, however, except the one to Ruth Schuyler. For the one to Randolph Schuyler was in Lowney’s possession, and the one I had had from Vicky, and which was even then in my pocket, I had no intention of showing.

It was not necessary, however, for Fleming Stone said one was enough to gather all that he could learn from her chirography.

He studied it attentively, but only for a moment. Then he said, “A characteristic penmanship, but to me it only shows forcefulness, ingenuity and good nature. However, I’m not an expert, I only get a general impression, and the traits I’ve mentioned are undoubtedly to be found in the lady’s nature. Are they not?” and he turned to me, as to one who knew.

“They are,” I replied, “so far as I know Miss Van Allen. But my acquaintance with her is limited, and I can only agree superficially.”

Stone eyed me closely, and I began to feel a little uncomfortable under his gaze. Clearly, I’d have to tell the truth, or incur his suspicion. Nor did I wish to prevaricate. I felt friendly toward poor little Vicky, and yet, I had no mind to run counter to the interest of Ruth Schuyler. The two sisters I didn’t worry about, and indeed, they could look out for themselves. But Ruth Schuyler was in a position to demand justice, and if that justice accused Vicky Van, I must be honest and fair to both in my testimony.

Fleming Stone proceeded to question the women, more definitely and concisely now, and by virtue of his marvellous efficiency, he so shaped his inquiries, that he learned details with accuracy and rapidity.

It would never have occurred to me to ask the questions that he put, but as he went on, I saw their pertinence and value.

With Ruth’s permission he called several of the servants and asked them a few things. Nothing of moment transpired, to my mind, but Stone was interested in a full account of where each servant was and what he was doing on the night of the murder. Each gave a straightforward and satisfactory account, and I realized that Stone was only getting a sense of the household atmosphere, and its relations to Mr. Schuyler himself.

Tibbetts, the middle-aged maid of Ruth Schuyler, told of the shock to her mistress when the news was brought.

“Mrs. Schuyler had retired,” said Tibbetts, “at about ten o’clock, Mr. Schuyler was out, and was not expected home until late. I attended her, and after she was in bed, I went to bed myself.”

“I’m told you do not live here,” commented Stone, though in a disinterested way, and at the same time making notes of some other matters in his notebook.

“I have a room around on Third Avenue,” replied Tibbetts. “I like a little home of my own, and when Mrs. Schuyler permits me, I go ‘round there to sleep, and sometimes I go in the daylight hours. But on that night I happened to be staying here.”

“Tibbetts is rather a privileged character,” interposed Ruth. “She has been with me for many years, and as she likes a little place of her own, I adopted the plan of which she has told you.”

“But that night you were here?” said Stone, to the maid.

“Yes, sir. I slept in Mrs. Schuyler’s dressing room, as I always do when I’m here. Then when Jepson told me the—the awful news, I awoke Mrs. Schuyler and told her.”

“Yes,” said Stone. “I read all about that in the inquest report.”

Chapter 14
Walls Have Tongues

“Now,” said Fleming Stone, after he had learned all he desired from the Schuyler household, “now, if you please, I would like to go over the Van Allen house. You have the keys, Mr. Calhoun?”

“I have a latchkey to the street door.” I replied, “the rooms are not locked.”

I don’t know why exactly, but I hated to have him go through Vicky Van’s house. Of course, it must have been because she had begged me not to let Stone get into the case at all. But I hadn’t been able to prevent that, the two Schuyler sisters being determined to have him. And I had no desire to impede justice or stand in the way of law and order, but, somehow or other, I felt the invasion of Vicky’s home would bring about trouble for the girl, and my mind was filled with vague foreboding.

“We will go with you,” announced Miss Rhoda. “I’ve wanted to see that house from the first. You’ll go, Ruth?”

“Oh, no,” and Ruth Schuyler shrank at the idea. “I’ve no wish to see the place where my husband was killed! How could you think of it? If I could do any good by going—”

“No, Mrs. Schuyler,” said Fleming Stone, “you could do no good, and I quite understand why you would rather not go. The Misses Schuyler and Mr. Calhoun will accompany me, and we will start at once.”

“Can’t I go?” asked Winnie, who had come in recently, “I’m just crazy to see that house. You don’t mind my going, do you, Ruth?”

“No, indeed, child. I’m perfectly willing.”

Mr. Stone raised no objection, so Winnie went with us.

It was nearly five o’clock, full daylight, though the dusk was just beginning to fall. We went round to Vicky Van’s and I opened the door for the party to enter.

The house had begun to show disuse. There was dust on the shining surfaces of the furniture and on the polished floors. The clocks had all stopped and the musty chill of a closed house was in the atmosphere.

“Ugh!” cried Winnie, “what a creepy feeling! And this house is too pretty to be so neglected! Why, it’s a darling house. Look at that heavenly color scheme!”

Winnie had darted into the living-room, with its rose and gray appointments, and we all followed her.

“Don’t touch anything, Miss Calhoun,” cautioned Stone, and Win contented herself with gazing about, her hands clasped behind her.

The Schuyler sisters sniffed, and though they said little, they conveyed the idea that to their minds the bijou residence savored of reprehensible frivolity.

Fleming Stone lived up to his reputation as a detective, and scrutinized everything with quick, comprehensive glances. We went through the long living-room, and into the dining-room, whose pale green and silver again enchanted Winnie.

“The walls are exquisite,” Stone agreed, looking closely at the panels of silk brocade, framed with a silver tracery.

“If walls have ears, they must burn at your praise,” I said, in an effort to speak lightly, for Stone’s face had an ominous look, as if he were learning grave truths.

“Walls not only have ears, they have tongues,” he returned. “These walls have already told me much of Miss Van Allen’s character.”

“Oh, how?” cried Winnie, “do tell us how you deduce and all that!”

I looked hastily at Stone, thinking he might be annoyed by Winnie’s volatile speech.

But he said kindly, “To the trained eye, Miss Calhoun, much is apparent that escapes the casual observer. But you can understand that the taste displayed in the wall decoration, shows a refined and cultured nature. A woman of the adventuress type would prefer more garish display. Of course, I am generalizing, but there is much to bear me out. Then, I see, by certain tiny marks and cracks, that these walls have lately been done over, and that they were also redecorated another time not long before. This proves that Miss Van Allen has money enough to gratify her whims and she chooses to spend it in satisfying her aesthetic preferences. Further, the walls have been carefully cared for, showing an interested and capable housekeeperly instinct and traits of extreme orderliness and tidiness. Cleverness, even, for here, you see, is a place, where a bit of the plaster has been defaced by a knock or scratch, and it has been delicately painted over with a little pale green paint which matches exactly. It is not the work of a professional decorator, so reason tells me that probably Miss Van Allen herself remedied the defect.”

“Good gracious!” exclaimed Winnie, “I can see all that myself, now you tell me, but I never should have thought of it! Tell me more.”

“Then the pictures, which are so well chosen and placed, that they seem part of the walls, are, as you notice, all figure pieces. There are no landscapes. This, of course, means that Miss Van Allen is not distinctly a nature lover, but prefers humanity and society. This argues for the joy of living and the appreciation of mental pleasures and occupations. No devotee of nature would have failed to have pictures of flowers or harmonizing landscapes on these walls. So, you see, to be edified by the tongues of walls, you must not only listen to them but understand their language.”

And then Stone began taking in the rest of the dining-room’s contents. The table, hastily cleared by the caterer’s men, was empty of the china and glass which they had supplied, but still retained the candlesticks and epergnes that were Vicky Van’s own. These were of plated silver, not sterling, which fact Stone noted. The lace-trimmed linen, however, was of the finest and most elaborate sort.

“An unholy waste of money!” declared Rhoda Schuyler, looking at the marvellous monogram of V. V. A. embroidered on the napkins.

But I gazed sadly at the table, only partially dismantled, which had been so gaily decked for Vicky’s birthday supper.

Scanning the sideboard, Stone remarked the absence of the small carving knife. I told him I, too, had observed that, and that I had made search for it.

“Did you ask the caterer’s people if they took it by mistake?” said the detective.

“No,” I admitted, ashamed that I hadn’t thought of it, and I promised to do so.

As Stone stood, silently contemplating the place where Randolph Schuyler had met his death, I stepped out into the hall. I had no conscious reason for doing so, but I did, and chancing to glance toward the stairs, I with difficulty repressed an exclamation.

For half-way up the staircase, I saw Vicky Van!

I was sure it was no hallucination, I positively saw her! She was leaning over the banister, listening to what Stone was saying. Suddenly, even as I looked, she ran upstairs and disappeared.

Was she safe? Could she escape? Perhaps by a back staircase, or could she manage to elude us and slip away somehow?

Then I was conscience-stricken. Was I conniving at the escape of a guilty person? Did I want to do this? I didn’t know. Something told me I must tell Stone of her presence, and yet something else made it impossible for me to do so.

I turned back to the dining-room, and Miss Sarah was saying, “That’s the spot, then, that’s where Randolph was killed by that awful woman! Mr. Stone you must get her! An eye for an eye—a life for a life! She must pay the penalty of her guilt!”

Winnie was listening, and tears stood in her eyes. Like Ruth Schuyler, from whom she doubtless took a cue, Win wasn’t so ready to condemn Vicky Van unheard, as the two sisters were. She looked steadily at Fleming Stone, as if expecting him to produce Vicky then and there, and I quivered with the thought of what would happen if he knew that even at that moment Vicky was under the same roof with ourselves!

But Stone completed his survey of the dining-room, and as a matter of course, started next up the stairs. I pushed ahead a little, in my eagerness to precede him, but a vague desire to protect Vicky urged me on. I stood in the upper hall as the rest came up, and I imagined that Stone gave me a curious glance as he noted my evident embarrassment.

But Winnie dashed into the music room, and the Schuyler sisters quickly followed. Trust a woman to feel and show curiosity about her neighbor’s home!

Again Stone examined the walls, but the immaculate white and gold sides of the music room said nothing intelligible to me, and if they spoke to him he did not divulge the message. The women exclaimed at the beautiful room, and, as Stone’s examination here was short, we all filed back to Vicky’s bedroom.

I heard no sound of her, and I breathed more freely, as we did not find her in bedroom or in the boudoir beyond. She had, then, succeeded in getting away, and trusted to me not to betray her presence there.

The boudoir or dressing-room, all pink satin and white enameled wicker called forth new exclamations from Winnie, and even Rhoda Schuyler expressed a grudging admiration.

“It is beautiful,” she conceded. “I wish Ruth had come, after all. She loves this sort of furniture. Don’t you remember, Sarah, she wanted Randolph to do up her dressing-room in wicker?”

“Yes, but he didn’t like it, he said it was gim-crackery. And the Circassian walnut of Ruth’s room is much handsomer.”

“Of course it is. Ruth has a charming suite. Oh, do look at the dresses!”

Fleming Stone had flung open a wardrobe door, and the costumes disclosed, though not numerous, were of beautiful coloring and design. Winnie, unable to resist the temptation, fingered them lovingly, and called my attention to certain wonderful confections.

“What did she wear the night of the crime?” Stone asked, and I told him. Having Win for a sister, I am fairly good at describing women’s clothes, and I drew a vivid word picture of Vicky’s gold fringed gown.

“Heavenly!” exclaimed Winnie, although she had had me describe the gown to her on the average of twice a day for a week. “I wish I could see it! Some day, Chet, I’m going to have one like it.”

“Fringe?” said Stone, curiously, “do women wear fringe nowadays?”

“Oh, yes,” I responded. “But it was a long fringe of gilt beads that really formed an overdress to the tulle skirt. Stay, I’ve a piece of it,” and I took out my pocketbook. “See, here it is. I found it caught in those gilded leaves at the lower corner of the mirror frame—that long dressing-mirror.”

They all looked at the mirror, which hung flat against the wall; its foliated Florentine frame full of irregular protuberances.

“Of course,” said Winnie, nodding her head, “I know just how she stood in front of it, whirling around to see her gown from all sides, like this.” Win whirled herself around, before the glass, and succeeded in catching a bit of her own full skirt on the frame.

“You little goose!” I cried, as the fabric tore, “we don’t need a demonstration at the expense of your frock!”

Fleming Stone was studying the strand of gold fringe. It was composed of tiny beads, of varying shapes, and had already begun to ravel into shreds.

“I’ll keep this,” he said, and willy-nilly, I lost my little souvenir of Vicky Van. But, of course, if he considered it evidence, I had to give it up, and the fact of doing so, partly salved my conscience of its guilty feeling at concealing the fact of Vicky’s presence in her own house just then.

And, too, I said to myself, Mr. Stone is out to find her. Surely a detective of his calibre can accomplish that without help of an humble layman! So I kept my own counsel, and further search, of the next story, and later, of the basement rooms, gave no hint of Vicky’s presence or departure.

Indeed, I began to wonder if I had really seen her. Could she have been so clearly in my mind, that I visualized her in a moment of clairvoyance? My reason rebelled at this, for I knew I saw her, as well as I knew I was alive. She had on the same little hat in which I had last seen her. She had on no cloak, and her tailor-made street dress was of a dark cloth. I couldn’t be sure how she got away, for the basement door we found bolted on the inside, but she must have warily evaded and eluded us and slipped here and there as we pursued our course through the house, and then have gone out by the front door when we were, say, on the upper floors.

Returning to Vicky’s boudoir, where her little writing-desk was, Fleming Stone began to run over the letters and papers therein.

It was locked, but he picked the flimsy fastening and calmly took up the task with his usual quick-moving, efficient manner.

I stayed with him, and the three women wandered back over the house again. He ran through letters with glancing quickness, flipped over sheafs of bills, and examined pens, ink and paper.

“There’s so much that’s characteristic about a desk,” he said, as he observed the penwiper, stamps, pin-tray, and especially the pencils. “Indeed, I feel now that I know Miss Van Allen as well, if not better than you do yourself, Mr. Calhoun.”

“In that case, then, you can’t believe her guilty,” I flashed back, for the very atmosphere of the dear little room made me more than ever Vicky’s friend.

“But you see,” and he spoke a bit sadly, “what I know of her is the real woman. I can’t be deceived by her wiles and coquetries. I see only the actual traces of her actual self.”

I knew what he meant, and there was some truth in it. For Vicky was a mystery, and I was not by any means sure, that she didn’t hoodwink us when she chose to. Much as I liked and admired the girl, I was forced to believe she was not altogether disingenuous. And she was clever enough to hoodwink anybody. But if Stone’s deductions were to be depended on, they were doubtless true evidence.

“Is she guilty?” I sighed.

“I can’t say that, yet, but I’ve found nothing that absolutely precludes her guilt. On the contrary, I’ve found things, which if she is guilty, will go far toward proving it.”

This sounded a bit enigmatical, but Stone was so serious, that I grasped his general meaning and let it go at that.

“I mean,” he said, divining my thoughts, “that things may or may not be evidence according to the guilt or innocence of the suspect. If you find a little boy in the pantry beside an empty jampot, you suspect him of stealing jam. Now, if lots of other circumstances prove that child did take the jam, the empty pot is evidence. But, if circumstances develop that convince you the child did not have any jam whatever, that day, then the jampot is no evidence at all.”

“And you have found empty jampots?” I asked.

“I have. But, so far, I’m not sure that they are condemnatory evidence. Though, in justice to my own work, I must add, that they have every appearance of being so.”

“You already like Vicky Van, then,” I said, quickly, moved to do so, by a certain note of regret in his voice.

“No man could help liking a woman who possesses her traits. She has delightful taste and tastes. She is most charitable, her accounts show sums wisely expended on worthy charities. And letters from friends prove her a truly loyal and lovable character.”

“Such a girl couldn’t kill a man!” I broke out.

“Don’t say that. There is no one incapable of crime. But such a nature would require very strong provocation and desperate conditions. These granted, it is by no means impossible. Now, I am through for to-day, but, if you please I will keep the key of the house. As the case is now in my hands, you will not object?”

“No,” I said, a little reluctantly. For suppose Vicky should give me another commission or ask me to perform another errand in the house.

“You have a transparent face, Mr. Calhoun,” and Fleming Stone smiled quizzically. “Why do you want to keep the key?”

“My aunt is most desirous of seeing this house,” I deliberately prevaricated, “and I thought—”

But I didn’t deceive the astute detective. “No, that isn’t it,” he said, quietly. “I’m not sure, but I think you are in touch with Miss Van Allen.”

“And if I am?” I flared up.

“Very well,” he returned, “it is, as you imply, none of my business. But I want to know your attitude, and if it is antagonistic to my work, I am sorry, but I will conduct my course accordingly.”

“Mr. Stone,” I confessed, “I am not antagonistic, but I do know a little about Miss Van Allen’s movements that I haven’t told. I cannot see that it would assist you in any way to know it—”

“That’s enough,” and Fleming Stone spoke heartily. “Your assurance of that is sufficient. Now, are we working together?”

I hesitated. Then I suddenly thought of Ruth Schuyler. I owed her a business fealty, and somehow I liked to feel that I also owed her a personal allegiance, and both these demanded my efforts to avenge the death of her husband, irrespective of where the blow might fall.

So I said, honestly, “We are, Mr. Stone. I will help you, if I can, and if at any time I think my withheld information will help you, I will make it known. Is that satisfactory?”

“Entirely so,” and the handshake that Stone gave me was like a signed and sealed bond, to which I tacitly but none the less truthfully subscribed.

Chapter 15
Fibsy

Next morning as I started for my office, I found myself combating a strong impulse to call in at Ruth Schuyler’s. I had no errand there, and I knew that if she required my services she would summon me. It was no longer incumbent on me to try to unravel the murder mystery. Fleming Stone had that matter in charge, and his master-mind needed no assistance from me.

And yet, I wanted to stop at the Fifth Avenue house, if only for a moment, to reassure myself of Ruth’s well-being. Though above me in social rank, the little widow seemed to me a lonely and pathetic woman, and I knew she had begun to depend on me for advice and sympathy. Of course, she could turn to Fleming Stone, but, in a way, he was adviser of the Schuyler sisters, and I knew Ruth hesitated to intrude on his time.

I was still uncertain whether to call or not, and as I walked along the few feet between my own house and the Avenue, I crossed the street as I reached Vicky Van’s house, and naturally looked at it as I passed.

And after I had passed the flight of brownstone steps, and was going along by the iron fence, I turned to look at the area door. This was my performance every morning, and always without thought of seeing anything of importance.

But this time the area door stood half-way open, and looking out was a boy, a red-headed chap, with a freckled face and bright, wise eyes.

I turned quickly and went in at the area gate.

“Who are you?” I demanded, “and what are you doing here?”

“I’m Fibsy,” he said, as if that settled it.

“Fibsy who?” I asked, but I dropped my indignant tone, for the lad seemed to be composedly sure of his rights there.

“Aw, jest Fibsy. That’s me name, because, if you want to know, because I’m a natural born liar and I fib for a living.”

He was impudent without being offensive; his wide smile was good-natured and the twinkle in his eye a friendly one.

“I got yer number,” he said, after a comprehensive survey of my person, “you’re C. Calhoun. Ain’t you?”

“I sure am,” I agreed, meeting his taste for the vernacular, “and now for your real name.”

“Terence McGuire,” he smiled, and with a quick gesture he snatched off his cap. “C’mon in, if you like. I’m F. Stone’s right-hand man.”

“What!” I cried, in amazement.

“Yep, that’s what. I’m—well, I like to call myself his caddy. I follow him round, and hold his clues for him, till he wants one, then I hand it out. See?”

“Not entirely. But I gather you’re in Mr. Stone’s employ.”

“You bet I am! And I’m on me job twenty-four hours a day.”

“And what is your job just now?”

“Well, since eight A.M. I’ve been holdin’ up this door, waitin’ for yer honor to pass by. An’ I got you, didn’t I?”

“Yes, I’m here.” I stepped inside and the boy closed the door. We went into the front basement room, where there was a lighted gas stove.

“I camp here, ‘count o’ the heats. There’s no use gettin’ up the steam fer the few casual callers that drops in at present. Now, Mr. Calhoun, I don’t want to be stuffy nor nuthin’, but Mr. Stone said I might ask you some few things, if I liked an’ you can answer or not, as you like. This ain’t no orficial investigation, but I s’pose you’re as intrusted as anybody in findin’ this here Victoria Van Allen?”

“I’m interested in finding the murderer of Mr. Schuyler,” I replied.

“An’ maybe they ain’t one an’ the same. That’s so.” He spoke thoughtfully and scanned my face with a quizzical glance. “But, of course, Mr. Stone’ll find out. Now, Mr. Calhoun, if you don’t mind, will you give me a line on that maid person, that Julia?”

“Julie, she is called.”

“All right, Julie goes. Is she a young thing?”

“No; just this side of middle-aged. Probably thirty-five or so.”

“Good looker?”

“Why, about average. Brown hair, brownish eyes—really, I never noticed her closely enough to think about her appearance. She is, I’m sure, a good servant and devoted to Miss Van Allen.”

“But don’t you know anything special? Anything that would pick her out from a lot of other good servants?”

“In appearance, you mean?”

“Yes.”

“I can’t think of anything. Let me see. She wears glasses—”

“What sort?”

“I don’t know. Just ordinary glasses, I guess.”

“Spectacles or nose-riders?”

“I’m not sure. Spectacles, I think. And she has a great many gold-filled teeth.”

“Front ones?”

“Yes, that is, they’re very noticeable when she speaks to you.”

“Well, that’s sumpum. Is she quick and spry-like, or poky?”

I smiled at the boy’s eagerness. “She’s rather alert,” I said, “but, of course, quiet and respectful. I never looked at her with any personal interest, so I can only give you my general impressions.”

“You see, it’s this way,” and the boy looked very serious, “wherever Miss Van Allen is, that Julie’s there, too. And when Miss Van Allen wants errands done, of course, she sends Julie. And, of course, said Julie is disguised. I dope out all this has to be so. For Miss Van Allen has mailed letters and—oh, well, of course she could mail letters in lots of ways, but sumpum tells me, that she depends on Miss Julie as an errand girl. So, I want to find out the look of the Julie person, and see if I can’t track her down, and so get at Miss Van Allen. Vicky Van, I believe her friends call her.”

“They do,” said I, looking sternly at the boy, “and I’ll say right here, that I’m one of her friends, and I won’t stand for any impertinence or any remarks of any sort about that lady. If she is suspected of this crime, let the law take its course, but until there is some direct evidence, don’t you dare to connect her name with it.”

“I’m only obeying Mr. Stone’s orders. And, take it from me, Mr. Calhoun, I ain’t so fresh as to make remarks about a lady. I’m a prevaricator of the truth, but only when it’s abserlutely necessary. And on the other hand, I’m a born protector of women. Why, I’d be only too tickled to find a gentleman suspect. Or, at least, to clear Miss Van Allen from all s’picion.”

“Why do you feel such a kindly interest in the lady?”

“This house, for one reason. You see, I’ve been all over it, at Mr. Stone’s orders, and I ree’lize what a nice lady she is. I don’t have to see her, to understand her tastes and her ‘complishments. Why, jest the books on her centre tables and the records for her phonograph spell her out for me, in words of one syllable. And, though I’m hunting for her, it isn’t with a solid hunch that’s she’s the knife-sticker. Not by no means. But find her I’ve gotto! Because F. Stone says for me to.”

I looked at the boy more curiously. He was a strange admixture of street boy and sleuth. His quick, darting eyes were never still, but warily alert to catch the meaning of any sound or motion on my part. I felt as if he read me through, and would not have been surprised to have him tell me he knew of my recent communications with Vicky. But I only said, “You are, then, Mr. Stone’s right-hand man?”

“I put it that way, yes. But really, I’m his apprentice, and I’m learning his trade. I study his methods, and I add some gumption of my own, and if I can help him, I’m glad and happy. And anyway, I’m learning.”

“And this talk about your lying? Is that straight goods?”

“If it is, how can you believe what I tell you?” he asked, whimsically. “But, I used to be a fierce liar. Then, gettin’ in with F. Stone, made me see it’s wrong to lie—usuerly, that is. So I don’t, now—leastways, not much. Only when it’s jest the only thing to do to save game.”

“How does Mr. Stone know when you’re telling the truth, then?”

“Good land, I don’t lie to him! I wouldn’t, and if I did, it wouldn’t be any use. He’d see through me, quicker’n scat! But, honest, I wouldn’t. You see, he’s my idol, yes sir, my idol, that’s what that man is! Well, Mr. Calhoun, as you’ve told me all you can pry loose from your stock of infermation, you an’ me may as well make our adooses.”

“How do you know I haven’t revealed all I know of the case?”

“Oh, I read from your mobile counternance that you’re keepin’ sumpum back, but it don’t matter. F. Stone’ll nail it, when he gets good an’ ready. What I wanted from you was mostly the speakin’ likeness of the Julie dame. An’ I guess I got it. Oh, say, one other thing. Who among Miss Van Allen’s friends is an artist?”

“Miss Gale is one. Miss Ariadne Gale.”

“Thank you, sir. And will you gimme her address?”

I did so, and then I went away, thinking Fleming Stone a queer sort of detective to have for assistant such an illiterate, uncultured boy as Fibsy. The name was enough to condemn him! But as I thought the little chap over, I realized that his talk had been clear-headed and to the point, besides showing sagacity and perspicacity.

It was growing late, but after this interview I felt I must see Ruth for a few minutes, so called at the Schuyler house.

She greeted me cordially and seemed glad to see me. Winnie was still acting as secretary for her, but the rush of notes of condolence was over, and as Ruth was not, of course, giving or accepting social invitations, there was not so much work for Win as at first. But the two had become fast friends, and Winnie told me how they sat together chatting often for pleasant half hours at a time.

I told Ruth about the strange boy at Vicky Van’s house.

“Yes,” she said, “I’ve heard about him. Mr. Stone picked him up somewhere and he uses him as a sort of outside scout. He has all confidence in him, though I believe the little chap rejoices in the name of Fibber.”

“Fibsy,” I corrected. “He is certainly a bright youth. And he plans to hunt down Miss Van Allen by means of her maid, Julie.”

“Are they together?”

“We only suppose so. It seems probable, that Miss Van Allen would want the help, if not the protection of her servant. Julie is a most capable woman, and devoted to her mistress.”

“I’ve heard so. I have a kind, thoughtful woman, too, and I should miss her terribly were I without her.”

“Oh, but your Tibbetts is a servant, and nothing more. This Julie was a real friend to Miss Van Allen, and looked after her in every way. Housekeeper, maid, nurse, and general bodyguard.”

“Yes, Miss Van Allen must have needed such a person, since, as I am told, she lived alone. My sisters-in-law are quite in love with the Van Allen house. Both they and Winnie have been singing its praises this morning. It seems your Vicky Van is a lady of most refined tastes.”

“She certainly is. I can’t help thinking if you and she had known each other, in favorable circumstances, you would have been friends.”

“It may be. I have never felt sure that she is the guilty one, but I have changed my mind about not wanting her to be found. I do want that she should be. Mr. Schuyler’s sisters have shown me that to hesitate at or neglect any means of hunting her out would be wrong. And so, I am glad we have Mr. Stone and I hope he will succeed in his search.”

“What changed your mind, especially?”

“I realized that it would be disloyalty to my husband’s memory to let his possible slayer go free. The girl must be found, and then if she can be freed of suspicion, very well, but the case must be investigated fully.”

“I dare say you are right. Mr. Schuyler was a man of importance and influence, and aside from that, every deed of blood calls for revenge. I honor you for deciding as you have.”

“It is justice that moves me, more than my personal inclination,” Ruth went on. “I will not deny, Mr. Calhoun, that in some ways, my husband’s death has freed me from certain restrictions that hampered and galled me. I shouldn’t mention this to you, but I know the sisters have told you that I have, in many ways, gone counter to Mr. Schuyler’s wishes, since I have been my own mistress. It is true. He and I disagreed greatly on matters of the household and matters of my personal comfort and convenience. Now that I can do so, I am arranging my life differently. It is natural that I should do this, but the Schuyler ladies think that I have begun indecently soon. I say this, not by way of apology, but because I want you to understand.”

Ruth looked very sweet and wistful, as she seemed to make a bid for my sympathy. I was impressed anew by the soft pallor of her face and the sweet purity of her gray eyes. I contrasted her with Vicky Van. One, the embodiment of life and gayety, the other a gentle, dovelike personality, which, however, hinted sometimes at hidden fires. I believed that Ruth Schuyler had been so repressed, so dominated by her brute of a husband, that her nature had never expanded to its own possibilities.

And, like a blinding flash of lightning, the knowledge came to me that I loved her! It was no uncertain conviction. The fact sprang full-armed, to my brain, and my heart swelled with the bliss of it.

I scarcely dared look at her. I couldn’t tell her—yet. I had no reason to think she cared for me, other than as the merest acquaintance, yet, then and there, I vowed to myself that she should care.

I thought of Vicky Van—poor little Vicky. She had interested me—did interest me, but in only a friendly way. Indeed, my interest in her was prompted by sympathy for her luckless position and the trust she had reposed in me, I would hold her trust sacred. I would never play false to Vicky Van. But henceforth and forever my heart and soul belonged to my liege lady, my angel-faced Ruth.

“What is the matter, Mr. Calhoun?” I heard her saying, and I looked up to see her smiling almost gayly at me. “Your thoughts seem to be a thousand miles away!”

“Oh, not so far as that,” I protested. Somehow, I felt buoyantly happy. I had no wish to tell her of my love, at present I was quite content to worship her in secret, and I exulted in a sort of clairvoyant knowledge that I should yet win her. I smiled into her dear eyes, as I continued: “They were really round the corner in Vicky Van’s house.”

To my delight she pouted a little. “Let’s talk of something else,” she said. “I’ve no doubt Miss Van Allen is charming, and her home a perfect gem, but I own up I’m not anxious to discuss her all the time and with every one.”

“You shall be exempt from it with me,” I promised. “Henceforth her name is taboo between us, and you shall choose our subjects yourself.”

“Then let’s talk about me. Now, you know, Mr. Calhoun, I never see Mr. Bradbury, so you must be my legal adviser in all my quandaries. First, and this is a serious matter, I don’t want to continue to live with the Schuyler ladies. We are diametrically opposed on all matters of opinion, and disagree on many matters of fact.” Ruth smiled, and I marveled afresh at the way her face lighted up when she indulged in that little smile of hers. “Nor,” she went on, “do they want to live with me. So, it ought to be an easy matter to please us all. As to the house and furnishings, they are all mine, but if the sisters prefer to live here, and let me go elsewhere, I am willing to give them the house and its contents.”

“I know you don’t care for this type of residence,” I said, “indeed, Miss Schuyler said yesterday, as we looked over Vicky Van’s house, that it was just the sort of thing you liked.”

“Oh, I can’t think I would like her house! I supposed it was a plain little affair. Harmonious and pretty, Winnie says, but she didn’t give me the impression it was elaborate.”

“No, it isn’t. And it wouldn’t be as grand as your home ought to be. But mention of the girl is not allowed, I believe—”

She smiled again, and resumed: “Well, I want you to sound the Schuyler sisters, and find out their wishes. When I speak to them, they only say for me to wait until after the mystery is solved and all this horrid publicity and notoriety at an end. But I want to go away from them now. I want Mr. Stone to do his work, and I hope he will find that girl and all that, but I can’t stand it to live in this atmosphere of detectives and reporters and policemen any longer than I must. Would it do for me to go to some quiet hotel for a while? I could take Tibbetts, and just be quietly by myself, while the Schuylers continue to live in this house.”

I thought it over. I understood perfectly how she hated to be questioned continually as to her life with her late husband, for I was beginning to realize that that life had been a continuous tragedy. Nothing much definite, but many sidelights and stray hints had shown me how he had treated her, and how patiently she had borne it. And, now he was gone, and I, for one, didn’t blame her that she wanted to get away from the scenes of her slavery to him. For it had been that. He had enforced his ideas and opinions upon her, until she had been allowed to do nothing and to have nothing as she wished.

And now, she desired only peace and quietness somewhere, anywhere, away from the two who represented Randolph Schuyler’s tyranny and carping criticism without his right to obtrude them on her.

“I will speak to them,” I said, “and I’m sure we can arrange some mode of life for you which will give you rest and freedom of judgment.”

“Oh, if you only can!” she murmured, as she held out a friendly hand.

Chapter 16
A Futile Chase

It was Sunday afternoon, and we were in conclave in the Schuyler library. Fleming Stone was summing up his results of the past few days and, though it was evident he had done all that mortal man could do, yet he had no hint or clue as to where Vicky Van might be.

And, he held, that nothing else was of consequence compared to this knowledge. She must be found, and whether that could be done quickly, by search or by chance, or whether it would take a long time of waiting, he could not say. He felt sure, that she must disclose herself, sooner or later, but if not, and if their search continued unavailing, then he held out no hope for success.

“It’s a unique case,” he said, “in my experience. All depends on finding that woman. If she is innocent, herself, she knows who did it. And, if she is the guilty one, she is clever enough to remain hidden. It may be she is miles away, out of the country, perhaps. She has had ample time to make arrangements to go abroad, or to any distant place. Her guilt seems to me probable, because she has literally abandoned her house and her belongings. An innocent woman would scarcely leave all those modern and valuable furnishings unless for some very strong reason. But as to finding her—a needle in a haystack presents an easy problem by contrast!”

“Doubtless she is hiding in the house of some friend,” suggested Ruth, thoughtfully. “It seems to me she must have been taken in and cared for by some one who loved her, that night she disappeared.”

“I think so, too,” agreed Stone. “But I’ve been to see all her friends that I can find out about. I’ve called on a score of them, finding their addresses in her address book that Mr. Lowney gave me. Of course, they may have been deceiving me, but I feel safe in asserting that she is not under the protection of any one I interviewed. She returned to her house last Monday night, the police believe, for the purpose of getting her mail. This shows a daring almost unbelievable! That mail must have been of desperate importance to her. She has not been to the house since, they feel sure, and since I have been on the case she could not have entered, for I have kept it under strict surveillance. I think she will never return to it. Presumably she got the letters she was so anxious for. Her mail, that has arrived the last few days, I have not opened, but the envelopes show mostly tradesmen’s cards, or are indubitably social correspondence. There seem to be no letters from lawyers or financial firms. However, if nothing develops, I shall open the letters. This case, being unprecedented, necessitates unusual proceedings.”

“I’m disappointed in you, Mr. Stone,” said Rhoda Schuyler, testily; “I didn’t suppose you were superhuman, but I did think, with your reputation and all, you would be able to find that woman. I’ve heard say that nobody could absolutely vanish in New York City, and not be traced.”

“You don’t regret my so-far failure a bit more than I do, Miss Schuyler, but I feel no shame or embarrassment over it. Nor am I ready to admit myself beaten. I have a theory, or, rather a conviction that there is one and only one explanation of this strange affair. I am not quite ready to expound this, but in a day or two I shall find if it is the true solution, and if so I shall soon find Miss Van Allen.”

“I knew you would,” and Sarah Schuyler nodded her head, in satisfaction. “I told Rhoda to give you more time and you would not disappoint us. All right, Mr. Stone, use all the time you need. But no Schuyler must remain unavenged. I want to see that woman killed—yes, killed, for her murder of my brother.”

Sarah Schuyler looked like a figure of Justice herself, as, with flashing eyes she declared her wrath. And it was her right. Her brother’s blood called out for vengeance. But the more gentle-souled Ruth shuddered and shrank from this stern arraignment.

“Oh, Sarah,” she murmured, “not killed! Don’t condemn a woman to that!”

“Why not, Ruth? If a woman can kill, a woman should be killed. But she won’t be,” she added, bitterly. “No jury ever convicts a woman, no matter how clearly her guilt is proven.”

Just then Fibsy appeared. He was a strange little figure, and showed a shy awkwardness at the grandeur of his surroundings. He bobbed a funny little curtsy to Ruth, whom he already adored, and with an embarrassed nod, included the rest of us in a general greeting.

Then to Fleming Stone he said, in an eager, triumphant tone, “I got ‘em!”

“Got what?” asked Ruth, smiling at him.

“Got pictures of Miss Van Allen, and Julie, too.”

“What!” cried Ruth, interested at once; “let me see them.”

Fibsy glanced at her and then at Stone, and handed a parcel to the latter.

“He’s my boss,” the boy said, as if by way of apology for slighting her request.

Fleming Stone opened the parcel and showed two sketches.

“Miss Gale made them,” he explained. “I sent Fibsy over there to induce her to give us at least a hint of Miss Van Allen’s personal appearance. The boy could wheedle it from her, when I couldn’t. See?”

He handed the pictures to Miss Rhoda, for he, too, respected authority, but we all gathered round to look.

They were the merest sketches. A wash of water-color, but they showed merit. As the only one present who knew Vicky Van, I was asked of the truth of their portraiture.

“Fairly good,” I said, “yes, more than that. This of Vicky shows the coloring of her face and hair and the general effect of her costume, more than her actual physiognomy. But it is certainly a close enough likeness to make her recognizable if you find her.”

And this was true. Ariadne had caught the sidelong glance of Vicky Van’s dark-lashed eyes, and the curve of her scarlet lips. The coloring was perfect, just Vicky’s vivid tints, and the dark hair, looped over her ears, was as she always wore it. Ariadne had drawn her in the gown she had worn that fatal evening, and the women eagerly scrutinized the gorgeous costume.

“No wonder those long strands of fringe caught in that scraggly mirror frame!” exclaimed Winnie, who never missed a point.

“Right,” said Stone. “If she whirled around as you did, Miss Calhoun, it’s a wonder she didn’t spoil her whole gown.”

The pose and the figure were not exactly Vicky’s. Ariadne wasn’t much on catching a likeness or a physical effect. But the color and atmosphere were fine, and I told this to Stone, who agreed that it was a decided help in the search.

Julie’s portrait was the same. Not a real likeness of the woman, but an impressionist transcript of her salient points. The gray gown and white apron, the thick-rimmed glasses, the parted lips, showing slightly protruding teeth, the plainly parted brown hair, all were the real Julie; and yet, except for these accessories I’m not sure I could have recognized the subject of the sketch. However, as I told Stone, it certainly was a helpful indication of the sort of woman he was to look for, and even in disguise, the physical characteristics must show.

The detective was positive that wherever Vicky Van and Julie were, or whatever they were doing, they were in all probability disguised, and thoroughly so, or they must have been discovered ere this.

To my amusement, Fibsy and Ruth were holding a tete-a-tete conversation. The kind-hearted woman had, doubtless, felt sorry for the boy’s shyness, and had drawn him into chat to put him at his ease.

She had succeeded, too, for he was animated, and had lost his self-consciousness under the charm of her smile.

“And I’ll bet your birthday comes in the spring,” he was saying, as I caught the tenor of their talk.

“It does,” said Ruth, looking surprised. “How did you guess?”

“‘Cause you’re just like a little spring flower—a white crocus or a bit of arbutus.”

And then, noting my attention, the boy was covered with confusion and blushed to the tips of his ears. He rose from where he sat, and shuffled awkwardly around the great room, devoting exaggerated attention to some books in the glassed cases, and twirling his fingers in acute embarrassment.

“You scared him away,” chided Ruth, under her breath, as our glances met. “He and I were getting positively chummy.”

“Why was he talking of your birthday? I asked.

“I don’t know, I’m sure. He said I was born in the spring, because I’m like a flower! Really, that child will grow up a poet, if he doesn’t look out!”

“You are like a flower,” I murmured back. “And I’m glad your birthday is in spring. I mean to celebrate it!”

And then I thought of poor Vicky Van’s birthday, so tragically ended, and I quickly changed the subject.

Armed with the pictures, Fleming Stone and his young assistant spent the next day on a still hunt.

And in the evening Stone came over to see me.

“A little quiet confab,” he said, as we secluded ourselves in my sitting-room and closed the door, “I’ve been to a score of places, and invariably they recognize Miss Van Allen and her maid, but all say they’ve not seen her since the tragedy. I went to shops, offices, the bank and places where she would be likely to need to go. Also, her friends’ houses. But nothing doing. The shops have heard from her, in the way of paid bills, checks and such matters, but I learned absolutely nothing that throws any light on her whereabouts. Now, Mr. Calhoun, the very thoroughness of her disappearance, the very inviolable secrecy of her hiding-place proves to me that she isn’t hiding.”

“Now, Mr. Stone,” I said, smiling, “you talk like a real story-book detective. Cryptic utterances of that sort are impressive to the layman, you know.”

“Pshaw!” and he looked annoyed, “if you knew anything about detective work, you’d know that the most seemingly impossible conditions are often the easiest to explain.”

“Well, then, explain. I’ll be glad to hear.”

“I will. And, in return, Mr. Calhoun, I’m going to ask you if you don’t think, that all things considered, you ought to tell me what you are keeping back? You won’t mind, will you, if I say that I have deduced, from evidence,” he smiled, “that your interests are largely coincident with those of Mrs. Schuyler?”

“You’re on,” I said, shortly, but not annoyed at his perspicacity.

“Well, then, I assure you that Mrs. Schuyler is most desirous of locating Miss Van Allen. She is not so revengeful or vituperative as the sisters of her husband, but she feels it is due to her husband’s memory to find his slayer, if possible. Now suppose you tell me what you know, and I promise to keep it an inviolate confidence except so far as it actually helps the progress of the wheels of justice.”

“I do want to do what is best for Mrs. Schuyler’s interests,” I said, after I had thought a moment. “But, I must confess, I have a certain sympathy and pity for Victoria Van Allen. I cannot believe her guilty—”

“Then tell me frankly the truth. If you are right, and she is not the murderer, the truth can’t harm her. And if she is the guilty person, you are compounding a felony, in the eyes of the law, to withhold your information.”

Stone spoke a little sternly, and I realized he was right. If Vicky were untraceably hidden, all I could tell wouldn’t hurt her. And, too, I couldn’t see that it would, anyway. Moreover, as Stone said, I was making myself amenable to the law, by a refusal to tell all I knew, and since I was so aware of my own devotion to Ruth Schuyler, I felt I had no right to do anything that she would disapprove. And, I knew that a touch of feminine pique in her disposition would resent any consideration of Vicky over her own claims!

Therefore, I told Fleming Stone all I knew of Victoria Van Allen, both before, during and after the occasion of her birthday party.

He listened, with his deep eyes fixed on my face.

“Most extraordinary!” he said, at last, after I had finished. “I never heard of such daring! To enter her own house when it was watched by the police—”

“Only the post patrol, then,” I reminded him. “She could easily manage between his rounds.”

“Yes, yes, I know. But you’ve put the whole thing in different focus. Tell me more.”

There was no more to tell, but I went over my story again, amplifying and remembering further details, until we had spent the whole evening. He egged me on by questions and his burning, eager eyes seemed to drink in my words as if they were so much priceless wisdom.

And I told him, too, that I had promised to put Vicky’s address book in the Chinese jar for her that very evening.

“We’ll do it!” he exclaimed, promptly. “She meant to meet you there, I’m sure, but I’m also sure she changed her mind about that, when she learned of my advent. However, we’ll keep your promise.”

Acting at his instructions, I went with him over to Vicky Van’s. It was about midnight, and as he had the address book with him, he kept possession of it.

We went in the house, and in the dark, felt our way up to the music room. Stone put the book in the jar, and motioned for me to hide behind a sofa. He himself took up his vigil behind a window-curtain, of heavy brocade.

He had planned all this, before we left my house, and no word was spoken as we took our places. His hope was that Vicky would come into the house late and go straight for her book and quickly out again. He had directed me to wait until she had really abstracted the book from the jar and then, as she was leaving the room, spring after her and stop her.

I obeyed orders implicitly, and, as Stone had warned me, we had a bit of a wait. I grew cramped and tired, and at last I gave up all hope of Vicky’s appearance.

And then, she came!

Silently, absolutely without sound, she glided in from the hall. My eyes, now accustomed to the semi-gloom of the room, could discern her figure as it approached the great vase. Softly, she raised the cover, she abstracted the book, and with noiseless touch was replacing the cover, when she threw back her head, as if she sensed our presence. I had made no move, nor had I heard a breath of sound from Stone, but Vicky knew some one was present. I knew that by her startled movement. She gave a stifled scream, and pushing the great jar off on the floor, where it crashed to pieces, she rushed out of the room and down stairs.

“After her, Calhoun! Fly!” shouted Stone, and as he flung back the heavy curtains the street lights illuminated the scene. But as we avoided the broken fragments we bumped together and lost a few seconds in our recovery from the impact.

This gave Vicky a start, and we heard the street door slam as we raced down the stairs. Here, too, we lost a second or two, for I stepped back to give Stone space just as he did the same for me, and when we had reached the foot of the stairs, leaped through the hall, wrenched open the door and dashed down the steps to the pavement, we saw the flying figure of Vicky Van round the Fifth Avenue corner, and turn South.

After her we ran, as fast as mortal man can run, I verily believe, and when we reached the Avenue there was no one in sight!

Stone stood stock-still, looking down the street.

The Avenue was lighted, as usual, and we could see a block and more in both directions, but no sign of Vicky. Nor was there a pedestrian abroad, or a motor. The Avenue was absolutely uninhabited, as far as our eyes could reach.

“Where’d she go?” I panted.

“Into some house, or, maybe, hiding in an area. We must search them all, but very warily. She’s a witch, a wonder-woman, but all the same, the earth didn’t open and swallow her!”

We searched every area way on the block. One of us would go in and explore while the other stood guard. The third house was the Schuyler residence, but Stone also searched thoroughly in its basement entrance.

“All dark and locked up,” he reported, as he came out from there. “And, of course, she wouldn’t seek sanctuary there! But I’ve wondered if she isn’t concealed in one of these nearby houses, as she has such ready access to her own home.”

But it was impossible. Every basement entrance was locked and bolted for the night and all the windows were dark.

“She’s given us the slip,” said Stone, in deep chagrin. “But perhaps she crossed the street. Maybe she didn’t run down this side very far. Let’s go over.”

We crossed and looked over the stone wall of the park. Surely Vicky Van had not had time to scramble over that wall before we reached the corner. It had been not more than a few seconds after we saw her flying form turn down the Avenue, and she couldn’t have crossed the street and scaled the wall in that time!

Where was she? What had become of her?

“Ring up the houses and inquire,” I suggested. “You’re justified in doing that.”

“No use,” he responded. “If she was expected they won’t give her away, and if she isn’t there, they’d be pretty angry at our intrusion. I’ll admit, Calhoun, I’ve never been so mystified in my life!”

“Nor I!” I emphatically agreed.

Chapter 17
The Gold-Fringed Gown

After that night Fleming Stone became more desperately in earnest in his search for Vicky. It seemed as if the sight of her, the realization that she was a real woman and not a myth, had whetted his eagerness to discover her hiding place and bring her to book.

He established himself in her house, and both he and Fibsy practically lived there, going out for their meals or picnicking in the basement room. This room became his headquarters, and a plain clothes man was on duty whenever Stone and Fibsy were both absent.

“Though I don’t think she’ll ever come back again,” Stone declared, gloomily. “She was desperately anxious for that address book, and so she got it, through my stupidity. I might have known she’d make a dash for the street door. I should have had that exit guarded. But I’ve seen her, and I’ll get her yet! At any rate she hasn’t left the country, or hadn’t last night, whatever she may do to-day.”

It was the day after Vicky had given us the slip. It was midafternoon, and I had gone to see Stone, on my return from my office. I was sadly neglecting my own business nowadays, but Mr. Bradbury looked after it, and he sanctioned my devotion to the Schuyler cause.

“Randolph Schuyler was an important citizen,” he said, “and his murderer must be apprehended if possible. Do all you can, Calhoun, for humanity’s sake and the law’s. Take all the time you want to, I’ll see to your important business.”

So, though I went downtown every morning, I came back at noon or soon after and plunged afresh into the work of finding Vicky Van.

There was little I could do, but Stone consulted and questioned me continually as to Vicky’s habits or pursuits, and I told him frankly all I knew.

Also I managed to make business matters loom up so importantly as to necessitate frequent calls on Ruth Schuyler, and I spent most of my afternoon hours in the Fifth Avenue house.

And Ruth was most kind to me. I couldn’t say she showed affection or even especial interest, but she turned to me as a confidant and we had many long, pleasant conversations when the subject of the mystery was not touched upon.

Though she never said a word against Randolph Schuyler, I couldn’t help learning that, aside from the horror of it, his death was to her a blessed relief. He had not been a good man, nor had he been a good husband. On the contrary, he had blighted Ruth’s whole life by thwarting her every innocent desire for gayety or pleasure.

For instance, she spoke of her great enjoyment of light opera or farce comedy, but as Mr. Schuyler didn’t care for such entertainment he had never allowed her to go. He had a box at the Grand Opera, and Ruth loved to go, but she liked lighter music also.

This was not told complainingly, but transpired in the course of a conversation at which Fibsy chanced to be present.

“Gee!” he said, looking at Ruth commiseratingly, “ain’t you never heard ‘The Jitney Girl’ or ‘The Prince of Peoria’?”

Ruth shook her head, smiling at the boy’s amazement. There was a subtle sympathy between these two that surprised me, for Ruth Schuyler was fastidious in her choice of friends. But he amused her, and he was never really impertinent—merely naive and unconventional.

Well, on the day I speak of, Stone and I sat in the basement room awaiting Fibsy’s return. He was out after certain information and we hoped much from it.

“I gotta bunch o’ dope,” he announced, as he suddenly appeared before us. “Dunno ‘s it’ll pan out much, but listen ‘n’ I’ll spill a earful.”

I had learned that Fibsy, or Terence, as we ought to call him, was trying to discard his street slang, and was succeeding fairly well, save in moments of great excitement or importance. And so, I hoped from his slangy beginning, that he had found some fresh data.

“I chased up that chore boy first,” he related, “an’ he didn’t know anything at all. Said Miss Van Allen’s a lovely lady, but he ‘most never saw her, the Julie dame did all the orderin’ an’ payin’ s’far’s he was concerned. Good pay, but irregular work. She’d be here a day or two, an’ then like’s not go ‘way for a week. Well, we knew that before. Then, next, I tracked to his lair the furnace man. Same story. Here to-day an’ gone to-morrer, as the song says. ‘Course, he ain’t only a stoker, he’s really an odd job man—ashes, sidewalks, an’ such. Well, he didn’t help none—any, I mean. But,” and the shock of red hair seemed to bristle with triumph, “I loined one thing! That Julie has been to the sewing woman and the laundress lady and shut ‘em up! Yes, sir! that’s what she’s done!”

“Tell it all,” said Stone, briefly.

“Well, I struck the seamstress first. She wouldn’t tell a thing, and I said, calmly, ‘I know Julie paid you to keep your mouth shut, but if you don’t tell, the law’ll make you!’ That scared her, and she owned up that Julie was to see her ‘bout a week ago and give her fifty dollars not to tell anything at all whatsomever about Miss Van Allen! Some girl, that Vicky Van!”

“Julie went there herself!” I cried.

“Yep. The real Julie, gold teeth and all. But I quizzed the needle pusher good and plenty, and she don’t know much of evidential value.”

It was always funny when Fibsy interlarded his talk with legal phrases, but he was unconscious of any incongruity and went on:

“You see, as I dope it out, she’s accustomed to sit in Miss Van Allen’s boodore a-sewin’ an’ might have overheard some gossip or sumpum like that, an’ Miss Van Allen was afraid she’d scatter it, an’ so she sent Julie to shut her up. I don’t believe the woman knows where Miss Van is now.”

“I must see her,” said Stone.

“Yes, sir. She won’t get away. She’s a regular citizen, an’ respectable at that. Well, then, the laundress. To her also Julie had likewise went. An’ to her also Julie had passed the spondulicks. Now, I don’t understand that so well, for laundresses don’t overhear the ladies talkin’, but, anyway, Julie told her if she wouldn’t answer a question to anybody, she’d give her half a century, too. And did.”

“Doubtless the laundress knew something Miss Van Allen wants kept secret.”

“Doubtless, sir,” said Fibsy, gravely.

“But I don’t believe,” mused Stone, “that it would help us any to learn all those women know. If Miss Van Allen thought they could help us find her, she would give them more than that for silence or get them out of the city altogether.”

“Where is Miss Van Allen, Mr. Stone?”

Fibsy asked the question casually, as one expectant of an answer.

“She’s in the city, Fibs, living as somebody else.”

“Yep, that’s so. Over on the West side, say, among the artist lady’s studio gang?”

“Maybe so. But she has full freedom of action and goes about as she likes. Julie also. They come here whenever they choose, though I don’t think they’ll come while we’re here. It’s a queer state of things, Calhoun. What do you make of it?”

“I don’t believe Vicky is disguised. Her personality is too pronounced and so is Julie’s. I think some friend is caring for them. Not Ariadne Gale, of that I’m sure. But it may be Mrs. Reeves. She is very fond of Vicky and is clever enough to hide the girl all this time.”

“The police have searched her house—”

“I know, but Mrs. Reeves and Vicky could connive a plan that would hoodwink the police, I’m pretty certain.”

“I’ll look into that,” and Stone made a note of it. “About that carving knife, Fibsy. Did the caterers take it away by mistake?”

“No, sir; I ‘vestergated that, an’ they didn’t.”

“That knife is an important thing, to my mind,” the detective went on.

“Yes, sir,” eagerly agreed Fibsy. “It may yet cut the Gorgian knot! Why, Mr. Stone, the sewing lady knew that knife. She was here to lunching a few days before the moider, an’ she says she always sat at the table in the dining room to eat, after Miss Van Allen got through. An’ she says that knife was there, ‘cos they had steak, an’ she used it herself. I described the fork puffeckly, an’ she reckernized it at onct.”

“You’re a bright boy!” I exclaimed in involuntary tribute to this clever bit of work.

“I’m ‘ssociated with Mr. Stone,” said Fibsy, with a quiet twinkle.

“It was clever,” agreed Stone. “I’m sure, myself, that the absence of that small carving knife means something, but I can’t fit it in yet.”

We went up to the dining-room to look again at the carving fork, still in its place on the sideboard. I was always thrilled at a return to this room—always reminded of the awful tableau I had seen there.

The long, slender fork lay in its place. Though it had been repeatedly examined and puzzled over, it had been carefully replaced.

“But I can’t see,” I offered, “why a carving-knife should figure in the matter at all when the crime was committed with the little boning-knife.”

“That’s why the missing carving-knife ought to be a clue,” said Stone, “because its connection with the case is inexplicable. Now, where is that knife? Fibsy, where is it?”

Fleming Stone’s frequent appeals to the boy were often in a half-bantering tone, and yet, rather often, Terence returned an opinion or a bit of conjecture that turned Stone’s cogitations in a fresh direction.

“You see, sir,” he said, this time, “that knife is in this house. It’s gotter be. That lady left the house in a mighty hurry but all the same she didn’t go out a brandishin’ of a carvin’-knife! Nor did she take it along an drop it in the street or an ash can for it’d been found. So, she siccreted it summer, an’ it’s still in the house—unless—yes, unless she has taken it away since. You know, Mr. Stone, the Van Allen has been in this house more times than you’d think for. Yes, sir, she has.”

“How do you know?”

“Lots o’ ways. Frinst’ on Sat’day, I noticed a clean squarish place in the dust on a table in the lady’s bedroom, an’ it’s where a book was. That book disappeared durin’ Friday night. I don’t remember seein’ the book, I didn’t notice it, to know what book it was, but the clean place in the dust couldn’t get there no other way. Well, all is, it shows Miss Vick comes an’ goes pretty much as she likes—or did till you’n me camped out here.”

“Then you think she left the knife here that night, and has since returned and taken it away?”

“I donno,” Fibsy scowled in his effort to deduce the truth. “Let’s look!”

He darted from the room and up the stairs. Stone rose to follow.

“That boy is uncanny at times,” he said, seriously. “I’m only too glad to follow his intuitions, and not seldom; he’s all right.”

We went upstairs, and then on up to the next floor. Fibsy was in Vicky Van’s dressing room, staring about him. He stood in the middle of the floor, his hands in his pockets, wheeling round on one heel.

“They say she ran upstairs ‘fore she flew the coop,” he murmured, not looking at us. “That Miss Weldon said that. Well, if she did, she natchelly came up here for a cloak an’ bonnet. I’ll never believe that level-headed young person went out into the cold woild in her glad rags, an’ no coverin’. Well, then, say, she lef’ that knife here, locked up good an’ plenty. Where—where, I say, would she siccrete it?”

He glared round the room, as if trying to wrest the secret from its inanimate contents.

“Mr. Stone says that walls have tongues. I believe it, an’ I know these walls are jest yellin’ the truth at me, an’ yet, I’m so soul-deef I can’t make out their lingo! Well, let’s make a stab at it. Mr. Stone, I’ll lay you that knife is in some drawer or cubbid in this here very room.”

“Maybe, Fibsy,” said Stone, cheerfully. “Where shall we look first?”

“All over.” And Fibsy darted to a wardrobe and began feeling among the gowns and wraps hanging there. With a touch as light as a pickpocket’s he slid his lightning-like fingers through the folds of silk and tulle, and turned back with a disappointed air.

“Frisked the whole pack; nothin’ doin’,” he grumbled. “But don’t give up the ship.”

We didn’t. Having something definite to do, we did it thoroughly, and two men and a boy fingered every one of Vicky Van’s available belongings in an amazingly short space of time.

“Now for this chest,” said Fibsy, indicating a large low box on rollers that he pulled out from under the couch.

It was locked, but Stone picked it open, and threw back the cover. At the bottom of it, beneath several other gowns, we found the costume Vicky had worn the night of the murder!

“My good land!” ejaculated Fibsy, “the gold-fringed rig! Ain’t it classy!”

Stone lifted out the dress, heavy with its weight of gold beads, and held it up to view. On the flounces were stains of blood! And from the wrinkled folds fell, with a clatter to the floor, the missing carving-knife!

I stooped to pick up the knife.

“‘Scuse me, Mr. Calhoun,” cried Fibsy, grasping my hand, “don’t touch it! Finger prints, you know!”

“Right, boy!” and Stone nodded, approvingly. “Pick it up, Fibsy.”

“Yessir,” and taking from his pocket a pair of peculiar shaped tongs, Terence carefully lifted the knife and laid it on the glass-topped dressing table.

“Probly all smudged anyway,” he muttered, squinting closely at the knife. “But there’s sure some marks on it! Gee, Mr. Stone, there’s sumpum doin’!” His eyes shone and his skinny little fingers trembled with excitement of the chase.

Stone studied the gold-fringed dress. The blood stains on the flounces, though dried and brown, were unmistakable.

“Wonderful woman!” he exclaimed. “Now, we’ve got this dress, and what of it? She put it here, not caring whether we got it or not. She’s gone for good. She’ll never be taken. This proves it to my mind.”

“And the knife?” I asked, thrilling with interest.

“There you are again. If Miss Van Allen put that there for us to discover, the marks on it are of no use. Perhaps some she had put there purposely. You see, I’m inclined to grant her any degree of cleverness from what I know of her ability so far. She is a witch. She can hoodwink anybody.”

“Except F. Stone, Esquire,” amended Fibsy. “You pussieve, Mr. Calhoun, the far-famed detective, is already onto her coives!”

Stone looked up to smile at the boy’s speech, but he returned his gaze to the golden-trimmed gown.

“Of course,” he said, “it is improbable that she took this off before she left the house that night. I opine she threw a big cloak round her and rushed out to the house of some friend. Likely she found a taxicab or even commandeered some waiting private car for her flight. You know, we are dealing with no ordinary criminal. Now, if I am right, she brought this gown back here on some of her subsequent trips. As to the knife, I don’t know. I see no explanation as yet. Since she stabbed her victim with another knife—why in the world hide this one up here? What say, Fibsy?”

“‘Way past me. Maybe she was usin’ both knives, an’ the other one turned the trick, an’ when she got up here she seen she had this one still in her grip, an’ she slung it in this here chest to hide it. I ain’t sure that’s the c’reck answer, but it’ll do temp’rar’ly. I say, Mr. Stone, I got an awful funny thing to ask you.”

“It won’t be the first funny thing you’ve asked me, Terence. What is it?”

“Well, it’s pretty near eatin’ time, an’—aw, pshaw, I jest can’t dare to say it.”

“Go ahead, old chap, I can’t do more than annihilate you.”

“Well, I wanna go to the Schuylerses to dinner.”

“To dinner!”

“Yes, sir. An’ not to the kitchen eats, neither. I wanta set up to their gran’ table with their butlerses an’ feetmen, an’ be a nonnerd guest. Kin I, Mr. Stone? Say, kinni?”

Fleming Stone looked at the eager, flushed face. He knew and I did, too, that there was something back of this request. But it couldn’t be anything of vital importance to our mystery.

“Oh, I understand,” said Stone, suddenly. “You’ve taken a desperate fancy to Mrs. Schuyler and you want to further the acquaintance. But it isn’t often done that way, my boy.”

“Aw, now, don’t kid me, Mr. Stone. Either lemme go or shut down on it, one o’ the six! But it’s most nessary, I do assure you.”

“Maybe she won’t have you. Why should those grand ladies allow a boy of your age at their dinner-table?”

“Because you ask ‘em, sir.” Fibsy’s tone was full of a quiet dignity.

“Very well, I’ll ask them,” and Stone went away to the telephone.

Fibsy stood, looking raptly at the gold gown, and now and then his eyes turned toward the knife on the dressing-table. The table was covered with silver toilet implements, and save for its unfitting suggestion, the knife was unnoticeable among the other trinkets.

“It’s all right,” said Stone, returning. “Mrs. Schuyler sends a cordial invitation for all three of us to dine with her.”

“Much obliged, I’ll be there,” said Fibsy, unsmilingly.

Chapter 18
Fibsy Dines Out

That dinner at Ruth Schuyler’s was memorable. And, yet, it was in no way markedly unusual. The service was perfect, as might be expected in that well-ordered household, and the guests were well behaved. Fibsy, thanks to Fleming Stone’s thoughtful kindness, was arrayed in the proper dinner garb of a schoolboy, and his immaculate linen and correct jacket seemed to invest him in a mantle of politeness that sat well on his youthful buoyancy and enthusiasm.

I glanced round the table. It was a strange combination of people. Fleming Stone was the sort of man who is at ease anywhere, and I, too, am adaptable by nature. But the Schuyler sisters were very evidently annoyed at the idea of receiving as an equal the youth whom they regarded as a mere street arab.

Fibsy had become a firm friend of Ruth’s, but he couldn’t seem to like the other ladies, and he with difficulty refrained from showing this.

The Misses Schuyler were impressive in their heavy and elaborate mourning, and to my mind Ruth looked far more appropriately dressed.

She wore a black and white striped chiffon, with touches of black silk, and the effect, with her pale face and fair hair was lovely. A breastknot of valley lilies added to the loveliness, and I allowed my eyes to feast on her fairness. I had thought Ruth was not what could be called a pretty woman, certainly she was not beautiful; but that night her charm appealed to me more strongly than ever, and I concluded that her air of high-bred delicacy and infinite fineness were more to be desired than mere beauty.

Fibsy, too, devoured her with his eyes, though discreetly, and when he thought he was not observed.

Fleming Stone devoted himself to the sisters; probably, I concluded, because he was in their employ, and so owed them his attention.

Ruth wore her beautiful pearls, and referred to the fact, half-apologetically, saying that Mr. Schuyler had liked always to see them on her, and she felt privileged to continue to use them, even in her mourning period.

“You like only poils—pearls, don’t you, Mrs. Schuyler?”

Fibsy’s slip of pronunciation was due to his slight embarrassment at his novel surroundings, but he valiantly corrected himself and ignored it.

“I like other gems,” Ruth replied, “but Mr. Schuyler preferred pearls, and gave me such beauties that I have grown very fond of them.”

“I remember, Ruth,” said Sarah, reminiscently, “how you used to beg Randolph for sapphires and diamonds instead. You even wanted semi-precious stones—turquoises and topaz. Oh, I remember. But Randolph taught you that pearls were the best taste for a young matron and you grudgingly acquiesced.”

“Oh, not grudgingly, Sarah,” and Ruth flushed at the reprimand in her sister’s voice.

“Yes, grudgingly. Even unwillingly. In fact, all Randolph’s decisions you fought until he made you surrender. You know how you wanted gay-colored gowns until he made you see that grays and mauves were better taste.”

“Never mind my peccadilloes,” said Ruth, lightly. “Let’s talk of something less personal.”

“Let’s talk about the weather,” suggested Fibsy, who was not conducting himself on the seen and not heard plan. “The park is fine now. All full o’ red an’ gold autumn leaves. Have you noticed it, Mrs. Schuyler?”

“Not especially,” and Ruth smiled at him, in appreciation of his conversational help. “I must walk over there to-morrow.”

“Yes,’m. An’ why don’t you go for a long motor; ride up Westchester way? The scenery’s great!”

“How do you know, have you been there?”

“Not just lately, but I was last fall. Do you remember the big trees just at the turn of the road by—”

But Ruth was not listening to the child. Stone had said something that claimed her attention.

However, Fibsy was unabashed. With no trace of forwardness, but with due belief in his security of position as a guest, he continued to chatter to Ruth, and rarely addressed any one else.

He has something up his sleeve, I thought, for I was beginning to have great faith in the lad’s cleverness.

He sat at Ruth’s left hand, Stone being in the seat of the honor guest, and as that left me between the two sisters, I was doomed to participate in their chatter. But I was opposite my hostess and could enjoy looking at her in the intervals of conversation.

Suddenly, I chanced to look up and I saw Fibsy’s comical little face drawn with grimaces as he sang a snatch of a popular song.

  My heart goes twirly-whirly   When I see my pearlie girlie,        With her—

“Now, what is that next line? With her—?”

“With her ring-around-a-rosy curls!” supplemented Ruth, her own face breaking into laughter, as, caught by the infection of Fibsy’s waggish gayety, she rounded out the phrase.

“Yes, that’s it,” said Fibsy, eagerly, “and

  Her teeth like little shining pearls,   Oh, she’s my queen of all the girls,    My little twirly-whirly, pearlie Girlie!”

Ruth and Fibsy finished the silly little song in concert, and Stone clapped his hands in applause.

Rhoda sniffed and Sarah acidly remarked:

“How can you, Ruth? I wish you’d be a little more dignified.”

Quickly the light went out of Ruth’s eyes. She looked reproved, and though she didn’t resent it, a patient sadness came into her eyes, and I resolved that I would do all I could to get it arranged that she should live apart from the two carping, criticizing sisters.

After dinner we had coffee in the library. Again, Fleming Stone took it upon himself to entertain the Misses Schuyler, and I drifted toward Ruth. She sat down on a sofa and motioned Fibsy to sit beside her. I drew a chair up to them and thanked a kind fate that let us all leave the table at once, dispensing with a more formal tarrying of the men.

After the coffee there were liqueurs. I glanced at Fibsy to see if he accepted a tiny glass from the butler’s tray.

He did, and, moreover, he examined the contents with the air of a connoisseur.

“Oo de vee de Dantzic,” he remarked, holding up his glass and gazing at the gold flecks in it.

We all smiled at him.

“Your favorite cordial, Terence?” asked Stone, affably.

“Yessir. Don’t you love it, Mrs. Schuyler?”

“Yes,” she said, and then, “why, no, I don’t love it, child. But one gets accustomed to something of the sort.”

“But don’t you like it better than Cream de mint or Benediction?” he persisted.

Ruth laughed outright. “How do you know those names, you funny boy,” she said.

“Read ‘em on the big signboards,” he returned. “They have the biggest billboards in New York for one of these lickures. I forget which one.”

“These are what I like,” said Ruth, smiling, as the footman passed a small bowl of sugared rose-leaves and crisp green candied mint leaves. “Take some, Terence. They’re better for you than liqueurs. Help yourself.”

“They are good,” and Fibsy obeyed her. “They taste like goin’ into a florist’s shop.”

“So they do,” agreed Ruth, herself taking a goodly portion.

“Rubbish,” said Rhoda. “I think these things are silly. Randolph would never allow them.”

“Now, Rhoda, there’s no harm in a few candies,” protested Ruth, and then she changed the subject quickly, for she evaded a passage at arms with the sisters whenever possible.

The talk, however, soon drifted to the never forgotten subject of the murder. The sisters mulled over all they had heard or learned during the day and begged Stone to propound theories or make deductions therefrom.

Stone obeyed, as that was what he was employed for.

“I think Miss Van Allen is masquerading as somebody else,” he affirmed. “I believe she is in some house not very far from this neighborhood, under the care of some friend and accompanied and looked after by her maid Julie. I believe she is in touch with all that goes on, not only from the newspapers but by means of some spy system or secret investigation. But the net is drawing round her. I cannot say just how, but I feel sure that we shall yet get her. It was a grievous mischance that I let her escape last night, but I shall have another chance at her, I’m sure.”

“And then you’ll arrest her,” said Rhoda, with a snap of her thin lips.

“I dare say. Lowney tells me the finger prints on the little knife with which Mr. Schuyler was killed are clear and unmistakable, but we have not yet found out whose they are.”

“And can you?” said Ruth, anxiously.

“If we find Miss Van Allen,” said Stone, “we can at least see if they are her’s.”

“Pooh!” said Fibsy contemptuously, “why did’n’ youse tell me before that you had the claw prints? I kin get Miss Van Allen’s all right, all right!”

“How?” said I, for Fibsy had lapsed into the careless speech that meant business.

“Over to her house. Why, they’re all over. I’ve only gotto photygraph some brushes an’ things on her dressin’ table to get all the prints you want.”

“That’s true,” agreed Stone. “But it won’t give us what we want. Nobody doubts that Miss Van Allen held the knife that stabbed Mr. Schuyler, and to prove it would be a certain satisfaction. But what we want is the woman herself.”

It was then that I noticed Ruth’s maid, Tibbetts, hovering in the hall outside the library door.

“You may go home, Tibbetts,” Ruth said to her, kindly. “These gentlemen will stay late and I’ll look after them myself.”

Tibbetts went away, and Ruth said, explanatorily, “My maid is a treasure. I’d like to have her live here, but she is devoted to her own little roof tree and I let her off whenever possible.”

I knew Tibbets had a home over on Second or Third Avenue, and I thought it kind of Ruth to indulge her in this. But after a change of domicile herself perhaps Ruth would arrange differently for her maid. And, too, as Winnie had often told me of Ruth’s cleverness and efficiency in looking after herself and her belongings, I well knew she could get along without a maid whenever necessary.

“Did you ever trace that picture in Mr. Schuyler’s watch?” Ruth asked, a few moments later.

“Yes,” I said. “It was just as we supposed. A little vaudeville actress whom Mr. Schuyler had taken out to supper gave it to him, and he stuck it in his watch case, temporarily. Her name is Dotty Fay and she seemed to know little about Mr. Schuyler and cared less. Merely the toy of an evening, she was to him, and merely a chance that the picture was in his watch the night of his visit to Vicky Van’s.”

We had come to discuss the personal matters of Randolph Schuyler thus freely, for we were all at one in our search for the truth, and there were no secrets or evasions among us.

Ruth sighed, but I knew her dear face so well now that I realized it was not from personal sorrow, but a general regret that a man of Schuyler’s ability and power should have been such a weakling, morally. I knew she had never loved her husband, but she had been a faithful and dutiful wife, and no word or hint of blame had ever escaped her lips regarding him. She had been a martyr, but I hadn’t learned this from her. The sisters, though unconsciously, told me much of the deprivation and narrowness of Ruth’s life. Schuyler had ruled her with a rod of iron, and she had never rebelled, though at times her patience was nearly worn out.

Later in the evening Fibsy asked for some phonograph music, expressing his great delight in hearing a really fine instrument and good records.

“I doubt if you’ll care for our selections,” Ruth remarked, as she looked over the cabinet of records. “They’re almost all classical or old-fashioned songs.”

“I like the classical kind,” Fibsy said, endeavoring to be agreeable. “Please play the gayest you have, though.”

But there were few “gay” ones in the collection. Wagner’s operas and Beethoven’s solemn marches gave forth their noble numbers and Fibsy sat, politely listening.

“No ragtime, I s’pose?” he said, after a particularly depressing fugue resounded its last echoes.

“No,” and Ruth glanced at him. “Mr. Schuyler didn’t care for rag time—on the phonograph,” she added, perhaps remembering Dotty Fay.

We stayed late. Several times Stone proposed our departure, but Ruth urged us to remain longer or began some subject of interest that held us in spite of ourselves. I had never seen her so entertaining. Indeed, I had never before seen her in what might be called a society setting. She was a charming hostess, and the occasion seemed to please her, for there was a pink flush on her cheeks and an added brightness to her gray eyes that convinced me anew of the joy she could take in simple pleasures.

She singled out Fibsy for her especial attentions, and the boy accepted the honor with a gentle grace that astounded me. When talking to her he lost entirely his slang and uncouth diction and behaved as to the manner born. He was chameleonic, I could see, and he unconsciously took color from his surroundings.

And sometimes I caught him gazing at Ruth with a strange expression that mingled amazement and sadness, and I couldn’t understand it at all.

Again, I would find Ruth’s eyes fixed on me with a beseeching glance that might mean anything or nothing.

As a whole the atmosphere seemed surcharged with a nameless excitement, almost a terror, as if something dire were impending. Once or twice I saw Stone and Terence exchange startled glances, but they rarely looked at each other.

There was something brewing, of that I was sure. But whatever it was it did not affect the Schuyler sisters. They were eager to talk, anxious to hear, but they felt nothing of the undercurrent of mysterious meaning that affected the rest of us.

I was glad when the time came to go. It was very late, nearly midnight, and I marveled to see that Ruth showed no sign of weariness. The sisters had been frankly yawning for some time, but Ruth’s eyes were unnaturally bright, and her pale cheeks showed a tiny red spot on either side.

She shook hands nervously and her voice trembled as she said good-night.

Fleming Stone and the boy were moved, I could see that, but they made their adieux without reference to future meeting or further work on the mystery.

We went away, and as we turned the corner, I started to cross the street to go to my home.

“Come into the Van Allen house a few minutes, Calhoun,” said Stone, gravely. “I’ve something to tell you.”

We went in at Vicky Van’s. Stone’s manner was ominous. He and Fibsy both were silent and grave-looking.

We went in at the street door, into the hall and then to the living-room.

Stone and I sat down, and Fibsy darted out to the dining-room, back to the hall and up the stairs, flashing on lights as he went.

In silence Stone lighted a cigar and offered me one, which I took, feeling a strange notion that the end of the world was about to come.

In another moment Fibsy came slowly down stairs, walked into the living-room, where we were, gave one look at Stone, and then threw himself on a divan, buried his face in the cushions and burst into tears. His thin little frame shook with sobs, great, deep, heart-rending, nerve-racking sobs, that made my own heart stand still with fear.

What could it all mean? What ailed the boy?

“Tell me, Stone,” I begged, “what is it? What has upset him so?”

“He has found Vicky Van,” said Fleming Stone. “And it has broken his heart.”

“What do you mean? Don’t keep me in this suspense! Where is Vicky? Upstairs?”

“No,” said Stone, “not now.”

“Explain, please,” I said, beginning to get angry.

“I will,” said Stone.

“No!” cried Fibsy, “no, Mr. Stone, let me t-t-tell. W-wait a minute, I’ll tell. Oh, oh, I knew it all day, b-b-but I couldn’t believe it! I wouldn’t believe it! Why, Mr. Calhoun, Vicky Van is—is—why, Mrs. Schuyler is Vicky Van!”

Chapter 19
Proofs And More Proofs

“You are absolutely crazy!” I said, laughing, though the laugh choked in my throat, as I looked at Stone. “You see, Fibsy, you’re gone dotty over this thing, and you’re running round in circles. I know both Mrs. Schuyler and Miss Van Allen, and they’ve nothing in common. There couldn’t be two people more dissimilar.”

“That’s just it—that’s how I know,” wailed the boy. “That’s how I first caught on. You see—oh, tell him, Mr. Stone.”

“The boy is right,” said Stone, slowly. “And the—”

“He can’t be right! It’s impossible!” I fairly shouted, as thoughts came flashing into my mind—dreadful thoughts, appalling thoughts!

Ruth Schuyler and Vicky Van one person! Why, then, Ruth killed—No! a thousand times NO! It couldn’t be true! The boy was insane, and Stone was, too. I’d show them their own foolishness.

“Stop a minute, Stone,” I said, trying to speak calmly. “You and the boy never knew Vicky Van. You never saw her, except as she ran along the street for a few steps at midnight. And Terence didn’t see her then. It’s too absurd, this theory of yours! But it startled me, when you sprung it. Now, Fibsy, stop your sobbing and tell me what makes you think this foolish thing, and I’ll relieve your mind of any such ideas.”

“I don’t blame you, Mr. Calhoun,” and Fibsy mopped his eyes with his wet handkerchief. He was a strange little figure, in his new clothes, but with his red hair tumbled and his eyes big and swollen with weeping. “I know you can’t believe it, but you listen a bit, while I tell Mr. Stone some things. Then you’ll see.”

“Yes, Terence,” said Stone; “go ahead. What about the prints?”

“They prove up,” and Fibsy’s woe increased afresh. “They ain’t no shadder of doubt. The very reason I know they’re the same is ‘cause they’re so unlike. Yes, I’ll explain—wait a minute—”

Again a crying spell overwhelmed him, and we waited.

“Now,” he said, regaining self-control, “now I’ve spilled all my tears I’ll out with it. The first thing that struck me was the abserlute unlikeness of those two ladies. I mean in their tastes an’ ways. Why, fer instance, an’ I guess it was jest about the very first thing I noticed, was the magazines. In here, on Miss Van Allen’s table, as you can see yourself, is—jest look at ‘em! Vogue, Vanity Fair, Life, Cosmopolitan, an’ lots of light-weight story magazines. In at Schuylers’ house is Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Century, The Forum, The North American Review, and a lot of other highbrow reading. An’ it ain’t only that the magazines in here are gayer an’ lighter, an’ in there heavier an’ wiser; but there isn’t a single duplicate! Now, Miss Vicky Van likes good readin’, you can see from her books an’ all, so why don’t she take Harper’s an’ Century? ‘Cause she has ‘em in her other home—”

“But, wait, child,” I cried, getting bewildered; “you don’t mean Vicky Van lives sometimes in this house and sometimes in the Schuyler house as its mistress!”

“That’s jest what I do mean. I know it sounds like I was batty, but let me tell more. Well, it seemed queer that there shouldn’t be any one magazine took in both houses, but, of course, that wasn’t no real proof. I only noticed it, an’ it set me a thinkin’. Then I sized up their situations. Mrs. Schuyler’s dignified an’ quiet in her ways, simple in her dress, wears only poils, no other sparklers whatever. Vicky Van’s gay of action, likes giddy rags, and adores gorgeous jewelry, even if it ain’t the most realest kind. Now, wait—don’t interrup’ me, Lemme talk it out. ‘Cause it’s killin’ me, an’ I gotter get it over with. Well, all Mrs. Schuyler’s things—furnicher, I mean—is big an’ heavy an’ massive, an’ terrible expensive. Yes, I know her husband made her have it that way. But never mind that. Vicky Van’s furnicher is all gay an’ light an’ pretty an’ dainty colorin’ and so forth. And the day the old sister-in-laws was in here they said, ‘How Ruth would admire to have things like these! ‘Member how she begged Randolph to do up her boodore in wicker an’ pink silk?’ That’s what they said! Oh, well, I got a bug then that the two ladies I’m talkin’ about was just the very oppositest I ever did see! Then, another thing was the records. The phonygraft in here is full of light opery and poplar music like that. Not a smell o’ fugues and classic stuff. An’ in at Schuyler’s, as we seen to-night, there’s no gay songs, no comic operas, no ragtime.”

“But, Terence,” I broke in, “that all proves nothing! The Schuylers don’t care for ragtime and Vicky Van does. You mustn’t distort those plain facts to fit your absurd theory!”

“Yes,” he said, his eyes burning as they glared into mine. “An’ Mr. Schuyler he wouldn’t never let his wife go to the light operas or vodyville, an’ she hadn’t any records, so how—how, I ask you, comes it that she’s so familiar with the song about ‘My Pearlie Girlie’ that she joined in the singin’ of it with me at the dinner table to-night? That’s what clinched it. Mrs. Schuyler, she knew that song’s well as I did, and she picked it up where I left off and hummed it straight to the end—words and music! How’d she know it, I say?”

“Why, she might have picked that up anywhere. She goes to see friends, I’ve no doubt, who are not so straight-laced as the Schuylers, and they play light tunes for her.”

“Not likely. I’ve run down her friends, and they’re all old fogies like the sister dames or like old man Schuyler himself. The old ladies are nearly sixty and Mr. Schuyler was fifty odd, and all their friends are along about those ages, and Mrs. Schuyler, she ain’t got any friends of her own age at all. But, as Vicky Van, she has friends of her own age, yes, an’ her own tastes, an’ her own ways of life an’ livin.’ An’ she’s got the record of ‘My Pearlie Girlie.’“

“It’s true, Calhoun,” said Fleming Stone. “I know it’s all incredible, but it’s true. I couldn’t believe it, myself, when Fibsy hinted it to me—for it’s his find—to him belongs all the credit—”

“Credit!” I groaned. “Credit for fastening this lie, this base lie—oh, you are well named Fibsy!—on the best and loveliest woman that ever lived! For it is a lie! Not a word of truth in it. A distorted notion of a crazy brain! A—”

“Hold on, Calhoun,” remonstrated Stone, and I dare say I was acting like a madman. “Listen to the rest of this more quietly or take your hat and go home.”

Stone spoke firmly, but not angrily, and I sat still.

“Then, here’s some more things,” Fibsy continued. “I’ve gone over this house with a eye that sees more’n Mr. Stone’s lens, an’ it don’t magnerfy, neither. I spotted a lot of stuff in the pantry and storeroom. It’s all stuff that keeps, you know; little jugs an’ pots of fine eatin’—imported table delicacies—that’s what they call ‘em. Well, an’ among ‘em was lickures an’ things like that. And boxes of candied rose leaves an’ salted nuts—oh, all them things. An’ that’s why I wanted to go to dinner at Mrs. Schuyler’s an’ see if she liked to eat those things. An’ she did! She had the rose leaves an’ she had the kind o’ lickure that’s down in the pantry cupboard in this house. An’ she said it was her fav’rite, an’ the old girls said she never used to have those things when her husband was runnin’ the house—an’ oh, dear, can’t you see it all?”

“Yes, I see it,” said Stone, but I still shook my head doggedly and angrily.

“I don’t see it!” I declared. “There’s nothing to all this but a pipe dream! Why shouldn’t two women like Eau de vie de Dantzic as a liqueur? It’s very fashionable—a sort of fad, just now.”

“It ain’t only this thing or that thing, Mr. Calhoun,” said Fibsy, earnestly. “It’s the pilin’ up of all ‘em. An’ I ain’t through yet. Here’s another point. Miss Van Allen, she ain’t got any pitchers of nature views—no landscapes nor woodsy dells in this whole house. She jest likes pitchers of people—pretty girls, an’ old cavalier gentlemen, an nymps, an’ kiddy babies—but all human, you know. Now, Mrs. Schuyler, she don’t care anythin’ special for nature, neither. I piped up about the beauty scenery out Westchester way an’ over in the park, an’ it left her cold an’ onintrusted. But she has portfolios of world masterpieces, or whatever you call ‘em, over to that house, an’ they’re all figger pieces.”

“And her writing desk,” prompted Stone.

“Yessir, that checked up, too. You know, Mr. Calhoun, they ain’t nothin’ more intim’tly pers’nal than a writin’ desk. Well, Miss Van Allen’s has a certain make of pen, an’ a certain number and kind of pencils. An’ Mrs. Schuyler, she uses the same identical styles an’ numbers.”

“And notepaper, I suppose,” I flung back, sarcastically.

“No, sir, but that helps prove. The note paper in the two houses is teetumteetotally different! That was planned to be different! Mrs. Schuyler’s is a pale gray, plain paper. Miss Van Allen’s is light pink, to match her boodore, I s’pose. An’ it has that sort of indented frame round it, that’s extry fashionable, an’ a wiggly gold monogram, oh—quite a big one!”

I well remembered Vicky’s stationery, and the boy described it exactly.

“Proves nothing!” I said, contemptuously, but I listened further.

“All right,” Fibsy said, wearily pushing back his shock of red hair. “Well, then, how’s this? On Mrs. Schuyler’s desk the pen wiper is a fancy little contraption, but it’s clean-I mean it’s never had a pen wiped on it. Miss Van Allen’s desk hasn’t got any pen wiper. On each desk is a pencil sharpener, of the same sort. On each desk is a little pincushion, with the same size of tiny pins, like she was in the habit of pinnin’ bills together or sumpum like that. On each desk the blotter is in the same place and is used the same way. There’s a lot of pussonality ‘bout the way folks use a blotter. Some uses both sides, some only one side. Some has their blotters all torn an’ sorta nibbled round the edges, an’ some has ‘em neat and trim. Well, the blotters on these two desks is jest alike—”

“But, Fibsy,” I cried in triumph, “I’ve seen the handwriting of these two ladies, over and over again, and they’re not a bit alike!”

“I know it,” and Fibsy nodded. “But, Mr. Calhoun, did you know that Miss Van Allen always writes with her left hand?”

“No, and I don’t believe she does!”

“Yessir. I went to the bank an’ they said so. An’ I asked the sewin’ woman, an’ she said so. An’ I asked the caterer people an’ they said so. And the inkstand is on the left-hand side of Miss Van Allen’s desk.”

“All right, then she is left-handed, but that proves nothing!”

“No, sir, Miss Van Allen ain’t left-handed. You know she ain’t yourself. You’d ‘a’ noticed it if she had been. But she writes left-handed, ‘cause if she didn’t she’d write like Mrs. Schuyler!”

“Oh, rubbish!” I began, but Fleming Stone interrupted.

“Wait, Calhoun, don’t fly to pieces. All Terence is saying is quite true. I vouch for it. Listen further.”

“They ain’t no use goin’ further,” said Fibsy, despondently. “Mr. Calhoun knows I’m right, only he can’t bring himself to believe it, an’ I don’t blame him. Why, even now, he’s sizin’ up the case an’ everything he thinks of proves it an’ nothin’ disproves it. But anyway, the prints prove it all.”

“Prints?” I said, half dazedly.

“Yessir. I photographed a lot o’ finger prints in both houses, an’ the Headquarters people fixed ‘em up for me, magnerfied ‘em, you know, an’ printed ‘em on little cards, an’ as you can see, they’re all the same.”

I glanced at the sheaf of cards the boy had and Fleming Stone took them to scrutinize.

“I got those prints from all sorts of places,” Fibsy went on. “Off of the glass bottles and things in the bathrooms and off of the hair brushes and such things, an’ off of the envelopes of letters, an’ off the chairbacks an’ any polished wood surfaces, an’ I got lots of ‘em in both houses, an’ the police people picked out the best an’ cleanest an’ fixed ‘em up, an’ there you are!”

They seemed to think this settled the matter. But I would not be convinced. Of course, I’d been told dozens of times that no two people in the world have finger prints alike, but that didn’t mean a thing to me. It might be, I told them, that Vicky Van and Ruth Schuyler were friends, that Ruth had withheld this fact, and that—

“No,” said Stone, “not friends, but identical—the same woman. And, listen to this. Mrs. Schuyler heard us say this evening that Fibsy could photograph the brushes and such things over here to get Miss Van Allen’s finger prints, and what does she do? She sends Tibbetts over to scrub and wipe off those same brushes, also the mirrors, chairbacks and all such possible evidence. A hopeless task—for the woman couldn’t eradicate all the prints in the house. And, also, it was too late, for Fibsy had already done his camera work.”

“How do you know she did all that?” and I glowered at the detective.

“Because Fibsy just told me he found evidences of this cleaning up, and, too, because Mrs. Schuyler purposely kept us over there longer than we intended to stay. You know how, when we proposed to say good-night, she urged us to stay longer. That was to give her maid more time for the work. Now, Mr. Calhoun, go on with your objections to our conclusions. It helps our theory to answer your refutations.”

“Her letters,” I mumbled, scarce able to formulate my teeming thoughts. “Vicky Van sent a letter to Ruth Schuyler—”

“Of course, she did. Wrote it herself, with her left hand, and mailed it to her other personality, in order to make the police give up the search. And, too, the letter from Miss Van Allen, found in Randolph Schuyler’s desk after his death, was written and placed there by Mrs. Schuyler for us to find.”

“Impossible!” I cried. “I won’t allow these libels. You’ll be saying next that Ruth Schuyler killed her husband!”

“She did,” asserted Fleming Stone, gravely. “She did kill him, in her character as Vicky Van. Don’t you see it all? Schuyler came here as Somers, never dreaming that Vicky Van was his own wife in disguise. Or, he may have suspected it, and may have come to verify his suspicion. Any way, when she saw and recognized him, whether he knew her or not, she lured him out to the dining room and stabbed him with the caterer’s knife.”

“Never!” I said. I was not ranting now, I was stunned by the revelations that were coming so thick and fast. I couldn’t believe and yet I couldn’t doubt. Of one thing I was certain, I would defend Ruth Schuyler to the end of time. I would defend her against Vicky Van—why, if Ruth was Vicky Van—where was this moil to end! I couldn’t think coherently. But I suddenly realized that what they told me was true. I realized that all along there were things about Ruth that had reminded me of Vicky. I had never put this into words, never had really sensed it, but I saw now, looking back, that they had much in common.

Appearance! Ah, I hadn’t yet thought of that.

“Why,” I exclaimed, “the two are not in the least alike, physically!”

“Miss Van Allen wore a black wig,” said Stone. “A most cleverly constructed one, and she rouged her cheeks, penciled her eyelashes and reddened her lips to produce the high coloring that marked her from Mrs. Schuyler.”

I thought this over, dully. Yes, they were the same height and weight, they had the same slight figure, but it had never occurred to me to compare their physical effects. I was a bit near-sighted and I had never taken enough real personal interest in Vicky to learn to love her features as I had Ruth’s.

“You see,” Fleming Stone was saying, though I scarce listened, “you are the only person that I have been able to find who knows both Miss Van Allen and Mrs. Schuyler. No one else has testified who knows them both. So much depends on you.”

“You’ll get nothing from me!” I fairly shouted. “They’re not the same woman at all. You’re all wrong, you and your lying boy there!”

“Your vehemence stultifies your own words,” said Stone, quietly; “it proves your own realization of the truth and your anger and fury at that realization. I don’t blame you. I know your regard for Mrs. Schuyler, I know you have always been a friend of Miss Van Allen. It is not strange that one woman attracts you, since the other did. But you’ve got to face this thing, so be a man and look at it squarely. I’ll help you all I can, but I assure you there’s nothing to be gained by denial of the self-evident truth.”

“But, man,” I said, trying to be calm, “the whole thing is impossible! How could Mrs. Randolph Schuyler, a well-known society lady, live a double life and enact Miss Van Allen, a gay butterfly girl? How could she get from one house to the other unobserved? Why wouldn’t her servants know of it, even if her family didn’t? How could she hoodwink her husband, her sisters-in-law, and her friends? Why didn’t people see her leaving one house and entering the other? Why wasn’t she missed from one house when she was in the other?”

“All answerable questions,” said Stone. “You know Miss Van Allen went away frequently on long trips, and was in and out of her home all the time. Here to-day and gone to-morrow, as every one testifies who knew her.”

This was true enough. Vicky was never at home more than a few days at a time and then absent for a week or so. Where? In the Fifth Avenue house as Ruth Schuyler? Incredible! Preposterous! But as I began to believe at last, true.

“How?” I repeated; “how could she manage?”

“Walls have tongues,” said Stone. “These walls and this house tell me all the story. That is, they tell me this wonderful woman did accomplish this seemingly impossible thing. They tell me how she accomplished it. But they do not tell me why.”

“There’s no question about the why,” I returned. “If Ruth Schuyler did live two lives it’s easily understood why. Because that brute of a man allowed her no gayety, no pleasure, no fun of any sort compatible with her youth and tastes. He let her do nothing, have nothing, save in the old, humdrum ways that appealed to his notion of propriety. But he himself was no Puritan! He ran his own gait, and, unknown to his wife and sisters, he was a roue and a rounder! Whatever Ruth Schuyler may have done, she was amply justified—-”

“Even in killing him?”

“She didn’t kill him! Look here, Mr. Stone, even if all you’ve said is true, you haven’t convicted her of murder yet. And you shan’t! I’ll protect that woman from the breath of scandal or slander—and that’s what it is when you accuse her of killing that man! She never did it!”

“That remains to be seen,” and Fleming Stone’s deep gray eyes showed a sad apprehension. “But nothing can be done to-night. Can there, Terence?”

“No, Mr. Stone, not to-night. No, by no means, not to-night! It wouldn’t do!” The boy’s earnestness seemed to me out of all proportion to his simple statement, but I could stand no more and I went home, to spend the night in a dazed wonder, a furious disbelief, and finally an enforced conviction that Vicky Van and Ruth Schuyler were one and the same.

Chapter 20
The Truth From Ruth

Next morning I was conscious of but one desire, to get to Ruth and tell her of my love and faith in her, and assure her of my protection and assistance whatever happened.

Whatever happened! The thought struck me like a knell. What could happen but her arrest and trial?

But as I went out of my own door—I left the house early, for I couldn’t face Aunt Lucy and Winnie—I suddenly decided it would be better to see Stone first and learn if anything had transpired since I left him.

I rang the bell at Vicky Van’s house with a terrible feeling of impending disaster, that might be worse than any yet known.

Fibsy let me in. I wanted to hate that boy and yet his very evident adoration of Ruth Schuyler made me love him. I knew all that he had discovered had been as iron entering his soul, but his duty led him on and he dared not pause or falter.

“We may as well tell him,” he said to Stone, and the detective nodded.

“But come downstairs with us and have a cup of coffee first,” Stone said; “you’ll need it, as you say you’ve had no breakfast. Fibsy makes first-rate coffee, and I can tell you, Calhoun, you’ve a hard day before you.”

“Have you learned anything further?” I managed to stammer out as we went down to the basement room that they used as a dining-room now.

“Yes; as I told you, walls have tongues, and the walls have given up the secret of how Mrs. Schuyler managed her two-sided existence.”

But he would not tell me the secret until I had been fortified with two cups of steaming Mocha, which fully justified his praise of Fibsy’s culinary prowess.

Fibsy himself said nothing beyond a brief “good morning,” and the lad’s eyes were red and his voice shook as he spoke.

“I knew,” Stone said, as we finished breakfast, “that there must be some means, some secret means of communication between the two houses, the Schuyler house and this. You see, the Schuyler house, fronting on Fifth Avenue, three doors from the corner, runs back a hundred feet, and abuts on the rear rooms of this house, which runs back from the side street. In a word, the two houses form a right angle, and the back wall of the Schuyler house is directly against the side wall of the rear rooms of this house. Therefore, I felt sure there must be an entrance from one house to the other, not perceivable to an observer. And, of course, it must be in Mrs. Schuyler’s own rooms; it couldn’t be in their dining-room or halls. A few questions made me realize that Miss Van Allen’s boudoir was separated from Mrs. Schuyler’s bath room by only the partition wall of the houses. And I said that wall must speak to me. And it did.”

We were now on our way upstairs, Stone ready at last to let me into the secret he had discovered.

We went to Vicky’s boudoir, and he continued: “You know you found the strand of gilt beads caught in this mirror frame. We all assumed Miss Van Allen had flirted it there as she dressed for her party, but I reasoned that it might have caught there as she escaped to the Schuyler house the night of the murder. Yes, she did escape this way—look.”

Stone touched a hidden spring and the mirror in the Florentine frame slid silently aside into the wall, leaving an aperture that without doubt led into the next house. The frame remained stationary, but the mirror slid away as a sliding door works, and so smoothly that there was absolutely no sound or jar.

I saw what was like a small closet, about two feet deep and perhaps three feet wide. At the back of it, that is, against the walls of the adjoining room in the other house, we could see the shape of a similar door, and the secret was out. There was no need to open that other door to know that it led to Ruth Schuyler’s rooms. There was yet more telltale evidence. In the little cupboard between the houses was a small safe. This Stone had opened and in it was the black wig of Vicky Van and also a brown wig which I recognized at once as Julie’s well-remembered plainly parted front hair.

“You see, Tibbetts is Julie,” said Fibsy, in such a heart-broken and despairing voice that I felt the tears rush to my own eyes.

Vicky’s wig! The loops of sleek black hair, the soft loose knot behind, the delicate part, all just as it crowned her little head—Ruth’s head! Oh, I couldn’t stand it! It was too fearful!

“This other door,” Stone said, “opens into Mrs. Schuyler’s bathroom. That I know. You see, she had to have this entrance from some room absolutely her own. Her bathroom was safe from interruption, and when she chose she slipped through from one house to the other and back at will.”

“No, I can’t understand it,” I insisted, shaking my head. “If she came in here as Ruth Schuyler why wasn’t she seen?”

“Because, before she was seen, she had made herself over into Victoria Van Allen. She had donned wig and make-up, safe from interruption, here in her boudoir. This make-up she removed before returning to the Schuyler house in her role of Mrs. Schuyler.”

“It is too unbelievable!”

“No; it is diabolically clever, but quite understandable. Julie and Tibbetts are the same. This confidential woman looked after her mistress’ safety on both sides. She remained when Vicky Van disappeared. She looked after everything, took care of details, attended to tradesmen and all such matters, and when ready followed Mrs. Schuyler into the other house, or went from here to her rooms a few blocks away and later came from them. When there were to be parties, Julie left the Schuyler house early, came here and made preparations, and then as late as ten or eleven o’clock maybe, Mrs. Schuyler came in from her home, when her own household thought her abed and asleep. She could go back in the early morning hours, with no one the wiser. Or, if she chose and she did when her husband was out of town, she could pretend she had gone away for a visit and stay here for days at a time.”

I began to see. Truly the wall’s tongue had spoken. If this awful theory of Stone’s were true, it could only be managed in this way. I remembered how long and how often Vicky Van was absent from her home. I remembered that sometimes she was late in arriving at her own parties, although she always came down from upstairs in her party regalia.

“How did you come to suspect Tibbetts?” I asked, suddenly.

“Her teeth,” said Fibsy. “I saw that Tibbetts had false teeth, anyway, an’ I says, why can’t Julie’s gold teeth be false, too? And they are. They’re in the safe!”

What marvelous precautions they had taken! To think of having a set of teeth for the maid Julie that should appear so different from those of Tibbetts! Surely this thing was the result of long and careful planning.

“Her glasses, too,” went on Fibsy. “You see, they made her different from Tibbetts in appearance. That was all the disguise Tibbs had, the gold teeth, the big rimmed specs and the brown scratch—wig, you know. But it was enough. Nobody notices a servant closely, and these things altered her looks sufficient. Miss Van Allen, now, she had a wig an’ a lot of colorin’ matter an’ her giddy clothes. Nothin’ left to reckernize but her eyes, an’ they were so darkened by the long dark lashes and brows that she fixed up that it made her eyes seem darker. I got all this from the pitchers the artist lady made. You see, she caught the color likeness but not the actual features. So I sized up the resemblance of the real women. Oh, Mr. Stone, what are we going to do?”

“Our duty, Terence.”

Then I put forth my plea, that I might be allowed to go and see Ruth first; that I might prepare her for the disclosures they would make, the discoveries they would announce.

But Stone denied me. He said they would do or say nothing that would unnecessarily hurt her feelings, but they must accompany me. Indeed, he implied, that it might be as well for me not to go.

But I insisted on going, and we three went on our terrible errand.

Ruth received us in the library. She saw at once that her secret was known, and she took it calmly.

“You know,” she said, quietly, to Stone. “I am sorry. I hoped to hide my secret and let Victoria Van Allen forever remain a mystery. But it cannot be. I admit all—”

“Wait, Ruth,” I cried out. “Admit nothing until you are accused.”

“I am accused,” she responded, with a sad smile. “I heard you talking in the passage between the rooms. In my bathroom I could hear you distinctly. There is there a mirror door also. It looks like an ordinary mirror and has a wide, flat nickel frame, matching the other fittings. Yes, I had the sliding doors built for the purposes which you have surmised. Shall I tell you my story?”

“Yes, and let us hear it, too,” came from the doorway, and the two sisters appeared, agog with excitement and curiosity.

“Come in,” said Ruth, quietly. “Sit down, please, I want you to hear it. Most of it you know, Sarah and Rhoda, but I will tell it briefly to Mr. Stone, for I want not leniency, but justice.”

I seated myself at Ruth’s side, and though I said no word I knew that she understood that my heart and life were at her disposal and that whatever she might be about to tell would not shake my love and devotion. It is not necessary to use words when a life crisis occurs.

“I was an orphan,” Ruth said, “brought up by a stern and Puritanical old aunt in New England. I had no joy or pleasures in my childhood or girlhood days. I ran away from home to become an actress. Tibbetts, my old nurse, who lived in the same village, followed me to keep an eye on me and protect me in need. I was a chorus girl for just one week when Randolph Schuyler discovered me and offered to marry me if I would renounce the stage and also gay life of any sort and become a dignified old-fashioned matron. I willingly accepted. I was only seventeen and knew nothing of the world or its ways. As soon as we were married he forbade me any sort of amusement or pleasure other than those practised by his elderly sisters. I submitted and lived a life of slavery to his whims and his cruelty for five years. He had agreed to let me have Tibbetts for my maid, as he deemed her a staid old woman who would not encourage me in wayward desires. Nor did she. But she realized my thraldom, my lonely, unhappy life, and knew that I was pining away for want of the simple innocent pleasures that my youth and light-hearted nature craved. I used to beg and plead for permission to have a few young friends or to be allowed to go to a few parties or plays. But Mr. Schuyler kept me as secluded as any woman in a harem. He gave me no liberty, no freedom in the slightest degree.

“I had been married about four years when I rebelled and began to think up a scheme of a dual existence. I had ample time in the long lonely hours to perfect my plans, and I had them arranged to the minutest detail long before I put them in operation. Why, I practised writing with my left hand and acquired a different speaking voice for a year before I needed such subterfuges. Had I been able to persuade my husband to give me even a little pleasure or happiness I would willingly have given up my wild scheme. But he wouldn’t; so once when he was away on a long trip, I had the passage between the two houses made.

“I had previously bought the other house, under the name of Van Allen, for I had money of my own, left me by an uncle that Mr. Schuyler knew nothing about. Of course, this money came to me after I was married or I never should have wed Randolph Schuyler.

“Tibbetts’ cousin, an expert carpenter, did the work, and, as he afterward went to England to live, I had no fear of discovery that way. Indeed, there was little fear of discovery in any way. I was expected to spend much of my time in my own rooms—and my bedroom, dressing room and bath form a little suite by themselves and can be locked off from the rest of the house. So, when I retired to my rooms for the night I could go through into the other house and become Vicky Van at my pleasure.”

“I can’t believe such baseness!” declared Rhoda Schuyler, “such ingratitude to a husband who was so good to you—”

“He wasn’t good to me,” said Ruth, quietly, “nor was I ungrateful. Randolph Schuyler spoiled my life; he denied me everything I asked for, every innocent pleasure and amusement. So, I found them for myself. I did nothing wrong. As Victoria Van Allen I had friends and pleasures that suited my age and my love of life, but there never was anything wrong or guilty in my house—-”

“Until you killed your husband!” interrupted Sarah.

“Until the night of Randolph Schuyler’s appearance at Vicky Van’s house,” Ruth went on. “I had been told of a Mr. Somers who wanted to know me, but I had no idea it was my husband masquerading under a false name. He came there with Mr. Steele. Of course, I recognized him, but he did not know me at once. I sat, playing bridge, and wondering how I could best make my escape. I saw that he didn’t know me and then, suddenly as I sat, holding my cards, and he stood beside me, he noticed a tiny scar on my shoulder. He made that scar himself, one night, when he hit me with a hot curling iron.”

“What!” I cried, unable to repress an exclamation of horror.

“Yes, I was curling my hair with the tongs and he became angry at me for some trivial reason, as he often did, and he snatched up the iron and hit my shoulder. It made a deep burn and he was very sorry.

“Whenever he saw it afterward he said, ‘Never again!’ meaning he would never strike me again. Then, when he noticed the scar that night, although I had put on a light scarf to cover it, he said ‘Never again!’ in that peculiar intonation, and I knew then that he knew Victoria Van Allen was his own wife.

“I ran out to the dining-room and he followed me.”

“And you stabbed him!” cried Rhoda; “stabbed your husband! Murderess!”

“I don’t deny it,” said Ruth, slowly. “The jury must decide that. I must be tried, I suppose—”

“Don’t, Ruth!” I cried, in agony. “Don’t talk like that! You shall not be tried! You didn’t kill Schuyler! If you did it was in self-defence. Wasn’t it? Didn’t he try to kill you?”

“Yes, he did. He snatched the little carver from the sideboard and attacked me,—and I—and I—”

“Don’t say it, Ruth—keep still!” I ordered, beside myself with my whirling thoughts. The little carving-knife!

“And you defended yourself with the caterer’s knife—” began Stone, but Fibsy wailed, “No! No! It wasn’t Mrs. Schuyler! I’ve got the prints from the caterer’s knife and they ain’t Mrs. Schuyler’s at all! She didn’t kill him!”

“No, she didn’t!” and Tibbetts appeared in the library doorway. “I did it myself.”

“That’s right!” and Fibsy’s eyes gleamed satisfaction; “she did! It’s her fingermarks on the knife that stabbed old Schuyler. They’re plain as print! Nobody thought of matching up those marks with Tibbetts’s mitt! But I’ll bet she did it to save Mrs. Schuyler’s life!”

“I did,” and Tibbetts came into the room and stood facing us.

“Tell your story,” said Stone, abruptly, as he looked at the white-faced woman.

“Here it is,” and Tibbetts looked fondly at Ruth as the latter’s piteous glance met hers. “I’ve loved and watched over Mrs. Schuyler all her life. I’ve protected her from her husband’s brutality and helped her to bear his cruelty and unkindness. When she conceived the plan of the double life I helped her all I could, and I got my cousin to do the work on the houses that made it all possible. Then, I was Julie, and I devoted my life and energies to keeping the secret and allowing my mistress to have some pleasure out of her life. And she did.” Tibbets looked affectionately, even proudly, at Ruth. “The hours she spent in that house as Victoria Van Allen were full of simple joys and happy occupation. She had the books and pictures and furniture that she craved. She had things to eat and things to wear that she wanted. She went to parties and she had parties; she went to the theatre and to the shops, and wherever she chose, without let or hindrance. It did my heart good to see her enjoy herself in those innocent ways.

“Then Mr. Schuyler came. I knew the man. I knew that he came because he had heard of the charm and beauty of Vicky Van. He had no idea he would find her his own wife! When he did discover it I knew he would kill her. Oh, I knew Randolph Schuyler! I knew nothing short of murder would satisfy the rage that possessed him at the discovery. I prepared for it. I got the little boning-knife from the pantry, and as Mr. Schuyler lifted the carver and aimed it at Ruth’s breast I drove the little knife into his vile, wicked, murderer’s heart. And I’m glad I did it! I glory in it! I saved Ruth’s life and I rid the world of a scoundrel and a villain who had no right to live and breathe on God’s earth! Now, you may take me and do with me as you will. I give myself up.”

It was the truth. On the carving-knife appeared, plain as print, the finger marks of Randolph Schuyler, proved a hundred times by prints photographed from his own letters, toilet articles, and personal belongings in his own rooms. In his mad fury at the discovery of Ruth masquerading as Vicky Van, and in his sudden realization of all that it meant, he clutched the first weapon he saw, the little carver, to end her life and gratify his madness for revenge. Just in time, the watching Tibbets had intervened, stabbed Schuyler, and then ran upstairs, to escape through the hidden doors to the other house.

Ruth, stunned at the sight of the blow driven by Tibbetts, and dazed by her own narrow escape from a fearful death, picked up the carver that dropped from Schuyler’s lifeless hand and ran upstairs, too.

She had, she explained afterward, a hazy idea that she was picking up the knife that Tibbetts had used, so bewildered was she at the swift turn of events. And as she stooped over Schuyler in her frenzy the waiter had seen her and assumed she was the murderer. This, too, explained the blood on the flounces of her gown—it had brushed the fallen figure of her husband and became stained at the touch.

The two women had, of course, slipped through the connecting mirror doors into the Schuyler house, and long before the alarm was brought there they were rehabilitated and ready to receive the news.

Then Ruth’s quandary was a serious one. Innocent herself, she could not tell of her double life without making the whole affair public and incriminating Tibbetts, whom she loved almost as a mother and who had saved Ruth’s life by a fraction of a second. An instant’s delay and Schuyler’s knife would have been driven into Ruth’s heart.

So, for Tibbetts’ sake, Ruth, perforce, kept the secret of Vicky Van.

“I was not ashamed of it,” she told us, frankly. “There was nothing really wrong in my living two lives. My husband denied me the pleasure and joy that life owed me, so I found it for myself. I never had a friend or committed a deed or said a word as Victoria Van Allen that all the world mightn’t hear or know of. And I should have owned up to the whole scheme at once except that it would bring out the knowledge of Tibbetts’ act.

“I wished not to go back to the other house at all and should not have done so for myself. But I had reasons—connected with other people. A friend, whom I love, had asked the privilege of having certain letters sent her in my care, that is, in care of Miss Van Allen, and I had to go in once or twice to rescue those and so prevent a scandal that would ensue upon their discovery. For her sake I risked going back there at night. Also, I wanted my address book, for it has in it many addresses of people who are my charity beneficiaries. Mr. Schuyler never allowed me to contribute to any charitable cause, and I have enjoyed giving help to some who need and deserve it. These addresses I had to have, and I have them.

“Mr. Stone was right. The walls had tongues. He first noticed a little defect in the green paint in the living room, which I had retouched. Winnie told me of this, and I realized how clever Mr. Stone is. So, I threw away the paint I had used, which was in here, and I carefully thought out what else was incriminating and removed all I could from the other house. Fibsy noticed when I took a book from a table, but that book I wanted, because—” she blushed—”because Mr. Calhoun had given it to me and I wasn’t sure I could get it any other way.

“But the walls told all, and at the last I knew it was only a question of time when Mr. Stone or Terence would discover the doors. I suppose the strand of beads that caught as I escaped that night gave a hint, but they would have found them anyway. They are wonderful doors—in their working, I mean. No complicated mechanism, but merely so well made and adjusted that a touch opens or closes them, and absolutely silently. No one in this house ever dreamed the bathroom mirror was anything but a mirror. And in the other house the elaborate Florentine frame precluded all idea of a secret contrivance. The two feet of thickness of the house walls made a tiny cupboard, where I had that small safe installed, that we might put our wigs and such definitely incriminating bits of evidence in hiding, also Vicky’s jewelry. But I always changed my costumes from one character to the other in Vicky Van’s dressing-room, and so ran little or no chance of discovery.

“In a futile endeavor to distract attention from Victoria Van Allen I wrote a note to Ruth Schuyler and also wrote the one found in Mr. Schuyler’s desk. I did these things in hopes that the detectives would cease to watch for the return of Miss Van Allen, but it turned out differently. I assumed, of course, if search could be diverted from that house into other channels there would be a possibility of Tibbetts never being suspected. I am sorry she has confessed. I do not want her to be tried. She saved my life, and I would do anything to keep her from harm.”

But Tibbetts was tried and was acquitted. A just jury, knowing all of the facts, declared it was a case of justifiable homicide, and the verdict was “Not guilty!”

The Schuyler sisters were finally convinced that Ruth’s life had been endangered by their brother’s rage, and, though they condemned Tibbetts in their hearts, they said little in the face of public opinion.

As for me, I couldn’t wait until a conventional time had elapsed before telling my darling of my love for her own sweet self and, as I now realized, for Vicky Van also. I spent hours listening to the details of her double life; of the narrow escapes from discovery, and the frequent occasions of danger to her scheme. But Tibbetts’ watchful eyes and Ruth’s own cleverness had made the plan feasible for two years, and it was only because Ruth had found her dear heart was inclining too greatly toward me that she had begun to think it her duty to give up her double life. She had recently decided to do so, for she was not willing to let our mutual interest ripen into love while she was the wife of another man.

And so, if it hadn’t all happened just as it did, I should never have won my darling, for she was about to give up the Van Allen house and I never should have had occasion to meet Mrs. Randolph Schuyler.

It is all past history now, and Ruth and I are striving to forget even the memories of it. We live in another city, and Tibbetts is our faithful and beloved housekeeper.

And often Ruth says to me: “I know you love me, Chet, but sometimes I can’t help feeling a little jealous of the girl you cared for—that, what’s her name? Oh, yes, Vicky Van!”

“Vicky Van was all right,” I stoutly maintain. “I never knew a more charming, sweeter, prettier, dearer little girl than Vicky!”

“But she was awfully made up!”

“Yes, that’s where you score an advantage. The only thing about Vicky I disapproved of was her paint and powder. Thank heaven, my wife has a complexion that’s all her own.” And I kissed the soft, pale cheek of my own Ruth.


 

Spooky Hollow

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. - Prout Has a Fare
Chapter 2. - The Guest at Greatlarch
Chapter 3. - Rosemary
Chapter 4. - A Mysterious Death
Chapter 5. - Where Was Johnson?
Chapter 6. - The Wild Harp
Chapter 7. - Uncle and Niece
Chapter 8. - Spooky Hollow
Chapter 9. - A Living Tragedy
Chapter 10. - How Collins Felt About It
Chapter 11. - A Run Over to France
Chapter 12. - A Nameless, Homeless Waif
Chapter 13. - A Vincent After All
Chapter 14. - Fleming Stone on the Case
Chapter 15. - A Few Deductions
Chapter 16. - Fibsy Explores
Chapter 17. - Finch’s Story
Chapter 18. - The Terrible Truth

Chapter 1
Prout Has A Fare

Our Pilgrim band of stern and rock-bound forefathers left us a goodly heritage in New England. And, even though we may not still in awed tones call it holy ground, yet the soil where first they trod calls forth a certain respect and admiration not compelled by any other group of these United States.

To be sure they didn’t tread all of it. Lots and lots of square miles of ground and lofty soil are still untrodden to any great extent, especially the northern parts of the northern states.

Maine, with its great, beautiful Aroostook County, whose far-flung potato farms have a charm all their own, and whose glistening white farmhouses have their barns hitched on behind like majestic trains of cars—the exquisite tidiness of Maine as a state far outranks all her twelve original sisters.

In New Hampshire the white paint is less immaculate, the state less tidily cleared up, but the woods against a stormy sky their giant branches toss, and the rocking pines of the forest roar their eternal welcome. Timid little lakes nestle confidingly among the hills and the White Mountains cluster in majestic serenity.

And then comes Vermont, beautiful, careless Vermont, forgetful of her white paint, heedless of her broken-down fences, conscious only of her green Green Mountains and the sounding aisles of her dim woods.

East of the Green Mountain Range, in northern Vermont, is wide, rolling country, with here and there a handful of small hills dumped down as though they had been flung at the Range and fell short of their mark. Among them are valleys and lakes, vistas and scenery, verdure and foliage,—all that goes to make Vermont what her beautiful name means.

And villages. These are not always as picturesque as they should be, but man’s place in nature is frequently out of harmony with his surroundings.

What should be a quaint little hamlet with an old white-spired church and a few clustering cottages, is more often a Four Corners or a few rods or perches of a stupid-looking Main Street, totally lacking in pride, prosperity, or paint.

Farm-houses are shabby and fences dilapidated, yet, after all, there are sites and spots—oh, the sites and spots of Vermont!

If one wanted to build ten thousand homes, he could find a satisfying site or spot for each and have as many left over.

In our forefathers’ days, the soil where first they trod was considered the very thing for highroads, but now the broad white ribbon of concrete that tangles itself among the green hills is exceedingly convenient, without marring the picture.

And the towns that chance to impinge on or straddle that road are up to date and almost a part of the living, bustling world outside.

But the towns reached by the lesser roads, the older roads,—they have no animal spirits and lead a mere vegetable life.

Unless a great country house has been built on a site or a spot nearby, these little villages have none at all to praise and very few to love.

Hilldale was one of the prettiest of these villages and was in fairly good repair. This was owing to the fact that it had offered an unsurpassed site for a gentleman’s country house.

The gentleman had materialized, and so, later, did the house.

It had happened forty years ago. Vicissitudes had removed the gentleman but the house remained—remained empty for years, and at last, five years ago, had been bought, furnished, and occupied.

Yet the fact of the house, half a mile from the village street, so influenced and stimulated the villagers that unconsciously they lived up to it and gloried in its possession as in an invisible jewel held in trust.

For the house was invisible, by reason of those same dim woods and rocking pines, and moreover, because of high and strong stone walls.

Yet it was there and it was theirs, so Hilldale plumed itself and went about its business.

Off the main travelled road of traffic, it was also off the main line of the railroad and was reached by a tiny spur, whose trains, not impressed by the great house, ran with a debonair disregard of timetables or schedules.

And so, when one of these trains pulled up with a grinding jerk, and the leisurely, easy-going conductor sang out, “Hilldale!” John Haydock, who had risen, almost fell over backward by reason of the sudden stop.

The train was nearly an hour late, and though still well up in the heavens, the November sun was secretly preparing for a quick swoop down and out. The air was damp and raw, with a feeling that portended snow.

Beautiful Vermont had lost her green, but was bravely substituting a glory of red and russet and gold that clad her hills and dales with a blaze of autumn beauty.

John Haydock shivered as he stepped to the station platform, then drew up his overcoat collar, and appreciatively lapped up the beauty of the scene even while he looked about at conditions.

He saw a phlegmatic looking man standing near an elderly Ford, and with admirable sagacity deduced a local taxi driver.

“I want to go to Homer Vincent’s,” Haydock said, half expecting the man would drawl out “Wal, why don’t ye, then?” after the approved manner of Vermont natives in fiction.

But the influence of the house wouldn’t allow that, and the man merely gave a sort of grunt that seemed to mean “All right,” or “Certainly.”

Moreover, he showed a gleam of curiosity in his hard, weather-beaten blue eyes, and moved with alacrity as he took the stranger’s bag.

But he said nothing as he held the car door open for his passenger, and then took his own place at the wheel.

“Is it far from the village?” Haydock asked. The driver rolled a blue eye around at him.

“Ain’t never been there, eh?” he said. “Well, it’s about halfa mile,—good halfa mile. I ain’t never been in the house myself. Druv up to the entrance now, naginn,—just now, naginn. Great place!”

He spoke in an awe-struck voice, as one might of some masterpiece of God or man, and Haydock said, involuntarily:

“Is it such a beautiful house?”

“Is it? Is it! Well, you’ll soon see!”

They had left the village now, and were passing along a wooded country road, beautiful with its pines and hemlocks among the bright autumn leaves. A few roads branched to right or left, but the Ford car clattered straight ahead.

“Mr. Vincent get over his broken leg?” Haydock asked. “Can he walk all right?”

“Yep, mostly. Has a little limp—you’d hardly notice it, though. Course we don’t see him hardly ever.”

“Recluse?”

“Not quite that,—but sticks to his home mostly. Miss Vincent, now, she’s more sociably inclined.”

“Miss Rosemary?”

“Well, no, I didn’t mean her,—I meant the old lady,—Mr. Vincent’s sister. Miss Rosemary, now, she’s here, there, and everywhere. Ridin’ a horse, drivin’ a car, walkin’, skatin’ and they do say they’re goin’ to keep an airoplane.”

“Really? How up to date they are.”

“Well, they are, an’ they ain’t. Yes, sir, they are, ‘n’ they ain’t. The old man, now—”

“Why do you call Mr. Homer Vincent an old man?”

“Thasso. He can’t be mor’n fifty,—’n’ yet, he somehow seems old.”

“To look at?”

“Well, no; though ‘s I said, I don’t often see him. But if he’s passin’ in his motor car, he don’t look out an’ nod at people,—see, an’ he don’t seem to be smilin’—”

“Grumpy?”

“Not so much that as—”

“Indifferent? Preoccupied?”

“That’s more like it. Thinkin’ ‘bout his own affairs, seemin’ly. An’ they do say he does himself mighty well. And why shouldn’t he,—seein’s he has plenty of money. Why shouldn’t he, I say?”

“Is he married?”

The driver turned fully around, leaving the temperamental Ford to its own sweet will for a moment.

“Homer Vincent married!” he exclaimed. “I should say not! Him married!”

“What’s so strange about that? Lots of men marry.”

“So they do. Oh, well,—no, Mr. Vincent, he ain’t married.”

“What does he do? Any business?”

“Land, no; he’s got more money’n he knows what to do with. He just enjoys himself, one way ‘n’ another,—just one way ‘n’ another. Miss Vincent, now, Miss Anne, she rides about, stylish like, an’ makes fashionable calls on the minister an’ a few families of the town. They been here five years now, an’ yet mighty few people knows ‘em atall.”

“He didn’t build his fine house?”

“Land, no. It was built long ago, by a man named Lamont,—long about eighteen-eighty it was begun. Took years to build it, o’ course.”

“Is it so elaborate, then?”

“Is it? Look, here’s the beginnin’ of the stone wall now. See?”

“Good heavens, what a wall!” and Haydock stared at the high, massive, tessellated structure of carefully hewn and laid blue dolomite, that seemed to extend interminably.

“Yep, that’s it,” and the speaker wagged his head in deep pride of ownership. For Hilldale felt that it owned the place individually as well as collectively; and this in utter disregard of any opinion Mr. Vincent might hold on the matter.

“He’s an inventor, you know,” Haydock was further informed, as they neared the gates. “But I don’t think he invents anything.”

The great iron gates stood open but gave access only to a long avenue shaded by almost perfect specimens of the beautiful “wine-glass” elm.

“That kinda ellum tree’s just about gone now,”—said Haydock’s guide. “Mighty few left in all New England. Fine ones, these. Now, here begins the poplar row. See’m,—not Lombardy,—they’re North Carolina poplars. I guess Mr. Vincent set these out. They ain’t long-lived. Well, here we come to the wooded drive. The rest of the way to the house is right through a jungle. I’d hate it.”

The jungle was a grove, rather sparse than thick, of pine, spruce, hemlock, and larch, and its shadows were dank and black.

An occasional white birch, slender and ghostly, instead of lightening the gloom, rather added to it, and the rays of the now setting sun could scarcely penetrate the murk.

“Not very cheerful,” was Haydock’s comment.

“Now, here, sir, is the tree that gives the place its name.”

“What is its name?”

“Greatlarch,—that’s what they call it, Greatlarch,—’count o’ that big tree there. See?”

Haydock looked and saw the tallest larch tree he had ever seen. It was enormous, a most magnificent specimen. Surely the name was well chosen.

“That’s a hummer,” he agreed.

“Yep; nothin’ like in these parts,—an’ I don’t believe, nowhere.”

“I don’t either!” said Haydock, regardless of negatives in his enthusiasm.

“Now, you see, sir, we come to the entrance proper. This stone gateway’s where I leave you. Want me to wait?”

“No,” and Haydock dropped his sociable manner and became again a stranger. “What do I owe you?”

“One dollar, sir. Don’t want me to wait? You stayin’ here?”

Haydock looked at him.

“I’m not sure just what I shall do. Have you a telephone?”

“Yes, sir; call 87 Hilldale”

“And your name?”

“Prout. Mr. Vincent knows me. Tell him you want Prout,—that is, if you do want me. To take you back,—you know.”

“Yes, I gathered that was what you meant. Good day, Prout.”

The entrance was a massive arch with a tower on either side.

It seemed to include guard-rooms and connected with what was doubtless a porter’s lodge.

Haydock stared at the heavy stone-work, the beautiful design, and the hint of green velvety lawn through the arch.

He wished the daylight would linger, but it was even now almost gone. The gathering dusk gave the scene an eerie aspect, the great larch whispered as its long branches slowly tossed about, and the pines responded with a murmur of their own.

Seeing no one, Haydock stepped through the deep, wide archway, and then stood still, spellbound at what he saw.

A pile of gray stone, red-tiled roofs, tall chimneys, towers, turrets, dormers,—a perfect example of a French chateau of the period of the Renaissance.

Haydock knew enough of architecture to realize that he was gazing at a masterpiece. He had no idea there was such a building in America. Perfect in every detail, exquisitely set in the midst of rolling lawns, well-placed shrubbery, and noble old trees, with half glimpses, in the fading light, of terraces and gardens beyond.

Deeply impressed, he approached the entrance, a recessed portico on the north side of the house.

Outer doors of massive oak stood open, and he entered a vestibule wainscoted and paved with richly hued marble.

Wrapt in contemplation of the detail work, he pushed an electric bell, and was still unheeding when the door opened and a butler faced him inquiringly.

He felt a slight thrill of disappointment, for, without knowing it, he had subconsciously looked for a lackey in gold lace or at least a powdered and plushed footman.

But this man, beyond all question a butler, and a knowing one, gave Haydock an appraising glance, and in a tone nicely poised between deference and inquiry, said:

“You wish to see—” The voice trailed off to nothingness, but the barrier form of the butler gave way no inch of vantage.

“Mr. Homer Vincent,” said Haydock, suddenly recovering his wits, and speaking with a firm decision.

“By appointment?” But the severity of the butler’s manner perceptibly decreased and he even stepped back from the threshold.

“No, not by appointment,” and John Haydock came under the portal and into the beautiful entrance hall. Again he was nearly swept off his feet by what he saw. Marble walls and floors, painted friezes, vistas of rooms opening one from another—surely he was transported to some Arabian Nights’ Dream.

And again he was recalled to equanimity by that calm, cool voice:

“What name shall I give Mr. Vincent?”

And after the merest instant of hesitation, Haydock said:

“Tell him Henry Johnson wishes to see him,—on business, private, personal, and important.”

This speech was accompanied by a straight, sharp glance at the man, and the visitor, half turning, began to give himself up to contemplation of his surroundings.

“Yes, sir. Will you step in the reception room, sir?”

The reception room, in a large circular tower, was at the right as one entered the house, and to this Haydock went.

The butler disappeared, and Haydock studied the room.

It was of the period known as Perpendicular Gothic, and the side walls, delicately paneled in old oak, reached to the richly ornamented and domed ceiling.

The chimney-piece, which curved with the circular wall of the room, was of the rare Italian marble known as Red of Vecchiano, and it was Haydock’s study of this that was interrupted by the entrance of his host.

“You like it?” Homer Vincent said in a tone of slight amusement. “It is the only bit of that stone ever brought to this country.”

Turning, Haydock saw a moderately tall man with moderately broad shoulders. His hands were in his pockets, and the smile that had sounded in his voice was perceptible on his strong, well-cut lips.

He stood erect, his head thrown a trifle back, as if sizing up the situation.

“If you like, I’ll show you the whole house,” he offered. “It’s worth seeing.”

And now, Haydock looked at him as if sizing him up. Seemingly he had forgotten the house in his interest in its owner.

He saw a strong face, which, though now smiling with courtesy, yet looked as if, on occasion, it could be hard, even severe.

This may have been imagination, for Homer Vincent’s whole manner and attitude betokened only a friendly welcome.

But Haydock noted the firm curve of the chin, the straight line of the lips, and the haughty, aristocratic effect of the Roman nose, and concluded, offhand, that Homer Vincent was a power.

The dark hair was thickly streaked with gray, and the deep-set gray eyes were of a peculiar penetration. And yet, important though the man doubtless was, he had an air of indolence, of impatience under annoyance, that was unmistakable and impossible to ignore.

“Well,” he said, shortly, “well, Mr. Henry Johnson, what do you want to see me about?”

With a cautionary glance out through the doorway, Haydock leaned toward him and whispered two words in his ear.

Vincent permitted himself a slight raising of the eyebrows,—an unusual concession to interest or surprise.

“You do right to be discreet,” he said; “let us go to my own private room,—it is just across the hall.”

He led the guest across toward the circular room in the opposite turret, corresponding with the reception room.

And this time Haydock couldn’t restrain his exclamations.

“Let the business wait a few moments,” said Vincent, almost gleefully. “I admit I am proud of my home; let me show you a little of it.

“You see, it was built many years ago by one Lamont, an eccentric millionaire. It is an exact copy of one of the finest of the French chateaux. Moreover, it is built of the most magnificent marbles ever perhaps collected under one roof. Just the walls of this hall show French Griotte, Porte Venere, Verde Martin, and here you see American Black,—from Glens Falls. The floor is Morial marble from Lake Champlain.

“Ahead of you, looking toward the back of the house, you see the Atrium, copied faithfully from the Erectheum at Athens. We will not go there now,—nor to the Organ wing, where I have one of the largest and finest pipe organs in the world. We will go now into my own private room, and you shall tell me all about this matter you speak of.”

They crossed the hall, Haydock scarce able to tear his eyes from the cabinets, paintings, and rare pieces of furniture. The tall chimney-piece of the hall, Vincent said, was of Bois de Orient marble from Africa.

“Why all these rare marbles?” Haydock cried.

“It was Lamont’s fad,” Vincent replied. “And I’m glad he did it, for it saved my having to collect them. I bought the place complete, though totally unfurnished. It has been my pleasure to collect suitable furnishings and I have enjoyed the task.”

“I should say so!” and Haydock stared about the room they entered, which was Vincent’s very own.

Circular in form, it was finished in rare woods with a mantel of Siena marble and bronze, which showed figures of Hercules in statuary marble. The furniture, while not over-ornate, was in keeping with the character of the room. In the center was a great flat-topped desk, carved and inlaid, and at this the two men sat down.

It was after an hour’s conversation that Vincent said: “I will send for my sister,—we must consult with her.”

A bell brought the imperturbable, yet eagerly solicitous butler, whose name, Haydock now learned, was Mellish.

“Go to Miss Anne,” Vincent directed; “ask her to join me here if she will be so good. Tell her I have a caller here. And, by the way, Mr. Johnson, will you not stay the night? Then we can talk at our leisure and, also, I can show you over the house, which I feel sure will interest you.”

Haydock looked at his host questioningly, decided he meant his invitation sincerely, and accepted.

“But I have no evening togs with me,” he demurred.

“No matter, we will be informal. I am myself not overly given to conventions and my niece is dining out. Mellish, take Mr. Johnson’s bag to the south guest room, and make him comfortable there.”

Mellish departed, and after informing Miss Vincent, went about his other errands.

“Man here,” he announced a little later to his wife, who was also the Vincents’ cook. “Nicish chap, but addle-pated. So took up with the house he don’t know what he’s saying.”

“They’re often took like that,” returned Mrs. Mellish, placidly. “Where’s he put?”

“In the south room.”

“H’m; master must set a pile by him.”

“I don’t know about that. I’m not sure they ever met before.”

“Too bad Miss Rosemary’s out,—she likes a stranger here now and then.”

“Oh, Miss Rosemary wouldn’t look at him. He’s not her sort,” said Mellish.

Chapter 2
The Guest At Greatlarch

The organ hall at Greatlarch was a massive west wing, with transepts looking north and south. The hall, as large as a small church, was Corinthian in design, with side walls of antique oak, marvellously carved and gilded, that had been brought from England in panels. High above the antique oak cornice rose the vaulted, coffered ceiling and at the east end was a balcony that might be reached from the second story. A rose window in the third story also looked down into the beautiful room.

In the semicircular west end was the great organ, and at its keyboard sat Homer Vincent, his capable hands caressing the keys with a gentle yet an assured touch. He usually spent the hour before dinner at the organ, and those who knew him could divine his mood from the music they heard.

Tonight his mood was variable, uncertain. He struck slow, close harmonies in a desultory fashion, his fine head bowed a trifle as if in deep thought. Then, suddenly, he would lift his head, and the organ would peal forth a triumphant strain, like a song of victory. Or some crashing chords would resound for a moment, to be followed by a silence or by a return to the slow, meditative harmonies.

Sometimes he would play works of the masters and again he would drift into improvisations of his own.

As the dinner hour drew near, Anne Vincent came from her room on a mezzanine floor, and went directly to the gallery that overlooked the organ room.

A slight little lady, a spinster of forty-seven, she had enough pretensions to good looks to warrant her pride in dress. Her hair would have been gray, but for discreet applications of a certain concoction. It would have been straight, but for the modern invention known as a permanent wave. And so, she presented to the world a beautifully coifed head of dark-brown hair, whose frantic frizz was persuaded to lie in regular, though somewhat intractable waves. Her eyes were gray, like her brother’s, but more bright and piercing. Her air was alert, observant and interested. Where Homer Vincent showed utter indifference to the universe at large, his sister manifested interest, even curiosity, toward all mundane matters.

Her slight figure was youthful, her manner animated, and her clothes were in exquisite taste and bore the labels of the best modistes.

Tonight she wore a Georgette gown of a pale apricot color, simply made, but with delicate, floating draperies that betokened the skilled hand of an artist. Her only ornament was a large and perfect ruby, set in finely wrought gold work.

With a light step she tripped down the short mezzanine stairs to the upper front hall. This was no less beautiful than the hall below. It was flanked on either side by four Corinthian columns with gilded capitals, and the panelled ceiling was modelled after one in the Ducal Palace at Venice.

Save for the Tower rooms on either side, this hall took up the entire front of the house, and from it a balcony rested on the portico above the main entrance.

Through the hall Miss Anne went, her high-heeled slippers making no sound on the rugs, which were skins of polar bears.

Through to the balcony above the organ room she passed and stood, one slim hand on the carved balustrade, looking down at her brother.

“Poor Homer,” she thought to herself; “he doesn’t know what to do. But of course Mr. Johnson is right in the matter,—and of course he knows—my! it means a lot of money! Well, Homer has plenty—if he will only think so. A strange man, that Mr. Johnson—now I think I like him,—and then—I don’t—I wish I—but, of course,—my heavens! here he comes now!”

Anne Vincent looked up with a smile as Haydock joined her on the balcony.

The man was still rolling his eyes about as if in a very ecstasy of delight in what he saw.

This was his first glimpse of the organ, as after their talk Vincent had sent him to his room to tidy up for dinner.

“I regret my informal attire—” he began, as he joined Miss Anne, but she brushed aside his apology.

“It’s all right,” she said; “we’re always informal when we’re alone. Now I should like elaborate dress every night, but my brother and my niece wouldn’t hear to such a thing. So you’re quite all right, Mr. Johnson. What do you think of the organ?”

“I have no adjectives left, Miss Vincent. The whole place stuns me, I can scarcely believe I am in America,—I feel transported to the France of the Renaissance.”

“You are familiar with the history of that period?” She looked at him curiously.

“No,” he replied, honestly enough. “No, I am not. But I know this is all of that era, and anyway, it so overwhelms me, I can’t quite analyze my emotions.”

“Yes, I felt like that when we first came here. But five years have made me feel at home in this atmosphere. Your room, Mr. Johnson, is just above my own. It looks out on the south gardens and I am sure you noticed the lagoon and the Greek Temple?”

“Of course I did, though the twilight view made me only more anxious to see it all by daylight.”

“Which you can do in the morning. My niece will be here then, and she will show you the grounds. That Greek Temple is a Mausoleum.”

“A wondrously beautiful one!”

“Yes, is it not? And now, dinner is served,—come Mr. Johnson,” and then, “Come, Homer,” she called to her brother at the organ.

Vincent met them in the lower hall, and ushered them into the Atrium. This, perhaps the most imposing feature of the house, was a pure and perfect example of Greek Ionic architecture.

From the floor of native white marble, rose sixteen monolithic columns with gilded capitals and bases of Bois de Orient and Vert Maurin marble. The side walls were of Rose of Ivory marble quarried in the Atlas mountains of North Africa.

These details Homer Vincent told his guest as they passed through the great room, and drew his attention to the tall plate-glass windows that formed the whole southern end.

Between the Ionic columns of the semicircular south portico could be seen the lagoon with its fountain, and at its far end gleamed the pure white of the Greek Temple against a dark setting of pines and larches.

Johnson sighed as they turned to the dining room, another marvel of Italian Renaissance, in antique English oak, with tall chimney-piece of French Griotte and Belgium Black marbles.

“I wonder,” Haydock said, whimsically, as they took their seats, “if the native marble of Vermont resents the presence of these imported strangers.”

“I have thought that, too,” and Miss Anne’s eyes twinkled, “I am sure it is the case.”

“They dislike one another,” Vincent said, taking up the jest. “The Italian and African marbles scorn the Vermont stone, however pure and white. But they are silent about it, for the most part. In our living room is a chimney-piece of Porte Venere or ‘Black and Gold’ marble from Spezia, which, with its gold bronze ornaments is one of the handsomest and most expensive features of the house. You will forgive my descanting on these things, Mr. Johnson, but I own up that this house is my hobby, and I am a bit daft over it.”

“I don’t wonder,” declared Haydock, with honest enthusiasm. “And I am glad to hear these details. Of course, I am especially interested, because of—”

“I am going to ask of you,” Vincent interrupted him, “not to discuss during dinner the business on which you came here. It is,” he smiled, “bad for our digestion to think deeply while eating, and too, I want you to do justice to the art of my cook.”

The dinner, indeed, as well as the service of it, was entirely in harmony with the surroundings, and though there was no unnecessary pomp or ceremony, the details were perfect and correct.

Mellish, like a guardian spirit, hovered about, and two waitresses under his jurisdiction were sufficient to insure the comfort of the party.

“I am sorry your niece is not at home,” Haydock said, as Rosemary’s name was casually mentioned.

“You shall see her tomorrow,” Vincent promised. “This evening we must have another confab in my study as to our business, and I trust we shall settle it to the satisfaction of all. Mr.—er—Johnson, you must remain here for a time as our guest.”

“Thank you,” Haydock said, simply. “I trust I may do so.”

He looked at Miss Anne, as if expecting a confirmation of the invitation, but she said nothing.

“I suppose,” he said, “that, having your sister and your niece, you have not felt the need of a wife as chatelaine of this wonder-home.”

Homer Vincent smiled.

“I’m afraid,” he said, “no wife would put up with my vagaries. I’m not an easy man to live with—”

“Oh, now, Homer,” his sister protested, “you sha’n’t malign yourself. If my brother is a bit spoiled, Mr. Johnson, it is because my niece and I pet and humor him. It is our pleasure to do so. You see, my brother is a very remarkable man.”

“And my sister is blindly prejudiced in my favor,” Vincent tossed back. “We are a very happy family, and perhaps the more so that each of us follows his or her own sweet will.”

Although no outward change took place on the features of the blank-countenanced Mellish, yet could one have seen into his brain, there was indication of unseemly derision and unholy mirth.

For, as a matter of fact, every one at Greatlarch, whether family, guest, or servant, followed the sweet will of Homer Vincent.

At least, he did if he knew what was good for himself.

Yet Vincent was no tyrant. He was merely a man whose only desire in life was creature comfort; whose only pursuit was his own pleasure; whose only ambition was to be let alone.

His sister and niece might do what they would, so long as they did not interfere with his plans. His servants might have much liberty, many indulgences, if they would but attend perfectly to his wants or needs. Guests could have the freedom of the place, if they kept out of his way when not wanted.

Homer Vincent was not so much selfish as he was self-indulgent,—self-centered. He was scholarly and loved his books; musical, and loved his organ; artistic and aesthetic, and loved his house and his collections; he was of an inventive turn of mind, and loved to potter about in his various workrooms and laboratories, without being bothered as to what he was doing.

In return for these favors he gave his sister and niece pretty much a free hand to do as they chose, checking them now and then in the matter of expenditures. For though the Vincent fortune was large, it was not inexhaustible, and the upkeep of the place was enormous. Yet it must be kept up in a manner to please Homer Vincent’s ideas of comfort, even though this necessitated curtailing the hospitalities toward which Miss Anne and Rosemary inclined.

Homer was kindly by nature; he really disliked to deny Anne anything she wanted, but, as he said, they couldn’t entertain all Hilldale all the time, especially as they had no desire to accept return hospitalities.

And if Miss Anne did have such an undesirable desire, she kept it to herself, for she adored her clever brother.

Her other brother, the father of Rosemary, had died five years before, an event which resulted in the girl’s coming to live with these relatives.

The household was harmonious,—if and when the two women sank their own wills in the will of Homer Vincent. Otherwise not.

Not that there was ever any friction, or unpleasantness.

Vincent had a way of attaining his end without such. And, perhaps through habit, perhaps following the line of least resistance, both the older woman and the girl willingly capitulated when conditions required it.

For Rosemary loved her Uncle Homer, and Miss Anne fairly worshipped him.

It went without saying, therefore, that Vincent’s hint that business matters should not be discussed at the table, was effectual.

Haydock acquitted himself fairly well. The interest he felt in the business which had brought him thither, and the absorbing entertainment of this beautiful home, filled his mind to the exclusion of all else. And since the first subject was for the moment taboo, he pursued the other with zest.

“The man who built this was a genius,” he declared.

“It was built,” Vincent informed him, “by a prominent firm of New York architects, but as they faithfully copied an old French chateau, they had little need for originality. Of course it was a folly. These great palaces often are. After getting it, the owner found he hadn’t sufficient fortune left to keep it up. So it came into the market, and years later I was fortunate enough to get it at a great bargain. Probably I paid not half of the original building cost.”

“Lack of funds wasn’t the only reason that Mr. Lamont wanted to sell it,” Miss Anne said, with a glance at her brother.

“No,” and Homer Vincent looked grave. “There is a tragedy connected with the place, but I try not to let it affect my nerves or even linger in my memory. I wish you would do the same, Anne.”

“Oh, it doesn’t get on my nerves, Homer, but I can’t put it out of my memory, altogether. I am reminded of it too often.”

“May I hear the story?” asked Haydock, looking from one to the other.

“If you wish,” Vincent said, a little unwillingly; “but it’s not a cheerful one.”

“Anything connected with this wonderful place must be of interest,” Haydock declared, and Anne Vincent began the tale.

“It’s a ghost story,” she said, her eyes showing a sort of horrified fascination. “You see, Mrs. Lamont, the wife of the former owner, was murdered in her bed—”

“Now, Anne,” her brother interrupted, “we don’t know that she was—it may have been a suicide.”

“No,” Miss Anne declared, positively, “she was murdered, and her ghost still haunts the place.”

“Have you seen it?” Haydock asked. He had deep interest in the occult.

“I haven’t seen it,—but I’ve heard of it,” she replied, in a whisper. “What do you suppose it does? It plays the harp—the Wild Harp!”

“Oh, come now, Anne, don’t bore Mr. Johnson with your fairy tales.”

Homer Vincent was in the best possible humor. He had had a dinner that exactly suited him, perfectly served, and now as he pushed back his chair a little, he was raising a cigar to his lips, knowing that at the instant it reached them a lighted match, in Mellish’s careful hand, would touch the other end of it. Knowing, too, that an ash-tray would materialize on the exact spot of the tablecloth that he wished it, and that, simultaneously, his coffee cup would be removed.

These things were necessary to Homer Vincent’s happiness, and his thorough drilling of Mellish had made them immutable.

He had instructed the butler long ago to measure carefully with a yardstick the exact distances between the four table candlesticks as well as their distance from the edge of the table.

Yet Vincent was no “Miss Nancy,” no feminine or effeminate fusser in woman’s domain. All details of housekeeping were left to Miss Anne, whom he had also trained. But the most infinitesimal derelictions from exact order and routine were noticed and reproved by Homer Vincent and rarely indeed did the same error occur twice.

In fact, after his five years of occupancy, he had his home in perfect running order, as he conceived perfection.

Banquets were never given, house guests were rare, callers infrequent, because none of these things contributed to the comfort of Homer Vincent. His tranquil days were occupied with his pleasant avocations indoors, varied by motor trips, horseback rides, or country rambles.

His stables and garage boasted the finest horses and cars, and in addition he was seriously contemplating an aeroplane. Indeed, he had already ordered plans drawn for a hangar.

All of his belongings were at the service of his sister and niece at such times as he did not himself require them. It was their duty to find out when these times were.

But the two women had no trouble about this. Vincent was not unreasonable, and both Miss Anne and Rosemary were astute enough to read him pretty well.

He required Anne to be always present to preside at his table. To be sure, he did the presiding himself, but he wished her at the head of the board always. This precluded her accepting invitations which did not include him or which he was not inclined to accept. However, the placid lady was more than willing to defer to his preferences.

Rosemary was allowed more freedom in these matters and went to visit her girl friends as often as she chose. Having them to visit her was another matter, and only to be suggested with the greatest discretion and careful choice of opportunity.

“Yes,” Miss Anne was saying, “and, do you know, Mr. Johnson, my room,—my bedroom is the one she had, and the one that is said to be haunted by her ghost!”

“Really, Miss Vincent? And are you not timid—?”

“Not a bit! You see, it is the loveliest room in the house,—except brother’s, and I would be silly to refuse it because of a foolish superstition.”

“Just below my room, you said, I think?”

“Yes, facing south,—looking out on the lagoon and fountain and on down to that beautiful marble Temple—”

“That is a tomb!” finished Vincent. “Any other woman would be scared to death to look out on that view, but I believe my sister enjoys it.”

“I surely do, Homer. Often I look out there on moonlight nights and feel sorry for the poor lady. And—” her voice fell, “sometimes I hear her—playing on her harp—”

“Oh, come now, Anne, you’ll get Mr. Johnson so wrought up he won’t dare sleep in his own room, which of course has the same outlook!”

“I’m not superstitious,” Haydock averred. “In fact, I should like to hear the ghostly harp—though I cannot say I’d welcome a spook visitor!”

“Let us look out in that direction,” said Vincent, rising. His idea of Anne’s presiding was to have her ready to arise at his signal, not the other way.

He led them back through the Atrium and on out to the great semicircular portico that was the southern entrance.

“It’s chilly,” he said, as he opened a long plate-glass door. “Better stay inside, Anne. Just a moment, Mr. Johnson, unless you think it too cold?”

“No, I like it,” and Haydock stepped out into the crisp night air.

“Feels like snow,” said Vincent. “Now, of course, tomorrow you can see this in the sunlight, but in this dim murk, with the shadows so deep and black, it is a picturesque sight, is it not?”

“It’s wonderful!” Haydock exclaimed, looking across the black water of the lagoon, where the dimly seen fountain did not obscure the faint gleam of white marble that was the Mausoleum.

“You like to keep that thing there?” he asked, curiously.

“Why not?” and Vincent shrugged his shoulders. “Since it doesn’t worry the ladies, and I have no fear of spooks, why should I have it removed? It is exquisite, the Temple. The model, as you can scarcely see now, is that of the Parthenon.”

“How did the story of the haunting come about?”

“Since it is supposed that the lady was murdered, it would be more strange if such a story did not arise. It was long ago, you know. I’ve been here five years, but before that the house stood empty for nearly twenty years. In that time many legends found credence, and many ghostly scenes were reported. Apparitions flitting round the tomb are the most common reports, but strains of a wild harp also are vouched for. Indeed, my sister thinks she has heard them.”

“Have you?”

Homer Vincent hesitated, and then said, “There have been times when I thought I did. But of course it was imagination,—stimulated by the weird aspect of the place. Look at that thicket back of the Temple. Even now, you can seem to see moving shadows.”

“What is behind there?”

“It is a sort of undergrowth of low pines and birches, scrub oaks and elms, a tangle,—almost a jungle, of vines and canebrakes—”

“Swampy?”

“Not quite that,—though mucky after a long rainy spell. I threaten now and then to have it all cleared out and drained,—but I haven’t got at it yet. It is more or less fenced off,—you can just see the low stones—”

“Yes, they look like gravestones.”

Vincent smiled. “They do. That adds to the spookiness. Do you know the villagers, before I came here, called the place Spooky Hollow?”

“And a good name, too!” Haydock shivered. The atmosphere of gloom was beginning to tell on his nerves. “Guess I’ll seek the bright lights! It’s fairly creepy out here!”

Vincent turned toward the house, his slight limp showing itself a little as he crossed the tiled terrace.

“It is all most wonderful,” Haydock summed up, as they re-entered, “but it does not make me forget my mission here—”

“Let that wait, my dear sir, until we are by ourselves.”

For the ubiquitous Mellish was in silent waiting to open the door wider for them, to close it, and to stand at attention for orders.

Haydock perceived the man was a bodyservant of his master rather than a mere butler.

“And now,” Vincent said, “we will again seek my own private room, and settle the business. After that, I trust we shall all sleep contented and serene. Come, Anne, we want your advice and opinions.” Miss Vincent joined them, and as they passed into Homer Vincent’s Tower room, Mellish, looking a little regretful, returned to his domestic duties.

Chapter 3
Rosemary

“That man up there is a queer bird,” Mellish declared to his wife, as he joined her in the kitchen.

“As how?” Mrs. Mellish inquired, with slight interest.

The main kitchen at Greatlarch was a spacious room with walls of pure white marble. Spotless all its appointments and speckless Mrs. Mellish had them kept.

Of a truth she dwelt in marble halls, and having plenty of vassals and serfs at her side, she secured the immaculate tidiness in which her soul delighted, and which, incidentally, Mr. Vincent exacted.

No oversight of Susan Mellish was necessary. Cook she was, but also she was queen of her own domain and life below stairs went on with no more friction or dissension than above. In the household, Homer Vincent’s motto was: “Peace at Any Price,” and if an underling disturbed it, there was a rapid substitution.

Nor was there any ripple in the smooth-flowing current of the family life. Homer Vincent saw to that. Not that the man was domineering. On the contrary, he was a loving and kind brother and uncle. His tastes were simple, even though luxurious. He asked only smooth-running household machinery and no interference in his own pursuits.

Anne Vincent was nominally housekeeper, and indeed she kept up a careful oversight, but Susan Mellish was so thoughtful, so capable, so meticulously watchful of details there was little or nothing for Miss Anne to do.

The whole household worshipped the master, and he repaid them by liberal wages and comfortable living.

The servants’ quarters included delightful sitting-rooms and dining-room, and their sleeping-rooms were most pleasant and beautifully appointed.

A feature of the house was Homer Vincent’s own suite. Above his Tower room on the first floor was his smoking-room on the second floor. Back of this followed his bedroom and elaborate bath. Next, his library, with large open terrace that in winter became a sun parlor.

These rooms, of rarest marbles and woods, with French panels of paintings, mirrors, and rich brocades, were appointed in perfect taste. No gimcrackery ornaments, but dignified furniture and a few fine paintings and vases.

The library was a joy. Comfort and beauty of the highest degree were combined with utilitarian bookracks and tables.

These rooms ran along the whole east side of the house, ending with the library and terrace, which looked down toward the Temple as well as off to the east.

They were directly above the lower Tower room, the dining-room and breakfast-room and the family living-room. The other side was taken up by the reception room, the great organ wing, and, back of that, the drawing-room. Between the two sides were the wide entrance hall, and the wonderful Atrium.

Above the Atrium, at the south end, was Miss Vincent’s room, on a mezzanine floor, and above that, on a second mezzanine, was John Haydock’s room.

The floor above held six large guest rooms and the servants’ bedrooms were higher still. However, electric elevators did away with the discomforts of stair climbing, and the many floors, cellars, and sub-cellars were easy of access.

And the two Mellishes, with Miss Anne watchfully observing, held the reins of government of this establishment, and so great was their efficiency, so true their system and method, that a jar of any sort was exceedingly rare, and, because of its rarity, was fully and promptly forgiven by Homer Vincent.

“Yes, a queer bird,” Mellish repeated, shaking his head. “He’s that dark, now.”

“Dark?”

“You heard me! Yes, I said dark. Dark complected, dark eyes, dark hair, dark hands, and dark clothes.”

“Not dressed up?”

“No, but that isn’t it, he’s almost dark enough to be a Creolian.”

Mellish was a good butler, but made an occasional slip in his diction. One can’t know everything.

“Yes, Susan, he’s not our sort, and I know it. He’s peculiar,—that’s what he is,—peculiar.”

“So’s the master.”

“Ah, that’s different. The Vincent peculiarities are of the right sort. This man, now,—well, Susan, he was so took up with the place, he could scarce eat his dinner.”

“Small wonder. The place is a fair marvel to those who’ve not seen it.”

“It isn’t that. I’ve seen guests before, who were overwhellumed by it. But this chap,—he, why he had an appraising glance for it,—yes, sir, appraising,—that’s the word.”

“Mellish, you’re daft. Appraising, was he? Like he meant to buy it!”

Susan’s ironic scorn would have withered any one but her husband.

“Susan, you’re a witch. That’s it exactly. Not that he meant such a thing, he’s a poor man. I’m thinking,—but that was the way he looked at it.”

“Drop him, Mellish. You’ve no sense tonight. Are you dismissed?”

“Yes. Mr. Vincent said he’d not need me more. They’re shut in the Tower room, Miss Anne and all. They’re talking business. I can’t make that felly out.”

“Did he look sinister?”

“What a woman you are for the word, Susan! No, it wasn’t that,—he looked more—er—determined,—yes, that’s what that man is,—determined.”

“Determination can’t move the master. I’m bound he’ll be a match for anybody’s determination.”

“Oh, it isn’t a clash of wills—or that. But there’s a matter between them of some sort,—and Miss Anne’s in it, too.”

“And you’re eaten alive with curiosity, that’s what you are, man! Now, get about your business. And see to it the plumber is ordered in the morning. There’s a trickle in the cold storage room sink,—it only needs a washer,—and the hothouse hamper didn’t come today,—send Dickson to the station for it at sunup—and be sure to speak to Carson about his flirting with Francine—it won’t do.”

As she talked, Susan was busily engaged in mixing and kneading the breakfast rolls. This was a duty that could be entrusted to no lesser artist in baking, for Susan’s rolls were nothing short of perfection, but it required all her care and attention to keep them so.

In upon this engrossed couple drifted Francine, the pert little French maid, who, though Miss Anne’s exclusive property, also looked after Rosemary now and then.

“That man!” she exclaimed, with a shrug of her slender shoulders, “Mon Dieu, but he is the beast!”

“Where did you see him?” and Mellish whirled on her.

“There, there, now, old man, don’t lose any temper! Miss Anne rang for me to get her a scarf. They’re all in the Tower room, and they’re talking most—”

“Angrily?” demanded Susan, whose curiosity was more aroused than she would admit to her husband.

“No, not so much that,—as,—oh,—la, la,—excitement,—all talking at once,—argument—see?”

“What are they talking about?” This from Mellish,—who asked to know.

“That I can’t say. When I entered all converse stopped. But I could see the—atmosphere, the attitudes,—and the dark man—oh, he is a terror! Such a low voice—”

“Oh, you couldn’t hear him through the closed door!” and Mellish glared at her.

Non, Monsieur! Are you not desolate that I could not?”

Pretty Francine was a saucy piece and dearly loved to ballyrag the dignified butler. But both the Mellishes liked her, though they kept a wary eye on her coquettish ways with certain servants of the other sex.

“Is he threatening them?” Susan asked.

“Not quite that—but—”

“But you know absolutely nothing at all of what is going on!” Mellish spoke sharply. “You’re only pretending you do. Stop discussing your betters and get about your work.”

“I’ve no work to do until Miss Anne wishes to retire. She will ring for me.”

“Then go and read your book. Or get some sewing. But don’t you dare go outside the door!” Thus Susan admonished her, knowing full well the girl’s secret intention of slipping out for a few moments to join Carson, the chauffeur, in a stolen interview.

So Francine dawdled about until the bell rang and then presented her demure self at the door of the Tower room.

Apparently the matter, whatever it was, had been most amicably settled, for the three were smiling and contented looking as Francine scanned their faces.

John Haydock was a dark man,—not like a Creole at all, but merely markedly a brunette. His otherwise unnoticeable face wore a look of satisfaction, and as he stepped out into the hall, he had again that expression that could, perhaps, be called appraising. Yet small wonder, for his deep and enthusiastic interest in the house led him to examine its various beauties and marvels, and few could do so without involuntary thought of the great outlay involved.

“I will go with my sister to her room,” Vincent was saying, “and you must amuse yourself a few moments. Then I will rejoin you for a good-night cigar, and then we will ourselves retire early.”

As was his nightly custom, Homer Vincent escorted his sister to her room. Francine followed, and paused at the door, with her usual discretion.

“Come on in, Francine,” Vincent decreed. “I’m not chatting with Miss Anne tonight. Get to rest, dear, and try to forget this whole matter. As you know, I’m only anxious to do what is wise and right. You shall cast the final decision as to all details and tomorrow we will draw up contracts and all that.”

“How good you are, Homer; and though it was a long confab I do not feel so very tired. Fix my powder, dear, and go back to Mr. Johnson. He is a—not quite our sort,—is he, Homer?”

“Not quite, dear,—but he is a good business man, I judge, and he seems honest.”

Miss Vincent required a small dose of opiate each night, and fearing lest she should mistake the quantity prescribed, or that Francine might be careless, Homer Vincent himself each night measured out the portion for her.

“There you are,” he said, as he carefully gauged the dose. “Give it to her when she’s ready, Francine. Good night, Anne, dear.”

He left his sister in Francine’s capable hands and went down to rejoin his guest. It was a mark of respect, if not of liking, that he took John Haydock up to his own library for their smoke.

Though sybaritic in many ways, Vincent did not employ a valet. His preference was to have Mellish arrange his bedroom and night things, and then to retire by himself whenever it pleased him to do so. Like his sister, he was a poor sleeper, and often prowled round the house, upstairs and down, during many of the small hours.

On the soft rugs his footfalls disturbed nobody, or if they did, no one was alarmed, so, in this, as in all other matters, Vincent pleased himself.

On this night, when at last he was alone in his own bedroom he bethought himself of some matters he wished to attend to, that necessitated his going downstairs to his private room. He had not yet begun to undress, and as he went down the stairs and through the hall, where a dim light burned all night, he met the night watchman, Hoskins. This was by no means an unusual occurrence, for Hoskins came on every night at midnight, and made certain prescribed routes through the premises.

Vincent gave the man a pleasant nod and went on his way. Though this Tower room was sacred to his use, it was by no means kept locked or difficult of access. Indeed, the door usually stood open, though in the room itself were two wall safes, concealed by decorative hangings and also a secret panel which was so cleverly hidden as to be perhaps impossible of discovery.

It is at this point that Rosemary comes into this story.

She comes in a motor-car, out of which she steps softly, as the car reaches the wooded part of the driveway.

Unafraid, because she knows Hoskins is not far away, and because this is by no means her first experience of the sort, she makes her way silently toward the house.

She cannot be seen gliding through the shadows, and she takes good care she shall not be heard.

Reaching the stone arch of the entrance, she slips through, and pauses to reconnoitre. No lights are on save those in her uncle’s suite, and one in his Tower room below.

“Aha,” thinks the sagacious young woman, “up yet,—the old Prowler, is he? Well, we’ll see what we’ll do about it. I don’t want to hang around long tonight!”

As may be gathered, Rosemary had overstayed her allowed time, and greatly desired to get into the house and up to her room unnoticed. For Homer Vincent was a bit strict about his niece’s behavior, and if truth be told, his restrictions were rather necessary and all for Rosemary’s good.

Not that the girl was wilful or wayward, but at twenty-one, the hour of midnight seems to strike very early in the evening, and usually just when the fun is at its height. Yet it was a Medo-Persian law that Rosemary should be in the house by twelve o’clock—and to give her just due, she almost always was.

But tonight had been a gay and pleasant party, and she had been tempted to remain beyond the hour.

The afternoon’s portent of snow had been fulfilled, and though the squall had been short, it was severe, and now, though it was not snowing, there was enough fallen snow and cold dampness to make any tarrying outside exceedingly uncomfortable.

So Rosemary crept to the great window that was at the southern exposure of the Tower room, and peeped in at her uncle.

Wrapped in her fur motor coat, a brown toque spilling its plumes down one side of her pretty, eager face, Rosemary shivered as she picked her way through the soft wet snow, but nodded in satisfaction as she saw her uncle’s very evident absorption in whatever matter claimed his attention.

About to turn away, she paused a moment to notice him as he opened a secret panel. She had known of the existence of this, but had never before seen it opened.

Fascinated, she saw him searching among its contents, though she could discern nothing definitely. The window had a thin film of curtain material, and she really saw little beyond the moving silhouette and the furniture of the room. Moreover, it suddenly came to her that she was rudely spying upon another’s movements in a way she had no right to do, and blushing to herself in the darkness, she turned quickly away.

Rosy from the icy air, her cheeks glowed; and curled up by the dampness, her red-brown hair made little tendrils that blew across her face. She smuggled into her fur collar and even welcomed the warmth of the long russet plume that fell over one ear.

Carefully she slipped back again to the great front door, which she well knew Hoskins had not yet locked for the night. Turning the knob slowly, the opening door made no sound, and in a moment Rosemary was inside.

And it was just at that moment that Homer Vincent elected to return to his bedroom. But the girl quickly stepped behind one of the great columns, and stood in its protecting shadow while her uncle went up the stairs.

She thought he limped a little more than usual, as he sometimes did when tired, and a wave of regret swept through her tender heart that she had disobeyed his orders.

“I’ll never do it again,” she resolved. “Uncle Homer is too good to me for me to slight his wishes. I’m a wicked old thing!”

But a healthy, girlish hunger was more in evidence with her just then than her feeling of conscience-stricken remorse, and she turned her silent steps toward the dining-room. Here Mellish usually left for her some tempting bit of food on a tray in a cold cupboard, and investigating, Rosemary found a little mold of jellied chicken, with two buttered finger-rolls and a plate of fruit.

Snapping on a small table light, she sat down to enjoy her little feast.

Hoskins, passing, looked in and smiled at her. It was not the first time he had smiled at such a scene.

Soon Rosemary finished her lunch, and gathering up her fur coat, went softly upstairs.

She paused at the door of her Aunt’s room. Sometimes, if Miss Anne were awake, she liked to have Rosemary come in and tell her of the party. But the sound of heavy asthmatic breathing proved Miss Anne asleep, and the girl went on to her own rooms.

Her boudoir was the Tower room over the reception room and her bedroom was next back of that. Everything was in readiness and it was but a short time before Rosemary slumbered as soundly, if not as audibly, as her aunt.

Hoskins went his rounds stolidly. He was a good and faithful watchman, largely because he had not the brains required for any higher calling. His route he meticulously followed, punching his time clocks as required, and throwing the flash of his electric lantern in dark corners.

His orders took him outside and around the house as well as through the lower floors. The upper floors he was not required to patrol.

As usual, he found no disturbing element and trudged around his appointed path like a patient ox. He had long since ceased to wonder at the beauty and grandeur of Greatlarch,—to him it was merely the home of his employer.

He repeatedly tracked the soft wet snow in his journeys round the house, removing his damp overshoes when making his inside rounds.

His shift ended at seven o’clock, and at that hour he gladly went into the kitchen, where a hot breakfast awaited him.

“Nasty mess underfoot,” he confided to the maid who served him. “Don’t go out today, my dear, lessen you have to.”

“The sun’s out bright,” she demurred, looking from the window.

“Yes, and that makes it all the wuss. Meltin’ an’ thawin’—sloppy weather, my dear.”

As Hoskins’ “my dears” were matters of habit rather than real affection, the girl paid but slight attention and went about her business.

The routine of breakfast preparations went on. The Mellishes appeared on the stroke of seven-thirty, as was their wont. They gravely inspected the work of their underlings and then set about their own superior duties.

All was in readiness at eight, though it was an entirely uncertain question as to when the family would appear.

They were subject to moods or whims, sometimes having breakfast together and again having trays carried to any rooms that pleased them.

Mellish opined, however, that this morning would see the family congregated in the breakfast-room because of the presence of a guest.

And shortly after eight Homer Vincent appeared.

Though always impatient at a delay not of his own causing, he showed no irritation and said to Mellish he would wait for Mr. Johnson to come down.

Then Rosemary appeared. Such a pretty Rosemary, her brown eyes smiling, her animated little face showing a frank curiosity.

“Good morning,” she cried, “who’s here? Francine says there’s a guest.”

“Yes, but he isn’t down yet. A Mr. Johnson, who came to see Antan and myself on some business affair.”

Rosemary had a funny little way of pronouncing Aunt Anne, and as it sounded like Antan, the nickname had become habitual.

“Nice?” she asked, briefly.

“Rather,” her uncle returned. “Good business chap, fairly good looking, decent manners, but no particular charm.”

“Doesn’t sound much,” Rosemary observed; “may I begin my breakfast?”

“Oh, let’s wait a few moments. I told him eight o’clock, he’ll surely be down in a few moments.” And then Francine burst into the room, breathless and wild-eyed with wonder.

“But what do you think?” she cried, quite forgetting her formalities. “Miss Anne—I cannot rouse her and her door is bolted!”

Homer Vincent looked at her coldly.

“Remember your manners, Francine,” he said in a tone of reproach. “Your information does not warrant such carelessness of address. Is Miss Vincent still sleeping?”

“That’s just it, sir, I do not know. Always I hear her bell by eight o’clock at latest. Now, I go and tap, but she answers not,—nor do I hear her moving about inside her chamber.”

“Did you not go in?”

“But the door is locked,—bolted on the inside. Always she bolts it at night, but the bolt is always off before this time in the day!”

Francine was a trim little figure, her plain black dress and white cap and apron well becoming her. She was excitable, but this time her concern was deeper than mere excited curiosity. Plainly, she was alarmed.

Vincent saw this, and spoke more kindly.

“Run up again, Francine, and rattle the door. I will go with you, if you wish.”

“Oh, do, sir, I did rattle at the door, and there was no response. And I did not hear her breathing—she—she breathes deeply, you know.”

This was a discreet allusion to Miss Anne’s asthma, which at times was distinctly in evidence.

“Francine, I’m sure you’re needlessly excited; however, Mellish will go up and see—”

The butler turned slowly toward the door, and Vincent said:

“No matter, Mellish, I’ll go myself,” and then, noting Rosemary’s frightened glance, he added, “we’ll all go.”

He led the way to Miss Anne’s bedroom, the great south room on the mezzanine above the hall.

The short flight of steps ended in a broad landing, the bedroom door in its center. The door had been a heavy one of carved antique oak. But Miss Anne had disliked it, saying it was like a prison door. So her brother had had it removed and replaced by a light swing door, covered with rose-colored velour and studded round its edges with brass-headed nails.

This door had a small bolt on the inside, but it was only to insure privacy, not at all a protection from possible marauders.

Homer Vincent tapped at this door, calling “Anne—Anne, dear!”

There was no response and Vincent pressed his ear to the door.

The others watched, breathlessly, and Rosemary shrank back in nameless dread while Francine fluttered and gave voice to voluble French expletives.

“Be quiet, Francine!” Vincent commanded, and Mrs. Mellish, who had joined the group, gave the French girl an admonitory shake.

“I shall break in the door,” Vincent said; “it’s a flimsy thing. Stand back, Rosemary. Mellish, push here, as I strike.”

The combined strength of the two men easily forced the door, and Mellish fell into the room first. Vincent, following, hurried to his sister’s bed. The beautiful room, built for the first mistress of the house, had a raised dais, a sort of low platform for the bed to stand on. Also, from the ceiling depended an elaborate cornice that surrounded the space designed for the bed and from which hung voluminous curtains of silk brocade.

In the shadowy gloom of these curtains lay Miss Anne, and as her brother reached the bedside and pushed away the hangings to see his sister, he cried out in a horrified voice, “Keep back! Mellish, keep back Miss Rosemary!”

Waving a warning hand at them, Vincent leaned over the still form and then turned round, his hands clenched and horror on his face.

“My sister is dead!” he cried. “She—she—oh, take that child away!”

“I will not be taken away, Uncle Homer,” Rosemary cried. “I’m not a baby! Let me know the truth! What has happened?”

Breaking away from the restraining arms of Mrs. Mellish, unheeding Mellish’s effort to stop her, she ran to the bedside and herself looked inside the long curtains.

She saw a white, dead face, staring eyes and a nightdress stained with crimson drops.

Chapter 4
A Mysterious Death

“Oh, Antan!” Rosemary cried, starting back in horror. “Oh, Uncle Homer, what is it?”

Vincent put his arm round the terrified girl and they both gazed on the dreadful sight. Both were white-faced and trembling, and though Homer Vincent strove hard for composure, it was a few moments before he could even speak.

Then, still holding Rosemary close, he spoke to the others.

“Mellish,” he said, “Miss Vincent is dead. She has been killed. That’s all my brain can take in at present. I am stunned—I am heartbroken,”—and the man’s enforced calm gave way as he sank into a chair and buried his face in his hands.

Then Mrs. Mellish stepped nearer to the bed, gave one glance at the awful sight and turned shuddering away.

“Leave the room,” she said to the trembling Francine. “You’ll be flying into hysterics in a minute. I know you. Leave the room.”

“What shall I do? Where shall I go?” the French girl cried. “My place is here—beside my mistress.”

“She’s right,” and Mellish showed surprised approval of Francine’s self-control. “You stay in this room, Francine, and don’t you get to blubbering. Keep your head, and you can be of good service. Mr. Vincent, shall I call a doctor?”

“Why, yes,—do, Mellish. Poor Anne is dead, but—yes, I’d like you to call Doctor McGee. And—and Mellish, I suppose we ought to notify—”

“Do nothing, sir, until Doctor McGee comes. He’ll know just what to do.”

Mellish departed to telephone the Doctor, and Homer Vincent, lifting his bowed head, rose and began to assume his usual place at the helm.

“I can’t seem to think,” he said, as he brushed his hand across his brow. “Rosemary, who could have done such a thing? Who could harm such a dear lady?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Uncle,—did—did somebody kill her?”

“Unless she took her own life—she wouldn’t do that, would she, Rosemary?”

It was strange the way the strong and self sufficient man seemed to appeal to his niece. Mrs. Mellish regarded him solicitously. She had never before seen Homer Vincent troubled.

“There now, sir,” she said, in kindly fashion, “you can do nothing for the poor lady now. Come down to the breakfast-room, sir, and take a cup of coffee and a bite of breakfast. Come now, Miss Rosemary, let Melly fix you out.”

The girl often called Mrs. Mellish thus, to distinguish her from her husband.

“Oh,” exclaimed Vincent, suddenly, “that man, that Mr. Johnson! He must be already down in the breakfast-room, and no one to look after him! Run down to him, Melly.”

“Come you, too, sir. And Miss Rosemary. The man must be told,—best you should do it, Mr. Vincent.”

“Yes,” and Homer Vincent rose, with a determination to do his part, however hard it might be. “Rosemary, will you come with me, or will you have your breakfast taken to your rooms?”

“I’ll go with you, Uncle. Perhaps I can help. Who is Mr. Johnson?”

“He’s a man who came yesterday on business, and I asked him to stay the night. I asked him to stay on, but I hope he’ll go this morning.”

“Oh, he surely will,—when he hears—Uncle Homer, I can’t believe it!” she looked again at the silent, pitiful figure on the bed, where Francine was lightly laying a fine handkerchief over the face of poor Anne Vincent.

“That’s all right,” Vincent said, slowly, “but don’t touch the body otherwise, Francine. It—it isn’t right to do so.”

“No, sir,” and the maid nodded, comprehendingly.

“Come now, sir,” Mrs. Mellish urged him, and with a backward glance of grief and bewilderment, Vincent followed Rosemary from the room.

But Mr. Johnson was not in the breakfast-room. “He has overslept,” Vincent said, glancing at the clock. “For I told him breakfast at eight and he said he would be prompt. I shouldn’t send for him, otherwise,—but—as things are, don’t you think, Melly, you’d better call him?”

“Yes, sir; shall I tell him—what’s happened, sir?”

“Yes—no,—well, tell him that there is trouble in the household, you might say sudden illness—oh, I don’t care what you say, Melly, but can’t you hint that he’d better go right after breakfast?”

“Yes, sir, surely,” and Mrs. Mellish went on her somber errand.

Uncle and niece took their places in the bright and cheery breakfast-room. The weather had cleared, and the sun shone with a glowing warmth as of Indian Summer.

“Eat your breakfast, Rosemary,” Vincent said, “that will best help you to meet the trying times before you.”

Habit is a compelling thing, and Homer Vincent went about his own breakfast methodically, as usual, chipping his egg with his customary care and attention. It was characteristic of the man that even in the nervous stress and strain of the occasion, he gratified his physical appetite with apparent relish. Yet this was purely a matter of habit, and indeed, he was almost unaware of what he was eating or even that he was eating.

The girl, however, could eat nothing. Her excitement was so great, her nerves so wrought up, that she found it impossible to swallow a mouthful.

“At least drink a cup of coffee, dear child,” her uncle urged, as he solicitously proffered cream and sugar.

At this moment Mrs. Mellish returned, her round face showing a look of amazement.

“The gentleman isn’t in his room, sir,” she said. “I—”

“Then he’s out in the grounds,” interrupted Vincent, impatiently. “Go and hunt him, Mellish.”

Now, Mrs. Mellish’s place wasn’t in the dining-rooms at all at breakfast, a maid assisted the butler. But today the maids were demoralized and Melly was trying to help things along all she could.

The news of the tragedy had, of course, flown like wildfire through the servants’ halls and they were even now in huddled groups in corridors and pantries.

“But, Mr. Vincent,” Melly resumed, “the gentleman didn’t sleep in his bed! It hasn’t been touched since it was turned down for him last night.”

“What?” Vincent stared at her incredulously.

“No, sir; his hat and coat’s there, but his clothes ain’t—”

“Oh, then he’s spent the whole night prowling round the house. He was daft over it and hated to go to bed. I left him wandering round the upper floors. I hope he didn’t go out on the leads and fall over. What a bother he is! But go and find him Mrs. Mellish. Get some one to help, if you like,—but get Mr. Johnson! He’s maybe fallen asleep in some Tower room.”

Mrs. Mellish departed and Rosemary asked, “Who is this man, Uncle?”

“An ordinary person, dear. I never saw him before,—he came to see me in regard to a business proposition, and your Aunt and I grew interested and promised to decide the matter today.”

Tears filled his eyes as he realized there was no today for poor Anne Vincent.

“But why wouldn’t he go to bed?” Rosemary persisted. “Do you mean he spent the whole night wandering round the house?”

“I don’t know, child, but he was mad about the place and most curious to visit every nook and cranny of it. I showed him about a lot, then, as he seemed inclined to explore for himself, I told him to do so.”

“What room did he have?”

“The south room, above your Aunt’s. He’s a decent chap, but not quite our own sort. Ah, Mellish, did you get the doctor?”

The butler shook his head. “No, sir, he’s away on an important case, out of town, sir. Shall I call some one else?”

“Oh, I don’t know what to say or do—” and Vincent seemed to be at his wits’ end.

“I wish I could help you, Uncle,” Rosemary said, gently; “you have such an awful burden to bear. Shall I call Bryce over—”

“No; I am indeed in trouble, Rosemary, but I can bear my own burdens. I ask no help, at present. But when the time comes, I shall get help—skilled help—to solve the mystery of your aunt’s death and to bring the murderer to justice.”

Vincent’s voice rang out sternly and Rosemary marvelled at the fiery depths of his eyes.

He seemed to pull himself together anew, and said: “I think, Mellish, you’d better call up the County Physician. He must be notified anyway, and if he gets here before Doctor McGee, it will do no harm. We must have some medical man, as soon as we can. Call Doctor Archer—and then, Mellish, for Heaven’s sake find that man Johnson. It’s unpardonable for him to act like this!”

The calm, even-tempered man was getting nervously upset. Nor could it be wondered at, for in all his life before equability and composure had never deserted him. But never had there been such provocation. For a man who lived but for his own pleasure, whose every thought and act were definitely directed toward the achievement of his own comfort and happiness, for a man like this to be brought suddenly face to face with a tragedy that tore his very heartstrings was enough of itself to shatter his nerves.

But when, in addition, he must meet the terrible situation, must even assume direction of the horrible events consequent upon it, must stifle and suppress his own grief in order to preserve sufficient calm to take charge of the proceedings,—this was overwhelming, and Homer Vincent almost sank beneath the blow.

But he was made of strong fiber, he was possessed of an indomitable will and ability to cope with an emergency.

Conquering his jumping nerves, he said: “We must all help, Rosemary. You must try to take your Aunt’s place so far as you can; look after the household matters, assist Melly, and be ready to see visitors,—for as soon as the news spreads there will be many callers.”

Rosemary shuddered. “Must I see them, Uncle? I’d hate it—”

“Some we can refuse to see. But many must be met,—and I thought, dear child, you’d do that to help me. I have many painful matters to see to myself.”

“Of course, I will, then,—and—if I could have Bryce—”

“Oh, Rosemary, just this once,—I beg of you, don’t bring up that subject—”

Vincent looked so distressed that his niece said quickly, “No, I won’t,—but—if you only would—”

She was interrupted by the return of Mellish. Having summoned Doctor Archer, he had himself taken up the command of the search for the missing guest.

“We can’t find that man anywhere,” he declared, looking completely mystified. “As my wife says, he didn’t sleep in his bed, and what’s more, it doesn’t look to me as if he was in his room at all after dinner. There’s nothing put about, no chair out of place, no cigar ashes or that,—his night things all undisturbed, just as the maid laid them out. It’s mighty queer, sir,—ay, it’s mighty queer!”

“His hat and coat are up there—in his room?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then he hasn’t left the place,—then he must be somewhere about.”

“Yes, sir,—it would seem so, sir. But he isn’t,—he just isn’t. We’ve looked everywhere. We’ve called out, and we’ve rang bells, and we’ve searched the whole place. He’s nowhere about—alive.”

Vincent started at the last word.

“What do you mean?” he cried.

“Nothing, sir, only whoever done for poor Miss Anne may have done for him, too.”

“That’s so,” and Homer Vincent dropped his face in his hands as if this new phase of trouble was more than he could bear.

“Mellish,” he said, at last, “I can’t take it all in. It’s too much for me. I must have help—”

“Oh, Uncle Homer,” and Rosemary spoke involuntarily, “if you’d only let Bryce—”

“Hush, Rosemary, don’t add to my troubles. No, much as I hate it, much as I dread it, I see I must call in the police. We’d better wait, I think, until Doctor Archer comes, but I am sure he will send for them at once. It is inevitable.”

“The police! Oh, no, Uncle Homer!”

“I fear it must be so, Rosemary. And, dear, until they come is the only time we may have to ourselves. I mean, once they start investigations, the whole house will be upset and they will be entirely in charge.”

“How awful! Must we have them?”

“Yes,” he spoke abruptly. “Oh, Rosemary, I can’t stand this another minute! I shall go to the organ,—Mellish, when the Doctor comes let me know.”

No one was surprised, a few moments later, to hear the long, low, mournful notes that pealed through the stricken house. It was the habit of Homer Vincent to find solace in music if anything troubled him, but never before had his troubles been more than some slight, momentary disturbance of a trifling sort.

And as he played, he recovered his poise, he regained his courage, he felt enabled to cope with the, trials that he must endure.

One who knew him could judge from the deep, dirge-like strains or the troubled crashing chords, which phase of the tragedy was at the moment uppermost in his mind, the death of his sister, or the imminent horror of the consequent and necessary investigations.

The servants were in a state of chaotic excitement. The two Mellishes had their hands full to keep quiet and decorum in their domain.

Francine, however, showed her best side, and proved that she had a fine and efficient nature.

She put Miss Anne’s rooms in order, weeping silently as she disposed of the clothing the poor lady would never wear again. She was careful to disturb nothing that might be useful as evidence, for Francine fully realized the gravity of the case, and wanted to help, if only by letting things alone.

She found Rosemary in her room, weeping her very heart out in an agony of woe.

“Poor child,” thought Francine, “not a soul to go to for sympathy or comfort!”

“Mayn’t I send for someone, Miss Rosemary?” she offered. “Wouldn’t you like Miss Eaton, or—”

“No, Francine,” the girl looked at her fiercely; “you know well there’s only one person I want to see,—and I’m not allowed to see him!”

“No,” and Francine nodded, understandingly: “but don’t stir up your uncle about that. He’s got all he can stagger under.”

“So have I!” Rosemary cried out. “Don’t you suppose I’m as much broken up by Antan’s death as Uncle Homer is? Don’t you suppose I want somebody to comfort and love me even more than he does? He has his music—that always quiets and soothes him, while I—I have nothing—nobody!”

The lovely face, torn with emotion and grief, was mutinous; the scarlet lips were trembling, while the white, tear-stained cheeks and the stormy eyes showed rebellion seething in Rosemary’s heart.

“But wait,” counseled Francine. “All is now so—so excitement, so—tornado!” In moments of stress, Francine forgot her English. “After a little, after some small few of days, the trouble will clear somewhat,—the suddenness will be forgotten,—Monsieur will find himself, and, who knows, mademoiselle, all may be well for you—and yours.”

Francine had never before spoken with such familiarity, but Rosemary did not resent it. She was too stunned, too helpless, to resent anything.

“Tell me about that man, Francine,” she said; “did you see him?”

“Yes, when Miss Anne called me to get her a wrap. Oh, he was dreadful!” A French shrug betokened how dreadful.

“But how? In what way?”

“So black, so sneering,—so dictating,—yet not a gentleman.”

“What in the world did he want? I wish Uncle Homer would tell me about him. Where do you suppose he is, Francine?”

“That is not hard to guess.” The French girl smiled a sardonic little grin,—like a wise sibyl.

“Why, what do you mean? What do you think?”

And then came a peremptory summons for both girls to appear below.

Doctor Archer had arrived, and, almost simultaneously, the local police.

The Law was represented by Lane, the Sheriff of the county, and two eager-eyed detectives, who were so flabbergasted by the beauty and grandeur of their surroundings that they seemed able to detect little else.

Doctor Archer, the County Medical Examiner, was in charge, and was firing questions right and left. He had never before had such an opportunity to stand in the limelight and was making the most of it.

“The lady was murdered,” he informed his hearers, in a deep bass voice; “most foully murdered. She was stabbed with some sort of dagger or long-bladed knife.”

“Carving-knife?” asked Brewster, one of the detectives, and Rosemary smothered a shriek.

“Not necessarily,” replied Archer, “a long-bladed jackknife might have been used, or a regular dagger. Anyway, it required a long blade, for it went in her chest and pierced her heart. It was just one swift, deft blow, and death was instantaneous. Now, Sheriff, what do you make of that?”

“Murderous intent,” answered Lane promptly. “Murderer concealed in the room, like as not, all afternoon.”

“Ah, h’m, and how did he get out?”

“Door locked?” and Lane looked up quickly. He had not heard all the details yet.

They were gathered in the living-room, a delightful room on the first floor, back of the dining-room. It looked out on the terrace, and on over the lagoon and fountain to the Greek Temple that was a Mausoleum.

Lane was an artist at heart, a lover of the beautiful, and like many other visitors, he was overcome with the sights about him.

They were to visit the room of the tragedy later, but Vincent had requested that the preliminary inquiries be made in some other place.

“Yes,” Archer said, “door locked on the inside.”

“Windows?” asked Brown, the other and lesser detective.

“You must look into those things for yourselves,” Archer said. “I’m merely making my medical report. Then we’ll get a line on the time and all that and then we’ll go upstairs and take a look about.”

Homer Vincent cringed at the matter-of-fact tone and the business-like air of the men, and Rosemary, shocked at the whole proceeding, shivered so that Mrs. Mellish went and sat by her side and held her hand.

Grateful for even this human sympathy, Rosemary forced herself to listen to the inquiries now being made.

Francine, composed and alert, answered readily all that was asked of her.

So far as could be gathered, she was the last person known to have seen Miss Vincent alive.

“Tell us all about it,” Brewster said, listening eagerly.

“There’s not much to tell,” the French maid averred. “Miss Vincent spent a time after dinner in the Tower room of Mr. Vincent, her brother. There was also a Mr. Johnson with them, a dinner guest of the house. Miss Vincent left them and came up to her room at about half-past ten. Mr. Vincent came with her as he always does, to say good night and to measure her medicine. After Mr. Vincent had gone downstairs again, I assisted Miss Vincent to get ready for the bed, and I gave her her drops, arranged the coverlets, and put out the lights, all but the ones she wished kept burning. Then I said good night, and left her to herself.”

“She had then gone to bed?”

“Oh, no; it was always her custom to sit up and read for a time. I left her sitting in her armchair, her reading light at her side, her books on a small table. Always I leave her thus at night. Then, when she tires of her books, she arises from her chair, locks her door, puts out her reading light and goes to bed. This, monsieur, is her invariable routine.”

“She seemed well, in her usual spirits?”

“She seemed well, but much er—preoccupied. As if in deep—serious thought over something.”

“Over the discussion with her brother and the strange gentleman, perhaps?”

“It may be. She said no word of what was in her mind.”

“Was she irritable? Cross?”

“Miss Vincent was never that. No, she was most courteous and kind, as always, but deeply thoughtful. When I left her, she said merely ‘good night,’ not adding, ‘sleep well, Francine,’ as is most usual.”

“But this only indicates thoughtfulness, not disturbance or worry,—eh?”

“So it seemed to me. Also, she seemed rather satisfied with her thoughts, as if, after all, the matter was satisfactorily adjusted.”

“You gathered quite a bit from her manner,” Archer remarked, dryly.

Francine caught his tone and flared up at once.

“I know—knew Miss Vincent very well, mon sieur! I knew well her moods and the phases of her mind. It was not much that I should read her satisfaction from her air and manner! Surely I could tell that she was contented and not worried or disturbed! That is not so amazing!”

“No,” said Archer.

Chapter 5
Where Was Johnson?

On the whole, Francine made a good impression. Though pert and saucy of appearance, she laid aside all such attitudes now, and seemed desirous only to be helpful and dutiful.

“Snappy chit, but devoted to her mistress,” was the way Brewster summed her up in his mind, and Brown contented himself with musing: “Full of pep, but honestly grieved.”

Brewster and Brown were themselves honest, hard-working detectives. Far from brilliant, woefully inexperienced, they felt that now at last their chance had come, and they were firmly resolved to make good.

Brewster was big and burly, and of a slow-going mind, while Brown was small, wiry, and active, with what he considered a hair-trigger intellect. They had often rejoiced in the fact, as they saw it, that they thus complemented one another, and they felt that their team work would be admirable should they ever get a chance to try it out. And now their time had come.

Eagerly they listened to Archer’s inquiries, carefully they remembered the answers, and frequently gave each other astute glances, indicative of great mental activity.

“Now,” said Lane, “let’s take up next thing we know of Miss Vincent. Did any one hear any sound from her or from her room during the night?” All present,—and several of the servants had gathered in the doorway,—declared they had heard no sounds from Miss Vincent’s room.

“There is a night watchman?” Archer asked.

“Yes,” replied Mellish, who saved his master in every way he could. “But if he had heard or seen anything unusual, he would have reported it first thing this morning.”

“Leave that for the moment, then. Now, who went first to Miss Vincent’s door this morning?”

“Perhaps I did,” said Francine.

“Why do you say perhaps?” demanded Lane.

“Because how can I tell?” returned Francine, wide-eyed at such stupidity. “Any one might have been there before me—indeed, some one must have been there before me—the villain who killed my dear lady.”

“Very well,” said Lane, “go ahead. What time did you go there?”

“At something after eight, monsieur. Always Miss Vincent rings for me earlier than that,—about seven-thirty, maybe. This morning she did not do so, and I waited until eight, then I went and hovered near her door, wondering at her sleeping so late. I listened closely, and hearing no sound, I ventured to turn the knob, but the door was locked and would not open. I called softly,—then louder, and then, listening intently, I heard no sound of Miss Vincent moving about, and I feared she was indisposed, and I greatly desired to get in to give her assistance, if need be.”

“What did you do?”

“But, naturally, I ran down the stairs for help. Forgetting my discipline, I ran into the breakfast room, where were Mr. Vincent and Miss Rosemary, and I told them of the unusual condition,—and though not alarmed, Mr. Vincent was concerned, and with Mellish, we all came upstairs, and broke in the door.”

“Who broke it in?”

“Mellish and I together,” Homer Vincent answered for himself. “The door is a light, temporary structure; my sister preferred it to the original heavy oak door. We burst it in,—in fact, it opened so easily Mellish was thrown to the floor. I went quickly to my sister’s bed, and the first glance told me the truth. I saw in an instant that she had been killed,—murdered. I admit I almost lost my consciousness. My senses reeled, and I fell back involuntarily. But I quickly pulled myself together, for my young niece was present, and forced myself to lean over the body and discover if life was surely extinct. It was,—the flesh was cold to my touch. I ordered Mellish to hold my niece back, as I wanted to spare her the awful sight. But she insisted on looking at her aunt, and for a moment we gazed together on the terrible scene. I think there is no more to tell. Finding I could do nothing for my poor sister, assuring myself that she was positively beyond human aid, I fear I gave way to selfish grief for a few moments. Then I roused myself to a sense of duty, and ever since I have been trying to do what is right and wise in the matter.

“But I am all unversed in the course the law should take, or the manner of efforts that should be made to find the murderer and avenge the crime. Will you, therefore, gentlemen, take the case in charge, and do or advise me to do, whatever is right and best. Let one thing be understood. The murderer must be found. Spare no time, pains, or expense. I stand ready to do anything I can, but as I said, I am ignorant of the proper procedure, and I desire to relegate the work to more experienced hands.

“You think, do you not, Doctor Archer, that the criminal can be found and brought to justice?”

“That is not quite in my province, Mr. Vincent. The inquiry is my duty, but the real detective work must be done by men skilled in such things.”

Brewster and Brown looked duly important and capable, but they offered no hint of their conclusions so far.

“Do you think, Mr. Vincent,” Lane asked, in his ponderous way, “that your sister’s death could have been a suicide?”

“I should say positively not,” Vincent replied, slowly, “except for the fact that she died in a locked room. I can see no way that a murderer could escape and leave that door locked behind him. Yet, so far from probability is the idea of suicide, that I am forced to believe it was a murder, however impossible such a theory may seem. But all this business of theorizing and of deducing and collecting evidence is so foreign to my nature and to my experience, that I cannot pretend to decide any such questions.”

“What weapon was used? Was any found?” asked Brewster, looking at Vincent.

“That I don’t know,” he replied, looking in his turn at Doctor Archer. “Did you find any, Doctor?”

“No,” and Archer looked stern. “There was none in evidence. Was any such thing removed before my arrival?”

“Of course not,” said Vincent; “who would do such a thing as that?”

“Did you see any knife or dagger, Mellish? or you, Francine?” Archer asked of the servants.

But every one present denied having seen any weapon of any sort.

“Then,” said Brewster, “it must have been murder.”

“But the door was locked,” Brown reminded him, “so it must have been suicide.”

“Those statements are both true, superficially,” Lane said, “but since they contradict each other, either or both may be untrue. One must be. Such points can only be settled after much more investigation than has yet been made. Shortly we will adjourn to the scene of the crime and gather what evidence we may up there. Just now, I’d like some more information regarding this stranger, this Mr. Johnson who visited here last night, and who, I understand, is now missing.

“That’s one of the strangest features,” said Lane. “Please tell us all about him, Mr. Vincent.”

Rosemary, who had sat quietly listening to the talk, now showed signs of curiosity. She wished herself to learn more of this strange visitor, but the conversation about her aunt had filled her soul only with horror and grief.

Rosemary Vincent was of a self-contained, self-repressed nature. Though her uncle was kind, even generous to her in many ways, yet their tastes were not congenial, and their ways more utterly dissimilar.

Indeed, this mutual sorrow that had just come to them had seemed to draw them together more closely than they had ever been before.

And though Rosemary had earlier that morning inquired concerning the mysterious Mr. Johnson, she had received no satisfaction, and now she hoped to learn details.

“I had hoped not to be obliged to tell you of his business here,” Vincent said slowly, “but his strange disappearance seems to make it advisable that I should do so. Yet,” he still hesitated, “I cannot convince myself that the man is really missing. I can’t help thinking he is about the place or in the house somewhere. He was so intensely interested in the architecture of this house, he was so eager to go into every nook and cranny of it, may it not be possible that he has fallen asleep in some unused room, or even, perhaps, met with an accident while climbing from one place to another?”

“Are there such dangerous places?” asked Lane.

“Oh, yes; at least, they might be dangerous to an adventurous stranger. You see, there are upwards of fifty rooms in the house, and there are turret rooms, to enter which one must step out on the leads; also, there are dark dungeon-like rooms down in the sub-cellar where if one were to stumble and fall, perhaps breaking a leg or even spraining an ankle, his cries might not be heard by the household.”

“You think Mr. Johnson, a transient guest, would go down in your sub-cellar alone, at night, in utter darkness?” and Lane looked astounded.

“I merely suggest it,” Vincent said, looking harassed, “because he was apparently out of his bedroom all night, and because he showed such extraordinary interest in the construction of the house.”

“Very well, Mr. Vincent, if you wish to wait until further search can be made for the gentleman before revealing the secret of his errand here, we will wait. You had better send some of your people to look over the house at once. But in the meantime, I will ask you for the details of his arrival, and a description of the man.”

“He came here yesterday afternoon,” Vincent began, slowly. “He sent in no card, but told my butler his name was Henry Johnson, and he wished to see me on important and private business. I rarely see callers who are not known to me, but I was not busy at the moment, and I had him shown in. His errand was really a simple business proposition, which involved a large investment of money if I saw fit to take it up. I called my sister down to consult with us, as her fortune is about the same as my own, and we usually made our investments together. I will tell you the full details of this business plan later,—if Mr. Johnson cannot be found. If he does turn up, I feel sure he would prefer the matter kept confidential.

“Well, Mr. Johnson proved to be a fairly agreeable guest, though not at all distinguished in any way. As we had not come to final decisions, I invited him to remain overnight. Also, as my sister and I had just about concluded to accept his propositions, and as the man was so enthralled with Greatlarch, I invited him to remain here a week and enjoy the beauties of the place.”

“He was with you all the evening?”

“After dinner he sat with us in my own private room until our plans were pretty well made regarding the venture he proposed. Then my sister grew weary, and concluded to retire, all three of us agreeing to draw up contracts and settle the business finally in the morning.”

“And you went upstairs with your sister?”

“Yes, as I always do. The doctor prescribes a certain sleeping draught for her, which must be carefully measured. I have no doubt of her carefulness and accuracy, but to be on the safe side, I have always measured the medicine myself. Moreover, my sister appreciated my little courtesy of escorting her to her room, so I have always made it a practice. Sometimes I remain for a little chat, but last night, having a guest, I went downstairs again after saying good night.”

“You rejoined Mr. Johnson?”

“Yes; I found him wandering about the halls, rapt in admiration of the choice marbles, of which, it seems, he is a connoisseur. I led him about through many of the rooms, even going with him nearly to the top of the house,—there are nine stories, counting the basements. As we came down from the upper floors, we reached the room destined for his use. It is one of the south rooms.

“He duly admired it, and after asking him if he had everything he wanted for the night, and being assured that he had, I bade him good night and left him there; telling him, however, that if he wished to prowl about he was at liberty to do so. In this house, no one is surprised or alarmed to hear footfalls during the small hours. We are all wakeful, and frequently go up or down stairs on various trifling errands.”

“And you heard Mr. Johnson prowling about in the night?”

“No, I can’t say that I did. Yet he may have done so, for the rugs are thick and soft, and with care one may make no noise.”

“Then the last you saw of this man was when you left him in his bedroom?”

“Yes, that was the last I saw of him. He was in good spirits, for he had achieved his purpose in coming here. He was satisfied with the agreement we had come to, and he looked forward to the morning, when we would sign the final contracts, and also, when he would remain as my guest for a time.”

“And then, this morning, he has disappeared?”

“He is not here, certainly, but I can’t think it is a mysterious disappearance. He may have gone for a very early morning walk, and met with some untoward accident. Or he may have remembered some important business matter, and walked down to the village to telegraph or something of that sort. I only suggest these things, because they are to my mind more probable than that the man has voluntarily or purposely gone away. Yet there may be a mystery about it, and it may be we shall never see him again. Those things I trust the detectives will delve into.”

Vincent leaned back in his chair, looking not so much physically wearied with the conversation as mentally and nervously exhausted by the strain of the situation.

“What does Johnson look like?” Lane asked.

“Describe him, Mellish,” Homer Vincent said, feeling he could delegate this task to another.

“Well,” the butler said, speaking slowly, but concisely; “he is a medium-size man, and a medium-weight man. He’s well enough shaped, but he has no carriage—”

“Carriage?” interrupted Lane.

“Yes, sir, carriage, I said. Meaning he don’t bear himself with any distinguishment,—as a gentleman should.”

A gleam of amusement passed across Vincent’s face at this, but he immediately resumed his look of weary sadness.

“Not but what he knew how to behave proper; he was all right at the table, and that,—but I should say he is not really an aristocrat.”

“Don’t be too severe, Mellish,” Vincent admonished him; “I think Mr. Johnson had good manners.”

“Good manners, yes,” Mellish granted, “but, well, he was lacking in cultural background.”

Some of the hearers stared at this phrase from the butler’s lips, but those of the household knew Mellish’s trick of picking up phrases overheard at his master’s table and, later, using them, either rightly or wrongly, in his own conversation.

Vincent smiled outright, and even Rosemary’s sorrowful face showed amused appreciation.

Lane repeated the phrase in bewilderment.

“Cultural background!” he exclaimed; “what do you mean?”

“What I say,” returned the unabashed Mellish. “Mr. Johnson, I feel sure, is not accustomed to mingle in the best of social circles; he has no phrases or allusions in his speech that betoken the college man or the student of life and literature.”

“Perhaps you’d better confine yourself to his physical description, Mellish,” Vincent suggested. “and omit your opinion of his mentality.”

“Yes, sir. Then, Mr. Johnson is a very dark-faced man,—dark hair, eyes, and skin. He wears a small black moustache, and under it his white teeth gleam like those of some ferocious animal. His countenance is what may be called sinister,—yes, sir,—sinister. In a word, Mr. Henry Johnson has the face of a murderer.”

Mrs. Mellish gave a sudden gasp, Rosemary turned white, and Homer Vincent stared at his butler.

“Yes, a murderer,” Mellish repeated; “and he’s the villain what did for our Miss Anne! How can it be otherwise? In comes a stranger, has secret dealings with master and Miss Anne,—him all the time looking like a murderer, if ever man did! Comes morning, he’d fled, his bed not touched, his hat and coat left behind him, and the dear lady dead in her bed! What else could be the exclamation?”

Mellish’s habit of miscalling a word provoked no smile this time, for everybody was startled at his idea, and was turning it over mentally, with, deep interest.

At last, Doctor Archer said coldly, “Can any one suggest a motive for such a deed on the part of Mr. Johnson?”

“No, and I can’t think of him as the criminal,” said Vincent, thoughtfully. “And yet, if Johnson never appears again, it does seem a way to look.”

“Of course it’s a way to look!” Brown cried eagerly. “The only way to look, as yet. Who else could get into the house, with the night watchman on duty? Who else is a possible suspect in a house of devoted servants and loving relatives? Why else would Johnson disappear? What else would explain his unused bed? A man doesn’t wander about the whole night, admiring house decorations, however beautiful!”

“All true, Brown,” said Brewster, slowly, “but we must get more data before we assume anything. This man’s room, now. Much could doubtless be learned from examination of his belongings. Had he any luggage?”

“A kit-bag,” Mellish informed. “A new one, not overly large. I laid out his night things,—right and proper enough, but not elaborate or fine. And all new.”

“That’s always suspicious,” declared the quick-witted Brown. “When a man has a lot of new things, it means he wants to conceal his identity.”

“But Johnson didn’t,” Vincent told them. “He told his name and address straightforwardly enough; he had to, for us to come to a business agreement.”

“Yes, that’s so,” and Brown looked a little crestfallen. “Go on, Mellish, as to his kit. Anything more personal than clothing and toilet things?”

“Not as I recollect. But the room hasn’t been touched, sir; you can go up and deduce it whenever you wish.”

Mellish was sure of his word this time.

“Let’s go now, Brewster,” cried Brown; “the chap may come back any minute.”

The two detectives went up to the room in question, while the others remained downstairs.

The windows were not wide, but owing to the thickness of the stone wall they were very deep.

Brown leaned far out of one, and drawing back into the room, informed Brewster that nobody could get in or out by that means. The room was on the third floor, and the stone wall was unscalable.

“Well, Pighead,” Brewster returned, amiably, “nobody has suspected Friend Johnson of making his exit otherwise than by this door; why the fuss about the window?”

“But how did he get out of the house by the front door without being seen by the watchman? If he could have made any other getaway, it would simplify matters a lot.”

“Don’t hope to simplify matters yet, my son. This is a stupendous case—”

“Don’t talk like that parrot-tongued butler! Stupendous is a silly word. But the case is a corker! I’ll admit that!”

“Yes, that’s what I meant by stupendous. Now, as you can see for yourself, there’s absolutely nothing to be learned from this bag or its contents. It isn’t unpacked at all,—just as the man left it. Nothing in it but a change of underclothing, a pair of socks, a timetable, a clothesbrush—”

“Here are a few things on the dresser,” Brown said. “But nothing personal. See, the brushes are plain black rubber, without monogram or initials. Here in the top drawer, we see three or four clean handkerchiefs, a necktie, and a pair of gloves. Doubtless the good Mellish put these here, by way of arranging his wardrobe.”

“Yes, of course. Not a thing marked, not a thing personal or different from hundreds of other men’s belongings.”

“Here’s his hat and coat. Old Sherlock would size him up perfectly just from the hat alone.”

“Well, I can’t; I don’t see anything but a plain black Derby, this season’s style, new,—like everything else!—and bought at Knox’s in New York. Small help in that.”

“And his coat is no better. New, too, bought at Rogers, Peet and Co.’s, also in New York. Does the chap hail from New York?”

“I don’t know. Mr. Vincent can tell us that. But I’ll say Johnson is the one to look to as a potential murderer, at any rate. Think so?”

“Yes, but he doesn’t seem to be a man of any forceful personality, so far.”

“That’s the beauty of it! You see, if he is the murderer he would come here all togged out in clothes and things, new and unmarked, just to prevent the disclosure of his identity.”

“Something in that, by Jove! Now, if we can circumvent his bright idea,—I mean, find some purely personal thing that he has overlooked, we’ll hoist him with his own petard!”

“Well, here’s the thing! See, an atomizer,—isn’t that what you call these little sprayers? It was on the washstand.”

Brewster looked at the glass container and its black rubber spray with interest.

“Good as far as it goes,” he said. “Where’s the bottle of medicine that belongs with it?”

“Don’t see any. Well, I’ll leave it where I found it. Let’s go back downstairs.”

Chapter 6
The Wild Harp

Mellish had detailed two of the servants to search the house and grounds thoroughly for the missing Johnson.

This was easily done, for the men were familiar with all the unused rooms and all the dark passages and dungeon-like spaces in the cellar and sub-cellar.

They returned with the report that there was positively no one concealed in the house and no sign of any one about the grounds.

“It’s clear enough to me,” said Doctor Archer. “that the missing man is the criminal we are in search of. Had he met with an accident, he would have been found, even though injured or dead. As it is, he has evidently disappeared of his own volition and intentionally. What can we assume, then, but that he is the murderer and has fled?”

“Then, Mr. Vincent,” Lane said, “I think you should now tell us all you know about the man and what business brought him here.”

“Willingly,” Homer Vincent answered, “but,” he added, “I cannot conceive why he should have killed my sister,—or how he accomplished it.”

“That is for us to discover,” Lane said, a little pompously. “But, first, Doctor Archer, how long do you judge Miss Vincent had been dead when you arrived?”

“That is the most surprising part of it,” Archer replied. “It is not often possible to affirm positively as to that matter, but allowing a wide margin of probability, I feel sure that death occurred not more than three hours before I made the examination of the body.”

Vincent looked at the speaker with an amazed face.

“Why,” he exclaimed, “that would mean that my sister was—was killed only about an hour before we broke into her room!”

“That is my report,” Archer said, decidedly. “As I say, it is hard to tell with certainty, but death must have occurred as late as seven o’clock this morning.”

“Then,” said Mellish, who in the stress of the occasion was joining in the conversation, “then, that man, that murderer, waited till Hoskins went off duty, and then he killed Miss Anne and immejitly made himself scarce! You’ll never see him again!”

“But why,—why would he kill her?” Vincent persisted. “However, if he did,—he’s the man we want and he must be found. I’ll tell you all I know about him. In fact, I have told you all, except the nature of his business here. It was this. He claims to have discovered or invented a way to make what are known as synthetic rubies. This is not unheard of among chemists and the results of attempts, so far, are well known to lapidaries and to jewelers. But Johnson declared that his process was so far above and beyond all others in point of merit and value, that if he could make and market his wares it would mean a revolution in the jewel business and a colossal fortune for the inventor and his backer. For, of course, his plan was for me to finance the project, he putting his knowledge and experience against my money investment. Then he proposed we divide evenly the profits. This, in a nutshell, is the gist of his business here. I am not one who is easily persuaded to invest in an unknown venture, but the way he talked proved to me that he knew his subject thoroughly, and the proofs he showed of success already attained, made me give the matter deep consideration.

“I called my sister in to the discussion, not only because I wished to give her an opportunity to share in the undertaking if she chose, but also because I place great reliance on her good judgment and sound advice. Somewhat to my surprise, she was enthusiastic over the plan, and wanted to put in a large sum of money.”

“Does it, then, require such an outlay to attain the desired end?” asked Archer, greatly interested.

“Yes, and I was convinced of it by the statistics and verified data that Mr. Johnson showed me. He also had with him two rubies which he had himself manufactured, and which a leading jewelry firm had declared genuine stones. I have those still in my possession, in my safe, and I will show them to you, whenever you like. My sister was entranced with their beauty and luster. After our afternoon confab, my sister wore down to dinner a fine and perfect ruby of her own, for the purposes of comparison. I could see no difference in the real and the false.”

“So you decided to finance his project, Mr. Vincent?” Brewster asked, respectfully.

“I had practically so decided, but we were to confer further this morning, and if we agreed on certain unsettled points in the contract, I was quite ready to sign it and so was my sister. It meant a large outlay of money for laboratories and materials, but we were firmly assured we would get it back many times over. That, Doctor Archer, was the business that brought Henry Johnson to my door, and if I hesitated to make it public, it was because I felt a certain duty to him. Since he has so surely disappeared, and since there is a reason to believe him a criminal, of course, I am absolved from my promise of secrecy.”

“Where is Miss Vincent’s ruby?” asked Brown suspiciously; “maybe he took that with him.”

Vincent looked startled.

“She had it on when I bade her good night,” he said, thinking back; “she always cares for it herself—call Francine, Mellish.”

The maid appeared, and Vincent asked her concerning the jewel.

“But yes,” she answered, “Miss Vincent had it on last evening. When disrobing, she put it in her wall safe, as usual. Is it not there?”

“Go and see,” directed Vincent. “You can open it?”

“Oh, yes, Miss Vincent trusted me with the combination.”

“I’ll just go along,” Brown said, and the two left the room.

“I am frightened to go in,” said Francine, crossing herself as they reached the threshold.

“Why?”

“Miss Anne—she is there—and yet—not there!”

“Well, she can’t hurt you! Come along. Are you superstitious?”

“No—yes, I am! And last night, the Wild Harp played! Did you know that?”

“What’s the Wild Harp?”

“It’s a spirit harp, played by phantom fingers. The fingers, monsieur, of the dead lady—”

“Miss Vincent?”

“Oh, no, no,—the lady who was long time ago dead—in this very room—this same room, monsieur, and again a deed of blood!”

“I see; you mean Mrs. Lamont.”

“Yes, Madame Lamont,—she was murdered, or, she killed herself,—it is not known which,—and of a truth, often she plays the Wild Harp, and always there follows disaster.”

“H’m, interesting. And where is the harp? In the music room?”

“No, monsieur, it is out in the dismal—the black thicket. Back of the Temple that is her tomb. There is the Wild Harp, there, among the desolation—the somber shadows, the soughing pines, where the gloom is deepest, there the Lady Lamont walks by herself and moans, or plays wailing strains on the Wild Harp.”

“Tell me more about this some other time, Francine. We’re sent on an errand, you know. Come on in; don’t be foolish.”

With shuddering glances toward the still figure on the bed, Francine followed the detective into the room.

A guard stationed outside the door said nothing and made no move.

At Brown’s command, Francine tried to open the small safe in the wall, but her fingers trembled so, she could scarce control them.

“What a baby you are!” cried Brown, though his glance at the pretty French girl was not severe. “Tell me the letters, I’ll do it.”

“No, it is my trust,” and whirling the dial. Francine at last threw open the safe door.

“Mon Dieu, it is gone!” she cried; “the great ruby is gone! All else is here, yes, here is the diamond cross and the emerald bracelet—only the ruby is missing. The beast! The murderous beast! I knew he was the bad one! His blackness—ugh!”

More by gestures than by words did Francine express her detestation of the man and her distress at the discovery of the loss.

“You’re sure, Francine?” Brown persisted.

“Oh, yes, always the ruby reposed in this case, see! Now, the case is empty!”

“Well, I’m not overly surprised. Johnson is certainly the villain! Come on, we must go down and report.”

Francine closed and locked the safe, and, dabbing at her eyes with a minute handkerchief drawn from her foolish little apron pocket, she went obediently downstairs.

Brewster heard of the stolen ruby with a certain feeling of satisfaction. It was all in keeping that the maker of synthetic rubies should purloin a real one—even at the price of becoming a murderer thereby.

“Johnson’s your man,” he declared. “All we’ve got to do now, is to nab him. And that’s not so hard as you may think. Mr. Vincent has his address, and sooner or later the man must return to his home,—even if secretly. We’ll get him!”

“I can’t understand it—” Vincent looked bewildered, “How did he do it? How did he get the safe open? How did he kill my sister? It is all too unbelievable,—too mysterious—”

“It is!” declared Rosemary, her attitude of sorrowful dejection suddenly giving way to a burst of indignation; “that was to be my ruby! Antan left it to me in her will,—she told me so!”

No one thought the girl mercenary, or criticized her for this speech. It was natural that the news of the theft should call forth such regret from the one whose property it was meant to be.

“Poor child,” said her uncle, “that is true. My sister did intend for you to have the jewel. Will troubles never end, Rosemary?”

“Oh, Uncle, I fear they have only just begun. I—I heard the Harp last night—”

She stopped as a shade of annoyance crossed her uncle’s face.

Homer Vincent always frowned at mention of the mysterious harp. He declared there could be no truth in the tales about it, that no sounds were ever heard from the dense thicket that the townsfolk had dubbed “Spooky Hollow.”

Nor was it an inappropriate name. On either side of the marble Temple were beautiful pine trees and larches, and a background of these threw out the shining whiteness in fine relief. But further back still, was a deep thicket of lower growth, dwarfed trees, tangled shrubs and vines, marshy swamp ground, that, after a long rain, showed dark pools of ooze and murky patches of soggy ground.

Lower than the rest of the estate, it sloped still farther downward to a deep ravine, which, filled with a wild growth, was so picturesque, and also so difficult of access, that Homer Vincent had put off clearing it out to a future time that had not yet arrived.

The unhindered growth of the trees and the rank and luxuriant undergrowth had, of course, taken place during the long years that the house stood vacant, and it was also during this period that the term Spooky Hollow came into use.

Many stories were current of weird sounds heard from the Hollow, of ghostly shapes seen flitting there, of mysterious lights flaring for a moment, now and then.

Many of the townspeople pooh-poohed these stories, but there were many more who believed the reports.

When the Vincents first came, it had been hard to persuade servants to remain with them. But enormous wages and tempting conditions had brought many permanent retainers and Mrs. Mellish’s wise government and kindly heart had secured others, so that now a vacancy on the staff was besieged by applicants.

Yet tales persisted of hauntings and apparitions, prominent among them being the stories of a phantom harp that was played upon only on dark nights, and that gave forth long, wailing strains as of a soul in anguish.

As it was a fact that Mrs. Lamont met a violent death in her room, the same one Anne Vincent had occupied, it was not strange that this harp music was attributed to her restless spirit.

Anne Vincent herself had taken no interest in the ghost stories, her hard-headed practicality refusing to credit a word of them.

But she had reluctantly admitted having heard the Harp once or twice, though afterward declaring it must have been her imagination.

Rosemary was uncertain whether she believed in the spooks of Spooky Hollow or not. She had heard, or had thought she heard, the Wild Harp, but she was never inclined to talk on the subject and indeed, except among the servants, it was not often discussed at Greatlarch.

And so, when Rosemary declared she had heard the Harp the night of her aunt’s death, Homer Vincent looked at her in astonishment.

“Rosemary,” he said, “I beg of you—at such a time—”

“But, Uncle, I did—I did hear it just after I came in—”

“At what time did you come in?” he asked, and then poor Rosemary wished she had not spoken.

But he was quite evidently awaiting an answer, so the girl said, falteringly, “I’m afraid I was a little late,—I didn’t mean to be.”

“How late?” asked Vincent, inexorably.

“After midnight,” and the girl’s appealing eyes seemed to beg him not to reprimand her then and there.

Nor did he. With a slight sigh, he merely said, “You know my wishes, Rosemary. I am sorry you so persistently disregard them.”

“You came home at midnight, Miss Vincent?” said Brewster, hoping to glean information of some sort.

“Yes; I dined with a friend over on Spruce Hill Road, and she sent me home in her motor. I left the car at our avenue and walked to the house.”

“In order to conceal the fact of your late return,” observed Vincent.

“Yes, Uncle,” Rosemary admitted, and her brown eyes fell before his reproachful gaze.

But Brewster went on: “Tell me, Miss Vincent,” he said, “did you see or hear anything unusual when you entered the house?”

“Nothing at all,” she replied. “I had my own night key, but I did not use it, as Hoskins had not yet locked the front door.”

Brown looked at her closely.

“Miss Vincent,” he said, “you did not come directly into the house. You walked around the northwest Tower and back before coming in at the front door.”

The girl’s face expressed utter amazement.

“That is quite true,” she said, “but how ever did you know it?”

Rosemary’s face betokened merely surprise, not alarm, but Brown continued to quiz her.

“You paused at the window of that Tower, and stood there some moments. Why did you do that?” His eyes narrowed as he looked at her, and his voice was curiously tense.

Rosemary rather resented this catechism, and then she quickly realized that the detectives had a right to question her, and moreover, that she must tell the truth.

“Tell me how you know I did that, and I’ll tell you why I did it,” she returned.

Susceptible young Brown was fascinated by the charm of the appealing eyes, and the piquant little face, animated now by curiosity.

“Not a difficult bit of deduction,” he said; “I saw footprints in the snow along the front portico and round the Tower when I came this morning. They were made by slender, feminine shoes, and I think now they were yours.”

“I daresay,” said Rosemary, indifferent now that the mystery was explained. “Well, I stepped around there because I saw by the light that my uncle was probably there, and I wanted to size up my chance of getting into the house unnoticed.” Homer Vincent looked at her with disapproval, but Brown suppressed a chuckle.

“Not really afraid of the old man,” he silently decided. “Guess his bark is worse’n his bite.”

“What was your uncle doing?” asked Brewster, casually.

“He was looking over some papers,—and he had something in his hand that glittered—”

“The two synthetic rubies that Mr. Johnson left with me,” Vincent explained. “I will answer queries pertaining to myself, if you please.”

Brewster felt a little abashed. Homer Vincent had a gift of making people feel abashed when he chose.

“May I see those rubies, Mr. Vincent?” asked Lane.

“Certainly, I’ll fetch them,” and Vincent left the room.

“Did it look like a ruby, the object your uncle was holding?” Brewster inquired of Rosemary.

The girl looked at him and instinctively disliked his manner.

“My uncle prefers that questions about himself should be addressed to him,” she said, coolly, and again Brown had hard work to repress a smile of amusement at his colleague’s discomfiture.

The two detectives worked harmoniously and in unison, but there was a slight feeling of rivalry that was, perhaps, not to be wondered at. Moreover, both of them were greatly impressed with the gravity of the case, the magnificence of the house, and not least, by the winning personality of Rosemary Vincent.

“Then proceed with your own story, Miss Vincent,” Brewster said, a little curtly. “After looking in on your uncle, did you at once enter the house?”

“Yes, I thought from his manner he was meaning to stay where he was for some time. So I went back to the front door, and softly opened it and slipped in. Well, of all things, if Uncle Homer didn’t start that very minute to go upstairs! I was so afraid he’d see me, I scuttled behind one of the big pillars in the hall, and waited till he passed me. I scarcely dared breathe! But he didn’t hear me,—he went on up the staircase, and—”

“And you followed after a discreet interval.”

“Well, yes,—but in that interval I went to the dining-room and ate a bit of luncheon that Mellish had left there for me.”

A smile of respectful affection crossed the face of the butler as he regarded the girl.

“But you had just come from a dinner party!”

“Oh, but dinner was at seven-thirty, and since then, we had danced till after midnight, and had no other refreshments.”

“I see. Well, then after your supper, you went upstairs?”

Rosemary suddenly saw she was practically on the witness stand.

This did not disturb her, it only served to make her more careful of her statements.

“Yes,” she said, slowly. “I went upstairs, and as it is my habit to stop in my aunt’s room to say good night, if she is awake, I listened at her door. But her regular, deep breathing told me that she was asleep, so I went on to my own apartments.”

“You did not know Mr. Johnson was in the house?”

“No, I had no way of knowing that”

“You saw the night watchman as you came in?”

“Not as I came in, but while I was in the dining-room, Hoskins looked in. We nodded at each other and he went on.”

“May I see Hoskins?” Lane asked, abruptly. Mellish went to summon the watchman, who, though usually asleep at this hour, was still in the servants’ sitting-room, gossiping over events.

He came back with Mellish, and was ready, even anxious, to answer questions.

“Yes, sir,” he informed them, “I saw Miss Rosemary a eatin’ of her little supper, and I went on about my business.”

“Did you see Mr. Johnson walking about the house or grounds through the night?”

“That I did not, or I’d reported it, you may be sure.”

“Is it necessary to report the wanderings if a guest of the house?”

“Well, I’ve never seen this Mr. Johnson they tell of, and if I’d a seen him outside the house, I’d hardly taken him for a guest. We ain’t never had such guests as that. But if I’d a seen him a walkin’ about inside, like as not I’d a supposed he was a visitor and let it go at that. You can’t tell just what you’d do in such cases, less’n you’re there on the spot.”

“Then you saw no sign of anybody at all?”

“No, sir. After Miss Rosemary went upstairs, I saw and heard no human bein’ till the stroke of seven sent me in to breakfast. That is, no human, sir.”

“You mean to say you saw or heard something supernatural?”

“That’s it, sir, the Wild Harp. She broke loose long about two or three o’clock, and such a wailin’ sound you never heard!”

“Hoskins,” Homer Vincent spoke, as he came into the room again, “you are too sensible to talk like that. There is no truth in those stories of a Wild Harp.”

“Have it your own way, sir,” and Hoskins cheerfully accepted the mild rebuff.

“There are the rubies, gentlemen,” Vincent said, laying two gleaming crimson stones on the table.

“What beauties!” cried Doctor Archer. “Do you mean to tell me these are synthetic? Made by that man, Johnson?”

“So he affirmed. Of course, there’d be no sense in his making a false statement of that sort.”

“Oh, Uncle, they’re wonderful!” exclaimed Rosemary. “Can’t I have one of these now that Antan’s ruby is gone?”

“Oh, Miss Rosemary, don’t think about foolish gewgaws with your poor aunt lying dead up above us!” Mrs. Mellish showed a horrified surprise on her round, rosy face. “And you gentlemen may search all you wish, you may do all the detective stunts you can pull off, never will you see that Johnson man again, and never will you learn any more about poor Miss Anne’s death than you know this minute! For I heard the Wild Harp last night, and it was a funeral dirge it played. The dear lady was killed by a haunt, that she was! Who else could get into her locked room? Who else could sperrit away Mr. Johnson? Tell me that now! She chose for her own the haunted room,—and she paid the penalty,—did poor Miss Anne!”

Chapter 7
Uncle And Niece

The dreary November afternoon passed, and the shadows lengthened and deepened the gloom that hung over Greatlarch.

The Avenue trees waved their long branches as a soughing wind swept through them. The pines sang and whistled and the dense tangle down behind the Mausoleum was black and eerie, more than ever justifying its name of Spooky Hollow. Mrs. Mellish stood staring out of a rear window, almost certain she could hear faint strains of the Wild Harp.

“Come away, now, Susan,” commanded her spouse. “It’s no spook music you’ll hear, savin’ that which you make in your own ears—”

“Hush your blether, Mellish,—I want no coddlin’ from you.” And then, with true feminine inconsistency, she turned to her husband and threw herself into his arms, sobbing convulsively.

“Therey, therey, now, Soodie, cry an ye want to, it’ll do ye good,” and he patted her shoulder and smoothed her hair, and comforted her by his strong protecting arms.

“It’s Miss Rosemary,” Susan said, wiping her eyes. “I can’t stand it to see the child so gone-like. She wanders about, her eyes wide and staring, and that full of sadness!”

“She loved her Antan,—that she did,” and Mellish nodded his gray head. “There’s a terrible moil, Susan. Who killed Miss Anne?—answer me that now!”

“No mortal hand,” and Mrs. Mellish gazed solemnly into space. “Never could a human hand do it, you see, for the door was locked, and the poor lady in there alone. Comes the ghost of the other lady who met her death in that very room, and,—the wicked, evil thing,—she killed our Miss Anne! Or where’s the knife? How could a human, mortal villain kill her and leave no weepon? Or how get out through a locked door? Answer me that, Mellish, now!”

“No, I can’t. Yet ‘twas no spook, of that I’m certain!”

Susan Mellish held up her finger, listening.

“Hark at the organ, now,” she said; “Master’s fair crazy with his grief!”

The great organ pealed and rolled its melodies through the house. Fugues and dirges of the greatest masters were played with a strong, sure touch and a powerful, agonizing sorrow, like the cry of a lost soul.

One funeral march after another sounded as Homer Vincent strove to quiet his perturbed spirit by the aid of his one great passion—music.

Rosemary stood in the Atrium, looking through the plate-glass doors down across the terrace, across the lagoon to the white Mausoleum and to the black Spooky Hollow beyond it.

She had put on a black dress, of plain and simple cut, and her white arms shone in the dusk as she leaned them up against the window and hid her face upon them.

“If he doesn’t stop that music,” she thought, “I shall go crazy! I never heard him play so like one inspired! It is heartrending, crucifying, yet it has a triumphant note,—like the triumph of Death. Poor Uncle Homer, he must be almost beside himself with grief,—I know by the way he plays. And he has no other solace—I wish he would let me talk to him,—I’d like to talk about Antan—but he doesn’t want me to mention her name—”

And then, through the long shadowy room, lighted only by a faint radiance from the Entrance Hall, came softly a footfall, and Rosemary turned to see Lulie Eaton, her friend whom she had visited the night before.

“Rosemary,” and Lulie put her arms round her, “I want you to go home with me, and stay a few days. At least, until the funeral. Won’t you? It will be so much better for you, and—your uncle won’t mind, will he?”

“I don’t know,” Rosemary hesitated; “it’s good of you, Lulie,—I’d be glad to go,—if I ought to—”

“Of course you ought to,—you owe it to yourself to get out of this atmosphere—oh, have they found out anything—about—”

“About Antan? No, not a thing. The detectives are at their wits’ end, Uncle Homer is nearly distracted—listen to that awful music—”

“It is desperately sad, but, what a wonderful performer he is!”

“Oh, yes,—there, now he is improvising,—that means he’s a little easier in his mind,—let’s go and ask him if I may go with you.”

The two girls went to the organ room, the high walls and domed ceiling giving back the music and making the place seem more than ever like a church.

With a feeling of awe, almost of fear, they tiptoed toward the silent figure on the organ bench.

The light was low, the branches of the tall trees waved against the windows with weird sounds.

Seeing the girls, Vincent paused, slowly trailing his softly touched chords off to nothingness.

“What is it, Rosemary?” he said, wearily pushing back the thick hair from his brow. “How do you do, Miss Eaton?”

Lulie Eaton dared her request.

“Oh, Mr. Vincent,” she said, “I’ve come to take Rosemary home with me for a few days,—mayn’t she go?”

“If she chooses.” Homer Vincent spoke coldly, and again his hands hovered above the keys.

“Oh, Uncle,” Rosemary cried, “I won’t go if you don’t want me to, Uncle Homer. Indeed. I won’t.”

“Would you like to be left alone in this house. Rosemary?” Vincent asked, as, barely touching the keys, he made them sound like a faint echo of a sweet, sad strain.

“No!” and the girl shuddered at the thought.

“Yet you would leave me—”

“But I didn’t know you cared to have me here, Uncle. You don’t like to have me mention Antan, you don’t even talk to me—”

“My dear, there is some grief too deep for words,—yet human companionship is a help and a comfort, even though ordinary conversation is out of the question. And you can help by looking after the house. Can you not fill Antan’s place to a degree? Can you not order the meals and give out supplies,—or, whatever your Aunt did?”

Rosemary smiled a little at his idea of her Aunt’s duties. For, she thought, Miss Vincent did none of these things, the two Mellishes arranged all such details. But Vincent was not the sort of man who knew what was going on in the domestic department.

However, Rosemary sensed the fact that her uncle wanted her to stay by him, if only as a moral support, and though she would have preferred to go with Lulie, yet she felt a certain pride in the idea that he wanted her at home.

Not exactly afraid of her uncle, Rosemary never could quite conquer a feeling of awe of him, and a dread of running counter to his will in any way. But she had long ago learned that if conditions were right, if there was no flaw in the arrangements that made for his creature comfort, she need never look for any but the kindest and most courteous treatment from him. But if any of his orders were not fulfilled accurately, if any meal was a moment late, any course imperfectly cooked or served, any book or smoking-stand moved one iota from its accustomed place, then, as Rosemary had often had occasion to notice, his sister or his niece received, however undeserved, a portion of his reprimand.

So Rosemary declined to go with her friend, and after a short visit, Lulie went off alone.

“What were you two girls talking about?” Vincent asked, as he left the organ and joined Rosemary in the living-room.

The lights were on, now, and the beautiful room was warm and cheerful.

But the girl seemed struck dumb. She blushed and remained silent, raising her troubled eyes to her uncle’s face only to drop them again in confusion.

“I can read your thoughts the same as if you had spoken, my dear,” her uncle said, a tinge of displeasure in his tone. “You talked of young Collins. Has he been here to see you?”

“No, Uncle, not since you forbade it.” Rosemary’s tone was gentle, her voice steady, but in her golden-brown eyes there shone a sudden light, that was rebellious, almost mutinous.

Vincent caught this gleam, and said, in real irritation, “I do think, Rosemary, at this time, when I am in such deep grief, you might be less selfishly inclined to brood sullenly over your own petty grievances. You know my dislike for Bryce Collins, you know I will not hear of your marrying him; why not, then, give over thinking about it?”

“Did you ever love anybody, Uncle?” she asked, quietly, mentally adding, “except yourself!”

Vincent gave her a curious glance, and then said, sadly, “I loved your Aunt Anne. She was my dear sister, and now that she has been so terribly taken away from me,—away from us, I should think, Rosemary, that you would turn your thoughts to your great loss, even if you have no sympathy or sorrow for mine.”

“Oh, Uncle, don’t talk to me like that! I do feel sorry for you, I do grieve for Antan,—oh, I can’t realize she’s gone! What shall I do without her?”

“A very grave question, my child. But now, we must make some necessary arrangements for the funeral. My sister must be buried with the dignity and beauty befitting her life. And you must help, for there are many details to be looked after.”

“Yes, Uncle, anything I can do to help or to lessen your load of care and responsibility, I am glad to undertake.”

“That’s the way to talk, my dear child. Now, listen and I’ll tell you what you can do.”

And when the talk was over, Rosemary found herself weighted down with her share of the errands and arrangements necessary for the obsequies that Homer Vincent deemed appropriate for his sister.

Not that he desired any ostentation or display.

But his directions as to the music, the flowers, the clergyman’s address, the luncheon to be prepared for guests from a distance, and the thousand and one things that he mentioned seemed to Rosemary to make a task both burdensome and difficult.

However, she relied on the Mellishes for much help, and she was so glad to be of some real assistance to her uncle, that she willingly promised all he asked.

And then they drifted into a discussion of the terrible circumstances, as mysterious this minute as they had been early in the morning when the discovery had been made.

“Uncle,” Rosemary cried, “who killed Antan,—and how? I must know those two things or I shall go out of my mind! I can’t conceive of any possible explanation, can you?”

“No, Rosemary, I can’t. It is as great a mystery as it is a tragedy,—and I can’t say any more than that.”

“No, Uncle, we can’t say more than that. But somebody killed her,—that we know. How, then, did he get out of the room, and what did he do with the knife?”

“Those, Rosemary, are the unanswerable questions. And I must say I don’t believe these dunder-headed detectives that are on the job can ever solve the mystery. Do you?”

“Oh, I don’t know anything about such things, Uncle dear. But they do seem unable to discover anything or to suggest anything. Tell me more about that Johnson man, Uncle. Was he a—a gentleman?”

“Why, no, Rosemary, not as we look upon a gentleman. Yet he had decent manners and presentable appearance. I wish I had never seen him!”

“Do you think he killed Antan?”

“How can I say I think so, when I can’t imagine his motive for such a deed. Unless, of course, he stole her ruby. Too bad, dear,—that gem was to have been yours.”

“Yes, I know. But, Uncle, when a strange man comes here, and acts in such an extraordinary manner,—not going to bed at all,—and then mysteriously disappears, and we find Antan dead,—isn’t there logical reason to think maybe he did it?”

“There certainly is, Rosemary, and I shall never rest till we find that man! It must be possible to find him. He can’t have dropped out of existence. But that’s where I thought the detectives would do better work. I supposed they would get on his trail somehow, almost immediately. I thought detectives could always trace a fugitive,—always find a skulking, hiding villain. But they seem not to know which way to turn!”

“Yes, I noticed that. And that Mr. Lane knows even less, I should say.”

“Yes, he’s a numskull. But the little detective, that one called Brown, seems rather alert, and wide-awake, yet he can’t get anywhere, apparently; unless they do something soon, I shall call in a more expert detective.”

“Can you do that? Right over their heads, I mean?”

“I most certainly shall. My sister’s death must be avenged, if any effort of mine can accomplish it. But I do admit it seems a problem impossible of solution.”

“The facts are so irreconcilable,” the girl said, musingly. “I can’t see any conceivable way the deed could have been done, and the room left locked and the weapon missing.”

“Rosemary, there’s only one explanation. But I am not yet quite able to believe in it.” Vincent’s voice was low and his direct gaze was so piercing, that the girl was startled. She felt an uncanny, a sinister presentiment of his meaning.

“Oh, Uncle Homer,” she cried, “you don’t mean—you can’t mean Mrs. Lamont—” She looked over her shoulder, and out the window toward the Temple where once had rested the mortal remains of that other victim.

“I’ve always been a practical hard-headed unbeliever in spiritualism,” Vincent said, slowly, “but I am so staggered by this thing, so puzzled to think of any possible explanation, however improbable, that, as I say, I see no other way to look but toward the supernatural. Yet I will not as yet put myself on record as going over to the spiritualistic belief, only, unless we can unearth some evidence, find some clues, I cannot say what I may do.”

“Uncle Homer,” and Rosemary’s face looked wondering, “I heard the Harp last night.”

“You imagined it, dear. How could you hear what doesn’t exist?”

“But I did,—I’m sure of it. It was between two and three o’clock. I was wakeful, and I was tempted to get up and go to some south window. But I didn’t, and yet, even in my own room, which is north, I heard faintly the low wailing strains of the Wild Harp. Have you never heard it, Uncle?”

“I have sometimes thought I did, child, but I put it down to imagination. Leave me now, Rosemary,—I am very weary, and I must think over some matters by myself.”

So Rosemary went in search of the two Mellishes and they discussed the arrangements for the funeral services of Anne Vincent.

To Rosemary’s own surprise, but not to Mrs. Mellish’s, it soon transpired that the girl was not at all wise or experienced in household matters. Anne Vincent had been the guiding spirit, the directing hand of the establishment, and though she had occasionally called on her niece for some slight assistance, it was always mere routine work, and carefully under the elder woman’s own supervision.

So when the cook began to ask about how many chickens and hams should be prepared for the cold luncheon, and what sweets should be provided, Rosemary found herself quite at sea, and told Mrs. Mellish and her husband to get whatever they deemed best.

“That’s all very well,” and Melly shook her head; “all very well, Miss Rosemary,—but your uncle won’t like it a bit, if you don’t fill your aunt’s place. Many’s the little thing she did for him, many’s the time she looked out for him and stood between him and some bit of a bother. Be careful now, Miss Rosemary, to do such things yourself. Keep a constant watch on your uncle. See that everything is ready to his hand when he reaches out his hand to get it—meaning, of course, such as is outside the duties of me and Mellish.”

“I don’t know what you mean, Melly. What am I to do? Darn his socks,—that sort of thing?”

“That, of course, Miss—and his buttons and all. But hand him a paper or a book that he’s glancing about for,—offer to play Russian Bank with him, when he’s in just the mood for it,—gather from his symptoms what sort of food he’ll want for dinner,—that’s the way Miss Anne looked after him.”

“Good gracious, Melly, I can’t do those things! Why, I don’t know how to play that stupid old card game! And I didn’t know he had symptoms!”

“You must learn, then, Miss Rosemary.” Mellish himself spoke now, and very seriously. “Your uncle is a good man and a kind man if he is comfortable. If not,—oh, well, Miss, you know him!”

“Of course I do. And I know you two look out for all his real wants. I’ll do anything I can, of course, but I guess he’ll have to diagnose his own symptoms, and select his special foods himself. As to this luncheon, Melly, order whatever you think best. Be sure to have enough, that’s all, for relatives and friends will come from all the country round. And, Melly, I don’t know much about ordering and such things. Antan never let me help her much or tried to teach me anything about housekeeping.”

“You should know, Miss Rosemary. It’s right every young lady should be a housekeeper, such as your aunt, rest her soul, was. Now, if you’ll let me, I’ll teach you, and you’ll soon learn, for you’ve a quick wit and handy fingers.”

“All right, Melly, and we’ll begin after all this trouble has cleared up a little. Melly, who killed Antan?”

“The Ghost Lady, Miss Rosemary. Didn’t I hear her playin’ on her Wild Harp—”

“Why, so did I, Melly. What time did you hear it?”

“As it might be say two or three o’clock of the mornin’, Miss.”

“That’s the very time I heard it! Melly, how could a ghost kill anybody, with a dagger?”

“Likewise, Miss Rosemary, how could a human kill anybody with a dagger, and go away leaving the door locked behind him?”

Mellish, who had mysteriously disappeared, returned and whispered to the girl.

“I opine, Miss Rosemary,” he said, softly, “if you was to step out this little back door now,—just step out, you know,—you might—well, just step out now. I opine you won’t be sorry.”

Having more than a suspicion of what Mellish was opining about, Rosemary stepped out of the small door that gave on an areaway.

As she had hoped, there stood the tall, thin form of Bryce Collins.

“Oh,” she whispered, “you ought not to have come—how did you dare?”

“I felt I must see you, Rosemary; it’s too utterly absurd to be forbidden the house,—for no reason at all—”

“I know it, Bryce,—but Uncle Homer is terribly upset anyway, and if he sees you—”

“He won’t see me. I just want a few minutes with you, dear. Can’t we go inside,—somewhere?”

“No, I don’t dare. Melly has just been telling me I must look after Uncle Homer as Antan used to. And, surely, I can’t allow anything that he has so positively forbidden. He’d—oh, I don’t know what he’d do!”

“What would he do, dear? Fly in a passion?”

“No, I’ve never seen him do that. But he’d be so displeased, he’d reprove me so—”

“Rosemary, it’s idiotic for a girl twenty-one years old to be so afraid of anybody! Your uncle is not your father, and even if he were—”

“Don’t talk like that, Bryce. He’s the same as a father to me. Ever since my own dear father died, five years ago, Uncle Homer has done all for me that a father could do, and more than a great many fathers do. I’ve seen the other girls,—their fathers aren’t half as good to them as Uncle is to me. And now Antan is gone, I owe it to him to be obedient and to observe all his commands.”

“Don’t you love me, dear?”

Bryce Collins was a tall, slender man, but his physique showed strength, and his bearing was that of an assured, determined nature.

His deep blue eyes were honest and straightforward, and his smooth-shaven face showed a chin that betokened will power to the point of stubbornness. And Collins was stubborn. He clung to an opinion or a determination like a puppy to a root, and he never gave up.

Now, at twenty-six, he was an insistent suitor of Rosemary Vincent, but his plea was denied by her uncle.

Homer Vincent gave no reason for his decision,—it was not his habit to give reasons,—but he declared it was final. To Rosemary he said she was too young to think of marriage yet, and he preferred that she should never marry. He hinted that he and his sister Anne had been much happier in their lives than their brother, Rosemary’s father, who had married young. In any case, he told the girl she must give up all thought of Bryce Collins, and, unable to do otherwise, Rosemary had submitted to his decree.

And as the girl was by no means of a sly or deceitful nature, she obeyed the spirit of her uncle’s dictum as well as the letter.

That is, she did so, as far as she could; but Collins, with his indomitable will and his firm determination, would not let her give him up finally, unless she would tell him she did not care for him.

This Rosemary could not do, for she loved Bryce, and hoped against hope, that some day her uncle would relent

Now, in view of the tragedy that hung over the house, Rosemary was more than ever afraid to have Collins’ presence known, and yet, never before had she felt so strong a wish, a need, for his presence.

And his gentle tone, his whispered question, seemed to take away all her power of resistance.

“Yes,” she said, “I love you,” and eagerly he clasped her in his waiting arms.

“Bless her heart! Whatever is coming to her?” and wiping her eyes, Melly turned from the window, where she had been watching the pair.

Chapter 8
Spooky Hollow

Twenty-four hours had elapsed since the funeral of Anne Vincent, and the mystery of her death was no nearer solution than it had been the moment her body was found.

None of the relatives or friends who had attended the simple but beautiful services had been asked to tarry at the house.

Homer Vincent had no desire to have them do so, and though several had dropped hints betokening their wish to stay on for a visit, they had met with no responsive invitation and had reluctantly taken their departure.

He sent for Brewster and Brown and asked for their report.

“I have to confess, Mr. Vincent,” Brewster said, “that we are up against it. We are convinced that the strange visitor, Mr. Johnson, is responsible for the death of your sister, but we can form no theory that will fit the facts. We have examined the bedroom, and we find there is absolutely no means of entrance or exit, save that one door. The windows have patent ventilators that admit air without leaving possible space for an intruder. The lock of the door is burst in such a fashion as to show clearly that it was locked on the inside and could only be opened by force. We have tried every possible suggestion of suicide, and find that theory untenable, because there is no weapon in evidence. Miss Vincent could not have killed herself and then disposed of the dagger, for the death blow was instantly fatal,—we have the doctor’s assurance for that.”

“I am very sure,” Homer Vincent said, “that my sister did not kill herself. She had no motive for such a deed,—I left her that evening in the best of spirits and she was looking forward to the matter we were to confer about the next day. And, as you say, it could not have been suicide, as there has been no weapon found. I assume you made a thorough search of the bedding—”

“Oh, yes, I attended to that myself. No, suicide is out of the question.”

“I suppose,—” Vincent spoke a little diffidently. “I suppose you hard-headed detectives wouldn’t consider the—er,—the supernatural for a moment.”

“No, sir!” declared Brown, “not for a moment! I’ve been a detective too long to suspect a spook as long as there are human beings upon this earth. Miss Vincent was murdered by a knife held in a hand of flesh and blood! The motive was robbery,—robbery of her valuable ruby. The criminal is, of course, the man named Johnson, the ruby manufacturer. I can reconstruct the crime as it must have been—but, I confess, I can’t see how it could have been so!”

“What do you mean by ‘reconstruct the crime’?” Vincent asked, curiously.

“Why, I mean, that evening, after you left Mr. Johnson in his room, he came out of it, later,—probably walked round the house a bit, reconnoitering, and laid his plans to murder Miss Vincent as soon as the first faint light of dawn gave him opportunity. He did this, and then slipped out of the house, while the watchman was at his breakfast and the other servants about their work.”

“Logical enough,” Vincent said, “except for the seemingly impossible feat of getting in and out of that locked room.”

“There you have it, Mr. Vincent,” Brewster exclaimed. “That’s right,—seemingly impossible feat. It wasn’t impossible, because he did it,—he had to do it, there’s no other explanation. Now, the thing is to find out how he did it, and the only way to do that is to catch him and ask him. Nobody knows but himself, so he must do the explaining.”

“That sounds plausible, Mr. Brewster. Now, can you find him? He has four days’ start. May he not be far away by this time,—perhaps out at sea?”

“That’s true, Mr. Vincent, but all we can do is to hunt him down. Perhaps he can be found even if he is on an ocean steamer. Indeed, that would be one of the easiest hiding places to track down. But, and this is not an easy thing to say,—we can’t do it. Mr. Brown and I have done all we could, so far, but for a big hunt like this must be, we require the machinery, the facilities of a larger police department, of more experienced investigators.”

“I daresay,” Vincent nodded in agreement. “In fact, I had thought of proposing the plan of putting the matter up to some one else. Whom do you suggest?”

“The Burlington police. Not only have they a well-equipped Detective Bureau, but they have one man in especial, whose forte seems to be delving into mysteries that defy solution by others. His name is Prentiss, but so keen is he, so sharp-sighted, he is called the Burlington Hawkeye.”

Homer Vincent gave an involuntary smile. “Why, that is a celebrated paper of quite another Burlington!”

“Yes, it’s only a nickname. Well, what do you say, sir? Shall we call him in?”

“By all means. As I told you, I wish to spare no effort, no expense, in my endeavor to avenge my sister’s death. I suppose this man will come in the interests of the Police, but if it is any better or more advisable to engage him personally, I will do so.”

“We’ll see about that, sir. If he succeeds, you can, of course, give him an honorarium. He is a wizard,—I’ll say that for him, but I can’t see him solving this case,—it’s too strange!”

However, when Prentiss arrived, he gave the impression that he certainly could solve that case or any other.

Not that the man was bumptious or unduly conceited, but he had an air of self-reliance, of self-assuredness, that carried weight by its mere physical effect.

Homer Vincent regarded him with curiosity, that turned to respect and then to entire satisfaction.

He had a long talk with him, and Prentiss earnestly declared his ability to find the murderer.

“There’s a mystery,” he said; “I am here to solve it. There’s a seeming impossibility,—I am here to explain it. There’s a missing man,—I am here to find him.”

If Vincent thought the man too sure of himself or his powers, he did not say so, and merely nodded approval of such determination.

The Burlington Hawkeye was not an impressive-looking man, in fact, he was rather inconspicuous. Medium height, average figure, unimportant coloring, his appearance was saved from absolute nonentity by his piercing, darting eyes. These eyes were of the color sometimes called beryl or topaz. Also, they were a trifle prominent, and were so quick of motion, so glinting of shine, that they made remarkable an otherwise negligible face.

He shot a glance of inquiry at Vincent, as if to ask his recognition of his powers.

But Homer Vincent was not accustomed to bestow praise.

“I am glad to learn of your enthusiasm,” he conceded, “and I am ready and willing to do anything at all I can to help you. But I must ask that you will not disturb me unnecessarily. While I am most anxious to have the mystery of my sister’s death solved, most eager to find that man Johnson, yet I am not at all interested in the details of the search, nor do I want uncertain or partial reports. When you have learned beyond doubt some important fact, acquaint me with it, but do not come to me with trifling discoveries that may or may not mean anything. Am I clear?”

“Yes, Mr. Vincent, perfectly so. I understand. In fact, I have been told you are a recluse and wish no unnecessary communications with your fellow-men.”

“That is perhaps an exaggerated way to put it,” Vincent observed, calmly, “yet for your own edification, it is perhaps the best way. Yes, you may look upon me in that light, Mr. Prentiss. However, that does not mean that I do not want to be told of anything you may discover of real importance. And if you are uncertain as to the value of your news, refer it to Mellish, my butler. He is entirely in my confidence, and often stands between me and what you have termed my fellow-men.”

If Prentiss had expected to jar the calm of Homer Vincent by his outspokenness, he must have been disappointed, for Vincent seemed rather pleased than otherwise at the implication of retirement.

Sensing this, the detective resolved to get all the information possible at this time, for it might prove difficult to get future interviews.

“Will you describe Johnson, please?” he asked.

“He is a very dark man, both as to hair and skin. He is as good-looking as the average citizen and has an air of business alertness and executive ability.”

“What is his business?”

“Aside from this plan of manufacturing synthetic rubies, I know of none. It is probable he has some other calling, for he appeared a well-dressed, well-set-up man, as if accustomed to a competency but not wealth. He put his business proposition to my sister and myself with a straightforward manner and a fair and equal arrangement of profits.”

“You were to finance the thing?”

“Yes; and my sister wished also to take a share in it. She had a fortune equal to my own, and was anxious to invest in this new scheme.”

“What disposition did your sister make of her fortune?”

“She left no will. Neither she nor I have ever made one. We agreed that as whichever of us died first would legally inherit the estate of the other, a will was unnecessary for either of us.”

“And Miss Rosemary Vincent?”

“The question of her inheritance has not yet been brought up. It is true that my sister intended our niece should have her great ruby,—but alas! that gem is missing. It may be, however, that if you find Johnson you can recover the ruby. In that case, it will, of course, belong to my niece. As to my niece’s fortune or prospects, we need not take up that subject at this time. Sufficient to say that she is under my care, and I shall guard and protect her interests. Now, Mr. Prentiss, I will ask you to excuse me from further conversation. Mellish will show you the room Mr. Johnson occupied; it is still untouched, I think. He will also show you my sister’s room and the rest of the house and grounds. Or he will depute some one to do so. You may command him in any way you choose.”

“Thank you, Mr. Vincent. I can’t help hoping for success in this investigation. It is conceded among our profession that the more strange and bizarre conditions appear, the more impossible the correlation of facts seems to be,—the easier of solution a mystery is. This may or may not be literally true, but at any rate it is true in part.”

“You most certainly have contradictory conditions in this case; you surely have strange and bizarre situations. Go to it, then, Mr. Prentiss, and advise me when you have achieved some definite success.”

But the Burlington Hawkeye was not so easily shaken off.

“One more thing, Mr. Vincent,” he said. “What about this Wild Harp? Have you ever heard it?”

“I should be sorry to put myself on record as a believer in the supernatural,” Vincent looked as if the matter were distasteful to him, “but I will say this much. If there are occult forces, if there are deeds done without the intervention of human agency, then, Mr. Prentiss, then I must say this looks like such a case. But, mind you, I do not say that there are. I do not state that I believe my sister met her death by supernatural means,—but I own I cannot explain the circumstances by any natural procedure. Also, I think you ought to know that the place is reputed haunted, and that the room my sister occupied was the room of a previous mistress of the house, who was also found dead in her bed there. It is said that her spirit has haunted this place ever since her death, but of these tales I am no sponsor. I merely mention them because I think you ought to hear of them from me, rather than from the silly townspeople. They have dubbed the place ‘Spooky Hollow’ and they claim to have seen ghostly figures and to have heard ghostly voices.”

“This brings us back to the Wild Harp. Have you ever heard it?”

Homer Vincent hesitated. Then he said, “Mr. Prentiss, I am no authority on the subject. The truth is, music is my passion. Not only do I play on my organ frequently, but when I am not playing I seem to hear the strains of my favorite compositions. They ring in my ears to such an extent that I am as conscious of them as when I am actually hearing them. And so, if I say that I have heard, or think I have heard, this so-called Wild Harp, you must remember that I am also willing to admit that it may easily be only my memories of music I have played, or that it is some of the harmony with which my brain is always teeming.”

“I see—and yet you are willing to say that at times you have thought or imagined that you heard the Harp music?”

“Yes, I am willing to say that. But I insist that you do not lay too much stress upon it in your deductions. For I object to being set down as a spiritualist when I am far from certain that I really do believe at all in such things.”

“I see. Now, one thing more, Mr. Vincent. Will you describe to me this woodland down back of the Temple—the part of your estate that they definitely call Spooky Hollow? What is it like?”

“It is a densely wooded area, full of low, tangled underbrush and containing, also, tall pines, larches, and spruces. There are, too, some white birches, which, I make no doubt, are the shapes the frightened townsfolk have diagnosed as spooks.”

“Doubtless that is true. And the ground—is it wet—swampy?”

“A little marshy, I believe. I’ve never been down in it, but I think it is wet, and I purpose having it drained and reclaimed.”

“Is it damp enough, marshy enough, to have bogs or quagmires? I’m wondering, you see, if Johnson could have wandered down there and could have gone into the swamp and have been sucked in by the quaking bog.”

Vincent looked up in surprise.

“Oh, I don’t think the swamp is as bad as that! Hardly of the quicksand variety,—if that is what you mean. But ask Mellish about it, he will know the details of it far better than I do. And I scarcely think Johnson would have gone out of doors,—I mean to walk about. He was entranced with my house, and wished to examine its architecture and marbles. But I can’t think he went outside until, his fell aim accomplished, he went out to run away.”

“He left coat and hat behind him?”

“Yes, that is one of the strange features of the case.”

“Had he an umbrella?”

Vincent pondered. “I really don’t know. If so, doubtless Mellish took it from him and cared for it. Can you gather nothing from his hat or coat? I thought such things carried meanings for detectives.”

“Possibly. I haven’t examined them yet. Now, Mr. Vincent, you don’t know of any other possible reason for Mr. Johnson to kill your sister except robbery? Could he have been an old-time suitor of hers, or a crank, an anarchist, or even a homicidal maniac? Did his conversation hint any such thing?”

“I never thought of such explanations,” and Vincent looked bewildered. “No, of course he was not an old beau,—ridiculous! My sister never saw him before,—of that I am positive. Nor did he seem like an anarchist,—or a homicide. He was normal in manner and conversation. I object to talking of business affairs at the dinner-table. I do not think it good for digestion. But our conversation was on usual, ordinary subjects. Mr. Johnson did not seem an educated man, in a cultural sense, but he seemed a thorough man of the world, of fairly wide experiences, and good judgment.”

“He said nothing of his life or affairs, outside the ruby business?”

“No; our talk was impersonal. He knew little of music, and I know of no subject that specially interested him. I’m sorry, Mr. Prentiss, but I can tell you nothing definite concerning his personality. If I could, I should have told it long ago.”

“Of course, of course. Well, Mr. Vincent, I will go about my work. By the way, you have confidence in all your servants?”

“Absolute confidence in Mellish, my butler, and his wife, who is my cook. Also in Francine, the little French girl who was maid to my sister, and who also attends on my niece. She may seem like a shallow-pated little thing, but she was devoted to Miss Vincent and truly mourns for her now.”

“Yes, yes, I will talk with her. Good morning, Mr. Vincent.”

“Ah, one moment, Mr. Prentiss. I shall not ask you to make your home at Greatlarch while you are conducting your investigations. It would not please me to know of your continued presence here. But, pray feel free to come and go as you like, and refer all questions to Mellish.”

Assenting to this, the Burlington Hawkeye took his leave of the master of the house and went in search of the servants.

“Umbrella, sir? yes, sir,” said Mellish, in response to the inquiry of Prentiss. “Mr. Johnson did carry an umbrella and I did take it from him that day, and never again did it occur to my rememory! I put it, of course, in the coat room, in the umbrella cupboard, and there, I make me no doubt, it still is. I’ll see, sir.”

In a moment, Mellish returned, bringing triumphantly a good-looking and carefully-rolled umbrella.

Prentiss looked at it with interest.

“You can learn a lot from an umbrella,” he said. “First, I deduce a careful, tidy sort of person, accustomed to take good care of his belongings. A knob handle, not a crook, denotes a fastidious or particular person. Nine out of ten umbrellas have crook handles.”

“Do they now, sir?” asked Mellish, much interested.

“Of good quality silk,” Prentiss went on, “black, fairly new, made by—” He opened it and read the name of a well-known New York haberdasher.

“H’m, we ought to trace it through that firm—”

“Trace an umbrella, sir, as any one might buy—”

“Ah, but you see our man had this marked. See, H. J., the initials intertwined. Now, if we can trace up that order—”

“You’ll find out that Henry Johnson had his umbrella marked there, but how will that tell you where to look for him now?”

“Every bit of information we can get is important when hunting a missing man. Put it away, Mellish,—or suppose we take it up to the room Johnson had when he was here. Yes, that will be best.”

The two went up to the room Johnson had occupied. But as he had only tidied up for dinner, not having evening clothes with him, there was little to notice and but few things disturbed at all.

Prentiss went over the scanty array of clothing in the bag.

“Come now, Mellish, you’re by way of being a valet, wouldn’t your master take more than that when going on a journey?”

“That he would, sir. Mr. Vincent’s overnight bag holds as much as a small trunk.”

“Just so, and I deduce our friend here didn’t expect to stay the night.”

“Maybe so, sir. Maybe he thought he could do up the business in a short time.”

“Yes; strange he left no papers, no letters, or memoranda of any kind.”

“Mr. Vincent has all the papers about the ruby construction business, sir. Mr. Johnson left all those with Mr. Vincent that night.”

“Yes, but I mean other papers. You’ve not cleared out any, Mellish?”

“Oh, no, sir. Not a thing in this room has been disturbed. Orders, sir.”

“And that turned-down bed is just as the housemaid left it?”

“Exactly, sir. But she’d be for tidying up his brushes and that, at the same time. So as one of the brushes is out of line, and there’s a towel or so rumpled up in the bathroom, I take it the man was in his room after the confab with Mr. Vincent in the evening.”

“Oh, yes, and beside, Mr. Vincent brought him up to his room, you know, and said good night to him.”

“Did he now? That’s a deal for the master to do for any guest!”

“Mr. Vincent not given to putting himself out for anybody?”

“That he is not. Mr. Vincent prefers that people put themselves out for him.”

“But a good master, eh?”

“Never a better. Given that things go right.”

“The place will go on just the same, now that the lady is not here?”

“Oh, yes; leastways, I suppose so. My wife, now, she can run the house as Mr. Vincent wants it, and I doubt not Miss Rosemary will help look after things.”

“Miss Rosemary? She’s a niece?”

“Yes, sir; her father, Mr. Vincent’s brother, died five years since, and Miss Rosemary then came here to live.”

“She has money of her own?”

“I take it she has, sir. She never lacks for anything she wants. But money is not talked of in this house. They are no purse-proud upstarts. Mr. Vincent wants only what’s comfortable and to his wishes, naught for show or ostentationary purposes.”

“That’s fine. And Miss Anne was the same?”

“The very same, sir. Though whatever Mr. Vincent was, of course Miss Anne would be. And Miss Rosemary, too.”

“Yes. And, now, Melish, what about the Wild Harp?”

A slight smile hovered on the man’s features.

“Well, sir, I’d not say as there is any truth in them stories. They are what you might call—imaginatious,—yes, sir, merely imaginatious.”

“But some people have heard the weird strains.”

“They think they have, sir,—but, well, you know yourself, it couldn’t be. How could a harp be for making music, when there’s no harp there and no hand to pull its strings?”

“But a phantom harp,—and a phantom hand to touch the strings—”

“Nay, nay, sir. Nothing of the sort. All old woman’s tales. All made-up yarns,—that’s what they are.”

“And all made up about the visitations of Mrs. Lamont’s spirit?”

“Of course, sir. Take it truly, sir, you waste your time a looking for the spooks of Spooky Hollow.”

“Then, Mellish, then who killed Miss Anne?”

“It was that Johnson, sir. Yes, sir, he’s the villain, the criminal, the anathema maharajah!”

And Mellish’s solemn face and tense, strained voice kept Prentiss from laughing at his queer, mistaken words.

Chapter 9
A Living Tragedy

The Burlington Hawkeye bided his time to obtain an interview with Rosemary when he could see her alone. He felt considerable curiosity about the girl and wanted to learn some personal facts concerning her.

Rosemary Vincent had been what is sometimes called buffeted by Fate. But the buffetings had been so gentle and the girl so well protected, she had never felt them definitely.

She still had delightful memories of a childhood spent in Paris, of a devoted mother and doting father, who might easily have spoiled her had she been of a less loving and lovable disposition. Naturally obedient and dutiful, always sunshiny and happy, her life was uneventful until, when she was ten years old, her mother died.

But the broken-hearted child was so petted and entertained by her father that her life again became happy and her mother merely a beloved memory.

Moreover, her father, soon after his wife’s death, was sent by his business firm to America to establish a branch business in Seattle.

This pleased Carl Vincent, who was glad to return to his native land, although in a hitherto unfamiliar portion of it.

He grew to like the Seattle climate and people, and contentedly remained there, bringing up his daughter in kindly and well-conditioned circumstances.

Carl Vincent became a very rich man, but of this Rosemary had no knowledge or thought. Vincent deemed it best to keep the girl to her simple tastes and ways, and though their home was delightfully appointed, it was by no means magnificent or of a grandeur commensurate with Vincent’s income.

Then, when his daughter was sixteen years old, Carl Vincent was killed in a motor accident.

The tragedy was a terrible one, and the girl was not even allowed to see her dead father.

Immediately Homer Vincent went out to Seattle, from his home in Burlington, Vermont, where he was then living.

He tenderly cared for the orphaned girl and took her back home with him as soon as the business matters consequent on his brother’s death could be completed.

Anne Vincent, whom Rosemary lovingly called Antan, welcomed her niece warmly, and again Rosemary’s acute grief was diverted by the scenes and experiences of her new home.

She deeply mourned her father, but Rosemary Vincent was an eager, vivid spirit, a life and laughter-loving girl, and she quickly became a favorite among the young people and neighbors.

Then, six months later, Homer Vincent bought the huge mansion of Greatlarch, and the three moved there.

Rosemary loved the house as much as her uncle did. Her Paris memories made her appreciate the full charm of the old French chateau, and her own beauty-loving nature made her feel at home in the marble halls.

Uncle and aunt were kind and loving to their niece, but Rosemary found her freedom a bit curtailed. Her father had let her do everything she wished, for she had never desired the unadvisable, in his opinion.

But Uncle Homer was more stringent in his commands The girl could have her own way in many instances, but if her ways interfered in the slightest with Homer Vincent’s personal inclinations, Rosemary must give them up.

She did not openly rebel; in fact, she felt she owed willing obedience to her kind uncle, but at times her patience gave out, and her disappointments made her petulant.

Especially in the matter of young visitors at Greatlarch. Rosemary wanted dances and house parties, and girl friends for long visits. But these were banned by Uncle Homer, because the laughter and chatter of a lot of young people disturbed the restful calm that he wished to pervade the household.

It had been tried a few times, with results embarrassing to the guest and heartbreaking to Rosemary.

Aunt Anne had interceded for her niece, had begged her brother to indulge the girl, at least occasionally, but Vincent was firm. It was his house, therefore, his castle. He had a right to order it as he chose, and it was Rosemary’s duty to obey.

His calm air of finality, which was never absent from him, made his rules adamant, and Rosemary gave up the struggle and succumbed to a solitary life in her home, though getting much enjoyment from social gayeties elsewhere.

Though, here again, she was handicapped by her uncle’s insistence on her early homecoming. This brought about a slyness and secrecy, quite foreign to Rosemary’s nature, but developed by her love of dancing and of young society.

And by the help of Hoskins and the connivance of the two Mellishes, all of whom adored her, Rosemary managed to stay at most parties until they were over.

Another thorn in her flesh was the trouble about Bryce Collins.

Though Homer Vincent had no definite objection to the young man, he expressed his strong disapproval of Rosemary’s marriage with any one. Of this stand he gave no explanation, his usual manner being such that explanations never seemed necessary. His word was law, unquestionable and immutable.

Yet Vincent was not a stern or awe-inspiring personality. If things were going as he wished,—and they usually were,—he was not only amiable, but charming and entertaining.

He was subject to moods, which must be observed and humored by his household. He made laws which must be obeyed. He gave orders which must be carried out. These things done, Homer Vincent was the most gracious of hosts, the most generous of brothers and uncles.

And all this, the Burlington Hawkeye learned from Rosemary Vincent when he asked her to go for a brisk walk with him, around the grounds of Greatlarch.

The girl, with her responsive disposition, liked Prentiss at once. He had an ingratiating manner, and a pleasant air of courteous deference. The stare of his slightly prominent eyes was often veiled by lowered lashes, and under the influence of his discreet but leading questions, Rosemary told him all about her life, past, present, and future, so far as she knew it.

“And your father was the brother of Mr. and Miss Vincent?” he asked, interestedly.

“Yes, their youngest brother. And the dearest man! Dad had the best traits of Uncle Homer and Antan, and none of their faults.”

“And he was very rich, wasn’t he?”

“Why, yes,—I suppose so. I never thought much about that. I’ve always had all the money I wanted, but I’m not an extravagant person.”

“But you must be an heiress. You must inherit your father’s fortune, don’t you?”

“I suppose so. Probably he left it to the three of us.”

“Do you mean to say you don’t know? Don’t know anything about your own finances?”

Rosemary laughed outright.

“Is that strange?” she said; “well, then, it’s true. I don’t know a thing about money matters—but I do know this. Antan’s great ruby was to be mine, and now that horrid Johnson man has stolen it! Oh, don’t think I am heartless to think of it, but you know how I do mourn dear Antan, and it seems awful that he should have taken the ruby, too!”

“Are you fond of jewels?”

“Not specially, but that stone was a favorite of mine,—and it is a wonderful stone,—it has a history—”

“Miss Vincent, do you believe in hauntings,—in,—well, in spooks?”

“Oh, I do and I don’t. It’s too absurd to think a ghost killed Antan,—and yet, how could a mortal get in—and get out?”

“Well, just granting that a mortal could do that,—suppose a skeleton key or something like that,—whom would you suspect?”

“Why, that Mr. Johnson, of course. He was a clever burglar,—he just took that means of hoodwinking Uncle Homer,—the ruby-making business, I mean.”

“Yes, it would seem so. But why didn’t he steal anything else? Wasn’t there other jewelry of your aunt’s about?”

“I daresay; but nothing to compare in value to that. Why, do you know that a ruby is worth three times as much as a diamond of the same size? And Antan’s ruby was enormous!”

“Where did she get it?”

“Bought it herself,—soon after I came here to live.”

“Well, Miss Vincent, I truly think, now that you and your uncle are left alone, you ought to have some sort of a financial settlement. From what you tell me, I am sure you have an independent fortune, and it ought to be settled upon you. Aren’t you of age?”

“Twenty-one last birthday.”

“Then you should see to it at once. Doubtless your uncle is going to attend to it shortly, but don’t let him delay.”

“Why, Mr. Prentiss?” the girl asked, curiously “I am well provided for. All my bills are paid without question, all my wants supplied unhesitatingly.”

“Oh, well, perhaps it’s a matter of no immediate importance. You may as well wait until after this awful mystery is solved.”

“Will it ever be solved? Can you find that Johnson man? Where can he be? Where do you think, Mr. Prentiss? They call you a Hawkeye, has your sharp eyesight yet discerned anything?”

“I know that Mr. Johnson has five or six days’ start of me, and that in that time he could get to the ends of the earth,—with his ruby!”

“Don’t call it his ruby,—it’s mine,—and I hope you are going to get it back for me.”

The girl’s topaz-colored eyes looked into those of Prentiss. Her eyes were not unlike his own in tints, but while his were round and staring, hers were deep-set and expressive. Her long lashes were golden-brown, like her hair, and her whole face was suggestive of the russet and gold glory of an autumn day. Her clear, olive skin was tanned by a summer in the sun, and her red-brown hair showed golden light in its clustering curls that shone like copper or deepened to dusky bronze.

Her principal characteristic was an effect of vivid life. Her glance was direct, her face animated, her lithe, graceful gestures indicative of vitality and enthusiasm.

Perception and responsiveness shone in her eyes and her scarlet, sensitive lips quivered with a bewildering charm.

A fleeting, evanescent dimple showed only when she was deeply amused, but whoever once saw it used every effort to bring it forth again.

Though too intelligent not to have a subconsciousness of her own beauty, Rosemary was not vain or conceited over it.

She accepted it as she did food or sunlight, and gave it no more definite thought. Full of the joy of living, absorbed in her daily duties and pleasures, she went her way like a wise butterfly, taking no heed of the morrow in the occupations of the day.

Her trivial troubles were those caused by her uncle’s restrictions on her freedom, and her only real trouble, and that just dawning, was his refusal to recognize Bryce Collins as her possible suitor.

The pair were in love with that first flush of youthful affection that is none the less real because of its ignorance and inexperience.

Rosemary had liked other boys, had felt an interest in other young men, but until she knew Bryce Collins, she had never felt the personal attachment, the mating thrill, that is the precursor of true love.

Moreover, she admired Collins from an intellectual viewpoint. She appreciated his mentality, and liked his casual traits. She adored his big, strong manliness, and she was beginning to love him with a sense of reciprocation of his own affection for her.

Their love was dawning, budding, just ready to spring into full light, to burst into full blossom, when it was thwarted by Homer Vincent’s decree against it.

Nor was Bryce Collins ready to submit tamely to the dictum. He openly rebelled, while Rosemary, uncertain of the wisdom of defying her uncle, was waiting to see what would happen.

Antan had been her niece’s ally, in secret, but Anne Vincent would never dream of opposing her brother’s decisions.

And now, even Antan’s support was gone, and Rosemary began to think she must do something definite about it all.

Her nature felt a strong distaste to secret meetings with Collins. Her father had brought her up to strict honesty and a hatred of deceit. Her little evasions about late homecoming or casual meetings with Bryce at other girls’ houses, she condoned to herself as trifles. But now a real dilemma confronted her.

She was left the only helpmeet in her uncle’s home; the only overseer and housekeeper for him to depend on in the matter of his small habits and peculiar comforts. If she were to desert him, he would be left entirely to the care of paid servants, and after all he had done for her, Rosemary’s soul rebelled at the thought of ingratitude.

And yet,—there was Bryce,—growing dearer and more lovable every day. And with her growing love, came growing womanhood, growing desire for her chosen mate, for her own life partner.

And perhaps egged on by her talk with Prentiss, Rosemary decided to have a talk with her uncle.

She found him in his own Tower room, and to her satisfaction his mood was a composed and apparently pliable one.

“I want a talk, Uncle Homer,” she said, as he held a chair for her. “A serious talk.”

Rosemary was glancing about the room, and a sudden thought struck her.

“Uncle Homer,” she exclaimed, “what were you hiding in a secret panel the night,—the night Antan died?”

Homer Vincent’s face showed his amazement.

“What do you mean?” he asked, blankly.

“Yes, when I came home,—oh, I was late,—you were putting something away in a secret panel, in this room. Some papers and also something that shone like gold.”

“Well, Rosemary, even if I was doing that, it doesn’t really concern you, and in fact, I don’t remember the circumstance. But what is your serious talk about? Bryce Collins?”

“Yes, Uncle,” and the girl bravely stated her case. Fortified by the advice of Prentiss, she asked concerning her own financial affairs, and declared that, being of age, she had a right to know these things.

Homer Vincent drew a long sigh, and regarded his niece with a look that was both sad and sympathetic.

“I’m glad, in a way, Rosemary, that you have brought up this subject. I’ve been trying to get up my courage to broach it to you for a long time, but I couldn’t bear to disturb your happy, girlish content.”

From his tone, rather than his words, Rosemary sensed trouble, and she looked up quickly to find her uncle regarding her with real sorrow in his deep gray eyes.

“What is it, Uncle Homer?” she cried, paling in an intuitive premonition of an unpleasant disclosure of some sort. “Don’t condemn Bryce unheard!” for the poor child could think of no other ill news.

“No, Rosemary, what I have to tell you now is in no way connected with young Collins, though it may have a bearing on your friendship for him. Child, I don’t know how to begin.”

“Is it so very disagreeable?” she asked, wonderingly. “Then get it over quickly,—I’ll be brave.” And she had need of bravery, for this was the tale he told,—the secret he revealed.

“Then, to put it baldly,—plainly, Rosemary,—you are not—you are not really the child of your supposed parents. You are adopted.”

“What!” There seemed to be nothing else to say, and Homer Vincent did not repeat his statement, for he knew she had heard.

Her mind raced, her quick perceptions realized everything in one blinding flash.

Not her parents’ child! Merely an adopted daughter! Whose?

“Don’t look like that, Rosemary, listen to the story.”

“But it can make no difference. What are details? If I am not the daughter of my dear father—and my angel mother—who am I?”

Her cry rang out, like the shriek of a lost soul. Her emotional nature was stirred to its depths for the first time in her happy young life.

“Go on,” she cried, inconsistently; “tell me the rest! Who am I?”

“Try to be quiet, dear, and let me tell you. My brother Carl married a lovely woman named Mary Leslie. A little child was born to them, but died almost immediately. My sister-in-law, sadly stricken, wanted to adopt a baby in its place. My brother approved of this, and so, Rosemary, they took you from an orphan asylum. And they brought you up as their own child, they loved and cared for you, and, as they never had any other children, they lavished real parental devotion on you, as no one knows better than you do yourself.”

“Oh, I do know it!” and Rosemary moaned between her interlaced fingers. “But I can’t believe it, Uncle! I can’t sense it! Not the daughter of my dear, dear father! Why, he loved me so—”

“Yes, that’s what I said,—they both loved you like a real child of their own,—I know they did.”

“Who else knew of this? Antan?”

“Yes, of course she knew it, but no one else at all. That is, except the asylum authorities. Your parents,—for I shall continue to call them so,—lived in Paris at that time, and you were taken from a small and exclusive orphanage—”

“Do you know who I was? Did they know? Oh, Uncle, I can’t stand it! It’s too dreadful—”

“Dear Rosemary, don’t overrate the thing. It is a shock to you, of course, but remember I’ve known it all your life,—so did your Aunt Anne,—so, of course, did your parents. Did it make any difference in our love for you? In our treatment of you? Never. And it will make no difference now. The only difference is that you know it yourself, and I deem it wise that you do know. As I said, I’ve been thinking for some time that I ought to tell you,—it is your right to know—”

“My right! I have no rights! I have no birthright, even—no name! Uncle, I can’t stand it! I shall kill myself—”

“Hush, Rosemary,” Vincent commanded, sternly. “Never say a thing like that again. You’re over-excited now,—you are stunned at this news,—but you will get used to it,—you must get used to it. You have your life to live—”

“I have no life to live! I have no name—no hope—no—”

“Unless you can calm yourself, my dear, I must ask you to leave me until you attain some degree of composure. I want to talk to you about several things, about your prospects, about your future, but I cannot talk with a girl who rants and screams in nervous paroxysms.”

“Forgive me, Uncle,” and Rosemary’s habit of obedience came to her aid. “I will try to be calm,—I will talk rationally,—but—I mean, I will if I can.”

The poor child strove vainly for composure, but her quivering sobs were persistent, and her tears would not stop.

Ignoring them then, Homer Vincent continued. “I will take this opportunity to tell you some further truths, Rosemary, for I don’t want to repeat a scene like this if we can help it. Let us, therefore, talk it all over now, and do try,—make an earnest effort to stop that convulsive crying.”

“Yes, Uncle. Tell me, first of all, do you know who I am?”

“No, Rosemary, I do not. Your father,—as I said, I will continue to call my brother by that name,—kept no record of your birth. I know this, because at his death I took charge of all his papers, both concerning business matters and private affairs, and there was no document of any sort pertaining to your adoption. But I have personal letters from my brother and from his wife, telling my sister and myself all about the matter. You can read them for yourself, and it will comfort you to read how they loved you from the first, and how delighted they were with their little new daughter. Never for one moment, Rosemary, forget the love they showered upon you, or the debt of gratitude you owe them and their memory for the happy and beautiful life they gave you. Also, if it pleases you to recognize it, your Aunt Anne and I, myself, have always endeavored to show you the same love and affection as if you were really our niece.”

“You did, Uncle, you both did,—and I do realize it, and I am grateful.”

“Try to show it now, my dear, by less agitation. This scene is wearing me out,—I am in a nervous state, naturally, since your aunt’s death, and I cannot bear much more. But what I must tell you, Rosemary, is that you are virtually penniless. My brother left no will, and, of course, his estate reverted to your Aunt Anne and myself, as his natural heirs. He assumed I would provide for you, and I have done so, and I always shall. But, Rosemary, I do not wish you to continue to live here. When your aunt was with us, it was quite different. Now, I am not able to meet the conditions consequent upon having a young lady in the house. You are young and fond of young society. I am getting old, and I need rest and quiet in my home I am sure you can see for yourself that it would be impossible for us to remain together happily. And I am sure you would not wish to stay here, unwanted. So, Rosemary, dear, we will at some early date talk over your plans, and see about settling you somewhere by yourself. Of course, you cannot expect the luxurious life you have led here, but I will give you what I consider a sufficient allowance for a young girl, and doubtless you will like to take up some light occupation that will bring you in an additional sum. You are not a Vincent, as I have told you, and so you have no real claim on me. But I will willingly give you an allowance and I trust you will find a little home for yourself. This is why I had to forbid you all thought of marrying young Collins. They are an aristocratic old family, and his people, of course, would not hear of his alliance with—”

“Don’t say it! I am a nameless orphan, but I never shall foist myself on the family of Bryce Collins—or on anybody else!”

And, white-faced and trembling, biting her scarlet lips in agony, Rosemary walked out of the room.

Chapter 10
How Collins Felt About It

Rosemary walked alone in the south gardens. These beautiful terraced plots lay either side of the lagoon, and ended only at the broken stone fence that bounded Spooky Hollow.

This fence, not unusual in New England, was merely a succession of flat, unevenly shaped stones, most of them pointed, standing in a ragged row between the gardens and the swampy jungle of undergrowth. They had a slight appearance of old and neglected gravestones, and their grim, gaunt shapes added to the eerie aspect of the place.

One had fallen over to a horizontal position and Rosemary went and sat upon it.

The girl was stunned. Not yet did she feel grief, sorrow, or despair at her uncle’s revelations; not yet could she look ahead or plan for her future; she couldn’t even realize the situation. She was dazed, bewildered,—her mind a senseless blank.

Wrapped in her long fur coat, a small fur hat drawn down over her brow, she nestled into the deep coat-collar and tried to collect her wits, to marshal her thoughts, to make some plans.

But she could not think coherently. Her memories raced back to the dear, kind father—who was not her father! to the loving, beautiful mother—who was not her mother! Oh, it couldn’t be true,—it must be an awful dream! Then the dear Antan, who had died—not her aunt—not Antan at all! Uncle Homer not her uncle—Greatlarch not her home—

Wonderful Greatlarch! Rosemary loved every tower and turret of the splendid old pile. Every bit of marble and wood-carving was her joy and delight. And she was put out of Greatlarch—put out because she had no right there—no claim or inheritance in its ownership.

It was too incredible, she could not believe it!

And then the tears came, and poor Rosemary buried her face in her fur sleeves’ and her whole slender frame shook with convulsive, heartrending sobs.

She tried to stop but it was impossible, so she let herself go and cried until she was physically exhausted from her wild bursts of grief.

Everything swept away at once! Home, relatives, parents, even her name! She was a homeless, nameless orphan,—a wanderer on the face of the earth!

She knew her Uncle Homer well enough to understand his attitude.

He had always objected to the presence of her young friends in the house. He hated anything that obtruded to the slightest degree on his even routine of life, and many a time Antan had stood between Rosemary and Uncle Homer’s displeasure.

And now, without his sister’s presence, Rosemary was not surprised at his desire to have her out of his house.

That was bad enough,—to leave Greatlarch was a tragedy of itself,—but it was lost sight of when she remembered the other and worse misfortune that had come to her.

What could she do? But her brain still refused to plan. Every fresh realization of her parents, her birth, brought the tears anew, and it seemed to Rosemary she was at the end of her endurance.

She could have borne the shock of her parentage if she could have remained at Greatlarch with Uncle Homer. She could have borne to leave Greatlarch if she could have gone forth as Rosemary Vincent, in truth. But the two blows were too much for her, and she bent under them like one of the slender white birches before the chill autumn wind.

As she sat, motionless, her face hidden, her whole body shivering with cold and quivering with agony, she heard faint strains of music.

“The Wild Harp,” she thought, but so great was her apathy, she paid little attention to it.

Subconsciously, she heard the weird, wailing sounds, an incoherent melody, eerie as a banshee’s cry.

It was twilight, the early twilight of the late November afternoon, and as Rosemary glanced uneasily toward the Hollow, she imagined the Harp strains came from there.

It was almost like an Šolian harp, but that makes only accidental harmonies. This, though disconnected and fragmentary, had a certain sequence of notes that betokened an intelligent agency of some sort.

Abstractedly she gazed into the deepening shadows of the Hollow, and a sudden determination came to her to walk into it, and—never to come out. If a supernatural agency was in there, was making that weird music, perhaps it might attack her and put an end to a life that had become unbearable. Better so, she thought, and half rose to go, when a man’s voice sounded through the gathering gloom.

“Miss Vincent!” Prentiss exclaimed, “out here all alone? You’ll catch your death of cold!”

“I wish I might,” she said, mournfully, scarcely noting or caring that she was speaking to a new and casual acquaintance.

“Now, now, my child,” Prentiss said, puzzled, but seeing her agitation, and quickly deciding that kindliness was his cue, “don’t despair so utterly. Your dear auntie was much to you, but you have much left in life—”

“I have nothing left! I have no life—no name—no home!”

“Why—what do you mean?” Prentiss was utterly astounded. He couldn’t imagine what she meant, and wondered if the tragedy had turned her brain.

Rosemary hesitated a moment, but the situation was too strong for her.

She had no one to turn to for advice or help. She had put away all thought of Bryce Collins from her forever. She would never face him with her terrible story, she would never want to hear his pitying sympathy. She was a nameless, homeless girl, not fit to be the wife of any man with a name and a heritage.

Nor would she ever willingly see Lulie Eaton again. Lulie had been a dear friend, but Rosemary knew her well enough to realize that her friendship never would stand the strain of Uncle Homer’s story.

The Mellishes would stand by her through thick and thin,—of that Rosemary was certain. But they were only servants, and Uncle Homer’s servants. What could they do for her?

And so, the impulse to speak freely to Prentiss was strong. He was an intelligent, experienced man of the world. He might tell her what to do.

So Rosemary did tell him, and he listened attentively. She gave him the facts of her parentage, as her uncle had related them, and she admitted her utter helplessness and bewilderment.

“You poor child!” Prentiss exclaimed. “You dear child—” and he restrained a sudden impulse to take her in his arms and comfort her.

For Rosemary was very lovely in her abandonment of grief. Her imploring eyes, gazing through tear-wet lashes, her quivering lips, beseeching help, her little hands nervously clasping one of his own, would have thrilled a far less impressionable man than the Burlington Hawkeye.

But he quickly saw that the girl was utterly unconscious of his personality, utterly oblivious to the fact that she was appealing to his impulses, and that she was merely pouring out her woe to him, because he happened to be there, and she must speak or go mad.

He said quietly, “Suppose we go in the house, and sit by a comfortable fire to discuss these things. If you are going to leave Greatlarch, you may as well enjoy its comforts while you can. Come, won’t you?”

And, like a trusting child, Rosemary went with him.

Homer Vincent was playing the organ as they entered.

Rosemary listened a moment, and then nodded her head in satisfaction. At least, he was in a calm frame of mind. Close harmonies rolled through the dimly lighted house, and Rosemary led Prentiss to the pleasant living-room, snapped on the lights, and rang for Mellish to mend the fire.

“And bring tea, mayn’t he?” suggested Prentiss, and Rosemary agreed.

“Now,” the detective said, “would it be better to call in your uncle and discuss your future plans? Or shall we just talk them over by ourselves?”

“By ourselves,” she said, promptly. “If Uncle Homer wants to, he will join us without being called.”

But their talk was desultory, and without definite result.

As a matter of fact, Prentiss did not believe Vincent would really send the girl away. He thought it was more likely a threat, in order to get her to agree to have less company and fewer intrusions upon his own retirement and solitude.

A strange man, Prentiss deemed Homer Vincent, but, after all, a just and kind one. Not a man who would really turn away his brother’s child, even though she were only an adopted daughter.

An adopted child, he argued, who had lived all her life with her adopted parents and their family connections, was entitled to recognition of some sort And though he knew Vincent’s solitary habits and eccentric disposition, yet he felt sure he would provide properly for Rosemary either in his home or out of it.

He had sympathized with her and did still, but he felt certain she was exaggerating the case, and that while she must realize she was not a Vincent, yet she would doubtless get used to that in time and pick up her life and happiness again.

“Forget it for a time, Miss Rosemary,” he said, as the advent of tea and hot crumpets absorbed his own attention. “At least, you’ll stay here for the present,—while I’m tracking down this Johnson man.”

“Have you any clue to his whereabouts?” the girl asked, half-heartedly.

She was interested in the search for Johnson, but her own troubles had obliterated all thought of him.

“Not quite that, but I’m going down to New York to look up the jewelry firms whose cards he left with your uncle. Surely they can tell me all about him,—I mean his home and habits, and that will help us to find him.”

“But if he has run away,—which, of course, he has,—and if he has sold that valuable ruby,—which, of course, he has,—he has money enough to take him anywhere, and he has doubtless gone out beyond civilization, and so, how can you ever find him?”

“That’s all true, but missing men are often found, and no criminal is quite clever enough to cover all his tracks. Besides, he can’t sell that ruby at present. It’s too large and important to offer to a pawnbroker or to a ‘fence,’ as they are called. Still, he probably has money enough for his escape. I’m banking on his overlooking some trace or some clue that will lead me to him.”

“Have you any real clues?”

“Oh, yes. The business cards, the synthetic rubies,—surely they can be traced to the laboratory where they were made. Then there’s the hat and coat and umbrella—”

“You know, Mr. Prentiss, it’s too absurd to think of that man running away without his hat or coat. The umbrella he might easily forget, but not the others.”

“Oh, he didn’t forget them, as I see it. He was probably frightened away. Perhaps he heard the watchman on his rounds, or thought he heard some one near him. And he ran off hurriedly, without stopping for anything.”

“How could he get away? The grounds are locked and guarded.”

“But, Miss Rosemary, he did get away. We’ve searched the place too thoroughly to allow of his concealment here. Now, as we know he did get away, it’s futile to guess how he did it. The thing is to find him.”

“Yes, I see that. And I hope you will recover my ruby. That, at least, is my own, and I don’t want that horrid man to have it.”

“I’ll surely make a try for that,” Prentiss said, glad to note her interest in it.

And then, to Rosemary’s intense surprise, Homer Vincent and Bryce Collins came into the room together.

“Will you give us some tea?” asked Vincent, in a pleasant tone, and still stupefied at Collins’ appearance, Rosemary tilted the teakettle over a fresh cup.

“We’re going to have a conclave,” Vincent said, as he took an easy chair, and the ubiquitous Mellish, suddenly appearing, set a small table beside him for his cup. “Mr. Collins called to see you, Rosemary, and I received him; and I have told him the story of your birth, as I have already told it to you.”

“And I don’t believe a word of it!” Bryce Collins declared.

“I wish I needn’t,” Vincent said, a little sadly. “I’d rather, indeed, that Rosemary were my own niece. I have always loved her as such,—and this disclosure was bound to come sooner or later. I often talked it over with my sister, and we agreed that we never could let Rosemary marry without acquainting the man of her choice with the truth of her birth. It wouldn’t be fair to him or to her. I think now, it would have been better if Rosemary had known all her life that she was an adopted daughter of my brother and his wife. But they preferred to let her grow up in ignorance of the fact, and this is the result.”

“I’m glad they did!” Rosemary burst out. “At least I’ve had twenty-one years of happiness,—even if I am miserable the rest of my days.”

“But you needn’t be, Rosemary,” Vincent said: “as you well know, many children are adopted, and lead the happiest of lives. That this knowledge has come to you just now, is because of my brother’s plan of keeping you in ignorance during his life, and my sister’s disinclination to tell you during her life. I, too, would have spared you the knowledge, except, as I said, that Mr. Collins came to me, and asked for your hand in marriage. I could not honorably let him marry you under your assumed name,—so, what could I do, but tell him the truth?”

“It is not the truth,” Bryce Collins reiterated. Vincent looked at him curiously.

“I don’t follow your thought, Bryce,” he said; “why do you say that when I tell you the facts as they are?”

“Because Rosemary is all Vincent,” Collins declared. “Those topaz eyes of hers are just like her Aunt Anne’s were. Her nose is shaped like your own, Mr. Vincent, and she has the manner and ways of her aunt in many particulars.”

“I wish your arguments could carry weight,” Homer Vincent said, looking kindly at Rosemary; “but let me call your attention to the fact that Mr. Prentiss here has eyes of that same peculiar color, and he is not related to the Vincents. Also, Rosemary’s manners and ways are of course modeled on those of her aunt, with whom she has lived for five years, and also, doubtless, she learned Vincent traits and habits from my brother, with whom she lived thirteen years.”

“Why,” Rosemary exclaimed, “I’m twenty-one, Uncle Homer. You make me out only eighteen!”

“You were three years old when you were adopted, Rosemary,” Vincent said; “you lived in the asylum the first three years of your life.”

Bryce Collins looked serious.

“Will you give me the dates, sir?” he said.

“Certainly. Suppose we all go into my Tower room, where are all the papers and documents referring to the matter. Mr. Prentiss, will you not come, too? Your advice may be useful.”

As the other two left the room, Collins drew Rosemary to him, and whispered, “Trust me, dear. I’ll straighten out this moil. You are a Vincent, I’m sure of it! And I’ll prove it, too!”

Rosemary’s heart fell. She was glad of Bryce’s comforting tone, but his words meant nothing. She knew the story was true. She knew Homer Vincent was telling the facts and there was no denying them. And she would have preferred Bryce’s assurance of his love for her, whatever her name might really be, to his protestations of unbelief of the story.

The four, seated in the Tower room, watched with interest as Homer Vincent opened the sliding panel and took out some bundles of papers and letters.

“This is not exactly a secret panel,” he said, noting the curious glances, “but it is a private hiding-place. One has only to press this embossed ornament on the panel, and it slides open—as you see.”

The Burlington Hawkeye fastened his alert eyes on the slide, but Collins paid little attention to it. He was eagerly awaiting a sight of the papers.

“There are no articles of adoption or anything of that sort,” Vincent said; “it is possible my brother had some, but at his death all his personal effects were put into my hands, and I searched in vain for some such documents. But I have here letters from him and from his wife, which tell in full detail of the adoption of little Rosemary.

“As may be seen from his marriage certificate, which I have here, my brother was married in 1904. Here is a letter from him and one from his bride telling my sister and myself of his marriage. We did not attend the wedding as he was travelling in France at the time, and was married in Paris.

“Here is a whole packet of letters from both of them, written in the year following. You may read them at your leisure, Rosemary, and indeed, they are at the disposal of any one interested. They tell of the happiness of the young couple, and of their joy in anticipation of the advent of a child.

“Later here are the letters that tell of the birth of a daughter in 1905. And sad letters follow, telling of the early death of the baby. Soon after that,—here is the letter,—they decided to adopt a little one in hope of easing the heart of the sorrowing mother.

“Visiting the asylum, they were struck by the beauty and charm of a child of three years,—our Rosemary. My sister-in-law preferred a child older than a mere infant, and, too, they thought she showed a vague likeness to the Vincents. This explains, Bryce, the resemblance you have noted.

“So the little girl was taken into their home, at first on trial, and then gladly adopted permanently. I daresay it was because of the temporary arrangement at first, that papers of adoption were not formally made out. Or it may be that my brother did not wish them. At any rate, there were none drawn up, and the little Rosemary simply grew up as the real daughter of her adopted parents. I do not mean that my brother and his wife pretended she was their own child, or wished to deceive anybody. But she was as a daughter to them, and when, at her mother’s death, Rosemary and her father went to live in Seattle, he said nothing about her adoption and she passed as his own. All this I learned from his letters, which were regular though not frequent throughout his life. Then, when his sudden death occurred, in a frightful motor accident, I went out there at once, settled up his estate and brought Rosemary home with me.

“Knowing she was ignorant of the truth, my sister and I never told her. Often we talked it over, often had anxious and worried hours wondering what was our duty, and how best to tell Rosemary what she must eventually know.

“And then my sister was taken from me, and I had to face our family problem alone. There was but one way open to me. Rosemary has grown to be a woman. No longer a child, the truth was her due, and she had to have it. No woman would want to be allowed to marry a man in ignorance of such a truth. No man should be allowed to marry a woman under such a delusion. Tell me, Rosemary, tell me, Bryce, tell me, Mr. Prentiss, did I not do right, did I not do my duty, however hard a task, when I told Rosemary the truth?”

Homer Vincent’s face was troubled, his voice shook a little, but he looked squarely in the faces of one after another as he awaited their answers.

Rosemary, sobbing, could not respond. Bryce Collins, convinced at last, was speechless with surprise and consternation.

So the Burlington Hawkeye answered. He spoke slowly and cautiously.

“I suppose, Mr. Vincent, there was no other way to proceed. You are sure of all you have told us?”

“There are the letters.” Homer Vincent spoke wearily, as if worn out by the harrowing scene. “As you can see, they are written and posted in Paris on the dates I have mentioned. Good heavens, man, do you suppose I trumped up this yarn? The letters bear their truth stamped on their face! I have scores more of my brother’s letters, you may compare them—but,” his voice dropped to a quieter key, “you have only to read those letters from my sister-in-law, to realize that they are from a heartbroken mother mourning the loss of her own baby, and later from a cheerful-hearted woman glad in the possession of her adopted little one.”

“I don’t remember anything about being in the asylum,” Rosemary said, slowly. “Don’t children remember their experiences at three years old?”

“You never did,” Vincent said. “Your aunt and I frequently quizzed you when you first came here, to see how far back you could remember. And you never spoke of anything that happened before you lived with my brother.”

“Yes,” Rosemary said, “I remember such questionings by you and Antan.”

Prentiss had been reading the letters hastily, but with deep absorption.

“Of course it’s true,” he said, throwing down the last one. “Those letters are too positively genuine to admit of the slightest doubt. But would you not think that Mr. Carl Vincent would have made some provision for his adopted daughter in his will?”

“I have no doubt he meant to do so,” Vincent returned. “But he, like many another man, postponed the matter, and then death overtook him without warning. But no one can say that my sister and myself treated Rosemary as other than our own niece. We have indulged her every whim; given her every luxury, and surrounded her with all the joys and comforts of a beautiful home. If now, that my sister is no longer here, and I, myself, am in advancing years,—if now, I feel that I cannot have the responsibility of the ordering of the life of a vivacious young lady,—it can scarcely be wondered at. And, since I am willing to make generous provision for her maintenance, and since she is not really a blood-relative of mine, I feel that I should not be too severely criticized for consulting my own well-being in the matter.”

“As you always have done and always will do!” blurted out Collins. “You are a selfish, self-indulgent, self-centered man, Mr. Vincent! You have no sympathy nor consideration for the helpless girl you thrust from your roof! You!—”

“Just a moment, Mr. Collins. What about yourself? Do you want to marry the nameless girl you thought was my niece? Do you want to give your children a nameless mother? Where now are your protestations of love and devotion to Rosemary?”

Collins put a strong, protecting arm round the sobbing girl beside him.

“My love and devotion are stronger than ever,” he declared. “I do want to marry her—and at once. It matters not to me who her parents were—she is my love—my Rosemary!”

Chapter 11
A Run Over To France

But if Bryce Collins was willing to stand by his love and loyalty to his sweetheart, Rosemary was by no means acquiescent.

She positively refused to marry Bryce or to be engaged to him.

“It will not do,” she told him. “Your mother would never agree, and I would never marry you against her wishes. Oh, Bryce, can’t you see it as I do? I should be utterly miserable as your wife, unrecognized,—or even unwillingly recognized by your people. I, who have always considered myself a Vincent, whose fine line of stainless names has been my inspiration as well as my pride, now to find myself not only no Vincent, but of no known parentage whatever! Bryce, you can’t realize what that means to me. My parents may have been anybody—anybody at all! I may have in my veins the blood of ignorant, low-bred people, even criminals! It is appalling,—I can’t bear to think of it. But I must think of it,—I must face it, and plan my life accordingly. I shall never marry, of that I am certain. It would be unfair to my husband, unfair to my children. I would be willing to stay right here with Uncle Homer, and never have any company or go anywhere. But he won’t have me. Nobody wants me. I am an outcast, a wanderer on the face of the earth.”

Rosemary did not say this by way of appealing to Collins’ sympathy, nor was it a mere dramatic cry on her part. She was thinking aloud more than talking to him, and she really felt her utter friendliness, loneliness, and homelessness. It was a cry from her very soul, and it went straight to Collins’ heart.

“Rosemary,” he said, and his thin, dark face was strong with purpose,—“I am going to find your parents. I want you anyway, dear,—nameless or a Princess Royal,—it’s all the same to me. You are my own Rosemary. But I know, for your own sake, this thing must be cleared up. And for mine,—for ours, Rosemary. I know you too well to believe you are of anything but gentle birth. Such features and mental traits as yours never belonged to an ignorant or low-born ancestry. I can’t help thinking you are a Vincent—maybe they adopted a cousin or distant relative—”

“No, Bryce, that’s impossible. Uncle Homer is most clannish and loyal to his kindred. If I had the slightest claim to the Vincent name, he would stand by me. And he is standing by me. We must remember, Bryce, that he had to tell me about this,—he couldn’t let me marry you under a name not my own. Could he?”

“No, Rosemary, he couldn’t. I do see that. But his putting you out of the house—”

“You don’t know him, Bryce. Uncle Homer is a peculiar man, but his strange ways are simple, after all. He only asks to be let alone, to enjoy himself in his own way.”

“And isn’t that infernally selfish?”

“Not so much so as you think. He loves his books, his music, his collections of curios and pictures, and he wants to enjoy them unbothered by people about, especially young people. He frequently has guests of his own age, and he is a charming and courteous host. Now, if I were really his niece, really a Vincent, I might resent his not wanting me here. But when he is so fond of solitude, and freedom from interruption, when I am not the slightest relation to him, when he says he is willing to give me a fair allowance,—why should he feel any further responsibility for me, or any obligation to let me remain at Greatlarch?”

“As you put it, Rosemary, it is logical enough, but in all these years he must have learned to love you—”

“Ah, Bryce, that’s the worst of it. He didn’t and it has been my own fault. Antan loved me, because she sympathized with my gay disposition and love of social life. But Uncle Homer didn’t like my everlasting running about, as he called it, and,—here’s the trouble,—I took no pains to please him, or to give up my inclinations to his. I was the selfish one, I thought only of my gayeties, my dances, and my friends, and I ignored Uncle’s wishes, and even deceived him often as to my doings. Oh, I was more to blame than he, that he didn’t love me as Antan did. And as I sowed the wind, now I am reaping the whirlwind.”

Rosemary’s lovely, wistful eyes looked into Collins’ own and she shook her head in utter disapproval of her own past conduct.

“Tell him you’ll do differently now. Tell him you’ll stay at home and look after his comforts and order his household for him—”

“He doesn’t want me or need me,” Rosemary said, the sad tears filling her eyes. “Mellish and Melly can do everything he wants, they know his ways, and they are devotion itself. The few little things I could do in their absence would not compensate to Uncle for the bother of having me around. He doesn’t want me, Bryce, that’s all. And as there is no reason why he should have me here, of course I must go. But where can I go?

“Don’t think I am whining—or playing the martyr. I hate such a spirit. And I am going to brace up and bear this thing bravely,—but, oh, Bryce, it is so hard to bear, and it came to me so suddenly,—it was so undreamed of! Don’t despise me for giving way to my despair.”

“Despise you! My darling—I love you more every minute!”

They were alone in the living-room, Homer Vincent at the organ on the other side of the house. They could hear the low strains of mournful music now and then, and Rosemary knew his soul was troubled.

But so was her own, and while Bryce Collins’ love was a solace, yet the very fact that she must thrust that love away from her made her grief the more poignant.

He led her into the embrasure of a south window and took her in his arms.

“Rosemary,” he said, and her lifted face showed white and drawn in the moonlight, “sweetheart, I am yours. My heart is devoted to you and to your service. If you will marry me at once, I will brave my parents’ displeasure, I will marry you under the name of Rosemary Vincent, and we will go away and establish a home of our own, where no one shall ever know more about you than that.”

“No, Bryce, it can’t be done that way. No minister would marry me by a name to which I have no right. Oh, I wish Uncle had told me long ago. I wish my father had told me—Bryce, he couldn’t have been more like a real father if I had been born his child! He loved me with a true fatherly affection—”

“Well, we know he was not your father, dear. There’s no getting away from those letters. Is there?”

“No, I’ve read them all over and over. They’re true as Gospel.”

“Then, let’s face facts. If you won’t,—if you can’t marry me now, we must find a nice, snug home for you, and I shall set about finding out your history.”

“You can’t do that, Bryce.”

“Can’t I? Well, I can make a pretty big stab at it! Do you happen to know, my little love, that your future husband has quite some persistency? Quite some of what is known as bulldog stick-to-it-ativeness! And what I set out to do, I most generally sometimes always accomplish! So, dear little girl, try to possess your soul in patience till your ardent cavalier can run over to France and back and then we’ll see what we shall see!”

“To France! You can’t mean it!”

“But I do mean it, and if you’ll go, I’ll take you with me.”

“No, Bryce, we can’t marry. On that point I’m positive.”

“Well, then, it’s merely a postponed wedding. Don’t you dare fall in love with any one else while I’m gone.”

For answer Rosemary put her soft arms round his neck and kissed him voluntarily. It was the first time she had ever done so, and Collins clasped her close.

“My little girl,” he whispered, “my darling little girl, with your love to look forward to, with you to win, I can do anything! accomplish any task. I shall go to the asylum where you were adopted, and I haven’t the slightest doubt that I can trace your parentage. Of course they have records, and I shall insist on seeing them.”

“I’m afraid, Bryce,—afraid of what you may find out—”

“I will ask you, mademoiselle, to have more respect for my future wife! I allow no one, not even you, to imply the least disparagement of her birth or breeding. So, kindly refrain from such comment! When I return from my quest I will announce to you the details of her illustrious lineage!”

But Rosemary was not comforted by Collins’ gay chatter. She had a foreboding that his investigation, if he really made one, might bring to light more and worse facts than those already known. For, poor Rosemary thought, people don’t put their children in orphan asylums if everything is all right and proper.

“It’s awful, Bryce,” she said, “not to have the least idea whether you’re the child of decent people, or scum of the earth!”

“Don’t talk like that, dear. The suspense, the uncertainty is awful,—oh, I appreciate your feelings, darling, but these conditions we have to face, and we must face them bravely. Now, I shall get from Mr. Vincent all the addresses of the asylum in question and the various residences of your adopted parents while they remained in France, and then, if necessary, I shall follow up your father’s removal to Seattle, and go there to learn what I can.”

“You never can trace it, Bryce, you can’t delve into matters so far back, as you might do if the dates were later. The war, doubtless, caused the loss of lots of records and statistics, and you never can get the truth from those old archives.”

“Now, my little Cassandra, no more of these dismal forebodings. No more cold water to be thrown on my projects,—if you please. And I’ll tell you another thing. After I get you all straightened out as to vital statistics, I’m going to devote my energies to tracking down the murderer of your aunt. I don’t believe those addle-pated policemen will ever get anywhere. Oh, yes, I know that Burlington man is alert and promises well. But if he doesn’t succeed in getting at the bottom of the mystery, I will! Now, my little love, do you begin to realize what a determined man you’ve got to put up with for the rest of your life? Just as soon as I get matters fixed up to my liking you’ll be wooed and married and to a tyrant worse than any feudal lord you ever read about in mediaeval history!”

But Rosemary was not deceived by his banter. She knew he meant it all, but she knew the obstacles in his path, and without unnecessary doubt she clearly foresaw the opposition his plans would receive from his own people.

Bryce Collins had an independent fortune left him by his grandfather, but it was not large enough to preclude his having a business of his own. Nor did he mean to go through life without working and earning. But now, fired with enthusiasm over these new plans of his, he proposed to use his inheritance and postpone his business career, which, naturally, would not seem wise to his parents.

And Collins was a devoted son, and on the best of terms with his family. Also his mother admired Rosemary, and was glad at the hope of an alliance between her son and the Vincent family. But in view of the new developments, Bryce Collins well knew the quick turn that his mother’s inclinations would take.

With his volatile nature, however, he put from him all unpleasant anticipations, and gave himself up to the joy of being with Rosemary and of comforting her by his presence and by his love, in spite of her forebodings.

When Collins detailed his plans to Homer Vincent, he was given a patient and thoughtful hearing.

“You propose to go to France and to Seattle both?” Vincent asked, for the young man’s enthusiastic statements were a bit incoherent.

“If necessary, sir. You see, I must get at the truth of things. I mean I must find out who were the real parents of Rosemary.”

“You’re not afraid of what that discovery may mean—to you—and to her?”

“I’ve thought about that, Mr. Vincent, and it seems to me the truth, however disappointing, will be better than ignorance. If Rosemary is of decent and legitimate birth, I don’t care how lowly her origin. If, however, she is of disgraceful ancestry, then I shall take her away from here to some distant place, and try to make her forget it all.”

Bryce Collins’ young face was somber and his strong jaw was sternly set in his intensity of purpose.

“You are taking a fine stand, Collins,” Homer Vincent said, “and I admire your pluck and your loyalty to Rosemary. But my advice would be to let sleeping dogs lie. Aside from the fact that a trip to France at this late date would in all probability be a wild-goose chase, there is also an even chance that your discoveries, if you make any, will be disappointing.”

“What is your advice, then, sir?”

“I don’t know what to say. But, though I’m not at all sure it’s right, I would be willing to ignore the whole matter of Rosemary’s birth and, if you are willing, let her marry you as Rosemary Vincent, my niece.”

“Does no one else know the truth?” Collins was thinking quickly.

“Only the detective, Prentiss. I believe, in her frenzied surprise the girl told him. But I’m sure we can pledge him to secrecy. You understand, Collins, I never would have let her marry you as my niece without telling you both the truth. But since you know it, if you care to adopt such a course, I will do my part. I will give her a wedding, small and quiet, of course, as the house is in mourning, and I will never divulge the secret of her adoption.”

Collins thought this over.

“I don’t know what to say, Mr. Vincent,” he said, at last. “I confess I am tempted to do this thing. It is the line of least resistance, and quite the simplest way out of our difficulty. But, beside the question of Rosemary and myself, we must think of our possible children. You know as well as I do that, while in America ancestry and lineage is not looked upon as it is in England, yet if, in time to come, there should be discovered any stigma on my wife’s name, is it a fair deal to the innocent babes who may be born to us?”

“That is a question for your own consideration, Bryce.” Vincent spoke gravely. “I feel strongly about family ties myself. I admit I have never felt toward Rosemary as I should have felt toward a child of my brother’s own. But it is too hard on her to tell her these things. She is a sweet, sensitive nature,—a dear girl in every way. But she is not my kin. Yet, as I said, I will keep her secret, if you wish me to.”

“No!” and Collins’ face took on a look of even sterner determination. “No, I cannot do it. I love Rosemary too well, too deeply, not to try, at least, to vindicate her claim to honor and right. I shall go on my quest,—at most, it will not take me more than about a month, and I shall find out something,—or learn that nothing can be found out. In the latter case, I will, perhaps, give your proposition further consideration. I will ask you to keep the secret until my return. Can you—will you do this?”

“I will if I can. But since Prentiss knows it, it is in danger of further publicity. What is your project, in detail?”

“I’ve planned nothing further than to go to that asylum from which Rosemary was taken. You have the address of that, have you not?”

“Yes, and all the addresses of my brother’s residences in Paris and some suburban towns. They moved two or three times. You will, of course, return here before going to Seattle, if you conclude to go there?”

“Yes, and I hope I shall not have to go out there. But I know there is no use in writing to these places, or sending any sort of an emissary. Only my own desperate determination can accomplish my ends, if indeed I can accomplish them at all. Now, another thing. May not Rosemary stay here with you until my return? I cannot think you will turn her from your door.”

“It isn’t exactly turning her out,” Vincent said, looking troubled. “But,—well, as man to man. Collins, I may as well admit that I’m what is knows as a woman-hater. I loved my dear sister, but I have never cared for any other woman, and I long for a home without a woman in it,—except as a servant This may seem strange to you,—perhaps it is strange. But you must realize that alone in my home I can pursue my own avocations, I can have things just as I want them, I can have the uninterrupted solitude that I love; when, with Rosemary here, the whole atmosphere is changed, the whole house on a different basis. This is really not unreasonable; I am aging, I am a bit eccentric, I have suffered a terrible tragedy, and I have no real responsibility toward my brother’s adopted child, outside of her financial maintenance; and, so, I hold that it is not my bounden duty to keep Rosemary here.”

“That is all true, but won’t you consent, even to keep her here until my return? You’ve promised to keep her secret until then—if you can. Surely to send her away would rouse suspicion against her of some sort. I am sure she will agree to annoy you by her presence as little as possible. She can keep out of your way—”

“Oh, don’t make me out an ogre!” Vincent exclaimed. “Of course, she can stay here—for a month or two. As I have had her here for five years—but, you see, Bryce, it was very different when my sister was here. She stood between me and any nuisance the girl might have been. She kept Rosemary in a sort of subjection, which I see now, with her aunt’s restraint missing, has utterly vanished. She permeates the household,—unconsciously, of course, but breezily, noisily, as any young girl would. I can’t deny her the visits of her young friends entirely, yet when they come they are laughing and chattering all over the house, and it annoys me frightfully. Absurd, you would say. But you can’t realize the difference between the viewpoint of an enthusiastic young fellow and a world-weary, hermit-souled old man.”

“You’re far from an old man, Mr. Vincent, but I do understand what you mean, and I can see it from your point of view. And I realize that if Rosemary were really your niece, things would be very different. However, I’m going to hold you to your agreement that she may stay here a month or so, until I can run over to Paris and back. Then—”

“Collins, I’m not sure I ought to say this,—and yet, it’s only fair to warn you of even a remote possibility. You know, those detectives have no theory, no idea of how my sister’s murder was accomplished. Nor have I, for that matter. But since we know it was accomplished, since some murderer did, somehow, gain access to that locked room, and get out again, we must assume some diabolically clever criminal. Now, you must not overlook the possibility that it may have been some one of Rosemary’s relatives,—some one who has watched over her career, secretly, meaning to profit in some wicked way by the girl’s good fortune. This may seem far-fetched, but what theory does not seem so? At any rate, suppose the murderer of my sister should turn out to be some evil-minded relative of Rosemary’s real parents, do you want to delve into the matter?”

“Yes, I do. Even though there is a possibility of what you suggest, I deem it so remote a one that it is almost negligible. I have determined to go to France; I shall tell my people it is merely a travel tour, they will raise no objection. And I will ask you to preserve Rosemary’s secret, in so far as you can. Your definite request will ensure Prentiss’ silence, I am certain. And, Mr. Vincent, if your hinted theory should prove true, at least you will have achieved the solution of the mystery of Miss Anne’s terrible death. It is one of my strongest desires to avenge her memory, and once the matter of Rosemary’s birth is settled, I shall turn my attention to the murder tragedy, if it has not by that time been discovered.”

“You are a determined man, Bryce, and while I admire your indomitable perseverance, I wish I felt more faith in your success. I doubt your making any discoveries at all in France, but if you are bent on going, I will give you all those old addresses, and letters, if you want them, to various people who may help you in your search. In all probability the asylum will have the old records of Rosemary’s adoption by my brother, but will they have the statistics to prove who her own parents were? Still, as I said, I will give you all these documents, if you are bent on going.”

“I am bent on going,” said Bryce Collins.

And go he did. Obstacles fell before him like grain before the reaper. His determination was so strong, his will so powerful, that he made his departure possible and speedy.

Rosemary knew his errand, and imbued with his own hopefulness, she bade him Godspeed.

But she did not know she remained at Greatlarch only on sufferance and because of Collins’ insistent plea to her uncle.

Vincent treated her kindly but with no words of love or sympathy. Indeed, his words were few and his manner self-absorbed and often seeming utterly oblivious to her presence.

Rosemary did not resent this. She quite understood her uncle’s attitude toward her, she well knew his distaste for her presence. And she felt, at times, that she would gladly go away. But the charm of the place, and her great love for it, held her there, as well as her ignorance of the world and her feeling of inability to face its unknown and perhaps unfriendly possibilities.

She wrote notes to Lulie Eaton and a few other girl friends, asking them not to come to see her for the present. And she gave Mellish orders to admit none of the young men who came to call on her.

She was determined to think things out for herself, but she could not do this all at once. It was all so new and unaccustomed,—this thinking for herself. All her life her plans had been made for her, in important matters. She had willingly acquiesced in all Antan’s advices, knowing that the aunt who loved her would give all the liberty and pleasure that could be hers.

And now, she had no one to whom to turn for advice or for information. Even Prentiss, who was friendly, was away on his investigations in New York.

There remained only the two Mellishes and little Francine.

Reduced to the society of servants or none at all, Rosemary did talk over her affairs with good Susan Mellish.

“Never fear, dearie,” that kind woman said; “it’ll all come out right. Your uncle is for now that worrited there’s no doing anything with him. But these detective men, they’ll find out the wicked villain and they’ll hang him high! Or, what’s more belike, they’ll find there was no mortal murderer, and then they’ll know where to look!”

For Mrs. Mellish was strong in her belief that the hand that slew Anne Vincent was the phantom hand of the dead Mrs. Lamont.

And there were those who agreed with her.

Chapter 12
A Nameless, Homeless Waif

Although Prentiss had gone to New York in search of information concerning Johnson, the local police of Hilldale were by no means idle.

They searched and researched the premises of Greatlarch, both in the house and about the grounds. The room that Johnson had occupied they studied over and over, in their efforts to learn something further of the man’s personality. They left his few belongings where they found them, deducing nothing beyond the general facts of a business man on a hasty trip.

The entire absence of letters or personal papers was peculiar in itself, but there was no conclusion to be drawn from it. The fact that his clothing was new and unmarked was thought to be a suspicious circumstance, but it led to no definite suspicion.

It was a favorite remark among the detectives that Sherlock Holmes could have deduced the whole man from his few articles of luggage, but Sherlock Holmes was not there, and the men who were there only looked at the things blankly and without inspiration.

The same with Miss Anne Vincent’s room.

Day after day they surveyed the beautiful appointments there. Again and again they drew back the heavy silk hangings that fell round the head of the bed and scanned the bed anew. The sheets with their crimson stains had been removed, but were still kept at the Police Station as possible evidence.

The wall safe, from which the great ruby had presumably been stolen, was examined frequently, and all the details of Miss Anne’s personal belongings had been studied to no avail whatsoever.

There were the two rooms, one above the other, the rooms, all agreed, of victim and criminal, yet from neither room could a single fact be deduced that was of helpful significance.

Police reconstruction of the crime,—for they took no cognizance of suicide or of spooks,—set forth that Johnson had spent the entire night in preparation for his crime, and in waiting for dawn to bring his chosen moment. That he had, as soon as the watchman went indoors, unlocked Miss Anne’s door with some clever sort of key, had killed the lady, stolen the ruby, and then, relocking the door with his patent contraption, had easily made his way out of the front door, when the family were still asleep and the servants busy in the kitchen quarters.

Almost superhuman cleverness they conceded this criminal, but, they argued, only such diabolical ingenuity could have perpetrated such a mysterious crime.

Their decisions were arrived at by elimination. There was no other suspect, there was no other means of procedure. The only thing to do was to catch the man. This, they hoped, Prentiss would accomplish.

But the Burlington Hawkeye returned from an unsuccessful search.

His report, given to Homer Vincent, in the presence of Brewster and Brown, was disappointing in the extreme.

“There isn’t any Henry Johnson,” he declared, looking both crestfallen and defiant at once. “I went to the address you gave me, Mr. Vincent,—the address he gave you, and they declared they never had heard of him there. Then I visited those two jewelry firms, of which he left you the cards, and they said they had never heard of any Henry Johnson in connection with ruby manufacturing. They spoke of a Mr. Markham or Markheim who made synthetic rubies, but that was of no interest to me. I begged them to search their books and records to find Johnson’s name. They were most obliging but utterly unsuccessful.”

“What else did you do?” Brewster asked.

“Oh, lots of things. I went to the stores where he must have bought his coat and hat, but I couldn’t trace any sale. This is not to be wondered at, of course. I only tried it on a chance. But that umbrella, now. That is a new one. I wish I had taken it with me. However, I went to the store it came from and asked what monograms they had put on umbrellas recently. Not an H. J. amongst them! As I say, I didn’t really hope to find out these things, but I took a chance.”

“You did well, Mr. Prentiss,” Homer Vincent assured him. “Where there’s nothing to find out, you can’t, of course, find out anything. But I’m surprised that the jewelry firms repudiated all knowledge of him. Do you suppose he was entirely a fake? Do you suppose he came here merely to rob and murder, and that the ruby story was all made up?”

“I do suppose just that, Mr. Vincent,” Brewster declared. “And probably his name wasn’t Johnson at all—”

“There’s the umbrella,” put in Prentiss.

“I know,” Brewster assented, “but that may have been made for a Hiram Judkins or a Hugh Jennings.”

“That’s so,” said Vincent, thoughtfully. “Or perhaps he stole the umbrella somewhere.”

“Yes, the umbrella gets us nowhere,” and Prentiss sighed. “I feel as if I’d accomplished nothing, and yet it is something to have learned that the Johnson name was assumed—”

“Not necessarily,” objected Brown. “You see, he may be named Henry Johnson all right, and yet have made up all the ruby business.”

“If he came here with intent to rob and murder, he most certainly didn’t announce his true name,” Brewster declared, and his words carried conviction.

“Then,” Vincent summed up, “we have a criminal with a definite purpose, who came under an assumed name, and carried out his plans successfully to the smallest detail. I remember, now, his asking me rather particularly as to the watchman’s rounds and all that. But, of course, I never suspected anything wrong.”

“Of course not,” Prentiss said. “Now I’d like to see that butler of yours again.”

“Surely,” said Vincent, and rang for Mellish.

That worthy came in, and contrary to his habitual calm, he exhibited a hint of suppressed excitement.

“Will you look what Hoskins found, sir,” he said, holding out his hand toward Vincent.

As all could see, he held a long amber and ivory cigarette-holder.

It was one of those extremely long ones that are affected by the ultrafashionable.

“Where was this found?” Vincent asked, looking at it attentively, and then passing it over to Prentiss.

“Hoskins found it, sir, out in the grounds. Or maybe the gardener found it and gave it to Hoskins. But it’s the one Mr. Johnson used, sir, and I opine he lost it as he hurried on his way.”

“You remember it?” Prentiss inquired of the butler.

“Oh, yes, sir. I noticed it when Mr. Johnson used it at the table, sir. After dinner, he took no cigar, but took a cigarette, which he fitted into that outlandish thing, sir!”

Mellish’s scorn of the eccentric implement was evident on his face.

“They’re quite fashionable now,—I’ve seen them in use,” said Brown, with an air of wide experience. “And see, here’s the H. J. monogram again! The fellow’s initials must be H. J. whether his name is Henry Johnson or not.”

“Unless he stole this thing and the umbrella from the same party,” argued Prentiss. “Wonder if we could trace the cigarette-holder. It looks rather valuable, and a specialty shop, where such a thing was doubtless bought, might remember the buyer.”

“Keep it carefully,” Brewster admonished him; “it’s a good bit of evidence,—maybe a real clue! Where was it found, exactly?”

“I don’t know the precise spot,” Mellish said; “but I opine it was somewhere on the east lawn. The gardener is working there to-day.”

“Would that be on his way out of the grounds?” Brown inquired.

“It might be,” Vincent returned, slowly. “Or, he may have been walking about outside—”

“Killing time until the dawn broke!” Brown exclaimed. “Oh, I’m sure we can get a line from that thing. It’s most unusual,—not common at all”

“You go down to New York then, on this errand,” Prentiss said; “I don’t want to go right back there.”

“All right, I’ll go,” Brown agreed, rather liking the idea.

“And I thought, Mr. Vincent,” Prentiss continued, “you might recall some more data about the synthetic rubies. You see, even if he faked that whole ruby proposition, at least he must have known enough about the matter to make a good showing before you and your sister. You would have known if he had been a mere layman. He couldn’t have made you believe he was an expert without knowing a good deal about the processes and all that.”

“That’s true,” Vincent agreed. “But, knowing little or nothing of the subject myself, I daresay I was not in a position to be critical of his explanations and descriptions.”

“I opine,” Mellish said, speaking deferentially but with a look of pride at his master, “that Mr. Vincent is not so ignorant of these things. You remember, sir, there was another gentleman here not more than a month ago, who also wanted to interest you in the making of imitation rubies.”

“Why, yes, that’s so,” Vincent said; “I had forgotten that. But I daresay the market is full of such things. The process, recently invented,—or perhaps I should say discovered,—has doubtless been taken up by various would-be lapidaries. Well, does all this get you anywhere, Mr. Prentiss?”

“We have only one goal, sir, the whereabouts of the man who called himself Henry Johnson, whether that is his true name or not. I think no one can doubt he killed Miss Vincent, even though we cannot yet determine his exact method. But given this mysterious visitor, his mysterious disappearance, and the immediate discovery of the robbery and murder, we cannot think otherwise than that he is the criminal. He may not have intended murder, in the beginning. He may have used the ruby chatter to induce Miss Vincent to exhibit her splendid jewel,—of which he must have known,—and then, when he endeavored to steal it and make away, very possibly she awoke and would have made an outcry, had he not silenced her. Burglars often commit murder because of a sudden danger of exposure.”

“That is all true, Mr. Prentiss,” Vincent agreed; “I had not thought of that sequence of events at my sister’s bedside. It may well have been just as you suggest. Granting his ability to get in and out of that room,—and you have suggested an explanation of that,—I feel sure there can be no doubt of Johnson’s guilt Now, we must find him. It is imperative. Can any one suggest any further or more far-reaching plan?”

“It is hard to circumvent such fiendish ingenuity as that man has showed.” Brown spoke vindictively. “We have, of course, inquired at all the near-by railway stations. I assumed he might have walked to some one of them and boarded a train there. But we find no trace of such a thing.”

“More likely,” Brewster said, “he walked to a near-by town, and after a rest and a breakfast walked on to another, and so on, until he was far enough away to take a train without fear of detection. In a large town he could do that, but not in one of our small villages.”

“There are many ways he could escape,” said Vincent, looking wearied, as if tired of their futile conversation. “He could lie low for hours anywhere, and then go on by night. Or he could beg a ride in a passing motor, or in a farmer’s cart, At any rate, he did get away, he did get beyond our ken, and if we find him, it will not be by simple search, but by some deduction or conclusion based on some bit of evidence. I know little of these things myself, but I supposed detectives worked from small clues.”

“We are supposed to,” Prentiss declared, frankly, “but I must confess there are fewer clues in evidence in this case than in any I ever saw before.”

“There’s this,” and Brown held up the long cigarette-holder.

“Yes,” agreed Vincent, “there’s that. Now, that’s just the sort of thing I mean. Can’t you experts gather anything from that?”

“I gather that he had sharp teeth,” Brown said, smiling a little, “for the amber mouthpiece is a good deal scratched.”

“He did have strong teeth,” Vincent remarked, “and very white ones. But I can’t see how that will help you to find him. Perhaps, after all, you may have to give it up, and put it down among the unsolved mysteries of history.”

“Not yet,” Prentiss declared. “I’m by no means ready to lie down on the job, and if Mr. Brown will run down to the city and try to trace the fancy cigarette doodaddle, I’ll try some few little manœuvres I have in mind up here.”

“Try all you like, gentlemen,” Vincent directed them. “Use every effort, call upon me for whatever money you need. I will refuse no sum in reason to bring about the discovery of my sister’s assassin. But, I must ask you to report to me only when you have some worthwhile news. This interview to-day was, of course, necessary, but until you have equally important information, continue your search by yourselves, or report to me through Mellish here.”

The detectives, of course, agreed, and the interview was brought to a close.

At dinner that night, Rosemary asked her uncle what the detectives had accomplished.

“Very little,” he returned. “They have concluded Henry Johnson killed your aunt, which we were practically certain of all along. They have learned, they think, that Henry Johnson was an assumed name, which is an obvious conclusion. They have practically admitted that they have doubts of being able to find him, which is no surprise to me. The murderer in this, as in most cases, is far cleverer than the detectives, and can, of course, easily outwit them. A criminal who can plan and carry out such a scheme as this man has done is no ordinary evildoer. He is a genius in crime, and such are not usually apprehended. Now, let us drop the subject, Rosemary, for I have had all I can stand of it for one day.”

The subject remained dropped between the two, for there were no new developments to bring the detectives for another report to Vincent.

They were continuing their efforts to find Johnson, they were hunting for new clues or evidence, but all their endeavors were futile.

Even Brown’s assiduous hunt for the shop where the cigarette-holder had been bought was to no avail. Such holders he found, but could get hold of no dealer who had monogrammed that one.

Days at Greatlarch followed one another in much the same routine as before the tragedy. The household routine, that is. The two Mellishes and their under-servants admirably kept up the high standards that Miss Anne had instilled in the mÚnage, but the family, as represented by Homer Vincent and Rosemary, was far from a happy one.

Each day, it seemed to the girl, her uncle grew more and more reserved, more absorbed in his books and music. She did not resent this, in a way it was a relief not to have to entertain him, but Rosemary was very lonely and very sad.

It was on one of their silent evenings, when Vincent mused over a book and Rosemary tried to interest herself in a bit of needlework, that he said:

“Child, have you any belief in spiritualism?” His tone was gentler, more interested, than common, and Rosemary hesitated before she answered. She didn’t want to express herself contrary to his own views, and yet the girl had never felt any faith in the supernatural.

“Table-tipping or spooks?” she said, trying to turn it off lightly.

“Don’t be flippant. I mean this idea of Mrs. Lamont returning to the scene of her tragic death.”

“Oh, that. No, Uncle, I can’t say I do believe she does that.”

“And yet it may be. Why may not the souls of the dead return?”

“Oh, they may, but I’ve never seen any evidence of it, have you?”

“What would you say if I said, Yes, I have?”

“I’d say, Tell me all about it.”

The subject was a distasteful one to Rosemary, but she would willingly have talked on any topic, so glad was she to have her uncle talk to her at all.

“Well, a queer thing happened last night,” he began. “I was wakened out of a sound sleep by a sort of light in my room. A strange, hovering light, that seemed to sway and waver and at last shaped itself into the semblance of a human form. Rosemary, it was your Aunt Anne.”

“No!”

“Yes, child, it surely was. I felt no fear; she waved a gentle hand as she came nearer to me. ‘Brother,’ she said, ‘it is all right. Do not seek my slayer, I am happy in my new life.’ And then, Rosemary, she seemed to vanish slowly, and as the phantom shape was nearly gone, I heard a few more fleeting words, that sounded like a promise to play the Wild Harp tonight.”

“Tonight! Antan! Oh, Uncle Homer! You believe it was really her spirit?”

“If the harp plays tonight and I hear it—I shall have to believe,” he replied, in a solemn tone.

And that night the Wild Harp did play. Rosemary was awakened soon after midnight by the low, wailing strains. She wondered if her uncle heard it, too.

She lay in her bed listening to the weird music, and wondering if it could be possible her dead aunt was responsible for it.

She could not believe it, nor could she believe it was the work of the spirit of Mrs. Lamont.

But then, she asked herself, what is it? What can it be?

She rang a bedside bell which brought Francine to her.

“What is it, mademoiselle?” asked the French girl. “What is it that I can do for you?”

“Listen, Francine, do you hear the Wild Harp?”

“Oh, yes, ma’am. Is it not beautiful—so faint, so sweet!”

“Who is playing it, Francine?”

Rosemary fully expected the girl would assert it to be a phantom that made the harmonies. But, to her surprise, Francine said, “Of a truth, I do not know,—but I think it is Mr. Mellish.”

“Nonsense! Go to bed!” and Rosemary had to smile at the girl’s foolishness.

But the next morning she referred to it before her uncle.

“Yes, Rosemary, I heard it,” he said, “and I believe it was the spirit of your aunt who made the music. Do not you?”

“No, Uncle, to be truthful, I do not.”

But Rosemary regretted her frankness, for Homer Vincent turned grim and moody and scarcely spoke again that day.

But at last came the news of Bryce Collins’ arrival in New York, and Rosemary’s heart beat high with hope and joy.

His letters had given no hints as to the results of his quest, but he had written that he had results, which he would detail on his return.

Rosemary eagerly desired to accept this as an omen of favorable news, but her forebodings were not happy ones and she felt an undercurrent of despair that grew stronger as the time of his homecoming drew near.

And when at last she saw him, when he came to Greatlarch, and, taking her in his arms, kissed her gently, she knew in her heart that his tidings were not happy ones.

“Tell it at once, Bryce,” Homer Vincent said, curtly. “I know from your manner you bring no good news.”

“I do not,” Collins said, his face dark with sorrow and his eyes sad and somber. “Yes, I will tell you at once, but do not hurry me, Mr. Vincent. I will tell you as it happened to me.”

“You found the asylum?”

“Yes, with no trouble at all. But it was not at the address you gave me.”

“Ah, they have moved?”

“Perhaps so; but they told me they had never been at the other address. However, I found them. They have full and complete records,—they willingly let me study them. The present head of the institution is not, of course, the one who was there when Rosemary was left there. Nor is he the immediate successor. They have had several in his place, as the years went by.”

“You found the entry of Rosemary’s admission to the asylum?”

“Yes, I did. And I learned,—this is the strange part,—that she was placed there by your brother Carl.”

“Before his marriage?” Homer Vincent fairly blurted out the words.

“Yes, two years before.”

“Then that means—”

“There is no use blinking the facts. It means that Rosemary is the child of your brother Carl, but was not born in wedlock.”

“An illegitimate daughter of my brother—then a Vincent after all.”

“No, a nameless, homeless waif,” Rosemary moaned, and as she swayed from her chair, Collins ran to catch her fainting form and held her in his arms.

“I’m all right,” she said, struggling to preserve her self-control; “only it seems this last blow is more than I can bear. Uncle Homer, I will leave your house tomorrow. You shall not be burdened with the disgrace of a nameless child,—a child of shame!”

“Who was her mother?” Vincent asked.

“It is not known,” Collins replied. “The records so far back are imperfect. And I could find no one who remembered the circumstance. All the attendants are changed since that time. It was by the merest chance I came across the book that contained the entry of her admission. There was no mistake about that. She was left there by Carl Vincent, an American citizen travelling for pleasure. Her birth-date was given and her name stated as Rosemary Vincent.”

“And two years later, my brother and his wife adopted this child,—the daughter of my brother!”

“Three years later. After he had been married a year.”

“I cannot stand it,” Rosemary cried, and without another word, she fled from the room.

“There is no doubt about this?” Vincent asked.

“Not the slightest,” replied Collins, hopelessly.

“What is to be done?”

“I do not know.”

Chapter 13
A Vincent After All

After the news brought home from France by Bryce Collins and after a day’s reflection on the matter, Homer Vincent called Rosemary to him in his Tower room.

The girl gave him a curious glance. Her own attitude in the matter had changed. She was still downcast and despairing because of her illegitimate birth and her nameless condition. But she had most loving memories of her father, and it was a deep consolation to know he was really her father even though she had no acknowledged mother.

Rosemary’s life had been a sheltered one. During her first years with her adopted mother, during the succeeding term of years with her father, and, later, with the Vincents at Greatlarch, the girl had been kept carefully from companions save such as her elders deemed wise for her.

She had never attended public schools, never mixed with uneducated or unrefined people, and really knew little of the gossip or scandals of society.

Anne Vincent had never talked with her of immoral conditions or events, and Rosemary, while blankly wondering just how bad it was to be illegitimate, was yet gladdened at heart by the realization that at any rate she was a Vincent.

But she was destined to a rude awakening when Homer Vincent told her in a few words how hopeless and irremediable was her fate.

He was not unkind in his manner, he was rather pitying and sympathetic. But he explained that she could never hope to marry, that to transmit such a stigma to children would be out of the question, and, moreover, no man, knowing the truth, would be willing to marry her.

“Bryce would,” she said, her red lips quivering with emotion, but her little head held high, in a sort of bravado.

“No, he would not. You’ll see. He said he would when he thought you were adopted by my brother, and born of respectable though humble parents. That’s what he went to France to see about, and thereby learned the whole unpleasant truth. No, Rosemary, neither Bryce Collins nor any other self-respecting young man will marry a girl who was born out of wedlock.”

Rosemary’s despair returned. Her long dark lashes drooped over her sad eyes and her whole figure relaxed into an attitude of utter dejection.

“What can I do?” she murmured, her voice tragically sad.

“You will be cared for,” Vincent replied. But he sighed deeply and looked at the girl as if she were indeed an unwelcome responsibility.

“You see,” he continued, “now that I am led to believe that you are the child of my brother, I cannot turn you away. When I thought you merely his adopted child and the offspring of unknown parents, I had no real family interest in your welfare. But if you are my brother’s child, you are a Vincent, even though not a legitimate member of the family.

“And so, I propose to keep you here with me,—at least so long as I find you tractable and amenable to my wishes. I think you will not expect to hold your position as a daughter of the house, but neither shall I allow you to be slighted or scorned in any way. If you have good common sense, Rosemary, you will accept the anomalous position that is now yours and you will be thankful that you have a home and a protector here.”

“Oh, I do! Oh, Uncle Homer, how good you are to me. I can never thank you—”

“There, there, no histrionics, if you please. You can easily thank me, by the mere observance of my wishes. You know those already,—you know, that though I may be eccentric, my odd ways are not really very dreadful. You know all I want is a quiet, peaceful home, and if you devote your life,—as you probably will prefer to do,—to some such pursuit as study or philanthropic effort, you will make no disturbance in the household and you will have ample time to look after such matters as tend toward my peculiar desires and exactions.”

Rosemary looked thoughtful. She fully realized her position, fully appreciated her uncle’s kindness and generosity, but she was young and of a pleasure-loving, vivid temperament. She could not foresee happiness in this humdrum existence he proposed. It was all very well for Antan, who was of a quiet, indolent nature.

But for Rosemary to be at home day in and day out, occupied in household duties or philanthropic pursuits,—whatever they were,—did not sound appealing.

In fact, the previous plan, of living by herself, seemed more attractive.

“How much money have I?” she asked, almost abruptly.

Vincent looked at her, and shook his head.

“None at all, Rosemary,” he said, “but what I give you. Your father left no will, and, of course, as an illegitimate child you have no inheritance claim. Your Aunt Anne’s ruby, which would have been a small fortune in itself, has been stolen, so what I choose to give you constitutes your sole source of income. But I shall not be mean or small in this matter, if you agree to my plans. If, however, you are thinking of asserting your independence, I may as well tell you at once, that I shall not contribute to your support except here at Greatlarch. You must admit, my dear, that you are a little inconsistent. Last week you were in tears at the thought of leaving this place, now, when I offer you a home here, you are contemplating going off by yourself.”

“How do you know I am?”

“I knew by your expression of rebellious discontent at the sort of life you must accept if you remain here. I knew by your sudden inquiry about finances. I know you would prefer independence and a home by yourself to a home with me under the restrictions that I must make. But you are not in a position to dictate. You may choose,—but I must tell you, Rosemary, you will make a great mistake if you attempt to go out into the world, nameless and penniless.”

Vincent spoke very gravely, and Rosemary’s mutinous red lips curved downward into an expression of surrender.

“Don’t think I’m ungrateful, Uncle Homer,” she said, slowly. “But you must remember I’m crushed under this sudden blow. You must remember that I’ve lost parents, home, fortune, reputation, everything in the world, at one blow,—and I must think things over before I can see my way clear. What is it Kipling says:

“ ‘If you can see the things you gave your life to broken,
Yet stoop and build them up with worn-out tools—’ ”

“That’s all very well, Rosemary, for hifalutin ethical poppycock. But, I’ll tell you, my girl, that if you know what’s good for yourself, you’ll gladly accept a home here, under the protection of my name, rather than face any sort of career out in the cold, hard world. You’ve no idea, Rosemary, what slights, what scorn, you would receive! Good heavens, child, I don’t believe you realize at all what a terrible misfortune has come to you!”

“Yes, I do, Uncle,—indeed I do. But sometimes I feel I am so hopeless, so dishonored, it might be better to strive to live a new life—”

“Fine talk! That’s what all the younger generation harp on nowadays. Live a new life—live your own life—well, Rosemary, do what you choose. But if you choose to go out from under my roof, it is on the understanding that I will never take you back again. Think well before you throw away a home like this!”

Vincent glanced round the beautiful room and out into the great hall, and Rosemary’s eyes followed.

Her deep love for the place welled up in her heart, and with an uncontrollable sob, she caught her uncle’s hand in hers, and cried:

“Oh, you are right! I never could be happy away from here—”

“Not with the conditions you have to face,” he returned, gravely. “Let us consider it settled then, and you may take your place as head of the household, in so far as ordering meals and presiding at table is concerned. What you do not know, Melly will show you, and I myself will instruct you in some of the matters your dear aunt used to look after.”

Rosemary went away from her uncle with a heart full of conflicting thoughts. She knew her best plan, as he had said, was to stay at Greatlarch under the conditions he imposed. She knew the world would be hard on her, would look down upon her, and as a member of her uncle’s household she would at least run no chance of scornfully pointed fingers.

But Rosemary’s whole nature rebelled at the restrictions she would be under, and the vision of her future seemed far from bright.

It is said stone walls do not a prison make, but as the girl saw it, they would come very near doing so.

Yet the alternative was no more desirable. What could she do, alone in an inhospitable world, without money, name, or friends?

And as to marrying Bryce Collins, Rosemary firmly put aside all thought of it. Even if he asked her to do so, she would not take advantage of his offer, she would not go to him a nameless bride.

There was no way open, the girl concluded, but to stay on at Greatlarch, and try to do exactly as her uncle wished her to.

She would have a home,—a beautiful home that she loved,—and she would try to adjust herself to the new conditions and get along without young companionship or society.

She would forget Bryce Collins, forget Lulie and the other girls, and take up what her uncle called philanthropic work.

She was a bit hazy as to what this meant,—visiting the poor and old, she supposed,—or making flannel petticoats for orphan babies.

She wondered who had made flannel petticoats for her when she was an orphan baby, as she must have been the first three years of her life.

Those first three years! It seemed to her sometimes that she could dimly recall scenes that must have been asylum scenes. She seemed to see rows of cots and numberless babies, but she couldn’t be sure that this was not mere imagination and not memory.

Well, it didn’t matter. She had been an orphan baby, and now she was something still worse, an orphan girl and an illegitimate child.

But when Bryce Collins came that evening, he cheered her by his very presence. He was so strong and masterful, so determinedly hopeful, so eagerly anxious to do something, anything, to bring about new developments that might point to brighter days.

Also, he was more than ever resolved to solve the mystery of Miss Anne’s death.

“Who knows?” he said, “that may have some bearing on your parentage, Rosemary.”

“As how?” asked Homer Vincent, interestedly. “I can’t imagine,” Collins admitted, “but there seems no motive—”

“No motive, when the murderer took away a hundred thousand dollar ruby!”

“But did he take it? May not Miss Anne have hidden it elsewhere? I can’t seem to see a burglar taking that one stone and leaving the other jewels.”

“But the ruby is a fortune in itself. He needed nothing more to make him independent for life.”

“I know,—but what can he do with it? Those enormous stones are famous. Every jeweler in the country,—in the world, knows of that ruby. He would be spotted the moment he offered it for sale.”

“I suppose so,” Vincent said; “and yet, I’ve heard those people have what they call ‘fences’ who dispose of stolen jewels in some manner. And, anyway, the man must have taken it, for I’ve looked everywhere among my sister’s belongings and all through her rooms and there is no possible hiding place where the stone can be. No, Bryce, that Henry Johnson stole the jewel and killed my sister. As I see it, Anne woke up and he killed her lest she scream and alarm the household. Now, the thing is to find him.”

“That’s exactly it,” assented Collins, “and I’m going to do it. You said, Mr. Vincent, that you would spend any amount of money to find the murderer, which, of course, means to find Henry Johnson. Now, I heard on board ship, coming home, of a wonderful detective,—Stone, his name is, who can, without doubt, solve this mystery. Murder cases are his special forte, and though I understand he is expensive, yet I know you said—”

“I did say so, at first, Bryce, but I’ve already spent a lot on detectives. And what have they done? What have Brewster and Brown done? Nothing. What has Prentiss done? Nothing. And quite aside from the money I’ve paid and still have to pay them, I am tired of having these investigators around my house. They examine the rooms over and over again. But they learn nothing from them. They quiz my servants over and over again. But they deduce nothing from their stories. The man Johnson has disappeared and the detectives are not able to find him. That’s the case in a nutshell. Now why should I spend any more money, or be put to any further inconvenience when there is no probability that a new man would or could do any more than the others have done?”

“But this Stone is a wizard,—why, he—”

“I know that wizard type. They come in and look around, and say the murder was done by a man five feet nine inches high, who wore a number seven hat and smoked a Havana Perfecto cigar. And then they waste days in futile attempts to find that man,—and never find him. No, I have decided not to spend any more on the case, and—I have a reason—a secret reason why I prefer not to delve further into the mystery.”

“I know what that reason is,” Rosemary cried. “Bryce, Uncle Homer has gone over to the spiritualists! He has messages from Aunt Anne and I’ve no doubt his secret reason is connected with—”

“You’re quite right, Rosemary,” Vincent spoke very seriously, “my reason is that my sister’s spirit has communicated with me, and she has asked me to refrain from further investigations.”

“Did she tell you who killed her?” Collins asked, not showing his true feelings in regard to these supernatural communications.

“No,—not exactly, but she said the murderer would never be caught, and for my own peace of mind and—for Rosemary’s, it would be better to let the matter rest.”

“And you fancy that it may be some of Rosemary’s relatives—on her mother’s side—”

“Don’t put it into words, Collins. You know yourself it may be that the Johnson person was some such relative,—and it may be as well never to find him—”

“Rubbish! I don’t believe for a minute anything of that sort, and I refuse to listen to such absurd theories. Now, look here, Mr. Vincent, here’s my platform. I propose to marry Rosemary in any case. She is my affianced wife—”

“No, Bryce,” and Rosemary’s tone was as decided as his own, “no, I will never consent to marry you, a nameless, shameful, illegitimate girl! I would not,—could not be happy, knowing that I brought you only ignominy and disgrace. I will never marry you or any one. The fact that my father was a Vincent does not make me one, since I was not born in wedlock. I am an unhappy girl,—but I am fortunate in having Uncle Homer,—for I shall always call him that,—give me a home. I will continue to live here with him and you must not think it strange if I ask you not to come to see me any more. I am going to try to forget you and all my young friends—”

“Now, Rosemary, let up on that rigmarole. I am going to take hold of this matter and fight it to a finish. If Mr. Vincent won’t employ this Stone, I will do so myself. I have some of my money left, and if it isn’t enough, I’ll get busy and earn more. I have one or two ideas that I haven’t divulged yet, and if Stone takes any interest in them, they may be of use to him.”

“I don’t think, Bryce, that you ought to keep from me any knowledge or ideas that you may have discovered.”

“Well, Mr. Vincent, they’re hardly definite enough to be called ideas,—they’re merely vague impressions—for instance, here’s one. The detectives say that Johnson could have locked that bedroom door behind him by the use of a little instrument that burglars use, which can turn a key from the other side of the lock. Now, I’ve looked up that matter, and while there is such an implement known, it is very hard to come by, and only found in the kit of the most expert and experienced burglars. This man Johnson, as I make it out, wasn’t a burglar. He was merely a business man, here on a business errand. If his cupidity was aroused by the sight of Miss Anne’s great ruby, is it likely that he would chance to have in his pocket that rare and peculiar tool that would lock the door after he had committed the crime? Also, why did he want to lock the door? He made his escape at once. He knew breakfast wouldn’t be until eight o’clock, and he committed the murder, they say, at seven or thereabouts. Why waste time locking a door when every minute was precious in making an escape? And how happen to have the implement needed, when, so far as we can gather, he had no other burglar’s tools?”

“He may have had a whole kit, and taken it away with him.”

“But when he arrived, Mellish says, he had only the one bag which, as we now know, contained his night things and a change of underclothing.”

“I’m not arguing the case, Bryce, nor am I reconstructing the crime, as they call it, or guessing how it may have been done. To me the case is simply this. Johnson killed my sister, stole her jewel, and made his escape. How he did it, I do not know. But as I truly believe it is the wish of my dead sister that I should make no further effort to discover any more about it, I propose to cease my investigations. If you persist in calling in further detective service, it will be at your own expense and on your own responsibility, and, I may add, greatly against my wishes and, in fact, under my disapproval.”

“Sorry, Mr. Vincent, but I’m going to employ this Stone, if I can get him. And not only regarding the murder, I can’t help a certain feeling, maybe a forlorn hope, that he may help me in the search for Rosemary’s mother. I admit I want to know, if possible, who her mother was. Not, understand, for my own sake alone,—but for her sake. However, I want it understood that our sake is one and the same henceforth. I know Rosemary says she will not marry me, but if she doesn’t it will not be for lack of importunity and insistence on my part. But that is a future consideration. First, I’m going to pursue my own investigations as I see fit, and then I will consult with you as to Rosemary’s future. I take it you do not,—you cannot forbid me to look into this mystery further?”

“I can’t forbid you, Bryce, but I can and do most earnestly request you to leave it alone. You may laugh if you will at spiritual revelations, but older and wiser minds than yours do not laugh at them. If I have been persuaded that I have had visitations from the spirit of my dear sister, it is no more incredible than that great and good men have also been so convinced. I ask of you, I beg of you, not to try further to elucidate a mystery, the victim of which has requested that it be forgotten.

“And, quite aside from that, remember I am an older man than you, and I can see the futility of renewed search. Indeed, I am convinced that, as a layman, I can see better than a detective the utter impossibility of finding a man as clever and determined as Johnson must necessarily be. Doubtless he has so changed his appearance and demeanor by this time that no one could recognize him; in addition to which he has in all probability fled to the very ends of the earth. These obvious conclusions present themselves to the clear-seeing mind of a layman, while the detective instinct is roused by the mystery and by the call of the chase. If you look at it calmly, you must agree that I am right.”

“It may be, Mr. Vincent, and I understand that is the way it looks to you. But I am on the other side, I admit. To me, there seem to be other avenues to explore,—other clues to follow up.”

“What clues, for instance?”

“Few, if any, definite clues, I admit; but hints, theories, possibilities,—oh, I am sure such a man as Fleming Stone would have suggestions to make and ways to try out.”

“Uncle Homer,” said Rosemary, suddenly, “what was that shiny thing you were hiding in the secret panel as I looked in the window at you that night?”

“Good heavens, child, what do you mean? I wasn’t hiding anything!”

“Well, what were you putting in there, then? It shone and glittered, and it wasn’t those two imitation rubies,—for it wasn’t red—it was bright like gold.”

“Like gold? I don’t know what it could have been—for I have nothing made of gold there. You may come into my room, if you like, and look over all the contents of that hiding-place. There is nothing there but some valuable papers, including all the letters and papers concerning my brother Carl. Come along, both of you, and I will show you the way to open it for yourselves.”

The three went to Vincent’s Tower room, and he showed them both exactly how to manipulate the tiny knob, hidden in the carved design, that opened the panel.

The hiding-place thus revealed was quite large, and held many bundles of papers. These Vincent touched as he named them.

“I’m glad this subject came up,” he said. “for it is better some one should know the secret of this panel. My sister knew, and now, it is well you young people should know, for if anything happens to me, you will find all my effects here. This is my will,—as you see, I have left the bulk of my property to Rosemary. I have, of course, left goodly bequests to the two Mellishes, who have served me long and faithfully. Also, to Hoskins and a few other servants. And some trifles to a few friends. The residuary is for Rosemary, who, though not legally a Vincent, is the child of my dear brother,—and,—I will refer to this matter for what I trust may be the last time,—I daresay, if we knew all the circumstances we might judge my brother more leniently than the world would if the matter became known. So, if Rosemary does as I wish her to, and lives here quietly with me, she will eventually have a fortune of her own.”

“What’s that key, Uncle?” Rosemary asked, more interested just then in the contents of the opened recess than in her future financial prospects.

“That’s the key of the wine cellar, child,” and her uncle smiled. “In these days, it is wiser to keep such things locked up, for though Mellish is impeccable some of the newer servants may not be. Why, Rosemary, this is doubtless what you saw glistening that night. I perhaps moved it as I hunted for a paper,—I don’t remember precisely.”

“Yes, that was it. It shone like brass and that has a brass tag.”

“Yes, and now run away, you two. I am very tired tonight. Collins, think twice before you run counter to my expressed desires. I do not like to have my advice utterly ignored.”

Chapter 14
Fleming Stone on the Case

Bryce Collins did think twice before he made up his mind to run counter to Homer Vincent’s advice, but as his second thoughts coincided with his first ones, he carried out his plan of employing the celebrated detective, Fleming Stone, to investigate the mystery of the death of Anne Vincent, and to endeavor to recover the stolen ruby.

On receiving word from Stone that he would come to Hilldale, Collins told Vincent of his expected arrival.

“Very well,” Vincent returned, “I have no real objection, of course, since you are willing to assume the expenses of the investigation. As I told you, I have spent all I care to on the work, and, moreover, I am convinced that my dear sister has advised me to do nothing further.”

Collins wondered at this, to him, utter foolishness, but he remembered that, as Vincent had told him, greater minds than his own had gone over to spiritualism, and there was no reason why Homer Vincent should not do so.

Now and then, Vincent would tell Rosemary or Bryce Collins that his sister had told him she would play on the Wild Harp, and always at the appointed hour they could hear,—or imagined they heard, faint strains from the direction of the Temple.

Collins pooh-poohed at this, but he was obliged to admit that he did hear the sounds. Mrs. Mellish, a firm believer in the supernatural, often heard them, whether others did or not, but the old butler only shook his head with a patronizing grin, that seemed to pity such foolishness.

Francine, who was very quick of hearing, declared the sounds came frequently.

“And I can tell,” she volunteered, “when it is that my adored Miss Anne touches the strings, and when it is the music made by the dead Madame Lamont.”

And it was into this moil of inexplicable circumstances, into this jumble of supernaturalism and crime, into this mystery of robbery and murder, that Fleming Stone was expected to throw himself and, by the skill of his experienced wisdom and judgment, solve the mystery and expose the criminal.

The police had become apathetic in the matter.

One and all they agreed that nothing could be done until the missing man, Henry Johnson, was found. And as there was not the slightest trace of him, as there was positively no clue or bit of evidence to show which way to search, the police contented themselves with vague promises and hints of discoveries that they could not yet make public.

They had done their best. They had worked on numerous theories, had gone off on several wild-goose chases, had quizzed many people, but no definite conclusions were forthcoming, except that Henry Johnson was the criminal and Henry Johnson could not be found.

The few things he had left behind him were now at Police Headquarters; the room that had been assigned to him at Greatlarch had been cleaned and put in order, as also had Miss Anne’s room.

So, Homer Vincent advised Collins, there was no occasion, as he could see, for the new detective to be a guest at his house. Indeed, he must refuse to have Stone quartered there, as he felt sure he could not stand such an intrusion on his home routine.

“But he may consider himself free to come and go as he chooses,” Vincent conceded; “he may make all the investigations he desires, he may question my servants or myself, or Rosemary, all he wants to. But, I beg of you, Bryce, do make him hurry up the thing. Don’t have him dawdling here for weeks, accomplishing nothing. It’s six weeks and more now, since my sister’s death,—nothing has been done,—nothing will be done to solve the mystery. But I shall put no obstacle in the way of any one’s effort, only, do make the man work as expeditiously as possible.”

Collins understood the distaste of Homer Vincent for the thought of the dreary repetitions of question and answer that they all knew by rote, but which Fleming Stone must ask and learn for himself.

“I appreciate your feelings, Mr. Vincent,” Bryce assured him, “and I will do all I can to facilitate Stone’s work and to save you all unnecessary participation in the whole business. If you wish, I’ll take him over the house, take him to the servants and all that. You need only answer the questions he wishes to put directly to you.”

“Good for you, Bryce. Save me all the annoyance you can. Rosemary will help you, and the two Mellishes. Of course, he’ll want to poke about all over the house. Let him do so, but keep him away from me, whenever you can.”

Bryce Collins agreed, and relieved that Vincent was even fairly affable about it, he went off to the station to meet the detective.

It was nearing the Christmas holidays now, and though Vincent had given no hint of his recognition of that fact, yet Collins knew that he would be grateful if Stone could make his investigations and announce either success or failure before the Christmastide should arrive.

Not that there would be any celebration at Greatlarch this year, but Vincent’s nature leaned toward religious observances, and Collins knew the season would be a sacred one to him.

Rosemary took little interest in the advent of Fleming Stone. She had no hope that any one would ever find Johnson now. She felt that as six weeks had elapsed, no further search could result in a discovery of the missing man. And she was so disheartened at her own sad fate that, while she mourned her aunt and missed her sorely, yet the avenging of her tragic death meant less to the girl than the tragedy of her own life.

Night after night she cried herself to sleep, now resolving she would never marry, and then almost yielding to the temptation of consenting to Bryce’s plea that they be married at once.

But she knew Bryce’s mother, and she was not brave enough to face the angry scorn of that haughty and aristocratic dame.

Mrs. Collins had learned of Rosemary’s refusal to marry her son, and thoroughly approved of the girl’s decision. But should Rosemary change her mind, Mrs. Collins was quite ready to put up a fight.

Bryce Collins was of a sanguine, hopeful nature. His strong will and his unflinching determination were supplemented by a sublime optimism that never gave way until forced to do so by absolutely unconquerable circumstances.

And, quite aside from his firm belief in Stone’s ability to find the murderer, he also was sure that the detective could be of help in discovering the mother of Rosemary. And he had a blind faith in that mother.

For Rosemary’s sake even more than his own, he wanted to prove her mother of gentle birth,—perhaps a young and innocent girl led into error because of ignorance or too blind confidence in her lover. Perhaps she had been deceived by Carl Vincent—tricked by a false marriage, or,—Bryce couldn’t always formulate his hopes, but at any rate he meant to have Stone look up the matter thoroughly. It might necessitate another trip to France, but this thought was no impediment to Collins’ flights of fancy.

He was musing on these things when the train came to a stop at the station and a tall, good-looking man stepped off, who was, Collins felt sure, the detective.

He was accompanied by a red-headed, eager-faced boy, whose alert blue eyes darted comprehendingly about.

“That’s our man, F. S.,” the boy said, “that’s Mr. Collins—aren’t you?”

“Yes,” Collins said, smiling at the lad, whose cap sat saucily aslant on his thick red hair, but who pulled it quickly off as the two men greeted one another, and Fleming Stone added, “and this is my young assistant, McGuire.”

“How’re you, Mr. Collins?” the boy responded, “and to people I like I’m Fibsy. I like you.”

“Thank you, Fibsy,” Bryce smiled at him. “I hope I shall like you.”

“You bet you will. Where do we go from here?”

Bryce Collins conducted them to the village inn, which was so near by that they walked the short distance.

He had already engaged rooms for them, and very soon they were in a private sitting-room and Collins was earnestly telling Stone the principal facts of the case.

“I know a good deal from the newspaper accounts,” the detective said; “what I want to learn is the knowledge they seemed so carefully to withhold. Who was this Johnson man? Why did they never pick him up again? Where is he now?”

“That’s just the point of the whole thing, Mr. Stone. Get Johnson,—and you’ve done it all. He’s the murderer beyond all doubt—”

“How did he get in and out of the locked room?”

“That’s the question. But get Johnson and he can answer that himself.”

“Of course. Perfectly true. Now, to get a missing man, we have to trace him. Did he leave any indicative clues?”

“That he did not! He went like a wraith—he dissolved like a mist—no one saw him go, no one has seen him since. He made no tracks, he left no clues.”

“Oh, come, now, I’ll bet he left clues. Only, those who saw them failed to recognize them as such.”

“That’s what I think, Mr. Stone,” Collins spoke eagerly. “I believe that’s right.”

“But of course there are no signs of those clues now,” Fibsy said, with a deep sigh. “Six weeks must have obliterated all the footprints and fingerprints there were in the first place.”

“I don’t think anybody thought of fingerprints,” Collins said, looking at Fibsy with dawning respect. He had thought him merely Stone’s clerical assistant, or perhaps valet, and was amazed at the boy’s intelligent gaze and perspicacious remark.

“Not much chance for ‘em, anyway,” Fibsy went on. “No use getting Johnson’s fingerprints, if you can’t get the mitt that made ‘em! No use in getting the prints of the family and friends,—or even the servants. No s’picion of the butler person is there?”

“Good gracious, no,” and Collins smiled at the bare thought of suspecting Mellish.

“No offence to His Nibs,” Fibsy offered, “but you know, quite frequently sometimes it is Friend Butler.”

“Hush up, Fibs,” Stone admonished. “Now, Mr. Collins, I have, I think, all the information you can give me. The rest I must get for myself. Can I go to the house this afternoon? After I’ve had some luncheon here?”

“Yes, surely. You’ll find Mr. Vincent a reserved and perhaps curt man, but you can depend absolutely on his sense of justice and his willingness to have you investigate his premises. He prefers to be left out of it all himself, as much as possible. But I assure you that he is ready to do his part, and usually, his bark is worse than his bite.”

“Gruff old codger?” asked Fibsy.

“Not a bit of it!” and Collins smiled. “A most polished gentleman. But bored by people and weary of the futile efforts of detectives.”

“We’re accustomed to that type,” the boy said, winking at Stone; “they come off their perch, though, when F. Stone really gets busy. Will this guy mind my goin’ along?”

“I think not,—but I assume you’d go just the same if he did.”

“Sure I would. F. Stone can’t do a thing without his little Fibsy by his side. He’s that dependent on me, you wouldn’t believe!”

“Why the cheerful nickname?” Collins couldn’t help liking the boy.

“That’s just it! ‘Cause I’m such a cheerful liar. Why, it’s no more trouble for me to tell a whopper than for F. Stone to tell the gospel truth!”

“There now, McGuire, keep quiet. You’re too chatty this morning.”

“Gotta stop!” and the lad made a wry face. “When he calls me McGuire, he means business. No more funny chatter from this baby. All right,—here’s where I shut up.” And from then on, the boy made no remark, but his sharp eyes showed perception and comprehension and his wise little head nodded now and then, as Collins discussed the matter somewhat further with Fleming Stone.

That afternoon the pair of detectives went to Greatlarch.

Collins was there before them and introduced them to Homer Vincent and Rosemary.

Fibsy was very quiet, acknowledging his presentation by a respectful nod of his red head, but Fleming Stone was a little more self-assertive than was usual for him.

Fibsy looked at his chief in silent wonder as Stone shook hands a little effusively with Homer Vincent, and said, “How do you do, my dear?” to Rosemary.

It was quite foreign to Stone’s custom to be so familiar, and when he followed it up by settling himself, unasked, in an easy chair, Fibsy’s self-addressed “Gee!” was almost audible.

“Wonderful house, Mr. Vincent,” was Stone’s appreciative comment, as he gazed around him.

They were in the reception room, which was also a Tower room, opposite the room that Vincent used for his own.

“Yes,” the host replied, a bit curtly, and waited for further speech from his guest.

Suddenly Stone’s manner changed.

“I am here, Mr. Vincent,” he said, “to discover, if I can, who killed your sister. But I am told by Mr. Collins, that you do not wish to pursue this inquiry further, because of supernatural revelations you have had. Is this true?”

“Quite true, Mr. Stone.” Vincent spoke courteously but wearily, as if wishing to be done with the interview. “I daresay you do not believe in the occult—”

“Pardon me, do you consider the occult and the supernatural synonymous terms?”

“I don’t care to go into the technical definitions of those terms,” Vincent returned; “my belief in the revelations I have received from the spirit of my dead sister is not based on study or research into these questions. It is solely based on the evidence of my own senses and an inner conviction that my senses in no way deceived me.”

“I am interested,” Stone said; “how were these messages received, may I ask? Through the assistance of a Ouija Board or a human medium?”

“Neither, sir. The messages were spoken to me by my sister’s voice in the dead of night—”

“You’re sure you were awake?”

“As wide awake as I am this minute. She spoke low but clearly to me, and begged me, for her sake, to desist from these futile delvings into what must ever remain a mystery. Now, Mr. Stone, I am not asking you to desist nor am I desirous of hindering your search,—only I do want you to understand my attitude, and be good enough to leave me out as a factor of your plans.”

“I will do so, Mr. Vincent, as far as I can, without too much hampering my own work. If, however, you give me your permission to examine the house, and grounds,—to interview your servants—and to ask you a question or two, if and when necessary, I think I may safely promise you immunity from annoyance.”

“Thank you,” and Vincent looked relieved. “I will then, if you please, excuse myself now, and leave you to your own procedure. Touch the bell for my butler, and he will arrange for your interviews with the other servants.”

Homer Vincent rose and left the room, his slight limp appearing a little more in evidence than usual.

After Vincent’s departure, the detective sat a moment in deep thought.

Bryce Collins put this down to a desire to appear profound and weighted down by care.

Rosemary thought it was merely the habit of any detective to sit and ponder at intervals.

But Fibsy knew at once that, somehow, somewhere, Stone had seen or heard something indicative. Something had demanded immediate and serious thought. Not for worlds would the boy have spoken then. Nothing would have induced him to blurt out some of his saucy speeches. He watched the play of Stone’s features, he gazed eagerly in his face for a sign of what was passing in his mind. But though grave and preoccupied, the detective’s face gave no hint of the trend his thoughts were taking.

After a few moments, however, he roused himself and with a brisk air turned to Collins.

“Now, for an examination of the house,” he said; “though I fear I may become so engrossed in the marvels of architecture and decoration as to forget my main business here.”

“That’s what Mr. Johnson did,” Rosemary said.

“You didn’t see him?” and Stone turned to her quickly.

“No,” Rosemary was almost frightened at his suddenness, “no, the butler told me. He said Mr. Johnson was overcome with admiration and wonder. Indeed, he must have been, to have wandered about nearly all night.”

“Where do you suppose he wandered?” Stone said, musingly.

“I don’t know, I’m sure, but he couldn’t have been in his room long, as it was so undisturbed.”

“Oh,” Stone sighed deeply, “if I’d only been here at once. I suppose all the rooms he might have visited that night, in his tour of admiration, have since been swept and garnished, dusted and polished to the last degree!”

“Yes, they have,” said Rosemary. “The detectives looked them all over and said Mr. Johnson left no clues.”

“Ugh-h-h!” Fibsy’s grunt was one of utter disdain for the detectives who could find nothing to detect. Without a word, he conveyed the idea that Fleming Stone would have found plenty of evidence from those cursorily examined rooms.

“Here’s one clue they found,” Rosemary said. She was anxious to help and she was deeply interested in the new detective.

Aside from his chivalrous courtesy, Fleming Stone had great charm when he chose to exercise it, and feeling exceedingly sorry for the girl, whose story Collins had already told him, he paid her such pleasant and deferential attention that she was glad to offer any information.

From a table-drawer she took the long-handled cigarette-holder which had been found out in the grounds.

“This is known to be Mr. Johnson’s,” she said, “and as it was found outside, we assume he strolled round the grounds.”

“Wasn’t it a cold, snowy night?”

“Not after midnight. I came home about twelve—or, nearer one,—and it had stopped snowing, though it was cold. But not too cold for a walk.”

“Yet remember he had on no hat or overcoat.”

“Oh, he may have had,” Collins interposed “He wore none when he went away, after the crime. But he may have strolled round the grounds before that, with his hat and coat on, and then he dropped his cigarette-holder.”

“Odd thing to do,” Stone observed. “Yet he may have thought he slipped it in his pocket and it fell to the ground. You’re sure it is his?”

“Yes, Mellish recognized it as the one he used after dinner,” Rosemary answered him.

“Let me see Mellish,” Stone said, abruptly, and the butler was called.

“Now, I don’t want a lot of information, Mellish,” Stone said, pleasantly. “Just tell me anything you can remember of Mr. Johnson’s conversation at dinner that evening he dined here.”

Mellish looked blank. Evidently he had expected quite different inquiries.

“Well, now, sir, I’m not sure I can remember much of that. I opine it’s as evidence you want this, and I must have a care that I do not undervalue its importance.”

Stone suppressed a smile at the rather grandiloquent air of the speaker and Fibsy stared at him, fascinated.

“Yes, it is important,” Stone assured him, “so tell it as accurately as you can. What subjects did the visitor choose for conversation?”

“Well, sir, he didn’t do much of the choosing. I should say Mr. Vincent selected the topics of dissertation. And, as I recollect, two or three times, Mr. Johnson began a sentence, and Mr. Vincent would say, ‘No, no, we must not discuss business at the table.’ It is a sovereignal rule of Mr. Vincent, sir, never to talk on business or any serious matters at meal-times. He held that table-talk must ever be light and agreeable,—yes, sir, light and agreeable.”

“And you think the subject of Mr. Johnson’s business with Mr. Vincent was not an agreeable subject?”

“Oh, I wouldn’t say that, sir. I opine it was agreeable enough, but of a serious nature,—yes, sir, of a serious nature.”

“Just what did Mr. Johnson start to say, when Mr. Vincent asked him not to introduce the subject? Anything regarding rubies?”

“No, sir—it was more in the line of remingincence,—yes, sir, remingincence. Once, I recollect, Mr. Johnson said, ‘You see, I was his confidential clerk—’ he said that just as I was entering the room with my tray, and I heard that much, and then Mr. Vincent said, ‘No, no, my friend, no reference to business just now, if you please,’ or something like that.”

“Never mind the exact words of Mr. Vincent, but try to remember more of the speeches of Mr. Johnson. You see, Mellish, it is most important that we get a line on what sort of a gentleman he was. And I don’t want to trouble Mr. Vincent in these matters unless necessary.”

“Yes, sir, I see. Well, Mr. Johnson was remarking on the beauty of the house, you see, and he said, quite impressive like, ‘but it doesn’t make me forget my real errand here,—I am here for a purpose,—’ and then again Mr. Vincent told him to wait till after dinner to discuss the business that brought him here.”

“Any more?”

“Well, he spoke of a trust—”

“Do you think he meant a great jewel trust? Or Jewelers’ Union?”

“Oh, no, sir! Not at all. He meant a trust had been given to him—a sacred trust, he called it.”

“Oh, then that had nothing to do with the business in hand.”

“Well, I don’t know, sir. Mr. Vincent shut him off again, just the same way.”

“Perhaps it referred to Miss Anne’s ruby. Was that a trust to her for any one else?”

“Not that I know of, sir.”

Chapter 15
A Few Deductions

Fleming Stone and his red-headed assistant sat in their little parlor at the Hilldale inn.

They had not said much as yet about the Vincent mystery, but each was thinking deeply.

At last, Stone, with a straightforward glance at the boy, said:

“Find Henry Johnson.”

“Find Henry Johnson,” Fibsy repeated, but he added a prolonged wink, that left him with one blue eye staring wide open and the other optic tightly closed.

“Meaning?” asked Stone, meditatively, gazing at this expressive facial contortion.

“Meaning,” returned Fibsy, his closed eye once more opening to the world at large, “that Mr. Henry Johnson is going to be hard to find—very hard to find.”

“Meaning, again?”

“Why, that a man who has been tee-tum-tee-totally missing for something over six weeks, isn’t going to be picked up overnight, is he, now, F. Stone?”

“Perhaps not, Fibs, but the first move on our chess-board is to find him. Now, for a systematic search, let’s first observe his clothing,—which is, I believe, at the Police Station.”

“Eccentric guy, Henry,—isn’t he?” and Fibsy’s blue eyes stared out over his tightly closed fists, on which his cheeks rested.

“As how?”

“As to his occupation all through the night. Say, he pulled off his robbery and murder stunt at seven A.M., which is what the doctors put the time at. Then, as Mr. Vincent left his visitor at about eleven, that man was so interested in the beautiful house that he prowled around it for eight mortal hours! Going some,—F. Stone,—going some!”

“All right, but what else did he do? We know he didn’t go to bed. He may have lain down on some sofa or couch for a nap,—and, remember the cigarette-holder,—that proves he went for a walk round the grounds.”

“Out back to that Spooky Hollow place, I s’pose. Investigatin’ the Spooky Harp and the Spooky Lady who plays on it. Well, I reckernize all that, but I still say he was a long time a pokin’ around especially as the night watchman never caught a peek of him.”

“Then it must be that he did drop down on some convenient couch for a nap. Lord knows, there are plenty of them here and there, all over that house. I saw a dozen.”

“Yes, Mr. Vincent is of a home comforts type. Why, the swivel chair in his private office room is all cushioned and upholstered.”

“And Johnson may have taken his doze in a chair. But it makes little difference where he spent the night, the point is, where is he now? and can we trace him from the clothes and clues he left behind him?”

“You can, F. Stone. That’s your business, isn’t it? Why, the man is as good as caught already!”

“That will do, McGuire, this is no time for foolery. Come along now to the Headquarters, and for Heaven’s sake, keep your eyes open. The trails are very stale, and we shall be hard put to it to read much from them.”

But when Stone was given the hat and coat of the missing man, his eyes lighted up with expectancy. “This hat tells us a lot,” he said, and Brown and Brewster, who had come to listen to the celebrated detective’s deductions, drew nearer.

“It is brand-new, it shows that Mr. Johnson has a large head, that he is slightly bald, that he had just had a hair-cut, that, though this is a Derby, he usually wore a soft hat,—that he didn’t like this hat at all,—and that may be the reason he didn’t wear it when he went away. It also tells us that Mr. Johnson is of a pronounced brunette type, with dark hair and eyes, and of a strong, vigorous vitality. But these descriptive bits are of little use, for we already know the appearance and personality of the man. We are not trying to discover who owns this hat, but where he is.”

“All the same, your deductions are mighty interesting,” Brown said, his eyes shining with curiosity. “And, though it may seem a, b, c to you, won’t you tell us how you got those facts?”

Stone answered this categorically, saying, “His head must be large, because this hat is seven and a half, and yet it shows signs on the sweat-band of having been pulled down hard, to fit on his head. He had a recent hair-cut, because a few short hairs are caught in the tiny bow of silk braid inside the hat, and he was probably bald, because there is a faint odor of a certain lotion that I know is used in many barber shops as a hair stimulant. He was accustomed to a soft hat, for on each side of this crown you may see rubbed places, where he has absent-mindedly grasped it in one hand as one does a soft hat. I feel sure he didn’t like a hat that was too tight for him, and was stiff and uncomfortable compared to a Fedora, yet it doesn’t seem quite plausible to assume that as the reason for his leaving it behind him. I think it more likely, that he wore this hat when out strolling round the grounds, but he did not have it on when he committed the crime, and that he hastened away after that, in such a hurry, or in such a distraction of mind, that he did not then return to his room for his hat.

“Of course the deductions as to his personal appearance are based on these few short, strong black hairs, which naturally connote a brunette type and the dark eyes and physical vigor that accompany that coloring.

“But, as I say, these traits of Mr. Johnson are known to Mr. Vincent, and so are of no further importance. What we want is some clue that may suggest his possible destination on leaving Greatlarch. Let me see the coat.”

The coat proved to be an ordinary, fairly expensive overcoat,—new, and of good style. There was nothing in the pockets but a handkerchief, also new, and unmarked, a pair of new gloves, that had not even been tried on, and, in a small pocket, evidently meant for the purpose, less than a dollar in silver, doubtless to be handy for car-fare or tips.

“All just as we found it,” Brewster told him, and Stone looked regretfully at the gloves.

“What can anybody learn from new gloves?” he said, dejectedly, “except the size of his hands and the type of his haberdashery, which is in no way helpful. But why did the man have this entire new outfit merely to come up here on a business errand? The fact that all his things are so very new is a peculiar circumstance in itself.”

“Here’s his umbrella,” Brewster said; “this isn’t so new. You see it has his monogram on the handle.”

“A monogrammed umbrella is an unusual thing for any one,” Stone said.

“Probably given him by his Sunday-school class,” Fibsy put in.

“More likely by a rich maiden aunt,” Brown suggested. “Makers of synthetic rubies are not apt to be of a religious tendency. However, it’s a fine umbrella.”

It was, and Stone examined it closely. Of thick, rich black silk, it had a silver-mounted handle, which showed an H and a J intertwined in an elaborate monogram.

The ribs were of the best, and aside from the maker’s name, there seemed no other details to note.

“Observe the monogram, McGuire,” Stone said, quietly, passing it to the boy.

Gravely, Fibsy scrutinized the chased letters, and his round, freckled face drew itself into a frown of perplexity.

A quick glance at Stone showed him that there was something to be learned from the monogram, but, for once, Terence McGuire was dense or ignorant.

“I can’t see it, F. Stone,” he said, in a chagrined tone. “What is it?”

“Oh, nothing. Just get the monogram fixed in your mind,—carry away a mental picture of it.”

So Fibsy looked hard at the deeply engraved H and the long, slender J that ran down through the middle of it, after the manner of monograms, and then declared he knew it so well he could draw it in the dark, with his eyes shut and both hands tied behind him.

“What about the monogram, Mr. Stone?” Brewster asked, but Stone only shook his head, saying: “perhaps nothing, perhaps a signboard pointing to the truth. As soon as I find out which, I’ll tell you. At any rate the umbrella, though well preserved and cared for, is not a brand-new one. Where’s his bag?”

The kitbag was brought, but if the audience expected any sensational deductions by Fleming Stone, they were disappointed. He ran over carelessly the few black rubber-backed brushes and the few new, unmarked pieces of underwear. He glanced at the necktie and handkerchiefs. All new, and all of fairly good quality, without being elaborate or expensive.

The atomizer interested him rather more.

“Isn’t there a bottle of lotion to go with this?” he asked.

“That’s what we wondered,” said Brown, eagerly, glad to have his thoughts coincide with those of the great detective.

“There’s almost nothing in it,” Stone went on, “and from the odor I gather it’s an antiseptic preparation,—doubtless for some catarrhal affection. Where’s the vial? There must be one, and it may have a chemist’s name on it.”

“There isn’t any bottle, Mr. Stone, and there was none in his room or his bathroom. He must have forgotten to bring it.”

“He forgot to bring anything indicative of his identity!” Stone said. “For a man on a short business trip, he had fewer personal articles of property than any one I ever saw! It would almost seem as if he were desirous of hiding his identity.”

“Yet there’s no rhyme or reason to that,” put in Brewster, “he sent his name in to Mr. Vincent, and his umbrella bears witness that it was his real name.”

“Who brought him up from the station to Mr. Vincent’s house?” asked Stone, suddenly.

“Prout, the taxi driver,” Brown said. “The Vincent butler told me so.”

“Has Prout been interviewed?”

“Yes, Mr. Stone, I questioned him myself,” Brewster stated; “he said nothing of interest. Merely described the man as we’ve already had his description, said he came up on the New York train—”

“That’s a New York timetable in his bag,” Brown interposed. “And it is the only scrap of paper he seemed to possess.”

“He took his money and papers with him,” Stone said; “but can I see this Prout for myself, Mr. Brewster?”

“Oh, yes, I’ll send for him at once.”

And when Prout arrived, he gave, practically, the same description of the brunette Johnson, that Stone had already heard.

“Tell me of his manner,” Stone said; “was he business-like?”

“Oh, Lord, yes. Spry and sort of up-and-coming, he was. Wanted to know a lot about Mr. Vincent, he did.”

“He had never seen him before?”

“Well, they say he hadn’t, and I dunno’s he had,—no, sir, I dunno’s he had. But he did ask me right first-off if Mr. Vincent’s leg had healed yet.”

“I noticed Mr. Vincent limped a little,” Stone said, “what’s the trouble?”

“He broke his leg some few years ago, sir, and they’ve never been quite the same length since. Jest a mite of a limp,—as you could see. But this man musta known that, ‘cause he asked me right outen a clear sky, did Mr. Vincent’s leg get well. So, I says to myself, he’s an old friend. Well, sir, then he asked me was Mr. Vincent married! Ho, ho,—to think of Homer Vincent bein’ married! Why there ain’t an unlikelier marryin’ man on the footstool than Homer Vincent! That there ain’t!”

“But Johnson could scarcely be an old friend without knowing that,” Stone observed.

“That’s jest it! And yet, he knew of Mr. Vincent’s brother and his sister and his niece.”

“You’re sure? He didn’t gather the facts of these relationships from something you said?”

“No, he didn’t. For I said somethin’ about Miss Vincent and he said did I mean Miss Rosemary.”

“Then he knew of the niece. What else did he say?”

“Not much else. Oh, yep, I spoke of Mr. Vincent as the old man,—not meanin’ no disrespect, but jest in a manner o’ speakin’, an’ he says, sharp like. ‘Why do you call him an old man?’ an’ I says. ‘Thasso, he can’t be more’n fifty.’ An’ he can’t neither.”

“This is all interesting, Mr. Prout, but it only proves that Mr. Johnson knew some things about Mr. Homer, which he might easily have learned from hearsay. There’s nothing, so far, to indicate that they had ever met before.”

“I dessay that’s so,—an’ yet, somehow, he gimme the impression that he had seen the man. Maybe he hadn’t, though,—maybe he hadn’t.”

“Mr. Vincent said he was an entire stranger,” Brewster stated; “I see no reason to doubt his word.”

“Me nuther,” said Prout. “An’ when I told Mr. Johnson that Mr. Vincent was an inventor, he was surprised and interested.”

“He would be,” said Stone, “because of his interest in the manufacture of his rubies. But I didn’t know Homer Vincent was an inventor.”

“Oh, he just putters about, making up odd tricks,” Brown said, smiling. “He isn’t an inventor by way of patenting things, or manufacturing them.”

“What line do his inventions take?” Stone inquired.

“Mostly electrical,” Brewster informed him. “Little contraptions to make bells ring in his house where he wants them. Speaking-tubes from his rooms to the servants’ quarters. I’ve seen them in use. They’re a little more elaborate and ingenious than other folks have. And they say he rigs them up himself.”

“Well, Mr. Prout,” Stone addressed him, “I think you have given me about all the information you can, and I thank you. Now, one more question. Merely as an observer of human nature, would you say that your fare that day was a man bent on a sinister errand, I mean on an errand of evil intent,—or merely on a matter of business?”

Prout considered.

“Well, sir,” he said, at last, “it’s sorter hard to tell. But, while I wouldn’t wanta say that Mr. Johnson was on any such devilish errand as he carried out before he left, yet I will say that he had a more personal interest in Mr. Vincent and his home and his family than I’d expect from a man comin’ on a plain matter o’ business. He was sorta excited an’ eager-like,—more’n you’d expect from a agent for a jewelry house.”

“I see,—he anticipated some pleasure or profit from his visit beside the business proposition he was to make.”

“That’s it, sir. And without meanin’ to do more’n I oughter in the way o’ deducin’—or whatever you call it,—I might make a guess that he was a bit interested in Miss Rosemary.”

Fleming Stone’s heart gave a sudden thump. Bryce Collins had told him that Mr. Vincent had hinted that the murderer might be some of the girl’s disreputable kinsfolk,—on her mother’s side. Suppose this were true!

“Why did you think that?” he asked, sharply.

“Oh, come now, I didn’t exactly think it,—only just the way he said Miss Rosemary’s name, made me think he might be sweet on her.”

“Oh, that!” Stone was relieved. “But how could he know the girl, when he didn’t know her uncle?”

“I don’t say he did know her—only, I sorta imagined he sounded interested in her.”

“Probably it was imagination,” and Stone declared the whole interview, at an end.

As he and Fibsy left the place, the detective proposed that Prout drive them out to the Vincent home, and as they went the trio chatted casually of the whole matter. But no detail of importance could Stone gain further, and when they reached their destination, he discarded the idea of the taxi driver as a source of information.

Before entering the house, Stone took a short walk round the grounds.

He found the place where, as he had been told, the cigarette-holder had been picked up.

It was perhaps twenty-five or thirty feet from the broken stone fence that marked off the dark glade known as Spooky Hollow.

“Don’t wonder at the name? Do you?” Fibsy said, shuddering at the dark and dense gloom of the tangled underbrush in the thicket.

“No, it’s an eerie place,” and Stone gazed thoughtfully into its depths. “I don’t want to get all messed up, but I wish, Terence, you’d go in there some time, and see just what’s inside. Probably nothing at all, and yet, you might get a pointer.”

“All right, F. S., I’ll tend to that same errand soon’s I can. Or shall I go right now, immejit?”

“No, tomorrow will do. Wear your oldest clothes.”

“Yes, sir. What’m I to look for?”

“I can’t think of anything,” Stone smiled. “But it seems a place to be explored, that’s all. A place called Spooky Hollow is suggestive of spooks, isn’t it? You might find a few.”

“ ‘Tis the same as done, sir,” and Fibsy nodded his red shock in a promissory way.

In the house they found Bryce Collins and Rosemary, in what seemed to be a desperate controversy.

The girl’s lovely face was tear-stained and her lips quivered, as she greeted Stone.

Fibsy’s tender heart was torn, for beauty in distress was one thing he could not bear to see. At heart the boy was a squire of dames, and his first sight of Rosemary had enlisted his whole-hearted sympathy in her cause.

“We’ve been looking at Spooky Hollow,” said Stone, by way of a casual remark to dispel the awkwardness of the scene.

Rosemary controlled her voice and responded, “It’s a shame to use that name for such a lovely place, don’t you think so?”

“I do,” Stone agreed, “unless there are really spooks out there. In that case, it’s appropriate. Are there, Miss Vincent?”

“I’ve never seen any,” she gave a half smile and then her face turned very serious. “But I have heard the Wild Harp, Mr. Stone,—how do you explain that?”

“Tell me of it,—describe it exactly, will you?”

“Why, there’s little to tell—it’s just a wave of faint music that sounds now and then.”

“Like an Šolian harp?”

“No—not exactly. It’s more like—well, I may as well say that it sounds more like ghostly music than anything else I can think of.”

“How do you know how ghostly music sounds?” and Stone smiled at her.

“Why, I don’t—of course,—but it’s so faint and sweet and—”

“Is there an air—a tune?”

“No, not a definite tune—more like a wailing strain, that has no beginning or end.”

“And that makes it ghostly?”

“Now, you’re laughing at me, Mr. Stone,” and Rosemary’s color returned to her cheeks, and she was again her own charming self.

“Indeed, I’m not. And, I’m told that this Harp plays at certain times, in accordance with advices from the spirit world.”

“Oh, not quite that!” Rosemary looked surprised. “But they say when it does sound, it forbodes disaster.”

“And it sounded the night of your aunt’s death?”

“Yes, I heard it myself, between two and three.”

“Will you call your butler, Miss Vincent?” Mellish appeared in answer to a summons, and Fleming Stone turned to him at once.

“Mellish,” he said, “have you ever heard this Wild Harp?”

Though he tried to suppress it, a faint smile came to the face of the butler.

“Well, sir,—I may say I have. But, if you’re thinking seriously as to its being of a supernatural persuasion,—I opine sir, as it isn’t.”

“H’m, and what do you opine causes the music?”

“I’m not free of speech, not free to say, sir,—but ‘tis my notion that those who hear it have the imagination strongly developed.”

“Ah, you think it is a freak of their fancy?”

“Just that, sir.”

“Yes; and now, Mellish, I want to check up on something you said. You know we’re trying every possible way to find Henry Johnson.”

“Yes, sir, I am aware of your endeavors in that direction.”

“Very well. Now, you know he came here to see Mr. Vincent about making rubies?”

“Yes, sir,—that’s no secret, sir.”

“No, it is not. Mr. Vincent told it himself. But the making of rubies is not so common a business but that we ought to be able to trace a man who makes it his calling.”

“Common a business it may not be, but Mr. Johnson is the second man, within a month or so, to come here to see Mr. Vincent about it.”

“Doubtless the same man—”

“Oh, no, sir, the other man was quite different—”

“I mean, probably from the same firm of manufacturers.”

“It may be. The other man’s name was Markham,—or something like that—”

“Never mind that now,” Stone spoke a little impatiently, “what I want to know is about the Wild Harp. But, not now, Mellish, it’s later than I thought. I’ll see you about that tomorrow. You may go now.”

As the butler left the room, Stone said to Bryce Collins, “I suppose, Mr. Collins, I am to make my report of my findings to you?”

“Why, yes, Mr. Stone,—but if you have any developments of importance to tell of, it might be a good idea to ask Mr. Vincent if he wants to hear them. He—well, I don’t want to seem to neglect him.”

“That’s true, call him, if you like.”

Homer Vincent came at the summons. He looked anxious to hear the report and was most courteous and gracious to Stone.

“I haven’t learned very much,” Fleming Stone said, “but I have found out these things. The man who came here the day Miss Vincent died was not named Henry Johnson. His initials were not H. J. He didn’t come to see about synthetic rubies; he didn’t murder Miss Vincent, and he didn’t steal her famous jewel.”

Chapter 16
Fibsy Explores

Rosemary and Bryce Collins looked at the detective in blank amazement. Fibsy sat listening, open-minded and receptive. He knew that if Fleming Stone said the missing man’s name was not Henry Johnson, it wasn’t. But he had no data on which to hazard a guess as to what the right name might be, so he waited.

Homer Vincent, however, showed a decided interest in Stone’s statements.

“Do you know,” he said, “I am not surprised to learn that the man used an assumed name. I suspected it from his little start of surprise when I called him Johnson, now and then. Just as a man would, if he were using the wrong name, and forgot it occasionally. But I don’t understand why you say those are not his initials on the umbrella. Of course, it might be somebody else’s umbrella—”

“No, Mr. Vincent,” Stone said, “it is his umbrella all right. But the initials on it are J. H. and not H. J.”

“Now how in the world do you know that?” Collins exclaimed. “How can you tell?”

“Because the H is a trifle larger. Monograms are invariably made with the initial of the surname larger than the initial of the Christian name, and the H in this case, though nearly the same size as the J, is, in fact, a little larger and more prominent. See for yourself.”

Stone left the room a moment and returned with the umbrella, which he had borrowed from the police and left in the coat room of Greatlarch.

They all scrutinized the engraved letters and were forced to the conclusion that Stone was right.

“This complicates matters,” Vincent said, thoughtfully. “He told me his name was Johnson and that he lived at the Walford, in New York. Perhaps that was also a fictitious address. And you think his errand about the synthetic rubies was also faked, Mr. Stone? Then he came purposely to murder my sister—”

Homer Vincent was staggered by the thoughts that rushed to his mind consequent upon these new disclosures of Stone’s.

“But Mr. Stone says that man didn’t kill Antan!” put in Rosemary. “Do you know who did, Mr. Stone?”

“Not positively,” said Stone. “I shall have to go down to New York and see what I can do—”

“Perhaps he had an accomplice,” suggested Vincent. “I hadn’t thought of that before.”

“No, I hadn’t, either,” Stone said. “Perhaps he had. At any rate, I will go down to New York tomorrow, and I will ask you all to say nothing to any one of my findings. I speak confidentially to you here, because Mr. Collins is my employer, and Mr. Vincent and Miss Rosemary are the ones chiefly interested in avenging the murder.”

“Aside from the identity of the murderer, Mr. Stone, how do you explain the locked door?”

“That’s hard to explain, Mr. Vincent. The doctors state the murder was committed not more than an hour or so before the body was discovered. That makes it about seven o’clock or after. But I have talked with the little maid, Francine. and she vows no one was in or near Miss Vincent’s room after six, that morning. She says her room is next to that her mistress occupied and that she was awake from six o’clock on. She declares no intruder could have made his way in without her hearing him.”

“Then,” Vincent spoke seriously, “then do you still discard my suggestion of possible supernatural forces, Mr. Stone?”

“I most certainly do, Mr. Vincent. Had the lady been killed by shock or fright, there might be a reason to consider an apparition or a phantom visitant, but not even a spook from Spooky Hollow could stab its victim to the heart with a real dagger.”

“Of course not,” and Homer Vincent sighed and shook his head.

“Go on, then,” he continued. “Now that you have a definite proposition to work on and a hope of discovering the criminal, I renew my offer of funds for the enterprise. Go to New York, Mr. Stone, use every endeavor to find out the real name of the man who called himself Johnson, and send all your bills to me.”

“Thank you, Mr. Vincent,” Bryce Collins said, gratefully. “You take a load off my shoulders! I’m willing enough to stand all the expense, but I haven’t your resources, and mine are running low.”

“That’s all right, Bryce,—the thing must be pushed through. And since Mr. Stone seems sanguine, I can only hope his quest will succeed.”

And then, with a murmured word of excuse, Vincent left the room.

“He’s often like that,” Rosemary said, looking affectionately after him. “He gets weary and sad at this continual discussion of Antan’s murder. Now, he’ll go and play the organ.”

Which is just what Vincent did. Soon, they could hear muted strains of soft music rolling through the house.

“Yes, he’s sad,” Rosemary reiterated, as she listened a moment to the chords. “Not worried or revengeful, so much as deeply sorrowful. I can always tell by what he plays.”

Fibsy, always interested in an unfamiliar phase of human behavior, went softly out into the marble vestibule that led to the organ room.

Stepping up into the balcony that overlooked the great church-like room, the boy listened to the music Homer Vincent produced.

Without musical education Fibsy had a natural appreciation of harmony, and as he raptly listened he felt almost as if he could read what was in the mind of the player. At least, he sensed the tragedy that filled the soul of the man at the keyboard, and realized in part, at any rate, what he suffered.

Fleming Stone, alone with the two young lovers, was so gentle, so sympathetic, that before they knew it they were pouring out to him all the details of the other tragedy of Rosemary’s birth.

“It must be looked into,” Stone said, with decision. “I’m sure, Miss Vincent, you would rather know the worst, than to live in ignorance of the truth.”

“Yes,” but the girl hesitated. “I’m not sure. Suppose my mother was—”

“Don’t look at it like that. Your own refinement and good taste point to an ancestry of the right sort of people. Don’t let yourself think otherwise.”

But this speech was not entirely sincere. Stone, always sympathetic in sorrow, merely said what he could to comfort the girl at the moment. After the murder business was settled, he proposed to take up the matter of Rosemary’s parentage. But he could not attend to both at once and he hated to have her grieve unnecessarily.

“And your uncle is right, to a degree,” he said, after she and Collins had told the details of Vincent’s restrictions. “I don’t know him as well as you do, but I can see he is a high-minded gentleman with a right appreciation of his family responsibilities. Also, I see how dependent he is for happiness on the creature comforts of life. A door left open or slammed shut, a delayed answer to his summons, an intrusion on his hours of privacy,—any such things would, I am sure, annoy him to distraction, when another type of man wouldn’t even notice them.”

“That’s just exactly Uncle Homer!” Rosemary cried. “You read him perfectly!”

“And I can read you too, my dear,” Stone smiled at her. “You love life and young society and parties and attentions from the young men. You’d love to entertain lavishly in this beautiful home,—to fill these great rooms with gay and merry guests, to have all sorts of wonderful clothes and jewels,—come, now, wouldn’t you?”

“Yes, indeed!” and Rosemary flushed with pleasure at his mere suggestion of such delights. “But I know I oughtn’t to think of such things and I ought to be deeply grateful to Uncle Homer because he lets me stay here.”

“That is true, Rosemary.” Stone spoke very gravely. “It might well have been his way to ask you to live elsewhere. And since he offers you a home here with stipulations, you should obey him, however unpleasant to you his restrictions are.”

“I know it,” but the girl’s lip quivered a little and her golden-brown eyes filled with tears at thought of her stained name as well as her uncongenial life.

“You’re sure your uncle has no further knowledge of your mother than he has told you?” Stone inquired. “He’s not the sort of man to conceal some fact that he thinks might make you even more sad than you are now?”

“No, I don’t think so,—do you, Bryce?”

“No, sir, I don’t. Mr. Vincent has been frank and outspoken in all of our discussions of the subject. I feel grateful to him, as Rosemary does, but I think he might allow her a little more freedom. However, as soon as I can persuade her to consent, I mean to marry her, and take her far away from all people who know her at all. We shall start a new life for ourselves—”

“No, we will not!” Rosemary said, decidedly. “I shall never marry anybody. An illegitimate child has no right to marry.”

“Tell me again,” Stone said to her, “of your homecoming that night. You saw no sign of a guest in the house?”

“No, but that is not strange. I didn’t look in the general coat room, of course, and he had left none of his belongings anywhere else.”

“You went around first, and peeped in at your uncle’s window. Why did you do that?”

“Partly to see if he was likely to hear me come in—it was late—and partly because I saw from the driveway a very bright light in that room. An unusually bright light, so that I thought the room was afire.”

“What caused it?”

“Oh, only that uncle’s open fire chanced to be blazing brightly. Then I saw him, and saw he was so engrossed in his papers and letters that I could take the chance of slipping in unobserved, and I did.”

“And you saw him putting away something glittering?”

“Yes, that was the key of the wine cellar. I suppose that he had Mellish get out some special wine for his visitor.”

“Well, my child, I will do all I can for you later on, but now the case of your aunt will demand all my attention. I want a little talk with your uncle before I go, but perhaps we’d better not call him from the organ. I also want to talk with the maid who assisted your butler in serving at the table the night Mr. Johnson was here. Will you call her, please, and leave us together?”

The waitress, Katie, was summoned; and, a trifle shy, she came in and stood before the detective.

“Sit down, Katie,” he said, kindly. “Now, I’m not going to ask you anything of great importance, just try to remember anything Mr. Johnson may have said at the table that night. Anything at all. I don’t suppose you pay much attention to the talk of the guests as you wait on them, but you may recollect something he said—try now.”

“I don’t remember a thing,” the girl declared, and she was so positive, Stone wondered at first if some one had forbidden her to speak.

But he discarded that idea when Katie, under the influence of his encouraging smiles, began to recollect a stray word or two.

“He said the house was pretty—” she vouchsafed at last, with a timid air.

“Yes,” Stone egged her on. “And did he say anything about his own home—where he lived?”

“Oh, yes,—he said he came from New York,—but I don’t think he lived there, because he said, ‘what fine hotels there are in New York.’ ”

“To be sure. And maybe he mentioned the one he was staying at—”

“Yes, he did that! He said he left his trunk at the Vandermore, and that was why he didn’t have any evening clothes to wear here. He said he didn’t expect to stay here overnight—but he was glad he did because he liked the house so much.”

“Just crazy over the house, wasn’t he?”

“Oh, he was, sir. And he said, if he ever had a voice in the matter he’d cut out a lot of trees,—he thought there were too many.”

“H’m, did he expect to buy the house?”

“Oh, no, sir, he was just joking,—you could tell that.”

“Of course. Anything else?”

“No, sir, but one time I heard him mention Miss Rosemary’s name.”

“As if he knew her?”

“No, sir, more as if he wanted Mr. Vincent or Miss Vincent to tell him something about her. More as if he had heard of her—”

“I see. Most natural, I’m sure. Well, Katie, you gathered he had never been here before?”

“Oh, no sir, I’m sure he hadn’t.”

“Well, run along,—Katie. If you think of anything more you heard the gentleman say, you can let me know. Tell Mellish to bring you to me, in such a case.”

“Yes, sir,—thank you, sir.”

With a shy little curtsey, Katie went away, and Stone went in search of the master of the house.

The organ music had stopped so Stone was not surprised to find Vincent in his Tower room.

The detective was really as much impressed and interested as the mysterious Johnson in the architecture and decoration of the house, but he felt he had no time to waste in idle enjoyment of its beauties.

“Wonderful place,” he said to his host, as he entered, after a knock at the closed door. “You found many secret hiding-places or sliding panels, perhaps?”

“Several,” Vincent told him. “Not so very secret, though. See, the one in this room opens by merely pressing this knob. And the knob is not hard to discern if any one looks closely for it.”

“That’s true,” and Stone watched as Vincent turned the little knob and the panel slid smoothly and noiselessly back.

It exposed a recess with two or three shelves,—merely a concealed cupboard, large enough to contain half a dozen good-sized boxes which evidently held papers of value.

“This is my safe-deposit vault, Mr. Stone,” Vincent said, smiling. “I have no other. I’m a man of simple habits, and all my papers or documents of any importance are in here. They are of no value to any one but myself—I mean they are of no money value. My stocks and bonds are at my banker’s. But here I keep my will, my deeds to this house, and my private correspondence.”

“And the papers regarding Miss Rosemary’s parentage,” Stone said. “May I see those?”

“Certainly,” and Vincent gave him the large bundles of his brother’s letters.

“It is a distressing subject,” Vincent said. “I have always known that Rosemary was Carl’s adopted daughter, but I did not know, until young Collins learned it in France, that she is also his illegitimate child. I feel that I have my share of sorrow, Mr. Stone.”

“You surely have, Mr. Vincent, and I realize the shock it was to you to learn this truth about your brother, just after the awful tragedy of your sister’s death.”

“Yes. And that is one reason why I cannot consent to have guests and laughter and gayety about my home. Rosemary is not without sensibilities, not without appreciation of the depth of my sorrow, but she is young and she is of an exceptionally volatile, light-hearted disposition. And, though, of course, she does not wish entertainment and frivolities now, yet she does want the companionship of her young friends, and I confess their very presence wears on my nerves so that I have to beg her to refrain from asking them here. You may not understand it, Mr. Stone, but I am a peculiar man, and the life of a hermit best suits my tastes and inclinations.”

“I do understand, Mr. Vincent, and I see clearly that you could not live with any degree of peace and contentment with young visitors about.”

“And if Rosemary were my own niece,—I mean a legitimate Vincent, the case would be different. But as things are, I feel that I am not overstepping my rights to insist on conducting my household as I wish.”

“You certainly are not. I feel deeply sorry for you and your niece both. I could wish you had never learned the truth of her parentage.”

“I heartily wish that, too, but in a way it brings her nearer to me to know that she was Carl’s daughter, even though born out of wedlock.”

“It is a hard case, any way you look at it,” and then Stone went back to his quarters at the inn.

Late that afternoon, Fibsy told of his investigation of the jungle known as Spooky Hollow.

“Gee! it’s some place!” he exclaimed. “I’m glad I put on my old clothes, for I got well muddied up!”

“What did you find?”

“Mud, muck, and morass,” returned the boy, succinctly.

“Do you know what morass means?” Stone asked, smiling.

“You bet I do. I lived near one at home, when I was a kid. It’s a sort of swamp that’s mighty hard to walk on, and if it’s morassy enough it sucks you down in, and you’re a goner! That’s what a morass is.”

“Did you see any reason to think Mr. Johnson might have been sucked in?” Stone spoke seriously.

“No, F. S., no reason to think so. Of course, he mighta done so,—but I can’t see it. Why, even if he went strolling about the grounds and got stuck in the swamp, even got sucked in and sank down outa sight,—why, of course that would have been in the evening like,—and if he had done that, he couldn’t have killed the lady. It’s unpossible he could have done any strolling about after he killed her,—’long about seven o’clock in the morning. After that murder he had all he could do to hasten off to hide himself. And, anyway, I don’t know’s the morass is as bad as that. I tested it,—I took off my coat—it was my old one,—and I wrapped up a big stone in it. Then I flung it out into the softest-looking spot.”

“What happened?”

“It went down,—it was sucked in. But that was, after all, only a small bundle compared to a whole man. And, too, if he had found himself sinking, in a place like that, he’d a set up a yell, wouldn’t he? And somebody’d heard him, wouldn’t they? No, I can’t connect up friend Johnson’s disappearance with that quagmirey place. I don’t say a man couldn’t sink there, but I say there’s no theory of the crime that would take him out there after the lady was dead.”

“That’s perfectly true. And even if he strolled round the grounds late that night, it must have been before midnight, or the watchman would have seen him. And, too, I can imagine his strolling in the gardens, but late at night a man doesn’t venture into such a messy place as you make out Spooky Hollow to be. See any spooks there?”

“Not a sign of one. It isn’t such a bad place, you know. Except for a few mucky holes, it’s fairly good going, and the tangle of vines and low evergreens is wild and weird in the extreme.”

Stone suppressed a smile at the boy’s diction, for he knew he was trying to improve his English, and if occasionally he erred on the side of stilted speech, it was wiser not to notice it.

“You heard the Wild Harp?”

“No, sir, I didn’t, though I listened out for it. Also, I looked good for wires,—for I’ve been thinking it might be some rigged-up contraption. But nary sign of wires or Šolian harp strings or anything but trees and shrubs and scrubs and general rank undergrowth.”

“Well, McGuire, how do you size up the whole thing?”

Fibsy was flattered,—doubly so, at being called by his surname, and by having his opinion seriously asked.

He considered before speaking and then said:

“It’s no use, F. Stone,—I can’t size it up at all. It’s too many for me. I’ve sometimes had glimmerings of wit about deducing things, but this time, I’m up a stump for fair. But of one thing I am sure. That there wild and wicked harp must play, for so many people have heard it. From His Nibs and Miss Rosy Posy, down to the lowest and littlest of the servant-girls, most of them have heard it at one time or another.

“Except old Mellish. He vows he never has, and there’s a twinkle in his eye whenever he speaks of it. So, leave that Harp to me. I’m going to find out about it,—and, oh, gee! what a dunderhead I am! Why I’ve got it now! I see through the Wild Harp! Well, I am a dumb-bell, that’s what I am!”

“Suppose you stop your careful estimation of yourself and tell me your astounding discovery.”

“Not just yet,—oh, give me a chance to make sure. But I’ll tell you this, F. Stone, that harp is played by human fingers, and those same fingers are on the mitt of that dough-faced butler! That’s who’s responsible for them wailings and goings-on of that phantom harp! Phantom, indeed! If Mellish is a phantom!”

“So you think he manipulates the Harp. What for, may I ask?”

“Well,” Fibsy was very serious, “I should say as he rigged it up at first to tease his wife. She’s a scary sort of thing, and terribly afraid of ghosts. And having Spooky Hollow ready-made for him as you may say, I take it he just fixed up the harp arrangement for fun.”

“And after Miss Vincent’s death, you think he kept on with his joke?”

“I can’t see any other way out. Some people have a perverted sense of humor, sir, and he may have thought it added to the dramatic side of things to have the harp wailing and moaning out there.”

“Just how did he work it?”

“That’s what I’m going to figger out. I can do it, I know.”

“Well, go to it, Fibs. Now, I’m leaving for New York to-night, and I want you to stand by till I return. Don’t do anything definite, but keep your eyes and ears open and learn anything you can.”

“Yes, sir, and I’ll get next to the Harp player, and mark my word, it’ll turn out to be Mellish.”

“Very well, look into it, if you like. But I can’t feel that the Harp-playing, whether Mellish’s work or not, has any real bearing on the case. Here’s an address that will always reach me,—I may have to go further than New York. Go over to Greatlarch now and then, to keep in touch with what they are all doing. Otherwise, just hold the fort till I get back.”

“Yes, Mr. Stone, but for the land’s sake, do write me or wire me if you get on to anything. For I’m burning alive with curiosity.”

“So am I, Fibsy,” said Stone.

Chapter 17
Finch’s Story

The first thing Fleming Stone did, on reaching New York, was to visit the two jewelers whose addresses were on the cards given him by Homer Vincent.

As he had expected, they both denied all knowledge of any one named Henry Johnson, and declared he must have been an impostor.

Both, also, referred to a man named Markheim, who had a secret process for manufacturing what are known as synthetic rubies. This man, they said, was an honest and honorable person, who made no claim for his goods beyond just what they were. He wanted to make imitation rubies and sell them for imitation rubies,—that was all.

At Stone’s request they willingly gave him Markheim’s address, and the detective went at once to see him.

He found the inventor a quiet, reserved, almost sullen sort of a man, but he roused to a real pitch of fury, when Stone told him of Henry Johnson’s errand to Greatlarch in the interests of ruby manufacturing.

“What does he mean?” Markheim cried out. “He cannot make rubies! Has he my knowledge? Has he my secret? Why, sir, he is a terrible impostor!”

“But other men than you may have a formula,—may have invented a process—”

“Nevertheless, he is an impostor. The fact that he used those two jewelers’ names, proves that! Those men gave me their cards as references out of their good will and confidence in my honesty. That’s all they vouched for,—my honesty and good faith. I told Mr. Vincent that.”

“Did you see Miss Vincent?”

“No. I saw no lady there,—only Mr. Homer Vincent, the owner of that great and wonderful house,—Greatlarch, the place is called.”

“Yes,—now, we must admit there’s a queer proposition here. How did this Mr. Johnson get hold of those two cards—”

“But any one can get jewelers’ cards! Pick them up from the counter, or—”

“But is it not strange that he selected the very two that you used?”

“It is a coincidence, to be sure,—but they are first-class and representative firms,—it could be he would choose those—yet,—yes, it is strange. Still, it is so. He gave the names to Mr. Vincent—”

“How did Mr. Vincent treat you, Mr. Markheim? I mean, was he interested in your project?”

“Not at all. He treated me most politely, even courteously, but he would have none of my business. He said his money was all invested in the sort of securities he liked best, and he would not think of making any changes. Moreover, he said he didn’t wish to enter into any business proposition. He said such things wearied him, the financial details bored him, and he far preferred stocks or bonds where there was no responsibility or work involved. But he was very nice about it, and after our chat he invited me to remain for luncheon and I did so. My! what a house! I never saw its like! And the luncheon! It was fine—without being too elaborate or magnificent. I enjoyed myself, I can tell you!”

“You remember the butler?”

“Yes, somewhat. He seemed a character in his way,—but his principal thought,—I may say his life-work, is quite evidently to smooth the path of his master and keep it free of all thorns or obstacles to his comfort”

“You are a good deal of a character-reader. Mellish is just as you describe. Now, how did you size up Mellish’s master?”

“As a first-class fine gentleman. The real thing, you understand. No shoddy or nouveau riche there. A gentleman of the old school, scholarly, refined, musical, and used to the very best of belongings and surroundings.”

“And you saw no ladies at luncheon?”

“No; now that you mention it, I remember Mr. Vincent spoke of a sister and, I think, a niece, who were out for luncheon that day.”

“Yes. Well, Mr. Markheim, I am obliged to you for this interview. Oh, by the way, you left two rubies with Mr. Vincent?”

“No, I did not. I had a few with me, and I showed them to him, but I didn’t leave any with him.”

“You didn’t forget them,—or leave them by mistake?”

“I’m sure I did not. My rubies are of small worth compared to real stones, but also, they have considerable market value, and I certainly did not leave any around carelessly. I left the two cards only. One was a bit soiled—the other quite fresh.”

“H’m. Now, one last question. Do you know any one who could possibly be interested in marketing synthetic rubies, even though he did not himself manufacture them? I don’t mean Henry Johnson,—but, say, some one whose initials are J. H.?”

“No, sir. I don’t know of any one except myself who is interested in such things in my way. My process is my own invention and I have carefully guarded my secret. I suppose there are others on the same quest but I know none by name, nor do I think any one has the idea that I have. And I shall yet succeed. I have a patron who is about ready to finance my work, and I mean to make good.”

“I hope you will, Mr. Markheim, I sincerely do.”

As Fleming Stone went away from the interview, his thoughts ran swiftly over the situation.

“It’s very strange that two men should approach Homer Vincent on the same subject so near together. It’s even more strange that they gave the same two references,—that they both gave the jewelers’ cards. Why didn’t one of them merely give the firms’ names? But perhaps he did. Perhaps Johnson only mentioned them as well-known jewelers, and Vincent, having their cards, gave them up as memoranda. At any rate, Markheim is an honest man,—and, so far as I can see now, Johnson is a fraud. Yet maybe he only wanted to conceal his real name until he learned if Mr. Vincent would put his money in the business. Of course, these inventors with secrets keep mighty close about their affairs. But I still suspect Johnson—as he called himself—of double dealing somehow, and I must track him down. Guess I’ll try the Vandermore next.”

The room clerk at the big hotel was not anxious to help in the search for an unknown name with initials J. H., but impressed by the hint of a police investigation, he turned over to Stone the lists of names for the dates he mentioned.

Allowing that the man had registered a few days before he went up to Vermont, Fleming Stone set resolutely to work and found no less than six names during those days whose initials were J. H.

But running down those names was fairly easy, though tedious, and a few hours’ time showed him that two were respectable citizens of Boston, one was a visiting Englishman and one a San Francisco millionaire.

This left him with a James Harrison, of Mobile, Alabama, and a John Haydock, of Chicago.

A hasty telegram discovered Mr. Harrison to be a clergyman attending a convention, and Stone was left with only one more chance for success in his search.

Following a sudden flash of inspiration, he went to the Bureau of Missing Persons.

To be sure, Haydock, if he were the man, need not be missing from his own home,—but then again, he might.

The officials at the Bureau were most kind and helpful, and after a look at some out-of-town records, told Stone that John Haydock was a Chicago broker, was mysteriously missing, and the police had been searching for him several weeks with no iota of success.

“There’s my man!” Stone cried, “now, where is he?”

But he said this only to his inner consciousness, not yet ready to let the New York or Chicago police in on the job; He had his own interests in the case to look out for, and as it was a most unusual and peculiar case, he concluded to carry it a little farther by himself.

Getting all possible details of Haydock, Stone made for a long-distance telephone and called the office of John Haydock, in Chicago.

At last he was in touch with one Robert Finch, who said he was the chief and confidential clerk of John Haydock and was eager for news of him.

“Will you come to New York?” Stone asked, “or must I go out to Chicago?”

“I’ll come right over,” Finch promised. “I’m sure it’s the better plan. My, I’m excited at even hearing some word of Mr. Haydock! I can hardly wait to reach you,—but I realize you can’t say much over the telephone.”

But Stone was not so elated as the Chicago man was. It was a hundred to one that John Haydock should be the man he was after. Finch had said Haydock was a broker and had no interest in jewels or precious stones.

But Haydock’s interest might have been a secret one. Stone began to think now, that Haydock was not the ruby manufacturer, but merely the representative of an inventor. In this case, the broker would, naturally, keep the matter secret even from his confidential clerk.

At any rate, Fleming Stone determined to try very hard to connect the missing Chicago man with the H. J. of the umbrella.

Too impatient to wait for Finch’s word on that subject, Stone went to the haberdashery where the umbrella had been bought.

They could not trace the purchaser, as Stone had not the umbrella with him, but they declared the monogram had not been put on by them.

Also, as Stone described and drew a rough sketch of the letters they entirely agreed with him that the order of the two letters was J. H. and not H. J.

This satisfied Stone that the caller at Greatlarch used a fictitious name, whatever else his claims to honesty might be.

“And a clever duck, too,” Stone mused; “used a name with the letters the other way, so his umbrella would seem to be marked right. Shows an ingenious mind,—and so, probably a crook mind. The fact that he’s a well-known Chicago broker, is no real guarantee of his honesty and integrity. And I’ve checked up some of those rash statements I made to Mr. Vincent and young Collins. Let me see; I said the man who called was not Henry Johnson, his initials were not H. J., and his business was not about making synthetic rubies.

“I think that’s all right, so far. But I said, further, that he didn’t murder Miss Anne, nor steal her ruby. Some work to prove that! Guess I’ll await the Finch person and see where he lands me up.”

But his waiting hours were fraught with wild and hazy conjectures.

Where had John Haydock hidden himself? Why had he gone to Greatlarch on a secret errand? Did his whole ruby proposition merely cloak some other and greater intention? Did he go there with the sole purpose of killing Anne Vincent,—and if so, why?

Again came the idea of his being an old lover of the lady,—perhaps he had sworn to kill her, because of—pshaw! all too melodramatic. Miss Vincent, as he pictured her from all he had heard, was a mild and inoffensive lady, with no dark past,—yet, who could tell as to other people’s dark pasts? And the stranger had known Miss Vincent before,—the man Prout had disclosed that fact. Then, say it was the theft of the ruby that took him there. Ah, that was a little more plausible. Say he knew Miss Vincent of old, say he knew of the great ruby, and so, he went there, using an assumed name, and taking his time to compass his design. Probably he had no intention of murder, but that was necessary to save his own skin.

Stone had said that the man who called himself Johnson didn’t commit the murder or steal the ruby,—but—the detective had learned a few things since then.

The next day Finch came. Stone had rooms for them both at the Vandermore, and as soon as the young man could get freshened up and eat some luncheon, they started in on their confab.

“Begin at the beginning,” asked Stone. “Tell me all you know of John Haydock, from your very first acquaintance.”

“It won’t be a very long tale,” Robert Finch replied, as he lighted his cigar. “About three years ago, I chanced to hear, through a friend, that Mr. Haydock wanted a clerk. I applied for the position and got it. I tried my best to make good and did. He advanced my salary several times and looked upon me as his trustworthy and confidential clerk. I gave him my best efforts, and since his disappearance, I have carried on the business just as he always did. It’s largely routine work, or I couldn’t have left the office just now. But I have an excellent and able assistant who will look after things and I felt my duty was here, to find John Haydock if possible. Where is he?”

“I’ve no idea. But we’ll come to that later. Tell me more about the man. Describe him, please. Was he dark?”

“Dark? I should say he was. I never knew a darker white man. But that did not mean he was anything but white in his dealings. As honest as the day, just, rather than generous, and so silent and reserved about his own affairs as to be considered secretive. He never chatted with me. He talked over the necessary business matters, he was pleasant, amiable, courteous,—but never chummy or confidential.”

“All right so far. Now tell me about the day he went away. Where did he say he was going?”

“To New York. Said he had worked hard and had earned a vacation. Said he would be gone maybe a week, but not more. Said I needn’t write unless something of unusual importance turned up, which wasn’t likely, for I know as much about the business as he does.”

“What did he take for luggage?”

“I don’t know. He rarely went off on vacation trips, but when he did he took little luggage. Probably a large suitcase and an ordinary overnight bag.”

“You mean a suitcase too big to cart around much?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. He’d check that somewhere and go around with a kitbag. At least, that’s only my supposition, but it’s probably about right.”

“And you never heard from him after he left you?”

“Not one word.”

“Didn’t that surprise you?”

“For a week or so it didn’t, and after that, you bet it did! Why, I’ve been more and more surprised each day! And surprised isn’t the word! I’m utterly dumfounded, flabbergasted, stunned, shocked, down and out! I don’t know where I am at! And if you can give me a hint or a clue, I’ll follow it to the ends of the earth. Why, quite aside from my business acquaintance with him, I’m fond of the man. As I said, he’s not very friendly in a chummy way, but he’s a strong, staunch, loyal heart, and I’m grieving quite as much as I’m wondering.”

“You have no doubts then of his integrity of soul?”

“Oh, come now, integrity of soul means a lot. I don’t know Mr. Haydock well enough to talk like that about him. But I’ve no doubt of his business honesty or his honorable dealing toward me. After that, I know too little of him to discuss him. Why, you’ve no idea how reticent he was as to himself,—personally, I mean.”

“Where did he come from? Where was he born?”

“I haven’t the slightest idea. It isn’t that I was afraid to ask him of such matters, but we never met outside of business hours and as he was not informatively inclined, it would have been silly for me to pester him with questions.”

“I see. And you’ve no idea whether he lived in Chicago all his life or—”

“Oh, yes, I know that much. He came to live in Chicago about five years ago—”

“From where?”

“Don’t know that, except I have a dim idea it was from the West.”

“Was he like a Westerner?”

“Not specially. He looked more like a foreigner, with his dark hair and sallow skin. But he was one hundred per cent American, as far as I could see.”

“Well, details about him don’t seem to get us anywhere. Did you ever surmise that he had any secrets in his life? Any hobby he was following up, or any love affair?”

“I never heard or saw anything to base any such supposition or surmise on,” Robert Finch replied, slowly.

“You’re holding back something,” Stone said, intuitively.

“No, that’s the exact truth. His only hobby that I can think of was writing in his diary. He rarely did any of it at the office, but the few times he did, he worked at it like a man engrossed in his occupation.”

“Where is his diary?”

“He always kept it locked up—”

“But you know where.”

“If I do, I shall not tell, until I have more reason than I have now to think I shall never see Mr. Haydock again. What sort of a confidential clerk should I be if I gave up his private papers because he went away and stayed a few weeks without writing to me? And, now, Mr. Stone, suppose you tell me what you know, and why you want to find him?”

Robert Finch was a good-looking, earnest-faced young man, of a type to be found by hundreds in the great business offices of our cities. But he was rather above the average in his appearance of sincerity and fealty to his trust. Stone sized him up for a faithful custodian of his employer’s secrets if he knew them, or of his private papers if he had them.

In as few words as possible the detective told Finch the story of the man who went to Greatlarch, and called himself Henry Johnson. He told of the various matters that pointed to this man’s really being John Haydock, and, though at first unwilling to believe it, Finch was finally convinced that it must be true.

“That umbrella!” he exclaimed as Stone described it minutely; “I know it well! I ought to, for I gave it to him myself, more than a year ago, on his birthday. I thought he’d like it,—and I guess he did, only—well, he seemed to think I was a bit presumptuous to do it. He made me feel a little ashamed and I never offered him a present again. However, he often carries it, and I think he likes it”

“Would he use plain black rubber-backed brushes, and only moderately fine underwear?”

“Yes, exactly. He had money enough, and he was not at all parsimonious, but he was—well, I think, frugal is the word. He was always well dressed but not at all extravagant.”

“All the things in his kitbag were brand-new,” Stone vouchsafed.

Finch smiled. “Probably found himself at low tide when he started away. Didn’t like to go to a decent hotel with ragged things in his bag, so he stocked up. Yes, I have to confess it all sounds like Haydock, and as your people mention his dark coloring, I can’t see any reason to doubt that it was he who went to Greatlarch and who introduced himself as Henry Johnson. Why, I cannot imagine.”

“You never heard him speak of any one named Vincent?”

“Never. But I never heard him speak of anybody outside our business lists.”

“What did he do evenings?”

“He lived in a good bachelor apartment, and he went into good society. He was moderate in everything. He went to the theatre and concerts now and then, he went to dinners and all that, but he wasn’t what you’d call a regular society man. I daresay lots of his evenings he spent quietly by himself. But I never asked him, of course, I’m judging only by my general knowledge of him and from such few remarks as he might casually drop while we talked business.”

“Where do you suppose he got hold of this ruby idea?”

“I don’t know. But if somebody put it up to him as a good money-making scheme and if he thought it was, I can imagine his going up there to interest a millionaire—”

“And using a false name?”

“Possibly.”

“And stealing a real ruby and murdering a good lady?”

“No—” Finch spoke cautiously, “I can’t say I imagine his doing that—I can only repeat I don’t know the man, and I can’t say what he would or wouldn’t do.”

“Mellish, the butler,—who, by the way, is no common personality,—says that the man he calls Henry Johnson has the face of a murderer.”

Finch smiled. “Is there such a thing,” he asked, “as the face of a murderer? As I said, Haydock’s face is as dark as a Spaniard’s, but that doesn’t imply a dark heart. I’ve been told a murderer oftenest has a clear bright blue eye.”

“I’ve been told that, too; in fact, I’m ready to say there is no such thing as the typical face of a murderer. And I believe that Mellish founded his suspicion on the fact of this man’s very dark effect.”

“How about suspecting the butler himself of the theft and of the murder? Is he entirely free from suspicion?”

“I think so. There’s no clue or evidence against him. In fact there’s none against anybody but Haydock,—as I shall now call him, for I am convinced of his identity. But it does seem to be a clear case against him. He appears from nowhere, gives a wrong name, offers a business proposition which is clearly a faked one, spends the night, and before dawn disappears. Almost as soon as he is gone, a murdered woman is found, and an enormous gem is missing. He is never seen again and his whereabouts cannot be traced. What’s the answer?”

“It looks black,” conceded Finch. “You know the Chicago police have been hunting him, but of course they never traced him to Vermont.”

“Then that proves he went there secretly. Had he gone with no attempt at concealment, he could easily have been traced. I’m sorry, Mr. Finch, but every detail we learn from one another seems to draw the net still tighter round the man who was your employer.”

“And how do you think he got away? Aside from the locked door,—and I cannot see how he had a mechanical device handy to turn that key from the outside, when he could not have foreseen the exact circumstances that would come to him,—aside from that, how did he get away from Hilldale, on a cold winter night, without hat or coat—”

“Oh, that he might have managed easily,—the getting out of Hilldale, I mean. But I don’t yet understand that locked door. And I do think that the solving of the mystery hangs on that.”

Chapter 18
The Terrible Truth

Robert Finch willingly accepted Stone’s invitation to return to Greatlarch with him. The clerk felt that he must do all in his power to ferret out the mystery of his employer’s disappearance, and surely his way lay in the direction of Hilldale.

On the journey up, Stone had told his companion of Fibsy, his young assistant, so Finch was not surprised to see the red-headed lad waiting for them on the steps of the inn.

“I have some finds,” announced Fibsy. “Have you any, F. Stone?”

“Well, yes, Terence, I think I may say I have,—though I haven’t yet quite made out what they mean.”

After the three were settled down in Stone’s sitting-room, and after Stone had told the boy a general sum-up of what he had learned from Finch and from the jewelers, Fibsy took his turn at recital.

“Well, sir,” he announced, “I found out who plays that Spook Harp, and as I just felt sure, F. Stone, it’s none other than Friend Butler.”

“Mellish!”

“The same. He has a wireless telephone—”

“From the house?”

“Yep, from the house, and, well, I can’t ‘zackly explain it, but it’s this way. He connected a phonograph with a wireless sending set in his workshop, and then he transmits the music to a large horn connected with an amplifier which is concealed in a tree down in that Spooky Hollow.”

“I understand,” Stone said, “you needn’t try to explain the details of the mechanism, Fibs; I see how it is done. But—Mellish never contrived that himself!”

“That’s what I think, F. S. I think His Nibs is at the back of it—”

“Mr. Vincent! Nonsense! More likely that chauffeur, he’s a clever mechanician. However, I’ve felt all along that the Wild Harp had nothing to do with the real mystery or the tragedy; so work on that, Terence, if it amuses you, but if you’ve any news of real importance, let’s have it.”

“Well, sir, I have. I found the bottle that belongs to that atomizer thing.”

“You did! Now that’s something worth while. Let’s see it”

Proudly the boy produced a small vial. It was half full of an antiseptic preparation, and its label bore the address of a Chicago chemist.

“That’s his,” Robert Finch said at once. “That’s Mr. Haydock’s—I’ve often seen him use it in his atomizer, during business days, when his catarrh troubled him. Where did it come from?”

Stone looked at Fibsy.

“Now that’s the queer part,” the boy said. “I burgled Greatlarch, you see—”

“How?” Stone asked.

“I took a chance when Mr. Vincent was playing on his big organ so hard he wouldn’t have noticed the German army if they’d marched through him! Yes, sir, he was just absorbed,—he was what you call it? improverising, yes, that’s it, improverising. And I slipped into his Tower room, it’s never locked, and I investigated that panel. You know he told us himself how to open that panel.”

“Yes, McGuire.”

“Well, sir, I felt sure there was more to it than he told us about. And there was. By pokin’ around good and plenty, I found another little weeny knob and I pressed it, and there was another secret panel,—you know—inside the first one, way at the back part.”

“And this bottle was in there?”

“Oh, Lord, no, sir, that bottle wasn’t in there! I got my yarn mixed up, I’m that excited! No, sir, that bottle was in Mr. Vincent’s own little medicine chest in his bathroom, just a settin’ there.”

“In Mr. Vincent’s chest, then what has it to do with the Johnson man?”

“Well, it’s a bottle of stuff that could belong to that atomizer thing. It’s a Chicago prescription, so maybe it ain’t Mr. Vincent’s, and it was sorta hidden away at the back, so I take it, it was meant to be concealed.”

“McGuire, your zeal has run away with you.” Fleming Stone smiled good-naturedly. “More likely, one of the housemaids saw this on Mr. Johnson’s washstand, and thinking it belonged to Mr. Vincent, she put it in his bathroom.”

“Maybe, sir,” Fibsy’s freckled face fell, “only, Mr. Vincent hasn’t one snipjack of catarrhal trouble,—I asked Mellish,—and the other man had. And there’s the Chicago label.”

“But what are you getting at? You can’t mean that Mr. Vincent concealed this thing, purposely—”

“Well, somebody did. That Chicago bottle, that just fits up with the atomizer, has no right to be in the back part of Mr. Vincent’s medicine chest—”

“That’s so, Fibs,” and Stone looked more thoughtful. “Well, what was in the back part of the inner secret cupboard?”

“Why, in there, sir, there was nothing but a lot of keys and tags and such things.”

“What do you mean by such things?”

“Well, there was a key to what is most likely a safety deposit box,—you know how they look. Then there was the key to the wine closet,—I know, for it was labeled. And a key to the big organ,—a duplicate, I suppose. And an old-fashioned watch- key,—oh, quite a lot of keys, mostly tagged with brass tags or pasteboard labels.”

“Any of definite importance to us?”

“There was, sir. That one, though, wasn’t a key at all.”

“Go on.”

“It was a check,—a metal trunk check, from the Hotel Vandermore.”

“Well, any one can have a check from any hotel, can’t he?”

“Oh, F. Stone, I thought it was a check Johnson had for his trunk, you know, and he brought it up here, and—somehow he—it had got hidden away in there,—and I sent for it—”

“You didn’t! Fibs, you’re crazy! Whom did you send?”

“I sent Prout, the taxi man—”

“Good Lord, child, I’ll never dare go off and leave you again! It’s probably a suitcase with Mr. Vincent’s dress clothes, that he keeps in New York to go to a party now and then. Lots of men do that.”

But Terence McGuire was so evidently on the verge of tears, that Stone tried to cheer him up.

“Never mind, old chap,” he said, “I’ll take the blame. If it’s Mr. Vincent’s property, as it must be, I’ll tell him! sent for it in an overzealous endeavor to find a clue!”

But Fibsy would not be comforted. He felt he had done a crazy, unpardonable act, and Stone knew he would brood over it for a time.

“All right, little chum,” the detective said, “you sit here awhile, and think out some more bright clues to follow up, and I’ll take a run over to Greatlarch.”

Though this speech sounded sarcastic to Finch, it comforted Fibsy, for he knew when his chief jollied him to that extent he was not displeased with him. So he sat thinking, while the other two started off for the Vincent home.

First of all, Stone went for the butler, as that worthy admitted the pair.

“So you’re the Spook that plays the Harp, are you, Mellish?” he said, and though his tone was light, he spoke in earnest.

“Well, yes, sir,—and yet, I may say I see no harm in it”

“No harm, of course, Mellish, but you never rigged up that contraption alone. Who did it for you? The chauffeur?”

“Not he! He hasn’t brains enough to play a jews’-harp. No, sir, I—I just did it by myself—to tease my old woman, you see.”

“And you turn it on and off as you like?”

“Yes, sir,—see, here’s the thing.”

Deeply interested, Stone and Finch followed the butler into a small entry, where, sure enough, was rigged up a rather elaborate bit of mechanism.

“Mellish,” said Stone, sternly, “you never did that yourself in this world! Moreover, only a very ingenious inventor could have done it. And I know who it was. It was Homer Vincent! He’s the man who rigged up the wireless and the phonograph, and he’s the man who makes the records on his organ! Too easy, Mellish,—own up.”

“Well, sir,—I may not be free of speech—”

“I’ve heard you use that phrase before. I know now what you mean by it. You mean you’re not free to tell—”

“Yes, sir, that’s it. My master, he’s a man of strict orders, and I am not allowed to babble, sir.”

“Your master is a strange jumble of talents,” and Finch looked curiously at the wires and strings of the device.

“Mr. Vincent is a man of luxuriant temperament, sir,” and Mellish raised his hand as if to ward off further remarks. “And nothing disturbs him more than to have me chatter. So, if you will excuse me, gentlemen,—” and Mellish simply faded away.

As Stone had supposed, he found Homer Vincent in his Tower room, and unannounced, he led Finch there.

“I know you will be glad to meet this man, Mr. Vincent,” he said, “for he is the confidential clerk of the man we have been calling Henry Johnson, but whose name, as it turns out, is John Haydock.” Vincent looked up interestedly.

“Take seats, gentlemen,” he said, pleasantly, and then acknowledged Stone’s more definite introduction of Robert Finch.

“John Haydock,” he repeated, and it was plain to be seen from his manner that the name meant nothing to him. “And why did your employer, my dear sir, come to me under an assumed name?”

“That’s what I’m here to find out,” returned Finch, not so much bluntly as determinedly. “Suppose, Mr. Vincent, we all put our cards on the table, and see what conclusions we can come to.”

“By all means, Mr. Finch. Only, I may say, I have already put all my cards on the table. If I haven’t, ask any questions you like.”

“I’ll do that, then,” Stone said, quickly. “Why did you not tell us that you were responsible for the music of the Wild Harp?”

Vincent gave a little smile.

“That’s true, Mr. Stone, I haven’t been quite frank about that. But it is a case of in for a penny, in for a pound. I rigged up that thing merely for the amusement and bewilderment of my friends and my servants. There were stories of hauntings and weird sounds and sights in the wild garden they have named Spooky Hollow, and I thought I’d just give them a jolt now and then. And, later, when it began to affect my household and family, I still kept on, to surprise and astound them. Mellish helped me, he turned on the instrument when I ordered him to. And he enjoyed his wife’s thrills at the seemingly supernatural music.

“Then, Mr. Stone, when tragedy came to me, I didn’t feel like revealing the secret of my joking deceit, so I let the matter rest, even using it now and then when I felt inclined, I am a strange man, Mr. Stone, many call me a freak or an eccentric But, really, all I ask is to be let alone, all I wish to do is to enjoy myself in my own way, which never interferes with the doings of any one else. I am perhaps a slave to my creature comforts, I own I like luxurious living and beautiful appointments, but surely those are innocent hobbies if a man can afford them.”

“Entirely so,” Stone said; “now, Mr. Vincent, we are striving to find this Haydock, as we now call him. You never heard of John Haydock?”

“Never, Mr. Stone. Who is he?”

“A Chicago broker. Will you please let me see those cards he brought you?”

“Certainly, here they are.”

Stone scrutinized them and noted that one was considerably soiled, the other comparatively fresh.

Mr. Vincent,” he said, “these cards were given you by Mr. Markheim, who came first to see you about synthetic rubies. Not by Mr. Johnson, as he then called himself.”

“I daresay,” Vincent spoke disinterestedly. “I don’t remember saying that Johnson left the cards here. I only said Johnson gave those references, and I gave the cards to the detectives as a memorandum of the jewelers’ addresses.”

“I see. Now, as John Haydock was not interested in making rubies, so Mr. Finch tells me, and as he gave you a wrong name, do you not think the man’s motive in coming here was something other than ruby making?”

“Good heavens, man, of course I think so. He came here to kill my sister, to steal her ruby, and perhaps to kill me, too! Of course, his ruby story was a blind! Probably in order to induce my sister to exhibit her wonderful jewel.”

“But I think he knew you before he came, Mr. Vincent.”

“Impossible, or he would never have given the wrong name.”

“Perhaps you knew him by both names.”

“I never knew him by either name. He was a total stranger to me. They say he knew of my broken leg, some years since. That he knew of my sister and my niece. These things may all be so, but he never knew me, nor did I know him.”

“Well, here we are!” and a young voice announced the arrival of Fibsy, accompanied by Prout, the taxi man, lugging an enormous suitcase.

They were followed by Rosemary and young Collins, who were anxious to learn the cause of the excitement

Prout set down the suitcase, which bore the initials J. H., and Finch said, at once, “That is Mr, Haydock’s.”

“Aha,” said Fibsy, with a side wink at Stone, knowing full well that if the thing turned out to be of importance, Stone would be the first to praise him.

“It’s locked,” said Stone, “call your butler, please, Mr. Vincent.”

Homer Vincent pressed a button, and Stone dismissed the taxi man, saying he would be paid for his time and trouble later on.

“We don’t want him about,” he said, “this may be of importance as evidence.”

Without asking permission, he ordered Mellish to bring a wrench and hammer, and in a few moments the suitcase was opened.

It appeared to be filled with the ordinary clothing of a plain business man, and nothing of interest was seen until near the bottom they found a small thick book.

“That is Mr. Haydock’s diary,” Finch said. “Give it to me.”

Without a word, Stone handed it over, but he gave a look at Finch that said volumes.

In a moment Finch was absorbed in the contents. “I feel,” he said, “that though this is not meant for other eyes than his own, yet because of the stigma already cast upon him, and his inability to speak for himself, this diary,—some parts of it at least, should be read aloud”

“By all means,” said Homer Vincent, seeming truly interested at last, “let us hear it.”

The portions that Finch read were written during the days just preceding Haydock’s late departure from Chicago for New York.

And to the amazement of everybody, he had gone to New York, and from there to Hilldale, to see Rosemary Vincent!

It transpired that five years ago, at the time of Carl Vincent’s death, Haydock had been Carl Vincent’s clerk. He had seen and admired Rosemary, though she had never specially noticed him. He was eight or ten years older than the girl, but he had never outgrown the infatuation that he felt for her. He determined to work hard and earn a fortune, and when this was accomplished, he proposed to go in search of Rosemary and try to win her for his own.

All this he did, and the diary detailed his journey to New York, his outfitting himself with new clothing, and his departure for Vermont.

He had left the diary in his large suitcase, checked at his hotel, and it was the check for this that Fibsy had found in Homer Vincent’s second secret panel and had sent down to the hotel by Prout.

The advent of John Haydock was explained There was no further doubt about that. For nobody could question the sincerity of those entries in the diary that told of his never-forgotten admiration and his hopes of yet winning sweet Rosemary Vincent.

The tears came to the girl’s eyes as she heard the simple, homely tribute to her charms. She almost wished she could see and thank the man who admired and loved her like that.

Bryce Collins looked stupefied. Who was this man coming to seek his Rosemary? But even these thoughts were quickly supplanted by Fleming Stone’s stern query, “How came the check for this suitcase in your secret cupboard, Mr. Vincent?”

“Bless my soul, I don’t know!” and the man looked utterly bewildered. “I can only suspect some of my servants—or some intruder—”

“The same one that put the Chicago man’s bottle of medicine in your bathroom, maybe,” suggested Fibsy.

“Here’s another reference to your father, Miss Vincent,” Finch said, as he skimmed through the diary.

The item referred to some papers of Carl Vincent’s that Haydock had only recently found. He mentioned coming across an old box, that he had thought contained merely old check-books, but on turning them out, he had discovered underneath a packet of papers which he thought would be of interest to Rosemary and he proposed to take them to her.

“Where are they?” asked the girl, looking wonderingly about.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” her uncle said. “I, too, am interested in anything pertaining to my brother, Rosemary.”

“Yes, Uncle, of course you are. Oh, where do you suppose Mr. Haydock is? Uncle, the man that wrote that diary, never could have killed Antan!”

“It doesn’t seem so, certainly,” said Vincent, seeming nonplussed. “Mr. Stone, here’s a big problem for you now. Can you work it out?”

“I can,” cried Fibsy, “at least, I can help. I can tell you where Mr. Haydock is,—probably.”

The lad looked solemn, and Stone gazed at him curiously. Was he getting greater than his master? This was no feeling of jealousy or rivalry on the part of the older detective. He loved the boy, and took pride in all his successes. But he was afraid, in his eagerness and intrepidity, Fibsy might over-reach himself.

“He’s down in Spooky Hollow,” he said, with such a lugubrious face that they all felt horrified.

“Sure, McGuire?” asked Stone.

“No, sir, I ain’t quite sure,—but I don’t see where else he can be. First off,” he looked round solemnly at his hearers, “there’s a fearful quagmire down in that hollow. It’s about six feet from the east border. And, you remember, that cigarette-holder was found on the east lawn.”

“What’s that got to do with it?” exclaimed Collins.

“Well, now,” Fibsy went on, too earnest to note the interruption, “I tried tying up a stone in my coat, and it sunk in the place. Yesterday after dark, I—” he seemed to hesitate to tell of his deed,—” I bought a whole pig of the butcher, as big a one as I could manage, and I pushed that in. It went down in the quicksand of that swamp in less time than it takes to tell it! The muck is all dark-brown and quivering. The approach to it is slippery and treacherous, but there it is. Now listen here. After Mr. Vincent left that man to go to bed that night where’d he go? He never prowled the house all night long. He went out in the grounds and he—he fell into that place. As he went down, he flung his cigarette-holder as far as he could, as a sort of guide to where he met his death.”

“That’s why he had no hat or coat,” Stone said, musingly. “Probably stepped down off the verandah, not meaning to stay out long.”

“Poor fellow!” said Vincent, “how horrible. I had no idea that pit was as bad as that! I’ve been intending to have it drained and dried; I shall certainly do so. At least, we can avert another such tragedy.

“But, do not avoid the issue, gentlemen. Did not Haydock necessarily come to his death after he had killed my sister?”

“Mr. Vincent,” Stone said, “you know I told you the man who came to see you was not named Johnson, was not initialled H. J., did not come to discuss making rubies, did not kill your sister, and did not steal her ruby. To all of those statements I adhere.”

“You do? Then find the murderer! Find the man who killed my sister! Can you do that?”

“I think I can,” and Stone nodded his head, thoughtfully.

“Listen, please, all of you. This murder of Miss Vincent is in every respect the worst I have ever known—the most fiendishly contrived and the most brutally carried out. The murderer is—Homer Vincent.”

Vincent stared at the speaker, but smiled a little indulgently, as one might at a harmless maniac.

“Then,” Fibsy spoke in an awed whisper, “then he’s a double-dyed dastard, for he murdered John Haydock!”

“What?” cried Finch.

“Yes, he did. Out there beside the quagmire is a piece of planking that has footprints on it. Those are Mr. Vincent’s prints, but Lord, there’s enough else to prove everything!”

“There is indeed,” Stone added, “and here is the motive. After you found the second secret panel, McGuire, I thought there might be a third. There is. The tiniest speck of a pinhead knob, when pressed sideways, opens a third concealed recess, and in it I have found,—first, Miss Vincent’s ruby, now Miss Rosemary’s property, and what is even more valuable to her,—is this.”

He gave her a folded paper, while Homer Vincent sat as if turned to stone.

“You fiend!” he said to Stone, “you devil incarnate!”

“Keep those epithets for yourself,” the detective said, coolly. “Are you going to confess?”

“I am.” Homer Vincent’s voice rang out. “I’m going to tell the truth for the last time in my life. I did kill John Haydock, because he knew the secret of my niece’s birth—knew that she is the legitimate daughter of my brother and his wife, Mary Leslie. They were married twice, really. The first time, secretly, because her mother objected. Her little girl was born and baptized, also secretly, but entirely legally, in France, and put in an asylum there, because Mary’s mother would not have forgiven them had she known of it.

“Later the mother died, and my brother and his wife were married again, publicly. Then, when their baby was born and died, they adopted from the asylum the little Rosemary, who was their own legitimate child. But, when my brother died, five years ago, and left me trustee of Rosemary’s fortune, I was tempted and fell. I took it all myself, bought this splendid house, and have lived here in the luxury I love ever since.

“When Haydock came,—yes, the ruby story I made up entirely myself,—Haydock never spoke to me of rubies,—he talked only of Rosemary’s parentage, so I, remembering the other ruby man, pretended Johnson came on the same business. He told me himself that he sent in his name as Johnson, for fear I would refuse to see Haydock. Lord, I had forgotten him entirely! Well, when he told me that he knew all about Rosemary, and threatened to expose the whole story unless I forced her to marry him, I couldn’t see any way to keep my beautiful home and to save the girl from a loveless marriage except by putting Haydock out of the way.

“It was not difficult. We strolled in the garden, went down to inspect Spooky Hollow, and—I pushed him in. He struggled like fury,—flinging his arms about. You know the more they struggle, the quicker they sink.”

“And your sister?” said Stone, hardly able to overcome his repugnance at speaking to this creature, scarce human he seemed.

“Well,” Vincent looked reminiscent. “I didn’t want to—but she declared she was going to tell the truth about the girl. I couldn’t have that,—can’t you understand”—he spoke almost pettishly—“I couldn’t live elsewhere than in this house,—and of course I couldn’t live here if Rosemary took all her money. I have no money at all. I spent all mine for this place; it is what my brother left that runs the establishment.”

“How did you kill your sister?” asked Stone, his dark eyes fixed inexorably on Vincent’s face.

“That you will never know,” and, with a smile of diabolical cunning, Vincent slipped into his mouth a small object which Stone knew to be a poison tablet.

But it was too late to stop him, and Stone thought pityingly of Rosemary. Perhaps that death for her uncle was easiest for the niece.

And while there was yet life in the body of the wicked man, Stone shouted the truth at him.

“I do know. You stabbed her yourself, after the door was burst open. You gave her extra sleeping drops to be sure of her sleeping late in the morning. When they couldn’t waken her, you broke through the door, rushed in, and bending over the living woman, stabbed her to the heart, and with the protection of her long, heavy bed-curtains, you were able to draw out the knife unseen. The knife you probably threw into the quicksand. Also, you stole her ruby! Am I right?”

And with a smile, still horrible, even demoniacal, the dying man murmured, “You are right” He never spoke again.

At a gesture from Stone, Bryce Collins led Rosemary away.

“Don’t cry so, dearest,” he said, tenderly. “Such a fiend isn’t worth your tears. Come, I will take you at once to my mother—oh, darling, just think, there is no reason, now, why she won’t receive you!”

“Thank God for my birthright,” said the girl, reverently. “And,” she added, looking into his eyes, “for your love, dear heart”

“My beloved,” he whispered, as he held her close, “as you know, I wanted you with any name or no name, but I am glad,—glad, dear, that we can give our children a goodly heritage. Bless you, my Rosemary, my darling.”


 

The Mystery Of The Sycamore

By Carolyn Wells

CONTENTS

Chapter 1. - The Letter that Said Come
Chapter 2. - North Door and South Door
Chapter 3. - One Last Argument
Chapter 4. - The Big Sycamore Tree
Chapter 5. - The Bugle Sounded Taps
Chapter 6. - The Other Heir
Chapter 7. - Inquiries
Chapter 8. - Confession
Chapter 9. - Counter-Confessions
Chapter 10. - The Phantom Bugler
Chapter 11. - Fleming Stone
Chapter 12. - The Garage Fire
Chapter 13. - Sara Wheeler
Chapter 14. - Rachel’s Story
Chapter 15. - The Awful Truth
Chapter 16. - Maida’s Decision
Chapter 17. - Maida and Her Father
Chapter 18. - A Final Confession

Chapter 1
The Letter That Said Come

As the character of a woman may be accurately deduced from her handkerchief, so a man’s mental status is evident from the way he opens his mail.

Curtis Keefe, engaged in this daily performance, slit the envelopes neatly and laid the letters down in three piles. These divisions represented matters known to be of no great interest; matters known to be important; and, third, letters with contents as yet unknown and therefore of problematical value.

The first two piles were, as usual, dispatched quickly, and the real attention of the secretary centred with pleasant anticipation on the third lot.

“Gee whiz, Genevieve!”

As no further pearls of wisdom fell from the lips of the engrossed reader of letters, the stenographer gave him a round-eyed glance and then continued her work.

Curtis Keefe was, of course, called Curt by his intimates, and while it may be the obvious nickname was brought about by his short and concise manner of speech, it is more probable that the abbreviation was largely responsible for his habit of curtness.

Anyway, Keefe had long cultivated a crisp, abrupt style of conversation. That is, until he fell in with Samuel Appleby. That worthy ex-governor, while in the act of engaging Keefe to be his confidential secretary, observed: “They call you Curt, do they? Well, see to it that it is short for courtesy.”

This was only one of several equally sound bits of advice from the same source, and as Keefe had an eye single to the glory of self-advancement, he kept all these things and pondered them in his heart.

The result was that ten years of association with Lawyer Appleby had greatly improved the young man’s manner, and though still brief of speech, his curtness had lost its unpleasantly sharp edge and his courtesy had developed into a dignified urbanity, so that though still Curt Keefe, it was in name only.

“What’s the pretty letter all about, Curtie?” asked the observant stenographer, who had noticed his third reading of the short missive.

“You’ll probably answer it soon, and then you’ll know,” was the reply, as Keefe restored the sheet to its envelope and took up the next letter.

Genevieve Lane produced her vanity-case, and became absorbed in its possibilities.

“I wish I didn’t have to work,” she sighed; “I wish I was an opera singer.”

“‘Cromwell, I charge thee, fling away ambition,’ murmured Keefe, his eyes still scanning letters; ‘by that sin fell the angels,’ and it’s true you are angelic, Viva, so down you’ll go, if you fall for ambition.”

“How you talk! Ambition is a good thing.”

“Only when tempered by common sense and perspicacity—neither of which you possess to a marked degree.”

“Pooh! You’re ambitious yourself, Curt.”

“With the before-mentioned qualifications. Look here, Viva, here’s a line for you to remember. I ran across it in a book. ‘If you do only what is absolutely correct and say only what is absolutely correct—you can do anything you like.’ How’s that?”

“I don’t see any sense in it at all.”

“No? I told you you lacked common sense. Most women do.”

“Huh!” and Genevieve tossed her pretty head, patted her curly ear-muffs, and proceeded with her work.

Samuel Appleby’s beautiful home graced the town of Stockfield, in the western end of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Former Governor Appleby was still a political power and a man of unquestioned force and importance.

It was fifteen years or more since he had held office, and now, a great desire possessed him that his son should follow in his ways, and that his beloved state should know another governor of the Appleby name.

And young Sam was worthy of the people’s choice. Himself a man of forty, motherless from childhood, and brought up sensibly and well by his father, he listened gravely to the paternal plans for the campaign.

But there were other candidates, and not without some strong and definite influences could the end be attained.

Wherefore, Mr. Appleby was quite as much interested as his secretary in the letter which was in the morning’s mail.

“Any word from Sycamore Ridge?” he asked, as he came into the big, cheerful office and nodded a kindly good-morning to his two assistants.

“Yes, and a good word,” returned Keefe, smiling. “It says: ‘Come.’” The secretary’s attitude toward his employer, though deferential and respectful, was marked by a touch of good-fellowship—a not unnatural outgrowth of a long term of confidential relations between them. Keefe had made himself invaluable to Samuel Appleby and both men knew it. So, as one had no desire to presume on the fact and the other no wish to ignore it, serenity reigned in the well-ordered and well-appointed offices of the ex-governor.

Even the light-haired, light-hearted and light-headed Genevieve couldn’t disturb the even tenor of the routine. If she could have, she would have been fired.

Though not a handsome man, not even to be called distinguished looking, Samuel Appleby gave an impression of power. His strong, lean face betokened obdurate determination and implacable will.

Its deep-graven lines were the result of meeting many obstacles and surmounting most of them. And at sixty-two, the hale and hearty frame and the alert, efficient manner made the man seem years younger.

“You know the conditions on which Wheeler lives in that house?” Appleby asked, as he looked over the top of the letter at Keefe.

“No, sir.”

“Well, it’s this way. But, no—I’ll not give you the story now. We’re going down there—to-day.”

“The whole tribe?” asked Keefe, briefly.

“Yes; all three of us. Be ready, Miss Lane, please, at three-thirty.”

“Yes, sir,” said Genevieve, reaching for her vanity-box.

“And now, Keefe, as to young Sam,” Appleby went on, running his fingers through his thick, iron-gray mane. “If he can put it over, or if I can put it over for him, it will be only with the help of Dan Wheeler.”

“Is Wheeler willing to help?”

“Probably not. He must be made willing. I can do it—I think—unless he turns stubborn. I know Wheeler—if he turns stubborn—well, Balaam’s historic quadruped had nothing on him!”

“Does Mr. Wheeler know Sam?”

“No; and it wouldn’t matter either way if he did. It’s the platform Wheeler stands on. If I can keep him in ignorance of that one plank—”

“You can’t.”

“I know it—confound it! He opposed my election on that one point—he’ll oppose Sam’s for the same reason, I know.”

“Where do I come in?”

“In a general way, I want your help. Wheeler’s wife and daughter are attractive, and you might manage to interest them and maybe sway their sympathies toward Sam—”

“But they’ll stand by Mr. Wheeler?”

“Probably—yes. However, use your head, and do all you can with it.”

“And where do I come in?” asked Genevieve, who had been an interested listener.

“You don’t come in at all, Miss. You mostly stay out. You’re to keep in the background. I have to take you, for we’re only staying one night at Sycamore Ridge, and then going on to Boston, and I’ll need you there.”

“Yes, sir,” and the blue eyes turned from him and looked absorbedly into a tiny mirror, as Genevieve contemplated her pleasant pink-and-whiteness.

Her vanity and its accompanying box were matters of indifference to Mr. Appleby and to Keefe, for the girl’s efficiency and skill outweighed them and her diligence and loyalty scored one hundred per cent.

Appleby’s fetish was efficiency. He had found it and recognized it in his secretary and stenographer and he was willing to recompense it duly, even generously. Wherefore the law business of Samuel Appleby, though carried on for the benefit of a small number of clients, was of vast importance and productive of lucrative returns.

At present, the importance was overshadowed by the immediate interest of a campaign, which, if successful would land the second Appleby in the gubernatorial chair. This plan, as yet not a boom, was taking shape with the neatness and dispatch that characterized the Appleby work.

Young Sam was content to have the matter principally in his father’s hands, and things had reached a pitch where, to the senior mind, the co÷peration of Daniel Wheeler was imperatively necessary.

And, therefore, to Wheeler’s house they must betake themselves.

“What do you know about the Wheeler business, kid?” Keefe inquired, after Mr. Appleby had left them.

Genevieve leaned back in her chair, her dimpled chin moving up and down with a pretty rhythm as she enjoyed her chewing-gum, and gazed at the ceiling beams.

Appleby’s offices were in his own house, and the one given over to these two was an attractive room, fine with mahogany and plate glass, but also provided with all the paraphernalia of the most up-to-date of office furniture. There were good pictures and draperies, and a wood fire added to the cheer and mitigated the chill of the early fall weather.

Sidling from her seat, Miss Lane moved over to a chair near the fire.

“I’ll take those letters when you’re ready,” she said. “Why, I don’t know a single thing about any Wheeler. Do you?”

“Not definitely. He’s a man who had an awful fight with Mr. Appleby, long ago. I’ve heard allusions to him now and then, but I know no details.”

“I, either. But, it seems we’re to go there. Only for a night, and then, on to Boston! Won’t I be glad to go!”

“We’ll only be there a few days. I’m more interested in this Wheeler performance. I don’t understand it. Who’s Wheeler, anyhow?”

“Dunno. If Sammy turns up this morning, he may enlighten us.”

Sammy did turn up, and not long after the conversation young Appleby strolled into the office.

Though still looked upon as a boy by his father, the man was of huge proportions and of an important, slightly overbearing attitude.

Somewhat like his parent in appearance, young Sam, as he was always called, had more grace and ease, if less effect of power. He smiled genially and impartially; he seemed cordial and friendly to all the world, and he was a general favorite. Yet so far he had achieved no great thing, had no claim to any especial record in public or private life.

At forty, unmarried and unattached, his was a case of an able mentality and a firm, reliable character, with no opportunity offered to prove its worth. A little more initiative and he would have made opportunities for himself; but a nature that took the line of least resistance, a philosophy that believed in a calm acceptance of things as they came, left Samuel Appleby, junior, pretty much where he was when he began. If no man could say aught against him, equally surely no man could say anything very definite for him. Yet many agreed that he was a man whose powers would develop with acquired responsibilities, and already he had a following.

“Hello, little one,” he greeted Genevieve, carelessly, as he sat down near Keefe. “I say, old chap, you’re going down to the Wheelers’ to-day, I hear.”

“Yes; this afternoon,” and the secretary looked up inquiringly.

“Well, I’ll tell you what. You know the governor’s going there to get Wheeler’s aid in my election boom, and I can tell you a way to help things along, if you agree. See?”

“Not yet, but go ahead.”

“Well, it’s this way. Dan Wheeler’s daughter is devoted to her father. Not only filial respect and all that, but she just fairly idolizes the old man. Now, he recips, of course, and what she says goes. So—I’m asking you squarely—won’t you put in a good word to Maida, that’s the girl—and if you do it with your inimitable dexterity and grace, she’ll fall for it.”

“You mean for me to praise you up to Miss Wheeler and ask her father to give you the benefit of his influence?”

“How clearly you do put things! That’s exactly what I mean. It’s no harm, you know—merely the most innocent sort of electioneering—”

“Rather!” laughed Keefe. “If all electioneering were as innocent as that, the word would carry no unpleasant meaning.”

“Then you’ll do it?”

“Of course I will—if I get opportunity.”

“Oh, you’ll have that. It’s a big, rambling country house—a delightful one, too—and there’s tea in the hall, and tennis on the lawn, and moonlight on the verandas—”

“Hold up, Sam,” Keefe warned him, “is the girl pretty?”

“Haven’t seen her for years, but probably, yes. But that’s nothing to you. You’re working for me, you see.” Appleby’s glance was direct, and Keefe understood.

“Of course; I was only joking. I’ll carry out your commission, if, as I said, I get the chance. Tell me something of Mr. Wheeler.”

“Oh, he’s a good old chap. Pathetic, rather. You see, he bumped up against dad once, and got the worst of it.”

“How?”

Sam Appleby hesitated a moment and then said: “I see you don’t know the story. But it’s no secret, and you may as well be told. You listen, too, Miss Lane, but there’s no call to tattle.”

“I’ll go home if you say so,” Genevieve piped up, a little crisply.

“No, sit still. Why, it was while dad was governor—about fifteen years ago, I suppose. And Daniel Wheeler forged a paper—that is, he said he didn’t, but twelve other good and true peers of his said he did. Anyway, he was convicted and sentenced, but father was a good friend of his, and being governor, he pardoned Wheeler. But the pardon was on condition—oh, I say—hasn’t dad ever told you, Keefe?”

“Never.”

“Then, maybe I’d better leave it for him to tell. If he wants you to know he’ll tell you, and if not, I mustn’t.”

“Oh, goodness!” cried Genevieve. “What a way to do! Get us all excited over a thrilling tale, and then chop it off short!”

“Go on with it,” said Keefe; but Appleby said, “No; I won’t tell you the condition of the pardon. But the two men haven’t been friends since, and won’t be, unless the condition is removed. Of course, dad can’t do it, but the present governor can make the pardon complete, and would do so in a minute, if dad asked him to. So, though he hasn’t said so, the assumption is, that father expects to trade a full pardon of Friend Wheeler for his help in my campaign.”

“And a good plan,” Keefe nodded his satisfaction.

“But,” Sam went on, “the trouble is that the very same points and principles that made Wheeler oppose my father’s election will make him oppose mine. The party is the same, the platform is the same, and I can’t hope that the man Wheeler is not the same stubborn, adamant, unbreakable old hickory knot he was the other time.”

“And so, you want me to soften him by persuading his daughter to line up on our side?”

“Just that, Keefe. And you can do it, I am sure.”

“I’ll try, of course; but I doubt if even a favorite daughter could influence the man you describe.”

“Let me help,” broke in the irrepressible Genevieve. “I can do lots with a girl. I can do more than Curt could. I’ll chum up with her and—”

“Now, Miss Lane, you keep out of this. I don’t believe in mixing women and politics.”

“But Miss Wheeler’s a woman.”

“And I don’t want her troubled with politics. Keefe here can persuade her to coax her father just through her affections—I don’t want her enlightened as to any of the political details. And I can’t think your influence would work half as well as that of a man. Moreover, Keefe has discernment, and if it isn’t a good plan, after all, he’ll know enough to discard it—while you’d blunder ahead blindly, and queer the whole game!”

“Oh, well,” and bridling with offended pride, Genevieve sought refuge in her little mirror.

“Now, don’t get huffy,” and Sam smiled at her; “you’ll probably find that Miss Wheeler’s complexion is finer than yours, anyway, and then you’ll hate her and won’t want to speak to her at all.”

Miss Lane flashed an indignant glance and then proceeded to go on with her work.

“Hasn’t Wheeler tried for a pardon all this time?” Keefe asked.

“Indeed he has,” Sam returned, “many times. But you see, though successive governors were willing to grant it, father always managed to prevent it. Dad can pull lots of wires, as you know, and since he doesn’t want Wheeler fully pardoned, why, he doesn’t get fully pardoned.”

“And he lives under the stigma.”

“Lots of people don’t know about the thing at all. He lives—well—he lives in Connecticut—and—oh, of course, there is a certain stigma.”

“And your father will bring about his full pardon if he promises—”

“Let up, Keefe; I’ve said I can’t tell you that part—you’ll get your instructions in good time. And, look here, I don’t mean for you to make love to the girl. In fact, I’m told she has a suitor. But you’re just to give her a little song and dance about my suitability for the election, and then adroitly persuade her to use her powers of persuasion with her stubborn father. For he will be stubborn—I know it! And there’s the mother of the girl . . . tackle Mrs. Wheeler. Make her see that my father was justified in the course he took—and besides, he was more or less accountable to others—and use as an argument that years have dulled the old feud and that bygones ought to be bygones and all that.

“Try to make her see that a full pardon now will be as much, and in a way more, to Wheeler’s credit, than if it had been given him at first—”

“I can’t see that,” and Keefe looked quizzical

“Neither can I,” Sam confessed, frankly, “but you can make a woman swallow anything.”

“Depends on what sort of woman Mrs. Wheeler is,” Keefe mused.

“I know it. I haven’t seen her for years, and as I remember, she’s pretty keen, but I’m banking on you to put over some of your clever work. Not three men in Boston have your ingenuity, Keefe, when it comes to sizing up a situation and knowing just how to handle it. Now, don’t tell father all I’ve said, for he doesn’t especially hold with such small measures. He’s all for the one big slam game, and he may be right. But I’m right, too, and you just go ahead.”

“All right,” Keefe agreed. “I see what you mean, and I’ll do all I can that doesn’t in any way interfere with your father’s directions to me. There’s a possibility of turning the trick through the women folks, and if I can do it, you may count on me.”

“Good! And as for you, Miss Lane, you keep in the background, and make as little mischief as you can.”

“I’m not a mischief-maker,” said the girl, pouting playfully, for she was not at all afraid of Sam Appleby.

“Your blue eyes and pink cheeks make mischief wherever you go,” he returned; “but don’t try them on old Dan Wheeler. He’s a morose old chap—”

“I should think he would be!” defended Genevieve; “living all these years under a ban which may, after all, be undeserved! I’ve heard that he was entirely innocent of the forgery!”

“Have you, indeed?” Appleby’s tone was unpleasantly sarcastic. “Other people have also heard that—from the Wheeler family! Those better informed believe the man guilty, and believe, too, that my father was too lenient when he granted even a conditional pardon.”

“But just think—if he was innocent—how awful his life has been all these years! You bet he’ll accept the full pardon and give all his effort and influence and any possible help in return.”

“Hear the child orate!” exclaimed Sam, gazing at the enthusiastic little face, as Genevieve voiced her views.

“I think he’ll be ready to make the bargain, too,” declared Keefe. “Your father has a strong argument. I fancy Wheeler’s jump at the chance.”

“Maybe—maybe so. But you don’t know how opposed he is to our principles. And he’s a man of immovable convictions. In fact, he and dad are two mighty strong forces. One or the other must win out—but I’ve no idea which it will be.”

“How exciting!” Genevieve’s eyes danced. “I’m so glad I’m to go. It’s a pretty place, you say?”

“Wonderful. A great sweep of rolling country, a big, long, rambling sort of house, and a splendid hospitality. You’ll enjoy the experience, but remember, I told you to be good.”

“I will remember,” and Genevieve pretended to took cherubic.

Chapter 2
North Door And South Door

For Samuel Appleby to pay a visit to Daniel Wheeler was of itself an astounding occurrence. The two men had not seen each other since the day, fifteen years ago, when Governor Appleby had pardoned the convicted Wheeler, with a condition, which, though harsh, had been strictly adhered to.

They had never been friends at heart, for they were diametrically opposed in their political views, and were not of similar tastes or pursuits. But they had been thrown much together, and when the time came for Wheeler to be tried for forgery, Appleby lent no assistance to the case. However, through certain influences brought to bear, in connection with the fact that Mrs. Wheeler was related to the Applebys, the governor pardoned the condemned man, with a conditional pardon.

Separated ever since, a few letters had passed between the two men, but they resulted in no change of conditions.

As the big car ran southward through the Berkshire Hills, Appleby’s thoughts were all on the coming meeting, and the scenery of autumn foliage that provoked wild exclamations of delight from Genevieve and assenting enthusiasm from Keefe left the other unmoved.

An appreciative nod and grunt were all he vouchsafed to the girl’s gushing praises, and when at last they neared their destination he called her attention to a tall old sycamore tree standing alone on a ridge not far away.

“That’s the tree that gives the Wheeler place its name,” he informed. “Sycamore Ridge is one of the most beautiful places in Connecticut.”

“Oh, are we in Connecticut?” asked Miss Lane. “I didn’t know we had crossed the border. What a great old tree! Surely one of the historic trees of New England, isn’t it?”

“Historic to the Wheelers,” was the grim reply, and then Mr. Appleby again relapsed into silence and spoke no further word until they reached the Wheeler home.

A finely curved sweep of driveway brought them to the house, and the car stopped at the south entrance.

The door did not swing open in welcome, and Mr. Appleby ordered his chauffeur to ring the bell.

This brought a servant in response, and the visiting trio entered the house.

It was long and low, with many rooms on either side of the wide hall that went straight through from south to north. The first room to the right was a large living-room, and into this the guests were shown and were met by a grave-looking man, who neither smiled nor offered a hand as his calm gaze rested on Samuel Appleby.

Indeed, the two men stared at one another, in undisguised curiosity. Each seemed to search the other’s face for information as to his attitude and intent.

“Well, Dan,” Appleby said, after the silent scrutiny, “you’ve changed some, but you’re the same good-looking chap you always were.”

Wheeler gave a start and pulled himself together.

“Thank you. I suppose I should return the compliment.”

“But you can’t conscientiously do it, eh?” Appleby laughed. “Never mind. Personal vanity is not my besetting sin. This is my secretary, Mr. Keefe, and my assistant, Miss Lane.”

“Ah, yes, yes. How are you? How do you do? My wife and daughter will look after the young lady. Maida!”

As if awaiting the call, a girl came quickly in from the hall followed by an older woman. Introductions followed, and if there was an air of constraint on the part of the host the ladies of the family showed none. Sunny-faced Maida Wheeler, with her laughing brown eyes and gold brown hair, greeted the visitors with charming cordiality, and her mother was equally kind and courteous.

Genevieve Lane’s wise and appraising eyes missed no point of appearance or behavior.

“Perfect darlings, both of them!” she commented to herself. “Whatever ails the old guy, it hasn’t bitten them. Or else—wait a minute—” Genevieve was very observant—”perhaps they’re putting on a little. Is their welcome a bit extra, to help things along?”

Yet only a most meticulous critic could discern anything more than true hospitality in the attitude of Mrs. Wheeler or Maida. The latter took Genevieve to the room prepared for her and chatted away in girlish fashion.

“The place is so wonderful!” Genevieve exclaimed, carefully avoiding personal talk. “Don’t you just adore it?”

“Oh, yes. I’ve loved Sycamore Ridge for nearly fifteen years.”

“Have you lived here so long?” Genevieve was alert for information. It was fifteen years ago that the pardon had been granted.

But as Maida merely assented and then changed the subject, Miss Lane was far too canny to ask further questions.

With a promptness not entirely due to chance, the stenographer came downstairs dressed for dinner some several minutes before the appointed hour. Assuming her right as a guest, she wandered about the rooms.

The south door, by which they had entered, was evidently the main entrance, but the opposite, or north door, gave on to an even more beautiful view, and she stepped out on the wide veranda and gazed admiringly about. The low ridge nearby formed the western horizon, and the giant sycamore, its straight branches outlined against the fading sunset, was impressive and a little weird. She strolled on, and turned the corner the better to see the ridge. The veranda ran all round the house, and as she went on along the western side, she suddenly became aware of a silent figure leaning against a pillar at the southwest corner.

“It is so quiet it frightens me,” she said to Daniel Wheeler, as she neared him.

“Do you feel that way, too?” he asked, looking at her a little absently. “It is the lull before the storm.”

“Oh, that sunset doesn’t mean rain,” Genevieve exclaimed, smiling, “unless your Connecticut blue laws interpret weather signs differently from our Massachusetts prophets. We are in Connecticut, aren’t we?”

“Yes,” and Wheeler sighed unaccountably. “Yes, Miss Lane, we are. That sycamore is the finest tree in the state.”

“I can well believe it. I never saw such a grandfather of a tree! It’s all full of little balls.”

“Yes, buttonballs, they are called. But note its wonderful symmetry, its majestic appearance—”

“And strength! It looks as if it would stand, there forever!”

“Do you think so?” and the unmistakable note of disappointment in the man’s tone caused Genevieve to look up in astonishment. “Well, perhaps it will,” he added quickly.

“Oh, no, of course it won’t really! No tree stands forever. But it will be here long after you and I are gone.”

“Are you an authority on trees?” Wheeler spoke without a smile.

“Hardly that; but I was brought up in the country, and I know something of them. Your daughter loves the country, too.”

“Oh, yes—we all do.”

The tone was courteous, but the whole air of the man was so melancholy, his cheerfulness so palpably assumed, that Genevieve felt sorry for him, as well as inordinately curious to know what was the matter.

But her sympathy was the stronger impulse, and with a desire to entertain him, she said, “Come for a few steps in the garden, Mr. Wheeler, won’t you? Come and show me that quaint little summer-house near the front door. It is the front door, isn’t it? It’s hard to tell.”

“Yes, the north door is the front door,” Wheeler said slowly, as if repeating a lesson. “The summer-house you mention is near the front door. But we won’t visit that now. Come this other way, and I’ll show you a Japanese tea-house, much more attractive.”

But Genevieve Lane was sometimes under the spell of the Imp of the Perverse.

“No, no,” she begged, smilingly, “let the Japanese contraption wait; please go to the little summer-house now. See, how it fairly twinkles in the last gleams of the setting sun! What is the flower that rambles all over it? Oh, do let’s go there now! Come, please!”

With no reason for her foolish insistence save a whim, Genevieve was amazed to see the look of fury that came over her host’s face.

“Appleby put you up to that!” he cried, in a voice of intense anger. “He told you to ask me to go to that place!”

“Why, Mr. Wheeler,” cried the girl, almost frightened, “Mr. Appleby did nothing of the sort! Why should he! I’m not asking anything wrong, am I? Why is it so dreadful to want to see an arbor instead of a tea-house? You must be crazy!”

When Miss Lane was excited, she was quite apt to lose her head, and speak in thoughtless fashion.

But Mr. Wheeler didn’t seem to notice her informality of speech. He only stared at her as if he couldn’t quite make her out, and then he suddenly seemed to lose interest in her or her wishes, and with a deep sigh, he turned away, and fell into the same brooding posture as when she had first approached him.

“Come to dinner, people,” called Maida’s pretty voice, as, with outstretched hands she came toward them. “Why, dads, what are you looking miserable about? What have you done to him, Miss Lane?”

“Maida, child, don’t speak like that! Miss Lane has been most kindly talking to me, of—of the beauties of Sycamore Ridge.”

“All right, then, and forgive me, Miss Lane. But you see, the sun rises and sets for me in one Daniel Wheeler, Esquire, and any shadow on his face makes me apprehensive of its cause.”

Only for an instant did Genevieve Lane’s sense of justice rise in revolt, then her common sense showed her the better way, and she smiled pleasantly and returned:

“I don’t blame you, Miss Wheeler. If I had a father, I should feel just the same way, I know. But don’t do any gory-lock-shaking my way. I assure you I didn’t really scold him. I only kicked because he wouldn’t humor my whim for visiting the summer-house with the blossoms trailing over it! Was that naughty of me?”

But though Genevieve listened for the answer, none came.

“Come on in to dinner, daddy, dear,” Maida repeated. “Come, Miss Lane, they’re waiting for us.”

Dinner was a delightful occasion.

Daniel Wheeler, at the head of his own table, was a charming host, and his melancholy entirely disappeared as the talk ran along on subjects grave or gay, but of no personal import.

Appleby, too, was entertaining, and the two men, with Mrs. Wheeler, carried on most of the conversation, the younger members of the party being by what seemed common consent left out of it.

Genevieve looked about the dining-room, with a pleased interest. She dearly loved beautiful appointments and was really imagining herself mistress of just such a house, and visioning herself at the head of such a table. The long room stretched from north to south, parallel with the hall, though not adjoining. The table was not in the centre, but toward the southern end, and Mr. Wheeler, at the end near the windows, had Keefe and Miss Lane on either side of him.

Appleby, as guest of honor, sat at Mrs. Wheeler’s right, and the whole effect was that of a formal dinner party, rather than a group of which two were merely office employÚs.

“It is one of the few remaining warm evenings,” said Mrs. Wheeler, as she rose from the table, “we will have our coffee on the veranda. Soon it will be too cool for that.”

“Which veranda?” asked Genevieve of Maida, as they went through the hall. “The north one, I hope.”

“Your hopes must be dashed,” laughed the other, “for it will be the south one. Come along.”

The two girls, followed by Keefe, took possession of a group of chairs near Mrs. Wheeler, while the two older men sat apart, and soon became engrossed in their own discussions.

Nor was it long before Samuel Appleby and his host withdrew to a room which opened on to that same south veranda, and which was, in fact, Mr. Wheeler’s den.

“Well, Sam,” Keefe heard the other say, as he drew down the blind, “we may as well have it out now. What are you here for?”

Outwardly placid, but almost consumed with curiosity, Curt Keefe changed his seat for one nearer the window of the den. He hoped to hear the discussion going on inside, but was doomed to disappointment, for though the murmuring of the voices was audible, the words were not distinct, and Keefe gathered only enough information to be sure that there was a heated argument in progress and that neither party to it was inclined to give in a single point.

Of course, he decided, the subject was the coming election campaign, but the details of desired bargaining he could not gather.

Moreover, often, just as he almost heard sentences of interest, the chatter of the girls or some remark of Mrs. Wheeler’s would drown the voices of the men in the room.

One time, indeed, he heard clearly: “When the Sycamore on the ridge goes into Massachusetts—” but this was sheer nonsense, and he concluded he must have misunderstood.

Later, they all forgathered in the living-room and there was music and general conversation.

Genevieve Lane proved herself decidedly entertaining, and though Samuel Appleby looked a little amusedly at his stenographer, he smiled kindly at her as he noticed that she in no way overstepped the bounds of correct demeanor.

Genevieve was thinking of what Keefe had said to her: “If you do only what is absolutely correct and say what is only absolutely correct, you can do whatever you like.”

She had called it nonsense at the time, but she was beginning to see the truth of it. She was careful that her every word and act should be correct, and she was most decidedly doing as she liked. She made good with Mrs. Wheeler and Maida with no trouble at all; but she felt, vaguely, that Mr. Wheeler didn’t like her. This she set about to remedy.

Going to his side, as he chanced to sit for a moment alone, she smiled ingratiatingly and said:

“I wonder if you can imagine, sir, what it means to me to see the inside of a house like this?”

“Bless my soul, what do you mean?” asked Wheeler, puzzled at the girl’s manner.

“It’s like a glimpse of Fairyland,” she went on. “You see, I’m terribly ambitious—oh, fearfully so! And all my ambitions lead to just this sort of a home. Do you suppose I’ll ever achieve it, Mr. Wheeler?”

Now the girl had truly wonderful magnetic charm, and even staid old Dan Wheeler was not insensible to the note of longing in her voice, the simple, honest admission of her hopes.

“Of course you will, little one,” he returned, kindly. “I’ve heard that whatever one wants, one gets, provided the wish is strong enough.” He spoke directly to her, but his gaze wandered as if his thoughts were far away.

“Do you really believe that?” Genevieve’s big blue eyes begged an affirmation.

“I didn’t say I believed it—I said I have heard it.” He smiled sadly. “Not quite the same—so far as I’m concerned; but quite as assuring to you. Of course, my belief wouldn’t endorse the possibility.”

“It would for me,” declared Genevieve. “I’ve lots of confidence in other people’s opinions—”

“Anybody’s?”

“Anybody whom I respect and believe in.”

“Appleby, for instance?”

“Oh, yes, indeed! I’d trust Mr. Appleby’s opinions on any subject. Let’s go over there and tell him so.”

Samuel Appleby was sitting at the other end, the north end of the long room. “No,” said Wheeler, “I’m too comfortable here to move—ask him to come here.”

Genevieve looked at him a little astonished. It was out of order, she thought, for a host to speak thus. She pressed the point, saying there was a picture at the other end of the room she wished to examine.

“Run along, then,” said Wheeler, coolly. “Here, Maida, show Miss Lane that etching and tell her the interesting details about it.”

The girls went away, and soon after Keefe drifted round to Wheeler’s side.

“You know young Sam Appleby?” he asked, casually.

“No,” Wheeler said, shortly but not sharply. “I daresay he’s a most estimable chap.”

“He’s all of that. He’s a true chip of the old block. Both good gubernatorial timber, as I’m sure you agree.”

“What makes you so sure, Mr. Keefe?”

Curt Keefe looked straight at him. “Well,” he laughed, “I’m quite ready to admit that the wish was father to the thought.”

“Why do you call that an admission?”

“Oh,” Keefe readily returned, “it is usually looked upon as a confession that one has no reason for a thought other than a wish.”

“And why is it your wish?”

“Because it is the wish of my employer,” said Keefe, seriously. “I know of no reason, Mr. Wheeler, why I shouldn’t say that I hope and trust you will use your influence to further the cause of young Appleby.”

“What makes you think I can do so?”

“While I am not entirely in Mr. Appleby’s confidence, he has told me that the campaign would be greatly aided by your willingness to help, and so I can’t help hoping you will exercise it.”

“Appleby has told you so much, has he? No more?”

“No more, I think, regarding yourself, sir. I know, naturally, the details of the campaign so far as it is yet mapped out.”

“And you know why I do not want to lend my aid?”

“I know you are not in accordance with the principles of the Appleby politics—”

“That I am not! Nor shall I ever be. Nor shall I ever pretend to be—”

“Pretend? Of course not. But could you not be persuaded?”

“By what means?”

“I don’t know, Mr. Wheeler,” and Keefe looked at him frankly. “I truly don’t know by what means. But I do know that Mr. Appleby is here to present to you an argument by which he hopes to persuade you to help young Sam along—and I earnestly desire to add any word of mine that may help influence your decision. That is why I want to tell you of the good traits of Sam Appleby, junior. It may be I can give you a clearer light on his character than his father could do—that is, I might present it as the opinion of a friend—”

“And not exaggerate his virtues as a father might do? I see. Well, Mr. Keefe, I appreciate your attitude, but let me tell you this: whatever I do or don’t do regarding this coming campaign of young Appleby will be entirely irrespective of the character or personality of that young man. It will all depend on the senior Appleby’s arrangements with me, and my ability to change his views on some of the more important planks in his platform. If he directed you to speak to me as you have done, you may return that to him as my answer.”

“You, doubtless, said the same to him, sir?”

“Of course I did. I make no secret of my position in this matter. Samuel Appleby has a hold over me—I admit that—but it is not strong enough to make me forget my ideas of right and wrong to the public. No influence of a personal nature should weigh against any man’s duty to the state, and I will never agree to pretend to any dissimulation in order to bring about a happier life for myself.”

“But need you subscribe to the objectionable points to use your influence for young Sam?”

“Tacitly, of course. And I do not choose even to appear to agree to principles abhorrent to my sense of justice and honesty, thereby secretly gaining something for myself.”

“Meaning your full pardon?”

Wheeler turned a look of surprise on the speaker.

“I thought you said you hadn’t Appleby’s full confidence,” he said.

“Nor have I. I do know—as do many men—that you were pardoned with a condition, but the condition I do not know. It can’t be very galling.” And Keefe looked about on the pleasant surroundings.

“You think not? That’s because you don’t know the terms. And yet, galling though they are, hateful though it makes my life, and the lives of my wife and daughter, we would all rather bear it than to deviate one iota from the path of strict right.”

“I must admire you for that, as must any honorable man. But are there not degrees or shadings of right and wrong—”

“Mr. Keefe, as an old man, I take the privilege of advising you for your own good. All through your life I beg you remember this: Anyone who admits degrees or shadings of right or wrong—is already wrong. Don’t be offended; you didn’t claim those things, you merely asked the question. But, remember what I said about it.”

Chapter 3
One Last Argument

Adjoining the bedroom of Samuel Appleby at Sycamore Ridge was a small sitting-room, also at his disposal. Here, later that same evening he sat in confab with his two assistants.

“We leave to-morrow afternoon,” he said to Keefe and Miss Lane. “But before that, we’ve much to do. So far, we’ve accomplished nothing. I am a little discouraged but not disheartened. I still have a trump card to play, but I don’t want to use it unless absolutely necessary.”

“If you were inclined to take us further into your confidence, Mr. Appleby,” Keefe began, and the older man interrupted:

“That’s just what I propose to do. The time has come for it. Perhaps if you both know the situation you may work more intelligently.”

“Sure we could!” exclaimed Genevieve. She was leaning forward in her chair, clasping her knees, her pretty evening frock disclosing her babyishly soft neck and arms; but without a trace of self-consciousness, she thought only of the subject they were discussing.

“There’s something queer,” she went on. “I can’t see through it. Why does Mr. Wheeler act so polite most of the time, and then do some outrageous thing, like—”

“Like what?”

“Like refusing to cross the room—or—why, he declined point-blank to go with me to the north arbor, yet was perfectly willing to take me to the Japanese tea-house!”

“That’s just the point of the whole thing,” said Appleby, seriously; “here’s the explanation in a nutshell. Years ago, Daniel Wheeler was pardoned for a crime he had committed—”

“He did commit it, then?” interrupted Keefe.

“He was tried and convicted. He was sentenced. And I, being governor at the time, pardoned him on the one condition, that he never again set foot inside the boundaries of the State of Massachusetts.”

“Whee!” exclaimed Genevieve; “never go to Boston!”

“Nor anywhere else in the state. But this is the complication: Mrs. Wheeler, who is, by the way, a distant connection of my own family, inherited a large fortune on condition that she live in Massachusetts. So you see, the situation was peculiar. To keep her inheritance, Mrs. Wheeler must live in Massachusetts. Yet Mr. Wheeler could not enter the state without forfeiting his pardon.”

“What a mess!” cried Genevieve, but Keefe said: “You planned that purposely, Mr. Appleby?”

“Of course,” was the straightforward reply.

“Then I don’t see how you can expect Mr. Wheeler’s help in the campaign.”

“By offering him a complete pardon, of course.”

“But go on with the story,” demanded Genevieve. “What did they do about the Massachusetts business?”

“As you see,” returned Appleby, “this house is built on the state line between Massachusetts and Connecticut. It is carefully planned and built, and all the rooms or parts of rooms that Mr. Wheeler uses or enters are on the Connecticut side, yet the house is more than half in Massachusetts, which secures the estate to Mrs. Wheeler.”

“Well, I never!” Genevieve exclaimed. “So that’s why he can’t go to the north arbor—it’s in Massachusetts!”

“Of course it is. Also, he never goes into the northern end of the dining-room or the living-room.”

“Or hall.”

“Or hall. In fact, he merely is careful to keep on his own side of a definitely drawn line, and therefore complies with the restrictions. His den and his own bedroom and bath are all on the south side, while Mrs. Wheeler has a sitting-room, boudoir, and so forth, on the north side. She and Maida can go all over the house, but Mr. Wheeler is restricted. However, they’ve lived that way so long, it has become second nature to them, and nobody bothers much about it.”

“Do people know?” asked Keefe. “The neighbors, I mean.”

“Oh, yes; but, as I say, it makes little confusion. The trouble comes, as Miss Lane suggested, when Wheeler wants to go to Boston or anywhere in Massachusetts.”

“Yet that is a small thing, compared with his freedom,” observed Keefe; “I think he got off easy.”

“But with Wheeler it isn’t so much the deprivation as the stigma. He longs for a full pardon, and would do most anything to have it, but he refuses to stand for Sam’s election, even with that for a bribe.”

“You can’t pardon him now that you aren’t governor, can you, Mr. Appleby?” asked Genevieve.

“I can arrange to have it done. In fact, the present governor is ready and even anxious to pardon him, but I hold the key to that situation, myself. You two needn’t know all the details, but now you know the principal points, and I expect you to utilize them.”

“I’m willing enough,” and Genevieve rocked back and forth thoughtfully, “and I may think of a way—but, for the moment, I don’t.”

“Get chummy with Maida,” suggested Appleby.

“Let me do that,” Keefe interrupted. “Without undue conceit, I believe I can influence the young lady, and I think Miss Lane, now that she knows the truth, can jolly up Mr. Wheeler to good effect.”

“But, good gracious! What do you want to do?” and Genevieve giggled. “Say I entice the old gentleman over the line—then his pardon is canceled and he’s a criminal—then you agree to ignore the lapse if he meets your wishes—is that the idea?”

Appleby smiled. “A little crude, Miss Lane. And beside, you couldn’t get him over the line. He’s too accustomed to his limitations to be caught napping, and not even your charms could decoy him over intentionally.”

“Think so? Probably you’re right. Well, suppose I try to work through Maida. If I could persuade Mr. Wheeler that she suffers from the stigma of her father’s incomplete pardon—”

“Yes, that’s it. This thing can’t be accomplished by brutal threats, it must be done by subtle suggestion and convincing hints.”

“That’s my idea,” agreed Keefe. “If I can talk straight goods to Miss Wheeler and make her see how much better it would be for her father in his latter years to be freed from all touch of the past disgrace, she might coax him to listen to you.”

“That’s right. Now, you know what you’re here for; just do what you can—but don’t make a mess of things. I’d rather you did nothing than to do some fool thing!”

“Trust us!” Genevieve encouraged him, as she rose. “Me and Curt may not put over a big deal, but we won’t do anything silly.”

The two men smiled as the girl, with a pleasant good-night, went away to her own room.

“She’s true blue,” said Keefe.

“Yes, she is,” Appleby nodded. “All her frivolity is on the surface, like her powder and paint. At heart, that child has only my interests. I quite appreciate it.”

“I hope you think the same of me, Mr. Appleby.”

“I do, Keefe. More, I trust you with my most confidential matters. I’ll own I want this business here to come out in my favor. I can’t push Wheeler too hard—so I ask your help. But, as I hinted, I’ve one rod yet in pickle. If necessary, I’ll use it, but I’d rather not.”

“Of course I hope you won’t have to, but, I’ll admit I don’t see much chance of succeeding with the present outlook.”

“To-morrow morning will tell. If we can’t work the thing through by noon, say—I’ll spring my last trap. Good-night, Keefe.”

“Good-night, Mr. Appleby.”

Without apparent coercion the morning hours brought about a cozy session on the south veranda with Miss Lane and Daniel Wheeler in attendance, while at the same time, Keefe and Maida wandered over the beautiful park of the estate.

Keefe had gently guided the conversation into confidential channels, and when he ventured to sympathize with the girl in regard to her father’s deprivation he was surprised at her ready acceptance of it.

“Oh, you know, don’t you, Mr. Keefe!” she exclaimed. “But you don’t know all it means to me. You see”—she blushed but went steadily on—”you see, I’m engaged to—to a man I adore. And—”

“Don’t tell me if you’d rather not,” he murmured.

“No, it’s a relief to tell—and, somehow—you seem so wise and strong—”

“Go on then—please.”

The kind voice helped her and Maida resumed: “Well, Jeff—Mr. Allen, lives in Boston, and so—”

“So it would be very awkward if your father couldn’t go there.”

“Not only that—but I’ve made a vow never to step foot into Massachusetts until my father can do so, too. Nothing would induce me to break that vow!”

“Not even your lover?” said Keefe, astonished.

“No; my father is more to me than any lover.”

“Then you don’t truly love Mr. Allen.”

“Oh, yes, I do—I do! But father is my idol. I don’t believe any girl ever adored her father as I do. All my life I’ve had only the one object—to make him forget—as far as possible, his trouble. Now, if I were to marry and leave him—why, I simply couldn’t do it!”

“Can’t Mr. Allen live in Connecticut?”

“No; his business interests are all in Boston, and he can’t be transplanted. Oh, if father could only do what Mr. Appleby wants him to, then we could all be happy.”

“Can’t you persuade him?”

“I’ve tried my best. Mother has tried, too. But, you see, it’s a matter of principle, and when principle is involved, we are all in the same boat. Mother and I would scorn any wrongdoing quite as much as father does.”

“And you’ll give up your life happiness for a principle?”

“Of course. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t every decent person? I couldn’t live at all, if I were knowingly doing wrong.”

“But your—” Keefe stopped abruptly.

“I know what you were going to say,” Maida spoke sadly; “you were going to say my father did wrong. I don’t believe he did.”

“Don’t you know?”

“I know in my own heart. I know he is incapable of the crime he was charged with. I’m sure he is shielding some one else, or else some one did it of whom he has no knowledge. But my father commit a crime? Never!”

“Do you care to tell me the details?”

“I don’t know why I shouldn’t. It was long ago, you know, and dad was accused of forgery. It was proved on him—or the jury thought it was—and he was convicted—”

“And sentenced?”

“Yes; to a long prison term. But Governor Appleby pardoned him with that mean old proviso, that he never should step into Massachusetts!”

“Was your mother then the heir to the Massachusetts property?”

“No; but Mr. Appleby knew she would be. So, when she did inherit, and had to live in Massachusetts to hold the estate, Mr. Appleby thought he had dad where he wanted him.”

“Were they foes?”

“Politically, yes. Because dad did all he could to keep Mr. Appleby from being governor.”

“But didn’t succeed?”

“No; but almost. So, then, Mr. Appleby did this pardon trick to get even with father, and I think it turned out more serious than he anticipated. For mother took up the feud, and she got lawyers and all that and arranged to have the house built on the line between the states!”

“Was the estate she inherited on both sides of the line?”

“Oh, no; but it was near the southern border of Massachusetts, and she bought enough adjoining land to make the arrangement possible.”

“Then the house isn’t on the ground she inherited?”

“Not quite, but the lawyers decided it so that she really complies with the terms of the will, so it’s all right.”

“Was your mother the only heir?”

“So far as we can find out. I believe there was another branch of the family, but we haven’t been able to trace it, so as the years go by, we feel more and more confident there’s no other heir. Of course, should one turn up, his claim would be recognized.”

Further talk quickly convinced Keefe that there was no hope of persuading Maida Wheeler to influence or advise her father in any direction other than his idea of right. No amount of urging or arguing would make Wheeler see his duty other than he now saw it, or make Maida endeavor to change his views. With a sigh over his failure, Keefe deftly turned the talk in other channels, and then they strolled back to the house.

As was to be expected, Genevieve had made no progress with her part of the plan. Her talk with Mr. Wheeler had availed nothing. He was courteous and kind; he was amused at her gay, merry little ways; he politely answered her questions, both serious and flippant, but absolutely nothing came of it all.

Samuel Appleby had a short but straightforward conversation with Mrs. Wheeler.

“Now, Sara,” he said, “remember I’m your old friend as well as your relative.”

“I don’t call you a relative,” she returned, calmly.

“A family connection, then; I don’t care what you call it. And I’m going to speak right out, for I know better than to try sophistries. If you can get Dan to play my game regarding my son’s campaign, I’ll see that Dan gets full pardon, and at once. Then Maida can marry young Allen and you can all go to Boston to live.”

“Sam Appleby, I’d rather never see Boston again, never have Dan see it, than to have him agree to endorse principles that he does not believe! And Dan feels the same way about it.”

“But don’t you consider your daughter? Will you condemn Maida to a broken-hearted life—?”

“Maida must decide for herself. I think Jeffrey Allen will yet persuade her to leave her father. She is devoted to Dan, but she is deeply in love with Jeff and it’s only natural she should go with him. Any other girl would do so without a second thought. Maida is unusual, but I doubt if she can hold out much longer against her lover’s pleading.”

“I think she will. Maida has your own unbreakable will.”

“So be it, then. The child must choose for herself. But it doesn’t alter the stand Dan and I have taken.”

“Nothing can alter that?”

“Nothing, Samuel Appleby.”

“That remains to be seen. Have I your permission to talk to Maida, alone?”

“Certainly. Why not? If you can persuade her to marry Jeff, I’ll be only too glad. If you find her determined to stand by her father, then the case remains as it is at present.”

And so, as Maida returned from her walk with Keefe, she was asked to go for another stroll with Samuel Appleby.

She assented, though with no show of pleasure at the prospect.

But as they started off, she said: “I’m glad to have a talk with you, Mr. Appleby. I want to appeal to your better nature.”

“Good! That’s just what I want—to appeal to yours. Suppose you word your appeal first.”

“Mine is simple to understand. It is only that having had your way and having spoiled my father’s life for fifteen years, I ask you, in the name of humanity and justice, to arrange matters so that his latter years of life shall be free from the curse you put upon him.”

“I didn’t put it upon him—he brought it on himself.”

“He never committed that crime—and you know it!”

“What do you mean by that?” Appleby gave her a startled glance.

Had Maida seen this glance, she might have been enlightened. But her eyes were cast down, and she went on: “I don’t know it surely, but I am positive in my own heart father never did it. However, that’s past history. All I ask now is his full pardon—which, I know, you can bring about if you want to.”

“And I will, willingly and gladly, if your father will grant my request.”

“To put your son in as governor with the same political views that prevented my father from voting for you! You know he can’t do that!”

“And yet you expect me to favor him!”

“But don’t you see the difference? Your pardon will mean everything to father—”

“And to you!”

“Yes, but that’s a secondary consideration. I’d ask this for father just the same, if it meant disaster for me!”

“I believe you would!” and Appleby gazed admiringly at the sweet, forceful face, and the earnest eyes.

“Of course I should! As I say, it means life’s happiness to him.”

“And his consent means just as much to me.”

“No, it doesn’t. That’s just it. Even though father doesn’t definitely help you in your son’s election, he will do nothing to hinder. And that’s much the same.”

“It’s far from being the same. His positive and definite help is a very different matter from his negative lack of interference. It’s the help I want. And I do want it! Do you suppose I’d come here and urge it—beg for it—if I didn’t think it absolutely necessary?”

“No; I suppose not. But I know he never will grant it, so you may as well give up hope.”

“You know that, do you, Maida?” Appleby’s voice was almost wistful.

“I most certainly do,” and the girl nodded her head positively.

“Then listen to me. I have one argument yet unused. I’m going to use it now. And with you.”

Maida looked up in alarm. Appleby’s face was stern, his tone betokened a final, even desperate decision.

“Oh, not with me,” she cried; “I—I’m only a girl—I don’t know about these things—let’s go where father is.”

“No; you are the one. In your hands must rest your father’s fate—your father’s future. Sit here, beneath the old sycamore—you know about the tree?”

“Yes, of course.”

“Never mind that now; I’ve only a few moments, but that’s time enough. You know, Maida, how your mother holds this estate?”

“Yes—she must live in Massachusetts. Well, we do. The lawyers said—”

“That isn’t the point; this is it. There is another heir.”

“We’ve always thought it possible.” Maida spoke coolly, though a dull fear clutched her heart.

“It’s more than a possibility, it’s a fact. I know it—and I know the heir.”

“Who is it?”

“Never mind for the moment. Suffice it to say that he doesn’t know it himself—that no one knows it but me. Now, you and I know. No one else does. Do you understand?”

His keen gaze at her made her understand.

“I—” she faltered.

“You do understand,” he asserted. “You sense my proposition before I make it. And you have it right—you’re a smart girl, Maida. Yes, I suggest that you and I keep our secret, and that in return for my silence you persuade your father to meet my wishes. Then, he shall be fully pardoned, and all will be well.”

“You criminal! You dishonest and dishonorable man!” she cried, her eyes blazing, her cheeks reddening with her righteous indignation.

“There, there, my girl, have a care. You haven’t thought it all out yet. Doubtless you’re going to say that neither your father nor mother want to remain here, if my statement is true.”

“Of course I say that! They won’t want to stay a minute! Who is the heir? Tell me!”

“And have you thought what it will mean to them to leave this place? Have you realized that your father has no business interests nor can he find any at his age? Do you remember that your mother has no funds outside the estate she inherited? Do you want to plunge them into penury, into pauperism, in their declining years?”

“Yes—if honesty requires it—” but the sweet voice trembled at the thought.

“Honesty is a good thing—a fine policy—but you are a devoted daughter, and I remind you that to tell this thing I have told you, means disaster—ruin for you and your parents. Young Allen can’t support them—they are unaccustomed to deprivation—and,” he lowered his voice, “this heir I speak of has no knowledge of the truth. He misses nothing, since he hopes for nothing.”

Maida looked at him helplessly.

“I must think,” she said, brokenly. “Oh, you are cruel, to put this responsibility on me.”

“You know why I do it. I am not disinterested.”

Chapter 4
The Big Sycamore Tree

At the south door the Appleby car stood waiting.

Genevieve was saying good-bye to Maida, with the affection of an old friend.

“We’re coming back, you know,” she reminded, “in two or three days, and please say you’ll be glad to see me!”

“Of course,” Maida assented, but her lip trembled and her eyes showed signs of ready tears.

“Cheer up,” Genevieve babbled on. “I’m your friend—whatever comes with time!”

“So am I,” put in Curtis Keefe. “Good-bye for a few days, Miss Wheeler.”

How Maida did it, she scarcely knew herself, but she forced a smile, and even when Samuel Appleby gave her a warning glance at parting she bravely responded to his farewell words, and even gaily waved her hand as the car rolled down the drive.

Once out of earshot, Appleby broke out:

“I played my trump card! No, you needn’t ask me what I was, for I don’t propose to tell you. But it will take the trick, I’m sure. Why, it’s got to!”

“It must be something pretty forcible, then,” said Keefe, “for it looked to me about as likely as snow in summertime, that any of those rigid Puritans would ever give in an inch to your persuasions.”

“Or mine,” added Genevieve. “Never before have I failed so utterly to make any headway when I set out to be really persuasive.”

“You did your best, Miss Lane,” and Appleby looked at her with the air of one appraising the efficiency of a salesman. “I confess I didn’t think Wheeler would be quite such a hardshell—after all these years.”

“He’s just like concrete,” Keefe observed. “They all are. I didn’t know there were such conscientious people left in this wicked old world!”

“They’re not really in the world,” Appleby declared. “They’ve merely vegetated in that house of theirs, never going anywhere—”

“Oh, come now, Mr. Appleby,” and Genevieve shook her head, “Boston isn’t the only burg on the planet! They often go to New York, and that’s going some!”

“Not really often—I asked Wheeler. He hasn’t been for five or six years, and though Maida goes occasionally, to visit friends, she soon runs back home to her father.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Keefe said, “they’re by no means mossbacks or hayseeds. They’re right there with the goods, when it comes to modern literature or up-to-date news—”

“Oh, yes, they’re a highbrow bunch,” Appleby spoke impatiently; “but a recluse like that is no sort of a man! The truth is, I’m at the end of my patience! I’ve got to put this thing over with less palaver and circumlocution. I thought I’d give him a chance—just put the thing up to him squarely once—and, as he doesn’t see fit to meet me half-way, he’s got to be the loser, that’s all.”

“He seems to be the loser, as it is.” This from Keefe.

“But nothing to what’s coming to him! Why, the idea of my sparing him at all is ridiculous! If he doesn’t come down, he’s got to be wiped out! That’s what it amounts to!”

“Wiped out—how?”

“Figuratively and literally! Mentally, morally and physically! That’s how! I’ve stood all I can—I’ve waited long enough—too long—and now I’m going to play the game my own way! As I said, I played a trump card—I raised one pretty definite ruction just before we left. Now, that may do the business—and, it may not! If not, then desperate measures are necessary—and will be used!”

“Good gracious, Mr. Appleby!” Genevieve piped up from her fur collar which nearly muffled her little face. “You sound positively murderous!”

“Murder! Pooh, I’d kill Dan Wheeler in a minute, if that would help Sam! But I don’t want Wheeler dead—I want him alive—I want his help—his influence—yet, when he sits there looking like a stone wall, and about as easy to overthrow, I declare I could kill him! But I don’t intend to. It’s far more likely he’d kill me!”

“Why?” exclaimed Keefe. “Why should he? And—but you’re joking.”

“Not at all. Wheeler isn’t of the murderer type, or I’d be taking my life in my hands to go into his house! He hates me with all the strength of a hard, bigoted, but strictly just nature. He thinks I was unjust in the matter of his pardon, he thinks I was contemptible, and false to our old-time friendship; and he would be honestly and truly glad if I were dead. But—thank heaven—he’s no murderer!”

“Of course not!” cried Genevieve. “How you do talk! As if murder were an everyday performance! Why, people in our class don’t kill each other!”

The placid assumption of equality of class with her employer was so consistently Miss Lane’s usual attitude, that it caused no mental comment from either of her hearers. Her services were so valuable that any such little idiosyncrasy was tolerated.

“Of course we don’t—often,” agreed Appleby, “but I’d wager a good bit that if Dan Wheeler could bump me off without his conscience knowing it—off I’d go!”

“I don’t know about that,” said Genevieve, musingly—”but I do believe that girl would do it!”

“What?” cried Keefe. “Maida!”

“Yes; she’s a lamb for looks, but she’s got a lion’s heart—if anybody ever had one! Talk about a tigress protecting her cubs; it would be a milk-and-water performance beside Maida Wheeler shielding her father—or fighting for him—yes, or killing somebody for him!”

“Rubbish!” laughed Appleby. “Maida might be willing enough, in that lion heart of hers—but little girls don’t go around killing people.”

“I know it, and I don’t expect her to. But I only say she’s capable of it.”

“Goethe says—(Keefe spoke in his superior way)—’We are all capable of crime, even the best of us.’”

“I remember that phrase,” mused Appleby. “Is it Goethe’s? Well, I don’t say it’s literally true, for lots of people are too much of a jellyfish makeup to have such a capability. But I do believe there are lots of strong, forcible people, who are absolutely capable of crime—if the opportunity offers.”

“That’s it,” and Genevieve nodded her head wisely. “Opportunity is what counts. I’ve read detective stories, and they prove it. Be careful, Mr. Appleby, how you trust yourself alone with Mr. Wheeler.”

“That will do,” he reprimanded. “I can take care of myself, Miss Lane.”

Genevieve always knew when she had gone too far, and, instead of sulking, she tactfully changed the subject and entertained the others with her amusing chatter, at which she was a success.

At that very moment, Maida Wheeler, alone in her room, was sobbing wildly, yet using every precaution that she shouldn’t be heard.

Thrown across her bed, her face buried in the pillows, she fairly shook with the intensity of her grief.

But, as often happens, after she had brought her crying spell to a finish—and exhausted Nature insists on a finish—she rose and bathed her flushed face and sat down to think it out calmly.

Yet the more she thought the less calm she grew.

For the first time in her life she was face to face with a great question which she could not refer to her parents. Always she had confided in them, and matters that seemed great to her, even though trifling in themselves, were invariably settled and straightened out by her wise and loving father or mother.

But now, Samuel Appleby had told her a secret—a dreadful secret—that she must not only weigh and decide about, but must—at least, until she decided—keep from her parents.

“For,” Maida thought, “if I tell them, they’ll at once insist on knowing who the rightful heir is, they’ll give over the place to him—and what will become of us?”

Her conscience was as active as ever it was, her sense of right and wrong was in no way warped or blunted, but instinct told her that she must keep this matter entirely to herself until she had come to her own conclusion. Moreover, she realized, the conclusion must be her own—the decision must be arrived at by herself, and unaided.

Finally, accepting all this, she resolved to put the whole thing out of her mind for the moment. Her parents were so intimately acquainted with her every mood or shade of demeanor, they would see at once that something was troubling her mind, unless she used the utmost care to prevent it. Care, too, not to overdo her precaution. It would be quite as evident that she was concealing something, if she were unusually gay or carefree of manner.

So the poor child went downstairs, determined to forget utterly the news she had heard, until such time as she could be again by herself.

And she succeeded. Though haunted by a vague sense of being deceitful, she behaved so entirely as usual, that neither of her parents suspected her of pretense.

Moreover, the subject of Samuel Appleby’s visit was such a fruitful source of conversation that there was less chance of minor considerations.

“Never will I consent,” her father was reiterating, as Maida entered the room. “Why, Sara, I’d rather have the conditional pardon rescinded, rather pay full penalty of my conviction, than stand for the things young Sam’s campaign must stand for!”

A clenched fist came down on the table by way of emphasis.

“Now, dad,” said Maida, gaily, “don’t thump around like that! You look as if you’d like to thump Mr. Appleby!”

“And I should! I wish I could bang into his head just how I feel about it—”

“Oh, he knows!” and Mrs. Wheeler smiled. “He knows perfectly how you feel.”

“But, truly, mother, don’t you think dad could—well, not do anything wrong—but just give in to Mr. Appleby—for—for my sake?”

“Maida—dear—that is our only stumbling-block. Your father and I would not budge one step, for ourselves—but for you, and for Jeffrey—oh, my dear little girl, that’s what makes it so hard.”

“For us, then—father, can’t you—for our sake—”

Maida broke down. It wasn’t for her sake she was pleading—nor for the sake of her lover. It was for the sake of her parents—that they might remain in comfort—and yet, comfort at the expense of honesty? Oh, the problem was too great—she hadn’t worked it out yet.

“I can’t think,” her father’s grave voice broke in on her tumultuous thoughts. “I can’t believe, Maida, that you would want my freedom at the cost of my seared conscience.”

“No, oh, no, father, I don’t—you know I don’t. But what is this dreadful thing you’d have to countenance if you linked up on the Appleby side? Are they pirates—or rascals?”

“Not from their own point of view,” and Dan Wheeler smiled. “They think we are! You can’t understand politics, child, but you must know that a man who is heart and soul in sympathy with the principles of his party can’t conscientiously cross over and work for the other side.”

“Yes, I know that, and I know that tells the whole story. But, father, think what there is at stake. Your freedom—and—ours!”

“I know that, Maida dear, and you can never know how my very soul is torn as I try to persuade myself that for those reasons it would be right for me to consent. Yet—”

He passed his hand wearily across his brow, and then folding his arms on the table he let his head sink down upon them.

Maida flew to his side. “Father, dearest,” she crooned over him, as she caressed his bowed head, “don’t think of it for a minute! You know I’d give up anything—I’d give up Jeff—if it means one speck of good for you.”

“I know it, dear child, but—run away, now, Maida, leave me to myself.”

Understanding, both Maida and her mother quietly left the room.

“I’m sorry, girlie dear, that you have to be involved in these scenes,” Mrs. Wheeler said fondly, as the two went to the sitting-room.

“Don’t talk that way, mother. I’m part of the family, and I’m old enough to have a share and a voice in all these matters. But just think what it would mean, if father had his pardon! Look at this room, and think, he has never been in it! Never has seen the pictures—the view from the window, the general coziness of it all.”

“I know, dear, but that’s an old story. Your father is accustomed to living only in his own rooms—”

“And not to be able to go to the other end of the dining-room or living-room, if he chooses! It’s outrageous!”

“Yes, Maida, I quite agree—but no more outrageous than it was last week—or last year.”

“Yes, it is! It grows more outrageous every minute! Mother, what did that old will say? That you must live in Massachusetts?”

“Yes—you know that, dear.”

“Of course I do. And if you lived elsewhere, what then?”

“I forfeit the inheritance.”

“And what would become of it?”

“In default of any other heirs, it would go to the State of Massachusetts.”

“And there are no other heirs?”

“What ails you, Maida? You know all this. No, there are no other heirs.”

“You’re sure?”

“As sure as we can be. Your father had every possible search made. There were advertisements kept in the papers for years, and able lawyers did all they could to find heirs if there were any. And, finding none, we were advised that there were none, and we could rest in undisturbed possession.”

“Suppose one should appear, what then?”

“Then, little girl, we’d give him the keys of the house, and walk out.”

“Where would we walk to?”

“I’ve no idea. In fact, I can’t imagine where we could walk to. But that, thank heaven, is not one of our troubles. Your father would indeed be desperately fixed if it were! You know, Maida, from a fine capable business man, he became a wreck, because of that unjust trial.”

“Father never committed the forgery?”

“Of course not, dear.”

“Who did?”

“We don’t know. It was cleverly done, and the crime was purposely fastened on your father, because he was about to be made the rival candidate of Mr. Appleby, for governor.”

“I know. And Mr. Appleby was at the bottom of it!”

“Your father doesn’t admit that—”

“He must have been.”

“Hush, Maida. These matters are not for you to judge. You know your father has done all he honestly could to be fully pardoned, or to discover the real criminal, and as he hasn’t succeeded, you must rest content with the knowledge that there was no stone left unturned.”

“But, mother, suppose Mr. Appleby has something more up his sleeve. Suppose he comes down on dad with some unexpected, some unforeseen blow that—”

“Maida, be quiet. Don’t make me sorry that we have let you into our confidence as far as we have. These are matters above your head. Should such a thing as you hint occur, your father can deal with it.”

“But I want to help—”

“And you can best do that by not trying to help! Your part is to divert your father, to love him and cheer him and entertain him. You know this, and you know for you to undertake to advise or suggest is not only ridiculous but disastrous.”

“All right, mother, I’ll be good. I don’t mean to be silly.”

“You are, when you assume ability you don’t possess.” Mrs. Wheeler’s loving smile robbed the words of any harsh effect. “Run along now, and see if dad won’t go for a walk with you; and don’t refer to anything unpleasant.”

Maida went, and found Wheeler quite ready for a stroll

“Which way?” he asked as they crossed the south veranda.

“Round the park, and bring up under the tree, and have tea there,” dictated Maida, her heart already lighter as she obeyed her mother’s dictum to avoid unpleasant subjects.

But as they walked on, and trivial talk seemed to pall, they naturally reverted to the discussion of their recent guests.

“Mr. Appleby is an old curmudgeon,” Maida declared; “Mr. Keefe is nice and well-behaved; but the little Lane girl is a scream! I never saw any one so funny. Now she was quite a grand lady, and then she was a common little piece! But underneath it all she showed a lot of good sense and I’m sure in her work she has real ability.”

“Appleby wouldn’t keep her if she didn’t have,” her father rejoined; “but why do you call him a curmudgeon? He’s very well-mannered.”

“Oh, yes, he is. And to tell the truth, I’m not sure just what a curmudgeon is. But—he’s it, anyway.”

“I gather you don’t especially admire my old friend.”

“Friend! If he’s a friend—give me enemies!”

“Fie, fie, Maida, what do you mean? Remember, he gave me my pardon.”

“Yes, a high old pardon! Say, dad, tell me again exactly how he worded that letter about the tree.”

“I’ve told you a dozen times! He didn’t mean anything anyhow. He only said, that when the big sycamore tree went into Massachusetts I could go.”

“What a crazy thing to say, wasn’t it?”

“It was because we had been talking about the play of Macbeth. You remember, ‘Till Birnam Wood shall come to Dunsinane.”

“Oh, yes, and then it did come—by a trick.”

“Yes, the men came, carrying branches. We’d been talking about it, discussing some point, and then—it seemed clever, I suppose—to Appleby, and he wrote that about the sycamore.”

“Meaning—never?”

“Meaning never.”

“But Birnam Wood did go.”

“Only by a trick, and that would not work in this case. Why, are you thinking of carrying a branch of sycamore into Massachusetts?”

Maida returned his smile as she answered: “I’d manage to carry the whole tree in, if it would do any good! But, I s’pose, old Puritan Father, you’re too conscientious to take advantage of a trick?”

“Can’t say, till I know the details of the game. But I doubt Appleby’s being unable to see through your trick, and then—where are you?”

“That wouldn’t matter. Trick or no trick, if the big sycamore went into Massachusetts, you could go. But I don’t see any good plan for getting it in. And, too, Sycamore Ridge wouldn’t be Sycamore Ridge without it. Don’t you love the old tree, dad?”

“Of course, as I love every stick and stone about the place. It has been a real haven to me in my perturbed life.”

“Suppose you had to leave it, daddy?”

“I think I’d die, dear. Unless, that is, we could go back home.”

“Isn’t this home?”

“It’s the dearest spot on earth—outside my native state.”

“There, there, dad, don’t let’s talk about it. We’re here for keeps—”

“Heaven send we are, dearest! I couldn’t face the loss of this place. What made you think of such a thing?”

“Oh, I’m thinking of all sorts of things to-day. But, father, while we’re talking of moving—couldn’t you—oh, couldn’t you, bring yourself, somehow, to do what Mr. Appleby wants you to do? I don’t know much about it—but father, darling, if you only could!”

“Maida, my little girl, don’t think I haven’t tried. Don’t think I don’t realize what it means to you and Jeff. I know—oh, I do know how it would simplify matters if I should go over to the Appleby side—and push Sam’s campaign—as I could do it. I know that it would mean my full pardon, my return to my old home, my reunion with old scenes and associations. And more than that, it would mean the happiness of my only child—my daughter—and her chosen husband. And yet, Maida, as God is my judge, I am honest in my assertion that I can’t so betray my honor and spend my remaining years a living lie. I can’t do it, Maida—I can’t.”

And the calm, sorrowful countenance he turned to the girl was more positive and final than any further protestation could have been.

Chapter 5
The Bugle Sounded Taps

Although the portions of the house and grounds that were used by Wheeler included the most attractive spots, yet there were many forbidden places that were a real temptation to him.

An especial one was the flower-covered arbor that had so charmed Genevieve and another was the broad and beautiful north veranda. To be sure, the south piazza was equally attractive, but it was galling to be compelled to avoid any part of his own domain. However, the passing years had made the conditions a matter of habit and it was only occasionally that Wheeler’s annoyance was poignant.

In fact, he and his wife bore the cross better than did Maida. She had never become reconciled to the unjust and arbitrary dictum of the conditional pardon. She lived in a constant fear lest her father should some day inadvertently and unintentionally step on the forbidden ground, and it should be reported. Indeed, knowing her father’s quixotic honesty, she was by no means sure he wouldn’t report it himself.

It had never occurred—probably never would occur, and yet, she often imagined some sudden emergency, such as a fire, or burglars, that might cause his impulsive invasion of the other side of the house.

In her anxiety she had spoken of this to Samuel Appleby when he was there. But he gave her no satisfaction. He merely replied: “A condition is a condition.”

Curtis Keefe had tried to help her cause, by saying: “Surely a case of danger would prove an exception to the rule,” but Appleby had only shaken his head in denial.

Though care had been taken to have the larger part of the house on the Massachusetts side of the line, yet the rooms most used by the family were in Connecticut. Here was Mr. Wheeler’s den, and this had come to be the most used room in the whole house. Mrs. Wheeler’s sitting-room, which her husband never had entered, was also attractive, but both mother and daughter invaded the den, whenever leisure hours were to be enjoyed.

The den contained a large south bay window, which was Maida’s favorite spot. It had a broad, comfortable window-seat, and here she spent much of her time, curled up among the cushions, reading. There were long curtains, which, half-drawn, hid her from view, and often she was there for hours, without her father’s knowing it.

His own work was engrossing. Cut off from his established law business in Massachusetts, he had at first felt unable to start it anew in different surroundings. Then, owing to his wife’s large fortune, it was decided that he should give up all business for a time. And as the time went on, and there was no real necessity for an added income, Wheeler had indulged in his hobby of book collecting, and had amassed a library of unique charm as well as goodly intrinsic value.

Moreover, it kept him interested and occupied, and prevented his becoming morose or melancholy over his restricted life.

So, many long days he worked away at his books, and Maida, hidden in the window-seat, watched him lovingly in the intervals of her reading.

Sitting there, the morning after Samuel Appleby’s departure, she read not at all, although a book lay open on her lap. She was trying to decide a big matter, trying to solve a vexed question.

Maida’s was a straightforward nature. She never deceived herself. If she did anything against her better judgment, even against her conscience, it was with open eyes and understanding mind. She used no sophistry, no pretence, and if she acted mistakenly she was always satisfied to abide by the consequences.

And now, she set about her problem, systematically and methodically, determined to decide upon her course, and then strictly follow it.

She glanced at her father, absorbed in his book catalogues and indexes, and a great wave of love and devotion filled her heart. Surely no sacrifice was too great that would bring peace or pleasure to that martyred spirit.

That he was a martyr, Maida was as sure as she was that she was alive. She knew him too well to believe for an instant that he had committed a criminal act; it was an impossibility for one of his character. But that she could do nothing about. The question had been raised and settled when she was too young to know anything about it, and now, her simple duty was to do anything she might to ease his burden and to help him to forget.

“And,” she said to herself, “first of all, he must stay in this home. He positively must—and that’s all there is about that. Now, if he knows—if he has the least hint that there is another heir, he’ll get out at once—or at least, he’ll move heaven and earth to find the heir, and then we’ll have to move. And where to? That’s an unanswerable question. Anyway, I’ve only one sure conviction. I’ve got to keep from him all knowledge or suspicion of that other heir!

“Maybe it isn’t true—maybe Mr. Appleby made it up—but I don’t think so. At any rate, I have to proceed as if it were true, and do my best. And, first of all, I’ve got to hush up my own conscience. I’ve too much of my father’s nature to want to live here if it rightfully belongs to somebody else. I feel like a thief already. But I’m going to bear that—I’m going to live under that horrid conviction that I’m living a lie—for father’s sake.”

Maida was in earnest. By nature and by training her conscience was acutely sensitive to the finest shades of right and wrong. She actually longed to announce the possibility of another heir and let justice decide the case. But her filial devotion was, in this thing, greater even than her conscience. Her mother, too, she knew, would be crushed by the revelation of the secret, but would insist on thorough investigation, and, if need be, on renunciation of the dear home.

Her mental struggle went on. At times it seemed as if she couldn’t live beneath the weight of such a secret. Then, she knew she must do it. What was her own peace of mind compared with her father’s? What was her own freedom of conscience compared with his tranquillity?

She thought of telling Jeffrey Allen. But, she argued, he would feel as the others would—indeed, as she herself did—that the matter must be dragged out into the open and settled one way or the other.

No; she must bear the brunt of the thing alone. She must never tell any one.

Then, the next point was, would Mr. Appleby tell? He hadn’t said so, but she felt sure he would. Well, she must do all she could to prevent that. He was to return in a day or two. By that time she must work out some plan, must think up some way, to persuade him not to tell. What the argument would be, she had no idea, but she was determined to try her uttermost.

There was one way—but Maida blushed even at the thought.

Sam Appleby—young Sam—wanted to marry her—had wanted to for a year or more. Many times she had refused him, and many times he had returned for another attempt at persuasion. To consent to this would enable her to control the senior Appleby’s revelations.

It would indeed be a last resort—she wouldn’t even think of it yet; surely there was some other way!

The poor, tortured child was roused from her desperate plannings by a cheery voice, calling:

“Maida—Maida! Here’s me!”

“Jeffrey!” she cried, springing from the window-seat, and out to greet him.

“Dear!” he said, as he took her in his arms. “Dear, dearer, dearest! What is troubling you?”

“Trouble? Nothing! How can I be troubled when you’re here?”

“But you are! You can’t fool me, you know! Never mind, you can tell me later. I’ve got three whole days—how’s that?”

“Splendid! How did it happen?”

“Old Bennett went off for a week’s rest—doctor’s orders—and he said, if I did up my chores, nice and proper, I could take a little vacation myself. Oh, you peach! You’re twice as beautifuller as ever!”

A whirlwind embrace followed this speech and left Maida, breathless and laughing, while her father smiled benignly upon the pair.

It was some hours later that, as they sat under the big sycamore, Jeffrey Allen begged Maida to tell him her troubles.

“For I know you’re pretty well broken up over something,” he declared.

“How do you know?” she smiled at him.

“Why, my girl, I know every shadow that crosses your dear heart.”

“Do I wear my heart on my sleeve, then?”

“You don’t have to, for me to see it. I recognize the signs from your face, your manner, your voice—your whole being is trembling with some fear or some deeply-rooted grief. So tell me all about it.”

And Maida told. Not the last horrible threat that Samuel Appleby had told her alone, but the state of things as Appleby had presented it to Daniel Wheeler himself.

“And so you see, Jeff, it’s a deadlock. Father won’t vote for young Sam—I don’t mean only vote, but throw all his influence—and that means a lot—on Sam’s side. And if he doesn’t, Mr. Appleby won’t get him pardoned—you know we hoped he would this year—”

“Yes, dear; it would mean so much to us.”

“Yes, and to dad and mother, too. Well, there’s no hope of that, unless father throws himself heart and soul into the Appleby campaign.”

“And he won’t do that?”

“Of course not. He couldn’t, Jeff. He’d have to subscribe to what he doesn’t believe in—practically subscribe to a lie. And you know father—”

“Yes, and you, too—and myself! None of us would want him to do that, Maida!”

“Doesn’t necessity ever justify a fraud, Jeff?” The question was put so wistfully that the young man smiled.

“Nixy! and you know that even better than I do, dear. Why, Maida, what I love you most for—yes, even more than your dear, sweet, beauty of face, is the marvellous beauty of your nature, your character. Your flawless soul attracted me first of all—even as I saw it shining through your clear, honest eyes.”

“Oh, Jeffrey,” and Maida’s clear eyes filled with tears, “I’m not honest, I’m not true blue!”

“Then nobody on this green earth is! Don’t say such things, dear. I know what you mean, that you think you want your father to sacrifice his principles, in part, at least, to gain his full pardon thereby. See how I read your thoughts! But, you don’t really think that; you only think you think it. If the thing came to a focus, you’d be the first one to forbid the slightest deviation from the line of strictest truth and honor!”

“Oh, Jeff, do you think I would?”

“Of course I think so—I know it! You are a strange make-up, Maida. On an impulse, I can imagine you doing something wrong—even something pretty awful—but with even a little time for thought you couldn’t do a wrong.”

“What!” Maida was truly surprised; “I could jump into any sort of wickedness?”

“I didn’t quite put it that way,” Jeff laughed, “but—well, you know it’s my theory, that given opportunity, anybody can yield to temptation.”

“Nonsense! It’s a poor sort of honor that gives out at a critical moment!”

“Not at all. Most people can resist anything—except temptation! Given a strong enough temptation and a perfect opportunity, and your staunchest, most conscientious spirit is going to succumb.”

“I don’t believe that.”

“You don’t have to—and maybe it isn’t always true. But it often is. Howsomever, it has no bearing on the present case. Your father is not going to lose his head—and though you might do so”—he smiled at her—”I can’t see you getting a chance! You’re not in on the deal, in any way, are you?”

“No; except that Mr. Appleby asked me to use all my influence with father.”

“Which you’ve done?”

“Yes; but it made not the slightest impression.”

“Of course not. I say, Maid, young Sam isn’t coming down here, is he?”

“Not that I know of,” but Maida couldn’t help her rising color, for she knew what Allen was thinking.

“Just let him try it, that’s all! Just let him show his rubicund countenance in these parts—if he wants trouble!”

“Does anybody ever want trouble?” Maida smiled a little.

“Why, of course they do! Sometimes they want it so much that they borrow it!”

“I’m not doing that! I’ve had it offered to me—in full measure, heaped up, pressed down, and running over.”

“Poor little girl. Don’t take it so hard, dearest. I’ll have a talk with your father, and we’ll see how matters really stand. I doubt it’s as bad as you fear—and anyway, if no good results come our way, things are no worse than they have been for years. Your father has lived fairly contented and happy. Let things drift, and in another year or two, after the election is a thing of the past, we can pick up the pardon question again. By that time you and I will be—where will we be, Maida?”

“I don’t know, Jeff—”

“Well, we’ll be together, anyway. You’ll be my wife, and if we can’t live in Boston—we can live out of Boston! And that’s all there is about that!”

“You’ll have to come here to live. There’s enough for us all.”

“Settle down here and sponge on your mother! I see it! But, never you mind, lady fair, something will happen to smooth out our path. Perhaps this old tree will take it into its head to go over into Massachusetts, and so blaze a trail for your father—and you.”

“Oh, very likely. But I’ve renewed my vow—Jeff; unless father can go into the state, I never will!”

“All right, sweetheart. Renew your vow whenever its time limit expires. I’m going to fix things so no vows will be needed—except our marriage vows. Will you take them, dear?”

“When the time comes, yes.” But Maida did not smile, and Jeff, watching her closely, concluded there was yet some point on which she had not enlightened him. However, he asked no further question, but bided his time.

“Guess I’ll chop down the old tree while I’m here, and ship it into Massachusetts as firewood,” he suggested.

“Fine idea,” Maida acquiesced, “but you’d only have your trouble for your pains. You see, the stipulation was, ‘without the intervention of human hands.’”

“All right, we’ll chop it down by machinery, then.”

“I wish the tree promise meant anything, but it doesn’t. It was only made as a proof positive how impossible was any chance of pardon.”

“But now a chance of pardon has come.”

“Yes, but a chance that cannot be taken. You’ll be here, Jeff, when they come back. Then you can talk with Mr. Appleby, and maybe, as man to man, you can convince him—”

“Convince nothing! Don’t you suppose I’ve tried every argument I know of, with that old dunderhead? I’ve spent hours with him discussing your father’s case. I’ve talked myself deaf, dumb and blind, with no scrap of success. But, I don’t mind telling you, Maida, that I might have moved the old duffer to leniency if it hadn’t been for—you.”

“Me?”

“Yes; you know well enough young Sam’s attitude toward you. And old Appleby as good as said if I’d give up my claim on your favor, and give sonny Sam a chance, there’d be hope for your father.”

“H’m. Indeed! You don’t say so! And you replied?”

“I didn’t reply much of anything. For if I’d said what I wanted to say, he would have been quite justified in thinking that I was no fit mate for a Christian girl! Let’s don’t talk about it.”

That night Maida went to her room, leaving Allen to have a long serious talk with her father.

She hoped much from the confab, for Jeff Allen was a man of ideas, and of good, sound judgment. He could see straight, and could advise sensibly and well. And Maida hoped, too, that something would happen or some way be devised that the secret told her by Appleby might be of no moment. Perhaps there was no heir, save in the old man’s imagination. Or perhaps it was only someone who would inherit a portion of the property, leaving enough for their own support and comfort.

At any rate, she went to bed comforted and cheered by the knowledge that Jeff was there, and that if there was anything to be done he would do it.

She had vague misgivings because she had not told him what Appleby had threatened. But, she argued, if she decided to suppress that bit of news, she must not breathe it to anybody—not even Jeff.

So, encouraged at the outlook, and exhausted by her day of worriment, she slept soundly till well into the night.

Then she was awakened by a strange sound. It gave her, at first, a strange impression of being on an ocean steamer. She couldn’t think why, for her half-awake senses responded only to the vague sense of familiarity with such a sound.

But wide awake in a moment, she heard more of it, and realized that it was a bugle to which she listened—the clear, though not loud, notes of a bugle. Amazed, she jumped from her bed, and looked out of a window in the direction of the sound.

She saw nothing, and heard the last faint notes die away, as she listened.

There was no further sound, and she returned to bed, and after a time fell asleep again.

She pondered over the occurrence while dressing next morning, wondering what it meant.

Downstairs she found only Jeffrey in the dining-room.

“Hear anything funny in the night, Maida?” he asked her.

“Yes; a bugle,” she returned. “Did you hear it?”

“Of course I did. Who plays the thing around here?”

“No one, that I know of. Wasn’t it rather strange?”

“Rath-er! I should say so. Made me think of the old English castles, where spooks walk the parapets and play on bugles or bagpipes or some such doings.”

“Oh, those silly stories! But this was a real bugle, played by a real man.”

“How do you know?”

“By the sound.”

“Spook bugles sound just the same.”

“How do you know?”

“How could they be heard if they didn’t? Here’s your father. Good-morning, Mr. Wheeler. Who’s your musical neighbor?”

But Daniel Wheeler did not smile.

“Go up to your mother, Maida, dear,” he said; “she—she isn’t well. Cheer her up all you can.”

“What’s the trouble?” Allen asked, solicitously, as Maida ran from the room.

“A strange thing, my boy. Did you hear a bugle call last night?”

“Yes, sir; it sounded ‘taps.’ Is there a camp near by?”

“No; nothing of the sort. Now—well, to put it frankly, there is an old tradition in Mrs. Wheeler’s family that a phantom bugler, in that very way, announces an approaching death.”

“Good Lord! You don’t mean she believes that!”

“She does, and what can I say to disprove her belief? We all heard it. Who could have done such a trick?”

“I don’t know who, but somebody did. That bugle was played by a pair of good, strong human lungs—not by a spirit breath!”

“It sounded so, but that doesn’t affect Mrs. Wheeler’s belief. If I could produce the bugler, and get him to admit it, she might believe him, but otherwise, she’s sure it was the traditional bugler, and that earthly days are numbered for some one of our little family.”

“You don’t believe this foolishness, sir?”

“I can’t; my nature rejects the very idea of the supernatural. Yet, who could or would do it? There’s no neighbor who would, and I know of no one round here who knows of the tradition.”

“Oh, pshaw, it’s the merest casual occurrence. A Boy Scout, like as not—or a gay young chap returning from a merry party. There are lots of explanations, quite apart from spooks!”

“I hope you can persuade Mrs. Wheeler of that. She is nervously ill, and will hear of no rational explanation for the bugle call.”

“Beg her to come down to breakfast, do; then we’ll all jolly her up until she loses her fears.”

But though Allen’s attempt was a brave one and ably seconded by Mrs. Wheeler’s husband and daughter, they made not the slightest progress toward relieving her fears or disabusing her mind of her conviction.

Chapter 6
The Other Heir

A general air of vague foreboding hung over the Wheeler household. Mrs. Wheeler tried to rally from the shock of the inexplicable bugle call, but though she was bright and cheerful, it was fully evident that her manner was forced and her gayety assumed.

Maida, solicitous for her mother, was more than ever resolved not to disclose the news of another possible heir to the estate, though the more she thought about it, the more she felt sure Samuel Appleby had spoken the truth.

She decided that he had learned of the other heir, and that he was none too honest to be willing to keep the fact a secret, if, in turn, he could serve his own ends. She did not need to be told that if she would look on young Sam with favor, her father would perforce lend his aid to the campaign. And, in that case, she knew that the other heir would never be mentioned again.

And yet, the price—the acceptance of young Sam, was more than she could pay. To give up Jeff Allen, her own true love, and marry a man of such a different type and calibre as Sam Appleby was—it was too much! And Jeff would have something to say about that! Yet, she must decide for herself. If she made the supreme sacrifice, it must be done as if of her own volition. If her parents or her lover guessed that she was acting under compulsion, they would put an end to the project.

But could she, even if willing to sacrifice herself, could she ask Sam Appleby to take her? Yet she knew this would be the easiest thing in the world. A mere hint to Mr. Appleby that she approved of his son would bring the younger man down to the house at once and matters would then take care of themselves.

But could she do it? She looked at Jeff, as he sat talking to her father, his strong, fine face alight with the earnestness of their discussion. He was a man of a thousand—her own Jeffrey. No, she could not break his heart—she had no right to do that. It would be a crime to blot out the joy and happiness from the eager young face.

And then she looked at the other dear face. Her father, worn and aging, but still in rugged health. Could she let the inevitable happen, and see him turned out of the home that he loved—the home that had so long been his sanctuary, his refuge from the cold injustice of his fellow-men?

And her mother, almost ill from her fright and foreboding. To add the disaster of poverty and homelessness—no, she couldn’t do that!

And so poor Maida wondered and worried; her thoughts going round in a circle, and coming back to the two men she loved, and knew she must break one heart or the other.

At one moment her duty to her parents seemed preŰminent. Then, again, she realized a duty to herself and to the man who loved her.

“I don’t know what to do,” she thought, piteously; “I’ll wait till Mr. Appleby comes back here, and then I’ll tell him just how I’m placed. Perhaps I can appeal to his better nature.”

But Maida Wheeler well knew that however she might appeal to Samuel Appleby, it would be in vain. She knew from the very fact that he came to her home, and made the offers and threats that he did make, that his mind was made up, and no power on earth could move him from his decision. He had a strong case, he probably thought; the offer of full pardon to Dan Wheeler, and the offer to Maida to keep quiet about another heir, would, he doubtless thought, be sufficient to win his cause.

“What an awful man he is,” she thought. “I wish he were dead! I know I oughtn’t to wish that, but I do. I’d kill him myself if it would help father. I oughtn’t to say that—and I don’t suppose I really would do it, but it would simplify matters a lot! And somebody said, ‘We are all capable of crime—even the best of us.’ Well, of course I wouldn’t kill the old man, but he’d better not give me a real good chance!”

“What are you thinking about, little girl?” asked Allen, turning to her.

Maida looked at him and then at her father, and said, deliberately:

“I was just thinking how I’d like to kill Samuel Appleby.”

“Senior, junior, or both?” laughed Allen, who thought little of her words, save as a jest.

“Senior, I meant, but we may as well make it a wholesale slaughter.”

“Don’t, Maida,” her father looked grieved. “Don’t speak flippantly of such subjects.”

“Well, father, why not be honest? Wouldn’t you like to kill him?”

“No, child—not that.”

“But you’d be glad if he were dead! There, you needn’t answer. But if you were absolutely honest, you’d have to admit it.”

“I’ll admit it,” said her mother, wearily. “Samuel Appleby has spoiled all our lives—is still spoiling them. He does it for his own selfish interests. He has ruined the happiness of my husband, myself, my daughter, and my prospective son-in-law. Is it any wonder that we should honestly wish he were dead? It may not sound Christian—but it is an honest expression of human nature.”

“It is, Mrs. Wheeler,” and Allen’s face looked more pained than shocked. “But, all the same, we oughtn’t to talk like that.”

“No, indeed,” agreed Wheeler. “Please, Maida, darling, don’t say such things. And, Sara, if you must say them, say them to me when we are alone. It’s no sort of talk for these young people’s ears.”

“Why, I said it before mother did!” Maida broke out. “And I mean it! I’m at the end of my rope. If that man is to hound us and torture us all our lives, I can’t help wishing him dead.”

“There, there, daughter, please don’t.”

“I won’t, dad. I’ll never say it again. But I put myself on record, and if the rest of you were honest, you’d do the same thing!”

“That we’d like to kill him?” asked Allen, smiling at the idea.

“I didn’t say that—I said we wish him dead. If a nice, convenient stroke of lightning came his way, or—”

“Maida, hush!” her father spoke sternly; “I won’t allow such talk! It isn’t like you, my child, and it isn’t—”

“Isn’t good form, I s’pose!” she interrupted. “Well, I’ll let up, dads, and I am a little ashamed of myself. Mother, maybe the phantom bugler was announcing the death of old Appleby!”

“Hush, Maida! What has got into you?”

“I’m incorrigible, I guess—”

“You are!” and Allen smiled fondly at her. “Come out for a walk in the sunshine with me, and get these awful thoughts out of your brain.”

“I know I’m a criminal,” said Maida, as they walked down a garden path; “but I can’t help it. I’ve more to bear than you know of, Jeff, and you must make allowance.”

“I do, sweetheart. And I know how you’re troubled, and all that, but don’t say such dreadful things. I know you don’t mean them.”

“No, I don’t—at least, I don’t think I do. But I won’t say them any more. I think I lost my head—”

“Forget it. You’re upset and nervous and your mother’s worry reflects itself on you. Is there really a bugler tradition?”

“Not over here. There was one connected with mother’s family long ago, in England, I believe. Of course, it was just one of those old spook yarns that most old houses have over there. But mother always remembered it. She has told everybody who ever visited here about it, and I think she always expected to hear the thing. Queer, though, wasn’t it?”

“Not very. It’s explainable by natural means, of course. Probably we’ll never know who it was, but it was no phantom, be sure of that.”

“Oh, well, it doesn’t matter, except that it has upset mother so dreadfully. But she’ll get over it—if nothing happens.”

“Nothing will happen—if by that you mean a death in the family. More likely a marriage will take place!”

“Not ours, Jeff. I think that bugler sounded the death-knell of our hopes.”

“Maida! What is the matter with you? Why are you talking like that? I know you’ve something on your mind that you haven’t told me yet. Something pretty serious, for it makes you say the strangest things! Tell me, darling, won’t you?”

“I can’t, Jeff. I mean, there isn’t anything. Wait till those people come back again. You’ll be here, won’t you? They’re coming to-morrow.”

“You bet I will! I’ll see what I can do with old curmudgeon. You know I’m argumentative.”

“That won’t do any good with Appleby. What he wants is help from dad. If he doesn’t get that, he’ll punish us all.”

“And he can’t get that, for your dad won’t give it. So it looks as if we must all take our punishment. Well, we’re prepared.”

“You wouldn’t speak so lightly if you knew everything!”

“That’s why I ask you to tell me everything. Do, Maida, I’m sure I can help you.”

“Wait till they come,” was all Maida would say in response to his repeated requests.

And at last they came.

Smiling and hearty, Samuel Appleby reŰntered the Wheeler home, apparently as self-assured and hopeful as when he left it.

Keefe was courteous and polite as always and Genevieve Lane was prettier than ever by reason of some new Boston-bought clothes.

Allen was introduced to the newcomers and sized up by one glance of Samuel Appleby’s keen eyes. Privately he decided that this young man was a very formidable rival of his son. But he greeted Allen with great cordiality, which Jeff thought it best to return, although he felt an instinctive dislike for the man’s personality.

“Come along with me, Maida,” and with daring familiarity, Genevieve put her hand through Maida’s arm and drew her toward the stairs. “I have the same room, I s’pose,” she babbled on; “I’ve lots of new things I want to show you. And,” she added as they entered the room, and she closed the door, “I want a talkfest with you before the others begin.”

“What about?” asked Maida, feeling the subject would be one of importance.

“Well, it’s just this. And don’t be too shocked if I speak right out in meetin’. I’ve determined to marry into this bunch that I’m working for.”

“Have you?” laughed Maida. “Are they equally determined?”

“I’m not joking—I’m in dead earnest. A poor girl has got to do the best she can for herself in this cold world. Well, I’m going to corral one of the three: old man Appleby, young man Appleby, or Curt Keefe.”

“Which one, for choice?” Maida still spoke lightly.

“You don’t think I’m in earnest, but I am. Well, I’d rather have young Sam. Next, I’d choose his father; and, lastly, I’m pretty sure I could nail Curtie Keefe.”

Maida couldn’t help her disapproval showing in her face, but she said: “It isn’t just the way I’d go about selecting a husband, but if it’s your way, all right. Can I help you?”

“Do you mean that?”

“Why, yes, if I can do anything practical.”

“Oh, you can! It’s only to keep off the grass, regarding young Sam.”

“You mean not to try to charm him myself?”

“Just about that. And I’ll tell you why I say this. It seems old Appleby has about made up his mind that you’re the right and proper mate for young Appleby. Oh, you needn’t draw yourself up in that haughty fashion—he’s good enough for you, Miss!”

“I didn’t say he wasn’t,” and Maida laughed in spite of herself at Genevieve’s manner. “But, truly, I don’t want him. You see I’m engaged to Mr. Allen.”

“I know it, but that cuts no ice with Pa Appleby. He plans to oust Mr. Allen and put his son in his place.”

“Oh, he does, does he?” Maida’s heart sank, for she had anticipated something like this. “Am I to be consulted?”

“Now, look here, Maida Wheeler. You needn’t take that attitude, for it won’t get you anywhere. You don’t know Mr. Appleby as I do. What he says goes—goes, understand?”

Maida went white. “But such a thing as you speak of won’t go!” she exclaimed.

“I’m not sure it won’t, if he so ordains it,” Miss Lane said, gravely. “But I just wanted your assurance that you don’t hanker after Sammy-boy, so I can go ahead and annex him myself.”

“In defiance of Mr. Appleby’s intents?”

“I may be able to circumvent him. I’m some little schemer myself. And he may die.”

“What?”

“Yep. He has an unsatisfactory heart, and it may go back on him at any minute.”

“What a thing to bank on!”

“It may happen all the same. But I’ve other irons in the fire. Run along, now; I’ve work to do. You’re a dear girl, Maida, and the time may come when I can help you.”

The round, rosy-cheeked face looked very serious, and Maida said, gratefully: “I may be very glad of such help, Genevieve.”

Then she went away.

Samuel Appleby was lying in wait for her.

“Here you are, my girl,” he said, as she came downstairs. “Come for a ramble with me, won’t you?”

And, knowing that the encounter was inevitable, Maida went.

Appleby wasted no time in preliminaries.

“I’ve got to go home to-morrow morning,” he said. “I’ve got to have this matter of your father’s help in the campaign settled before I go.”

“I thought it was settled,” returned Maida, calmly. “You know he will never give you the help you ask. And oh, please, Mr. Appleby, won’t you give up the question? You have ruined my father’s life—all our lives; won’t you cease bothering him, and, whether you let him get his full pardon or not, won’t you stop trying to coerce his will?”

“No; I will not. You are very pleading and persuasive, my girl, but I have my own ax to grind. Now, here’s a proposition. If you—I’ll speak plainly—if you will consent to marry my son, I’ll get your father’s full pardon, and I’ll not ask for his campaign support.”

Maida gasped. All her troubles removed at once—but at such a price! She thought of Allen, and a great wave of love surged over her.

“Oh, I can’t—I can’t,” she moaned. “What are you, Mr. Appleby? I love my chosen mate, my fiancÚ, Jeffrey Allen. Would you ask me to give him up and marry your son, whom I esteem highly, but do not love?”

“Certainly; I ask just that. You are free to say yes or no!”

“Then, I say no. There must be some other way! Give me some other chance, even though it be a harder one!”

“All right, I will.” Mr. Appleby’s face was hard now, his lips set in a straight line; he was about to play his last card. “All right, I will. Here it is. The other heir, of whom I spoke to you the other day, is Curtis Keefe.”

“Mr. Keefe!”

“Yes—but wait—he doesn’t know it. I hit upon a clue in his chance reference to his mother’s family, and unknown to him I investigated genealogies and all that, and it is positive, he is the heir to all this estate, and not your mother.”

“You’re sure?”

“Yes, absolutely certain. But, remember, he doesn’t know it. He has no idea of such a thing. Now, if you’ll marry Sam, Keefe shall never know. I’ll burn all the papers that I have in evidence. You and I will forget the secret, and your father and mother can rest in undisturbed possession here for the rest of their lives.”

“And you wouldn’t insist on father’s campaign work?”

“If you marry my son, I rather think your father will lend his aid—at least in some few matters, without urging. But he shall not be urged beyond his wishes, rest assured of that. In a word, Maida, all that you want or desire shall be yours except your choice of a husband. And I’ll wager that inside of a year, you’ll be wondering what you ever saw in young Allen, and rejoicing that you are the wife of the governor instead!”

“I can’t do it—oh, I can’t! And, then, too, there’s Mr. Keefe—and the heirship!”

“Mr. Keefe and the airship!” exclaimed Curtis Keefe himself, as he came round the corner and met them face to face. “Am I to go up in an airship? And when?”

Appleby flashed a quick glance at Maida, which she rightly interpreted to mean to let Keefe rest unenlightened as to his error.

“You’re not the Mr. Keefe we meant,” said Appleby, smiling at his secretary. “There are others.”

And then Appleby walked away, feeling his best plan was to let Maida think things over.

“What Keefe is going up in an airship?” Curt insisted, his curiosity aroused.

“I don’t know,” said Maida, listlessly. “Mr. Appleby was telling me some airship yarn. I didn’t half listen. I—I can’t bear that man!”

“I can’t blame you for that, Miss Wheeler. But we’re going away to-morrow, and he’ll be out of your way.”

“No; he has me in a trap. He has arranged it so—oh, what am I saying!”

“Don’t go on, if you feel you might regret it. Of course, as Mr. Appleby’s confidential secretary, I know most of his affairs. May I say that I’m very sorry for you, and may I offer my help, if you can use me in any way?”

“How kind you are, Mr. Keefe. But if you know the details of the matter, you know that I am in a fearful dilemma. Oh, if only that man were out of existence!”

“Oh, Miss Wheeler,” and Keefe looked undisguisedly shocked.

“I don’t mean anything wrong,” Maida’s eyes were piteous, “but I don’t know what to do! I’ve no one to confide in—no way to turn for help—for advice—”

“Why, Miss Wheeler, you have parents, friends—”

“No one that I can speak to! Forgive me, Mr. Keefe, but I am nearly out of my mind. Forgive me, if I ask you to leave me—will you?”

“Of course, you poor child! I ought to have sensed that I was intruding!”

With a courteous bow, he walked away, leaving Maida alone on the seat beneath the old sycamore.

She thought long and deeply. She seemed to grow older and more matured of judgment as she dealt with the big questions in her mind.

After a long time she came to her decision. Torn and wracked with emotions, she bravely faced the many-sided situation, and made up her mind. Then she got up and walked into the house.

That afternoon, about five o’clock, Appleby and Wheeler sat in the latter’s den, talking over the same old subject. Maida, hidden in the window-seat, was listening. They did not know she was there, but they would not have cared. They talked of nothing she did not already know.

Appleby grew angry and Wheeler grew angry. The talk was coming to a climax, both men were holding on to their tempers, but it was clear one or the other must give way soon.

Jeffrey Allen, about to go in search of Maida, saw a wisp of smoke curling from the garage, which from his seat on the north veranda was in plain view.

He ran toward the smoke, shouting “Fire!” as he ran, and in a few minutes the garage was ablaze. The servants gathered about, Mrs. Wheeler looked from her bedroom window, and Keefe joined Allen in attempts to subdue the flames.

And with the efficient help of two chauffeurs and other willing workers the fire was soon reduced to a smouldering heap of ashes.

Allen ran, then, to the den, to tell them there that the danger was past.

He entered to see Samuel Appleby dead in his chair, with a bullet through his heart. Daniel Wheeler stood beside him, gazing distractedly at the dead man. Maida, white and trembling, was half hidden as she stood just inside the curtains of the window.

Not realizing that there was no hope of life, Allen shouted for help, and tore open Appleby’s coat to feel his heart.

“He’s quite dead,” he said, in an awe-stricken tone. “But, we must get a doctor at once!”

“I’ll telephone,” spoke up Genevieve’s quiet voice, and with her usual efficiency, she found the number and called the doctor.

“Now the police?” she went on, as if such matters belonged to her province.

“Certainly,” said Curtis Keefe, who stood by his late employer, taking charge, by common consent.

“Who killed him?” said Genevieve, in a hushed tone, as she left the telephone.

All looked from one to another, but nobody replied.

Mrs. Wheeler came to the doorway.

“I knew it!” she cried; “the phantom bugler!”

“But the phantom bugler didn’t kill him,” said Genevieve, “and we must find out who did!”

Chapter 7
Inquiries

Late the same evening the Wheeler family and their guests were gathered in the living-room. Much had been done in the past few hours. The family doctor had been there, the medical examiner had been called and had given his report, and the police had come and were still present.

Samuel Appleby, junior—though no longer to be called by that designation—was expected at any moment.

Two detectives were there, but one, Hallen by name, said almost nothing, seeming content to listen, while his colleague conducted the questioning of the household.

Burdon, the talkative one, was a quick-thinking, clear-headed chap, decided of manner and short of speech.

“Now, look here,” he was saying, “this was an inside job, of course. Might have been one of the servants, or might have been any of you folks. How many of you are ready to help me in my investigations by telling all you know?”

“I thought we had to do that, whether we’re ready to or not,” spoke up Genevieve, who was not at all abashed by the presence of the authorities. “Of course, we’ll all tell all we know—we want to find the murderer just as much as you do.”

Keefe looked at her with a slight frown of reproof, but said nothing. The others paid no attention to the girl’s rather forward speech.

In fact, everybody seemed dazed and dumb. The thing was so sudden and so awful—the possibilities so many and so terrible—that each was aghast at the situation.

The three Wheelers said nothing. Now and then they looked at one another, but quickly looked away, and preserved their unbroken silence.

Jeffrey Allen became the spokesman for them. It seemed inevitable—for some one must answer the first leading questions; and though Curtis Keefe and Miss Lane were in Appleby’s employ, the detective seemed more concerned with the Wheeler family.

“Bad blood, wasn’t there, between Mr. Appleby and Mr. Wheeler?” Burdon inquired.

“They had not been friends for years,” Allen replied, straightforwardly, for he felt sure there was nothing to be gained by misrepresentation.

“Huh! What was the trouble, Mr. Wheeler?”

Daniel Wheeler gave a start. Then, pulling himself together, he answered slowly: “The trouble was that Mr. Appleby and myself belonged to different political parties, and when I opposed his election as governor, he resented it, and a mutual enmity followed which lasted ever since.”

“Did you kill Mr. Appleby?”

Wheeler looked at his questioner steadily, and replied: “I have nothing to say.”

“That’s all right, you don’t have to incriminate yourself.”

“He didn’t kill him!” cried Maida, unable to keep still. “I was there, in the room—I could see that he didn’t kill him!”

“Who did then?” and the detective turned to her.

“I—I don’t know. I didn’t see who did it.”

“Are you sure, Miss? Better tell the truth.”

“I tell you I didn’t see—I didn’t see anything! I had heard an alarm of fire, and I was wondering where it was.”

“You didn’t get up and go to find out?”

“No—no, I stayed where I was.”

“Where were you?”

“In the window-seat—in the den.”

“Meaning the room where the shooting occurred?”

“Yes. My father’s study.”

“And from where you sat, you could see the whole affair?”

“I might have—if I had looked—but I didn’t. I was reading.”

“Thought you were wondering about the fire?”

“Yes,” Maida was quite composed now. “I raised my eyes from my book when I heard the fire excitement.”

“What sort of excitement?”

“I heard people shouting, and I heard men running. I was just about to go out toward the north veranda, where the sounds came from, when I— I can’t go on!” and Maida broke down and wept.

“You must tell your story—maybe it’d be easier now than later. Can’t you go on, Miss Wheeler?”

“There’s little to tell. I saw Mr. Appleby fall over sideways—”

“Didn’t you hear the shot?”

“No—yes—I don’t know.” Maida looked at her father, as if to gain help from his expression, but his face showed only agonized concern for her.

“Dear child,” he said, “tell the truth. Tell just what you saw—or heard.”

“I didn’t hear anything—I mean the noise from the people running to the fire so distracted my attention, I heard no shot or any sound in the room. I just saw Mr. Appleby fall over—”

“You’re not giving us a straight story, Miss Wheeler,” said the detective, bluntly. “Seems to me you’d better begin all over.”

“Seems to me you’d better cease questioning Miss Wheeler,” said Curtis Keefe, looking sympathetically at Maida; “she’s just about all in, and I think she’s entitled to some consideration.”

“H’m. Pretty hard to find the right one to question. Mrs. Wheeler, now—I’d rather not trouble her too much.”

“Talk to me,” said Allen. “I can tell you the facts, and you can draw your deductions afterward.”

“Me, too,” said Keefe. “Ask us the hard questions, and then when you need to, inquire of the Wheelers. Remember, they’re under great nervous strain.”

“Well, then,” Burdon seemed willing to take the advice, “you start in, Mr. Keefe. You’re Mr. Appleby’s secretary, I believe?”

“Yes; we were on our way back to his home in Stockfield—we expected to go there to-morrow.”

“You got any theory of the shooting?”

“I’ve nothing to found a theory on. I was out at the garage helping to put out a small fire that had started there.”

“How’d it start?”

“I don’t know. In the excitement that followed, I never thought to inquire.”

“Tell your story of the excitement.”

“I was at the garage with Mr. Allen, and two chauffeurs—the Wheelers’ man and Mr. Appleby’s man. Together, and with the help of a gardener or two, we put the fire out. Then Mr. Allen said: ‘Let’s go to the house and tell them there’s no danger. They may be worried.’ Mr. Allen started off and I followed. He preceded me into the den—”

“Then you tell what you saw there, Mr. Allen.”

“I saw, first of all,” began Jeffrey, “the figure of Mr. Appleby sitting in a chair, near the middle of the room. His head hung forward limply, and his whole attitude was unnatural. The thought flashed through my mind that he had had a stroke of some sort, and I went to him—and I saw he was dead.”

“You knew that at once?”

“I judged so, from the look on his face and the helpless attitude. Then I felt for his heart and found it was still.”

“You a doctor?”

“No; but I’ve had enough experience to know when a man is dead.”

“All right. What was Mr. Wheeler doing?”

“Nothing. He stood on the other side of the room, gazing at his old friend.”

“And Miss Wheeler?”

“She, too, was looking at the scene. She stood in the bay window.”

“I see. Now, Mr. Keefe, I believe you followed close on Mr. Allen’s heels. Did you see the place—much as he has described it?”

“Yes;” Keefe looked thoughtful. “Yes, I think I can corroborate every word of his description.”

“All right. Now, Miss Lane, where were you?”

“I was at the fire. I followed the two men in, and I saw the same situation they have told you of.”

Genevieve’s quiet, composed air was a relief after the somewhat excited utterances of the others.

“What did you do?”

“I am accustomed to wait on Mr. Appleby, and it seemed quite within my province that I should telephone for help for him. I called the doctor—and then I called the police station.”

“You don’t think you took a great deal on yourself?”

Genevieve stared at him. “I do not think so. I only think that I did my duty as I saw it, and in similar circumstances I should do the same again.”

At this point the other detective was heard from.

“I would like to ask,” Hallen said, “what Mrs. Wheeler meant by crying out that it was the work of a ‘phantom burglar’?”

“Not burglar—bugler,” said Mrs. Wheeler, suddenly alert.

“Bugler!” Hallen stared. “Please explain, ma’am.”

“There is a tradition in my family,” Mrs. Wheeler said, in a slow, sad voice, “that when a member of the family is about to die, a phantom bugler makes an appearance and sounds ‘taps’ on his bugle. This phenomenon occurred last night.”

“Oh, no! Spooks! But Mr. Appleby is not a member of your family.”

“No; but he was under our roof. And so I know the warning was meant for him.”

“Well, well, we can’t waste time on such rubbish,” interposed Burdon, “the bugle call had nothing to do with the case.”

“How do you explain it, then?” asked Mrs. Wheeler. “We all heard it, and there’s no bugler about here.”

“Cut it out,” ordered Burdon. “Take up the bugler business some other time, if you like—but we must get down to brass tacks now.”

His proceedings were interrupted, however, by the arrival of young Samuel Appleby.

The big man came in and a sudden hush fell upon the group.

Daniel Wheeler rose—and put out a tentative hand, then half withdrew it as if he feared it would not be accepted.

Hallen watched this closely. He strongly suspected Wheeler was the murderer, but he had no intention of getting himself in bad by jumping at the conclusion.

However, Appleby grasped the hand of his host as if he had no reason for not doing so.

“I’m sorry, sir, you should have had this tragedy beneath your roof,” he said.

Hallen listened curiously. It was strange he should adopt an apologetic tone, as if Wheeler had been imposed upon.

“Our sorrow is all for you, Sam,” Dan Wheeler returned, and then as Appleby passed on to greet Maida and her mother, Wheeler sank back in his chair and was again lost in thought.

The whole scene was one of constraint. Appleby merely nodded to Genevieve, and spoke a few words to Keefe, and then asked to see his father.

On his return to the living-room, he had a slightly different air. He was a little more dictatorial, more ready to advise what to do.

“The circumstances are distressing,” he said, “and I know, Mr. Wheeler, you will agree with me that we should take my father back to his home as soon as possible.

“That will be done to-morrow morning—as soon as the necessary formalities can be attended to. Now, anything I can do for you people, must be done to-night.”

“You can do a lot,” said Burdon. “You can help us pick out the murderer—for, I take it, you want justice done?”

“Yes—yes, of course.” Appleby looked surprised. “Of course I want this deed avenged. But I can’t help in the matter. I understand you suspect some one of the—the household. Now, I shall never be willing to accuse any one of this deed. If it can be proved the work of an outsider—a burglar or highwayman—or intruder of any sort, I am ready to prosecute—but if suspicion rests on—on anyone I know—I shall keep out of it.”

“You can’t do that, Mr. Appleby,” said Hallen; “you’ve got to tell all you know.”

“But I don’t know anything! I wasn’t here!”

“You know about motives,” Hallen said, doggedly. “Tell us now, who bore your father any ill-will, and also had opportunity to do the shooting?”

“I shan’t pretend I don’t know what you’re driving at,” and Appleby spoke sternly, “but I’ve no idea that Mr. Daniel Wheeler did this deed. I know he and my father were not on friendly terms, but you need more evidence than that to accuse a man of murder.”

“We’ll look after the evidence,” Hallen assured him. “All you need tell about is the enmity between the two men.”

“An enmity of fifteen years’ standing,” Appleby said, slowly, “is not apt to break out in sudden flame of crime. I am not a judge nor am I a detective, but until Mr. Wheeler himself confesses to the deed, I shall never believe he shot my father.”

Wheeler looked at the speaker in a sort of dumb wonder.

Maida gazed at him with eyes full of thankfulness, and the others were deeply impressed by the just, even noble, attitude of the son of the victim of the tragedy.

But Hallen mused over this thing. He wondered why Appleby took such an unusual stand, and decided there was something back of it about which he knew nothing as yet. And he determined to find out.

“We can get in touch with you at any time, Mr. Appleby?” he asked.

“Oh, yes, of course. After a few days—after my father’s funeral, I will be at your disposal. But as I’ve said, I know nothing that would be of any use as evidence. Do you need to keep Mr. Keefe and Miss Lane for any reason?”

“Why, I don’t think so,” the detective said. “Not longer than to-morrow, anyhow. I’ll take their depositions, but they have little testimony to give. However, you’re none of you very far away.”

“No; you can always get us at Stockfield. Mr. Keefe will probably be willing to stay on and settle up my father’s affairs, and I know we shall be glad of Miss Lane’s services for a time.” Appleby glanced at the two as he spoke, and they nodded.

“Well, we’re going to stay right here,” and Burdon spoke decidedly. “Whatever the truth of the matter may be, it’s clear to be seen that suspicion must naturally point toward the Wheeler family, or some intruder. Though how an intruder could get in the room, unseen by either Mr. Wheeler or his daughter, is pretty inexplicable. But those things we’re here to find out. And we’ll do it, Mr. Appleby. I’m taking it for granted you want the criminal found?”

“Oh—I say, Mr.—er—Burdon, have a little common decency! Don’t come at me with questions of that sort, when I’m just about knocked out with this whole fearful occurrence! Have a heart, man, give me time to realize my loss, before you talk to me of avenging it!”

“That’s right,” said Curt Keefe. “I think Mr. Appleby deserves more consideration. Suppose we excuse him for the night.”

Somewhat reluctantly the detective was brought to consent, and then Daniel Wheeler asked that he and his wife and daughter also be excused from further grilling that night.

“We’re not going to run away,” he said, pathetically. “We’ll meet you in the morning, Mr. Burdon, but please realize our stunned condition at present.”

“My mother must be excused,” Maida put in. “I am sure she can stand no more,” and with a solicitous care, she assisted Mrs. Wheeler to rise from her chair.

“Yes, I am ill,” the elder woman said, and so white and weak did she look that no one could doubt her word.

The three Wheelers went to their room, and Genevieve Lane went off with them, leaving Allen and Keefe, with Sam Appleby, to face the two detectives’ fire of questions.

“You vamoose, too, Sam,” Keefe advised. “There’s no use in your staying here and listening to harrowing details. Mr. Allen and I will have a talk with the detectives, and you can talk to-morrow morning, if you wish.”

“All right,” and Appleby rose. “But, look here, Keefe. I loved and respected my father, and I revere his memory—and, yes, I want justice done—of course, but, all the same, if Wheeler shot dad, I don’t want that poor old chap prosecuted. You know, I never fully sympathized with father’s treatment of him, and I’d like to make amends to Wheeler by giving him the benefit of the doubt—if it can be done.”

“It can’t be done!” declared Burdon, unwilling to agree to this heresy. “The law can’t be set aside by personal sympathy, Mr. Appleby!”

“Well, I only said, if it can be,” and the man wearily turned and left the room.

“Now, then,” said Keefe, “let’s talk this thing out. I know your position, Allen, and I’m sorry for you. And I want to say, right now, if I can help in any way, I will. I like the Wheelers, and I must say I subscribe to the ideas of Sam Appleby. But all that’s up to the detectives. I’ve got to go away to-morrow, so I’m going to ask you, Mr. Burdon, to get through with me to-night. I’ve lots to do at the other end of the route, and I must get busy. But I do want to help here, too. So, at any rate, fire your questions at me—that is, if you know what you want to ask.”

“I’ll ask one, right off, Mr. Keefe,” and Hallen spoke mildly but straightforwardly. “Can you give me any fact or suggest to me any theory that points toward any one but Mr. Daniel Wheeler as the murderer of Samuel Appleby?”

Curtis Keefe was dismayed. What could he reply to this very definite question? A negative answer implicated Wheeler at once—while a “yes,” would necessitate the disclosure of another suspect. And Keefe was not blind to the fact that Hallen’s eyes had strayed more than once toward Maida Wheeler with a curious glance.

Quickly making up his mind, Keefe returned: “No fact, but a theory based on my disbelief in Mr. Wheeler’s guilt, and implying the intrusion of some murderous-minded person.”

“Meaning some marauder?” Hallen looked disdainful.

“Some intruder,” Keefe said. “I don’t know who, or for what reason, but I don’t think it fair to accuse Mr. Wheeler without investigating every possible alternative.”

“There are several alternatives,” Burdon declared; “I may as well say right out, that I’ve no more definite suspicion of Mr. Wheeler than I have of Mrs. Wheeler or Miss Wheeler.”

“What!” and Jeffrey Allen looked almost murderous himself.

“Don’t get excited, sir. It’s my business to suspect. Suspicion is not accusation. You must admit all three of the Wheeler family had a motive. That is, they would, one and all, have been glad to be released from the thrall in which Mr. Appleby held them. And no one else present had a motive! I might suspect you, Mr. Allen, but that you were at the fire at the time, according to the direct testimony of Mr. Keefe.”

“Oh, yes, we were at the fire, all right,” Allen agreed, “and I’d knock you down for saying to me what you did, only you are justified. I would far rather be suspected of the murder of Mr. Appleby than to have any of the Wheelers suspected. But owing to Keefe’s being an eye-witness of me at the time, I can’t falsify about it. However, you may set it right down that none of the three Wheelers did do it, and I’ll prove it!”

“Go to it, Allen,” Keefe cried. “I’ll help.”

“You’re two loyal friends of the Wheeler family,” said Hallen in his quiet way, “but you can’t put anything over. There’s no way out. I know all about the governor’s pardon and all that. I know the feud between the two men was beyond all hope of patching up. And I know that to-night had brought about a climax that had to result in tragedy. If Wheeler hadn’t killed Appleby—Appleby would have killed Wheeler.”

“Self-defence?” asked Allen.

“No, sir, not that. But one or the other had to be out of the running. I know the whole story, and I know what men will do in a political crisis that they wouldn’t dream of at any other time. Wheeler’s the guilty party—unless—well, unless that daughter of his—”

“Hush!” cried Allen. “I won’t stand for it!”

“I only meant that the girl’s great love and loyalty to her father might have made her lose her head—”

“No; she didn’t do it,” said Allen, more quietly. “Oh, I say, man, let’s try to find this intruder that Mr. Keefe has—”

“Has invented!” put in Burdon. “No, gentlemen, they ain’t no such animile! Now, you tell me over again, while I take it down, just what you two saw when you came to the door of that den, as they call it.”

And so Allen and Keefe reluctantly, but truthfully, again detailed the scene that met their eyes as they returned from the fire they had put out.

“The case is only too plain,” declared Burdon, as he snapped a rubber band over his notebook. “Sorry, gentlemen, but your story leaves no loophole for any other suspect than one of the three Wheelers. Good-night.”

Chapter 8
Confession

Before Sam Appleby left the next morning, he confided to Keefe that he had little if any faith in the detective prowess of the two men investigating the case.

“When I come back,” he said, “I may bring a real detective, and—I may not. I want to think this thing over first—and, though I may be a queer Dick, I’m not sure I want the slayer of my father found.”

“I see,” and Keefe nodded his head understandingly.

But Jeffrey Allen demurred. “You say that, Mr. Appleby, because you think one of the Wheeler family is the guilty party. But I know better. I know them so well—”

“Not as well as I do,” interrupted Appleby, “and neither do you know all the points of the feud that has festered for so many years. If you’ll take my advice, Mr. Allen, you’ll delay action until my return, at least.”

“The detectives won’t do that,” objected Jeffrey.

“The detectives will run round in circles and get nowhere,” scoffed Appleby. “I shall be back as soon as possible, and I don’t mind telling you now that there will be no election campaign for me.”

“What!” exclaimed Curtis Keefe. “You’re out of the running?”

“Positively! I may take it up again some other year, but this campaign will not include my name.”

“My gracious!” exclaimed Genevieve, who knew a great deal about current politics. “Who’ll take your place?”

“A dark horse, likely,” returned Appleby, speaking in an absorbed, preoccupied manner, as if caring little who fell heir to his candidacy.

“I don’t agree with you, Mr. Appleby,” spoke up Jeff Allen, “as to the inefficiency of the two men on this case. Seems to me they’re doing all they can, and I can’t help thinking they may get at the truth.”

“All right, if they get at the truth, but it’s my opinion that the truth of this matter is not going to be so easily discovered, and those two bunglers may do a great deal of harm. Good-bye, Maida, keep up a good heart, my girl.”

The group on the veranda said good-bye to Sam Appleby, and he turned back as he stepped into the car to say:

“I’ll be back as soon as the funeral is over, and until then, be careful what you say—all of you.”

He looked seriously at Maida, but his glance turned toward the den where Mr. Wheeler sat in solitude.

“I heard him,” stormed Burdon, as the car drove away, and the detective came around the corner of the veranda. “I heard what he said about me and Hallen. Well, we’ll show him! Of course, the reason he talks like that—”

“Don’t tell us the reason just now,” interrupted Keefe. “We men will have a little session of our own, without the ladies present. There’s no call for their participation in our talk.”

“That’s right,” said Allen. “Maida, you and Miss Lane run away, and we’ll go to the den for a chat.”

“No, not there,” objected Burdon. “Come over and sit under the big sycamore.”

And so, beneath the historic tree, the three men sat down for a serious talk. Hallen soon joined them, but he said little.

“I’m leaving myself, soon after noon,” said Keefe. “I’ll be back in a day or two, but there are matters of importance connected with Mr. Appleby’s estate that must be looked after.”

“I should think there must be!” exclaimed Burdon. “I don’t see how you can leave to come back very soon.”

Keefe reddened slightly, for the real reason for his intended return was centred in Maida Wheeler’s charm, to which he had incontinently succumbed. He knew Allen was her suitor, but his nature was such that he believed in his own powers of persuasion to induce the girl to transfer her affections to his more desirable self.

But he only looked thoughtfully at Burdon and said: “There are matters here, also, that require attention in Mr. Appleby’s interests.”

“Well,” Burdon went on, “as to the murder, there’s no doubt that it was the work of one of the three Wheelers. Nobody else had any reason to wish old Appleby out of the world.”

“You forget me,” said Allen, in a tense voice. “My interests are one with the Wheelers. If they had such a motive as you ascribe to them—I had the same.”

“Don’t waste time in such talk,” said Curt Keefe. “I saw you, Allen, at the fire during the whole time that covered the opportunity for the murder.”

“Of course,” agreed Burdon, “I’ve looked into all that. And so, as I say, it must have been one member of the Wheeler family, for there’s no one else to suspect.”

“Including Mrs. Wheeler,” quietly put in Hallen.

“How absurd!” flared out Allen. “It’s bad enough to suspect the other two, but to think of Mrs. Wheeler is ridiculous!”

“Not at all,” said Burdon, “she had the same motive—she had opportunity—”

“How do you know?” asked Keefe.

“She ran down from her room at that very moment,” stated Burdon. “I have the testimony of one of the upstairs maids, and, also, I believe Miss Wheeler saw her mother in the den.”

“Look here,” said Hallen, in his slow, drawling tones, “let’s reconstruct the situation. You two men were at the fire—that much is certain—so you can’t be suspected. But all three of the Wheelers had absolute opportunity, and they had motive. Now, as I look at it—one of those three was the criminal, and the other two saw the deed. Wherefore, the two onlookers will do all they can to shield the murderer.”

Keefe stared at him. “You really believe that!” he said.

“Sure I do! Nobody else had either motive or opportunity. I don’t for one minute believe in an outsider. Who could happen along at that particular moment, get away with the shooting, and then get away himself?”

“Why, it could have been done,” mused Keefe, and Allen broke in eagerly:

“Of course it could! There’s nothing to prove it impossible.”

“You two say that, because you want it to be that way,” said Burdon, smiling at the two young men. “That’s all right—you’re both friends of the family, and can’t bear to suspect any one of them. But facts remain. Now, let’s see which of the three it most likely was.”

“The old man,” declared Hallen, promptly.

“Nonsense!” cried Allen. “Mr. Wheeler is incapable of a deed like that! Why, I’ve known him for years—”

“Don’t talk about incapable of anything!” said Burdon. “Most murderers are people whom their friends consider ‘incapable of such a deed.’ A man who is generally adjudged ‘capable’ of it is not found in polite society.”

“Where’s the weapon,” asked Keefe, abruptly, “if Mr. Wheeler did it?”

“Where’s the weapon, whoever did it?” countered Burdon. “The weapon hasn’t been found, though I’ve hunted hard. But that helps to prove it one of the family, for they would know where to hide a revolver securely.”

“If it was Mr. Wheeler, he’d have to hide it in the den,” said Allen. “He never goes over to the other side of the house, you know.”

“It isn’t in the den,” Hallen spoke positively; “I hunted that myself.”

“You seem sure of your statement,” said Keefe. “Couldn’t you have overlooked it?”

“Positively not.”

“No, he couldn’t,” concurred Burdon. “Hallen’s a wonderful hunter. If that revolver had been hidden in the den, he’d have found it. That’s why I think it was Mrs. Wheeler, and she took it back to her own rooms.”

“Oh, not Mrs. Wheeler!” groaned Jeff Allen. “That dear, sweet woman couldn’t—”

“Incapable of murder, I s’pose!” ironically said Burdon. “Let me tell you, sir, many a time a dear, sweet woman has done extraordinary things for the sake of her husband or children.”

“But what motive would Mrs. Wheeler have?”

“The same as the others. Appleby was a thorn in their flesh, an enemy of many years’ standing. And I’ve heard hints of another reason for the family’s hating him, besides that conditional pardon business. But no matter about that now. What I want is evidence against somebody—against one of three suspects. Until I get some definite evidence I can’t tell which of the three is most likely the one.”

“Seems to me the fact that Mrs. Wheeler ran downstairs and back again is enough to indicate some pretty close questioning of her,” suggested Hallen.

“Oh, please,” begged Allen, “she’s so upset and distracted—”

“Of course she is. But that’s the reason we must ask her about it now. When she gets calmed down, and gets a fine yarn concocted, there’ll be small use asking her anything!”

“I’d tackle the old man first,” said Hallen; “I think, on general principles, he’s the one to make inquiries of before you go to the ladies. Let’s go to him now.”

“No;” proposed Burdon, “let’s send for him to come here. This is away from the house, and we can talk more freely.”

“I’ll go for him,” offered Allen, seeing they were determined to carry out their plan.

“Not much!” said Burdon. “You’re just aching to put a flea in his ear! You go for him, Hallen.”

The detective went to the house, and returned with Daniel Wheeler at his side.

The suspected man stood straight and held himself fearlessly. Not an old man, he was grayed with care and trouble, but this morning he seemed strong and alert as any of them.

“Put your questions,” he said, briefly, as he seated himself on one of the many seats beneath the old sycamore.

“First of all, who do you think killed Samuel Appleby?”

This question was shot at him by Burdon, and all waited in silence for the answer.

“I killed him myself,” was the straightforward reply.

“That settles it,” said Hallen, “it was one of the women.”

“What do you mean by that?” cried Wheeler, turning quickly toward the speaker.

“I mean, that either your wife or daughter did the deed, and you are taking the crime on yourself to save her.”

“No;” reasserted Dan Wheeler, “you’re wrong. I killed Appleby for good and sufficient reason. I’m not sorry, and I accept my fate.”

“Wait a minute,” said Hallen, as Keefe was about to protest; “where was your daughter, Miss Maida, when you killed your man?”

“I—I don’t know. I think she had gone to the fire—which had just broken out.”

“You’re not sure—”

“I am not.”

“She had been with you, in the den?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, I know. She had. She had been sitting in her favorite window-seat, in the large bay, and was there while you and Mr. Appleby were talking together. Also, she did not leave the room to go to the fire, for no one saw her anywhere near the burning garage.”

“As to that, I can’t say,” went on Wheeler, slowly, “but she was not in the den, to my knowledge, at the time of the shooting.”

“Very well, let that pass. Now, then, Mr. Wheeler, if you shot Mr. Appleby, what did you afterward do with your revolver?”

“I—I don’t know.” The man’s face was convincing. His frank eyes testified to the truth of his words. “I assure you, I don’t know. I was so—so bewildered—that I must have dropped it—somewhere. I never thought of it again.”

“But if you had merely dropped it, it must have been found. And it hasn’t been.”

“Somebody else found it and secreted it,” suggested Hallen. “Probably Mr. Wheeler’s wife or daughter.”

“Perhaps so,” assented Wheeler, calmly. “They might have thought to help me by secreting it. Have you asked them?”

“Yes, and they deny all knowledge of it.”

“So do I. But surely it will be found.”

“It must be found. And, therefore, it is imperative that the rooms of the ladies as well as your own rooms, sir, be thoroughly searched.”

“All right—go ahead and search!” Wheeler spoke sharply. “I’ve confessed the crime, now waste no time in useless chattering. Get the evidence, get the proofs, and let the law take its course.”

“You will not leave the premises,” put in Hallen, and his tone was that of command rather than inquiry.

“I most certainly shall not,” declared Wheeler. “But I do ask you, gentlemen, to trouble and annoy my wife and daughter as little as possible. Their grief is sufficient reason for their being let alone.”

“H’m,” grunted Burdon. “Well, sir, I can promise not to trouble the ladies more than is necessary—but I can’t help feeling necessity will demand a great deal.”

Mrs. Wheeler was next interviewed, and the confab took place in her own sitting-room.

None of her family was allowed to be present, and the four men filed into the room with various expressions of face. The two detectives were stolid-looking, but eagerly determined to do their work, while Allen and Keefe were alertly interested in finding out some way to be of help to Mrs. Wheeler.

She received the men quietly, even graciously, sensing what they had come for.

“To start with, Mrs. Wheeler,” said Burdon, frankly but not unkindly, “who do you think killed Mr. Appleby?”

“Oh—I don’t know—I don’t know,” she wailed, losing her calm and becoming greatly agitated.

“Where were you when the shot was fired?” asked Hallen.

“I don’t know—I didn’t hear it—”

“Then you were up in your own room?”

“I suppose so—I don’t know.”

“You were up there when the fire broke out?”

“Yes—I think I was—”

“But you must know, Mrs. Wheeler—that is, you must know where you were when you first heard of the fire—”

“Yes, yes; I was up in my bedroom.”

“And who told you of the fire?”

“My maid—Rachel.”

“And then what did you do?”

“I—I—I don’t remember.”

“You ran downstairs, didn’t you?”

“I don’t remember—”

“Yes, you did!” Burdon took up the reins. “You ran downstairs, and just as you got down to the den you saw—you saw your husband shoot Mr. Appleby!”

His harsh manner, as he intended, frightened the nervous woman, and reduced her to the verge of collapse.

But after a gasping moment, she recovered herself, and cried out: “I did not! I shot Mr. Appleby myself. That’s why I’m so agitated.”

“I knew it!” exclaimed Burdon. “Mr. Wheeler’s confession was merely to save his wife. Now, Mrs. Wheeler, I believe your story, and I want all the particulars. First, why did you kill him?”

“Be—because he was my husband’s enemy—and I had stood it as long as I could.”

“H’m. And what did you do with the weapon you used?”

“I threw it out of the window.”

“And it dropped on the lawn?”

“Not dropped; I threw it far out—as far as I could.”

“Oh, I see. Out of which window?”

“Why—why, the one in the den—the bay window.”

“But your daughter