an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: The Visiting Villain
Author: Carolyn Wells
eBook No.: 2400111h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2024
Most recent update: 2024

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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The Visiting Villain

Carolyn Wells




Chapter 1. - The Dunbars
Chapter 2. - The Tragedy
Chapter 3. - Fleming Stone Gets Busy
Chapter 4. - Enter Martin Saunders
Chapter 5. - Doctor Larcom is Perplexed
Chapter 6. - Crowe Helps with the Clues
Chapter 7. - Barbara at Home
Chapter 8. - A Clash of Wills
Chapter 9. - Further Clashing
Chapter 10. - A Monkey-Trick
Chapter 11. - Saunders is Annoyed
Chapter 12. - An Eccentric Testator
Chapter 13. - Inspector Barton Takes Command
Chapter 14. - Inquiries
Chapter 15. - Stone Digs and Delves
Chapter 16. - A Puzzling Problem
Chapter 17. - The Last Will Signed
Chapter 18. - Deductions from Clues


Chapter 1
The Dunbars

Bruce Dunbar sat at the head of his dinner table in great content, for he was a gregarious sort and always enjoyed his Saturday night dinner parties.

The massive old dining-room, in the rear of his massive old Fifth Avenue house was something for modernists to laugh at, for Dunbar was a man of family tradition, and allowed no changes.

But for those who realized that there might be something admirable in autre temps as well as autre mœurs, it had a definite and decided charm.

Back of the long parlor the dining-room ran across the wide house, which, being on a north corner, had sunlight on three sides. Among the last of its type, it stood, in the Sixties, a monument to a past generation, and a usurper of a site much wanted by a present generation.

Like all the rest of it the dining-room was mid-Victorian.

Heavy cornices outlined the ceiling, with ornamental plaster brackets at intervals. Heavy door and window frames were separated by heavier pilasters and from a massy plaster centerpiece depended a glass-prismed chandelier.

The carved marble mantel bore two tall Sèvres vases and a matching timepiece under a glass dome.

Yet all was harmonious, all was the work of the masters of the period of which it was a gesture, and the fine Aubusson carpet and ornate rosewood furniture proudly added their glory to the scene.

The window curtains, from the outermost deep-piled velvet, on through successive lace or other fabrics, to the innermost thin silk sash blinds, were all as they should be and a joy to look upon.

It was Saturday night, and as always on that night, Bruce Dunbar was entertaining his kinsfolk.

As the whole tale of his relatives was only four, it did not make a large party, even though a few extras were often invited.

A bachelor, old, eccentric, rich, kind-hearted, cruel-natured, shrewd, generous and wickedly humorsome, in part describes Bruce Dunbar.

As to looks, he rated high. A fine, healthy countenance, soft, wavy white hair, white mustache and imperial, and a pair of piercing, even boring blue eyes that could melt to tenderness when his kind heart was touched.

His dress was never short of perfection and he could properly be called a gentleman of the old school.

But if the house and the room and the host were dated, the guests were most certainly not.

Modern, up-to-date young people they were, three nieces and a nephew.

The last, Emory Dunbar, sat at the other end of the table, and the three nieces sat where they liked, no precedence being given.

Emory Dunbar and Anna Forrest, youngest of the three nieces, lived with their uncle, the others, not far away.

To-night, there were three extra guests at the table. Steve Ralston, husband of Doris, and Clive Rankin, acknowledged adorer of the widowed Barbara, were there; and also, Jake Ward, a friend of Emory’s, but even more interested in Emory’s cousin Anna.

“So you see, Uncle Bruce,” Anna was saying in her most cajoling croon, “Jake and I want to win the prize, and Streamline’s the boy for us!”

“Not much he isn’t,” remarked Bruce Dunbar, with a quiet air of finality. “Did you ever chance to read the legend under that picture?”

The length of the dining-room was across the house, and the host sat at the south end of the table, facing the mantel, above which hung an oddly shaped picture. In its Florentine frame it stretched the full length of the wide chimney-piece, its width being less than half its length.

It was a painting of a fine specimen of the Indian cobra, a thing of sinister beauty and fascinating charm. Something over four feet long, it seemed to glide through the unobtrusive background of tropical vegetation with actual movement. The work of a celebrated portrait painter, it would seem that his brush had lingered lovingly on the vague translucent tones of olive and brown that melted into a paler iridescence and culminated in the marvelous phenomenon that distinguishes the “spectacled cobra.”

The great head, with its odd markings, so gracefully poised on the long sinuous body, seemed to turn to look at its audience with a scornful air of contempt.

Infinite pains had finally achieved the successful pose of this somewhat intractable subject, and both Dunbar and the artist were to be congratulated.

A plate set into the gilded frame, bore this legend:

My house is yours,
My food is yours,
But my snake belongs to me.

And indeed, few guests cared to dispute the right of possession.

And to Anna’s request Dunbar fell back on the lines as his answer.

Clive Rankin had never been at the house before, and asked if the creature had a living counterpart.

“Has it!” exclaimed Emory; “just ask Uncle that.”

“And I want to borrow it,” wailed Anna; “oh, Uncle, dear, do let me take it.”

“Be quiet, child! Yes, Mr. Rankin, I have the cobra that picture was painted from. It is a portrait, you know. You must see it after dinner. We’ll drop the subject now; I’ll only say that it is an unusually beautiful ophidian, but Doris here is not a snake fancier, and she is in torments whenever Streamline is the subject of conversation, even for a moment.”

“Streamline! What a perfect name for that long, lovely, quivering shape. Who thought of it?”

“Uncle did,” Anna said, quickly; “he’s awfully clever at naming things. I’ll show you the darling after dinner, Mr. Rankin.”

“Good Lord! is it here? Oh then it has had its fangs extracted.”

“Indeed, no,” declared Emory. “My uncle wouldn’t have a fake snake! Streamline is in possession of all the poison paraphernalia that Providence in its omniscience saw fit to give him. He is an esteemed member of this family and to date, has never been guilty of any breach of etiquette. Doris, you’re growing pale, dear; where’s your compact?”

“Let her alone, Emory,” said Barbara. “But for Heaven’s sake, change the subject.”

“Wait a minute,” cried Anna; “first, promise me, Uncle Bruce, that I may take Streamline to-night.”

“Anna, be quiet!” and Dunbar scowled at her. “I’ve already told you No!”

Anna Forrest was the farthest possible remove from a spoiled baby, but she had a talent for pretending to be one, and when her great blue eyes filled with crystal tears and her perfectly curved mouth drooped at its corners, she had often so cajoled her uncle that he capitulated at once.

Not so, this time, however. He scowled at the girl, who, for some reason, smiled again and beamed upon the frowning face.

“Tell us about your party to-night, Anna,” said Barbara, fearing her suitor would think them a quarrelsome crowd.

“Oh, it’s going to be a wonderful affair. At Lisa Mellon’s, you know, and it’s a Scavenger party.”

“A what?” exclaimed Steve Ralston. “I thought I was a party expert but that’s newish to me.”

“It is the latest,” Anna informed him, “and the worst. You see, it’s something like a Treasure Hunt, but quite different.”

“Clear enough, so far,” said Steve, “go on with it.” Ralston was a likable chap, and as the husband of Doris, he felt he held a superior position in the Dunbar crowd. But Anna, who liked him well enough, resented his attitude and snubbed him when occasion offered.

“You’ll probably sniff at it,” she told him, “but that’s because you are too old to chase round the country after things.”

“What sort of things?”

“Whatever you’re told to get.”

“Told by whom?”

“If you’d keep still a minute, you might hear all about it.”

“Don’t want to know all about it; just the main issues.”

“That will do, Anna,” said her uncle; “tell your story, or don’t tell it, but stop bickering with Steve.”

“I’m not bickering,” and Anna’s blue eyes opened wide. “And I will tell the story. You see, Uncle Bruce, the committee, only four of us, send out the whole crowd to get whichever ones they can, of a list of things.”

“What sort of things?” demanded Ralston.

“Don’t be afraid of kidnappers, you won’t be on the list. But they’ll be asked to bring—what, Jake? You have the list, haven’t you?”

Ward produced a scrap of paper and read from shorthand notes:

“A peacock feather fan.
A half dollar in paper money.
A First Edition of The Scarlet Letter.
A live frog.
A swing bustle.
A calendar for 1931.
An autograph of Woodrow Wilson.
A Rogers’ Group.
A comic valentine.
A watch key.”

“Can you bring whichever items you want to?” asked Barbara.

“Yes,” Anna told her, “but there’s another list. Jake and I made this, and there’ll be more. Each hunter brings all he can get. They go in twos or threes to wherever they hope to find these things. The biggest lot of loot gets the prize, of course. And the prize is a case of champagne. Now, we on the committee want to hunt too, so we take one another’s lists. And I want to take Streamline along, he’s perfectly safe in his locked cage—I don’t want to take the key. And Uncle won’t let me.”

“Of course not!” cried Doris. “You must be crazy!”

“But think of the glory of having on our list ‘A venomous snake,’ and then, when no one can get one, we lug in Streamline! There’d be a thrill!”

“I’m not sure I want to do this,” Jake demurred; “it may be dangerous. Let’s omit the cobra, Anna.”

“Oh, well, nobody ever cares what I want. It’ll spoil the whole evening for me if we can’t have it.” She pouted at her uncle, who laughed aloud at her.

“Do you think, my child, that leer adds to your beauty?”

“I don’t need any addition to my beauty. And I can get along without your old snake, so there, now!”

“But I’d like to see it,” Rankin urged. “That will be possible, Mr. Dunbar?”

“Oh, yes; take him up to see it, Anna. You go along, Barbara, to see that the child doesn’t run off with it. You go, too, Jake, as you are not in favor of taking it.”

Dinner was practically over, and the four went up the wide staircase on their errand.

Over the long parlor, whose name had never been changed to living-room or drawing-room, was the family sitting-room in the front corner, looking out on the Avenue.

It looked out on the side street, too, and was a cosy and pleasant, if old-fashioned room.

Next back of it was the den, sacred to the master of the house, and behind that, Bruce Dunbar’s bedroom, with a large dressing-room and bath opening from it at the rear of the hall.

In the den, to which Anna conducted her little crowd, was the cage that contained the beautiful and dangerous cobra.

The cage, which had been most carefully built, was about six feet long, three feet wide and three feet high. It was divided into two compartments separated by a sliding door, and the entire front was of heavy plate glass.

The occupant of this domicile was coiled in a sort of mound, and opened sleepy looking eyes when Anna tapped sharply on the glass.

“If Barbara wasn’t here, I’d let him out,” Anna said, “but I know she’d tell Uncle.”

“Indeed I would!” exclaimed Barbara. “I love to look at him behind glass, but no free serpents for me, thank you.”

Barbara Corbin, another niece of Bruce Dunbar, was a direct opposite in appearance to the blonde Anna. She was twenty-eight, four years older than Anna, and had been a widow for two years. She was considering marriage with Clive Rankin, but had not as yet given him a definite promise.

Barbara could be considered herself of an ophidian type. Tall and very slender, she had a sinuous grace and a wonderful litheness that made her every move a gesture of beauty. Hair and eyes as near black as a human may attain, she wore long jade earrings and a very small jade tiara, that gave her an effect of an Egyptian princess.

She watched the cobra, fascinated. Like her uncle, she had a sort of mystic feeling regarding it, a kind of weird admiration that bordered on fear.

“Let me play to him,” she asked of Anna, who was taking a flute from its case.

“You don’t want a flute, do you? Or a fife?”

“No, give me the little music-box.”

All these instruments lay ready to hand, and the little audience watched as Barbara sidled toward the cage and wound the pretty French toy.

At the first sound, Streamline roused his head quickly, spread his hood and arched his neck.

“Oh, you beauty!” exclaimed Anna. “Jake, isn’t he just the grandest thing?”

The creature was of a yellowish, shading to dark brown coloration, with the strange “spectacle” marking appearing in black and white on his spread hood.

He was perhaps five feet long, and as he slowly reared up the fore part of his length about two feet, he swayed back and forth to the rhythm of the music, seemingly in an ecstasy of happy delirium. The partition of the cage was open and the graceful form glided in curves and loops, slowly vibrating and undulating, from one end of his available space to the other.

“I’m going to let him out,” Anna declared; “I know just how to manage him and there’s no possible danger.”

“You shall not!” cried Barbara; “there’s always danger.”

“Oh, no, Miss Anna,” exclaimed Rankin, “don’t do it, I beg of you!”

“Pooh! I will! Any one who is afraid, leave the room, now.”

“No, Anna,” and Jake Ward spoke sternly, “you are not to open the cage. Don’t attempt it.”

Anna turned her blue eyes, shining with wrath, upon him.

“I thought you were crazy about me,” she said, coldly.

“I am. That’s why I won’t allow you to do such a crazy thing. I admire the cobra, but that does not mean I approve of foolhardiness.”

“If you’re so afraid of a snake, securely confined by glass and wood, you may find some equally cowardly girl to take to Lisa’s party. I don’t want to go with you! Mr. Rankin, will you and Barbara come with me, and we will take Streamline?”

“Rather not! We’re not invited, your uncle will not let you take the cobra, and, incidentally, I don’t want to go.”

“And I wouldn’t let him if he did,” declared Barbara; “what a silly you are, Anna! And how could you transport that great cage? It’s as heavy as a piano.”

“Nonsense, it isn’t! And Uncle will give in if I coax him. If only there was more time, I’d call up somebody who isn’t afraid of a tame snake!”

A scathing glance at Jake made that young man laugh.

“You amuse me,” he said, which made Anna wrathier than ever.

Her angry face and gestures made Jake cross over to the cobra’s cage, and tap sharply on the glass.

Streamline turned, reared his head and hissed with such angry motions, that Jake said: “There, my dear, that’s the way you look when you get pettish.”

They all laughed at the comparison of Anna’s flower-like face to the head of the hissing cobra, but Jake said, soberly: “I admit I’d be afraid to travel round with that death-dealer.”

“Perhaps you’re afraid to travel round with me,” Anna flung at him.

“Perhaps I am,” he quietly returned, and Barbara threw herself into the breach.

“It’s time you two youngsters went to your party,” she told them. “Run along now to your scavenging. And, Anna, you haven’t time to persuade Uncle Bruce to grant your wish, and to get Crowe to fix up Streamline’s cage to be moved, and anyway, I doubt any normally prudent hostess would welcome a venomous serpent in her drawing-room, without previous warning. Come along, let’s go down. It’s half past nine now, and if you have committee work to look after you must be getting on. Am I right, Jake?”

“Yes, indeed, the party will be spoiled if we delay much longer. Come along, darling, let’s go.”

“All right, you and Barbie run along down, and Clive and I will come in a minute.”

“What a subtle brain you have, dear,” and Ward looked at her quizzically. “I can’t imagine what you mean to do when we’re gone! No, Barbara, you and Rankin go along and I’ll bring this mad young thing down in a few minutes.”

When the advance guard reached the parlor, they found Bruce Dunbar remonstrating with Doris about her absurd horror of snakes.

“It’s all very well not to like them,” he said, “but you act like a moron about them. Do you suppose I’d have my cobra about if it was really a menace to life? If Streamline were running about this room now, all one would need to keep him at bay would be a light stick. If you know anything at all about cobras, you would find it more amusing than thrilling”

“But if you didn’t have a light stick by you,” began Steve Ralston—

“Then you’d better ring for one at once,” Bruce chuckled. “You mustn’t be too absurdly trustful.”

“I think I’m on Doris’ side,” Steve confessed. “While I haven’t her absolute terror of the things, I’d rather be in another room, with a well-built partition wall between us.”

The Ralstons were what is sometimes called an easy-going couple.

Doris, about thirty, was the daughter of Bruce Dunbar’s sister, and had been married for several years. While not wealthy they had a comfortable income, and Steve was completely satisfied with his wife, his home and his friends. Doris, while contented enough, was a bit of a climber and would have been glad to cut more of a dash. But she held her own with the set she belonged to, and by diplomacy attained a satisfactory niche in the smart crowd.

They lived in a very modern apartment house, on the Avenue, a few blocks down. They were quite a bit bored at having to dine at the old home every Saturday night, but after all, Uncle Bruce could not live forever, and his millions must descend to somebody.

The old man was what is known as a confirmed will-maker. He made and destroyed wills with the rapidity of a bandersnatch, and though sometimes a year or so would elapse without his making a new one, the next year he would make up for that by changing his testament a dozen times.

So that his legitimate heirs never knew whether they were to be duly blessed by inheritance or whether the Dunbar millions, and there were many of them, were destined for the coffers of charitable or scientific institutions.

Moreover their uncle was of such uncertain temper and temperament, it was not wise to offend or irritate him even to the slightest degree.

Two years ago he had made what he said was his final will, leaving the bulk of his fortune to Emory, with the income of a million dollar trust fund for each of the girls, the same to revert at their death to the estate, unless they left children. In that case, pleasing bequests would be forthcoming.

But no children had as yet appeared. However, Uncle Bruce was not so very old, only sixty-five, and a bore of a dinner party once a week was not a high price to pay for a possible shifting of favor and bequeathing more treasure to the distaff side.

Also if one absented oneself once in a long while, it was not an unpardonable offence.

Barbara and her Clive came into the parlor during the dissertation on ophidians, and Rankin expressed his deep interest in a subject which, he said, he knew little of.

With a mental grin of delight, Bruce Dunbar settled down to correct that deficiency to such extent as he could in a few hours.

Ralston and Doris exchanged meaning glances, whose meaning was that they would stand it for a time and then do an Arab steal.

Emory had left immediately after dinner, stating that he would stay with a friend over night.

Anna and Jake came downstairs, stuck their heads in at the parlor door, called out a hurried good-by and rushed away.

So that the contented master of the house had an audience of four to whom he might dilate on his favorite topic.

“No,” he was saying, when the young people left, “no, of course cobras do not literally dance, as we use the word. All they can do is to sway in rhythm to some simple strains played on a flute or pipe.”

“We saw Streamline do that,” remarked Clive; “it is impressive.”

“It is soothing,” corrected Brace. “That languorous swaying would almost hypnotize me, if I would let it. And then the infernal beauty of the creature. It is doubtless, the most beautiful living thing. The charm of a human being cannot approach the lithe motion of that exquisite body—”

“Hold on, Uncle,” Steve broke in; “you must admit, you know, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”

“The beholder who does not see beauty in a serpent, has no eye for beauty at all. I may not be a lover of horseflesh, and I am not, but I see beauty in a great warhorse, fiery and eager for the battle. Only the narrow-minded admire only their own favorite shapes.”

“True enough,” agreed Steve, rising. “But Doris and I must run along now. We’ll say good-night.”

“Go on, then. Good-night. Barbara’s my little stand-by. She will not desert me, eh, Babs?”

At the moment, Barbara would rather have deserted than anything else she could think of, but she didn’t quite dare, so they stayed on.


Chapter 2
The Tragedy

Philip Crowe, a capable looking young man, was fortunate enough to be the valet of Bruce Dunbar, and incidentally, to look after the sartorial belongings of Emory Dunbar.

Besides these two, Crowe valeted Streamline, and acted as general steward and keeper of that highly important individual.

He did not live in the Dunbar home, but appeared promptly every morning on the stroke of eight.

On the Sunday following the evening detailed in Chapter 1, Crowe entered the house by the back door, as always. As always, he found Hatton, the butler, on duty, and Eliza, his wife preparing breakfast for them.

“Set your clocks, I see,” and Crowe nodded approvingly, for Daylight Saving had ended at two o’clock that morning. “What am I sniffing, Eliza? Spanish omelet and flannel cakes? You’re a queen! And where is our fair Hester?”

“On deck,” said a gay voice, and the daughter, of whom the two Hattons were justly proud, made her appearance.

Pretty Hester Hatton was the personal maid of Anna, and while she adored her young mistress, she found her not always easy to please. Hester was parlor maid also, and with Olga, the chambermaid, completed the staff of the Dunbar home.

Outside help was frequently employed, for there was no stint of housekeeping money, and the Hattons ruled wisely and well.

Breakfast finished, a tray was prepared for the master, and while the cook arranged it, Crowe went upstairs to prepare for its reception, for it would reach Bruce Dunbar’s bedroom by way of a dumb waiter.

The valet went in the den first, pulled up the shades, gave a casual look at the cobra’s cage, and stood stock still, staring at what he saw.

The door of the big cage was open—wide open!

What could it mean?

Unafraid, Crowe took a step nearer, and Streamline cast a sleepy, disinterested eye on him.

Stepping slowly and quietly, the man went nearer, and gently closed the door, wondering how it came to be open.

Nothing was disturbed in the cage, all was in order. It was not yet feeding time, and the cobra evinced no interest in Crowe, and closed its eyes again with a slight quiver of relaxation.

Still wondering at the incident, the valet went on to the bedroom, whose door was, as always, ajar.

As usual the big frame of Bruce Dunbar humped up the bedclothing, and after adjusting the window curtains, Crowe went to awaken the sleeper.

“Come, Mr. Dunbar, it’s nine o’clock,” he said, but received no sort of response. Further spoken summons were of no effect, and the valet touched him on the arm.

And then he saw the pallor on the usually red face, saw the swollen throat and neck, and saw the two tiny red marks, obviously made by the cobra’s fangs.

Imperturbable at all times, Crowe now seemed to turn into an automaton.

Mechanically, he slipped his hand inside the pajama jacket, until he could feel the stillness of Bruce Dunbar’s heart.

There was no sign of life; no fluttering eyelid, no breathing, no heartbeat.

The two little red marks told their own story. They were on the right side of the neck, and the red and swollen area that surrounded them had much the appearance of the result of a wasp bite.

Crowe stood gazing a few moments, considering his next step, and suddenly deciding, he quickly left the room and went down to that below, which was Anna Forrest’s bedroom.

As his soft tap at the door was unanswered, he turned the knob, pushed open the door and went in.

Lightly touching the shoulder of the sleeping girl, whose eyes opened instantly, he said:

“Pardon me, Miss Anna, but this is no time for ordinary routine. Your uncle is dead.”

“Uncle Bruce! Dead? A stroke, Crowe?”

“No, Miss Anna, from the bite of his cobra.”

“Oh! Ring for Hester, Crowe, and then you may go.”

Already Anna was sitting on the edge of her bed, drawing on her stockings.

The valet went downstairs, sent Hester to Anna’s room, and then told the others about the tragedy. Hatton took the helm.

“I was sure it would happen some day,” he said, “I’ll go along up.”

Thoughtfully, he climbed the two flights of stairs. He was calm and unexcited. Had his nature been otherwise, he would not have been in his present position. Bruce Dunbar employed no servants who might on occasion, become hysterical or garrulous. Anna, fully dressed, was before him.

“As you see, Hatton,” she said, nodding toward the still figure on the bed. “What must we do first?”

“Get Mr. Emory, I should say, Miss Anna. You know where he is?”

“Yes—yes, I suppose that is best. And the doctor?”

“I believe that is customary. And you need some one to advise you—”

“But Doctor Larcom is out of town, and that young whipper-snapper, Vail, is substituting. I don’t want him dictating to me!”

“No, Miss. Then, perhaps Mr. Ralston or—”

“Yes, he would be helpful. Oh, I wish Emory were here! Let’s call him first, Hatton, and then the doctor. Even if it is Doctor Vail, I’m sure that’s the right thing to do. You get the house where Mr. Emory is staying, and I’ll talk to him. The number is in the little book, in the sitting-room desk. The name is Leveridge.”

“Very good, Miss.”

Hatton went away, and Anna closed the door and looked at her uncle.

An expression of awe was on her lovely face, but no sign of grief was in evidence.

With rapid but soundless motions she glided through the door to the den, passed the cage without so much as a glance at Streamline, and pausing before an antique Governor Winthrop desk, she turned the key of its upper compartment, and snatching an old envelope from the waste-basket, put the key in it, gave the paper a twist and thrust it in her stocking top.

Then she opened the door to the sitting-room and reached the telephone table, just as Hatton received an answer to his call.

“Mr. Leveridge’s home?” she asked, “May I speak to Mr. Emory Dunbar?”

But the response was that Mr. Dunbar and the other house guests had gone off for the day for some golf and other country club festivities, and would not return before cocktail hour at the earliest. The speaker could not say where they might be found, but he would do his best to locate Mr. Dunbar and ask him to call his home.

None of the Leveridge family was at home, so Anna could only reiterate her plea that every effort be made to find Emory and report.

She told Hatton to call Doctor Vail and ask him to come at once, without telling him why he was called.

Then she called her cousins herself.

Doris was petulant. She was shocked, amazed at the news, and said she would run up to see Anna as soon as possible. But she was just ready to take a ray treatment, and that must be followed by a massage and a rest. She would come right after those matters were attended to. And Steve would come very shortly. He would, of course, be far more useful than she could be and he would gladly do anything he could.

Barbara seemed almost indifferent. She said just that very thing was bound to happen sometime. She had long expected it. If people would run such chances, it was not surprising they had to pay the penalty. Also, she had some important guests coming for luncheon, and could not disappoint them by recalling invitations at this late hour.

She would come as soon as she could manage it, but she saw no especial cause for hurry. Of course, Anna would get in touch with Emory, and all else could certainly wait until the next day. As to any funeral arrangements or such matters, she did not care to be consulted. She would agree to anything the rest wished.

Anna sighed as she left the telephone. She felt very much alone and wished she had some wise adviser.

Emory would be a help, except that he never was very useful.

Steve Ralston was coming soon, but he wouldn’t feel kindly toward her, either.

The girls—oh, Lord! what would they say?

She must have some one to consult with. She couldn’t meet the imminent cataclysm alone.

Mr. Sutton—ah, yes, dear old Sutton, he would be a tower of strength, but he was away off in Wyoming, on a ranch, on what they called a Dude Ranch, gathering health and vitality for his work through the coming winter. Late September it was now. Very late, in fact, the thirtieth.

Perhaps, as he must be starting for home soon, he might be willing to start at once. Anyway, he ought to be notified of the death of one of his most important clients. The richest and most—well, most eccentric of all, no doubt.

Of course, he must be telegraphed to, and others as well. But this was not her business, surely. Emory was the man of the family now, and if—well—if Emory had disappointment in store for him, that was no reason he should shirk his duties.

But still, she wanted an older and a wiser man than Emory to rely upon, to consult with, to get advice from.

Well, she could do nothing about such matters now, that was certain.

Through all her wilful, wayward life, hot-headed and headstrong Anna had been under the lash of a strong New England conscience. Duty was to her ever present, ready at all times to drive her to deeds she did not want to do, to ways she did not want to follow.

And not always did she obey this stern mentor. Sometimes she flatly refused to do what she well knew she ought to do.

For Anna was selfish, ease-loving and decidedly acquisitive.

And notwithstanding the dominance of her sense of duty, she really lived up to the old motto:

When joy and duty clash,
Let duty go to smash.

And now, confronted with this emergency, faced by new and unfamiliar duties of many sorts, she was quite ready to shift said duties to other shoulders, and look for the silver lining which she knew was hidden in the cloud.

She appropriated the great chair in the sitting-room, which her uncle had always used, and rang for the butler.

“Sit down, Hatton,” she said, kindly, “this may be a fairly long session. Now, we can do nothing just at present, but wait until some one comes to share the responsibility. Mr. Emory will get here soon after he hears the news; Mr. Ralston is coming shortly. But, for the moment, I am, of course head of the house.”

“Yes, Miss Anna—or shall I say Miss Forrest?”

“No; as always. I prefer it.”

The girl sat quiet a few moments, and looked steadily at the butler, so steadily, indeed, that she seemed almost to look through him.

Anna was twenty-four, but like any clever girl of that age, she could easily pass for eighteen when she chose to. Equally well, she could be seemingly about twenty-eight or thirty, if she wished.

She did so, at this time. Her sweet, sensitive face assumed a calm serenity, and her careless, wayward mien changed to dignity, gravely responsible, yet full of charm. Her voice had a new note in it, a clear, ringing note, as of one who accepts a weighty challenge.

“Whatever happens to the family,” she said, “I shall of course, be at the head of it, the acknowledged head and mistress of the Dunbar home. I trust you and Eliza and Hester will stand by, Hatton?”

Hatton was not one to be cajoled.

“So far as I can see, Miss Anna,” he said, cautiously, “we shall be only too glad to stay in your service.”

“We can make no positive plans until Emory comes,” she went on, as if thinking aloud. “Carry on as usual in the kitchen, Hatton. I cannot say how many will be here for luncheon, keep something going all day. Once the people begin to come, there’ll be lots of them. Go and consult about those things with Eliza, and have everything correct and in proper order. Send Crowe to me.”

Anna was wearing a simple morning frock of black with white bits here and there, an unmatching figure in the old-fashioned room. She glanced at the corner whatnot, with its conch shells and bisque figurines. The marble-topped tables and the rocking chairs. The mantel, with its plush lambrequin and its two tall bronze swashbucklers with lace ruffles and slender, gleaming swords.

“No,” she murmured, shaking her golden head, “no, I shan’t live here, that’s certain.”

Crowe came into the room with a troubled face. “I’m glad you sent for me, Miss Anna; there’s something I must tell you. When I entered the den this morning, I glanced at the big cage, and the door was open.”

“The cage door!”

“Yes, Miss, wide open. Now, how came that?”

“I can’t imagine, Crowe. I was in the den last evening, showing off Streamline to some people, and when we went downstairs, I shut the door most carefully, just as I always do.”

“To be sure, Miss. And anyways, I was up there much later, helping Mr. Dunbar to bed, and the door was properly fastened then.”

“Then how do you explain it?”

Crowe noted the girl’s newly acquired dignity, and replied, quietly:

“I don’t explain it, I can’t.”

Anna hesitated. She wanted to discuss the death of her uncle with some one, but not with a servant. Yet, of course, Crowe was the last one in Bruce Dunbar’s rooms the night before and the first one there this morning.

Impulsively, she spoke out: “Crowe, how did it happen? How did Streamline come to bite Uncle Bruce? Who left the cage door open?”

“Who indeed, Miss Anna?”

For frozen calm, Crowe had Anna backed to the wall.

She was about to say something further, when Doctor Vail was announced.

“Bring him right up, Hatton,” Anna said; “stand by, Crowe, the doctor may need you.”

Young Doctor Vail, elated at being called to the Dunbar house for whatever purpose, tripped into the sitting-room, where Anna still sat.

“My dear Miss Forrest,” he began, “how terrible, how shocking! Try to pull yourself together.”

“I haven’t fallen apart yet,” she returned, unable to resist the snub.

But it rolled off the duck’s back.

“Of course not! And you won’t, I’ll see to that. Now—may I see—your uncle?”

“Surely. Take Doctor Vail in, Crowe.”

The two men went through the den to the bedroom and Anna followed.

As she saw the curious glance the young doctor cast at the cobra’s cage, she quickly decided to have the cage removed to a less used room.

A sharp intake of his breath followed his first sight of the dead man, as Vail bent over him.

“In the neck,” he murmured: “swift and deadly. Was he—er, was your uncle in the habit of keeping a cobra at large—”

“No,” said Anna, a trifle haughtily. “It is a pet, but it is always kept in a strong cage. It is there now.”

“And how did the creature get out?”

“We don’t know, Doctor Vail. Nor are we here to conduct an inquiry. I thought you would tell us if my uncle positively died of snake bite, when it occurred, and any other details of his death that you may notice but which would not be obvious to a layman.”

Young Vail, who knew Anna but slightly, decided that she was not an overly pleasant person, and that he would devote his attention to the less sharp-tongued member of the family.

He made a cursory examination of the body of Bruce Dunbar, and reported: “There is little to be learned. Mr. Dunbar most assuredly died of snakebite, and he has been dead some seven or eight hours. I cannot say more exactly. May I see the reptile?”

“Certainly,” and Anna led the way to the cage in the den.

“Mr. Dunbar was in the habit of playing with this venomous snake?” he asked.

“Yes, Doctor Vail. My uncle was positively convinced of the snake’s affection for him, and certain his pet would never bite him.”

“Too trusting a nature, I fear. Does Doctor Larcom know of this foolhardy performance?”

“Please do not speak of my uncle as a man lacking in wisdom or judgment. It is clear you know little of snakes in captivity. A cobra is not like a viper. A cobra does not attack without reason, and if nervous or excited, can readily be kept at bay and easily returned to his cage. But I am not here to give a lecture on the great ophidians. Then, Doctor Vail, since you have told me definitely the cause of my uncle’s death, and the approximate time of it, I don’t see that you can do anything further at present. Do you advise that a mortician be sent for at once, or may we wait until my family connections appear? I expect them through the day.”

Doctor Vail couldn’t understand this nettlesome young woman. So pretty she was, so soft and gentle looking, why must she speak so crisply and show such indifference to his efforts at helpfulness?

“You are the head of the house, Miss Forrest?”

Anna stared at him.

Then she said “Yes,” with a firmness and decision that would have graced the character of one of her Pilgrim Fathers.

“My cousin, who lives here, will be home as soon as he gets the messages that have been sent him. I should like to await his arrival.”

“But surely. And since I am acting in Doctor Larcom’s stead, may I not return and confer with your cousin when he comes?”

“Upon what subject?” and now Anna’s blue eyes were icy, and a tiny frown appeared between her carefully arched brows.

He wanted to shake her, but he only said, “On any subject that may occur to your cousin, on which he wants my advice or information.”

“Should that happen, we will let you know,” the girl told him, and now Vail saw that her thoughts were wandering, and her curt speech was more because of her preoccupation than her ill-will.

He bade her good-day and left the house, pausing a moment at the door to try to coax a word out of Hatton. This attempt failed, and the disappointed young medico gave up the effort, and went swinging down the street.

Anna went to her own rooms, which were just above the rooms of her uncle. Her large and lovely bedroom was exactly over his bedroom; and over his den, was Anna’s boudoir, charming in pale green and silver.

Into this room she went, locked the doors and threw herself down on a chaise longue. She didn’t cry, that was not her way of expressing herself, but she sat among the pillows, her face cupped in her hands, and murmured angry little phrases.

“Just my luck! Why did I ever mention taking that damned snake to the Scavenger Hunt! I wish I had some one to talk things over with. Emory will be no good when he comes. He’ll probably be too mad at me to speak to me at all. And Doris will be ready to kill me! And Barbara probably will kill me. I always thought she had a murder complex. I wish I had a friend who knew things. Nobody does know anything. And here’s Uncle Bruce dead! I can’t seem to get it.

“I wish I knew that Stone man better. I’ve a notion to ask him about it. He’s the very one, and—I’ve—well, maybe. I’ve some money now. I believe I’ll ask him, anyhow. That can’t do any harm.”

She went to her own private telephone and called a number.

“Mr. Stone?”

“Yes. Who is speaking?”

“I wonder if you remember me. Anna Forrest. We had such a nice talk a fortnight or so ago, up at Muriel Field’s.”

“Of course, I remember you. Are you planning that we shall have another chat?”

“Just exactly that. Can you come to see me—right away? I mean, really, at once.”

“Is it an important matter?”

“Very—oh, truly it is! I am in deep, desperate trouble, and I don’t know of any one who can help me but you. Oh, please, dear Mr. Stone, please—if you only stay ten minutes, five minutes, do come! I can pay your fees—however large. I don’t know what to do—truly, I don’t!”

“Miss Forrest, you’re hysterical; let’s put this matter off until to-morrow.”

“Oh, no, that may be too late. It’s an awful predicament I’m in. And in no sense my fault. A blow of Fate, that’s what it is, an awful blow of Fate!”

“I can give you but a short time, I have an important engagement at one.”

“Well, come, if it’s only for ten minutes. Nobody can help me but you. Will you come right along?”

Now Fleming Stone wouldn’t have gone “right along,” but for the quiver in Anna’s voice. The girl had a beautiful voice, with that quality of silver bell in it, that makes it hard to forget. And to-day there was the added lure of a wistful plea, that savored of despair. And despair should not fall upon that lovely, sunny head, if Fleming Stone could prevent it.

“Yes,” he said, impulsively, “I’ll come. Expect me in about ten or fifteen minutes.”

Anna began a pæan of thanks, but finding no one was listening at the other end, she cradled the instrument and ran down to the sitting-room.

There, she called Hatton and gave strict orders.

When Mr. Stone came, he was to be brought to her there. But no one else must be admitted, until Anna herself gave permission.

Nor must there be any interruption—only, if Mr. Emory came home, he was to be announced. No one else.


Chapter 3
Fleming Stone Gets Busy

Anna at first thought to receive Fleming Stone in the sitting-room, but as that was a family room she felt she had no right to monopolize it. So she decided upon Uncle Bruce’s den, and went there to wait for her caller.

She looked at Streamline and said:

“Whatever is going to become of you, Beauty? The family will no doubt want you shot, or otherwise fatally injured. But I’m sure you were not to blame. There’s a quotation somebody wrote about biting the hand that feeds you, but I didn’t suppose you’d do that! How about it, Streamline?”

She twisted up a pellet of paper and threw it at the glass front of the cage.

The cobra reared up an angry head, as he always did at any unexpected sight or sound.

“There, there, Streamline, be quiet, we’ve company coming.”

The cobra settled back into a comfortable coil, and just then Stone arrived.

Hatton brought him up to the den, and Anna looked at him almost timidly. He looked so much bigger and more important than she had remembered, and she wondered if he would be kind or otherwise.

Anna Forrest had no real inferiority complex, but she did like to have people kind to her. They usually were, except when she herself was in irritable mood.

She offered both hands, and looked up at Stone with a beseeching glance that would have melted the heart of a Maori savage.

“Don’t blame me,” she said, in a low voice: “I had to see you.”

“Of course,” and Stone smiled kindly at her, “I’m the only one you could possibly consult. Now, what’s it all about? My Heavens! Is that creature alive?” For he had just caught sight of the cobra, which had reared angrily at Stone’s exclamation.

“Please don’t call him a creature. He is our pet, our darling. His name is Streamline.”

“Perfect name for him. But now for our conference. What’s it all about?”

“Sit here, Mr. Stone,” and Anna sat down near him. “I think it must begin with the cobra. And you will forgive me if I tell you my story calmly, without expressions of sorrow or necessity for sympathy.”

Stone gave her a quick look. He knew most of the usual openings chosen by his clients, but this was a new one. Generally they flattered his prowess, of which they had heard, or insisted on his promise of secrecy.

“My uncle, Bruce Dunbar, died last night,” Anna began, “or, rather early this morning. He died because Streamline bit him. You see, our cobra is a venomous snake, he has never had his poison fangs removed.”

“Is the cage securely fastened now?” Stone asked, with no expression of timidity or fear, but as a casual question.

“Oh, yes, it always is.”

“Yet he escaped to kill your uncle?”

“That I can’t say. It may be Uncle let him out, as he often did, and played with him as usual, and then Streamline for some unexplained reason bit him.”

“What could such reason have been?”

“Only something sudden and serious. If the snake, running around the floor, or dancing, out in the open, had chanced upon a tack or other sharp thing that scratched him, he might lash out in fury. Or if Uncle had hit him a little too sharply with a whip-lash or a stick. But it doesn’t matter, Streamline did bite Uncle Bruce and Uncle did die of it.”

“Is—er—is your uncle’s body still here? Might I see it?”

“Oh, yes. Come, it is here in his bedroom.”

On the great bed the body of Bruce Dunbar lay like a king in state.

The morticians had done their work and the calm, peaceful face of the dead man looked just as it had done in life. Save that on the side of the neck farthest from the observer was some swelling and two very small scars, close together.

“You see,” Anna said, quite composedly, “those are the marks of Streamline’s fangs. Uncle had gone to bed, and the snake was still prowling round. That would be inexplicable except that Uncle must have unintentionally fallen asleep. For he always locks Streamline in his cage before going to sleep.”

“And your uncle being in bed, asleep, how could the cobra become angry at a lashing or—”

“Never mind all that,” Anna grew impatient, “that isn’t what I want to ask you about.”

“Go and get me a tape measure, marked with inches, you know.”

At the sudden order, so tersely spoken, Anna turned and went swiftly into the sitting-room.

As she went through the door, Stone whipped from his pocket a small steel measure divided into millimeters. With this in his hand he leaned over the body of Bruce Dunbar and had just straightened up again when Anna returned to the room.

“Thank you,” he said, taking the measure she brought, “but I don’t need it after all. Had your uncle more than one snake?”

“More than one?” Anna’s blue eyes widened in wonder. “Oh, no. Only Streamline. Why?”

“Let us go back to our conference,” Stone said. They went back to the den, and he stood looking at the cobra.

“Does he do tricks?” he asked. “Will he bite on things?”

“Oh, yes, he loves to. And he dances—you know what I mean—”

“Sways back and forth to music?”

“Yes, we call it dancing.”

“Can you put him through his paces?”

“Some of them, not all. Uncle was training him to obey me—”

“Can you make him bite at a paper, say?”

“Oh, yes. Here’s an old envelope.”

She took up the fire tongs and holding the envelope in their grip opened the door a trifle and pushed the paper in.

Streamline snapped at it, and made two or three impressions of his jaws which delighted Fleming Stone.

“Draw it out,” he said, “that’s just what I want. Don’t touch it—there’s probably no venom on it, but don’t touch it.”

Stone took some cellophane sheets from his pocket-book and enclosed the bitten envelope in them.

“Forget it,” he said to Anna. “I want them for an experiment. Now, for the rest of your story.”

A little awed by the way Stone had taken command, Anna replaced the fire tongs and returned to her seat.

“It’s this way,” she began, knowing she must be brief. “Last night I went to a party—a Scavenger Hunt.”

“A what?”

“You heard me. It’s like a Treasure Hunt, only you search for things hard to find.”

“What sort of things?”

“Oh, a calendar of six years ago; a First Edition of some rare book; a live alligator; an old-fashioned watch-key; things like that. I was on the committee, and my boy friend, too. He was here at dinner, and we begged Uncle to let us put on the list a live venomous snake; then we would take Streamline, you see, and we’d get the prize, for no one else could get such a thing. But Uncle wouldn’t let me take him.”

“I should say not!”

“Why? What harm, if we didn’t open the cage?”

“Don’t waste time on such foolishness. Go on with your story.”

“Oh, very well. I coaxed and begged, but no use. Uncle didn’t get mad, he just laughed and quoted his pet slogan:

“My house is yours,
My food is yours,
But my snake belongs to me.

“So we went off without it.

“The family were all here, Uncle’s relatives dine here every Saturday night you see; but Jake Ward and I left the crowd after dinner and went off to the party.”

“The Scavenger party?”

“Yes. We had a glorious time. I came home about three.”

“And meantime you and young Ward had been here, collected the snake and took it to the party, bringing it back as soon as you had shown it off.”

Anna stared at him, both amazement and fear showing on her lovely face.

“Mr. Stone,” she said, her low, frightened voice fairly startling the detective, “that is not true, we did not do that, but I am so afraid people will think we did.”

“And you’re quite sure you didn’t?”

“I think you’ve only to look at the cage to be sure yourself. Could two people, one of them a girl, carry that enormous thing downstairs and out of doors?”

“Who says there were only two people? And I am told you young folks of the present generation stop at nothing to carry out your absurd plans.”

“Anyway, it doesn’t matter whether I did or didn’t, if I am suspected of it.”

“Why do you use the word suspected? After all, if you did take the cage away and bring it back, that had nothing to do with the fact of your uncle being bitten by the snake.”

“Oh, you don’t think so? Can’t you imagine their saying I left the door of the cage insecurely fastened, and Streamline got out and bit Uncle in his sleep?”

“You! Kill your uncle? For Heaven’s sake, why?”

“I didn’t! I tell you I didn’t. But they’ll vow I did when they know—”

“Know what?”

“That I’m sole heir to my uncle’s fortune.” Fleming Stone allowed himself a short low whistle.

“I’ve been told the whole estate is to go to your cousin Emory.”

“That’s what he thinks. A will drawn two years ago, leaves everything to him. But last July, Uncle made a will leaving everything to me. And told me if I let any one know of it, it would at once be rescinded, or whatever you call it, and another will made. So, of course, I kept still, and now it must come out, and every one will think I killed Uncle to get the money.”

“They probably will. You must see your lawyer at once. Your uncle’s lawyer?”

“He is away for the month, out West on a ranch.”

“The month is nearly over, to-day is the thirtieth. You must make him return at once. By air, of course. May I take this whole thing in charge? You need advice and protection—indeed, you do!”

“That’s why I sent for you. I can pay you, you see, being the heiress.”

“Never mind pay just now. Listen to me. Don’t mention this will that is in your favor to-day. Keep it an inviolate secret until to-morrow, when I will see you again. Do you promise me that? If not, or if you do not keep your promise, I will withdraw from the case.”

“I promise,” said Anna.

“Remember it is to your advantage to keep that promise and most disastrous to break it. You are an inexperienced girl, and this is a strange and complicated case. Have you no adviser other than your cousin Emory?”

“No; Uncle Bruce, of course, always looked after me. He was very good to me, except that he did not give me as much spending money as I wanted. But Emory had that same complaint to make. Uncle would buy us ’most anything we wanted, but he gave us too little money to spend ourselves. The others felt the same way about it.”

“Who are the others?”

“My cousins, Barbara Corbin and Doris Ralston. Doris has a nice husband and Barbara is a widow. That’s all the possible heirs there are. They all say I was Uncle’s favorite, but I never thought so until he told me about his new will.”

“Mr. Emory Dunbar will be a bit upset?”

“He’ll be knocked galley-west.”

“Miss Forrest, tell me all you can about last evening. Was the cobra unusually excited or perhaps annoyed about anything?”

“You know something about snakes?”

“Only a little. They’re temperamental, I’ve been told.”

“They’re all of that. But Streamline was all right yesterday. Right after dinner some of us came up to look at him. Barbara and a new beau she has on approval. Me and my present-day suitor, Jake Ward. Barbara’s experiment, one Clive Rankin, had never seen our pet, so I put Streamline through his paces.”

“Did Rankin like it?”

“Not much. Few people appreciate the pet’s parlor tricks. Well, he and Barbara went downstairs, and I let Streamline out for a few minutes and he danced for Jake, but all the time Jake was nervous and afraid, so I shut old Booful up again.”

“And didn’t quite latch the door properly,” said Stone, speaking with no emphasis or any special inflection.

“Implying that the neglect was intentional?” Anna’s voice was as levelly indifferent as his own.

“I didn’t say so, and please Miss Forrest, don’t be so ready to take offence. You know I am trying to help you. I want to be your friend—I can assure you you’re going to need one.”

“I am a beast,” and Anna put worlds of shamed apology into her remorseful glance. “You are so good to me, and I don’t seem grateful, I know. But truly I am—truly.”

But now she was so palpably trying to vamp him that Stone lost his passing feeling of deep sympathy, and returned to his strictly advisory demeanor.

“Let us cut out the emotional side, and see what our next steps must be. Were you not in such deep waters and so desperately without help, I should leave you to shift for yourself.”

With a quickness of understanding that surprised him, Anna returned quietly, “You say that to frighten me. You’ve no intention of deserting me. Now I will be good. Tell me what to do, and I’ll obey. And I promise again not to tell of Uncle’s latest will.”

“You throw that as a sop to Cerberus. Very well, I think of nothing further to advise, except that you say as little as possible. Wait until the lawyer arrives—what’s his name?”

“Sutton—Samuel Sutton.”

“A young man?”

“Goodness, no. About as old as Uncle Bruce. Say sixty-two or three.”

“Oh, I remember now. I’ve seen the man. Short, stout, white beard—”

“Yes, that’s right. Looks a bit like Andrew Carnegie.”

“Yes, I know. A scholarly man and a well-known lawyer, but a trifle on the old side—yes?”

“Of course. But does that make any difference? Mr. Sutton was a very old friend of Uncle’s and he will look out for me all right.”

“So far as he can, of course. When can we expect him?”

Anna looked at him in surprise.

“Why, he hasn’t been sent for yet. I’m waiting for Emory to see to such matters. Or Steve Ralston, he’ll be along soon.”

“You haven’t telephoned your friend, Mr. Ward?”

“N—no. He’s, well, he’s a fair-weather friend, you see.”


“That he’s all very well for parties, but family troubles should be kept in the family. Uncle Bruce always taught us that.”

“And good advice, too. But there are exceptions, and I think this is one. I think Mr. Sutton should be told at once, and urged to return here as speedily as possible. Shall I write a message, and let your man telephone it to the Telegraph Company?”

Anna was not afraid of quick action and readily agreed, and in a few moments that matter was attended to.

“And now, I must go,” Stone said, “I’m glad you called me in, I’m glad to help you and I beg you will attend my directions, for they are really warnings and if you ignore them, trouble will follow. You understand?’'’

“I don’t entirely understand, but I will obey you implicitly so far as I can. But wait just a moment, this must be Hatton.”

There had been a tap at the door, and on Anna’s bidding, Hatton came in.

“Mr. Ralston is here, Miss Anna. He urges that you see him, if only for a few minutes.”

“Send him up here,” said Anna; then turning to Stone, she whispered she wanted him to see any of the family who might show up, especially Emory.

Steve Ralston entered the room, and advanced to Anna, both hands outstretched. “You poor, dear child,” he said: “oh, but you have a guest.”

“Mr. Stone, a good friend of mine,” she said: “Mr. Ralston, my cousin’s husband.”

The men bowed, and Ralston looked over toward the cage.

“Why sit in here with our family enemy?” he asked looking gravely at the cobra, who gazed back with half closed eyes.

“No reason for it,” Stone said, pleasantly: “mayn’t we go in your cosy sitting-room, Miss Anna?”

“Surely,” and she led the way into the next room.

“Doris is so sorry not to come at once,” Steve said, by way of apology. “But as you know, Anna, she is not well, and these new treatments are doing her so much good, she simply couldn’t get away until later. Do you feel that you can tell me the particulars now? Or would you rather I’d go and talk with Crowe?”

“Oh, no, I’ll tell you. There’s almost nothing to tell. Crowe went into Uncle’s room this morning and found him dead, with the marks of Streamline’s fangs on his neck. We know no more than that. Do you want to see him? Go right in there, if you do.”

“No, I’ll go later. How did Streamline get out of his cage?”

“We’ve no way of knowing, unless Uncle let him out, as he often does at night.”

“You’ve had a doctor?”

“Yes. Doctor Larcom is away, so his substitute came; a person named Vail, who is a moron.”

“Anna!” said Stone, rather sharply, “don’t say such things! I know Doctor Vail, and he is a physician of high repute.”

Anna was so amazed at this use of her first name that she almost laughed outright. But her quick wits told her that Stone called her that because it was more like a friend. Miss Anna sounded silly, and Miss Forrest would have implied but slight acquaintance.

“He may be,” she said, “but I don’t like him. What must we do, Steve? As one of the family you must help advise.”

“Where’s Emory? He must take the helm?”


“Why, because he’s the nearest male kin of your uncle, and because he’s the heir to the estate. Where is he?”

“He’s away for the week-end. But we’ve sent him word, and I hope he’ll be here soon. Do you think Barbara means to marry that Rankin man?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure, but why discuss the family’s vital statistics for Mr. Stone’s benefit? I’m sure he must be bored to death.”

“Not at all,” declared Stone. “To tell the truth I’m fascinated by the great snakes, and I came around to see if I could be of any assistance, and, incidentally, to take a look at the cobra.”

“Oh, horrible!” and Steve shrugged his shoulders. “I am not afraid of the things—properly guarded —but, I’d rather be where they are not. My wife is petrified if she sees one. And she nearly faints if people mention them in her presence. It’s a phobia, I suppose, like some have for cats.”

“Yes,” Stone agreed. “Mr. Dunbar was quite the reverse; I understand he had already gone to bed and was playing with his pet, perhaps playing a little flute—”

“Oh, no,” Anna said: “he couldn’t have been. There was no flute about, this morning.”

“Where was the snake this morning?” asked Ralston.

“Curled up all proper in his cage, Crowe told me. But the whole matter is not at all surprising, is it, Steve? I’ve always felt that some day Streamline would turn on Uncle Bruce, and just this thing would happen.”

“I think we all feared it,” Ralston agreed. “Uncle Bruce took desperate chances; he told us so himself. And then he would laugh, as at a good joke. I used to talk to him seriously and beg him to give the cobra to the Zoo, but he laughed at my fears. We have to admit he was a determined sort and hard to persuade.”

“He was eccentric, I understand,” Stone said.

“Very,” Ralston agreed. “He would do anything to get a rise out of any one. And he traveled so much in the Orient and other strange places, that he got to like outlandish ways, and loved to tease others with them. But with all his queer ways, he was a lovable old man, and excepting for his odd pet, I had no fault to find with him. Well, well, look who’s here!”

For in the doorway stood Emory.

He came in, went to Anna and kissed her, shook hands with Steve and paused before Stone.

Ralston introduced the two, and then, full of his own affairs, Emory began at once.

“I say,” he exclaimed, “isn’t it queer? To think of Uncle Bruce being killed by his own pet! How often he has vowed that the brute knew him and would never dream of hurting him. Well, every cloud has its silver lining, and while I’m sorry poor old Uncle had to go, yet we all must go sometime. And now I’m head of the house and heir to the estate and all that. I’ll give the old chap the finest funeral ever seen, and then we’ll all get out of this old barracks of a house. Don’t think I’m heartless, Mr. Stone, but you see, I’m of the younger generation, and Uncle wasn’t. I did my duty by him, all my cousins will agree to that. And now I reap my reward. But I suppose we can’t do anything to-day, in a business way. To-morrow, though—to-morrow, I’ll hunt out old Sutton, and get things buzzing.”

“Mr. Sutton is away, out West,” Anna told him.

“All right, we’ll get him back. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. And you bet there’s a will in this case. Where is Uncle, Anna? In his bedroom?”

“Yes; Steve will go in there with you.”

The two men went off and Anna Forrest and Fleming Stone looked at one another.


Chapter 4
Enter Martin Saunders

“I called you Anna,” Fleming Stone said, “because I wanted to seem to have known you longer than I have. It would be wiser, if you don’t mind, to continue it. Both your cousin and Mr. Ralston wondered a little at my being here.”

“They’ll have to know—”

“When you announce the new will, yes. But it is far better to keep that matter quiet until tomorrow, and then declare the fact before your uncle’s lawyer or his clerk. You said you have a copy of the will; may I see it?”

“We’ll have to be by ourselves, then. They’re likely to come in here, it’s a family room. Come up to my boudoir.”

So the two went up to Anna’s boudoir, and she turned the key in the lock.

“If any one raps, we can let him in,” she said, as she went to the small escritoire of green enamel, decked with painted flowers.

She took from it the will, and gave it to her visitor, seating herself by his side.

Stone looked with deep attention and interest at the document.

So far as he could see, it was in all respects properly drawn, signed and witnessed. But to his surprise it was not drawn by Mr. Sutton.

The heading denoted the office of Martin Saunders, in the Imperial Building, on Fifth Avenue, in the Plaza section.

“Do you know this Saunders?” Stone asked of Anna.

“Never heard of him. I never noticed that it wasn’t signed by Mr. Sutton, either. That’s queer; it won’t disqualify the will?”

“I don’t see how it can, but it’s very strange. Your uncle did this secretly, then?”

“I suppose so—he forbade me to tell of it.”

“I know of Martin Saunders, though I’ve never met him. He is one of the best known and best reputed lawyers in the city. But why would Mr. Dunbar go to him for this matter?”

“Uncle Bruce would do anything queer or eccentric. Or he may have been mad at Sutton. Sometimes they had awful rows, and Uncle would threaten to take all his business away from him. Then they’d make up and be more friendly than ever.”

“I still think nothing should be said about this until you—or I—can confer with Mr. Sutton, or at least with his clerk. I see no flaw in this, yet there may be, and it calls for caution. Your uncle was very wealthy?”

“Oh, yes, something like twenty millions, I believe. But there are other bequests.”

“Yes, but small ones. To his other two nieces, his nephew and his servants. Also a few, scattering, to charities. But a few millions would cover all that, leaving you as the residuary.”

“It may sound insincere, but honestly, I’d rather he’d left it in fourths to us four. We’re his natural heirs, and I can’t see why he singled me out. Of course, I’m glad to have a lot of money, but I wish he’d treated us equally. Or, at least given Emory and Doris and Babs more.”

“You can easily remedy that condition of things.”

“Yes, and I shall. But, first, catch your hare. Then, you don’t want me to tell Emory to-day? It seems too bad to let him live in a Fools’ Paradise!”

“He’ll know soon enough. Here he comes now; I know his step.”

“Put the will in your pocket. You’d better keep it anyway.”

Fleming Stone obeyed the suggestion, and Anna opened the door to her cousin’s rap.

“What are you two doing—all shut up here in conference?”

“Conferring,” said Stone. “Won’t you join us?”

“Not now. Anna, I want the key of Uncle’s big desk. Where is it?”

“Here,” she returned, nonchalantly getting it out of her stocking. “What are you going to look for?”

“Just going to browse through Uncle’s papers. They’re all mine now, I have a right to them.”

“Do you know where Uncle’s will is?”

“No; perhaps it’s in the desk, and maybe old Sutton has it. Steve has gone home, says he’ll come back with Doris for supper. I say, Mr. Stone, no offence intended, but are you here—er—officially?”

“In what office?” and Stone smiled at him.

Every one smiled at Emory. About thirty, he was; with short, thick black hair, and big black eyes that could glitter if he disliked a man or melt to softness if he wooed a fair lady—which he often did.

He and Anna were good friends, although they often had a passage at arms over some mere trifle.

Emory was a big man, and only his continual exercise kept him from being a stout one. His sense of humor was not unlike his uncle’s and he ballyragged Anna at every chance, though it must be said, she held her ground well.

Left to her own choice, she would at once have told him all about the will she held, and talked the matter over, whatever the result.

But Stone had forbidden this, so she said nothing. Emory looked at Stone before he answered, and then said, straightforwardly:

“I know you are a great detective, Mr. Stone, and I wondered whether you were here detecting, or merely calling on my cousin.”

“Is there anything to be detected, Mr. Dunbar?”

“Not that I know of. To be sure, my uncle’s will makes no mention of his pet, but unless we find some disposition of that among his papers, I shall feel free to have the creature put out of existence, or give it to the Zoo.”

“Doubtless all such things will settle themselves, after the lawyer tells of his client’s wishes. Do you want your cousin with you, Mr. Dunbar? If so, I will be going.”

“No, I don’t want Anna, just now. I’m only going to poke around in the desk and see if I can find any stray cash. I’m on the edge, rather, and I could do with a little. It’s all mine, anyhow, so my conscience is clear.”

Emory went off downstairs, whistling, and Stone observed:

“Gay-hearted chap. Too bad his dream of marble halls must be shattered. But I suppose he has no reason to think his uncle made a later will.”

“No, of course not. He’ll want to kill me, though, and Doris probably will kill me.”

“That’s Mrs. Ralston?”

“Yes; she’s all right, you know, but a climber, a terribly keen social climber. And I know she hopes a later will may turn up, leaving us all equal shares.”

“Instead of which, your uncle chose you for his chief legatee. Why?”

“I don’t know, I’m sure. But Doris is greedy and Barbara was a little too sharp-tongued to please Uncle Bruce, so that may explain it. And you know Uncle had a queer taste in jokes. It’s quite possible he gave me the fortune to tease the others.”

“Seems strange.”

“Almost everything Uncle did was strange. Wasn’t it strange for him to keep a pet cobra?”

“Very. I think I’ll try to get in touch with Mr. Saunders to-night. I want to know the circumstances of this odd will. The executors, now, do you know them?” Stone took the will from his pocket. “Godfrey Osborne and Hampden Coles.”

“I only know they are two very old friends of Uncle Bruce’s. They’re what I call club friends. They never come here, but they hobnob at different clubs —play backgammon and chess.”

“And the witnesses? Lulu Banks and William Kent?”

“No, I never heard those names, that I remember.”

“All these details must be looked into. I’m perfectly sure the will is all right, for Saunders is a man of absolute integrity and honor. But if I don’t get hold of him to-day or to-night, I’ll see him early tomorrow. Now, I don’t want to seem to dictate to you overmuch, but do keep this will a secret until after I find out about it.”

“I will—if I can. But I am somewhat given to babbling and usually tell all I know and more too.”

“No, don’t do that. But I can’t order you, so I’ll only repeat, it is most certainly for your own advantage, not to mention this document until I’ve had a talk with Saunders.”

“All right, I promise. Going?”

“Yes, I must get along. I’ll see you soon.”

They went downstairs together and Anna joined Emory in the sitting-room, as Hatton let Stone out of the front door.

“You needn’t deny it,” Anna said, “you’re hunting for something special. What is it?”

“Probably nothing,” Emory returned. “But I’ve run across half a dozen unfinished wills already. Suppose Uncle made another, a completed one, after mine!”

“Well, it would be in Mr. Sutton’s safe, not here.”

“It might. Anything might happen. Anna, you look queer, sort of guilty. I believe you found a will in this desk, and you’ve secreted it. You’d better not do anything like that, my girl!”

“I didn’t. As a matter of fact, I haven’t opened the desk at all. I just locked it and took the key as a general precaution.”

“Meaning to give it to me?”

“Certainly I meant to give it to you, but I don’t agree that you have any more right to it than I have.”

“Oh, you don’t! Well, let me tell you I have all the right in the world. For two years Uncle has let it be known that I am his chief legatee, and as soon as Mr. Sutton comes, he will probate the will and all that.”

“Where is the will?”

“I suppose Sutton has it. But I’m looking around here in case it may be here.”

“What if it is? You can’t do anything till Mr. Sutton comes.”

“I know, but I’d like to see it. I guess if you were heir to a dozen millions or more, you’d like to see the will.”

“I guess I should,” and Anna turned away.

Doris and her husband came then, and it was plain to be seen Doris was in a state of great excitement. “How did it happen?” she cried. “How did Streamline get out? I suppose you left the cage unfastened, Anna, when you and Jake Ward came downstairs.”

“I don’t know why you suppose that,” returned Anna: “Uncle often let him out of the cage to play with him, late at night.”

“Yes, he did,” agreed Steve Ralston, “you mustn’t blame Anna, my dear.”

“But Anna could have left the door open,” persisted Doris.

“No, I couldn’t. Don’t be silly. I haven’t lived in the house with that snake all this time without knowing better than to leave the door unlatched.”

“Ooh, don’t talk about the awful thing!” and Doris put her hands over her eyes.

“Don’t be silly!” Emory said, for Doris annoyed him with her emotional gestures.

“Well, what about the funeral,” Doris asked.

“Wait till Barbara comes,” Anna suggested. “That must be a family discussion. Do you want to see Uncle, Doris? He looks very calm and peaceful.”

“No, I don’t want to—but I suppose I ought to.” She rose. “Does—does he show—”

“No—no marks show at all.”

Anna went with Doris to the bedroom, and Steve immediately asked Emory about the will.

“I wouldn’t be curious myself,” he apologized, “but Doris wants to know, and she doesn’t like to ask you.”

“What nonsense!” Emory said. “There’s no secret about it. The girls have known for years that I am the heir, but there is a decent sum also left to each of them.”

“How much?”

“I’m not sure, Steve. Uncle told me he didn’t forget them, and I didn’t question him further. I’d tell you, if I knew; but I didn’t like to say much for fear he’d change his mind. And I can’t be sure that he didn’t, until I can see Sutton.”

“Wouldn’t Perry know?”

“Sutton’s clerk? Yes, I suppose he would. I shall see him to-morrow.”

“Why not call him up to-day?”

“At his home? I’ve no idea where he lives.”

“And it would look a bit undignified, anyway. But Doris asked me to suggest it. She’s trying these days. Her nerves are on edge, and she’s having all sorts of treatments that, I think, make her worse instead of better. So humor her along, if she seems pettish.”

Emory wanted to say that he had never seen Doris when she didn’t seem pettish, but he restrained his temper.

“Uncle Bruce looks lovely,” said Doris, as the girls returned to the sitting-room. “Just as if he were asleep. When are you going to kill the snake?”

“I’m not sure I shall have it killed,” Emory said, speaking gently, “you see, Doris, dear, it’s a valuable piece of property, and I plan to sell it, or give it to the Zoo.”

“Oh,” cried Anna, “don’t sell Streamline! It would seem awful, when Uncle loved him so! And, Lord knows, you’ve money enough, Emory.”

“I sure have! Well, I expect the Reptile House will be glad to get him.”

“Do get him off as soon as you can, won’t you, Emory?” and Doris looked so distressed that Emory promised he would.

“Did you ask Emory about calling up Mr. Perry?” Doris said to her husband.

“Yes,” Emory answered her. “But I don’t think it advisable to call him until to-morrow, and besides, I don’t know his home address.”

“I do,” returned Doris, “I’ll call him myself.” Which she did, picking up the telephone from a nearby table.

Ralston looked a bit annoyed, but Emory only laughed, saying, “Let her do as she likes.”

They heard a one-sided conversation, which seemed to imply that Doris was surprised at something.

She laid down the instrument and turned to the others.

“Mr. Perry says he can’t get into the safe to-day, it’s a time lock. But he’ll open it to-morrow and bring us Uncle’s will.”

“Did he say anything about the will?” Emory couldn’t help asking.

“He only said it was the will in your favor. Said Uncle had made no will since that.”

Doris looked disappointed, and Emory readily understood that she had hoped that a subsequent will had left her a greater legacy.

Anna, with her secret knowledge, preserved a calm countenance, but marveled at the report of no will since the one that made Emory the heir.

Then she remembered that the will in her favor was not drawn by Mr. Sutton, so of course Perry would know nothing of it.

Barbara was announced then, and she joined the group, bringing Clive Rankin with her.

“Don’t mind Clive,” she said, “he’s trying hard to become one of the family, and I begin to think he may yet succeed. Tell me all about it, Anna. I couldn’t come any sooner, my guests stayed so long. Poor old Uncle Bruce. And so he died by his pet’s bite! Do you suppose he stirred Streamline up to a fury, or anything like that?”

“We’ve no means of knowing,” Emory said.

“I think Anna left the cage door open,” Doris said, “possibly not unintentionally, either.”

“Doris!” cried her husband, “don’t talk like that! Don’t notice it, Anna, poor Doris is all wrought up to-day.”

“Who isn’t?” Anna exclaimed; “of course I shall notice it! What do you mean, Doris? That I left the cage door open so that Streamline could come out and bite Uncle Bruce?”

“Of course she didn’t mean that,” Emory put in. “Doris knows, as we all do, that Uncle frequently let the cobra out himself, especially late at night.”

“Oh, drop it,” Barbara said: “don’t have family quarrels before Clive, or he won’t want to come into the family.”

“Yes, I shall,” said Rankin, “so long as you’re not quarrelsome, Barbara.”

“Babs is never quarrelsome,” Emory championed his cousin. “None of us is, really. But this occasion is enough to put us all on edge. Now, when shall we have the funeral? What do you girls think?”

“Mr. Perry said,” Doris stated, “that Mr. Sutton is flying home, and will be here to-morrow, about four o’clock, or sooner.”

“Then,” said Anna, “I think we’d better have the funeral to-morrow afternoon, at two o’clock, and Mr. Sutton will be here for a legal discussion after the services, say at four o’clock.”

“But surely Sutton will want to be at the funeral,” suggested Emory.

“Oh, no, he won’t,” Anna insisted. “Nobody wants to go to funerals, they go because they have to. Mr. Sutton will be glad to get out of it.”

“I don’t agree,” Emory said, with a decided air. “I think to-morrow is altogether too soon to have the funeral. It isn’t dignified or proper. I say, not before Tuesday, at any rate.”

“I think so, too,” and Doris put on her most society air. “Uncle Bruce was an important man, and he must have a correct funeral. If you don’t want to keep him here, Anna, have him taken to the mortician’s place, or something, but don’t hustle things so.”

“Very well,” Anna agreed; “I don’t care. Whatever you and Emory think.”

Hatton appeared then, and handed a card to Anna.

“A gentleman to see you, Miss Anna,” he said.

Anna glanced at the card, and concealing the thrill of excitement it gave her, she said, carelessly, “I will see him in the drawing-room, Hatton. I will go down at once.”

“The rest of you fix up the arrangements,” she said: “I’ll agree to any plans you make for the funeral. This is a matter of business of my own,” she glanced at the card. “It probably won’t take long.”

“Anna’s sort of queer,” Emory said, as the girl went down the stairs.

“She’s always been queer,” Doris observed. “Barbara is easy to chum with, but Anna is distant and sometimes supercilious.”

“Never mind discussing our characters,” and Barbara smiled. “We surely know one another by this time— We four cousins. And I agree that tomorrow is too soon for Uncle’s funeral.”

They discussed the matter as Anna went slowly down the long staircase.

The card she held bore the name of Martin Saunders, and she felt her heart beating as she went to meet him.

Giving Hatton instructions to let no one intrude, she went into the drawing-room and closed the door.

“Mr. Saunders?” she said, to the tall man who rose to greet her.

“Yes, Miss Dunbar. I have just learned of the tragedy here. Your uncle was a splendid man, and I want to tender my sympathy.”

Anna thanked him prettily, but with a slight reserve that precluded more definite personalities.

“I am a man of prompt action, and as I drew up your uncle’s will a short time ago, I thought I would call at once for a mere preliminary introduction.”

“I am glad you did, Mr. Saunders. I have a copy of the will, as you doubtless know. Will you tell me if the document is valid in all respects?”

“So far as I know, it most certainly is. Of course, if Mr. Dunbar made a subsequent will, that nullifies this one. Have you any reason to think he did?”

“No, I have not. But I don’t understand my uncle’s calling on you in this instance, when all his legal affairs were in the hands of Mr. Sutton.”

“Quite true, I was surprised myself. But Bruce Dunbar was a friend of my father’s and he seemed anxious to have me grant his request. He said Mr. Sutton was abroad, and he wanted the will drawn at once, as he had learned of an ailment which had attacked him and might cause his death suddenly. I saw no reason to refuse, so I drew the will at his direction, and later, he came one day to my office and signed it.”

“That was last July?”

“Yes, July twenty-fifth. You were appointed chief legatee and there were other bequests.”

“I know, having a copy of the will. Now, you see, my uncle drew a will about two years ago, in favor of my cousin Emory, making him chief beneficiary. Emory is going to be very much surprised and disappointed when he learns of this later will. He is also going to be very angry at me, for he will think I got around Uncle, and used undue influence and all that.”

“You have not told him then? Have you told any one?”

“Not while my uncle lived. That clause in the will, you know, stipulates my silence only so long as Uncle Bruce was alive.”

“And you have told some one since his death?”

“I have.”

“Whom did you tell?”

“Mr. Fleming Stone.”

“The famous detective?”


“Now, why in the world did you tell him?”

“He is a personal friend of mine, and I felt I needed the advice of a friend. He expected to get in touch with you to-morrow.”

“It’s all right, of course. I am a great admirer of Mr. Stone’s work. I shall be glad to confer with him. And I think, Miss Forrest, it would better for you to say nothing of this to any one. When Mr. Sutton returns to the city will be time enough to exploit your will. Before that, nothing can be done and trouble might ensue. May I have your promise to keep the matter secret?”

Anna sighed.

“Yes,” she said, “but every one wants me to keep it secret. Don’t you know I’m fairly bursting to tell it? When can I?”

Saunders smiled at her impulsiveness. “Very soon, I think,” he promised. “I will confer with Mr. Stone and then advise you.”


Chapter 5
Doctor Larcom Is Perplexed

Jake Ward came to the house not knowing what had happened.

Hatton told him before he joined the family, and he walked into the sitting-room, his kindly young face full of sympathy and sorrow.

He sat down beside Anna with a certain air of proprietorship, and she tacitly accepted his attitude.

“Glad to see you, Ward,” Emory said. “We’ve been arranging for the funeral. It will be Tuesday afternoon at the Mortuary Chapel. I don’t want it here, it upsets things so.”

“And whatever Lord Emory says is law,” Doris declared, spitefully.

“Why not?” asked Emory. “I’m my uncle’s heir, you all know that, and as soon as the will is put over, I take Uncle Bruce’s place in every way.”

“You can’t do that!” and Doris glared at him. “You’ll be a poor successor to that grand old man!” Steve Ralston looked distressed.

“Shall we go home, Doris?” he asked. “Don’t you feel well?”

“I feel all right, and I want to stay here, and see Emory start the wheels going round.”

“Can’t do much for the moment,” he told her, “but by the latter part of the week I’ll be getting busy. And there’ll be some changes! For one thing, no more of those awful Saturday night dinners! How we all hated them! And this house will be dismantled as soon as possible. And sold. So, if you girls want any of this old furniture and stuff, pick it out. But it’s no good. Victorian, not antique. A few of Uncle’s things I’ll keep. You take what you want and the rest must go to the auction room.”

“Where are you going to live?” asked Anna, troubled at this whirlwind directing of affairs. “And where am I?”

She felt she must tell of the will in her possession, but didn’t dare break her promise.

“I shall take a bachelor apartment somewhere, and you may go where you like, Anna. I can’t flatter myself you’ll miss my company, and you’ll have money enough to live comfortably.”

“Yes,” she said, complacently, “I suppose I shall. I’ll look up a place later.”

“Find a place where they’ll let you do as you like. I think I’ll give Streamline to you, and you can keep him or sell him as you choose.”

Jake Ward looked up quickly, as if he were about to claim a right in the arranging of Anna’s future, but he only said:

“Accept the gift, girl. I’ll keep him for you, if you like, until you’re settled.”

“Are you two engaged?” Emory asked, looking curious. “I have a right to know, as head of the house.”

“It seems to me,” Anna spoke deliberately, “that you make a big fuss about being head of the house. Having Uncle’s money doesn’t give you a right to ask impertinent questions.”

“No impertinence intended. Well, then, I’ll just go ahead with my own plans. You three girls will each have the income from a million, and that’s enough for anybody. I shall sell this house and the country house and the yacht and probably the cars, as I want better ones.”

“We’re not at all interested in your plans,” Barbara told him. “As for me, I only want to know when I can have some ready money. I mean, before Mr. Sutton gets home. Can’t Jim Perry give me some? Hasn’t he power of attorney, or whatever you call it? I’ll pay it back when I come into my legacy.”

“Barbara, dear,” Rankin said, looking pained, “don’t be like that, I beg of you. I’ll advance you some cash.”

“No; I don’t want yours, I want my own.”

And just then Perry arrived.

“No,” he replied when asked; “no, I can’t pay out any moneys on behalf of Mr. Sutton, except as he left directions. I say, can I go in and take a look at Streamline? I like the critter, you know, and I don’t think he ought to be blamed. He would never attack Mr. Dunbar unless annoyed or incensed to anger.”

“Come on,” and Jake Ward started up, “I’d like to see him, too. May we?’

Ward had bright, dark eyes, dark, curly hair, and a general air of an eager schoolboy.

He was a big chap, with square shoulders, and with a glance he invited Anna to go with them and the three went into Bruce Dunbar’s den.

“Splendid old house,” Jake said, as he looked at the massive doors and window frames. “All rooms so large and light. Why don’t you stay here, Anna?”

“No, thank you. I want more modern surroundings. If I keep Streamline, I shall have a wonderful cage built for him. Moorish, I think, with a long couch shelf for him to lie at full length. Look, isn’t he beautiful!”

The cobra reared his head and hissed at them, striking his fangs against the glass, and then swaying gracefully, as Anna played a soft little tune on the flute.

“He fascinates me,” Ward admitted, and gazed admiringly at the small, wicked eyes.

“He doesn’t fascinate me,” Perry declared, “but I don’t understand him. I’m going to let him out. Miss Forrest, are you afraid?”

“Oh, no. You know all about him. Jake and I will get in the wardrobe.”

There was a very large, old-fashioned wardrobe in the room, from which Bruce Dunbar had had the shelves removed and plate glass set in the doors.

Into this several persons could get, and stand in perfect safety, while Streamline was let out of his cage.

Perry, being fond of watching him, and being a favorite with Bruce Dunbar had often been in that coign of vantage, while the great snake went through its paces.

In it now went Anna and Jake, and carefully closed the doors.

Perry, playing the fife with his left hand, and holding a light cane in the other, unhooked the strong latch, and waited for what might happen.

Swaying more and more sinuously, Streamline glided out and came to position in front of Perry who fixed him with his eye.

Then the strange creature indulged in what seemed like a positively voluptuous dance and Perry led him round the room and back to his cage, without the slightest mishap.

The cage locked, the two came out of the wardrobe.

“Good work!” said Ward, with enthusiasm. “He’s in fine fettle to-day.”

“Yes,” Perry agreed. “I could have handled him, his mood is so gentle. But I’m taking no chances after his attack on Mr. Dunbar. I’m amazed at it, for Mr. Dunbar never stirred him up maliciously or even mischievously. How did he seem when you two were up here last night?”

“Morose,” said Anna. “You know that sullen air he puts on sometimes. I think Uncle had him out late, when he came up to bed, and somehow or other he left the cage not quite fastened—”

“Did you ever know him to do such a thing before?” Jake asked her.

“Well, yes, I did—once. I never told any one of it, but it did happen.”

“Did the cobra come out?”

“No; Uncle saw the door ajar and closed it just as Streamline was about to move.”

“That’s doubtless the way it happened this time.” Perry spoke thoughtfully. “Sure you two fastened the latch when you left?”

“Oh, goodness, yes!” cried Anna. “Of course, I looked after that. But we all know Uncle was growing careless of late. About lots of little things.”

“It doesn’t do to consider the closing of that cage a little thing. Now, Miss Forrest, if you’re to have the ownership of his majesty and if you don’t feel inclined to give him to the Zoo, I suggest that you let Mr. Ward keep him for you, as he offered. At any rate until you are established in your new home.”

“Yes, let me have him,” Jake said. “You can have him back whenever you’re ready. I’ll send for him to-morrow.”

“I’ll let you know,” Anna replied, “as soon as I decide myself.”

Barbara appeared then, saying, excitedly:

“Anna, there’s a reporter downstairs, and Emory refuses to see him. Doris and Steve scorn him, too, and even Clive won’t be the victim. I’m going down to be interviewed. Want to come with me?”

“I think you’d better not,” Perry advised. “You must be very careful about press matters. Suppose I take over?”

“Can’t I go too?” Barbara pleaded.

“Better not. It’s more dignified to send an agent. And I think it’s wiser to say nothing about the cobra. The death of Mr. Dunbar is an important matter, and to bring in a bizarre element is unnecessary.”

“What are you going to say Uncle died of, then?” Anna wanted to know.

“I shall try to be non-committal, for the present. I don’t want to rouse their curiosity, but, believe me, we mustn’t have things garbled. To-morrow is quite time enough to give out any detailed report.”

Perry went down to the drawing-room to receive the interviewer, and the others returned to the sitting-room.

Except Jake Ward.

He remained by the cage of the cobra, picking at the lock.

“Come along,” said Barbara, lingering herself. “What are you doing?”

“N—nothing. I didn’t know you were there. I say, Mrs. Corbin, you don’t think Anna ought to keep this thing, do you? I’m terribly afraid it isn’t safe. I—”

Barbara looked at him coldly.

“I said, what are you doing there? For you to fumble with that lock isn’t making things any safer for Anna.”

Ward stared.

“I don’t know what you mean. I’m making sure that this lock is all right; and if it came open last night it was done on purpose and not accidentally.”

“Oh, the lock’s all right, the servants here looked after that. And Emory, too. If it came open, Uncle opened it himself—unless it was not properly closed. In that case it’s up to you and Anna. You two were here last, except for Uncle Bruce. Don’t you remember? You two stayed up here a few moments when Mr. Rankin and I went downstairs.”

“Yes; I know. Of course, Anna fastened it securely then.”

“You don’t know. How can you? Did you think then of supervising her care in locking it? If so, why?”

Jake Ward gazed at her in astonishment. Just what was she implying? Or insinuating?

Without another word they went into the sitting-room.

“The lock is all right,” Ward announced. “I’ve been looking it over, thinking it might be bent or broken. But it isn’t.”

“What of it?” Doris shrugged her shoulders. “Uncle is dead, killed by the bite of his pet. Why worry as to how the thing got out? It is out night after night, for I’ve heard Uncle Bruce often had a session with the dreadful thing after he went to his room at night.”

“Did he always sleep with the door open between the two rooms?”

“Always,” said Emory. “Well, he had no one to blame but himself. I have hobbies, and I mean to indulge them, but thank Heaven they’re not of a sort that may prove fatal at any minute. And that’s hard on you girls!” He gave a smile. “If I had a dangerous fad, I might have to pass Uncle’s millions on to you, sooner than I expect to.”

“I think you’re dreadful,” Doris declared, frowning at him; “you don’t seem to have an atom of feeling! All you think of is your inheritance. And you’re the same, Anna. Poor, dear Uncle, nobody seems to care—nobody has any grief at his passing!”

“I’m properly and duly grieved,” Anna returned, with calm dignity; “every one should feel sad at a death. But no one ever grieves long or deeply for an uncle.”

“Anna’s right,” Barbara agreed. “Grieving isn’t done nowadays. I shall not put on mourning at all.”

“None of the finer feelings are shown nowadays,” Doris flung out; “I don’t think Steve would show any sorrow if I died.”

“If not, it would be your own fault,” Ralston returned, quietly. “You’re getting so difficult, Doris, it’s hard to be patient with you.”

“You’ll be patient with me after a few days, I can tell you!”

“Why, have you had a change of heart? Are you going to reform?” Emory smiled at his handsome cousin. “Or do you mean when you get over this deep woe you are feeling at Uncle Bruce’s death? How long is it supposed to last?”

“Behave yourself, Doris,” advised Barbara. “And you too, Emory. Who is it now, Hatton?”

“It’s Doctor Larcom, Mrs. Corbin,” the butler replied. “And,” he added turning to Anna, “Mr. Stone has just come, also.”

“Did they come together?” she asked, surprised.

“No, Miss, they met on the doorstep.”

“Bring them both up,” ordered Emory. “I like that Stone man, and Larcom won’t stay long.”

The doctor lumbered in first, and Stone, quietly following, slipped into a seat next Anna.

Emory greeted them and played the smiling host.

“Good of you to come, Doctor,” he said; “you hurried home?”

“Yes, yes; Vail telephoned, and I came right along down. Went to my daughter’s for the week-end. What’s this—now—what’s this? My old friend dead? And by that beastly snake? I always told him —let me see him—where is he?”

Larcom was deceptive in appearance.

A big, burly man, he seemed clumsy and uncertain of movement. He had a bewildered air and spoke in staccato jerks.

Really, he was perfectly clear-headed and entirely master of his own motor muscles, but a group of strangers always embarrassed him and he lost his mental poise as well as his physical activity.

He looked helplessly about, somewhat like the traditional stag at bay, and Emory, of no mind to be bothered, said, carelessly:

“Take over, Anna.”

But Fleming Stone rose, and murmuring, “Let me,” he had grasped the arm of the doctor and steered him toward Bruce Dunbar’s bedroom, before any one could interfere, had any one wished to do so.

Through the den they went, pausing a moment to look at the cobra, and then on to where the dead man lay in state.

The doctor, his self-possession fully restored, gazed down at the face of his old friend.

“I warned him,” he said, still speaking a little thickly, “over and over I warned him this would happen. I foresaw it—but what good did that do? He paid no heed—only laughed in my face, yes, sir, just laughed in my face! I can’t realize it. Old Bruce Dunbar, my longtime chum—dead. It’s a sad world —a mad world, indeed.”

Then his professional instinct came to the fore, and he leaned over to scrutinize the two tiny marks that still showed on the dead man’s neck.

“No doubt about it,” he muttered, “but I had to see for myself. Yes, sir, I wasn’t content to have only Vail’s report. But there’s no room for doubt. That damned snake bit him, and for some reason Bruce couldn’t reach his antidotes in time.”

“He had them ready, then?” Stone asked, interested.

“Oh, yes, right in that little drawer there. Yes, sir, all ready, in case of trouble. And he wouldn’t have had them there if I hadn’t insisted on it. I suppose he was fooling with the creature, and carelessly neglected his usual precaution. Getting old, Bruce was; forgetful now and then. Who found him?”

“His valet, this morning, when he brought his tea.”

“Oh, yes, yes. Crowe, of course. Good man, Crowe. Devoted to his master. Well, the poor chap didn’t suffer much.”

“Died at once?”

“Well, no; no, not to say at once. Not instantaneously, probably. But in an hour or so. Must be an autopsy—yes, yes, of course. Stupid of Vail to set the embalmers on him. However, stomach contents— all that—will show the time—what time do they say he died?”

“About four o’clock, I believe. But, I say, Doctor Larcom, are you sure he died as a result of the bite of that reptile in the next room?”

The doctor wheeled and stood looking at Stone, all self-consciousness gone now.

“What do you mean, sir? What else could he have died of? Are you blind? Can’t you see where the poison fangs, the fangs of the deadly cobra entered his neck—can’t you—”

“Now, now, Doctor Larcom, don’t get excited. Let us go back to the others.”

“Yes, we will do that, sir. I am ready.” And the doctor showed relief at the prospect of rejoining rational human beings.

Back in the sitting-room, he spoke his mind freely. “I don’t know who this man is, but apparently he wants to teach me my business. Introduce him, please.”

The shaggy gray eyebrows were raised as Larcom glanced at Stone, and had the situation been less serious it would have been comical.

For Stone’s expression was by no means that of a cowed or embarrassed man. Rather, he looked at Doctor Larcom with a kindly, even compassionate gaze.

“Mr. Fleming Stone,” Emory said, “a friend of my cousin, Miss Forrest.”

“The detective, eh? And what are you detecting, Mr. Stone? And why do you ask me if I am sure of my diagnosis? If I am sure that the venomous cobra in there is responsible for the death of Bruce Dunbar! You might as well ask me if I am sure that is the body of Bruce Dunbar! My friend of many years, my patient through many illnesses.”

“Just a moment, Doctor Larcom,” said Stone, as the choleric physician let his voice fall from sheer nervous exhaustion, “I can explain in a word why I asked you those questions. You see,” he turned to the rest of the listening group, and directing his attention especially to Emory, went on; “Mr. Bruce Dunbar’s death was not caused by the bite of the serpent you call Streamline.”

“But we have no other snake!” exclaimed Anna. “You asked me if we had, I remember.”

“Then you must look further for the instrument of death. For the distance between the two poison fangs of the cobra, Streamline, is six millimeters more than the distance between the two red punctures in the neck of Mr. Dunbar.”

There was a breathless silence.

Stone’s serious, scholarly demeanor precluded all idea that he was speaking loosely or without definite and exact knowledge of what he was saying.

And Doctor Larcom’s countenance was a study in itself.

Had any one of them watched him continuously, they would have seen registration of blank amazement, shocked surprise, unbelief, dawning acquiescence and conviction successively and unmistakably portrayed in slow but uninterrupted sequence.

Stone, his own face blank of all suggestion, let his keen glance rove unobtrusively from one to another of the audience, but met only expressions of wonder or incredulity.

Emory Dunbar was the first to speak.

“It seems to me, Mr. Stone, that in view of the fact that circumstances point clearly to the bite of my uncle’s cobra, that two doctors and the mortician’s men have agreed to that diagnosis, and that there is no possibility of the presence of another venomous snake, we are justified in adhering to our opinion, in spite of your differing view.”

Stone spoke without heat or rancor:

“You most certainly have a right to any opinion you wish to hold; I want only to point out that what you call my differing view is the truth, and any other opinion is false.”

“Is impossible!” thundered the big voice of the now convinced Doctor Larcom. “I beg your pardon, Mr. Stone, for my rude and ill-calculated speech. Since there exists that discrepancy between the measurements of the fangs of the pet cobra and the marks on Bruce Dunbar’s neck, it is impossible that Streamline made those marks. I need not ask, I assume that you have made true and exact measurements, and your statement is a provable fact?”

“Thank you, Doctor, for your generous concession,” and Stone gave him a pleasant smile. “Yes, my calculations have been accurately made. I measured the punctures with my own steel tape, and I let Streamline bite on a paper which I carefully preserved until I could measure that also. The difference is as I have stated.”

“And what follows, Mr. Stone?” Emory asked, his grave face showing his growing realization of the conditions.

“That I cannot say. I merely report my findings.”

“Which I accept as the truth. But I cannot see that it need make any difference in our procedure. May we not go on—”

“Hold there, my boy,” the doctor boomed at him. “You may not go on without my death certificate, may you? Or Vail’s? Well, I can assure you you’ll get neither of them until we know the cause of Bruce Dunbar’s death.”

Emory grew irritable.

“Anna,” he grumbled, “why did you want to drag in this man at all? I still think Streamline killed Uncle. It’s too absurd to think another snake got in and made those snakebites. I believe the poison fangs slipped a little, or the swelling flesh distorted the distance on the throat.”

“In justice to my own reputation for accuracy,” Stone said, “I must insist on corroboration. I shall call an expert from the Zoo, and he must give his verdict. Doctor Larcom must make the measurements on Mr. Dunbar’s neck, and then the body must be taken away for an autopsy and laboratory examination. I am retained on this case by Miss Forrest, and while I am at her orders to a degree, my own interests demand the stipulations I have made.”

“And I stand back of you, Stone,” rumbled Larcom’s deep voice; “get your man.”

And in a short time, an expert arrived from the Reptile House, and went into conference with Doctor Larcom. With the result that in less than a half hour the solemn-faced young man stated that it was an utter impossibility for Streamline to have made those marks on Bruce Dunbar’s neck. That there was no appeal from that decision and that it rested on all known scientific data regarding venomous snakes. That evidence was there to prove that Mr. Dunbar died of snakebite, but not from the fangs of his pet. And that an autopsy might or might not bring further information.


Chapter 6
Crowe Helps With The Clues

From that moment the responsibility of the whole affair seemed to shift to the shoulders of Fleming Stone and Doctor Larcom.

Emory shut up like a clam and when he spoke at all, it was in a tense, strained voice, and brief sentences. He was not morose or sulky, rather like one whose house of cards has fallen. He seemed dazed, bewildered, and looked interrogatively at one or another in turn.

He paid no further attention to Stone, and, at last, he rose and without a word, left the room, and they heard him ascending the stairs to his own quarters.

“He’s all right,” Anna said, as Doctor Larcom looked at her inquiringly. “He’s bothered, I expect, but he’ll think it out by himself. That’s his way. I’d rather have the advice of the crowd. Look upon me as the head of the house until Emory gets around again. What do you think about it all, Mr. Stone, and what do you advise me to do?”

“First of all, state your wishes regarding my connection with the case. Do you want me to continue my investigations or are you ready to dispense with my services?”

“I distinctly want you to carry on, Mr. Stone, and I sincerely hope you will do so.”

“I can’t see, Anna, why you assume all direction,” Doris said, petulantly. “Just because you live in this house makes you no nearer in relationship to Uncle Bruce than Barbara and I are. Yet you calmly take Emory’s place without reference to us.”

“Yes, I do.” Anna nodded her blonde head indifferently. “I engaged Mr. Stone, I shall pay his bills, and I see no reason to ask your advice or permission. If you want to employ detectives, you are at liberty to do so.”

“And where will you get your money to pay the bills you mention so carelessly?” inquired Barbara, fixing her dark eyes on her cousin.

“Never you mind,” Anna retorted, “I shall get a legacy from Uncle, the same as you and Doris; and I don’t believe Mr. Stone will push me for payment.”

“Good for you, Anna,” Jake approved her; “I’ll stand by you, and whatever Mr. Stone advises, I’ll help you to accomplish.”

“The steps to take in the immediate future,” Stone said, “must be obvious to you all. First, we have to discover the reason for Mr. Dunbar’s death. Right, Doctor Larcom?”

“Yes, yes. We must get at that. The answer is, of course, another snake. There must be—”

Doris screamed; not a pettish or nervous scream, but a wail of real fear. Of horror and distress, unfeigned and unconcealed.

“In the house, now?” she gasped. “Oh, Steve, take me home!”

Ralston looked at his wife pityingly.

“Perhaps I’d better take her home,” he said; “I’ll put her to bed and give her a spot of veronal, and then I’ll come back.”

“Yes, if you like,” Stone assented. But Doctor Larcom said: “No. Keep her here where I can look after her. Take her to your room, Anna, and let her rest there. A bit of sleep would help her.”

“Sleep!” said Doris, scornfully. “What’s the matter with you all? There’s nothing wrong with me except your dreadful suggestion of another cobra loose in the house. You don’t mean that, do you, Doctor?”

“Bless my soul, how do I know?” and Larcom stared at her. “Don’t worry until you see it, anyhow.” This brought another wail from Doris, and Barbara began to laugh.

“Oh, Doris,” she cried, “if you knew how funny you look, sitting there, screaming about snakes! Tuck your feet under you, and they won’t bother you. But I think we ought to start a search, a room to room search.”

“Not at all a bad idea,” said Stone, with enthusiasm. “I’ll search Mr. Dunbar’s rooms, and you others can choose which ones you prefer.”

“I’ll go with you, Mr. Stone,” Jake Ward volunteered; “there’s plenty of us to hunt in couples. You don’t mind?”

“Not a bit, come along. We’ll close the door, for if there’s a visiting cobra, it’s likely to be in Streamline’s vicinity.”

They went through into the den and on to the bedroom.

“You look for the snake, Ward,” the detective said, “I’ve a few small fish to fry.”

“Is it murder, Mr. Stone?”

“What do you mean?” Stone turned and faced him. “Why do you ask that?”

“Only because you’re going to search for something not a snake, and I thought it might be—er—clues.”

“Good egg! I haven’t mentioned homicide and I’d rather you wouldn’t but I can’t seem to feel another cobra around.”

“Well, I’ll look; go ahead with your business.”

And Fleming Stone did.

He went into the bathroom first. A large, white tiled room, for the house was not the sort to have colored tile and illuminated glass and growing water-plants. It was not modernistic, but there was up to date plumbing with the finest silver and enamel fixtures and carefully selected linen and toilet accessories.

Fleming Stone looked about him carefully. Many towels hung in serried rows from several glass bars and soaps and sponges were carefully laid in place. Only one towel showed signs of use; a large one, hung at full width on a bar by itself. One glance told Stone that it had been hung up very wet, and had dried evenly and smoothly. Several towels were in the wicker hamper, and these also received due scrutiny.

“I say, Ward,” Stone called out, “do you suppose the chambermaid is in?”

“Dunno. I’ll ask Anna.”

“No, find out some other way, but get her for me, if you can.”

Jake went downstairs, and came back with a frightened Swede, who, he informed, was Olga, the chambermaid.

The very blonde Olga refused to be drawn into the bathroom or Mr. Dunbar’s bedroom, but entered the den and stammeringly answered a few questions.

No, indeed, she had not done up the bathroom that day! What, with the master a layin’ there like that? Not a foot would she put over the threshold until he had been taken away, no, not if she lost her job!

“So you’re afraid of a dead body?” Stone said, casually; “and are you afraid of snakes?”

“Oh, no, sir, I like ’em. Leastways, I like Streamy, he’s a dear.”

“All right, Olga, just do a little poking about under the furniture and see if there’s any other nice little snakie coiled up there.”

“Yessir,” and down she went on her hands and knees to pursue her odd hunt.

Meanwhile, Stone was looking in the waste-basket.

“Have you emptied this to-day, Olga?” he asked.

“No, sir; Miss Anna let me off from comin’ in here till to-morrow.”

But the wicker basket, with its dark green satin lining showed no treasure trove, until, in a small fold of the lining at the bottom of the basket, Stone spied a tiny object, which he drew forth and gazed upon with avid curiosity.

It was, unmistakably, the long point of a freshly sharpened lead pencil, a full half inch of the graphite of a soft pencil.

Stone well knew how even the best of pencil-sharpeners cut up this trick of cracking the lead just above the edge of the protecting wood, and how annoying it is when the point falls out at the moment the pencil is first used.

Rather fussy about his own stationery supplies, he had his pencils sharpened each day and carefully tested before they were placed in their receptacle on his well-ordered desk. And even then, sometimes this very accident would happen.

Rolling the bit of lead between his thumb and forefinger, he perceived it was a very soft variety, and he looked over the small desk in the corner of the den. The pencil there on the pen-tray, was quite different, much harder, and obviously sharpened by hand with a pen-knife.

“Olga,” he said, and the Swede scrambled from behind the heavy rep window curtain where she was diligently stalking cobras.

“Yessir,” she came to attention, a bit disheveled but ready for orders.

“Where is Mr. Dunbar’s pencil-sharpener?”

“His what, sir! Oh, I know what you mean, the small machine that grinds them. Why, he doesn’t have one, sir. He—well, he likes the old ways, and he sharpens his pencils hisself, on his own thumb.”

“He sharpened this one, I suppose,” and Stone held up the one he had taken from the tray.

“Yessir, I’m sure he did. Nobody could do it so nice. Isn’t it smooth and even?”

It was beautifully done, quite evidently by an experienced hand and with a sharp knife.

“Yes; where’s his knife?”

“I don’t know, sir; he gen’rally carried it in his pocket.”

“Does any one in the house use a sharpener?”

“Oh, yessir. Miss Anna has a lovely one, all white and gilt like. It came from Paris. And Mr. Emory has one on his desk, and Hatton has one in the pantry. But Mr. Dunbar, he said they were fool contraptions and he sharpened his own.”

“Did he always use the same kind of pencil?”

“Oh, yessir. Here’s the box in this drawer. Of course, Crowe looked after all such things, but I had to know about ’em, in case it might be Crowe’s afternoon out.”

“You liked Mr. Dunbar?”

“Oh, yessir! Oh, my, yes! He was so kind and humorish like.”

“You’re observant, Olga. Now, you come into the bathroom with me. Never mind Mr. Dunbar being in the bedroom. He can’t harm you. And you may be able to tell me something helpful. Come along, there’s a dollar bill in there for you.”

That settled it. Olga went and went quickly. She scurried past the bed and into the bathroom, arriving there breathless but eager.

Stone made payment at once, and then said:

“Just one thing, Olga. Look around and see if anything is different from usual.”

“Ay tank not,” she glanced casually round, and lapsed into her tabooed vernacular half absent-mindedly.

Clearly she had forgotten all else in her delight at the gift she had received.

“Look again, Olga,” said Stone, patiently. “This towel, now—did Mr. Dunbar use only this one towel when he bathed last night? Put your mind on this and there might be another dollar to keep that one company. But only if you think hard and answer carefully.”

“Yessir. Why, no, sir, Mr. Dunbar he uses lots of towels, heaps of ’em. But Crowe, he puts Mr. Dunbar to bed you know; he carries off the used towels and puts out fresh ones every night. Miss Anna, she’s fussy partikler about such things. You see, here’s a few little hand towels in the hamper, those would be what Mr. Dunbar used maybe after Crowe left him. Often he’d be up, prowlin’ around, tootin’ pipes at Streamy or eatin’ a bite of fruit. Then he’d probly wash his hands and pitch the towel in the hamper. But that there towel on the rack—Mr. Dunbar never used that, sir.”

“Who did, then?”

“Oh, anybody might of. The corpse fixer’s men or the doctors or the man who came over from the Zoo a short while ago—”

“Yes, that’s true. Well, here’s another dollar, Olga, but mind now, you’re not to say a word about anything I’ve said to you. Don’t mention towels, or lead pencils or anything I’ve said or done. If you do, you get never another cent from me. If you don’t— there’s always a chance to pick up a little gift now and then.”

“Oil right, sir—I promuss.”

“Run along then, and remember, mum’s the word.” Jake Ward had disappeared, and Stone sat down on the edge of the bathtub to think a minute. This was not the first time he had used the evidence of towels in a bathroom, and it seemed to him that most people were less self-conscious there than in any other room in a house.

The towel that interested him was too dry to have been used and wrung out so lately as when the Reptile expert was in that room, and besides, he had towels and all his paraphernalia in a suitcase. Unlikely he would take any chances with other people’s belongings after measuring the fangs of a venomous snake. If either of the doctors had washed his hands there it could easily be learned, and after all, did it amount to much anyway?

Yet he still lingered in the bathroom. He felt he must tear out its secret, if any, before the place was set to rights again, as it would be once Bruce Dunbar’s body was removed.

He scrutinized afresh every gadget or bathing appurtenance.

The sponge caught his eye.

In a nickeled sponge rack, it lay, a very large sponge of fine texture.

He picked it up; it was dry but more pliable and softer than the cheaper varieties. On a sudden impulse, he drew out his pocket knife and slashed into the very heart of the sponge.

Rewarded at last. The inside of the sponge was damp, the very inner center was wet. He had won through, at least he thought he had.

He was trying to prove that somebody had been in Bruce Dunbar’s room after the valet had left it at night, and before he returned there again in the morning.

Had the valet used the sponge on his master it would be bone dry by now. Had it been used since Dunbar was found dead, it would still be damp outside. But its present condition argued its use during the small hours, say about the time the death occurred.

Fleming Stone was only too well aware that his deductions were a bit wobbly, and perhaps all wrong, but the combination of the wet sponge and the towel that had been very wet impressed him too strongly to be negligible.

He was under the fascination of a new case. Already baffling questions were cropping up, and with certain strange developments that even now seemed imminent, he looked eagerly forward to grappling with the situation.

Noting the various bells at the head of Dunbar’s bed, he pushed the button marked Valet, and in due time Crowe presented himself.

A dapper, Frenchy looking person was Crowe.

He was punctilious as to his appearance and manners and he stood at attention, waiting for Stone to speak.

“Can you keep your mouth shut, Crowe?” the detective said.

“At orders, yes, sir.”

“Very well. Consider this confidential for the present. Mr. Dunbar’s death, it is now surmised, was not brought about by the bite of his pet. But he was bitten by some venomous snake. Can you suggest how such a creature could have entered this room last night?”

They were in the bedroom, and Crowe stared wonderingly at the speaker.

“No, sir. It does not seem to me possible. But if it did happen, then some person must have brought a snake in. And it must have been after Mr. Dunbar was in bed, for I left him, as usual, ready for the night.”

“Could any one come into this house unseen by any one else?”

“Only if he had a key to the front door.”

“What people have keys?”

“Mr. Emory and Miss Anna, of course. Doctor Larcom and Mr. Sutton. I think some other friends of Mr. Dunbar may have them, but I don’t know.”

“Have you one?”

“No, sir. Hatton and I have each a key to the back door.”

“I see. Remember to say nothing about this. Now come into the bathroom. What is different from the way you left it last night?”

“Only that large towel hanging from the rod, and —yes, I see the sponge has been moved.”


“Yes, sir, I always leave it lower side up, to let it dry thoroughly. It is now top side up.”

“So it is. You are observant, Crowe.”

“About my duties, yes. I have to be. That is why my work gives satisfaction.” The man did not speak boastingly, but with a grave appraisal of his own merits.

“Anything else? I suppose you could tell if anything were moved in the slightest degree?”

“Oh, yes, sir. Without doubt some one has been in here. The bath mat does not hang true, as I always leave it, and the soap has been used.” He looked in the hamper. “And there are more used towels than Mr. Dunbar ever had need of. Six in all, and I left it empty. A stranger has been in here. Is it important?”

“It may be. Make sure, please, you notice nothing further.”

“I see no other point, sir. Oh, yes, the bath gloves are gone!”

“What are they?”

“Big gloves of Turkish toweling, which Mr. Dunbar sometimes used instead of a washcloth. Now, where can they be?”

“I doubt you will ever see them again, Crowe. Have you others? Show them to me.”

The man took from a linen cabinet a white glove off the top of a pile.

“Like that, sir,” he said.

“I see. Put it back in its place. Now look at this.” He took the bit of graphite from his pocket.

“Is this from one of Mr. Dunbar’s usual lead pencils?”

“Oh, no, sir. This lead is very soft—see, it smudges off on my fingers. Mr. Dunbar liked a harder number.”

“And this came from a pencil sharpened by a machine. You use one?”

“No, sir. I certainly should if I sharpened Mr. Dunbar’s pencils. But he always did that himself. With a jack-knife, you know.”

“Yes, I know. Would that lead be from one of Mr. Emory Dunbar’s pencils?”

“That’s hard to say. Mr. Emory is satisfied with any sort of pencil, hard, soft or medium. He picks them up here and there, and he never gets them by the dozen.”

“And Miss Forrest?”

“She likes her gold pencil, sir. Though why, I don’t know, for the beastly little lead in it is always breaking and it scarcely makes a mark anyway. Hatton has the best pencils in the house. Medium soft, and always in order.”

“Well, Crowe, could you get me a sample pencil from each of those desks? Miss Anna and Mr. Emory and Mr. Hatton?”

“And my own, sir?”

“You have a special pencil, then?”

“Yes, sir. Very soft, much like the bit of lead you have there.”

“This lead may have come from your pencil, perhaps?”

“Quite likely, sir. I left a new pencil up here yesterday, and I forgot to look for it last night. But if that is lead from my pencil, where is the pencil?”

“Where, indeed? Unless the visiting cobra made off with it. Where, exactly, did you leave it?”

“On the desk in the den. I was about to make a memorandum for Mr. Dunbar, and then he sent me on another errand, and the matter was lost sight of. But I know I left my pencil on the desk, and it was newly sharpened, and those pesky points do break loose once in a while.”

“Very well, then, Crowe; bring one of your own pencils with the others, but keep the matter quiet. Give them to me when no one is about, if not to-night, then to-morrow. I think they are taking Streamline away to-night. Shall you be sorry to see him go?”

“No, sir; he’s rather a nuisance. Yet I have a sort of liking for the rascal. And if he didn’t kill the master, I’ve nothing against him.”

“That’s a secret, remember, at least for a day or so. You may go, Crowe, and collect the pencils when you can.”

The man went away, and Stone was looking over the room once more when Jake Ward came in.

“No snake on the premises,” he said; “I’ve been over the whole house. The others fell by the wayside. The ladies are discussing their costumes for the funeral, and you’d think it was a social event. Emory is back from his sulking fit, and he’s once more Lord of the Manor. He told Anna where she got off; it seems he means to brook no interference with his authority.”

“As prospective heir to the estate, I daresay he feels justified in that. And now, young Ward, just tell me exactly what you and Anna did up here last night, after Mrs. Corbin and her cavalier went downstairs.”

“I hate to disappoint you, Mr. Stone,” Jake’s bright eyes twinkled, “but we engaged in no nefarious pursuit. In fact, we forgot all about the pretty pet in the cage, and devoted our attention to an all too short session of petting each other. This is strictly in confidence, but as you are doubtless here for the purpose of investigation, I want you to understand at the outset that Miss Forrest and myself are outside the pale.”

“The pale of what?”

“Of people who might have left Streamline’s cage door open. Isn’t that the quest? Yes, I know they say Streamy didn’t bite the hand that fed him, so to speak, but all the same I’ll bet that brute comes under suspicion. The idea of a second snake is too absurd. Why should one walk in, bite the gentleman and walk out again? Nor can I see any sort of intruder entering, with a live snake under his arm, and sicking him on to his victim. But, in any case, I tell you, and you must believe me, Anna and I left the cage properly and safely fastened.”

Fleming Stone looked queerly at the speaker, as he said:

“Methinks the lady doth protest too much. Not that you are a lady, but the principle is the same. I had a friend once, who continually boasted of how punctiliously careful he was not to cheat at cards. In fact he so harped on his honor and integrity in that respect, that at last we suspected him—and rightly. I draw no parallels, but why do you rub in the innocence of yourself and Anna? It has not been challenged.”

“But you know it will be,” and Ward’s young face clouded.

“Time enough when it happens,” Stone said, lightly.

And then their opportunity for confab was over.

Strange men came, who bore the remains of Bruce Dunbar from the rooms he had lived in so long, and almost simultaneously came men from the Reptile House, who carried away the cage containing the disturbed and enraged Streamline.


Chapter 7
Barbara At Home

When Stone rejoined the family, he found them gathered in the big parlor on the first floor.

He at once sensed a difference in the mental atmosphere.

There seemed to be a relaxation of the tension that had been evident before Bruce Dunbar’s body had been taken away, but in the environment of the more formal room, the cousins evinced a greater reserve, even an air of coldness toward one another.

“I may not see you again, Anna,” Doris was saying, “until the time of the funeral. I suppose there will be no legal settlement until after that.”

“I don’t know what you mean by legal settlement,” Emory broke in, “but as soon as Mr. Sutton gets back, and is ready to come here, of course we must have a conference. He will read the will, and you girls will know exactly where you stand.”

“Of course I shall attend any such conference as that,” Doris assured him. “Let me know when it is arranged. I think we’ll go home now, Steve.”

“Won’t you stay?” said Anna, politely. “We’re having an informal supper—”

“No, thanks, we must be getting home. I have a ray treatment this evening.”

“Are they helping you?”

“Helping her, nothing,” and Barbara laughed. “Doris wants to play the interesting invalid. I should think Steve would get tired of it—don’t you, Steve?”

“I don’t get tired of my beautiful wife,” Ralston said, sincerely; “so naturally I put up with her ways, and like them. She’s always interesting to me. Come along, Dorrie, shall we start?”

They went off, and though there was a brief silence, no word of comment or gossip was spoken by those left behind.

The Ralstons walked the few blocks down to their own home, as Doris declared she wanted fresh air.

“That dreadful stuffy old house,” she complained; “I’d die if I had to live in it. I don’t see how Anna stands it.”

“She won’t be there much longer,” her husband said. “How much do you think you’ll inherit, dear?”

“I didn’t learn anything new to-day. We must wait till the will is read.”

“To-morrow, Emory seems to think.”


They turned into their own home, a delightful apartment, in all ways a proper setting for its beautiful mistress.

The maid who admitted them said to Doris: “There was a telephone call for you, Madame. Mr. Pennock asks that you call him up.”

“Very well, I will attend to it.”

Her wraps handed over to the maid, Doris went to the telephone at once.

She gave a number, but Ralston, listening, heard no name.

Nor did he derive any information from the one-sided conversation he overheard. For Doris said only, “Yes,” or “I quite agree with you,” or “Very well, I will do so,” or such unsatisfying scraps.

“Now, who the devil was that?” Steve asked, as his wife laid down the instrument.

“No one you know,” she returned, with a dazzling smile, followed by one of her none too frequent caresses.

Steve Ralston was madly in love with his wife, but he never felt sure that his affection was returned in equal measure. Any demonstration she voluntarily gave him was balm to his soul, and he forgot the telephone call as he drew her into his embrace.

Barbara and Rankin had also left the Dunbar house, and at the informal supper, Anna and Emory had as their guests only Stone and Jake Ward.

“I hope, Mr. Stone,” Emory said, while at the table, “there will be no fuss or pother about the way my uncle came by his death. It can make no difference whether one snake bit him or another, and those scientific investigations are interminable, and would seriously delay settlement of the estate.”

“And is the settlement of the estate of paramount importance?” Stone inquired.

He was trying hard not to feel a prejudice against Emory Dunbar, but that young man was so callously indifferent to his uncle’s death, save as a means to his own aggrandizement, that Stone couldn’t help a certain repugnance.

“To me, it is,” Emory replied, somewhat coldly, “and no one else is deeply concerned. I am sure the discrepancy of measurement you point out is uncertain. With the flesh of my uncle’s neck so swollen and the fangs of the cobra wrapped in a soft membranous covering, it would be very easy to miscalculate their exact metric length.”

“You’ve been studying up the subject?” Stone smiled good-naturedly.

“Only in a Natural History book. But you can’t deny what I say.”

“Oh, I’m not denying or asserting anything about the facts of the snakebite. That must be left to the scientists. But I am positive that Streamline did not make those two little marks.”

“Just how were they made?” asked Ward, agog with interest. “Can you visualize, Mr. Stone, a visiting snake, watching its opportunity to glide into the house unnoticed, making its way, unescorted, up to Mr. Dunbar’s room, carrying out its fell purpose, pausing perhaps for a chat with Streamline, and then calmly going back home again?”

Fleming Stone laughed.

“That does sound a bit fantastic, doesn’t it? How about this? Say a friend of Mr. Dunbar’s, also a snake fancier, had a cobra, and wanted to compare points with the pedigreed Streamline. Say, the friend hesitates to carry his pet around in broad daylight, so comes late, to have a confab. Say the visiting snake, not so well-bred as Streamline, bites Mr. Dunbar and death ensues immediately, the friend not knowing how handy by the antidotes are. Frightened, he picks up his visiting snake, and softly lets himself out of the house.”

“That is plausible, Mr. Stone,” exclaimed Emory; “it might easily have happened that way. And, as I say, why raise the question? It can’t restore Uncle to life, to learn what killed him, so why stir up trouble?”

“It isn’t plausible at all!” Anna said, scornfully. “Do you suppose Uncle received this imaginary friend in his pajamas? And if he did, do you think that after the snake had bitten him and had been carried away by its owner, that Uncle Bruce calmly ignored his stock of antidotes, tucked himself into bed, and willingly breathed his last? Absurd!”

“Well, then,” said Stone, with an air of last appeal, “supposing a big bad wolf of a man really wanted to remove Mr. Dunbar from this wicked and ungodly world. Suppose he came, under the guise of friendship or as a burglar, his weapon—a small cobra or adder—concealed in a handbag. Suppose he induced Mr. Dunbar into bed, and then let the visiting snake bite him. Mr. Dunbar would not be allowed to get at his antidotes, would doubtless be unable to cry out for help, and would sink into his last sleep while the intruder made his escape.”

“That’s more like it,” and Jake Ward nodded his head in acquiescence. “But, as I see it, that makes it appear to be—”

“Hush!” and Emory glared at him. “Don’t say that word that is on the tip of your tongue. I will not have these horrible implications and absurd suggestions.”

“And I don’t think it’s all proper table talk, anyway,” Anna declared, her blue eyes looking troubled and her lips trembling.

“It certainly is not,” agreed Ward. “Finish your supper, Anna, and we’ll go out and seek our people, and get a dance somewhere. Come along, girl.”

“At any rate, we’ll change the subject,” said Fleming Stone, and with his astonishing powers of entertainment, he soon had them interested in other matters, and oblivious for the moment, of the problems of their existence.

Supper over, Stone advised the young people to seek some diversion, saying he was leaving, and would see them all next day.

But Emory asked the detective to stay for a few moments’ confab with him, and told Anna and Ward to run along.

The two men went up to the sitting-room and Emory went straight to the point.

“Mr. Stone,” he said, “do you think my uncle was murdered?”

Stone looked at him coolly.

“Do you?” he returned.

“I have no reason to think so, except your suggestion of an intruder coming with the purpose of killing Uncle Bruce.”

“Mr. Dunbar, I will not beat round the bush. All sudden deaths fall into the divisions of natural causes, accident, suicide or murder. It is customary and proper to take up these divisions in order. Your uncle did not die from a natural cause, but it may well have been an accident, or possibly a suicide. Until we definitely dispose of these, it is not wise to consider murder. Unless, of course, we have some definite reason to do so.”

“And you have not?”

“I am still considering the others. Accident seemed so certainly the solution, that it is hard to give up that belief. Suicide, has not yet been considered, it seems not to have occurred to any one. Would you call it a possible explanation?”

“I don’t know why not.”

Emory spoke slowly, even thoughtfully, but the detective noted no hesitation or embarrassment in voice or manner.

“But do you know why?”

“Only that Uncle Bruce was an old man—”

“Sixty-five is not so old.”

Emory smiled. “It seems so to me. I’m thirty myself, but sixty-five seems a long way further on. I know of no reason why Uncle should end his life, but he was a most erratic and eccentric character, and nothing he might be accused of would be incredible or inconceivable. Probably you don’t know what strange things he did do—but, after all, that doesn’t matter, I only want to assure you that if you have reason to consider suicide, don’t put it aside as impossible. But coming back to murder—I didn’t want Jake to voice the thought but I will do so—have you any definite reason to suspect that?”

“No,” and Stone’s steady eyes avowed his truthfulness, “I have not. The only definite reason I can foresee, is to find it is not accident or suicide.”

“And then you will resort to a theory of murder! That seems to me absurd.”

“Not absurd, no. Futile, perhaps, but—oh, well, it all depends on how things turn out.”

“For instance?”

“Well, to take one item. Suppose the autopsy shows that your uncle’s death was not caused by snakebite. There are other poisons, you know. It can’t then be attributed to Streamline, nor to the visiting snake.”

“That ‘visiting snake’ is too ridiculous! Can you conceive of a sane man coming here to call, with a snake in his pocket?”

“I certainly can. And, too, snake fanciers are not always quite sane. Your uncle was eccentric, you say.”

“Oh, yes, but he wasn’t off his nut.”

“What thin partitions thought from sense divide. It seems to me there’s a screw loose when a man wants to own a venomous snake.”

“All right, then, Mr. Stone, I’m to understand you’re working on the more innocent causes of death, and will only suspect murder as a last resort?”

“Unless further evidence stares me in the face. You’re sure you can’t give me any?”

“Me? Oh, Lord, no! Who in the world would want to kill Uncle Bruce—and why?”

“That will be the problem if the suspicion arises. I’ll have to look to you then for historic data and personal associations and all that.”

“I don’t get quite what you mean, but I won’t be here. As soon as Mr. Sutton arrives and unties the strings of my money-bags, I’m going abroad. I’ve never been able to travel the way I’d like to, but now that I can, I think it a just and proper way to use my uncle’s legacy.”

“Without doubt. I understand Mr. Sutton arrives about noon to-morrow. You’ll see him at once?”

“I hope to. He knows everything concerning my uncle’s affairs. He gets a good slice for himself, and I don’t begrudge it. He deserves it for his patience all these years. My uncle was everlastingly making wills, and then destroying them, but Mr. Sutton always had an eye on him.”

“Could one have been made later than the one that makes you heir?”

Emory gave a startled look.

“What do you mean? Do you know of such a thing?”

“You suggested it yourself. You just said Mr. Dunbar was always making wills and destroying them.”

“Oh, I thought you meant something definite. No, I think if Uncle Bruce had done a thing like that he would have let me know. He was generally fair with us.”

“You were fond of him?”

“Nobody could be fond of him. He wasn’t made for fondness. His greatest joy was to take a rise out of somebody. To do or say something that would cause his victim embarrassment, yet not be a real cruelty. It was cruel sport, though. It hurt the girls more than it did me. I’ve seen poor little Anna quivering under the lash of his sarcasm, striving to hold back her tears, because if he saw them he would upbraid her for snivelling.”

“Not a pleasant nature; no, not a nature to be fond of.”

“And then he would turn around, smile all over and give her a hundred dollars to buy trinkets with.”

“He was generous?”

“Off and on; in spots. Here and there, now and then. But usually spoiled his generosity by some hateful speech or some restriction as to how his gift should be spent. Once I was terribly keen on a new fishing rod of a certain sort, very expensive. He gave me two hundred dollars and said I could have it only if I spent it for new golf clubs. I didn’t want new golf clubs, the ones I had were all right. He only did it to distress me, and he chuckled at my disappointment. He was like that.”

“Then you’re glad he’s gone?”

“I can’t say that so baldly, though I suppose it is true. And I shall be glad when it’s all over, and I can get out of this old barracks of a house. I want to— to—”

“Express yourself.”

Emory laughed. “Well, yes, I suppose that’s the right phrase—if it means or can be made to mean having a good time in my own way.”

Fleming Stone went away, and started to walk down to his home, when he bethought himself of Barbara Corbin. He didn’t feel he knew her well at all and concluded he would call on her and then he would have had individual conversation with all the family.

Oh, no, there was still Doris.

But he didn’t feel any great need for talking with Doris, she seemed to him merely a petulant hypochondriac. Self-centered, and spoiled by her husband and friends.

Barbara, now, had more spirit, more initiative; yes, he would go to see her just for a few moments.

She lived not far away, and when he found himself in the foyer of her attractive apartment, he suddenly realized that he was not the only guest. The sound of gay voices and the clink of glasses betokened a gathering of some sort, and when Barbara came to welcome him, with radiant face and hands outstretched, he apologized for his intrusion.

“But not at all,” she said, “we are proud to have you here. Come right in. You’ll be the lion. Don’t look shocked now, you know I’m no hypocrite and I don’t pretend to grieve for Uncle Bruce as the others do. I seldom saw him anyway, and he liked me least of all. So why should I pretend and sit alone and disconsolate, instead of having my friends about me. Come in and meet them. They’re a hand-picked lot, you’ll like ’em.”

Fleming Stone did like them, and recognized among them some worthwhile friends of his own. Any other time he would have been glad to spend a few hours in that congenial society, but to-night he was not in the mood.

“No,” he said, “I’m not in proper kit, and I’m not for it, anyway. May I come to see you some other time, when you are alone?”

“You can see me alone, now,” she returned, smiling at him; “step into this little room with me. It’s my bookroom, and my very own.”

She opened a door into a small but charming little room with bookshelves all round and a desk and table of carved teakwood.

“Sit here,” she said, and sank herself, on a big, soft kid hassock.

“Now, tell me exactly what you came for. Never mind my friends outside, they’ll keep. Why are you here?”

She looked very pretty; not beautiful, like Doris, nor lovely, like Anna, but just sparkling with gayety and brightness, and smiling happily.

“I’m here because I don’t know you at all, but you interest me—”

Fleming Stone was quite at home when it came to fascinating a woman.

An unfinished sentence and an enigmatical glance from his deep-set gray eyes seldom failed of his intent.

Barbara fell for him at once.

“Oh,” she breathed, “I didn’t know you were— like that! I thought you were a—”

He interrupted her.

“Never mind what you thought of me, never mind me, anyway; tell me of yourself. Are you on good terms with your cousins?”

“Not very. They bore me, they’re not my sort. Doris is a prig and Anna is a tomboy. I’ve little in common with either. Emory is a lump. I only like people with brains, and they haven’t an ounce of that commodity among them.”

“Oh, what a tarradiddle, and you know it. Are you jealous or what is your grievance? They really have brains, you know—I did think some of them have more than yourself.”

“You don’t know me, or you wouldn’t say that. Nor would you try to rouse me by such a speech. Uncle Bruce had brains, though.”

“Was his death a suicide?”

“Heavens, no! What ever put such an idea in your head?”


“Certainly; Streamline bit him—in play, most likely.”

“But the doctors say it can’t be Streamline’s bite.”

“Of course it was. Those doctors don’t know anything. They never had a snakebite case in their lives. Oh, I beg your pardon, I believe it was you who first drew attention to the measurements.”

“I did, and let me assure you, my lady, that I spoke truth, and your vaunted brain doesn’t know anything about snakebite—not a single tiny mite of a thing!”

“Oho! Well, at that, you’re probably right.” She sighed. “Men are always right. It’s disheartening.”

“Yes, isn’t it? Well, do you think there was another snake in the grass?”

“No, that would be too absurd. I give it up.”

“And I looked to you for help! How disappointing women are.”

“But not in every way—am I?”

Stone gave her one of his best glances, but it didn’t fool her.

“You could be heavenly if you were in the mood,” she said, laughing; “do come some other time when the situation is less critical.”

“Just what do you mean by critical?”

“Isn’t it touch and go whether Uncle Bruce died of a snakebite or—whether somebody helped him out of the world and then left the cage door open so Streamline could be suspected.”

The detective stared at her.

“I never thought you’d think of that,” he said.

“And you call yourself an Investigator!”

“Are you in earnest?” he asked, ignoring her jibe.

“Very much so.”

“You know the perpetrator?”

“Too easy. Crowe, of course. Who else could manage it without being suspected. Who else could open the cage door, knowing the cobra would come out to play? Who else would stoop to such a deed for the legacy that is coming to him?”

“A large one?”

“To him, yes. Twenty-five thousand dollars. ‘Nothing is small or great, but by comparison.’ By the way, when we make our claims to-morrow, I have —you won’t tell, will you?”

“Certainly not.”

“Well, I shall get a little legacy that the others don’t know about.”

“A secret bequest, eh?”

“Yes, I suppose it could be called that. Now mind you don’t tell. I oughtn’t to have mentioned it.”

“Why should I tell. I’m not a gossip. And I’m glad you’re to have a bonus, or whatever it is. Do you envy Emory?”

“Not a bit! Well, that is—it would be nice to have a lot of money—a big lot!”

“Yes, I daresay it would. Then I may call again?”

“Yes, of course. Must you go now?”

“Oh, yes, I’ve stayed much longer than I meant to. I shall next time, too.”

“I wish you’d come into the drawing-room and meet my friends.”

“Is Mr. Rankin there?”

“Yes; don’t you like him?”

“I like him very much. Have you decided to marry him?”

“Yes, I think so.” Barbara looked very sweet when she looked serious. Then she broke into laughter.

“Perhaps he won’t marry me after to-morrow. I say, Mr. Stone, if ever I need a friend, will you qualify?”

“I won’t give a blanket promise to that. Why should you ever need a friend, with Mr. Rankin, and all that horde in the next room, and—and your cousins.”

“My cousins! Oh! I said friends—perhaps you didn’t hear me. When I need a friend, it will be because of my cousins.”


Chapter 8
A Clash Of Wills

Fleming Stone was entirely alive to the enjoyment of creature comforts, but he was not of a sybarite nature.

It was his habit to come to breakfast at about eight o’clock, properly dressed for the day and ready for action.

While he leisurely appropriated his bacon and eggs and coffee, he read the morning papers, or such parts of them as interested him.

The Monday morning following his day at the Dunbar home, he finished off the papers in short order for he felt fairly sure there was something toward that would demand his whole time and attention.

With a wonder that he seldom felt, he speculated on what the interview with Samuel Sutton would bring forth.

Also, he was greatly desirous to learn the report from the autopsy on the body of the late Bruce Dunbar.

This latter question was answered first.

Just before noon, Doctor Larcom telephoned that the reports were to the effect that the death of Mr. Dunbar was positively due to the effects of snake venom on an otherwise sound and healthy man. Of course, the doctor said, it was not in the province of the surgeons to discuss the circumstances of this fatality, but the facts they gave were incontrovertible.

“And what will be your next move?” asked Stone.

“I’ve not quite decided—I’ve only just now got the report, but I’ve not much doubt as to my duty. I’ll talk with you again later.”

And in less than a half hour after that, Anna called up to say Mr. Sutton was at home, and would convene a meeting of the family at two o’clock at the Dunbar home.

Stone promised to be present, and adjured Anna to say nothing to any one of the will she held, until he advised her to do so. “I’ll have Mr. Saunders there,” he told her, “and your affairs must be left in his hands.”

Stone called up Martin Saunders, and asked him to come to the conference at a little after two.

He told him only a little of the circumstances, bidding him be prepared for possible surprises.

“Always had to be that, where Bruce Dunbar was concerned,” the lawyer responded. “In fact, I never supposed this will I drew for him would stand as long as this. I thought like as not he’d make a new one when Mr. Sutton returned.”

“Maybe he did. Just keep your eyes open and be guided by circumstances.”

Saunders agreed to this, and soon Fleming Stone was on his way to see Anna.

The Dunbar house seemed to be crowded with people.

Anna met Stone on his entrance, and took him away to the dining-room and on, to the pantry adjoining.

“This is the only place we can be alone for a minute,” she said. “I don’t know what is going on, I’m sure. There’s an old gentleman in there, a Mr. John Hale, who says he was a long-time friend of Uncle Bruce, but he won’t say why he came. He’s sort of doddering, and when I ask him anything, he just nods his head and mumbles that he’ll look after himself.”

“Doesn’t Emory know him?”

“Oh, we all know him by sight; he used to come to play chess with Uncle Bruce. But I don’t see why he’s here now.”

“He can’t do any harm. Any other strangers?”

“Yes, Mr. Pennock. He came with Doris, and I don’t know, but I imagine he’s rather looking after her rights. Steve isn’t much of a business man, and Doris may have a vague suspicion of this will of mine—”

“You haven’t told her of it?”

“Oh, no, but she’s uncanny that way, and catches on to things intuitively. It would be just like her to come prepared for combat.”

“Don’t get into any controversy to-day. Listen to them all, but say nothing, except to answer direct questions. Remember, this is, or may be, the beginning of a long and serious litigation. There’s no telling what disclosures may be made, and you must not harm your cause by ignorant or injudicious statements. Let us go back to the drawing-room, and please sit where I tell you. Much depends on your obeying my orders to-day.”

“What a fuss of it you do make! I have the will— haven’t I?

“Do you know, for certain, there is no later will?” Anna’s face showed chagrin, and she pouted a little.

“Don’t be childish,” Stone advised her. “For a girl of your mental caliber, you sometimes show amazing lack of foresight.”

“Come on, then,” Anna spoke a little crisply; “put me where you like, I’ll sit there.”

She was as good as her word, and when she was placed near the front end of the long parlor, she found herself in the company of her three cousins, Ralston, Doctor Vail and Mr. Pennock.

There was an empty chair on either side of her. Stone took one of these and told her, in a low tone, that the other was reserved for Mr. Saunders, who would soon arrive.

In another group were Doctor Larcom, Jim Perry and a somber-looking man, with alert eyes, who sat immovable and seemingly uninterested.

Anna looked at her relatives.

Doris was at her beautiful best. Determined to wear mourning, she had a new gown of dull, plain black, without any relieving white or color. But as unrelieved black was the fashion of the moment, and as Doris had always the latest models, she looked more like a guest at a smart cocktail party than a mourner at a solemn occasion.

She was as calm as a statue, and only her nervously moving fingers showed that she was in any way perturbed.

Barbara was in a sports suit, a lustrous knit silk of gleaming russet hue and her hat to match showed a flash of scarlet which well became her dark, piquant face.

Anna wore a house frock of soft gray, with white organdy frills which gave her bit of youthful charm and made her more than ever resemble a Greuze pastel.

Emory looked bored. He seemed to feel a resentment at the presence of these people, some of whom he did not even know.

He moved restlessly about, ignored any speech addressed to him and seemed on the verge of an angry demand that the proceedings should begin.

Samuel Sutton, short, stout, and of the arbitrary, dictatorial type, sat in an armchair between the front windows and began to talk in leisurely manner.

He had a pompous air, that gave his remarks force and weight, but the expression of his eyes was his main dependence for driving home his diatribes. Bright, sharp blue, those eyes could strike terror to the heart of a wrong-doer, or even make an innocent man shake in his shoes. They could lure a witness into a very tissue of invented testimony and then change to a steely glare that tore the false fabric to bits. Always capable, canny and critical, his wits seemed to grow sharper with his advancing years. At sixty-two, he looked in the prime of life, and evinced a mental vigor and energy of which many a younger man might be proud.

In one way only had Time been harsh with him. His memory had begun to show slight but unmistakable signs of weakening. More and more often Jim Perry had to remind him of a date to be kept, or a bit of research to be made and this so irritated Sutton that he pampered his memory by making lists and memoranda oftener than necessary.

But to-day, he was pleading no case, striving to serve no client, he was merely there to learn the wishes of his old friend and see that they were carried out.

“It is deeply regrettable that I was away from home when my dear friend and honored client passed away,” he began, in his orotund voice that had long since earned him the sobriquet of Silver-tongued Sutton. “On hearing the sad news I came home at once and I trust we can, without undue delay, carry out his last will and testament.

“This document is in my possession, and with your permission I will give you the main points of the distribution of the estate and property of the late Bruce Dunbar. I shall omit nothing except some long and dull paragraphs of legal phraseology, which are of no importance to the testament and can be read at leisure later on by any one who wishes to do so.”

Followed a definite and carefully worded will, which instrument bequeathed the annual income from one million dollars to each of his three nieces, naming them severally. At their respective deaths, the principal was to revert to the estate.

Also, there were generous bequests to the servants of the Dunbar household. Crowe received twenty-five thousand dollars, Hatton the same, and the chauffeur and the women servants twenty thousand dollars each.

To the testator’s valued friend, Mr. Samuel Sutton, was bequeathed one hundred thousand dollars, and to Doctor Larcom the same.

Mr. James Perry and Doctor Vail were given twenty-five thousand each and some other minor legacies were noted.

Several large organized charities were set down for goodly sums and a few club servants were remembered.

The rest of the estate, including two homes, a yacht, several motor cars, stocks, bonds and other securities as well as several parcels of real estate were left to Emory Dunbar with no restrictions of any sort as to the use he should make of this wealth.

“That is all,” said Samuel Sutton, as he reached the end of the document. “Bruce Dunbar told me he had come to the conclusion that Emory, the only one of the Dunbar name, was the right and proper heir, and he had every reason to believe that Emory Dunbar would accept in all sincerity the responsibilities of the head of the old house of Dunbar, and so conduct his life and living that the name, as always, would be honored and cherished.”

Then Emory made his speech.

“I do feel the responsibilities that come to me with my uncle’s bequest, and I hereby affirm that I will do all in my power to manage the estate in such wise that it shall be a credit to my efforts and an honor to the name. I shall try in every possible way to carry out any wishes of my uncle, and I shall be guided in matters of moment by the advice of the wise and kindly adviser who has so long looked after my uncle’s affairs—Mr. Samuel Sutton.”

It seemed to Fleming Stone that the wise and kindly adviser was not deeply impressed with this tribute to his good qualities, but Mr. Sutton gave an amiable grunt, which passed for recognition of the compliment from his new client.

“If there is, then, no objection,” the silver-tongued one resumed, “I will offer the will for probate and in due course, attend to its several details.”

There was a pause, and though a slight rustling seemed to portend a response from two or three of the audience, it was Martin Saunders who rose and began speaking, in his clear even voice.

“Mr. Sutton,” he said, “like yourself, I have the honor of having been a friend of the late Mr. Bruce Dunbar. Though, until a few months ago, I never served him in a legal capacity, my father, now deceased, was his college mate and chum, and the two men were friends during their lives.”

Martin Saunders, tall and well-built, was a graceful man, physically, and an exceedingly graceful speaker. He stood at ease, his hand on the back of the chair from which he had risen, and glanced casually round the room as he spoke.

Fleming Stone, with apparent nonchalance, but really with keenest attention, was scrutinizing the faces of the listeners.

Doris was drawing her eyebrows into a slight frown, showing more wonder than fear, but Barbara looked distinctly alarmed. Emory presented a wooden countenance that evinced only boredom and a controlled impatience.

And Anna was serene, even happy looking. She felt that at last her hour had come. Her great news was to be told and by the proper authority.

“I have a statement to make,” Saunders proceeded, in his suave, even tones, “and I will put the main facts as briefly as possible. Last July Mr. Bruce Dunbar came to me, at my office, with the request that I draw up his will for him. He stated that Mr. Sutton, his lawyer, was abroad, and that he had reason to think he, himself, was the victim of an insidious illness, which might prove fatal at any moment. Wherefore, he desired this document at once, and asked me to attend to the matter. Mr. Dunbar was well known to me, he was in sound mind and body, save for this perhaps imminent illness, and I saw no reason to refuse his request. He told me precisely the terms of the will he desired me to make, declared that it must revoke and invalidate all former wills he had ever made.

“I informed Mr. Dunbar, though he doubtless already knew it, that a will disposing of all his estate, and leaving nothing on which former wills can operate, automatically revokes all prior wills, and is the only valid will of the testator, unless and until a subsequent will be made by him. Mr. Dunbar understood and agreed to this, and gave me full details of the legacies he planned, and full instructions as to carrying out the same. He asked me to advise him when the will was ready to be signed, and urged that it be as soon as possible.

“Naturally, I wished to please my father’s friend, and my own, so I speeded up things and had the document ready for signatures in perhaps a week or so. I advised my client of this, and he chose to attend to the matter on a given day in the next week, if this suited my convenience, and I made it do so. He came to my office on that appointed day, and the will was duly signed and witnessed. I kept the will, and gave him a carbon copy. This he took away with him, and I never saw Mr. Dunbar again, alive.”

“This is a very strange story, Mr. Saunders,” and Samuel Sutton peered at the younger lawyer, with a puzzled look on his somewhat wizened face.

“It does not seem to me strange,” said Saunders, looking at the other straightforwardly. “In your absence, your client employed the services of a substitute lawyer; that is not a unique instance.”

“No, not at all. The strange part is, that Bruce Dunbar never told me of the incident, leaving me to suppose that his will in my possession was his final word on the matter.”

“That, of course, I cannot answer for. I understand Mr. Dunbar was at times eccentric in his actions.”

“Very much so. Still, I cannot understand the reason for secrecy. Did he ask you not to mention the matter?”

“More than that. He required my promise on oath that I would not tell of the will until after his death. Seeing no reason to refuse this promise, and knowing him not only as an eccentric, but also as what is called a confirmed will-maker, I gave him the required undertaking.”

“This will is duly witnessed?”

Sutton’s voice had a hard, ringing quality that betokened suppressed excitement, with difficulty kept in abeyance.

Saunders kept back a smile, and answered, respectfully: “Yes, Mr. Sutton, quite properly witnessed by my confidential secretary and a clerk in my office.”

“And the executors?”

Saunders looked serious.

“They are two old friends of Mr. Dunbar’s. As you know, Mr. Dunbar lived in the past, in some respects. He made few new friends, and clung to his old chums with tenacious loyalty. They are Mr. Godfrey Osborne and Mr. Hampden Coles. And I would like to ask, Mr. Sutton, who are the executors designated on the will you hold.”

For a moment it looked as if Samuel Sutton was unwilling to state, then he said, distinctly, “The executors named on the will I have in my keeping are myself, and my esteemed friend and secretary, Mr. Perry.”

“And the date of that will?” pursued Saunders.

“About two years ago.”

“The will I hold, then nullifies the one you tell of, as Mr. Dunbar signed the instrument I drew up in July of this current year.”

“And perhaps you will now declare the contents of that will, Mr. Saunders.”

“I will read it, now.”

He did so, to an audience, breathless and amazed.

There was little unnecessary verbiage, but Samuel Sutton noticed as the reading proceeded that every point was made clear and every legal detail carefully attended to.

The bequests to Mr. Sutton and Doctor Larcom were the same as in the will that had been read by Sutton, and the bequests to servants and to charities were the same as stated in that will.

But regarding Bruce Dunbar’s relatives there was an important change.

A million dollars was left outright to Emory Dunbar and the interest of a Trust Fund of a million dollars was bequeathed to each of the testator’s two nieces, Doris Ralston and Barbara Corbin.

The residuary estate was left entirely and unreservedly to his niece, Anna Forrest, daughter of his well-beloved sister.

To say Samuel Sutton was flabbergasted is a mere figure of speech.

He was literally struck dumb. Strange thoughts rushed to his brain so fast he could find no words to express them.

Finally, he blurted out, “I don’t believe this! I can’t believe it! It is impossible Bruce Dunbar should have made this extraordinary arrangement and said nothing to me about it!”

Saunders made no reply to this, deeming none necessary.

The document he held spoke for itself. He offered it to Sutton, who clutched at it eagerly. But his hands shook, his eyes blurred, and his nerves were so wrought upon that he could not sense the written words.

Jim Perry, at his side, took the paper, and, looking it over, said, gently:

“This document is in correct legal form, Mr. Sutton. You must recognize it, however much it may astonish you.”

“Is that so, Perry?” The man seemed to have grown old in a moment. The shock had come like lightning out of a clear sky.

It was not so much the question of the disposition of Bruce Dunbar’s estate as the astounding fact that distribution of it had been made without his knowledge and approval.

Even if Dunbar had wanted to let the will drawn up by Saunders stand, he ought to have told Sutton about it, and not left it to come on him like a thunderbolt, as it had done.

But something in Perry’s calm statement set the old man’s brain to functioning again, and he pulled himself together with an unmistakable gesture of accepting the situation.

“Anna,” he said, not to her, but musingly, “little Anna. Well, he knew what he was about.”

Fleming Stone, watching, saw that Doris was by no means crushed or even alarmed at the situation. She had on her most superior complex, and it was patent to all that she disbelieved utterly in this fairy tale.

She said nothing, but slipped her hand in that of her husband, who held it in a close clasp.

Barbara, on the other hand, looked blankly incredulous. She seemed determined not to believe this unbelievable story, yet she was too wise to imagine it could be made up.

A fabrication of that sort was too absurd to think of. But then, what—a myriad questions raced through her puzzled brain.

And then Emory spoke :

“This is all untrue,” he said, in a tense, strained voice that was more desperate than any outbreak could be. “It is a made-up story, invented to rob me of my rightful inheritance.” His voice grew louder: “But it shall not succeed! No thief can take from me Uncle Bruce’s legacy! No rascally lawyer can pass off a faked will with a forged signature—”

“Hush, Emory!” Sutton said, severely. “Such talk only shows you up for a fool. That will is correct in every respect. Your uncle had a right to do what he chose with his fortune. I thought, for a moment, it was an illegal document, but that was merely because of my great surprise. I have grasped the situation and will meet it squarely. You must do the same.”

“All very well for you to talk! You’re not losing an immense fortune by greed and chicanery. I don’t mean Mr. Saunders, I mean that one—” he pointed an accusing finger at Anna, who gazed at him with an undisturbed serenity.

“That one, who ingratiated herself with my uncle, until she had him completely under her thumb, until she could twist him round her finger—and she used this undue influence she had gained to make him alter his will in her favor.”

“You’re talking nonsense, Emory,” she said, in her calm way; “I never influenced Uncle’s plans of any sort or in any way. You are disappointed, naturally, at this change in your expectations, but you cannot blame me for it.”

“You knew he had drawn this will!”

“He told me so himself, but he also bade me keep it an inviolable secret, saying that if I told any one— any one at all, so long as he was alive—he would make a new will cutting me out entirely. There’s no need for me to tell you anything about Uncle Bruce and his wills—you know as much about that as I do. Had he lived longer, some whim might have made him disown me, and return to you as chief legatee.

“And so you left the cage door open that Streamline might dispose of that possibility!”

Anna’s face went perfectly white. Had she been guilty of the very deed that Emory’s angry words implied, she could not have looked more horror-stricken. “For shame, Emory!” cried Barbara, “what a despicable thing to say! I am glad you are not to be the heir!”

“I make no allusions to Streamline,” Doris said, looking at Anna coldly, “but I do believe you used what is justly called undue influence.”

“Have you definite proof of that, Mrs. Ralston?” inquired Fleming Stone. “Otherwise, it is an idle accusation.”

“Proof can be easily found,” said Doris, acidly.


Chapter 9
Further Clashing

Samuel Sutton, though experiencing a gradual loss of muscular energy and activity suffered no diminution of brain activity. His memory failed him now and then, but his alert mind held its own in recognizing conditions and making quick decisions.

And his nimble wits assured him positively that his own not to be despised bequest from his late client in no way suffered from the change of wills, therefore his wiser course was to accept the inevitable gracefully and make the best of the situation.

He knew it was all true, and by no means so surprising as it looked on the surface.

Bruce Dunbar was more likely to change a will than to let it stand, and the marvel would have been if he had not made a change in two years. If the need or wish for this change came upon him while Sutton was abroad, the natural thing for Dunbar was, not to wait his lawyer’s return, but to seek another attorney and engage his services.

He had done well in choosing Martin Saunders, a man of impeccable probity and the son of an old friend.

It was odd that Dunbar had not told Sutton of the matter, but Sutton returned from abroad late in the summer, and had soon after gone to the Western ranch, of which his son was the proprietor.

Wherefore Mr. Samuel Sutton concluded to join forces with Mr. Martin Saunders and together they would cope with any difficulties that might present themselves.

If Emory Dunbar was deeply disappointed at the new development that was not the fault of the lawyers nor could it be helped by them.

Sutton sat back in his chair. His face returned to its usual shade of deep rosy pink, from the purplish crimson it had shown during the startling disclosure.

His blue eyes became calm and penetrating, and lost the glints of fire they had so alarmingly shot forth.

His restless hands became quiet and his manner lost its belligerent effect.

Even his white short beard and his cropped hair lost their bristling ferocity, and he was again his important and dictatorial self.

In a word, S. S. had laid his plans and began at once to pursue them.

In his most suave voice, he said:

“Naturally, Mr. Saunders, you and I must have some conferences, but there is no doubt about it, this will you have there supersedes and revokes the one I drew two years ago. We have to readjust our ideas to the fact that Miss Forrest is heir to the Dunbar millions and not Mr. Emory Dunbar.”

“Make up your minds, though,” said Emory, heatedly, “that your precious will must be contested. I have no doubt my other cousins will join me in a contest so definitely called for by the obvious fact of Anna’s undue influence over my uncle.”

Before any reply was made to this speech, Harvey Pennock, the man who had come with Doris, rose slowly to his feet.

“I ask the privilege of a few words,” he said, not at all in the manner of a suppliant, but in a most business-like way. “I have a bit of information to offer, which may or may not affect the situation as just now apparent. About the middle of last July, the eighteenth, to be exact, Mr. Bruce Dunbar came to my office and asked for a private interview. We went into conference and Mr. Dunbar told me he was desirous of going abroad, for his health, but he did not want to go without leaving his legal matters in order. He told me that Mr. Sutton, his lawyer, was in Spain, and while he planned to join him there, he felt he must make his will before leaving. He therefore desired that I should draw it for him, with the understanding that in case he made a later will, which would automatically revoke this one, I was to take it that he had changed his mind. He said frankly, that he was given to changing his mind or his plans on short notice, and he informed me, moreover, that he not infrequently had new wills drawn for him.

“I think every experienced lawyer has, at one time or another, had a client who was what is sometimes called a ‘will-addict,’ and this state of things didn’t surprise me too much. I saw no sign of any failing mentality on the part of Mr. Dunbar, but to be on the safe side, I later called up his doctor and inquired. Doctor Larcom assured me that Mr. Dunbar’s mind was as sound as a bell, though he, at times, showed slight eccentricities.

“I saw no possible reason why I should decline this commission, and I proceeded to draw his will as he directed.”

“And told no one of it?” asked Sutton, with a quizzical smile.

“Just that; because Mr. Dunbar pledged me to secrecy. He made such a point of the matter being kept confidential, that I sealed up the document and placed it in my safe, from which it was not removed until after Mr. Dunbar’s death.”

“You were acquainted with Mr. Dunbar before he engaged your services?” asked Samuel Sutton, who was beginning to feel a slight return of his bewilderment.

“We belong to two of the same clubs, and as we are both fond of chess we frequently played a game or two. Though a much older man than myself, Mr. Dunbar did me the honor to admire my game, and said he preferred to play with me rather than some of his contemporaries, as they were hidebound in their methods, while my technique is up to date. Aside from that, I seldom saw him, but we often lingered for a chat after a game, and we became pretty well acquainted. However, I was a trifle surprised when he came to me with his errand, though I had been told of his eccentricities.”

“And you’re going to tell us,” began Martin Saunders, slowly, “that Bruce Dunbar directed you to draw up a will, leaving his estate to some one other than the beneficiary he told me about?”

“That seems to be my definite duty, since I have the will in my possession, for that purpose.”

“Will you be good enough to read it to us?” asked Sutton, who felt he was about to lose his poise again, and this time permanently.

“Certainly”; and unfolding a typed document Pennock read, slowly and evenly, what was announced to be the Last Will and Testament of Bruce Dunbar.

All of the first part was virtually a replica of the will that Saunders had read to them, and it was with difficulty that Pennock’s audience awaited the name that should replace that of Anna Forrest.

At last it came, and no one was surprised to hear Doris Ralston, pronounced in a clear audible voice.

No one could be surprised, for all through the reading of the paper Doris had been on the qui vive, looking at Anna, triumphantly, at Barbara scornfully and at Emory with definite defiance.

The reading completed, Doris spoke explosively, as if unable to keep quiet another second.

“There, Mr. Emory Dunbar, what have you to say to that? You cannot accuse me of undue influence over Uncle Bruce! I never saw him, except when the rest of you were present. Nor would I stoop to such a thing. He told me himself, I was the right one to be the head of the house, to be his heir and to carry on the Dunbar traditions. He said I had the brains of the family, that I had grace of demeanor and decided personality.”

“You knew of this all along?” Sutton asked her, his head once more spinning round and his brain whirling.

“Yes, Mr. Sutton, but I was bound to secrecy. Uncle Bruce said, if I told any one he would— would—”

“Would what?” Emory growled at her.

“He said he would haunt me after he died. I mean, if I told of it before he died.”

They all knew of Doris’s fear of “haunts” and knew that must have proved an efficacious threat.

“One moment, Mr. Pennock,” Sutton said, weakly. “Who are executors of this will?”

“Yourself, sir, and myself.”

“Indeed! And why was I not apprised of that fact?”

“I can’t say. Mr. Dunbar forbade me to mention the matter to any one, but I assumed he would notify you.”

“Um, ah—well, I don’t say he hasn’t. It is becoming an open secret that my memory is not what it once was. It can easily be that he told me of the incident at length, but I forgot the details. It will, of course, be in my memo book—and in his.”

“This whole performance seems to me a bit farcical,” began Emory, crossly. “If I didn’t know you, Mr. Saunders, I should think the whole thing preposterous. I don’t know you, Mr. Pennock, but I am willing to accept your story, as it can all be checked up. But I can’t help thinking, gentlemen, that my uncle put up a job on you. I think you will find that your wills are not worth the paper they’re written on.”

“That line of argument won’t get you anywhere, Emory,” Doris told him. “If you had seen Uncle Bruce the day he told me I was to be his heir, you would realize how earnest he was and how far removed from joking or hoaxing. Losing out yourself, has made you heretical about another taking your place. This goes for you, too, Anna. Uncle gave me to understand that I, alone, possessed the right and proper qualities to be at the head of the Dunbar house and the keeper of the Dunbar millions.”

“Uncle could have said nothing to you, Doris, more definite or more emphatic than he said to me, when he told me I was his chosen heir. As he expressed it, Emory had been found wanting, Doris and Barbara were out of the running, and I was his final choice. He gave me the will—a copy of it—with most positive instructions to speak of it to no one, while he lived. Of course, I obeyed him, and said no word until after Uncle Bruce died. You may try to contest the will I hold, but you will find you have no grounds for such a proceeding.”

Fleming Stone interrupted the girl, purposely. “Miss Forrest is my client,” he said, speaking rather curtly. “Legally she is now a client of Mr. Saunders, but in my own profession, she is my client, and I propose to look after her. Any overtures regarding business settlements must be referred to both Mr. Saunders and myself.”

“And just what is your own profession?” asked Emory in a politely scornful tone.

“I am a Private Investigator,” said Stone, as if giving casual information.

“You hope to find here something to be investigated?”

“I have already found such, but the time is not ripe to discuss that matter at present. Mrs. Ralston —may I inquire?—you mentioned this will of your uncle’s to no one at all? Not even to your husband?”

“Of course not. I promised Uncle Bruce and that would have made me keep the secret, aside from his threat of haunting me, if I told it.”

“That threat, then, really restrained you?”

“It had an effect, yes. You’ve no idea how afraid I am of ghosts—”

“Never mind that part now, Mrs. Ralston,” Pennock said, suavely. “We must stick to essentials. I can aver that Mrs. Ralston kept the knowledge of her inheritance to herself. I have seen her occasionally to discuss the matter and I know, for certain, she has kept her secret, even from Mr. Ralston.”

Samuel Sutton spoke then.

“That right, Steve? Didn’t you know anything of Doris’ expectations?”

“No, I never dreamed of such a thing, until I heard Mr. Pennock read the will just now. I can only say I quite agree with Mr. Dunbar in his estimation of my wife’s fitness for the position she is called to. She has the pride of family and the instinct of traditions that Bruce Dunbar had himself, and it always seemed to me that she was his favorite niece. I am glad she has come into her own.”

Ralston looked at his wife with a sort of worshipful admiration.

His affection for her was well known, and Doris smiled at him, as she said:

“It was hard, I acknowledge, to keep a secret from my husband. But loyalty to Uncle Bruce demanded strict obedience to his wishes.”

“And now,” said Pennock, briskly, “I propose to offer this will for probate at once. As Mr. Sutton and myself are the executors, we will confer and proceed as we deem best.”

It seemed as if every one in the room wanted to speak at once. Yet, nobody did. For a moment, it appeared they were tongue-tied, or in some way deficient in vocal apparatus.

And then, sitting in his armchair, Mr. John Hale drew himself together, with a queer little shake that seemed to reconstruct his whole frame.

From a little wisp of an old man, he suddenly became a personage.

From a stooping, infirm shape, he evolved a vigorous personality, and instantly commanded the situation.

Perhaps there are as many different physical types of old men in this world, as young men, though it never seems so. But John Hale was no more like Samuel Sutton or the late Bruce Dunbar than Emory was like Jim Perry.

Hale was of the lean and slippered pantaloon sort, and as he straightened up, his leanness was seen to be made of sinews and muscles rather than skin and bone.

He rose to his feet, tall, well-poised and not ungraceful.

His clean shaven face was sharp-featured and his eyes, without glasses, were clear and penetrating. Almost entirely bald, his head was well-shaped and well poised on his somewhat scrawny neck.

When he spoke, his voice was high and even shrill, yet of a cultured, pleasing quality.

“It is for me to complete the trilogy,” he said, in a simple declarative way. “It must have occurred to every one of you, that with a will of Bruce Dunbar’s, leaving his fortune entire, at different times, to three of his relatives, he would not be likely to omit the same compliment to his remaining niece, Mrs. Corbin.

“I have known and loved Barbara from her babyhood, which is perhaps the reason why her eccentric uncle chose me to draw his will in her favor. However, he did do so, and I met his wishes, and am, therefore, in possession of a testament which ousts the other claimants and leaves Barbara sole heiress, except for the same minor bequests noted in the other wills.

“I well remember when Bruce told me about his decision. ‘Barbara,’ he said, ‘is not really appreciated by the family. She is not as sunny and docile as Anna, and she is not as queenly and magnetic as Doris. But Barbie has lots of sound common sense, under that Bohemian gloss that she affects and she’s the girl for my money.’ Then he said that Sutton was abroad, and he wanted to go over and travel with him, but he felt this will matter ought to be attended to before he sailed. So he gave me a list he had ready, of the bequests to be incorporated in the document, and told me to let him know when it was ready to sign.

“Well, then, we talked over the executors, and, reminiscing over old times and recalling past scenes and people, we lived again our past and I stayed until the small hours were growing large.

“We decided upon two old cronies for executors, Henry Simpson and Jonathan Brown, for Bruce said they would take a special interest in carrying out his wishes regarding his estate. Naturally, I agreed, and I notified these gentlemen who willingly promised to act as executors when the time came. And, as I see it—the time has come.”

The last words were said slowly, even solemnly, and John Hale sat down again in his high-backed chair, oddly enough, reverting to his slumped position and indifferent attitude.

But now, no one made the mistake of underestimating his energies or his interest in the proceedings.

“It seems to me,” Samuel Sutton began, “we are confronted with an unusual, even unprecedented situation.”

“I think you state the case too mildly, sir,” and Martin Saunders smiled a little; “it seems to me the situation is untenable, indeed, impossible.”

“It seems to me,” declared Harvey Pennock, “that it is not so difficult as it looks at first. We have only to learn which will was signed last and abide by that.”

“That is not the question for the moment,” Sutton almost shouted; “the thing is to ascertain when Bruce Dunbar lost his mind. No sane man could have those various wills drawn! It may revert back to Emory, after all. The will I hold was made by Dunbar when he was in full possession of his faculties—”

“Uncle Bruce never lost his faculties,” Anna said, quietly. “He was entirely sane, however queer he may have been.”

“It was insanity to keep that cobra in the house,” Emory put in. “Only an imbecile would have done that. And you all know of foolish jests he played, and silly jokes he devised, that showed clearly a disordered brain or at least a mentality given to occasional lapses.”

“As Doctor Larcom is with us,” said Fleming Stone, “would not he be the one to tell us regarding that?”

“And I can tell you very briefly,” said Larcom, rather testily. “Bruce Dunbar was absolutely sane up to the very day of his death; and you all know it. If you try to prove otherwise, you are wilfully perjuring yourselves.”

“Now, now, Larcom,” Sutton spoke calmly, but he glowered at the doctor, “you can’t be so damned positive. Folks’ minds have gone back on them, unexpectedly and suddenly. Even a medical man can’t always tell when an erratic brain is going to give way altogether, and the best of them make mistakes.”

“No one knows that better than I do,” Larcom retorted, angrily, “and right here I’ll say that that somewhat hackneyed phrase about doctors’ mistakes refers to a physician’s diagnosis or treatment of an ailment. In this case it is a matter of my watching over the health and welfare of Bruce Dunbar for a long term of years, and keeping meticulously careful guard over the vagaries of a mind always eccentric, but never unhinged. Dunbar’s queer acts were always suggested to him by his love of teasing or surprising people, not because he was not fully master of his own thoughts.”

“That’s right, Doctor,” Emory agreed; “Uncle Bruce thought up lots of hoaxes and tricks that he didn’t bring off, and that, frequently, because I urged him not to.”

“Oh,” Doris said, with unveiled sarcasm, “you were his guardian angel, were you? I don’t think the poor man ever suspected that! He looked upon you as—”

“Doris! my dear—” Ralston put his finger tips on her lips, “don’t say things you’ll regret. Forgive her, Emory, she’s unnerved.”

“That’s all right,” Emory told him, “she’s always unnerved. Her silly speeches never bother me; I don’t even notice them.”

“Suppose, children,” Sutton frowned, “you leave those amenities until later. We must get at the gist of this matter.”

“The gist seems to be, Mr. Sutton,” Emory spoke belligerently, “that the girls, perhaps in collusion, have seen fit to put you and me out of all connection with Uncle Bruce’s affairs, taking the entire question of inheritance into their own hands.”

“We didn’t take over,” Barbara told him, “Uncle did that himself, because he realized you were not the man for the place. You don’t have to tell us how Uncle regarded you, we have eyes in our heads.” Again John Hale rose to his feet.

“I am an old man,” he said, “but I have never known a case to be brought to a satisfactory conclusion, if allowed to be debated, hit or miss, by unauthorized or uninstructed young people. Here we have four possible inheritors of the Dunbar property, but they are far from being qualified to take into their own hands the settlement of the estate.

“We have also, four well-known and competent lawyers, selected and appointed by the owner of the property in question, since deceased. We have also the attending physician of Mr. Dunbar and we have the wise and capable adviser, Mr. Fleming Stone, whose assistance I, for one, gladly welcome. For, in my opinion, we face stormy weather ahead.

“I propose, therefore, that we adjourn now, to meet again very soon, our conference including only the principals I have just mentioned.”

“Well, Mr. Hale,” Emory put in, with only barely enough respect in his voice and manner to ward off a reprimand from S. S., “I think you are right and I bow to your superior knowledge and experience, but as one of the heirs, and it seems to me the principal one, I think I voice the wishes of my cousins when I say I think we ought to be told more about things, so far as you know yourselves. For instance, during your time of conference which I trust won’t be too long, who is the nominal head of the house? I contend that I should be, because I am the only man in the crowd, and because my uncle told me repeatedly that I was to step into his shoes, to fill his place. In some families, more united, let us say, than this one, there would be no necessity for a definite ‘head.’ But in this case, each of us being widely differentiated in our views, and somewhat headstrong about having our own way, I know there ought to be one of us who is an unquestioned authority by virtue of your appointment. Again I suggest that such a duty devolves on me, but I agree to abide by your decision.”

“Don’t be absurd, Emory,” said Doris, “we certainly would not obey you unless we chose.”

“There is no occasion for a ‘head’ as you call it,” and Sutton smiled, as if at fractious children. “Anna will continue to be housekeeper, and look after domestic matters as usual. Emory will be the man of the house, but not to the extent of issuing arbitrary orders. If he gets domineering, girls, come to me. Doris and Barbara have their own homes, and will, doubtless, mark time until matters are cleared up a bit. Now, don’t let me hear any more silly squabbling.”

“One thing,” Fleming Stone said, as some of them rose to go, “may we not know the dates of the respective wills? It seems to me to be the right of the young people as well as of us older ones.”

“Certainly,” Sutton said; “the will I hold is dated October 24th, 1932.”

“Then it lacks only a few days of being two years old,” Stone commented. “And yours, Mr. Saunders?”

“This one, in favor of Miss Forrest, is dated July 25th, 1934.”

“Thank you. Yours, Mr. Pennock?”

“Mine, making Mrs. Ralston the heir, is dated July 25th, 1934.”

“Yours, Mr. Hale, if you please?”

“This one, in Mrs. Corbin’s favor, is dated July 25 th, 1934.”

“Thank you,” said Fleming Stone, bowing to them, severally and then collectively.


Chapter 10
A Monkey-Trick

Fleming Stone spent that evening in what is sometimes called a brown study.

It cannot be said that he didn’t enjoy the situation.

An impasse had been reached by the astounding discovery of three wills signed and witnessed in one day, and the novelty of that situation gave him a decided and really enjoyable thrill.

This development in the matter of the inheritance of the Dunbar millions, had well-nigh stupefied Samuel Sutton, as well as the four would-be heirs, who were in a state of bewilderment.

They agreed that it was a last, colossal jest on the part of the testator, and they all thought that another and more definitive will would yet be discovered among the papers of the dead man.

Samuel Sutton had declared that nothing could be done in the matter until a thorough search of Bruce Dunbar’s private papers could be made, and it could be proved conclusively that no later will was in existence.

“A monkey-trick,” he had called it, saying that Dunbar would willingly spend any amount of time or money to take a rise out of his young relatives. And as a jest, this was surely the limit! The three wills invalidated one another, and nobody knew who was the heir, if any.

This appreciation of her uncle’s humor roused Doris’s ire, and she caustically remarked that if Mr. Sutton’s own legacy had been affected, he would not think the joke so comic.

The three lawyers, who had drawn the three wills, which were all signed on the same day, were also unable to see any side-splitting wit in the episode, and declined to discuss the situation until they had time to think it over.

The point, as all could see, lay in the question of which will was signed last, and as to this, the three attorneys were silent.

They were lawyers of high standing, and it was outside their experience to be made the victims of a practical joke.

But to them, Bruce Dunbar had stood for all that was great and honorable in the business world, as well as in social circles.

Of course, they had heard of his waggish proclivities, but who could dream he would go so far as to spoof his prospective heirs in the matter of their inheritance?

It was preposterous, unbelievable, and all three refused to say a word about it at the present moment. After consideration and perhaps consultation, they would see what was to be done.

They had gathered up their brief cases and gone home, leaving the heirs presumptive in that state commonly known as high dudgeon.

Stone also had taken leave at that time, telling Anna he would communicate with her soon; and that now the occasion for secrecy was past, she could discuss affairs with her cousins as much as she liked.

And he felt pretty sure that the four cousins would do a tall lot of discussing. And most of it would be futile, and probably acrimonious.

So he walked down the Avenue to his own street, his whirling thoughts gradually assuming a more orderly arrangement, and his interest in the case growing deeper every moment.

After an excellent dinner, he went to his study and sat down to think things over.

The astonishing huddle of wills, he concluded, was in no way a matter of opinion, it was a matter of fact, the fact being which will was signed last.

But what a diabolically ingenious thing to do! He had put the four possible inheritors in a frenzy of uncertainty, a tempest of fury against their uncle and at war among themselves.

He could imagine Emory’s belligerence, Doris’s cold sarcasm, Barbara’s cynical comments and Anna’s heartfelt disappointment.

Stone’s thoughts reverted to the death of Dunbar.

Now that the authorities had upheld his opinion that the two tiny red spots on the dead man’s throat were not made by Streamline’s fangs, how were they made?

His reason rejected the idea of another cobra.

While possible, it was most unlikely that a visitor should have come, late at night, carrying a venomous snake, for any reason whatever. There was no reason that would logically explain such an incident.

Any friend or crony, who was also a snake fancier, would come in the daytime, or at least in the evening. Nor would Dunbar receive his caller while in bed himself.

Crowe had left his master, as usual, ready for sleep, and while Dunbar was, of course, crafty enough, to get up again and have company, yet he surely would have dressed, even if in négligé.

It was so puzzling, so seemingly inexplicable, that there must be a simple solution at hand.

Yet, the simple solution at hand, the assumption of Streamline’s bite, had been rejected by Stone himself, although even now the honest belief of some.

And it did look plausible. The venomous serpent, the open cage, the man, dead of snake venom—all seemed undeniable proof of that simple solution, so ruthlessly snatched away.

Yet Fleming Stone knew—knew, for a certainty, that two fangs, a certain distance apart, cannot make two incisions, farther apart by six millimeters.

Wherefore, and beyond all question, Streamline was not the dealer of death to Bruce Dunbar.

Then who was?

A definite question for Fleming Stone, who liked his problems stated in definite questions.

For the moment, he decided to lay aside the idea of a “visiting cobra,” as being too fantastic, as well as unlikely.

Could Dunbar have owned another cobra himself, kept secretly, and known of only by Crowe, who must needs look after it?

This was possible but improbable. Try again.

The report from the laboratory analysis was snake venom—there was no getting away from that.

But—oh—for Heaven’s sake!—well—well!

Fleming Stone thought, whimsically, that he had reached the place where, in detective fiction, the detective always calls himself derisive names from Ass to Zany, and bewails his inexplicable and unpardonable stupidity.

But he wasted no time in futile invective, he only observed, to himself snake venom, yes; snakebite, no!

Snake venom is not necessarily introduced by the original owner of the poison!

The visiting cobra was, perhaps, of a two-legged variety, who carried his venom, not in glands, but in a convenient container—say, a hypodermic syringe!

The more Fleming Stone mulled this over in his mind, the more it appealed to him.

A simple solution, indeed.

Leaving as a problem, the not unusual one of an intruder, armed with deadly venom, prepared to inject it into the veins of a sleeping man, and then himself disappear into the shadows whence he came.

Stone was conscious of a definite, if absurd feeling of regret, that this explanation must do away with all mystery, all thought of Black Magic or phantom cobras, all calling of spirits from the vasty deep.

But it was sane, plausible, and far from improbable.

With a sigh, he put away all thoughts of the serpent’s tooth, and turned his attention to the sharper problem of the thankless child.

For, with the revelation of the wills, each heir apparent was automatically provided with a motive for murder.

Of course, it might be none of those four disappointed young people, but each one of them had reason to think that if Bruce Dunbar were to die, a large fortune would fall into his or her lap.

It implied a clever brain to conceive of using snake venom in a hypodermic needle, but the Dunbar descendants had clever brains and knew how to use them.

It was unnecessary, at the moment, to speculate which one it might have been, but opportunity was far from difficult.

Emory and Anna had each a key to the front door, and if the other two had not, they could easily get them. All that could be taken up later.

But the idea was not to be scoffed at.

The next thing was to get in touch with the medical authorities and see if the new theory would hold water.

It was not very late, and Stone called up Doctor Larcom to learn if he were at leisure.

The physician replied, in a distracted way, that he had too much leisure, that he was fast losing what modicum of mind he had left, and he wished Stone would come to see him, and thus save his life.

Stone laughed, and said he would be over as soon as he could make it, and he started off.

He found the doctor in his private office, tearing his hair, figuratively, and well-nigh literally.

He lumbered up out of his big chair to greet Stone, and fell back into the cushions again, as Stone smilingly sat down near him.

“Don’t smile, damn you!” the irascible medico cried. “Don’t you know I am in serious trouble? If it gets about that I diagnosed that bite as Streamline’s, when it was a lot bigger than he could make, I’ll be a laughing-stock—”

“Now, Doctor, don’t talk like that. No one is going to blame you. They are all too absorbed in the newer developments. What do you think of those four wills?”

“I don’t think about them. Just some of Bruce Dunbar’s fool joking. I’m interested in the cause of death, or the manner of it.”

“All right, Doctor, so am I. That’s why I came to see you. Now, laying aside all thought of another snake having been brought in, what could have occasioned those two tiny incisions?”

Larcom looked at him.

“Another cobra concealed in the house, I suppose you mean,” he said, without much show of interest. “But it’s unlikely—”

“Of course it is! Try again. Remember, while the red marks are too far apart for Streamline’s fangs, and while that would imply the fangs of a larger jaw, yet the punctures are tiny, more so than a pair of fangs would make. Yet it is snake venom—but not, perhaps, snakebite.”

Larcom stared at the speaker. At first, blankly, and then with a dawning comprehension. “Hypo!” he said, almost in a whisper.

“Of course. Filled with a solution of snake venom.”

“Two jabs—”

“That, or perhaps a double-barrelled syringe. They have such, don’t they?”

“Oh, yes, for certain purposes. But I never thought of a human agent. A murder, then—no accident!”

“That’s to be determined. How about suicide?”

“What became of the hypo?”

“From snake venom death is not always instantaneous. Yet, if he used it himself, he must have concealed the syringe somewhere, and it would of course be found. But it is difficult to think of Bruce Dunbar committing suicide.”

“It’s unthinkable. He loved life, he had no troubles, no cares, no reason whatever to want to die.”

“No, of course not. By the way, who was that silent, morose looking man at the house this afternoon? He sat near you.”

“Oh, that was Fosdick, from the laboratory. He wanted a look at the home and people of Bruce Dunbar. So I let him come. Odd they didn’t think of a hypodermic over there.”

“Perhaps they did. Have you seen any of them personally?”

“No; just had the report. Well, Mr. Stone, in the face of all this, it’s pretty clear I can’t give a death certificate.”

“Can’t you say ‘death from the result of cobra venom,’ without designating how it was introduced?”

“But why? We’re not shirking any responsibility, are we?”

“By no means. I suppose I was thinking of the young people. The funeral is to-morrow, and if the police take hold of this thing to-morrow morning, there will be no funeral in the afternoon. Why not let the man be buried and take up the investigation afterward. No good purpose can be served by holding the body for further examination. We are positive he died from the venom of a cobra, injected by a serpent’s fangs or by a human murderer with prepared venom and a hypodermic syringe. To my mind there is no wrong done, either legal or ethical, by burying the victim, and taking up the matter of discovering the murderer afterward.”

“I—I don’t say you’re not right, Mr. Stone; I don’t say you’re not right. But I don’t feel—no, I don’t feel that I can take that responsibility. They can’t bury Bruce Dunbar without a physician’s certificate. They won’t get mine—no, they can’t have mine. But if we put it up to the Medical Examiner, and he is willing to give a certificate of death from cobra venom, then that’s another matter—yes, sir, quite another matter.”

“All right, then, Doctor Larcom, go ahead with your report to the police just as soon as you are ready to do so. After all, they will conduct their investigation anyway, and it may as well get started.”

Fleming Stone was conscious of a feeling of great relief.

He had put the proposition of the ambiguous certificate up to Doctor Larcom, to see how he received it.

Stone had no real suspicion that the doctor had in any way connived at Dunbar’s death, but the man would receive a goodly sum as a legacy and the detective never neglected a detail, however small, that would help his work along. He felt now that he could dismiss from his mind any possibility of the doctor’s guilt, and turn his attention to other, all too numerous suspects.

To be sure, Doctor Larcom was out of town when Bruce Dunbar died—or, said he was—but Fleming Stone placed no great confidence in alibis, he had too often seen them break down.

The physician roused himself from reverie and spoke suddenly.

“It takes less dried cobra venom to kill a man, than is given by live fangs,” he said; “a single cobra bite inoculates about twenty milligrams. A fatal dose of dried cobra venom is approximately fourteen milligrams.”

“You must tell the police that. I don’t just see how it matters in this case, but all reliable information should be welcome. The man I want to see first is Crowe, the valet.”

“So do I. Suppose we send for him right now.” Stone agreed, and Larcom called the Dunbar house and learned that Crowe was there.

The man said he would come over at once, and soon he was with them.

The two awaiting him were surprised at his appearance. Usually so dapper and alert looking, Crowe was dejected and disconsolate beyond all words.

“Whatever’s the matter, man?” exclaimed Doctor Larcom; “you look as if you’d lost your last friend!”

“Well, haven’t I, sir? Mr. Dunbar gone, and Mr. Emory at the head of the house—leastways, my part of it. I doubt I can stand it there, with the master gone.”

“It is hard for you, Crowe,” said Stone, kindly; “perhaps I can later on help you find a place you’ll like better. But just now, please, we want you to answer a few questions. Doctor Larcom will begin.”

“We have decided, Crowe,” the doctor began, “that Streamline was not responsible for the death of Mr. Dunbar. Now, never mind how it did come about, did you—careful, now—did you have any reason to think that any one—any person at all, came into Mr. Dunbar’s room after you left him, Saturday night?”

“Well, sir, I can’t justly judge. I don’t sleep in, you see, and when I left Mr. Dunbar—that would be about twelve o’clock, or a bit after, I went right home, and I didn’t go back to the Dunbar house until next morning, sir.”

“Did Mr. Dunbar ever, to your knowledge, receive company—er, maybe intimate friends, let us say—after he went to bed?”

“He has done that. One or two of his old cronies, sometimes they come around pretty late, or say, Mr. Dunbar went to bed extra early, and he has let them come right up to his room.”


“No, sir, not often, but a few times, to my recollection.”

“And then, who would let the guest out?”

“Hatton, sir. He would wait up till all hours. Or, if it would be his night off, I would stay on. Of course, if Mr. Dunbar had a friend come, and let him in, himself, and later, let him out again, of course, we wouldn’t know anything about that, Hatton and I wouldn’t.”

“Well, then,” Stone took up the questioning; “you left Mr. Dunbar all settled for the night, and went home about midnight?”

“Yes, sir.”

“And returned next morning?”

“Yes, sir.”

“What, exactly, did you do?”

“I had breakfast with the Hatton family, as usual. Also, Olga, the chambermaid.”

“And then?”

“Then, Hatton fixed the tray for Mr. Dunbar, and I went upstairs, to be ready to take it off the dumb waiter, when it came up.”

“What did you do, while waiting?”

“Oh, there wasn’t any time, hardly. I moved the clock hands in the sitting-room and in the den, it was Daylight Saving’s end, and then, in the den, I saw the door of Streamline’s cage was open! I didn’t think any more about anything! I rushed into Mr. Dunbar’s bedroom, and when I saw him humped up under the blankets like he always was, I thought everything was all right. But he didn’t wake up when I spoke to him, so I went closer, and I saw the two little red marks and his neck all swollen, so I knew he’d been bit. Or—did you say he wasn’t, sir?”

“Never mind that now,” Stone said, “go on with your story.”

“Well, I was so broke up, I hardly know what I did next. But I felt of his heart and it wasn’t beating, so I went right down to Miss Anna’s room, that’s just below Mr. Dunbar’s. I woke her up and told her.”

“Was she frightened?”

“Not her! She spoke as calmly as she ever did in her life. She says ‘Oh, is that so? Ring for Hester, Crowe, and then you may go.’ Just like that—‘then you may go.’ So I went.”

“You’re sure that’s all Miss Forrest said?” Stone persisted. “Nothing else?”

“Oh, yes, she said, quick like, ‘Was it a stroke?’ and I said, ‘No, ma’am, the cobra bit him.’ That’s all.”

“What did you do then?”

“I turned all over to Hatton. It was his job. He was fine, Hatton was; he always is.”

“All right, Crowe, we’ll get the rest from the others. Now, I remember you telling me that you could keep a secret, under orders.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Then make no mention of what has been said here to-night, until you are asked by some one in authority.”

“Very good, sir.”

“That means you promise, Crowe?”

“Yes, sir. Certainly, sir. And, Mr. Stone—”

“Yes, what is it?”

“I collected the pencils you asked for. I have them here for you.”

“Good egg! Let me have them.”

Crowe produced a box with several pencils in it, all neatly tagged.

“As you see, sir, all these pencils are harder than the bit of lead you found. Except my own. And as I left my pencil in the den Saturday night, I think it was used by some one else, and the lead broke, and the point was thrown in the waste-basket.”

“You’re trumping up quite a yarn, Crowe,” and Fleming Stone looked at him sharply.

Crowe permitted his conventionally blank countenance a small smile.

“Didn’t you trump it up, yourself, Mr. Stone, when you found the lead?”

“Yes, Crowe, I did. And it seems to me now, that it proves the presence of some person in Mr. Dunbar’s rooms on Saturday night, after you left your master. If some one was in there, we want to prove it, that’s the gist of our search. We have other reasons to think there was.”

Crowe looked grave.

“Meaning conditions in the bathroom, sir?”

“Exactly that. But we’re not discussing that just now. Leave the pencils with me, and thank you for getting them. You’re a neat worker, Crowe.”

“What pencils are they?” asked Larcom, peering into the open box.

“I’ll tell you some other time,” Stone told him. “They belong to various people, and may or may not be helpful. In fact, they are the sort of thing the old, dated detective used to call clues. A reprehensible word to use nowadays, but a very present help in time of trouble, as the college chaps find a crib at examinations. It may well be that the broken point of an ordinary lead pencil, may point straight to our criminal, and the pun is purely a coincidence, I didn’t mean to do it.”

The pencils were various and indicative of their owners. Hatton’s was the gem of the collection, long, perfectly sharpened, altogether correct.

Emory’s was a rubbishy looking affair, hacked to a blunt point, eraser missing and its brass holder bent, the woodwork chewed and marred, altogether a disreputable implement. Nor was Bruce Dunbar’s own much better. Well sharpened by hand, it was short and stubby, with an old fashioned cap rubber pushed on.

But Stone pocketed the box with a satisfied nod, and after a few further questions, Crowe was sent away.

“You have no doubts of him?” asked Larcom.

“No, I haven’t,” the detective replied. “He would not exploit his own pencil if he were guilty.”


Chapter 11
Saunders Is Annoyed

Early Tuesday morning, Martin Saunders called Stone and asked for a talk with him as soon as possible.

Stone agreed to go to the lawyer’s office after he had attended to an errand of immediate importance.

This was with the Medical Examiner, Harkness, who was a friend of the Investigator.

“You’ve heard of Bruce Dunbar’s death?” he opened the conversation.

“Never heard of Bruce Dunbar. Oh, you mean the fellow who was bit to death by his pet cobra? Served him right. Nobody ought to keep a cobra.”

“Yes, he’s the man. Never mind about the ethics of the case. Here’s the point. Dunbar was found dead of snake venom. Two tiny punctures appeared on his throat, presumably the marks of his pet’s fangs. But they weren’t any such thing. They were marks of a hypodermic syringe, used to inject snake venom. Case changes from accident to murder. Family physician all upset—refuses to give certificate. Funeral all set for this afternoon. Pomp and circumstance— all that. Now; we know it is murder, investigation has been thorough enough for that. We know the means used was a hypodermic injection of cobra venom. The autopsy and laboratory analysis are all completed, the preparations for the elaborate services are going on, but the burial certificate is lacking. What to do?”

“Meaning you want me to jeopardize my immortal soul by giving you a fake certificate as to the death of a man I never saw. Can do.”

“Jeopardize nothing! You know, because I tell you, the man is dead and what he died of. Who or what administered that poison is not germane, for the moment.”

“Thank you. My leaping mind had already formulated that thought sequence. I agree that it is presumably and most likely murder. The working out of that question is in your province. It appears to be a problem something like Mother Eve’s, a choice between a snake and a man. You’re going to investigate?”

“I hope so. I haven’t been asked to yet, but there are reasons why I think I shall be. You see, if murder, there are four possible and very probable suspects. But I can’t go into details now. You’ll hear enough of it, later on. Give me your certificate, I’ll take it to the capable, though lamentably irascible doctor. Then the funeral services can proceed.”

“All right. Dispose of the deader, and then on with the administration of justice.”

Fleming Stone took the certificate and dispatched it by messenger to Doctor Larcom at once.

Then he went on to the office of Martin Saunders in the great skyscraper called the Imperial Building.

He found that somewhat famous attorney and counsellor at law in a state bordering on despondency.

“It’s too terrible,” Saunders began, “had I known of this prankish tendency of old Dunbar, I would have flown to Istamboul before I would have taken on any of his business. He comes in here, dignified and proper, quite the gentleman, and asks me to draw a will for him. No guardian spirit warned me to desist, no premonition stayed my hand, I saw no reason to refuse, so I assented. How could I know that he was a dancing bear, given to eccentric, fantastic waggery?”

“Why are you so annoyed about it?”

“Who wouldn’t be? I like a bit of fun in its place, but not in serious business matters. What will my old and staid clients think of me? My name, bracketed with doddering old Hale and the wide-awake Mr. Pennock, in this preposterous exhibition of horseplay!”

“Bad as that?”

“Fully. But I see you have no sympathy, so I shall turn to you merely for advice and help. Being in it, as I am, there is nothing for it but to carry through. Now, I understand you are already engaged by Miss Forrest to look after her interests. May not I engage you also, to investigate the affair, since my wishes and intents run entirely parallel to hers?”

“We will look into conditions a bit more before we speak of engaging services. I think my services are at your disposal through your client. Anyway, just what do you want me to do?”

“Only one thing. Find out which of the three wills was signed last on July twenty-fifth. I can’t doubt they were all signed on that day, not only because we have ocular evidence of that, but because, as I have learned more of the man, I think it quite in keeping with his diabolical idea of humor, to torture the girls with the uncertainty.”

“Only that one thing, yes.” Fleming Stone spoke gravely. “But I have a feeling it is going to be harder than we think. The Machiavellian ingenuity of Bruce Dunbar, I am quite certain, will give us a run for our money. I am sorry, but it will, without doubt, bring you unwelcome publicity. I do not, however, think this will be such a calamity as it now looks to you.”

“It wouldn’t, if I desired publicity. But I do not. I have earned my reputation, such as it is, by reticence and reserve. To be forced into the limelight is distasteful to me. But it must be endured. So we will say no more about it, but get down to ways and means. We must, I suppose, confer with the other two lawyers, who were doubtless equally surprised, though not so disturbed. Harvey Pennock, I am sure, welcomes the outlook of newspaper publicity, and dear old Hale, will give that question no thought whatever.”

“Then I take it, you and Mr. Pennock are not living in bonds of brotherly love?”

“Nor to the contrary. His ways and manners of legal conduct are different from my own. That is all. I know absolutely nothing against the man. But let us decide on our own course of action. Are you playing any favorites?”

“By no means. I have, naturally, an interest in Anna Forrest, but if the will you drew was not signed last, I must bow to the facts, as they are disclosed. Suppose you tell me, first, of the time the will you drew was signed.”

Saunders’ fine face took on a baffled expression. “That’s one of my worst troubles,” he said, his manner straightforward, but a little mortified. “I pride myself on my attention to detail, I always have my records most carefully kept and assiduously looked after, and now, the first time in my life when so much depends on my witnesses, I cannot lay my hand on either of them.”

“Not so good,” Stone murmured; “but perhaps they may be hunted down.”

“Only with difficulty. As you know, nine times out of ten, witnesses are office employes or even people employed in the building. It was so in this case. The morning of July twenty-fifth, Mr. Sutton telephoned that he would come down here in the afternoon to sign his will. I was out at the moment, but my very capable and reliable secretary, Miss Lulu Banks, knew of all my engagements and told Mr. Sutton to come ahead. I returned and she told me of the appointment, and I said all right, telling her she must be one of the witnesses and for her to hunt up another one. This was entirely in accord with my usual habit, for Miss Banks was the best secretary I ever had.”


“Yes, that is the sad part. She left me suddenly, soon after that, to go to Hollywood, because somebody told her she had the makings of a Film Queen! So she started off in a flurry, caring nothing for my distress at her loss.”

“But you can get in touch with her? You have her address?”

“I haven’t, and what is worse, I’ve been told she changed her name, I suppose all actresses do, so I’ve no way of tracing her.”

“And the other witness?”

“Was an elevator man, Miss Banks picked up. He was an intelligent, well-spoken fellow, and Miss Banks would have chosen no really inferior person. But, as it turned out, he was a substitute, filling the place for a week, and then he disappeared and I know nothing of him save his name and address on the will. I telephoned the address, but he moved away several weeks ago, and left no directions. Now, Mr. Stone, I am not apologizing for these unfortunate conditions. I am not a novice in office routine, and I know that a witness to a will is almost never called upon after he signs his name. I am sure that ninety-nine out of every hundred wills in existence would be unable to be referred to their witnesses if required. I have a dozen wills in my safe whose witnesses are all dead, but in this unique instance, when I want to refer to the witnesses, merely to ask them as to the hour of signing, I cannot get at them. It is too annoying!”

“You don’t know the time yourself?”

“No, I don’t. I distinctly remember Mr. Dunbar’s coming here, and signing his will, in the most matter-of-fact and business-like way. I remember the witnesses, Miss Banks, careful and alert, lest some point be overlooked, the man from outside, decent, respectful, and greatly pleased at the generous tip Mr. Dunbar handed him. But as to the time, I cannot say. Late afternoon, I think, but, as you must see, I don’t like to set an hour lest it was really later, and I thereby jeopardize my client’s interests.”

“I see. And it is very unfortunate. But our work is cut out for us, to conquer the unfortunate circumstances and to grasp any tiny hint that in the faintest way indicates the time. It was, you say, after you had returned from some errand?”

“Yes. That was lunch. I went to the Plaza Hotel, near by, and met an important client. At luncheon, we discussed an intricate piece of business and when I got back to the office, I had much research work to do in regard to it. So that Miss Banks’ message about Mr. Dunbar, while I attended to it duly, was looked on merely as routine. The signing of a will is not of national importance, and this other matter was. I, therefore, greeted Mr. Dunbar cordially, put his business through promptly, chatted with him a few moments—he was a friend of my father’s—and then he went off, and I returned at once to the engrossing case I was busy on. These details are to show you that I in no way neglected Mr. Dunbar’s commission, I should have treated any will with just the same dispatch, but because of my preoccupation, I chanced to pay no attention to the time of day. Nor should I be expected to do so. Every lawyer keeps a daily record of his doings, but few put down the hour of each transaction.”

“Of course, Mr. Saunders, you are quite right. And no shadow of blame can fall upon you, but we must do the best we can to find the witnesses. Yet, without meaning anything wrong, if your witnesses should place the hour very early in the afternoon, ignorance might be better than such knowledge.”

“It will be, Mr. Stone, if it is ignorance that cannot be remedied. If we can get either or both of the witnesses, and have reason to accept their word as to the time, that must be done. We cannot sail under false colors.”

Fleming Stone’s quick, pleased smile proved to the lawyer, that he had been weighed in the balance and had not been found wanting. Stone had been testing him out and was satisfied with the result.

Well, he, Saunders, had no wish to be dishonest, but he did want to hear from the other two lawyers as to their records of the time.

“What I’m afraid of, is this,” the lawyer went on. “I doubt if we get definite statements from the other two as regards the exact time of signing.”

“Why not?”

“Well, old Hale is a splendid man and a famous lawyer, but he is getting on in years, and his memory is not reliable for minor points of that kind. He would remember all about the will, but hardly the moment of signing.”

“And Pennock?”

“Pennock is a sly dog. Not meaning any serious charge, but he’s as shrewd as they come, and you’ll see, he won’t commit himself, until he hears from the others.”

“Where is he? Where is Mr. Hale?”

“I thought you knew; they’re both in this building.”

“Near you?”

“No. Pennock is on the south side, and Hale over west.”

“Then remembering Mr. Dunbar’s cleverness, I think we may conclude that on the twenty-fifth of July, he came here and signed his three wills in rapid succession, with the amiable intention of making it difficult to discover in what order he visited the three offices.”

“I hadn’t thought of that. But it must be right. I know he was in here a very short time, I was glad he put it through so quickly. If Miss Banks were here, she’d probably know the exact minute he left.”

“Which we would not tell, until we heard from the others. Do you think he had a favorite niece?”

“He told me Anna was that, but presumably he told each of the others a different story. Oh, what a mare’s nest!”

“I fear, Mr. Saunders, you are more annoyed at having this jolt to your dignity, than alarmed for your client’s inheritance.”

“Perhaps I am—yes, it may be I am. But, Mr. Stone, you don’t see it quite as I do. This case will become celebrated, that goes without saying. It will be laughed about and quoted as a great joke on the lawyers involved. And I don’t like that.”

“I know, Mr. Saunders; now we must try hard to discover the last signed will, and so spike the guns of would-be critics. I shall make it my business to see Mr. Hale and Mr. Pennock as soon as possible, and get their evidence, as to time. Are you going to the funeral?”

“If I can make it. I feel that I ought to go, out of respect to the family, but I begrudge the time.”

“I shall go, because sometimes I gather hints from the facial expressions of the audience. Often, a funeral brings out surprising bits of information. But a few words as to the legal side of this will business. Shall you apply for a temporary administrator?”

“I see no reason to do so as yet. No step can be taken until some will is probated. No will can be probated, until we know which was signed latest. The Surrogate must first determine whether or not there is an emergency requiring temporary administration. If so, I do not think he would appoint any of the executors named in the wills. More likely, some impartial or neutral person. It would be entirely at the Surrogate’s discretion. But no Surrogate was ever confronted by such an exigency as this damned Dunbar situation! If I’d had any idea—but why would I suspect that urbane and courteous gentleman, my father’s old friend, to cut up such a trick? It’s outrageous!”

“Turn your mind back,” said Stone, cutting short these bewailments, “and think hard about that afternoon. Can’t you recollect any side issue that might fix the time? Did you work here long after that?”

“Yes, I think so. I was searching for a parallel case, I remember, and Miss Banks was bringing me books and then taking them away again, for a long time. But that does not mean that Mr. Dunbar was here early, for I worked late that day, long past my usual time for going home.”

“Miss Banks didn’t mind?”

“No, she was always a brick. How I miss that girl! She kept everything straight.”

“Well, we must try to find her. Now, think back to Mr. Dunbar. Was he hurried, or excited?”

“No, indeed. Calm, pleasant, and quite at ease. He spoke briefly but not curtly. Perhaps a trifle preoccupied, but alert and practical. He was polite to Miss Banks, looked sharply at the other witness, then nodded his head, as if in acceptance, signed the will, watched the witnesses sign, gave them each a crisp bill, dismissing their thanks with a quick nod, and then, after a few casual words, went away. Were it not so long ago, I might ask some of the attendants if they remembered seeing him, but after two months it’s not likely they would.”

“It must be tried, though. I’ll look after it, you needn’t figure in this any more than necessary.”

“Good for that. Now, can you reconstruct a little? I’m in the middle of the north side of the building. Pennock on the south side, toward the Avenue; and Hale in the northwest corner. As Mr. Dunbar came up in the elevator—oh, Lord! how do I know which elevator he used?”

“Nor would it matter much. Presumably, Mr. Dunbar visited you three in the order he had decided on. I’m sure he signed last the will he wanted to stand, so he went to that office last. All we can do is to try to discover which one that was. The elevator men are our best hope. Yet Dunbar would be clever enough to go down in a car not the nearest to the office he had just left.”

“Of course he would. And, anyway, what can the elevator chaps remember after all these weeks?”

“You say no one of the three wills can be admitted to probate until it is proved to be the last will and testament. What about Emory’s will? I mean, of course, the will leaving him the chief legatee, and dated about two years ago?”

“I’ve been thinking of that. When the last of a series of wills disposes of all the estate and leaves nothing on which a former will can operate, it will be held that the last will revokes the prior wills. It is also held that a will which makes a full disposition of a testator’s property in a manner inconsistent with the existence of any prior will, amounts to a revocation of such prior will. It has also been held that the execution of a later will may be proved when its only purpose is to show the revocation of a former will. In these circumstances, if Emory tries to probate his earlier will, one of the nieces could oppose his petition and offer in evidence one of the testator’s later wills in an attempt to prevent the probate of the will Emory holds. One of the later nieces’ wills might be used to prove that the will leaving the property to the nephew was revoked by a subsequent will leaving the property to one of the nieces, although no one of the nieces could have the will leaving the property to her probated since she is unable to prove that her will is the Last Will and Testament of the deceased.”

“Suppose it becomes impossible to probate any one of the four wills?”

“Then Mr. Dunbar will be held to have died intestate, and his property, both real and personal, will be divided equally among his three nieces and nephew.”

“Perhaps that is what he really wished.”

“Then he chose a fool way to go about it. Why not draw a will to that effect, or leave no will at all?”

“We have to deal with what he did do, not with what we think he ought to have done.”

“Too true. Now what happens next?”

“So far as I am concerned, it’s a matter of blindfold digging to get at the facts of the signings. I rather imagine the three signatures were appended to the three wills inside of a quarter of an hour, or twenty minutes at most. Our experienced will-maker well knew how quickly three signatures may be accomplished if efficiency is used, without apparent haste.”

“Right. I distinctly remember that the time consumed was amazingly short, and my visitor was quickly gone. I returned to my engrossing occupation and next day Miss Banks docketed and filed the will, and I never thought of it again until I heard the man was dead.”

“Then, you see, a similar length of time in each of the other two offices, on this same floor, meant quick work in the aggregate.”

“Yes, indeed; if we could get the hour of one signing we’d have them all—approximately.”

“But what we really want is the order in which the signings were done. I propose to try to see these two men now, for once they begin to worry over this thing, they’ll be pretty uncommunicative about that order. Each will insist he is the last of the three on whom Mr. Dunbar called that day. And unless I miss my guess, each of the three will have some bit of undeniable proof or evidence of his statements.”

“Each of the two, perhaps, but I, alas, have no statements to make, nor any proof to support them if made! Give me a little advice, Mr. Stone.”

“As to what?”

“My procedure. I am habitually truthful, I am always careful to have my opinions formulated with strictest adherence to the truth. Now, here I am, ignorant of the crucial point on which my case must turn. I cannot state this baldly, without prejudice to my client’s interests. I refuse to resort to any falsehood or misrepresentation. What can I do?”

“There’s but one thing to do, as I see it, Mr. Saunders, and that is, to mark time. Simply say, which is, of course, the truth—that you cannot remember the hour of Mr. Dunbar’s visit to you on July twenty-fifth, but you hope to gain information that will enable you to ascertain the hour he called. Say that it may take some time to make your inquiries as the people you want to question are not in the city. Then leave it to me to find them. I fancy I can soon get in touch with Miss Banks, if not with the elevator man. Anyway, refuse to answer about the time until further investigation, and let it go at that. I’ll do my work rapidly, and report as soon as may be.”

“Who will question me?”

“All the family, I daresay; Miss Forrest, of course, and doubtless, Emory. Then, naturally, the other two lawyers will want a conference, and the distinguished Samuel Sutton will demand one. By the way, will he feel as annoyed as you do at the queerness of the case?”

“Probably not. He’s a bit on the bizarre side in his tastes. But you omitted the main interrogators.”


“The police. Aren’t they imminent?”

“I suppose so. They ought to be. It’s a clear case of murder, in my estimation, and though the Medical Examiner gave a burial certificate, that will not preclude further investigation.”

“Well, what can I tell them?”

“Only what you’ve just told me. I know, Mr. Saunders, you don’t want to throw Miss Forrest’s interests out of the running, but until you give a definite statement as to the time of signing the will you drew, the police can’t go far. Stick to the truth, tell all you know, but reserve your right to learn more. I admit I want to see Anna win out, and I think you do. And she can do so only if you and I work and work hard for her. She can do nothing by herself, and we are her sole dependence.”

“Rest assured I will do all I can. And I am quite willing to follow your advice.”

“Thank you. Now I am going to see Mr. Hale.”


Chapter 12
An Eccentric Testator

Martin Saunders’ office had seemed to Stone’s fastidious taste to be just a trifle too ostentatiously modernistic, a little offensively up to date.

But, Stone ruminated, as he walked round a corner and down a long corridor, it might well be that the lawyer chose his decorations to please his clients rather than himself; while, on the other hand, perhaps Saunders liked the straight lines and flat colors better than his visitors did.

Entering the offices of John Hale, a different atmosphere greeted him. Not far removed from mid-Victorian, the easy chairs and sofas were inviting and the heavy and ornate desks and tables were, in their way, dignified and imposing.

From an enormous swivel-chair, upholstered in heavy russet leather, Hale rose to greet his caller.

Tall, thin, bald-headed and with sharp unhandsome features, he looked not unlike a great bird of prey.

Yet this was not the nature of John Hale.

In a cultured and pleasantly modulated voice, he welcomed Stone and bade him take the seat that a clerk was placing for him.

“You see,” began Hale, quite as if he were continuing an unfinished conversation, “all we have to do, is to find out which will was signed last.”

“I fully agree to that, sir,” and Stone smiled a little. “The trouble is to do that very thing.”

“I admit it may be difficult, but it is my opinion that Bruce Dunbar left some clue—some hint as to which of these wills he desired to have used.”

“You mean something in the line of cryptograms or ciphers?”

“Something of the sort. As a lad, Bruce was everlastingly making up those things.”

“I should be glad indeed, Mr. Hale, if anything like that turned up. But I’ve heard nothing of any such document. If one is found, I’d like to have a hand at translating it. Meanwhile, I wish you’d tell me just what happened the day Mr. Dunbar came here to sign his will. And can you tell the time of his call, approximately?”

“Approximately, yes. Exactly, no. You must know, Mr. Stone, that I have come to the sere and yellow stage of life, where I humor my mind. That is, you understand, I no longer overburden it with trivial matters. I leave all such minutiae to Barnes, my right-hand man. Come in here, Barnes, and see Mr. Stone.”

From the next room came a good-looking, youngish man, with dark hair in a wavy shock all over his head. He continually tossed it back, as he blinked his dark eyes behind large-lensed glasses.

“How do you do, Mr. Stone?” he said, offering a friendly hand. “Are you going to help us out of the pickle we’re in?”

“I hope so,” returned Stone, taking an instant liking to this big, well set up chap. “What have you to tell me about Mr. Dunbar’s dealings with Mr. Hale?”

“Just about nothing, I’m sorry to say. I remember he came here one day last summer, and signed his will, and I was a witness. But I was terribly rushed that day, not an unusual state of things with me, and I don’t recollect another thing about it. I’ve no idea what was in the will, although I looked it over after it was typed.”

“Who typed it?”

“Sam Colby, our office lad, typist and general useful bit.”

“Is he here now?”

“Yes, sir,” Barnes went to the door, opened it and said, “Come in here, Sam, will you?”

Appeared an alert youth, who gazed at Fleming Stone with unabashed curiosity.

“Well, my boy,” Stone said, chummily, “what do you remember about the day Mr. Dunbar came here?”

“First day or second day, sir?”

Stone looked at John Hale, who said, “the second time, Sam; the day he signed his will, and you and Barnes were the witnesses.”

“Yes, sir. Well, I remember mostly all about it. Mr. Dunbar came along in the afternoon, it was an awful hot day, and he didn’t stay very long. I don’t think I ever saw a bit of signing business whisked through so fast in my life. He signed—Mr. Dunbar did—and then Barnes and then me.”

“Was Mr. Dunbar in a hurry, or was Mr. Hale busy?”

“Oh, Mr. Dunbar. He was in a real rush. And yet, he didn’t seem flustered or anything like that—just expeditious.”

“I see. Now, at what time did the signing take place? Mr. Hale doesn’t remember exactly, nor does Mr. Barnes. If you could tell me accurately it would be of great help to me.”

“I wish I could, Mr. Stone, I earnestly wish I could. I was impatient myself, for I had a date—”

“Sam always has a date,” said Hale, smiling at the boy. “Well, does that help you to place the time, son?”

“It ought to,” the boy pondered; “but I can’t get it. I know I had a date and I know who with, but— I didn’t keep that date. Now, I wonder why. Seems ’sif we were interrupted—yes, we were,” Sam looked up eagerly, “don’t you rec’lect, Mr. Hale? A telegr’m came—yes, sir, from Chicago, from Mr. Manners.”

“I remember that,” and Barnes looked at the lad without interest. “But Mr. Stone wants to know the exact time, that Mr. Dunbar was here.”

“That’s just it!” Sam exclaimed. “That—”

“I see,” and Stone smiled knowingly at the excited Sam, “but you go on—tell it.”

“Why, can’t you find out from the telegr’m company just when that wire was delivered here—I signed for it, you know. And then you’ll know that Mr. Dunbar was here then.”

“Why, Sam,” said Hale, “I didn’t know you had detective instinct. Sam is a bright boy, Mr. Stone. We call him our Pronouncer. You notice how carefully he says telegr’m? That’s very elegant.”

Stone hadn’t the heart to tell the boy it was wrong, but he wished he knew it.

He said, “That’s a bright thought, Sam; it occurred to me, too. It may be possible to get from their records the time of that delivery and it may not. But we’ll most certainly have a try at it.”

“Now you two go back to your desks,” Hale directed, “and Mr. Stone and I will talk alone. Close the doors.”

The two clerks went away, and Hale looked very grave.

“I don’t like it, Mr. Stone—the whole matter of the wills, I mean. And I’m afraid that something will go wrong.”


“Some sharp practice, some underhand doings—well, I’ll go no further just now, but there’s mischief in the air.”

“Do you think Mr. Dunbar made another will, later than these three, which may—or may not—yet come to light?”

“I think it’s quite likely he made such a one, and if so, I think it likely it will not come to light.”

“But why would any one suppress it? As is, nobody can benefit—I mean to the extent of the whole fortune, but if a later will—”

“But the one who is to benefit by the later will may not know of its existence, and if known, some one may be interested in destroying it.”

“Now, we are getting into deep waters. But all you say is true. My job, just now, however, is to get at the respective times these wills were signed. It seems very difficult, but I hope some clue will give us the information. That was a bright notion of your young man. I’ll certainly look into it. Don’t let him do it. It calls for an older hand. Give me your opinion, Mr. Hale, as to Bruce Dunbar’s favorite niece—or nephew.”

“Ah, that’s just it! I think he means the estate to go to Emory, and this fiendish joke on the girls is his distorted idea of fun.”

“But all that must hinge on finding another will, and you can depend upon it, those four young people are hunting like mad for it.”

“Yes, as you say, all we have to work on are the three simultaneous wills, and if we prove which was signed latest we have our heiress discovered and nothing can disturb her except a later will.”

“Then you can tell me no further details of Mr. Dunbar’s visit here? To sign, I mean.”

“None at all. To think of that old rogue telling me how Barbara was the pick of the lot, how he admired and loved her, and then telling Saunders that Anna was the gem of the collection, and vowing to old Pennock that Doris was the queen. Bruce’s mind was always warped, twisted, somehow. His keeping that cobra proved him not quite balanced, mentally. And you think it was not the snake that killed him?”

“We know it was not. That matter will be taken up after the funeral is over. And, as of course, you have realized, the four young people are all legitimate suspects of—”

“Don’t say it! Oh, no, it can’t be! Emory, maybe, but not the girls, no, not the girls! That regal Doris, that charming Barbara, that darling little Anna! Never! You know they couldn’t accomplish the fiendish deed, even if so minded!”

“I quite understand your resentment at the idea, but my experience has taught me the most unexpected people can commit murder on occasion. You must know that, Mr. Hale, although your heart won’t let you believe it in this case.”

“Do you believe it?”

“I keep an open mind; I have to. I’ve no evidence at all as yet, concerning the murder. I can only say, what must be patent to any observer, the four cousins are certainly to be looked upon as four possible suspects. There are others, of course. But equally hard to imagine in such a role are the friends who receive large bequests. Mr. Sutton, Doctor Larcom and others. Then, there are the servants. Nobody is above suspicion, but evidence or proof must be forthcoming before we can accuse or even logically suspect.”

“Yes, that is all true. I want to help you, Mr. Stone, but not on the murder question.”

“Don’t be tortured with that fear, Mr. Hale,” Stone said gently, for the old man was trembling. “You will not be called upon to testify unless you have some real knowledge that would be helpful. I know you are too good a citizen to withhold such.”

“I’m not sure I wouldn’t.” The old voice quavered. “I’d perjure myself gladly, before I’d accuse little Anna or dear Barbara.”

“Don’t think about it. If I feel I must question you again, I’ll restrict my queries to the matter of the three wills, and we’ll leave the criminal investigation in other hands.”

It was like comforting a child, and brave though he tried to be, John Hale was trembling when Stone rose to go.

Barnes came in, and shook his head as he looked at his old employer.

“It’s all right, Mr. Hale,” he said, cheerily, “we’ll see you through, Mr. Stone and I. You shan’t be bothered.”

“I promise that, too,” and feeling that he must get away, Fleming Stone left them and was ceremoniously escorted to the door by the adoring Sam.

He made his way through the interlacing corridors, to the offices of Harvey Pennock.

The lawyer received him affably, if not cordially, and Stone came to the point at once.

“I have called, Mr. Pennock,” he began, “in the hope you can help me find out which of the three wills drawn by Mr. Dunbar on the same day, was signed latest. As you know, that will settle the validity of the will and allow it to be probated.”

“Yes, Mr. Stone, and you are no more anxious to make the discovery than I am. But, primarily, before all else, I hold that there must be a temporary administrator appointed by the Surrogate, and I propose to make application for such an appointment.”

“You have the right to do so?”

“Assuredly. You can look it up in the Surrogate’s Court Act. The Surrogate has power to appoint any one he chooses, but he is always glad of a suggestion. I shall suggest my own name for his consideration, as it is usual to select an executor. Mr. Sutton and I are the executors of the will that I drew up for Mr. Dunbar, and as Mr. Sutton is a very busy man and also nearing the retiring point, I think he would prefer not to incur the added work and responsibility involved.”

“You have reason to think the will you drew, in Mrs. Ralston’s favor, is the one Mr. Dunbar meant to leave as his final word—the will he signed last?”

“I do believe so, and while I have no indisputable proof, I judge from his last conversation with me, that Doris was his favorite, and that he deemed her best fitted for the duties and honors attached to the head of the house of Dunbar.”

“You speak as if it were a feudal patrimony,” and Stone smiled. “But I get your idea. Now, just what are the points you refer to in his conversation that lead you to think yours was the last will signed?”

“Well, he said so, for one thing.”

“Just what did he say?”

“He said, after he wrote his name, ‘Pennock, that is the last will I shall ever sign. I’m an ill man, and I may pass out suddenly. But Doris is my final choice, and I want you and Sutton to see that my wishes are carried out, when the time comes.’ And, as you know, the time has come.”

“It has, indeed. Now, Mr. Pennock, don’t think me over curious, but I am an Investigator, and we have the reputation of asking questions.”

“Fire away. I have nothing to conceal. I am astounded at the existence of those other two wills, but they are part of Mr. Dunbar’s tendency to foolish jokes.”

“Very possibly. Do you know exactly the time this will of yours was signed?”

“No. Do they?”


“The lawyers who drew the other two wills. I assume you’ve asked them.”

“I find lawyers are a vague lot when it comes to actual data. But as you’re so sure of your ground, I hoped you could give me the exact hour and moment that the signing took place.”

“Not precisely, no. It was late in the afternoon, but I can’t remember the time. Does that matter?” Without seeming to do so, Stone watched Harvey Pennock closely.

He noted no embarrassment, no self-consciousness, no physical gesture of any sort, save the slightest quivering of his eyelids. This might or might not be due to a nervous tension, but it was almost continuous for a few seconds.

“Well, yes, I think it would help, if you knew the hour. It seems obvious that since Mr. Dunbar signed all three wills on the same day, and since the three lawyers who drew them are all in this building, that he did them all on the one trip. Who were your witnesses?”

“That’s a nuisance. It’s really astonishing the fatality that stalks the whole race of witnesses. I don’t know how many I’ve had who, when I wanted them had faded into oblivion. But if I don’t want or need them, they live right along and are promptly available. The witnesses to Mr. Dunbar’s will were, first, my head clerk, Guy Moore. A fine, clever youth, but he kicked over the traces, developed a know-it-all complex, and I had to fire him.”

“You could find him again?”

“Doubtless. But he would not be brotherly—no, not at all. We parted more in anger than in sorrow, and I fear Mr. Moore would even go out of his way to do me a bad turn.”

“Oh, I only meant to see if we could learn from him the time of signing. Who is the other witness?”

“He was John Mills, an old and trusted clerk. As I said, witnesses die off so quickly. He died early in August. So you see, neither of those is available. But I have other employes who might have been observant of the hour.”

Pennock touched a button and immediately a pretty girl appeared.

“Come in, Maudie,” he said. “Miss Deming, Mr. Stone. Question her if you like. She is my stenographer.”

Stone looked at the girl with interest. She was vividly alive, from her deftly curled head to her prettily shod feet.

“What is it, Mr. Stone?” she asked, smiling, to help things along.

“Turn on your memory, Miss Deming,” he replied, “to the last time Mr. Bruce Dunbar was here. You saw the signing of his will.”

“Yes, sir. Such a funny old man!”

“Funny, how?”

“Oh, he treated me as if I were a baby. He patted my cheek and said I looked like his favorite niece.”

“Why were you in on the deal? I thought he signed the paper in a hurry and went away.”

“Yes, he did.” Miss Deming sighed. “But Mr. Pennock had told me to be here when Mr. Dunbar came, in case there were any memoranda to be made.”

“I see. Now, tell me, Miss Deming, as nearly as you can recollect, at what time was Mr. Dunbar here?”

“I can recollect, all right. It was very late, after closing time.”

“What is closing time?”

The girl glanced at Pennock and smiled.

“Well, it’s whenever Mr. Pennock says we may go. He’s a mite uncertain. If the work is done up, we get dismissed about five, but if he has a hen on, we often stay later.”

“Choose your language with a little greater care, Miss Deming,” her employer said, unsmilingly.

“Yes, sir. I mean, Mr. Stone, when Mr. Pennock has an important piece of business to be attended to, we stay later, to help him, and are glad to do it.”

“Yes; and on this occasion of Mr. Dunbar’s call?”

“Mr. Dunbar was expected, but he was late for his appointment. I don’t remember the exact hour he was to come, but he hadn’t arrived at five-thirty. This I know, because I had a date at six, and I was afraid I’d be late.”

“And were you?”

“I’ll say I was! My young man waited for me on the corner until six-fifteen, and then went off, and when I got there, he wasn’t there!”

“What time was that?”

“Something after six-fifteen, about half-past six.”

“Who is your young man?”

Miss Deming looked rebellious and closed her very red lips tightly. Also, Harvey Pennock’s eyelids quivered very slightly.

In view of these two conditions, Fleming Stone pressed his question.

“You’re a good witness, Miss Deming. Your testimony helps me a lot. Now just a note of that very fortunate young man’s name and address, and I’ll bother you no more.”

Stone produced his pencil, and gathered in a scratch pad from the big table-desk, where he sat opposite Pennock.

He looked up at Miss Deming, who showed no sign of granting his request.

“Tell him, Maudie,” Pennock said: “why the delay?”

So she said, sullenly:

“Well then, it was Charlie Laing, but I don’t see what he has to do with it.”

“And the number?” went on her inquisitor.

She mentioned a West Side street, and said: “number 234.”

Harvey Pennock drummed a tattoo on the desk with a stray paper-cutter.

“I mean 334,” the girl said then, and Stone corrected his figures.

But he was puzzled. Had that tattoo been a signal? Was Pennock telling her to give the correct address, not a faked one? Or vice versa? Surely she had changed her data unwillingly.

However, he pleasantly thanked her, said he had nothing further to ask her, and Miss Maudie Deming left the room.

Then Pennock said:

“I think I must ask you, Mr. Stone, to keep that information Miss Deming gave you, to yourself. It is accurate, so far as I know, but you must see, that no one of us three lawyers wants to go on record as to the time, until the others do. This in the interest of our clients even more than ourselves.”

“I quite understand. Have you seen Mrs. Ralston since the disclosure of the other two wills?”

“No, I concluded not to trouble her about business matters until after her uncle’s funeral.”

They discussed a few further points of the situation, but Pennock was taciturn and Stone preoccupied.

Finally, the Investigator rose to go, saying he would see Mr. Pennock again, and they parted, with few amenities.

Making a bee-line for a telephone, Stone, by a complicated and circuitous series of calls, found Charles Laing at the clothing store where he was employed.

The detective went there, asked to see the young man alone, and told him plainly it was for his best interests to speak the truth.

He repeated the story Miss Deming had given him, and asked Laing to verify it.

The lad was intelligent; commonplace, but of decent manners, and he answered, after a moment’s thought:

“Yes, sir, that’s right. I waited for Maudie on the corner.”

“What corner?”

“By Sherman’s statue. That’s where we always meet.”

Laing spoke straightforwardly, but Stone sensed a reticence in his manner, as if he held something back.

“And this was on Wednesday, July twenty-fifth?”

“Y—yes, sir, oh, yes.”

Again that hesitation.

Stone pretended to look at his pocket calendar.

“Oh, no,” he said, smiling, “it wasn’t that date at all. It was a day or two later—or earlier? Just when was it? The twenty-sixth?”

“I don’t know the date, sir, but it was of a Thursday evening. Because, the night before, Wednesday, that is, I had to go to the dentist’s and I’ll never forget that night! Gosh, but he nearly killed me!”

“Then you went to meet Maudie on Thursday evening?”

“Yes, and she didn’t come, so I went off home.”


Chapter 13
Inspector Barton Takes Command

Slowly, Fleming Stone walked into the church, where lay in state the body of Bruce Dunbar.

He was early, and though the pews were already fairly well filled, he managed to persuade an usher to give him the seat he wanted, in a cross section, from which he could command a sight of the pews reserved for the family and nearest friends.

He was uncomfortably close to the hills of flowers that banked and billowed over the massive bronze casket, itself covered by a blanket of orchids. Also, he hated the fragrance of massed flowers, and nearest to him was a half bushel of detestable freesias.

The prospective heirs of Bruce Dunbar were quite willing to spend their prospective inheritance in glorifying the setting of his last public appearance.

The great organ pealed its notes from the touch of a master hand, and the vested choir gave forth celestial chantings.

Stone found the atmosphere, except for the freesias, highly conducive to serious thinking, and wondered he didn’t oftener seek sanctuary in a church.

His mind was full of the extraordinary discrepancy between the stories of Maudie Deming and her swain.

He had no reason to doubt the good faith of Charlie Laing, who waited in the shadow of the gilded general until he lost hope of seeing his inamorata. He believed that episode had occurred, as related, but it was on Thursday afternoon, not Wednesday. He believed that Pennock and his Younger Generation secretary had connived to make it appear that she had stayed so late on Wednesday afternoon, in order to make his will seem the latest one signed.

The girl had seemed bothered about it, and didn’t want to give the address of her cavalier—had given it wrong, until Pennock’s sharp tattoo on the table made her change the figures. Surely, he could not be mistaken about that. She said 234, and at Pennock’s check-up, quickly amended it to 334.

And after all, it had been Thursday not Wednesday. This meant prearranged falsehood. Had Stone given her time, doubtless Maudie would have coached Charlie Laing to agree to her version, and probably the lad would have done so.

Not that the episode made any great difference in the situation, or that the misrepresentation of dates was a heinous crime, but it went to prove that Pennock would bear watching. And, as the poet observed, “Unfaith in aught is want of faith in all.”

Stone decided he could, after this, take nothing for granted in the case of Harvey Pennock. The man was capable of intentional and purposeful misstatement. He must be watched.

But there were so many to watch, Stone sighed. It was what he called a sprangling case, in which new suspicions and new directions to look, sprangled out suddenly, like antlers from a deer’s horn.

And Pennock’s witnesses? One dead, and the other, fired and lost sight of!

But were the witnesses of the other lawyers in much better case?

Martin Saunders, on whom Stone had depended for accurate data and definite information, had, it seemed, paid little attention to the fact that his witnesses had slipped away from him, and he had made no effort to hunt them up or to obtain others.

As Saunders had said, the witness of a will was seldom an individual of great importance, but in the case of these wills of Brace Dunbar the witnesses suddenly loomed high in the scheme of things.

Old Mr. Hale had his witnesses right there at his elbow—and what good were they? Barnes was so rushed and harried, looking after his employer’s business and appointments, even, probably, correcting his errors and aiding his memory, that he, it was entirely evident, had paid no attention at all to the Dunbar will, beyond signing and filing it.

Sam Colby was a bright boy, and much might yet be learned from him, but he was far from being an important factor in the matter.

A fine lot of witnesses, surely, to the most complicated will case ever known!

It behooved him to make desperate effort to get on the track of the girl who went to Hollywood, the smart secretary who was fired, and the substitute elevator man.

A great, orotund voice, intoning the first solemn words of the burial service, brought the thinker to a realization of where he was and why.

He had come for the definite purpose of watching the faces of those who were assumed to be the chief mourners at Bruce Dunbar’s funeral.

And those faces were a study.

Sitting as they did, in the front pews, the cousins had no thought of being watched, but the most careless observer could have seen they were not listening to the service.

Doris looked like a storm cloud. Her handsome face was stern and set, as if all the righteous wrath felt by her New England forefathers in bygone days had concentrated in her nature. Stone had an uncanny feeling that her basilisk glare penetrated the bronze coffin in an effort to reach the strange human being who had only two months before told her that she was his favorite relative and his chief heiress. And had told a lie.

From some sort of dramatic instinct she had omitted all make-up, and her pale, classic features with the unrelieved black of her costume made her an effective picture but a repellent one.

Barbara looked sulky. She did not revel in unpleasant excitement. Thrills were all very well, if they were in her favor, but this awful thing that had befallen them, was a distinct insult to her well-being and she deeply resented it.

For two months she had basked in the delight of knowing that when Uncle Bruce did bid them a final good-by, she would step into the ownership of his houses and lands and wealth, without asking by your leave of anybody. He had made her swear to keep the will a secret, and she had obeyed implicitly. And then to have the certainty of her inheritance snatched from her by those cousins, was just too much!

And what could she do? Old Mr. Hale was fond of her, and he had patted her shoulder and vowed that it would all come out right. But what was John Hale? A doddering old man who had forgotten all the law he had ever known—if any!

All this, the usually smiling Barbara showed as she sat in the long pew, moving restlessly about, until Emory glowered at her to sit still.

Then she sat still, looking somewhat imbecile, her lips parted like a fish, and her eyes staring.

Anna looked frightened.

She was, too. Everything seemed fraught with danger, she was already looked at askance. And the more she tried to straighten out her thoughts the more confused they became.

Mr. Stone was kind, but she could see he was greatly worried. Mr. Saunders was polite and comforting, but like all lawyers, he answered her frantic questions vaguely, and she couldn’t make out what he was talking about.

The solemnity of the service and the vast spaces of the church oppressed her, and she wanted to get away from it all and cry.

She trembled, as if with a nervous disorder, and Doctor Larcom looked at her anxiously.

Emory, who felt that he had a role, lived right up to it.

He had calmly preempted the position of head of the house, and he proposed to hold it until forcibly ejected therefrom. The which had certainly not happened yet.

He was not afraid of those silly wills, made, he was sure, to tease the girls. Of course, a later will would yet turn up, leaving him the heir, as was the right and proper thing to happen.

He was optimistic by nature, or he could not have felt so sure of this, but his countenance showed only a manly sort of sorrow that befitted the occasion, and a sort of benevolent dignity as the new master of the estate.

Stone smiled inwardly at this smugness of demeanor, and wondered how long it had taken Emory to adjust his mood to the right pitch exactly.

And then, almost before he knew it, Stone found the services were over and he was proceeding very slowly, with the jostling crowd that surged down the aisle to the street doors.

On the steps of the church, Sutton approached him hurriedly, and said, “Come along with me, to the Dunbar house.”

Stone went with him to a waiting car, and they rode in it alone.

“All that has passed is the prologue,” said Sutton, slowly, “now the curtain will go up on the real play.”

Though his words were whimsical, his tone gave them deep, even serious meaning.

“There’s been plenty of prologue, then,” returned Stone, “and of importance, too. Are the police coming?”

“Yes; they may be already there when we arrive. Mr. Stone, I dread the outcome of this whole matter.”

“And you may well do so, Mr. Sutton. There is much to be looked into, and there will be surprising disclosures.”

“That is what I fear. Those children are all dear to me, some more than others. But I have always had the deepest interest in them all, and now, to think that one of them may have—”

“Don’t look at it that way,” said Stone, gently; “wait until the investigation is really started, and some developments are brought out, then we’ll know what we have to face.”

“Yes, I suppose so. You’re continuing on the case, of course?”

“As a Private Investigator, yes. But I don’t like to interfere with the police. As a rule, they are friendly with me, but there are some individuals on the Force who could get along quite happily without me. But don’t concern yourself with that, Mr. Sutton. I shall stay on, of course. I’m too much interested to leave it. I have never met with such an extraordinary combination of interests.”

“Never mind the interesting part just now, Mr. Stone. Please—oh, let me beg of you, don’t let little Anna be suspected of any wrong-doing.”

“Which means you suspect her yourself, I gather.”

Sutton drew himself up, haughtily.

“It means nothing of the sort. But less astute observers, will think that poor child had motive, knowing of her own will, and opportunity, living in the house. That, of course, is also true of Emory, but they won’t suspect him—”

“Why not?”

“Oh, they’ll say if he had intended such a thing, he would have set about it sooner.”

“Well, there are the other two nieces.”

“I know, and indeed, I don’t want them suspected either, but Anna is my pet, the pick of the lot.”

“Rest assured if any word or deed of mine can help her, it is hers. I haven’t yet realized why or how Mr. Dunbar could bring himself to cut up such a dastardly trick. The silliest and crudest I ever heard of! You had no notion of it?”

“Oh, Lord, no! It was just like him, but I’m sure he meant it only to stir up this hornet’s nest, as it has certainly done. I have no doubt that among his papers we will find a subsequent will, with one of the cousins as chief legatee. Emory, most likely.”

“But, in that case, why didn’t Mr. Dunbar have you draw that later will?”

“I suppose I was away again. My son has a ranch, out West, and he likes me to come out there.”

“Well, you’re relieved of the vagaries of one odd client, anyhow.”

“Yes, to be sure. I always liked Bruce, we were friends for many years, but he has given me many sleepless nights and anxious days.”

At the Dunbar house, they found a somewhat tumultuous group in the drawing-room.

The police had taken charge of the case in earnest. Inspector Barton, Commanding Officer of the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, was already beginning to investigate. His favorite aide, Lieutenant Keefe, was at his side, and other police officers were about.

It was a special case, and was in the hands of a special detail of men. Harkness had seen to that.

Barton looked at Fleming Stone and the lawyer, Sutton, and greeted them with a slight effect of condescension.

This so nettled Samuel Sutton, that he became antagonistic at once.

He took, or attempted to take, the leadership into his own hands, but the presiding arm of the law promptly put his foot down.

“You will sit here, if you please, Mr. Sutton,” he briefly directed, “and you, Mr. Stone, there.”

The lawyer’s small blue eyes seemed to shoot sparks, but he obeyed directions.

Inspector Barton was a tall man, rather slender, and of a wiry agility that implied muscular strength.

His eyes were sharp and shrewd, and of the sort that dart about the room, without losing sight of his present object of attention.

His voice was clear and incisive, not unpleasant, yet lacking any hint of sympathy or even interest.

He sat at the front end of the long room, and was faced by a rather large audience. The four cousins, of course, and, accompanying them, three men. Steve Ralston sat beside his wife, and Clive Rankin was next to Barbara, while at Anna’s side, sat Jake Ward.

Stone didn’t know whether these men were advised to come, by the police, or whether they were there to give aid and comfort to the three nieces.

Also, there were the three lawyers who had drawn up the simultaneous wills.

Saunders looked distinctly troubled, Pennock, rather bored, and John Hale irate and a trifle bewildered.

Larcom and Vail were there, also Fosdick, the glum man from the laboratory.

And Bogart, the man from the Zoo, and a few others whom Stone did not know. And behind all these, the service staff of the Dunbar home.

“As I see it,” Inspector Barton began, “this is a most unusual and complicated case. Doctor Harkness informed me of its peculiar features, and they must be dealt with in especial ways. It is not a matter for camera and finger-print men. It is not a matter of searching for a motive or an opportunity. Or even a weapon. All those things we know.”

“Of course we do,” said Sutton, irascibly; “nor do we need a handwriting expert. Bruce Dunbar signed all three of those simultaneous wills, I can swear to that.”

“No one doubts it, sir,” retorted the Inspector. “It remains only to learn which will was signed last, to have a pretty positive idea where to look for the murderer. But it is not just now in the province of the police to investigate the matter of the wills. That can be done by private detectives.”

He glanced at Fleming Stone, but his expression was equally devoid of sympathy or scorn. He seemed merely indifferent to the famous detective’s presence or plans.

“It is in my province to apprehend the criminal.”

“May I point out,” Stone said, speaking deliberately, “that the solution of the murder mystery and the question of the last signed will, are closely allied in interest and may have decided bearing on one another?”

“That point is self-evident and needs no pointing out. Indeed, the discovery of the latest will must stamp the beneficiary almost certainly as the murderer of Mr. Dunbar. However, I propose to learn the identity of that person through other avenues of inquiry. I propose, Mr. Stone, to utilize so far as may be necessary, such information as you may glean, that will assist my search, and in return I will help you with yours.”

At first, Fleming Stone was too angry at this bumptious speech to make any reply, and then, he smiled as he realized the insignificance of it regarding himself. Of course, what he definitely discovered he would finally report to the Inspector, and though he was not banking on assistance in return, the case was queer, and who knew what might accidentally be found out?

So he kept his serene calm, acknowledging with a slight nod, the favor shown him.

S. S. was not so amenable.

His face grew red, his manner became aggressive, and unheeding the restraining hand Jim Perry laid on his arm, he exploded: “By the Lord, Mr. Inspector, you’ll have a fine time of it! You don’t know yet that there is a murderer. There’s simple possibility of death from snakebite, not merely snake venom, and it may even be the work of Streamline after all.”

The Inspector refused to be disturbed.

“That’s why I invited Mr. Bogart to be here with us, he said; “Mr. Bogart is an expert on herpetology. Will you, sir,” he turned toward the man from the Zoo, “explain why you are certain the marks on Mr. Dunbar’s neck could not have been made by the fangs of any snake?”

“Because, Mr. Inspector, the tiny scars found on the neck of the dead man were too close together to be made by the fangs of a cobra. As to other venomous serpents, we learned by careful research, that the scars were too small to have been made by fangs.

They were undoubtedly made by a hypodermic syringe, which had been filled with snake venom, dried, and then powdered and mixed with water. It may have been a double-needled syringe or a single needle used twice. This statement is corroborated by all the scientists we found who knew about these matters.”

“Then,” Barton went on, “we will dismiss the thought of any other means of death than that just described to us. Now, as to opportunity, we have to assume that some human being gained access to the sleeping room of Mr. Dunbar on Saturday night. Further expert opinion has assured us that Mr. Dunbar was, beyond all reasonable doubt, inoculated with the venom, about two o’clock, Sunday morning, and that he died about four o’clock. As to motive, we of the Detective Bureau, feel that we have found four who have motive, in the persons of Mr. Dunbar’s four only relatives, each of whom expected to be sole heir to the uncle’s estate.”

“Hold hard, Inspector,” cried Emory, unable to keep quiet any longer, “I can’t quite stand that! You’ve no right to cast suspicion on people against whom you have no evidence, no proof—indeed, no reason to call them suspects!”

“I didn’t call them suspects,” retorted Barton; “you first used that term yourself. And there is no occasion for such a show of resentment. I merely state that the four wills give four people reason to desire immediate fulfillment of the promises of those wills. Any one who is innocent, need feel no personal affront, and should one be guilty, the implication is entirely just.”

“You are starting off on the wrong track,” Emory maintained, stubbornly. “You will find, if you conduct a proper search, a further will, drawn later than July twenty-fifth, that sets forth clearly my late uncle’s selection of an heir to his estate.”

“You know of such a will, Mr. Dunbar?”

“I most certainly do not, or I should have shared that knowledge long since. But I do know my uncle would not leave those silly wills, just drawn up to tease the girls, as his last word in the matter.”

“To tease you, too, I suggest. Surely you are as much annoyed at their existence as the ladies themselves.”

“That would be true, except that I am positive there is a later will. I hope your well known efficiency will find it.”

“As I have already stated, Mr. Dunbar, that part of the affair is not in our province. We are seeking the murderer, not the problematical motive that led to the deed. We are assuming an intruder, who entered Mr. Bruce Dunbar’s room on Saturday night or very early Sunday morning, and inoculated him with poisonous cobra venom, either by means of a living serpent, or, which is more probable, by means of a syringe, filled with the same venom in solution.”

Samuel Sutton gave the speaker a look of unconcealed scorn.

“We are quite satisfied with your statement of what you propose to do,” he said, icily; “now, suppose you proceed to do it.”

“I daresay, that is the Inspector’s intention,” said Fleming Stone, in a placating way, for he was decidedly annoyed at the attitude of Sutton. “I am sure we all want the same thing he does, and I think we all stand ready to help him in any way possible.”

“I shall not begin by asking for the medical reports,” Barton said, slowly: “You have all heard the testimony of Doctor Larcom and Doctor Vail. I will start with the opening scenes of the tragedy. I will first of all, put a few questions to Hatton, the butler.” Hatton rose to his feet, pale of face, but composed of manner, and stood easily, awaiting questions.

“You are in the habit of closing up the house at night after guests have gone and the family have retired?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Describe this proceeding on Saturday night last.”

“It was no different from any other night, sir. Mr. Dunbar always had Mrs. Ralston and Mr. Ralston and Mrs. Corbin here to dinner, Saturday nights and often other guests as well. That night they were all gone by midnight. Mr. and Mrs. Ralston left about eleven, Miss Anna went before that, and so did Mr. Emory. Miss Barbara and the gentleman with her stayed until nearly twelve and then went away. Mr. Dunbar went up to bed, and Crowe, his valet, attended him. Then I locked up and went to bed myself.”

“In just what does the locking up consist?”

“I lock the front door, but not with the bolt, if any one is still out. Miss Anna was out, and she has a key, so I left the door unbolted for her. Mr. Emory was away for the night, but sometimes he changes his plans, and he might come home. Anyways, I left the door so that it was fastened to any one who hadn’t a night key. Then I locked up the kitchen quarters, entirely. There are strong locks on the back door and the area cellar door. Also the windows have patent fastenings—very safe. After I’ve finished locking up, I defy any burglar to get in. Our rooms are on the fourth floor, and I went up to bed, about half past twelve, I should think it was.”

“You heard no disturbance in the night?”

“Not a sound, sir.”


Chapter 14

Crowe was questioned next and he gave a full but succinct account of his services on Saturday evening, stating that after the guests had all gone, he assisted Mr. Dunbar in preparing for bed and had left him finally, with lights all out and the windows open, ready to go to sleep.

“This was quite as usual?” asked the Inspector.

“Sometimes he wanted his reading light left on, if he felt wakeful. But if he was weary, he didn’t read late. He was a poor sleeper, and I gave him a pellet every night for insomnia.”

“What was the drug?”

“Pheno-barbitol, prepared by Doctor Larcom.”

The doctor nodded as Barton looked at him inquiringly.

“You always gave him this?”

“I always put it in readiness on his bedside table, when I turned down his bed and laid out his night things. This was usually while he was at dinner. Then, if he felt like reading, I left the pellet, and he took it later. Sometimes he fell asleep without taking it at all. There was never any counting on what Mr. Dunbar might do.”

“And about the cobra’s cage. You are sure the door of that was fastened when you left the room for the last time that night?”

“I am sure it was closed, sir. I didn’t try it for it has a snap spring and to be closed is to be fastened.”

“You then went home?”

“Yes, sir, and returned next morning to find my master dead.”

Again Crowe told the story of that experience.

At the end of the recital, the Inspector said: “You assumed that his pet, Streamline had bitten him?”

“I certainly did, sir. What else could I think, with the marks on his neck, and the cage door open?”

“Of course. Now, Crowe, what do you know—I don’t ask an opinion, but what do you know of what happened in Mr. Dunbar’s room that night?”

“Not much, sir. I only know that there was some one in there after I left at night and before I arrived in the morning.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Well, sir, a man can’t be a valet for a long term of years and not know every one of his master’s little peculiarities. In the bathroom, especially. In there the towels and sponge and soap had all been used by somebody who was not Mr. Dunbar, and a pair of bath gloves are missing.”

“Just what are bath gloves?”

“Really a sort of mittens, sir, which Mr. Dunbar had made for him, after a pattern he brought from London.”

“A pair of these things missing, you say? Are you sure?”

“Positive. I know all the contents of that bathroom down to the smallest little nailbrush.”

“This seems to me important. It would look as if there was an intruder who took pains to clean himself well afterward, and also abstract a pair of gloves which took his fancy.”

Crowe was questioned no further, the other servants were given one or two queries apiece, and then the staff was dismissed.

Doctor Larcom was questioned next, principally regarding the exact effect of poisoning by cobra venom.

“The process is invariable,” said the doctor, “but the time consumed varies with circumstances, and in this instance is impossible of definite statement. Upon reception of the venom, the victim would feel no discomfort for perhaps twenty minutes or a half hour. Then respiration would be impeded, the face would become livid and motor nerves would be affected. A hot, burning sensation would ensue and then convulsions—intermittent clonic spasms. Then stupor, followed by faintness and death. It is not probable there would be any sound from the sufferer, nor would he suffer long as he would quickly lapse into unconsciousness. As to time, I cannot arrive at it any more closely than to say, I judge Mr. Dunbar received the poison somewhere around two A. M. and died between three and four A. M.”

“Thank you, Doctor Larcom,” Barton said, “for your clear and concise description. Personally, I still incline to the bite of the pet cobra, as it seems to my logical mind too much of a coincidence to have a venomous cobra in the next room and then have an intruder come along with a dose of cobra venom! A little like coals to Newcastle. But that is not the point for the moment. I want to trace the hand and brain behind that dose of venom. That evil heart that prompted the destruction of a human being. If we could believe it an accident, caused by the bite of an animal, that would relieve us all of gruesome suspicions. But there is so much known against that theory, that we must probe further, in our endeavor to get at the truth. I will now ask for the statements and the opinions of the relatives of the deceased man. Mr. Dunbar, will you take the stand?”

Emory Dunbar’s face gave an impression of smoldering fires. As if there might, at any moment, break through its apparent calm a blaze of indignation and wrath.

Though not afraid of this stony petrel effect, the Inspector concluded that discretion called for some tact in the questioning of this witness.

“You are in possession of a will, I understand, making you chief legatee of your late uncle’s estate.”

“You understand damn well right, Inspector. As to these foolish hoaxes perpetrated by my uncle in one of his teasing moods, they are not worth the paper they’re written on.”

“Will you explain just what you mean by that statement?”

“I mean that Mr. Bruce Dunbar was greatly given to practical jokes, and these three wills given to my cousins are mere hoaxes. As it is impossible to learn which one was signed last, they are all three invalidated. This was my uncle’s amiable intention, and it leaves my inheritance, as set forth in his will two years ago, a valid document.”

“On what do you base your opinion that it is impossible to learn which of these three wills was signed last?”

“On the simple, but important fact that if any of the three lawyers who drew the wills knew which was signed last, he would state that knowledge and adduce his proof thereof.”

“That is undoubtedly true, but though the respective times of signing may not be known at this moment, it is not impossible that they may yet be learned.”


“I do not know nor is it necessary that I should. That is not my province. But you surely agree?”

“No; I do not. I knew my uncle’s hellish enjoyment of what he considered a good joke, and I know he must have made it impossible for it to be discovered in what order those wills were signed. And since you cannot learn that, you cannot probate any one of them and they must all be thrown into the discard.”

“On the legal aspects of that matter, I am not asking your opinion. Surely I do not need to do so, when I have several able and learned lawyers in my audience. Why should I consider the advice of a layman?”

“Because,” Emory’s face was black as a thundercloud, “because they are all interested personally—”

“And are not you?” asked Fleming Stone, as the young man paused for dramatic effect.

“I resent the implication of that speech!” Emory almost shouted, in his anger. “Of course I am interested. Who wouldn’t be in an inheritance of millions? Which threaten to be wrested from him illegally!”

Samuel Sutton raised his admonitory voice.

“You would be wiser, Emory, to keep quiet. You do your cause no good by such talk. As the attorney-at-law for the Dunbar estate, a position I have held for many years, I request that the matter of the recently discovered wills be left out of the business today. It is a matter of highest importance, and as yet, not enough facts are known to realize the ultimate meaning of it. It will be thoroughly investigated, but argument about it to-day is idle discussion.”

“Nor do I wish to discuss it,” Barton said, curtly; “but everybody’s mind seems so full of it, it is difficult to keep you off the subject. Mr. Dunbar, will you tell me just where you were after leaving this house last Saturday evening?”

“I have what is, I believe, known in police circles as the perfect alibi.” Emory spoke with a supercilious humor: “I went to spend the evening and the night with a friend of mine in Bronxville.”

“The name of your friend?”

“Mr. Leveridge—Sidney Leveridge. I went with him to a dance that evening, remained at his house over night, and went with others of the house party to play golf next morning. My cousin Anna telephoned the Leveridge home and the butler there got in touch with me as soon as he could, and I came straight home. This can all be checked up, and you will find it, as I said, a perfect alibi.”

Fleming Stone said, with a slight smile, “I wouldn’t use that phrase too emphatically, Emory. It is usually considered something to be looked into.”

“Huh! I’m not afraid!” But Emory Dunbar’s face turned a bit pale and Stone noticed his suddenly troubled look.

Stone noticed many things as he sat there listening to the Inspector’s rambling inquiries.

Barton was not conventional in his methods, but Stone could see that the man was getting at what he wanted to know, rather than asking routine questions.

Leaving Emory, the Inspector turned to Doris, and asked her of her procedure after leaving the Dunbar house on Saturday night.

Save for her air of disdain, Doris was a satisfactory witness. She spoke quietly and apparently willingly.

“Mr. Ralston and I,” she began, “left here about eleven o’clock. I am more or less of an invalid, and I had had a trying day. We walked down home, it is only a few blocks, and the night air made me feel better. When we reached our house, Mr. Ralston went up with me to our apartment, and as I wanted to go to bed at once, he left me in the care of my maid, and he went down to his club for an hour.”

“And you went to bed at once?”

“Yes, as soon as my maid could give me some required treatments and tuck me in.”

“You slept all night?”

Doris smiled. “That is something I never do. I sleep almost none at all. I lay awake all night, but I assure you I did not leave my home. Had I done so you could easily find that out from the attendants. We live in a large apartment house, beautifully managed, and there is service in the lobby all night long. Like my cousin Emory, I think I may claim that a perfect alibi.”

The Inspector paid no attention to her haughty smile, and went on:

“You have in your possession a copy of your uncle’s will in your favor?”

“I did have, until yesterday, when I gave it to Mr. Pennock.”

“Why did you do that?”

“Because he asked me to.”

“Don’t be unduly disturbed at that, Inspector,” sang out Harvey Pennock. “I was taking no chances, and I fancied that will would better be in my safe.”

“As a general precaution?”

“Just that; I had the real will, of course, Mrs. Ralston had the copy, but I thought I’d take care of it.”

“And you, Mr. Ralston, what time did you get back from your club?”

“I don’t know just the time, but I stayed a couple of hours. I found some cronies and we had a few rubbers of Contract. I’ll give you their names, if you like. Then I went home, and when I went upstairs I looked in my wife’s room and she was there, asleep. I didn’t waken her, but I can testify she was there.”

“Thank you. Then, Mrs. Ralston, you learned first of your uncle’s death on Sunday morning?”

“Yes; Miss Forrest telephoned me.”

“And you came here at once?”

“As soon as I could. I had some appointments first.”

“I see. Now, tell me of the circumstances of your uncle giving you one of his three wills.”

“It was early in August. I don’t remember the date, but I think it was during the first week. He telephoned me, asking when I could see him, in my home, alone. I told him the next afternoon, as that would be my maid’s day out. So he called the next day, and after making sure that we would not be overheard, he confided to me that he had thought matters over and had decided that I was the one best fitted to carry on the traditions and dignity of the house. He said of all the family, I had the finest character and the best manners. Uncle was an aristocratic old gentleman, and he liked formality and correct appointments.”

“You felt honored, of course, at his choice?”

“Oh, yes; though I always knew he liked my ways better than Anna’s. She is a good little housekeeper, but he said I was a chatelaine, and I knew what he meant.”

“He meant Doris put on airs,” Barbara said, with a sniff; “she does, too. Anna’s simple, unaffected housekeeping is far prettier than Doris’s hifalutin service.”

“Your opinion, Barbie, is of little value,” Doris went on; “Uncle preferred my ways, and, too, he told me of other things that led to his choice of me for his heiress. I am sure dear Uncle Bruce could not have shown such real love and admiration for me, unless he meant it seriously. Whatever he meant by those other two wills, I know he meant mine to be genuine—his real last will and testament.”

“Too bad he gummed it all up with those other documents,” Emory observed. “However, I’m afraid, my dear cousins, your precious wills nullify one another, and mine is the legal document.”

Inspector Barton ignored the young man’s speech, and proceeded to question Doris.

“And then, he gave you a copy of his will?”

“Yes, and forbade me to mention it to any one at all, so long as he lived.”

“On pain of being haunted?”

“He did say that, knowing I am foolishly afraid of ha’nts.”


“Yes. But I should have obeyed Uncle anyway. He also said, if I so much as hinted to anybody the existence of that will, he would destroy it and leave the whole estate to somebody else. So I never told.”

“No one? Not even your husband?”

“No, I never mentioned it to Mr. Ralston. I wanted to obey Uncle for his own sake, as well as for my interest in the disposition of the estate.”

“And you kept the will hidden?”

“Yes, indeed. And in a hiding-place which could never be found by any one, I’m sure.”

“And when your uncle died, you thought you would be chief legatee to his fortune and estates?” Doris favored him with a scathing glance.

“And think so still,” she declared. “I am positive those other wills are forgeries. I do not believe dear Uncle Bruce would—”

“Cut it out, Dorrie,” said Emory, with a glance of ridicule. “You well know the old scout was capable of anything that would tease any of us. He loved to ballyrag us into thinking something nice was to happen, and then disappoint us. And don’t you worry about forgeries. Those three absurd documents were all duly signed by the old Jackanapes. It is their simultaneous dates that puts them out of consideration. And it can never be decided which was signed last, so they’re all out of the running. Go on, Mr. Inspector, get this business over.”

“That is all, Mrs. Ralston,” and Barton dismissed her with a nod. “Now, Mrs. Corbin.”

Barbara smiled at him. She had come to the conclusion it was of no use to sulk or storm, a soft answer might work better.

“Yes, Mr. Barton,” she said, blandly, “what shall I tell you first?”

“The details of your uncle’s speech with you regarding the will in your favor.”

“Oh, yes. Well, he just came to my home one day, a few days after he signed the will, he told me, and gave me a copy of it into my keeping. He didn’t make a great fuss of secrecy, but told me plainly that if I let any one know about it, he would at once destroy it and make a new will, from which I would be left out. He didn’t have to emphasize this instruction, for I promised at once, and faithfully, that I would keep it an inviolate secret.”

“And you did?”

“I most certainly did. I kept the will in my safe deposit box, and I never even looked at it from the day Uncle gave it to me, until after he was dead. Of course, I was amazed to learn that we four cousins each have a will to attend to, but I took mine directly to Mr. Hale, and left the whole matter in his hands.”

“Your uncle told you why he chose you for his principal heir?”

“He said I was always really his favorite. That I had the best disposition of the lot and was more like the Dunbars than the other three. I see now, it was all a hoax, he was fooling us—the three of us, I mean. I have been talking it over with some people I know, and they say that none of the three wills can be probated, but that they certainly invalidate Emory’s, and therefore, Uncle must be adjudged as having died insolvent, and the estate equally divided among us all.”

Samuel Sutton looked at her in a kindly amusement.

“Barbie, dear,” he said, “you mustn’t talk over these matters with outsiders. And we certainly don’t need any further legal advice than can be furnished by the several very able lawyers right here in this room now. Remember this, my girl, and don’t babble about it any more.”

“Where were you on Saturday evening, Mrs. Corbin?” Barton continued.

“Right here, Mr. Barton,” she replied, “Mr. Rankin was with me, and we stayed after the others had gone.”

“Why did you?”

She looked surprised, then annoyed.

“For no ulterior reason, I can assure you. If you think I was trying to curry favor with Uncle Bruce, you’re greatly mistaken. Why should I? As I supposed, he had made me his heir, and I was ready and willing to please him in any way I could. He liked to have us stay late with him Saturday nights, and as Emory and Anna went off right after dinner, and Doris deserted early, I stayed on until nearly midnight to entertain the poor, lonely old man.”

“You girls make me sick,” exclaimed Emory. “All this dear uncle and poor old man! Toadies, all of you.”

“No one can accuse you of that!” Anna came back at him. “You were always careless of his wishes and ungrateful for his favors.”

“He liked me well enough to make me his heir,” and Emory triumphantly grinned.

Inspector Barton fixed his gaze on Anna.

“Miss Forrest,” he said, bluntly, “where did you go after dinner on Saturday evening?”

“I went to a party at the home of a friend,” Anna returned, her big blue eyes looking innocent as a baby’s. “But we went off on many errands—that’s the kind of party it was—and if you like, I’ll tell you all about it.”

“No, it is irrelevant. Tell me at what time you reached home.”

“Oh, I don’t know—I never know the time. I guess about three, wasn’t it, Jake?”

“Guess so; I don’t know either. Wonder why the police are so crazy always to know the time!”

“Did you two come here together?” Barton proceeded.

“We sure did,” answered Jake. “But I left Miss Forrest on the door-mat—didn’t have to push the wolf off, here—I mean, I saw her enter the front door, politely said good-night and hurried away.”

“You have a night key, Miss Forrest?”

“Of course, Emory and I both have.”

“Any one else?”

“No.” Emory informed him. “Uncle Bruce had an aversion to promiscuous night keys, and I don’t believe Doris or Barbara ever wanted to use one.”

“Go on, Miss Forrest, please. Detail your next steps.”

“Oh, I just shut the front door, and turned my next steps up the stairs, up two flights to my own rooms, which are directly over my uncle’s rooms.”

“Just why do you offer that information?”

Anna stared at him.

“For no special reason, except I thought you might like to picture to yourself the situation.”

“What situation?”

“Why, me, alone in the house with my uncle, except the servants up on the fourth floor. I suppose you picture me letting Streamline out of his cage, so that he might poison Uncle Bruce, leaving me, as I supposed, heir to the whole Dunbar estate!”

“You know, do you not, that Mr. Dunbar’s pet cobra was not the instrument of death?”

“Well, I didn’t know it then, so I assume you think I set Streamline going.”

“Miss Forrest,” Martin Saunders spoke kindly, “as your legal adviser let me ask you to drop that flippant sort of speech. Please recognize the seriousness of the situation, and give your answers more thoughtfully.”

Barton’s voice took on a strange new note of accusation.

“I think Miss Forrest knows what she is doing,” he said, slowly; “I think she knows that what she calls the situation, herself practically alone in the house with her uncle, her weariness of the life she led here, her impatience to inherit her fortune and have her own way with it—all this, is so indicative of her desperation, that she—perhaps on an impulse— concluded to hasten matters, and—”

“Stop!” thundered Emory, “how dare you even seem to implicate Anna Forrest—”

“In collusion with yourself, I do,” Barton stated, calmly.

Emory was stunned. Yet though he stared at the Inspector, and looked at every one else in turn, he seemed to see nothing.


Chapter 15
Stone Digs And Delves

Fleming Stone went home disheartened but not discouraged.

He was amazed at the tide of suspicion, or, at least doubt, that had set in against Anna Forrest, and wondered if there could be any truth in it.

He had noticed that the girl was not always entirely sincere, that she had a modicum of her uncle’s love of mischief, but he had considered himself fairly well acquainted with her, and until the Inspector’s implications had had no slightest thought of her guilt or guilty knowledge concerning her uncle’s death.

For it had been murder, of course.

There was no gainsaying the reports from the medical laboratory or the Zoo. Bruce Dunbar had been deliberately poisoned by some one who had premeditated the deed sufficiently to provide himself—or herself—with deadly cobra venom and with a means of introducing it into the veins of the victim.

This presupposed, too, some person conversant with the presence of the pet cobra, and an intent, by leaving the cage door open, to let it be thought that Streamline was the instrument of death.

Wherefore, Fleming Stone, after his dinner, sat down in his study, to sum up his knowledge and beliefs.

He was disheartened at the net that had begun to enmesh itself about Anna, the more so, as he was not absolutely sure of her innocence.

He knew her so slightly, knew too, of the vein of mischief, so like her uncle’s, that ran beneath her usually sweet and sunny manner.

And aside from mischief, Stone had seen, now and then, an ugly resentment shown by the girl, when she thought she was being treated unfairly.

Now, injustice was his own bête noire, and he felt a lurking sympathy for any one who suffered from it, though unwilling to go so far as to condone murder as a revenge.

But he put his prejudices aside, and began to sum up his facts and his clues.

Fleming Stone always squirmed at the thought of clues.

He talked often with his confreres, he read many detective stories of the more thoughtful sort, and invariably, of late, they inveighed against clues.

Clues, they explained, were dated—meaning very much out of date—and should be relegated to the dust heap.

Whereupon, Fleming Stone noted, they eagerly grasped at the first clue that offered, and gnawed at it, as a hungry dog at a bone.

Stone himself, put clues in their proper place, as not of primary importance, but a help, if rightly read.

And went on making use of them when available and promising.

Just now, his mind centered on the clues found in Bruce Dunbar’s bathroom.

A careful valet, like Crowe, would, of course, be so familiar with the details of his daily routine, that his observation of anything unusual could be depended on, especially, since he was himself a clearheaded, quick thinking sort.

Granting then, as he must, Crowe’s story of the towels, sponge and so forth, Stone proceeded to build up a general reconstruction.

He discarded all possibility of Streamline, and assumed an intruder, remembering that though his mental picture was of some one coming into the house from the outside, it might equally well have been some one already inside.

He dismissed the servants from his mind, for he had talked a good deal with Hatton and Crowe, and saw no slightest reason to suspect them. The women too, were unlikely, and Stone devoted his thoughts to the relatives who would, or who thought they would, profit by their uncle’s death.

If either of the two living in the house, Emory or Anna, it would have been easy for them, at any time, to enter Bruce Dunbar’s room, late at night, unheard and unseen.

And with almost equal ease could Doris or Barbara have achieved an entry. Whether they admitted the possession of a night key or not, they could have acquired one without trouble, and could have entered the house and silently climbed the thick-carpeted stairs.

Granting, then, all four opportunity, all four motive, which was the likeliest, and why did the Inspector pitch upon Anna and Emory?

But that question was easily answered. He did it merely because those two lived in the house, and also, because he scorned to notice clues.

It was the line of least resistance, and Inspector Barton took it.

To be sure, he had had as yet, no time to investigate carefully, but that was all the more reason why he should hesitate to accuse so quickly.

Taking the bathroom discoveries as a starter, Stone began to build up his murderous intruder.

It was not easy, for three of his presumptive suspects were women, and it didn’t seem like women’s work.

Yet, why not? It is always assumed that a woman’s weapon is almost invariably poison, and it was so in this case.

The cobra venom must have been procured from some laboratory or some expert toxicologist. This could have been done by a woman, of course, and if Anna had been determined to inherit her expected fortune at once, she could, doubtless, have thus arranged for it.

So also, could Doris or Barbara, and, for that matter, so could Emory.

Stone was, therefore, confronted with four possible criminals, all with the same motive, access to the same means, and, practically the same opportunity.

Not so good.

There was small use considering their characters or temperaments. They were all of Dunbar stock, and that was always conceded to be capable of the most daring deeds, the most erratic actions and the most surprising enormities.

Emory, for choice—and Stone paid little, if any attention to alibis—but there was no definite evidence against the man.

Had he murdered his uncle, he would have gone back to his own rooms before washing off incriminating evidence in his victim’s bathroom.

Yet, would he? Might he not have been clever enough to mess up the bathroom’s tidiness to divert suspicion from himself?

And why the need for great ablutions anyhow? There was no blood shed, no spilling of anything. However, Stone thought, whimsically, ever since the days of Lady Macbeth it has been de rigueur for murderers to wash their hands after the dark deed.

Well, say, then, it could have been Emory, slipping out from the house he was visiting, after all were asleep, and later, slipping back again—say it could have been Emory, it could equally well have been Anna.

By her own telling, she came home about three in the morning. Doctors who diagnose the time of a death, invariably say they cannot be certain, so Anna could have carried out a plan of a hypodermic of venom, easily enough, and after cleverly disarranging the bathroom appointments, slipped back to her own rooms on the floor above.

In that case, there would have been no one to overhear her, not even Emory—she could have proceeded at her leisure.

All true enough, but Stone’s psychology utterly precluded the idea of Anna. Had she done it all, she never would have left the bathroom like that. Had she tried to cast suspicion on an intruder, she would have tossed towels right and left, thrown the sponge on the floor, slid the soap under the tub, and left the whole room in a whirl of disorder. She hadn’t the restraint required to arrange things methodically wrong, to leave the room in studied disarray, to imply the intrusion of a thoughtful murderer—she would have deemed confusion the key note.

No, he couldn’t see Anna in this picture.

Emory? Maybe, but his alibi could be tracked down, so leave him for the present.

Doris and Barbara?

These were problems, indeed.

Stone knew little of their real natures, he had seen them but a few times and then under stress of circumstance.

But they had to be considered. Very well, then, the odds lay against Doris. She was avid for money. Far more so than Barbara, who was so wrapped up in her new romance that she thought of little else.

And Clive Rankin was well to do. Not with a fortune such as Barbara expected to have when her uncle died—but a goodly income.

To be sure, the very fact that she thought of marrying again, might have roused in Barbara’s heart the desire for more money, for a great fortune, and this she could be sure of, she thought, once Uncle Bruce was out of the way.

All very horrible, but with four heirs, each confidently believing in an inheritance of nearly a score of millions, and—human nature being what it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be, Stone was forced to believe one of the victims of the old man’s grim humor, had chosen a terrible revenge.

Not, of course, meant as revenge, but brought about by his last and most tantalizing jest.

And, again, need it have been only one? Suppose two had been in collusion, agreeing to share the fortune afterward? This would presumably point to Emory and Anna, but might it not equally well have been Doris and Barbara?

Stone smiled a little as he remembered how the Inspector had argued that to find out which will was signed last would point to the murderer. It only proved Barton was considering too hastily.

Those two points had nothing to do with one another. To learn which was the last signature was to determine the heir, but not necessarily to discover the criminal.

And then and there, Fleming Stone vowed that he would find out which of the three wills was signed last, or never take up another case. This was a rash decision, for he had a way of keeping his word, even to himself. And, so far, he had in mind, no way of going about the puzzle.

I must see the executors, he concluded, for I may gather some side lights from them.

Also, and surely, I must track down more of the witnesses. With those three lawyers, six witnesses and six executors, I have fifteen people, and I refuse to remember the fact that I have already talked with the three lawyers, all the available witnesses and some of the executors. All the executors seem to be old and doddering, but for that very reason I may learn something from them. Dunbar might have waxed confidential with his old cronies.

It may be, his thoughts ran on, that the real heir, the beneficiary of the last signed will, is the murderer; but I think not. I think old Dunbar knew the characters of his young relatives pretty thoroughly, and I don’t believe the heir he chose is the one who had the deviltry to kill him.

I may as well admit my sympathies lean toward Anna, but I must beware of that tendency. She is far deeper than I at first thought her, she was pretty well fed up with her life under her uncle’s roof, and she is very much a Dunbar.

Wherefore, I start off to-morrow morning to collect executors in person, and leave the tracking down of the murderer to the gentle art of the police, at least for the moment.

It was not with great expectations that Fleming Stone started out to see the various and sundry executors.

He rather fancied that the four men he was going to see, had not taken their appointment as executors very seriously, for he had been told, often, that the frequency with which Bruce Dunbar turned out new wills, made it extremely unlikely that any of them would be in force for long.

Stone had procured the addresses from the respective lawyers, and decided to go first to see the two executors of the will drawn by John Hale.

These men were Henry Simpson and Jonathan Brown.

The first he found at his home in the East Eighties, and received a courteous welcome.

But Mr. Simpson was rather vague in his statements, and seemed bored with the whole matter.

“Yes,” he said, “in a thoughtless moment, I did tell Dunbar I’d be one of his executors. A long time afterward, he reminded me of my promise and told me the time had come. I don’t know just what an executor has to do, but I fancied it would take a lot of my time, and I tried to get out of it. But, no, Bruce held me to my promise, and I had to agree, stipulating that the other executor should be young and of a more industrious nature than I. Instead of that, what does he do but select Jonathan Brown, who is older than I am, and even less inclined to work. Then John Hale is the lawyer, and he’s as old as the two of us put together.”

“Oh, come now, Mr. Simpson,” Stone laughed, “not quite that. I find Mr. Hale an able lawyer, in spite of his years.”

“Able, but disabled, eh?” and the old man laughed heartily at his mild joke.

Stone did not join in his merriment, for he was annoyed at the man’s indifference to the wishes of an old friend.

“Bruce himself was the fellow for jokes,” went on the reminiscent Mr. Simpson; “did you ever hear how he fooled me about a Deed of Gift? Deed of Gift! Ha, ha! Why, you see, it was this way; I thought—”

“Awfully sorry to interrupt, sir, but this is my busy day. Now, if you’ll answer a few questions,” Stone looked sharply at him, “first, when did Mr. Dunbar ask you about being executor for his will signed last July?”

“Hell! I don’t know. When the will was ready, I suppose. I wasn’t a witness, I didn’t sign anything. Lord, why can’t people let me alone? Anything else you want to know?”

“Yes; what did he tell you about his choice of an heir?”

“Said it was one of the girls. I forget which one— Barbie, I think. Handsome woman, haven’t seen her for years, though. I’m not quite sure, but yes, I think it was Barbara. She was the daughter of—”

“Yes, it was Barbara—”

“Then why did you ask me? Well, what do you want me to do? What are the duties of an executor? I’ve never been one before.”

“And you may not be now. I think I won’t trouble you further at this time, Mr. Simpson. If necessary, the family lawyer will see you.”

“All right. Hope it won’t be necessary. Old Bruce was a good fellow but crazy as a loon. Loony—yes, that’s it, loony as a loon!”

And Stone left the old man to the enjoyment of his own wit.

He began to feel the Fates were against him. He was almost certain the other one of this precious pair of executors would be no more satisfactory than the first.

However, he went to the large house on Riverside Drive, which had the honor of sheltering Jonathan Brown.

Mr. Brown was totally unlike Henry Simpson, but even more unlovable.

He was precise in manner and speech, meticulous as to his own veracity and absurdly careful of his diction.

Still, he seemed intelligent, and wide-awake, and Stone hoped for some information.

“Oh, yes,” he replied, when questioned, “oh, yes, sir, I am one of the executors of Bruce Dunbar’s will. When he conferred upon me the honor of that position, he told me the terms of his will. You are aware of those terms, Mr. Stone? Terms, do I say? Perhaps that is not the right word for what I mean to express. Should I say the dispensations? the testamentary allotments?”

“Your first phrasing will do, Mr. Brown. You are acquainted with the chief legatee, Mrs. Corbin?”

“Barbara? Oh, yes, I have known her many years. I was overcome with surprise when Bruce Dunbar told me she was his heiress. But he gave me to understand that the will was to be kept secret, that I was to tell no one at all of its contents, nor, indeed, of its existence. And now he is dead, and Barbara is owner of all those millions! I could wish he had divided his great wealth among the four young people, but he was a strange sort, was Bruce Dunbar. I never liked Barbara.”

The last sentence was uttered so calmly, even casually, that Fleming Stone was startled. Of this he showed no sign, merely said:

“Why not?”

“Oh, she’s bad—bad all through. She runs about with a semi-Bohemian crowd, and they’ve no idea of dignity or proper behavior. They have fearful carousals. Doris, now; she’s the aristocrat of the lot. She has dignity and culture. She married a good-for-nothing—oh, well, Steve’s all right, and he’s devoted to her, but he has no education to speak of.”

“The Dunbars are scholarly, then?”

“That’s putting it a mite too strongly. Bruce was fond of books and Anna and Emory, living with him have absorbed some of his literary tastes, but not much. They probably prefer the paltry piffle turned out to-day to the classics or other worthwhile literature.”

Fleming Stone sighed. This chatter was getting him nowhere.

“Mr. Dunbar left what seemed to me a well selected library,” he said, as he rose to go.

“Yes, I’ll agree to that. But don’t go, Mr. Stone; I want you to tell me more about the estate. When will the will be probated? When will Barbara get her inheritance?”

“I must refer you to Mr. Sutton. He is the family lawyer. Complications have arisen, which will, of course, be explained to you by him, or doubtless by Emory Dunbar, if you make inquiries. You are certainly privileged to know.”

Stone departed feeling pretty well fed up with executors and deciding to try for some of the missing witnesses.

The other two executors were hopeless, anyhow, he felt, for one was dead and the other very ill.

So he concluded finally to go to the home of John Mills, the man who had been one of the witnesses to the will Pennock had drawn, but who had since died.

There was always a chance of learning something from the surviving family.

A pleasant faced woman received him, who said she was the widow of John Mills.

“You will pardon me, Madame,” said Stone courteously, “if I ask for a few moments of your time.”

“Oh, yes, sir. Fact is, time hangs heavy on my hands. Since I lost my John, I don’t take any interest in gadding about.”

“And your children, ma’am, are they not company for you?”

“Laws, no. One lives up in Canada, and the other out West. I was just telling Mr. Pennock, as how, if I had a bit more money, I’d go out West to live, too.”

“Your husband left you some insurance, I trust.”

“Yes, sir; that’s what I’m living on. That and a bit from Mr. Pennock, now and then. He’s a right generous man, sir.”

“He is so. And what do you do for him in return?”

“Oh, nothing much. Tell of something John told him, belike, or verify something John told him.”

“That’s good, that you can be of help to him. And what is he coming to see you about now?”

“About John’s signing of that there will of Mr. Dunbar’s. You see, my husband and me, we always goes to the pictures of a Wednesday evening,” she paused to wipe away some tears, “I mean, we always did, when he was alive.”

“Yes, that must have been pleasant.”

“Oh, yes, sir, John was such a good, kind man. Well one night in July, the twenty-fifth, it was, we went as usual, and we had supper early, as we always did when we went to the movies, and so John came home a bit early. Now, Mr. Pennock, he says, that I must remember that on that very night, John stayed late to sign that there will, and when I’m asked about it, I must say so. Of course, Mr. Pennock, he don’t want me to tell a fib, he’s an awful good man himself, but he says I’m mistaken. Now, I ain’t mistaken, I’m right, ’cause we saw Mae Murray, and I’m just crazy about her.”

“Well, you may be mistaken, you know. And Mr. Pennock gave you some money? He’s a very kind man.”

“Yes, ain’t he? He did give me some, but that had nothing to do with my goin’ to the picture.”

“No, of course not. For I’m going to give you some now, and that has nothing to do with any picture. I just feel that you may be a little short without your husband’s salary, and I’m glad to be of help.”

“Oh, thank you, sir,” and Mrs. Mills eagerly clutched at the bill Stone held out.

He went away, cheered by the fact that he had at least learned one thing that he could rely on.

Pennock was crooked.

To be sure, it was not a heinous crime to urge Mrs. Mills to make her husband’s homecoming that day seem later than it was, and it was obviously in the interest of his client to have the implication that the will he drew was the last one signed. But he did pay out money for this bit of false evidence, and if it were ever used, it could be questioned.

Stone made his way to the Dunbar house, and found Anna and Emory in a great state of excitement, which Samuel Sutton shared.

“Oh, come up here, Mr. Stone,” Anna called over the banisters, “the queerest thing has happened! Tell him, Mr. Sutton.”

“It is queer,” said Sutton, as Stone came into the sitting-room, “I have here a letter from Bruce Dunbar. It has just come to me, through the post-office.”

Stone looked at the envelope, addressed in the dead man’s handwriting, and postmarked in New York, the day before.

“He must have left it with some one to be mailed after his death,” the detective surmised. “What’s it about?”

Sutton handed over the letter, and Stone read, aloud:

“Dear Sutton: If you are bothered, old chap, as to conflicting wills, here’s a way out for you. Go to the Public Library, and ask for certain books, five of them. When you have them,—they are well known volumes,—look on pages 1778, 326, 68, 308, 19. One page in each book. This done, rightly, you will at once recognize the person I have chosen for my heir, and who is named in my last Will and Testament. That will can then be probated. If you’re unable to undertake this, set the youngsters to work on it. If they are smart, they can compass it, and thus learn the name of my favorite relative. Bruce Dunbar.”

It was indubitably in Dunbar’s writing, and was probably written in good faith.


Chapter 16
A Puzzling Problem

“Can you beat it?” asked Emory in tones of deepest disgust. “Five books, great big books, for they have thousands of pages—”

“Not all of them,” Anna interrupted; “some are low numbers—nineteen, sixty-eight—”

“What matter how big or little, since we don’t know the books?” Emory scowled.

“And anyway,” he went on, “if we found all those five numbers, I’ll bet it would just be another joke on us. We’d find a different one of our names on each page, and where would that get us? We’d be just where we are now.”

“Maybe not,” said Anna, thoughtfully, “maybe one name would be found twice, and then we’d know that was the one.”

“Know nothing!” her cousin exploded. “It’s too silly. Talk about a needle in a haystack! Five books in a library of millions. I vote we tear up the damned letter, and never think of it again!”

“You’re afraid it will point to one of us girls,” Anna told him, calmly. “I’m for having a try at it. Mayn’t I, Mr. Sutton? Will you help me, Mr. Stone? I love puzzles.”

As Stone himself had vaguely wished for a cryptogram or cipher to work out, he quickly agreed.

“Indeed I will. But it doesn’t look particularly easy to me. Moreover, he doesn’t promise that on these pages we will find your names. Only that we can recognize the person. As, say, we might strike a reference to Barbarossa, and that would mean Barbara.”

“Or it might be ‘a perfect woman, nobly planned,’” Emory put in, “and Anna would claim that meant her.”

“Thank you, dear,” and Anna smiled at him, “that was a nice compliment. Or it might be a poem called Memory. And Em would declare Uncle meant him to strike off the M and leave Emory.”

“That’s ingenious, Anna,” Stone praised her. “I’ll help you and we’ll have a try at it. Suppose we leave the letter in Mr. Sutton’s keeping, and each of us take a copy of the numbers. And we must give a copy to the other two, also.”

“But how will you begin?” Emory asked, with a puzzled face.

“I doubt if we begin at all,” Stone replied. “It looks to me impossible of solution. Some puzzles are. Yet there may be a hint, if we think it over carefully.”

“No,” Sutton declared, “I think not. I think the distorted mind of Bruce made him work up this silly scheme to tantalize you all, and give you a lot of unnecessary and unsuccessful trouble.”

“It would be logical,” Stone mused, “to look for the largest number first. Only a very big book would have over seventeen hundred pages.”

“But there are thousands of books as big as that,” Emory objected.

“And that isn’t the worst of it,” Stone smiled, “even the one on page nineteen may be in a book containing hundreds of pages. A small number needn’t mean a small book.”

“I shan’t waste any of my time on such foolishness,” and Emory looked scornful.

“Of course not,” and Anna laughed at him. “You’ll leave it to us to do the work, and then share in the knowledge it brings, if any.”

“If any, is right. Waste your time, if you want to, you’ll get nothing out of it. And, too, Mr. Sutton, I’ll bet you’ll get more of these notes. Uncle may have left a lot of them with Crowe or somebody, to mail after he died.”

“But your uncle didn’t expect to die, Emory, did he?”

“No, Mr. Stone, not that I know of. But he always insisted he had heart disease, and might drop off any minute. Doctor Larcom said this wasn’t so, but Uncle persisted in his belief. Perhaps a letter will come soon to the real heir!”

“And you think you’ll get it!” cried Anna. “Well, sir, I don’t believe you will.”

“Be quiet, Anna,” said Sutton, “I do wish you children weren’t so quarrelsome.”

“That isn’t quarrelling,” she smiled at the old man; “and we aren’t children.”

“I wash my hands of this whole Library business. I’ve neither time nor inclination to fool with it. I give it into your charge, Mr. Stone. I will keep the original document, and you must see that Doris and Barbara have a copy of the numbers, as is their just due.”

“Yes, sir,” and Stone nodded. “They may pitch on the solution at once. By accident, or by a knack at puzzles, which many brains have. I’ve always thought I had that knack, but I feel pretty sure this is going to baffle me. The scope is too wide and the data too insufficient.”

“Perhaps I can help you, Mr. Stone,” Anna said, seriously. “I know the authors Uncle Bruce liked best.”

“They’re just the ones he would leave out.” Emory told her.

“Well, there’s no use going to the Library until we have something definite to call for. I’m going to think it over. Do you want me any more just now, Mr. Sutton?”

He didn’t, but somebody else did.

Inspector Barton came in rather stormily.

He had never had such an annoying case before, and it was getting on his nerves.

Despite Anna’s presence, he waxed ugly, and exclaimed :

“No sort of a case! Nothing to bite on. Hell of a lot of suspects, and no evidence. Here’s four of the dead man’s kin, any one of which has reason to desire his death in order to inherit the fortune which each believes will be his or hers. Now it’s been pretty well proved that Mr. Dunbar was killed by snake venom, but not by his own snake. Who provided that snake venom? Who brought it here and administered it? You don’t know, any of you? Well, I do.”

Fleming Stone became suddenly alert. He had not expected Barton to be successful so soon in finding real evidence. But had he?

“Tell us, Inspector,” the detective said. “That’s the sort of information we want. Who did?”

Barton turned to Anna.

“Miss Forrest,” he said, a trifle abruptly, “you assured me that you told no one of the will your uncle had given you, leaving his fortune largely to you?”

“I did tell you so, and it is true.”

“Not quite. You may not have told outright, but from hints that you dropped, another learned of your expectations.”

Anna’s lovely face went white.

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, in a mere whisper, while the two pink spots appearing on her pale cheeks informed them all that she did know.

“Then I’ll tell you what I mean,” the Inspector proceeded; his tone phlegmatic rather than belligerent. “You may not have told your friend, Mr. Ward, but you said things, intentionally or not, that led him to think you had reason to believe you would be your uncle’s heiress.”

“Perhaps I did, Inspector,” Anna began to recover her poise, “but if so, it was done inadvertently, even unconsciously. I remember one day, Jake—Mr. Ward said he believed I had expectations, and I didn’t deny it. But I can’t see how that could do any real harm. I certainly didn’t kill Uncle Bruce to get his money!”

“No?” Barton’s voice was unpleasant now. “But your friend Mr. Ward may have brought about such a consummation.”

“What!” Anna lost control of her temper. Her blue eyes flashed like ice in the sunlight. Her reddened lips straightened into a hard line, and her hands clenched on the arms of her chair.

“How dare you say such a thing? How dare you imply such a thing? Get out of this house! This is my house, and I order you out of it!”

“Now, now, Anna,” Emory went over and sat beside her, “don’t lose your head. You only harm your own interests by such an exhibition of fury, and it doesn’t get you anywhere. Keep quiet, now, and listen to what the Inspector has to say. Go on, Barton. You can’t imply a thing without explanation, you know.”

“Oh, I’ll explain all right. And I can do it in mighty few words. Mr. Jacob Ward went to a chemist, whom he knows well, and asked him to procure for him some snake venom, saying he required knowledge of it for a paper he was writing, to be printed in a scientific magazine. This chemist, having all faith in his friend, gave him the venom, without question.

“As we know, Mr. Ward and Miss Forrest came to this house about the time Mr. Dunbar was infected with such a poison, and you must all admit the matter calls for investigation.”

“Investigation first, of your statements, Inspector,” said Stone, with a serious air. “Am I to understand that you are assuming that because Mr. Ward learned that Miss Forrest was the prospective heiress to a great fortune, he set about murdering the owner of that fortune in order that Miss Forrest might inherit at once? That he was stupid enough to go to an intimate friend and ask for snake venom, and soon after, choose an opportunity of which he made no secret, to come here and administer the poison? Do you think a sane, alert young man of the present generation could so blindly stick his head into a noose?”

“It seems to us incredible,” Barton returned, easily, “but a youth, inexperienced in crime, takes no heed of the scientific detection that will surely be brought to bear on his case. He thinks only of committing his crime unseen, and like the ostrich, hides his head to further developments.”

“That ostrich performance is not now given credence,” Stone told him, “but I am not thinking of his line of argument. I refer to yours. You have been told that Mr. Ward bought or was given some snake venom, and you have been told that Mr. Dunbar died of such a poison. Have you any links between those two incidents? Any evidence that Mr. Dunbar died from the effect of the venom that Mr. Ward procured?”

“I have not, nor do I need any. I claim that the links you ask for are there, connecting the cause and effect. We shall, of course, discover them, and, unless they can be explained away, we must depend on their significance.”

“As to that, their significance must first be established. We await such a condition.”

Sutton was about to make some reply to this, when Emory burst out: “Significance! Yes, plenty of it, but it doesn’t lead to any connection with the death of Uncle Bruce. Mr. Stone hit it exactly, when he said Jake Ward would never be such a damn fool as to stage his murder in full view of an interested audience! Jake is not a moron, and he’s a damn good sort, beside. Whoever sneaked up into his bedroom and fed Uncle Bruce poison, it wasn’t old Jake! Why Jake’s Anna’s friend.”

Anna showed her amazement at this exhibition of loyalty on the part of her usually indifferent cousin, and gave him a pleased smile.

But Barton went on, unheeding.

“All right, Mr. Dunbar, but I must pursue my own course. Those two young people wanted to be freed from the tyranny of the erratic old gentleman, wanted the fortune to which they looked forward, and having a perfect opportunity, they made use of it. Or, perhaps, Mr. Ward alone. He visited Bruce Dunbar’s bedroom, administered the fatal shots of venom, and then opened the door of the cobra’s cage in order it should be laid to the pet snake. Then he went downstairs, out at the front door and home.”

“And so home and to bed?” sneered Emory. “Well, let me tell you, Mr. Inspector, he did nothing of the sort.”

“It’s too much of a coincidence,” the Inspector went on, unheeding Emory’s remarks. “Cobra venom procured by an interested party and cobra venom used to kill. Can’t see it. Explain that, any one who can.”

Then Samuel Sutton spoke.

“If young Ward did know of the will Anna held, if he did ask his chemist friend for cobra venom, if he did come home here with Anna, during the hours Mr. Dunbar is adjudged to have been killed, then— if these things are all true—then, we must grant the lad motive, means and opportunity, and those three things I am told constitute a case.”

“Case? I should say so!” stormed Barton. “It’s the first definite way to look that we have found, and I propose to look that way.”

“Look, then!” and Emory frowned. “I fully agree with the theory that somebody came into my uncle’s room and administered that venom stuff, but it wasn’t Jake Ward. By the way what is the stuff exactly? Anybody know?”

Stone informed him.

“It’s a limpid, yellowish substance. It dries without losing its venomous power. Sometimes it is used in a bullet or to tip an arrow. In this instance it could have been dissolved in water and used in a hypodermic needle. I am told Mr. Dunbar took sleeping medicine every night. This was pheno-barbitol, a strong soporific, and he could have been entirely unconscious of the jab of the needle. As to who administered the venom, that is in the province of the police. They, I feel sure, will discover the murderer, but I am inclined to think it was not Mr. Ward. Personally, I am going to devote my immediate attention to this eccentric letter that Mr. Sutton received. I assume, sir, you will show it to Inspector Barton. If he chooses to put his expert puzzle-solvers on it, I should be glad to learn the results. Meanwhile, I shall tackle the problem, and if I learn anything definite, will report at once.”

Stone went away then, and Barton said, heartily: “There’s one thing I like about that man. He never holds out on us. What he learns, he tells.”

“He’ll get at these figures, if anybody can,” Sutton surmised. “But I don’t look for any information from such a source.”

Alone in his study, Fleming Stone brought his attention to bear on the strange task that faced him.

He had decided that he would put an hour on the study of the list of book pages, and if then he had found no light, he would give up the matter as something not worth wasting time over.

He scanned the numbers, but gathered nothing from them.

He felt sure the facts were as stated by Dunbar, that those designated pages would contain the name of the relative he wished to be his chief heir. That would go far toward showing which will was signed last.

He considered the names of the holders of the four disputed wills.

On a page of what sort of book would he be likely to find the name Emory or Doris or Barbara or Anna?

Or perhaps their last names, which were all different.

It seemed to him, it must be a book of fiction. Only in a story would appear those rather unusual names. He could think of no one of them as figuring in history or biography or poetry, or in Belles Lettres, a favorite field of his.

He gazed long at his own bookshelves. Plenty of essays and poems; a few of the best detective stories, some books about crime, some foreign books and two or three outstanding biographies.

One bookcase held rare editions of some favorite authors, another, some especial bindings.

There was no dead wood; modern literature stayed on his shelves for a time and was then discarded or retained permanently, as its worth was proved.

He looked about for big books, with more than a thousand pages, but found only a few. The one really large number, 1778, must be in a big book.

His eye fell on the telephone book, in its leather cover. He smiled, then suddenly grabbed it. Turning the pages, he found all the names, and one of them, Anna’s, was on page 308.

That corresponded to one number on the list, but it was scarcely a real test. Page 308 in some other book might hold the name of Doris. Still, it was a start.

He thought over the names. Of the four, Anna was the only one likely to be found.

He thought over all the Annas he could remember.

There was Anna Karenina, but Stone didn’t think Bruce Dunbar was very familiar with Russian fiction.

Then he remembered Anna, the Prophetess, in the New Testament. He took down his Bible, and easily found the reference in Luke, for he was familiar with the Scriptures. But the page number had no duplicate on his list of five. But another edition of the Bible might have.

He became aware that he was paying attention only to Anna’s name. This, though, was because he could remember no occurrence of Doris or Barbara or Emory in print. Oh, yes, there was Barbara Allen.

His hour was nearly up. He had made no progress, and was about to give up his quest, when some subconscious association sent ringing through his brain, the line:

“Anna’s the name of names for me.”

He recognized it at once, the refrain of a ballade by W. E. Henley.

Would Dunbar have been familiar with such a flower of poesy? He suddenly remembered that the Ballade in question was published in a little blue volume containing other French Forms. He remembered, too, that he had seen this book on the shelf in the Dunbars’ sitting-room.

Smiling at his own rambling thoughts, he rose and took the little book from his shelf of favorite poetry.

Yes, there it was, the charming tour de force, and—on page nineteen! Had he really struck it? Was this poem meant by Bruce Dunbar, in his letter to Sutton?

However, such a vague clue would mean nothing in a court of law. That is, unless he found more to corroborate it.

He thought desperately. He dug up from the depths of his memory, a reference to Anna in the Apocrypha, but that, too, was not on a designated page. A line of Pope’s flashed through his mind.

“And thou, great Anna, whom three realms obey, Dost sometimes counsel take, and—sometimes tea.”

He hadn’t a complete Pope, but he looked it up in his Bartlett. And there it was on page 326!

Really, he was on the right track. He would go to the Public Library, and see if he could check up the other numbers in different editions.

And yet, he sighed. After all that was too flimsy a piece of evidence. If he got all five of those quotations and all pointed to Anna, it would mean little, legally.

Yet it would help, if, in addition, he could find out which will was signed last.

This, he was determined to do. He proposed to go back to what he called old-time methods. He planned to scrutinize the wills themselves for hints of the rotation of signing. He meant to quiz the lawyers and their witnesses more carefully, and he determined to make that his chief endeavor from now on. The murderer could be tracked down by the police, but the last will signed, he felt they might never discover.

He had felt himself, that the killing of Bruce Dunbar was not done by any of his relatives. Now, if the police really had evidence against Jake Ward, perhaps in collusion with Anna and perhaps not, they could wrestle with that proposition while he, Stone, pursued his work of determining the identity of the chief legatee.

To be sure one problem involved the other, but Fleming Stone was ever more interested in a problem than a man-hunt.

And he was determined he would not suspect the young people until confronted by indubitable proof.

Anna was too dear and sweet to be connected with the ugly act of murder. True, she had a quick temper, but that in no way portended a carefully premeditated crime. Doris was too stately, too really highbred, to go around poisoning people. Barbara was a sane, straightforward sort, with high ideals of morality and justice. And Emory, after all, was the scion of the house of Dunbar, and Stone didn’t believe his own family honor would allow him to kill.

Yet, as all signs fail in dry weather, Stone well knew that murder had been committed by people even less suspectable than these sorely tried dependents of an unreasonable and irascible old man.

Nor did he give a thought to the servants. His knowledge of human nature and his natural intuition told him that there was no reason to suspect any of the staff, and after careful watching of them, he concluded there was no hint of guilt.

He watched also the three men interested in the three nieces.

But he saw in them nothing to justify a shadow of suspicion, even though now, Jake Ward was deemed guilty for Anna’s sake, or for their combined welfare.

He must keep his eye on them, for though he knew them to be innocent, or thought he did, there were many ways in which they could be misunderstood and sadly misjudged.

Also, his thoughts ran on: he must get at those clues he had, from the bathroom of Bruce Dunbar.

Already he had built up a midnight intruder, who, after contriving his hateful deed with the syringe, had washed himself pretty thoroughly in the bathroom, and had even had the nerve to walk away with a new lead pencil.

None of these things was forgotten, but was ever in Stone’s mind, though pushed back by more immediate concerns.

And next in order came the signatures of the wills.

Something peculiar to each that would fix its place in the routine!

A large order, that, yet he proposed to compass it.

And he proposed to start at once.

He telephoned to the District Attorney, told him what he wanted and received from that perceptive and efficient friend, permission to go ahead in the way he suggested.

Wherefore our redoubtable Investigator called Lawyer Hale’s office on the telephone. He informed Barnes, who answered, that he must have the Dunbar will right away, the signed copy, and begged that it be sent instanter by Colby. And it was done.

Likewise, Pennock, who demurred at giving up his signed will to Stone. But a judiciously worded message, purporting to be from the District Attorney, brought immediate compliance.

To Stone’s surprise, the will Saunders held was the hardest to obtain.

But persuasion did it, and inside half an hour, Fleming Stone sat triumphant, the three documents spread out before him.


Chapter 17
The Last Will Signed

He read through the typed pages hastily, knowing full well the contents and smiling a little at the different locutions used by the three lawyers.

He noted, without special interest, the various signatures, taking occasion to look at the most obvious traits of character shown by the autographs of the lawyers, the witnesses and Bruce Dunbar himself.

On the last, the signature of the testator held his attention.

As nearly alike as three signatures by the same hand usually are, he seemed to see a difference in one of them. It was just as surely the writing of Bruce Dunbar as were the other two, but something had happened to it.

He scanned it very closely, and then pulled open a drawer to get his strongest magnifying glass.

“Sherlock Holmes in action,” he said to himself, with a grin.

Eagerly he scrutinized the signature of Bruce Dunbar to the will that made Anna his heiress.

He was not mistaken. The name Dunbar was written with different ink from that used in writing Bruce!

Now what could be the explanation of that?

It was beyond all doubt a fact. The surname showed letters of a slightly bluish cast, while the Christian name stood forth in letters of jet black.

Moreover, the D of Dunbar, was a bit untidy, as if written over twice. Yes, it was. He could see the first D, faintly, and a strong black D above it, not of course, identical, but doubtless by the same hand. Odd, it had not been remarked. But it was not conspicuous; merely a somewhat messy looking capital and the rest of the word clear and plain.

But, of a different ink.

He called Saunders on the telephone and asked for a moment’s talk.

“Did you watch the testator sign the will?” he said, not wanting to speak more plainly.

“Oh, yes,” Saunders told him, catching on at once.

“Did he write his name—er—continuously?”

“Why, yes—oh, no, he had some bother with his pen, and Miss Banks handed him hers.”

“So he used his own pen in part, and finished up with hers?”

“That’s about it. No bother as to that, is there?”

“Oh, no, indeed. But keep it a state secret.”

“Secret it is. Anything more?”

“Not now. Good-by.”

Fleming Stone had various helpers. He sent for one now, and soon appeared a good-looking young woman, with capability and efficiency written all over her.

“Sarah,” he said, “I want you to go at once to see a Miss Bundy. Here’s the full address. She is a close friend of Miss Lulu Banks, one time secretary to Mr. Saunders. Miss Banks is now in Hollywood and Miss Bundy is to give you her address, or an address that will find her. There is to be no question about this. Miss Bundy must give you the information, and you may use any necessary means to get it from her. Bribery and corruption, battle, murder and sudden death, or merely your own famous powers of cajolery. But get it—or never-r-r darken my door again.”

“Yes, Mr. Stone,” and the efficient one permitted herself a small smile.

“Yes, Miss Crawfut. Then, having done that, telephone to said address—”

“In Hollywood,” it was not a question.

“In Hollywood or Timbuctoo or Greenland’s Icy Mountains, or any other address that is hinted at. Keep at it until you get her, or get definite and authoritative news of her. Then tell her I will call her again at any time that suits her convenience, as I want a ten-minute conversation with her. If it suits her better to call me, give her a gentle hint that any such expense will rest on my shoulders. But succeed. Find her, make a talking appointment for me with her, and advise her, if necessary, that it is, or may be, a matter of life or death. Advise her that it’s greatly a favor to Mr. Saunders, and advise her, too, if it seems to you in line with her thoughts, that she may be financially benefited by the whole enterprise. But get her!”

Fleming Stone rose, gave his caller a smile and a handshake and the efficient Miss Crawfut departed.

More telephoning, then, the Private Investigator indulged in.

He often thought the telephone was a boon not entirely appreciated by all and sundry, but he found it a decided help as to time and trouble.

He called Hale’s office, and, getting young Colby, decided quickly to talk with him instead of Barnes.

“Listen sharp, young man,” he said, “pay strict attention and answer briefly. You remember the day when a gentleman signed a will in your employer’s office, which we have discussed since?”

“Yessir,” was the succinct reply.

“Did he use his own pen or one of the office equipment?”

“His own.”

“Fountain pen?”


“Did it work all right? Did he have to shake it or pound it to make the ink flow?”

“Nothing like that. Worked O. K.”

“And he signed his name uninterruptedly, with his own pen?”

“Exactly that.”

“Thank you, Colby; that’s all. Good-by.”

Stone cradled his telephone with a look of satisfaction.

And then, glancing at the clock, he found it was time for his expected guest to arrive.

This guest, who came promptly, was Guy Moore, the clever and capable clerk whom Pennock had found it necessary to discharge.

“We won’t go into details,” Stone said, as they began serious conversation, “but do you feel that Mr. Pennock did you an injustice in dispensing with your services?”

“Not to go into details,” the frowning young man replied, “I’ll say he played me the hell of a mean trick.”

“You not having played any mean trick on him?”

“Well, maybe I did, but—”

“As I said, let us omit details. I want to ask you a few questions which, I feel sure, are in no sense underhanded or unfair. You may answer them or not, as you prefer.”

“That’s fair enough. Like as not I won’t want to answer them.”

“Then you needn’t. You were present, last July, the twenty-fifth, to be exact, when Mr. Bruce Dunbar signed his will?”

“Sure I was! Why, I was a witness.”

“Yes, I know. Now, did you look at Mr. Dunbar while he wrote his name? Did you chance to do that?”

“I did, yes. I was sorter interested in an old geezer who had twenty millions to throw to the birds, and I looked at him in idle curiosity, I suppose.”

“That was entirely justifiable. And did you observe whether he wrote his name consecutively, without pausing from the first letter to the last?”

“He did that very thing. And with a strong, firm fist, too. I looked at him, because I expected to see his hand tremble. But no, he fairly dashed off his moniker!”

“I see. That’s what I wanted to know. It was his own pen?”

“I suppose so. He took it from his breast pocket, and put it back there again.”

“Nothing the matter with it? Not in need of refilling?”

“Positively not. I always keep watch of such things when a client is signing. And Mr. Dunbar was in a bit of a hurry. He whisked out old Mr. Pen, scribbled his stuff, and whisked it back again. In another moment, he was up and off.”

“You tarried later? It was already closing time, wasn’t it?”

“That I don’t remember. It was late afternoon, but I don’t think we had thought of going home.”

“No? Now, one more trifle. You know, doubtless, of that little way Mr. Pennock has of quivering his eyelids a little?”

“Well, yes, I know what you mean. But Mr. Pennock doesn’t do that on purpose. I mean, not of his own volition.”

“Why does he do it then?”

“He can’t help it. It’s just a—well, I suppose a habit.”

“And when does he do it?”

“That’s telling,” and Guy Moore smiled at the questioner.

“What do you mean by that?”

“I’m not sure I ought to tell you, sir. But, then, why not? I owe no consideration to the man. Mr. Pennock does that, Mr. Stone, when he is aware that he is not telling the truth.”

“Gives himself away, then!”

“Yes, but unconsciously! He doesn’t know he does it. I suppose it’s a reflex nervous action. The analysts could tell you. Anyway, when you see that little signal, depend upon it you’re not getting the straight goods.”

“This is very interesting. I assume others know of it?”

“Yes, and Mr. Pennock is learning to control it. He’ll be even more dangerous when he discards that entirely.”

“Mr. Moore,” and Fleming Stone looked grave, “you do not admire Mr. Pennock, I take it.”

“I do not, sir. To put it in a few well chosen words, Mr. Pennock is a thief and a liar.”

“You speak truthfully and from personal knowledge?”

“Truthfully, indeed, and from intimate personal knowledge.”

“I make no apology for asking and listening to these revelations, for it is purely in the interests of law and justice. One more question, only. Can you tell me if Mr. Ralston ever has called on Mr. Pennock professionally?”

“I know he has called on Mr. Pennock in the office, but whether the call was a professional one or not, I cannot say.”

“Then, as you seem to imply, they had friendly relations.”

“Oh, yes; they belong to the same clubs, and they are both longtime friends of the Dunbar family. And, don’t misunderstand me, Mr. Stone. When I call Pennock a liar, it is because he often shades the truth to suit his own purposes; and when I call him a thief, it is because he is not so meticulously honest in his financial dealings. Without descending to real thievery, if he can turn a more or less honest dollar by certain manipulations, he will do so.”

“You left him for some of these reasons?”

“Partly, and partly because he couldn’t help seeing that I was seeing too much and he wanted me out of the way. I was quite willing to leave, but I didn’t want to be kicked out. However, we concluded not to discuss details.”

“And wisely. Now, Mr. Moore, are you willing to keep all we have said, confidential?”

“More than willing, and if at any time you want to know more, in the interests of law and justice, ask me and I’ll tell you.”

The young man went away, and Fleming Stone, rejoiced at the continued success of his investigations, welcomed the hour of dinner, with a satisfied feeling of mind and body.

During his pleasantly selected and carefully prepared dinner, the Private Investigator sat eating his food but giving no heed as to whether he ate edibles or pebbles.

The expression on his face was almost one of awe! It is true! he told himself. There can be no doubt of any sort. Bruce Dunbar meant to make Anna his chief legatee, he did make her his chief legatee, and the proof is positive to all who look at it honestly. But—would it stand in a court of law? Yes, in addition to the clever and curious proof of the names designated on the book pages, it gave convincing evidence that he was right in his deductions.

He could scarce believe it! Little Anna heiress to an enormous fortune. How upset Emory would be! And Doris and Barbara!

He must take the news at once to Sutton, who would be flabbergasted.

He had, though, other matters to attend to first.

He started out from home to call on the Ralstons and on Barbara.

He went to Doris’s home first, and found the Ralstons were out. A pleasant-faced maid met him and asked if she could do anything for him.

He looked at her appraisingly. At first, he was inclined to say no, but an impulse struck him and he smiled at her in a rather curious way.

“I wonder—” he said, with his fascinating grin, “now, I wonder if you could. Is it against your rules to let me see some rooms in the house?”

“Oh no, sir, not to you. Mrs. Ralston, and the master, too, they said you was always to be let to go wherever you liked. You want to go in the bedrooms?”

“Yes, and in the lady’s bathroom, please.”

“Oh, they have one big bathroom for both of ’em. It’s a lovely bathroom. I never saw one prettier.”

She tripped up the stairs, in her smart slippers and uniform, and led Stone to the bathroom she had so lauded.

It was an attractive sight. Doris had a preference for pale green and the appointments were in a jade-like, translucent material, with silver fittings and beautiful electric work, while soft pale green rugs lay on the floor. A sunken bathtub of green alabaster showed gently rippling water, and the whole effect was charming in every detail.

Doris, it seemed, showed as much interest in her bathroom as did her Uncle Bruce, and rather more artistic effect.

Stone looked about closely, noting the towels and bath sheets, and suddenly noted a bath glove—such a one as he had remarked in Dunbar’s bathroom the morning after the murder.

“Whose is this?” he cried, laughing at it.

“It’s Mrs. Ralston’s, sir. Her uncle had them, and she used to nip one every time she went there, almost.”

“Stole them? How reprehensible!”

“Oh, no, sir, all his things are hers now, you know.”

Stone nodded, and with a final glance round, left the room in silence.

“Now show me her writing desk,” he proceeded, and followed his guide into Doris’s boudoir, another pastel room in green and mauve.

Stone sat down in front of the writing table, which was far from being all frippery as women’s desks often are. Among other pencils and pens, he spotted one like the one of Crowe’s that was missing.

Idly picking it up, he scribbled a little with it, but when he returned it to the pen-tray, it was dark green instead of dark blue.

No, not by legerdemain, but simply by laying down one of his own pencils in front of an unobservant maid.

As Doris entered, with her husband, Stone looked up, smiling.

“Don’t arrest me,” he cried with a gesture of fear. “I’m not doing wrong.”

“Of course not!” Doris exclaimed; “you live so people won’t do wrong; and perhaps it’s time you got busy.”

“Meaning?” and Stone gave her a quick glance.

“Meaning that you’re letting this thing get away from you.” Doris frowned at him. “You know that the Inspector has nailed Anna and Jake for all the wrong-doing. You know it has been proved that Jake has secretly bought snake venom for some concoction he is making, and that, of course, was what they used to kill Uncle. Then they left the door open, that some one else might be suspected.”

“Rot!” said her husband. “You made that all up, Doris, out of the whole cloth. But Jake did buy snake venom—I wouldn’t believe it, until he admitted it himself. Whose pencil is that, Mr. Stone?”

“My own,” and the Investigator looked surprised at the question. He had now again in his hand the pencil like the one Crowe had missed. “I like a soft pencil.”

“So do I, but I don’t like ’em like cheese! I don’t know where that one came from, do you, Doris?”

“No,” she said, in such a low tone that it was scarcely audible; “but it doesn’t matter at all.”

She eyed the pencil and then glanced at the two men with a distinct showing of embarrassment. Her lips trembled, her fingers twitched a little and she seemed very ill at ease.

“Have you seen the new pencil sharpeners?” Stone asked.

“No,” said Steve, as if wanting to relieve Doris from answering. “I don’t believe they are any improvement on these, either. This is the first one I ever found that I liked.” He took it from the desk drawer, and set it before him. “This can be manipulated with one hand—”

“Oh, I know the kinds,” and Doris gave a petulant frown; “do talk about something else.”

“You don’t know the kinds,” Steve snapped at her. “You don’t know anything about them! Why pretend you do?”

“It isn’t pretence, and I know more about them than you do. You’d better go and tidy up a little, the relatives are coming to dinner—”

Steve left the room angrily, almost slamming the door after him.

“Now you’ve made him mad,” Doris said to Stone; “I hope you’re satisfied.”

“Almost,” agreed Stone, thinking she was the one he wanted to make mad.

“Tell me one thing more, and I’ll be through with this questioning. You told your husband of your uncle’s will and you had promised your uncle not to! What became of your conscience?”

“I did not tell him!”

“You did not tell Mr. Ralston of the great bequest made to you?”

“I most certainly did not!”

“How, then, did he learn it?”

“Has he learned it? But I suppose everybody knows it now.”

“Mr. Ralston knew it before your uncle died.”

“Before Uncle Bruce died? How absurd! He couldn’t have done so! What do you mean by saying that? Do you know more than you have told?”

“Perhaps so. I am not engaged by you, you know.”

“Oh, Mr. Stone, if you know the truth about the wills, do tell me, won’t you? I’ll promise not to tell until you say I may.”

“You’ll all know to-morrow. Surely you can curb your impatience till then?”

“No, I can’t!” she persisted. “Please tell me— oh, do.”

“Let your lawyer tell you. Mr. Pennock is a sharp and shrewd man. He had just the same opportunities that I had to discover the heiress. If he didn’t, then it is certainly not my fault.”

“Oh, he’ll tell me as soon as I can get hold of him. Yes, he is sharp. If you could puzzle it out, he could. Did you do it by the books that Uncle listed?”

“Partly, yes. But if things go well, you’ll know all this evening. Be prepared for a shock, though.”

“I know you’ve discovered the real heiress, and I know it’s me. Now, you know yourself that doesn’t mean I killed Uncle Bruce.”

“Of course, it doesn’t. Here’s just one thing more, those odd washing gloves. Does your husband always use them and does he get them from your uncle’s supply? Did he, I mean?”

“I got them, I used them. Steve had nothing to do with them.”

“Oh. Well, I’ll go along now to do some errands, and I may come here to see you this evening.”

“Do, Mr. Stone. You’re such a help.”

Doris had been like that, all along; scornful, while seemingly pleasant.

Stone found he hadn’t time just then for the call he intended to make on Barbara and he went home, feeling he had quite enough to think over. He realized things were coming to a crisis, though he couldn’t say how soon.

Once home he sent for the faithful Miss Crawfut who announced she had coralled the elusive Lulu and the lady would be pleased to talk to Mr. Stone at six o’clock New York time.

Connection was duly made and Miss Banks proved so capable and efficient and withal so easy to talk to, that Fleming Stone felt the gods were good to him.

He came directly to the point, asked Lulu if she remembered the circumstances of the case clearly, and she said she did.

He then asked if Mr. Dunbar had any trouble with his pen or its working, while he was using it.

And this she remembered clearly, too.

“It was this way, Mr. Stone,” she said, “I recall that Mr. Dunbar had finished writing his first name and had just begun to write his second name when the ink in his fountain pen gave out entirely. Instead of refilling it, I offered him mine, and he grabbed at it, and flung off the rest of his name, and almost flung the thing back to me. I don’t mean he was rude or anything like that, but he seemed glad to get the matter off his mind. ‘There,’ he said, ‘that’s finished with!’ And then he grinned a fiendish sort of smirk as if chuckling to himself.”

“He couldn’t use that pen again, Miss Banks, could he, without having it refilled?”

“He could not, Mr. Stone, and perhaps not if it were filled either. It looked like a model of the Gay Nineties, and one that hadn’t been very gay since.”

“Can you tell me any more about it, Miss Banks?” Stone asked her.

“Only that as soon as the deed was done, he went flying out of the room, and I never saw him after that day.”

“About what time was that, do you know?”

“Do I know? I know to the very second!”

“How is that?”

“Because as soon as he was in the elevator, I was right behind him and I’d already grabbed my hat and stuck it on. As it turned out, I was in the same car he was, but I kept my back turned, and flipped out of it as soon as the car hit the street floor.”

“But how do you know the time so clearly?”

“I had an appointment with a film producer gentleman, and that’s a date few girls forget! I left that car at five-thirty precisely, and so did he. I hopped into a taxi, I was almost late as it was, but I saw him get into his own car, and he still registered that chucklesome smile.”

After a few amenities, and an agreement by Miss Banks to have a type-script made of their conversation signed and sent to him, Fleming Stone laid his receiver back in its cradle.


Chapter 18
Deductions From Clues

The next day, Fleming Stone began to see light at the end of the tunnel, as he liked to express it.

He had spent most of the night going over his clues, and acknowledging to himself that they were pretty dependable things, after all, when properly read and duly translated.

He was far more capable than most men of transacting important conversations over the telephone, and it took only a short time to get hold of the Film Manager whom Lulu Banks had gone to see on that July afternoon, and to gain his corroboration of the girl’s story. The man stated that Miss Banks had an appointment with him at quarter before six, that day, and she had been on time almost to the minute. She said she was delayed because of the visit of an old and valued client of her employers’.

Stone then attended to a dozen different checkups of his findings, and was ready well ahead of time for the meeting of the family and others, that Inspector Barton had called at the Dunbar house for eight o’clock that evening.

When he arrived the others were nearly all there, and gathered in the parlor.

Stone took a seat by Anna, who looked a trifle sad. He smiled at her without speaking, and glanced round at the rest of the audience.

Emory was distinctly out of sorts. He glared at Doris and Barbara, and looked moodily at Anna. It was clear to be seen he felt the hoped-for legacy was slipping from his grasp. He had engaged no personal lawyer, further than Sutton; largely, because his affairs would be safer in the old man’s hands than those of a stranger.

Doris looked disdainful, albeit alarmed. She seemed to be holding herself in readiness for some blow, and seemed determined to meet it squarely.

Barbara, as usual was non-committal. From her expression or attitude, one could not tell her feelings, but she, too, looked as if she feared or expected something unpleasant.

Anna, as Stone had noted at first, looked sorrowful, as if she knew intuitively the end was near.

“When the police were called to this case,” Inspector Barton began, “matters were already in the hands of Mr. Fleming Stone. As the death of Mr. Dunbar was assumed, not unnaturally, an accident, the police were not advised until Mr. Stone pronounced it murder. It soon transpired that a mystery concerned the will of the late Mr. Dunbar, and this mystery fell to the lot of Mr. Stone to untangle. He has entirely solved it, as Mr. Sutton, the lawyer long employed by the dead man will tell you.”

“What the Inspector tells us is quite true,” Sutton took up the tale. “Mr. Stone has cleverly deduced from clues he has noticed, that though Mr. Dunbar signed three fac simile wills in one afternoon, it is undeniably proved which was signed last, and which, therefore is the Last Will and Testament of Bruce Dunbar. This will, now in my possession, will be sent at once to probate. But it is fitter that Mr. Stone should himself describe his procedure and findings.” Much preferring to tell his own story, Fleming Stone, without rising, began it thus:

“I was called by Miss Forrest, after the discovery of her uncle’s sudden death, because, though we had slight acquaintance, she wanted to put into my hands some uncertainties regarding her affairs. She had in her possession a will leaving her all his property, and now that he was dead she was a bit worried as to what steps to take. She had been sternly forbidden by her uncle to tell of this will to any one so long as he was living, and she would have gone to Mr. Sutton at once, but he was out of town.

“I agreed to come to see her and did so. You are all conversant with all that followed. The will mystery seemed impossible to solution and Mr. Sutton sometimes thought he would call for a Temporary Administrator, and perhaps have the whole fortune divided into four equal parts. But feeling sure Mr. Dunbar had left definite clues as to his intended successor, I continued to hunt for such clues.

“One signboard was a note stating that the deceased had left designated certain names in print, one of which would clearly show the name of his heir. I am lucky with such puzzles and setting to work at it, soon found on one of his page numbers a ballade by Henley, with the refrain, ‘Anna’s the Name of Names for me.’ Surely, indicative! Another, occurring to me because of the name, was a mere line from Pope, beginning, ‘And thou, Great Anna, whom three realms obey—’ Don’t think I forced these memories of old literature, but though I racked my brain for quotations involving Doris, Barbara and Emory, I could find none. I am familiar with the Bible and the Apocrypha, and I remember an Anna in each, and found them, eventually, after hunting in different editions. If any one can find reference to the other names of the cousins, I shall be glad to compare notes.

“But I wondered if these odd and unusual proofs would stand up in court.

“However, I happened on a stronger clue. As we all are aware, the valid will is the one that was signed last. It was up to me to prove which will was. Getting the three wills together, I found that during the making of one signature, the ink in Mr. Dunbar’s fountain pen had given out and he had continued the writing of his name with a pen offered him by the lawyer’s secretary. This in no way affects his signature, but it does prove that he signed no other will after that one!”

“How do you know that?” and Harvey Pennock looked unbelieving.

“Because all three wills were signed with Mr. Dunbar’s own pen. I’ve checked up on that. And if the third will, the pen running dry, was signed in part with his own and in part with Miss Banks’ pen, and her ink, that proves it the last will signed, and, consequently, the valid will.”

“Her ink?” said Pennock, perplexedly.

“Yes: I had the three signatures analyzed by an expert chemist, and proved beyond all doubt that the two signatures, written in Mr. Pennock’s and Mr. Hale’s offices, and the first name of the Saunders’ will signature, were all in the same ink. The second name on the third, or Mr. Saunders’ will, in a different ink, which analyzed, proved to be the ink in Miss Banks’ fountain pen and the only ink used in Mr. Saunders’ office for such a purpose. This proves conclusively, that the will on which Miss Banks’ pen was used, was the last will signed, for I inquired carefully, and both other offices informed me that Mr. Dunbar’s pen was in working order, when he used it in signing wills there.

“This matter has been laid in full before the Surrogate, and he has expressed himself ready to probate this will, unless deterred.”

“And he most certainly will be deterred,” exclaimed Emory, red with anger; “I, for one, refuse to hand over my inheritance to Anna, on the proof of some idiotic lingo in a book, and an accidental drying up of a fountain pen! Absurd! I’ll not stand for it!”

“It is your privilege to contest the will,” Sutton said, looking at the young man, sympathetically. “But I warn you, Em, it won’t get you anywhere. The case would go before the Surrogate’s Court, and he is as positive as the rest of us that it would mean only useless expense to you. I would not under take such a foregone fiasco, nor, I am sure, would any reputable lawyer.”

“What do you say, Doris?” Emory asked. “Will you and Barbara join me in a contest?”

“No,” said Doris, at once, after which, Barbara also said No, but in a less positive tone.

“You and me, then, Barbara?” but now she shook her head decidedly, for she well knew Hale could put up no fight of that kind for her.

Quick-witted Barbara, seeing the game was up, surrendered to fate, concluded to accept the goodly sum that was bequeathed to her, and tacitly retired from the contest.

“Who are the executors of this will, Mr. Saunders?” she asked.

But Sutton made answer.

“The matter is now in my charge, Barbie,” he said, not unkindly. “I am appointed Temporary Administrator by the Surrogate, and I will look after the probate and all that. You will all get your inheritance as soon as possible, and you must look upon it as your uncle’s will, unless some of you can produce a later one. The executors are Mr. Osborne and Mr. Coles, old friends of your Uncle Bruce. One of these men is dead, and one is very ill, but these things will be duly attended to, and you will all be entirely conversant with the proceedings. The crux of the matter lay in the decision as to the last will signed. That has been learned, and as you know, there are various minor legacies, one million dollars to each of you three cousins, and the rest is Anna’s.”

“Anna’s!” Emory growled; “a pretty state of things. Uncle Bruce always made me believe I was his heir!”

Doris gave him a scornful glance.

“I never noticed it,” she said; “if you’d heard him tell me how perfectly I fitted all the requirements of the chatelaine of the estate—”

“Well, anyway,” Emory interrupted, “finding the heir may or may not be finding the murderer. Tell me, Mr. Temporary Administrator, supposing the heir of the estate is also the murderer of his or her uncle, what happens then?”

Pennock took it upon himself to reply. “The deceased will be held to have died intestate. His property, then, will be divided equally among the four cousins. Unless that is done, I shall call for Jury trial. If demanded, the Surrogate must grant that, and—we shall see what we shall see.”

Samuel Sutton looked at the younger lawyer.

“I think, Mr. Pennock,” he said, “we must defer such proceedings till a more convenient season. This is really a meeting called by Inspector Barton, who has allowed himself to be interrupted continually. We have learned which is the Last Will of Bruce Dunbar and that of course, invalidates the other three. And, if discovery of the murderer invalidates the fourth will, it must be found out as soon as possible. This matter is in the hands of the police, and as I understand it, the murderer has been found.”

This caused a distinct sensation.

Though Stone watched very closely the faces of the cousins, they were not easy to read.

Anna’s was like white marble, and she herself seemed hard and cold from terror. Barbara was much as always, only a wide stare showing her surprise and shock. Emory was sullen and lowering of brow.

But Doris was the one who showed fear, stark, terrible fear that seemed to be devouring her very soul.

Her clenched hands, her teeth nervously biting her red lips, her quivering shoulders, her short, faint gasps, almost inaudible but none the less tragic, gave her the appearance of a soul in the last stages of despair.

No one said, “What is the name?” No one said anything.

“I prefer not to say more,” Sutton went on, “for this is in the hands of the police. I turn it over to the proper one to report—Inspector Barton.”

The Inspector looked troubled.

“I can only say,” he began, “that while we feel certain of the identity of the criminal, we have not, as yet, conclusive proof. We have warrants for the arrest of Miss Forrest and Mr. Ward, but it was put to me by Mr. Fleming Stone that if I would delay those arrests, he would undertake to prove this evening that those two young people are innocent of crime. Our discovery that Mr. Ward had surreptitiously procured snake venom, had prepared it, and had given it to Miss Forrest, who had kept it, seemed to us to prove their combined guilt, yet we are now less certain about it. Perhaps, Mr. Ward, you care to explain this seemingly questionable act?”

“Glad to,” said Ward, promptly; “I’m by way of being an amateur chemist, and I thought the continual presence of that damnable, I beg your pardon, cobra, was too dangerous altogether. I made an antitoxin, for which purpose I required the dried venom, and gave the result to Miss Forrest, as preventive or cure. I explained to her how to use it, and felt that I had at least tried to secure her safety.”

“I partially learned that from your friend who gave you the venom. I have entire faith in your word, and accept it as you give it. But the discovery of this precautionary act of yours was the work of Mr. Stone, and to him also the delay of what was to have been your arrest. While I in no way belittle the work I and my colleagues have done, yet it has been largely routine and circumstantial. Mr. Stone, with whom our Force is always proud to work, has made some exceedingly clever findings, and I shall now ask him to tell you of them, as it will be better done that way.”

The Inspector bowed gravely toward the Investigator, and Stone accepted the speakership.

He always preferred to tell his own stories, not because of a boastful nature, but in order that they might be properly and tersely presented.

“Yes,” he said, slowly, “I did request the delay of anything so definite as an arrest, because I see no reason to accuse either Miss Forrest or Mr. Ward of wrong-doing. I consider myself faced with the problem of discovering the murderer of Bruce Dunbar, and the conditions under which the murder was accomplished.

“Let us look at the condition first. Clearly, the criminal intended us to think the death was caused by the bite of Mr. Dunbar’s pet cobra. Circumstances surely aided this plan. When the victim was found dead, with the door of the cobra’s cage wide open, and the reptile there asleep, what more plausible assumption than death from the bite of the pet? Yet, my first glance gave me the notion that the scars on Mr. Dunbar’s throat did not quite coincide with the size of the snake’s fangs, and I at once looked into the cage more closely. I even touched a finger tip to the reptile’s jug of drinking water, and found it had a slight flavor of pheno-barbitol. Clearly, then, for some reason Streamline had been slightly drugged.

“But all the details of investigation you know. You know the steps by which we came to the conclusion death was the result of careful, cold-blooded, premeditated murder. The question of motive seemed to point to four people who would benefit, or thought they would, by the death of Mr. Dunbar. Generally speaking, these four cousins expected great benefits from the death of their uncle, and all had or could easily obtain opportunity.”

“Hold hard, there!” Emory broke in, “I don’t say you aren’t right as to our ability to get in, but you must remember you have checked up on our whereabouts at the time, and you cannot toss off those proved alibis without a word.”

“An alibi is a precarious matter, Mr. Dunbar,” Stone said, gravely. “And an announced or declared alibi is always a thing to look into. But, at first, I did not consider the identity of the murderer, only the possibilities of the case. In fact, I tried to reconstruct, to visualize a person who could pull off the crime with the great degree of skill that Mr. Dunbar’s murderer showed. The man was an artist. And right here let me say, I shall use the word man, letting it mean either man or woman. The criminal mind may be of either sex, and the death of Mr. Dunbar might have been accomplished by a murderer of either sex. No great strength was called for, the canny brain that evolved the deed might have been masculine or feminine, so we will use the masculine pronoun as of common gender.”

“Then you visualized merely an evil-minded person?” said Pennock, deeply interested.

“Exactly that. I assumed an intruder entering Mr. Dunbar’s bedroom after the departure of his valet for the night. I gave no thought as to whether it might be one of his young relatives or not. The actions of the intruder must speak for themselves. I had opportunity to look round thoroughly and though I didn’t deduce the color of his eyes and the defects of his teeth, I did gather quite a bit from the way he carried through his fearful purpose, and the meticulous neatness he used in cleaning up afterward.

“Now, one need not be a murder fancier to know that some violent deaths are more messy than others. In this case there was no blood, little, if any, necessary dripping from the syringe, in fact, not a death that left traces of any sort, and I have reason to think the criminal was wearing gloves. Yet much washing up was done, much linen was used, even soap and sponge freely called on. Did this connote a woman or a fastidious man? That question must come later. One point however, should be noted.

“I called in Crowe, the valet, to confer with me, and learned from him of several unusual conditions in the bathroom that proved the presence of somebody after he had left his master’s rooms. One was the disappearance of a pair of washing gloves, made of cotton toweling, an unusual item imported from London.”

Stone carefully refrained from looking at Doris, but a little gasp drew the attention of the others, and they saw she was trembling, but succeeding in a strong effort to control herself.

Ralston, at her side, held her hand closely in his own, and looked at Stone as at an inquisitor. He seemed about to speak, but Doris restrained him and they sat in silence, while the others tried to subdue their curiosity.

“I also found,” Fleming Stone went on, “in the nearly empty waste-basket in Mr. Dunbar’s den, the long point of a very soft lead pencil, the sort of point that breaks off so annoyingly, after a fresh sharpening by machine. These turned out to be useful clues, and will be again referred to.

“Now, as you must know, the act of killing Mr. Dunbar by the hypodermic injection of snake venom required no scientific knowledge of these matters, nor any underhanded means of acquiring the paraphernalia. Any one with cleverness and determination can get all he wants, if he can pay for it. And of course it is as easy for a woman as a man. I refer to this point again, because the ready-made suspects presented to my attention included three women and one man, all possessing cleverness and determination as well as the price required.

“But about here, my psychology began to give out. It rebelled at the thought of any one of the four cousins being the murderer of his or her uncle. I don’t mean such a thing could not happen, but I have come to know these young people pretty well, and I am a fairly good student of character. Still, we have not yet proved anything. However, before I go further with what is going to be more or less of an inquiry—a personal inquiry—I offer opportunity right here and now for any one who chooses to do so, to confess or explain any actions that may have seemed to me peculiar.”

A pause followed this speech.

At last Emory said, “You can hardly expect us, Mr. Stone, to explain actions to you, not knowing to what actions you refer.”

“Quite true, Mr. Dunbar, and as a matter of fact, I meant confess rather than explain. Supposing any one in this room to be the murderer, it would be a wise move to say so. As such confession seems not to be forthcoming, I shall proceed in my own way, being as expeditious as possible, yet in no sense debarring any one from asking questions or making suggestions.”

“Do you say,” Doris spoke in a quavering voice, “that you feel sure Mr. Stone, that—that—none of— none of us—”

“I am not as yet sure of anything, Mrs. Ralston, in this matter,” Stone spoke very gravely, “but I shall put some questions, which I trust will be answered promptly and truthfully.”

“They’ll be answered truthfully, all right,” Inspector Barton said, “or we’ll know the reason why. But I guess nobody here will add perjury to any other crimes being considered.”

“Of course I realized,” Stone went on, “that there was no apparent motive of any kind, except a desire for the wealth of Mr. Dunbar. I knew, too, that each young relative had fully expected to inherit that wealth on the death of the uncle. But I wondered if there could be some other reason for desiring the old man’s death. Or any other direction in which to look for the criminal. Furthering these ideas, I studied the persons interested, aside from the relatives, and found several. There were the house servants, the employes of some of the lawyers involved, some acquaintances of Mr. Dunbars’, and others of more or less importance.

“But none brought real probability, and I drifted back to the four cousins again. I visited their homes and learned their haunts, and it was at the Ralstons’ that I found some hints.”

“Don’t you dare accuse Doris of murder!” cried Emory, in one of his rages; “she’s the least likely of any of us!”

“I haven’t accused Mrs. Ralston of anything,” Stone said quietly, and as Doris collapsed Steve caught her in his arms.

“Brace up, darling,” he whispered, “they shan’t torment you. Look up, dear, it’s all right. I’m here beside you, I’ll take care of you.”

“It would help me, Mr. Ralston,” Stone said, “if you would just describe your home going with your wife the night of Mr. Dunbar’s death.”

“I have already done so.”

“Repeat it, please. You left here about eleven o’clock, I think?”

“Yes,” said Steve, readily enough, “we walked down home, and I went up to the apartment with Doris. I left her with her maid and went down to the Curio Club for a few rubbers of Contract.”

“At what time did you reach the Club?”

“I don’t know. I never thought of preparing an alibi. But I daresay I got there shortly after eleven. I played several rubbers, as my friends who played with me will tell you, and then went home about one o’clock, as they will also tell you.”

“Your wife had retired?”

“Yes. I peeped in her room, but she seemed to be asleep, and I went on without speaking, for the poor girl needed rest.”

“Let me get this right, Mr. Ralston; you reached home after your visit to the Club, something after one. Can you verify this?”

“Why, yes, I guess so. I passed through the lobby as usual and nodded to the attendants then on duty.”

“Then went straight up to your bedroom, pausing at your wife’s door, and so to bed?”

“That’s right.”

“But your housemaid tells me you left a number of half burned cigarettes in the ashtray, and pages of the evening paper were scattered on the library floor. When did you smoke and read there?”

“Oh, that’s so. I sat down there for a while, on my return, before I went upstairs at all. That is such a habit of mine, I didn’t recall it.”

“And you stayed there until a certain time—for a certain purpose. What was it?”

Steve Ralston looked like a trapped animal. Doris looked more and more frightened, and Emory concluded she was the criminal after all, and Steve was trying to shield her.

But he spoke frankly.

“I had no ulterior motive in reading there for a while. As I say, I often like a quiet cigarette just before I go upstairs. Why is the matter of such interest?”

“Because you did have a purpose in waiting there. You were waiting for the hour to set your clock. It was the ending of Daylight Saving, and as you have a Western Union time clock, you have to set it yourself and not trust the matter to a servant. You waited for the hour—what hour?”

“By Jove! that’s so! I always do set the thing myself, especially at the ending date. And I forgot that was that night. Yes, I had to wait till two o’clock to set it, it must be done on the hour, you know, and that’s how I came to smoke so many cigarettes. I remember now.”

“And so, you state, you sat in your library, from shortly after one o’clock, until exactly two, when you moved the clock hands eleven times around the dial forward.”

“Yes, you can’t turn those clocks backward—”

“Never mind that now. We understand. The point is, from soon after one till nearly two, you sat in your own library?”

“Exactly. I found the time long, and wished I had stayed a little longer at the club.”

“Mr. Ralston,” and Stone’s deep gray eyes grew accusing, “you are not telling the truth. From a little after one o’clock until, say, quarter before two, you were in this house, murdering Bruce Dunbar with a hypodermic injection of snake venom.”

This speech fell like a bombshell on the ears of the surprised hearers.

Each face showed bewilderment and unbelief rather than sorrow or dismay.

Stone, watching them, saw readily that each was adjusting his own outlook to this new development.

Doris quietly collapsed, and Doctor Larcom and Barbara looked after her.

Ralston’s own reaction to this accusation was surprising.

He looked at Stone, with positive admiration, smiled broadly and said, “Now, how do you know that?”

“It is the truth?” Stone returned, with a glance that commanded absolute veracity.

“Yes, of course,” and Ralston’s tone betokened defeat and despair, albeit his face showed a certain defiance still.

“That’s enough!” Inspector Barton cried. “Confession, that’s all we want! I’ll take over now, Mr. Stone.”

“There’s nothing to take,” Ralston said. And then, turning to Doris, said simply, “I did it for you, dear.”

Doris gave him a look of intense scorn.

“That you did not!” she exclaimed. “You did it for yourself. You found out somehow, I don’t know how, about the will I had hidden, and you and Mr. Pennock decided to make it appear to be the last will of Uncle Bruce, and, then, hoping you had or could accomplish this, you planned to bring about Uncle’s death, and so get hold of the Dunbar fortune.”

“And planned mighty well, too,” triumphed Ralston. “But I reckoned without Fleming Stone. Let him tell how he found me out, will you, Inspector? I’m interested to know. And after that, I’ll go along with you. I suppose you want me?”

“You bet I do!” Barton scowled at him. “But tell us a bit, Mr. Stone. How did you smoke out this bird?”

“I have told you, mostly,” Stone said. “Mr. Ralston didn’t cover his traces well enough. His alibi was all right. I checked up by the men who played cards with him, and also by the attendants at the house where he lived. All these people were vague as to an hour or so, because, no one who is not thinking of establishing an alibi, can keep the changing hours of Daylight Saving straight. There is, as we all know, an extra hour given us the night Daylight Saving ends. This hour, as Mr. Ralston cleverly saw, could be used for his murderous purpose and then lost as to checking up and alibi making. It was a most ingenious plan, and would have worked perfectly, if he had been more careful of his clues. But the camouflage he used to cover his time from about one to about two, showed plainly it was faked. The sheets of newspapers he pretended to read, were tossed about not as read pages would be, but like pages scattered to look like such. The advertising pages were more creased and worn looking than the news sections.

“And as to the cigarettes, any one looking carefully could easily tell the difference between ashtrays filled with stubs that had been smoked long and slowly, or that had been used quickly, one after another, to simulate this.”

“You didn’t see my library that next morning!” exclaimed Ralston.

“No,” Stone returned, “but I will admit that so soon as I perceived Mr. Dunbar did not die from Streamline’s bite, I couldn’t help suspecting foul play. This, of course, led to thoughts of the four cousins, and I went down later to question your housemaid. She described to me exactly, in answer to my careful inquiries, just how she found your library that morning. But the most flagrant oversight was your carrying home Crowe’s pencil.”

“I didn’t do any such thing!”

“Yes, you did, and it proved your undoing. Crowe uses a very soft pencil, and one of his lay on Mr. Dunbar’s writing-table. You picked it up, to make a memorandum or something, and the point broke off, a long point, and you threw the lead in the waste-basket.”

“By Heavens, Man! What are you? I did do that very thing!”

“And then you, probably unconsciously, stuck the pencil in your pocket, thinking it was your own.”

“Not thinking that—not realizing that I took it. Just an absent-minded action. I hate such very soft pencils.”

“I learned at your house that you did. But, remember, I was not at first thinking of you, but of your wife, as I was also thinking of the other three. How did you get in this house?”

“Too easy. Doris has a key, has always had it. I just borrowed it for the occasion.”

“You planned this thing ahead?”

“Way ahead. As soon as I found Doris’s will. Entirely by accident I chanced on it, and I knew Doris would never tell of it, and I wanted to do something about it. And did. As soon as I found the date of this year’s Daylight Saving ending, I thought of it. I still fancy the fang hoax. I was careless as to measurements, that’s what spilled the beans.”

“That, and washing your hands.”

“What d’ye mean?”

“After using your hypodermic syringe, why did you have to wash your hands?”

“Oh, that. Well, I felt sort of messy, and—a little sick. I wash my hands a lot, anyway. How did you know?”

“The way you hung the towel. Straight out on the rack. I found a towel hung that way in your own bathroom, and that’s what turned my mind from Doris to you. The maid told me it was your towel, and that you always hang them that way.”

“Will you allow me to say you are the cat’s cuff-buttons!”

“And then you did go to see Mr. Pennock about the will?”

“Of course. But don’t suspect him of any implication in my deeds. I went to see him about the will. At first, he refused to talk, but—well, we got pally later. You see, I once or twice overheard Doris speaking to him on the telephone, and I suspected this will business. People have no idea how often they give themselves away on the telephone.”

Doris was listening, hard-eyed, stern-faced, and with no glance of sympathy or pity for her husband.

“But who am I to talk?” Ralston went on, scornfully. “I gave myself away badly to Mr. Stone. How could I overlook the size of Streamline’s fang stretch?”

“Did you use a double-needled syringe?”

“No, why should I? But like a booby, I just made two jabs, never thinking of the measurements!”

“Your entrance didn’t waken Mr. Dunbar?”

“No, I fixed that. He had a tablet of Pheno-barbital every night. Crowe puts it out on his bed table. That night I substituted a stronger one. We’re always around, in and out of the rooms, when we’re here Saturday nights.”

“Well, Mr. Ralston,” the Inspector said, “I guess that’ll be about all from you, now. Shall we be stepping out?”

The audience came to itself with a jerk. They had all been under the spell of the tale they had listened to, fascinated by Stone’s cleverness, amazed at Steve’s aplomb, held in thrall by the situation.

Now, the glamour faded, the reality stared them in the face. Steve Ralston was the murderer!

Strong armed men appeared as if from nowhere, Ralston took an involuntary step toward Doris, who turned quickly away, and the great doors of the Dunbar house closed behind him for the last time.

“Something about the chap I can’t help liking,” Stone said, rousing himself from a sort of reverie. “I tried to suspect him, at first, after I gave up all suspicion of the four cousins. Just as I tried to fasten it on Mr. Ward or Mr. Rankin. But none of these three men seemed capable of the crime.

“Then clues began to point to Ralston, or his wife, and I had to take notice. Of course, I can’t claim a lot of credit, for Ralston did leave scraps of clues about as thick as leaves in Vallombrosa. And I had help. The state of the bathroom was shown me by Crowe to be the result of an intruder’s visit. Olga was helpful, too, and also, the maid in the Ralston home.”

“But these people only answered your questions, Mr. Stone,” said Anna. “I am astonished beyond measure to learn that Steve did this thing. But I am also glad to know that none of the Dunbars did it. Why did you not suspect us more strongly, Mr. Stone?”

“I should be glad, Anna, to say in reply to that, because I couldn’t conceive of crime in connection with you four. But that would not be the exact truth. In my work, I am forced to suspect every one at all concerned. And I must investigate and inquire and probe into things, until I get the positive truth. But when things began to point toward the Ralstons, and when I learned that Mr. Pennock was not entirely truthful, I had to find out why. On visiting Mrs. Mills, on conferring with Guy Moore, I learned much, and even Mrs. Ralston herself has not been always veracious.”

“Just what do you mean by that, Mr. Stone?” asked Doris.

“Only that you knew your husband had discovered your hidden will, that you knew he juggled with the Daylight Saving hours, and—”

“Spare me more,” Doris cried out. “I did know things against Steve, I hoped they weren’t true, but as I became more and more suspicious of his real crime, I nearly went crazy! You don’t know what it means to have the man you love become a criminal under your very eyes!”

“You knew, then?” asked Stone, gently.

“Almost. I saw him look into my room that night. I knew he had changed the clock on my bedside table, so my story would confirm his. I knew he was in Mr. Pennock’s confidence, and that they were— oh, let me go away by myself!”

Barbara led her away, and Anna followed.

“I think there is nothing more to be done at the moment,” said Pennock, “so I shall take leave. Mr. Sutton, you know where to find me at any time you may want to do so. I fear Mr. Ralston has placed me in a false light, but I have no comments to make on his attitude.”

“One moment, Mr. Pennock,” Sutton said, and the younger lawyer turned to listen, “I want to announce that I have received another letter from Bruce Dunbar, mailed yesterday. There is no further mystery about these letters. Last summer, after making his three simultaneous wills Mr. Dunbar wrote some letters and gave them to Hatton to hold. He had Hatton swear to obey his orders, which were simply to mail these letters on the dates indicated. Of course, if Dunbar had lived, he would have retrieved some of them. They were not all to the family. The one that reached me to-day, stated that if he died without making a will dated later than July twenty-fifth of this year, the last of those three wills was the one in favor of Anna and must be so understood. This settles the matter legally, as it has already been settled by Mr. Stone, and does away with any doubt in the matter. Unless, therefore, a later will appears, the incident is closed. I am going home now, if Mr. Perry will attend me. I am getting old, and these exciting dramatic scenes are not for me. I will see you all in a day or two, and adjust matters. But now I must go.”

“I will go with you, Mr. Sutton,” said Stone, “and if I can be of further service, I can easily be found. Good-night, Mr. Dunbar.”

“Good-night, Mr. Stone,” said Emory.


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