an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: The Roll-Top Desk Mystery
Author: Carolyn Wells
eBook No.: 2400151h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: June 2024
Most recent update: June 2024

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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The Roll-Top Desk Mystery

Carolyn Wells




Chapter 1. - As to the Berkeleys
Chapter 2. - Tragedy Comes to Rocky Reef
Chapter 3. - The Roll-Top Desk
Chapter 4. - Natural Curl vs. Permanent Wave
Chapter 5. - Who Killed Rosalie?
Chapter 6. - Stafford’s Story
Chapter 7. - Jane Takes Part
Chapter 8. - Plenty of Clews
Chapter 9. - Linus’ Theory
Chapter 10. - Detective Talk
Chapter 11. - It Couldn’t be Mimi
Chapter 12. - Miss Winslow Goes Downstairs
Chapter 13. - History Repeats Itself
Chapter 14. - A Frustrated Elopement
Chapter 15. - Prissy to the Fore
Chapter 16. - Jack Stafford’s Whopper
Chapter 17. - The Pleasant Mrs. Bell
Chapter 18. - Just One Confession After Another

Chapter 1
As to the Berkeleys

“In the distresses of our friends
We first consult our private ends;
And Nature, kindly meant to ease us,
Points out some circumstance to please us.”

Jonathan Swift wrote many true words, but some were truer than others.

Oh, of course, it is well known that true cannot be compared. Like unique and correct, it is a full-stop word.

But some of the things he wrote seem truer than others, and the stanza quoted above is among them.

To be sure, nine people out of ten would probably deny most indignantly the truth of its tenor, but those are the people who deceive themselves and don’t know it.

The majority of human beings are given to self-deception in one way or another. It adds to the comfort and ease of their mental attitudes, and thus oils the machinery of creaking lives.

All of which explains why Fleming Stone was pleased at the news of a mysterious death, in the investigation of which he became rapidly and deeply involved.

As a doctor becomes inured to the pain and suffering of his patients, so a detective must more or less grow somewhat callous to the facts and conditions of violent or unnatural death. He must take it as a matter of course, or how could he proceed with his own work, intended to relieve the situation and punish the wrong-doer?

It was autumn, and Stone had felt the need of a holiday. At least, he thought he did, but thinking he wanted a holiday was one of the detective’s few self-deceptions. Time and again, he had been sure a holiday was indicated, only to feel bored to death as soon as the holiday was fairly started.

This time, however, the temptation had been irresistible.

Oleander Park was lovely, the North Shore was grand, and Mayo Farnum, his host and long time friend, was mighty good company.

A retired detective was Farnum, and, true to tradition, an amateur gardener and grower of roses.

His tent was pitched, in summer time, at Oleander Park, a delightful shore resort, between Salem and Gloucester.

Not so fashionable as Magnolia Beach, and not so popular as Marblehead, the stern and rockbound coast was picturesque and the breaking waves dashed as high as one could wish.

At the moment, and the moment was in late September, roses were out of season, and Farnum must needs content himself with chrysanthemums, cosmos, asters and such late blooming flowers as he could muster; but he was of an easily contented disposition, and whistled as he went around among his somewhat woody specimens.

A big, wholesome, hearty chap, past his threescore and tenth year, his bronzed face and white hair gave him rather the effect of a Gloucester fisherman than a detective. But as a detective never looks like a detective, perhaps a fisherman is the next best thing.

A contrast, indeed, to Fleming Stone, with his dark iron-gray hair, and deep-set dark eyes, his almost ascetic features and distinguished bearing.

Mayo Farnum could never be called distinguished, yet he had an unfailing dignity of demeanor that commanded respect and even admiration from those who could discern and appreciate it.

In his day, a well-known detective, he was of the plodding rather than the brilliant variety, and many a long conference the two friends held over past and recent cases, over theories and evidence and clews and deductions and all the ramifications of the detective’s business.

A pleasant holiday it was, yet the very tenor of their talk and the interest of their spirited arguments so whetted the zest of Stone’s desire for action that he would have welcomed a case of even moderate difficulty.

The pair sat, in the late afternoon, on the wide veranda, a feature so usual to the summer cottages on the North Shore, that one almost believes the builders erect the veranda first, and then, if any building material is left, they put up a house behind it.

Stone said as much to Farnum, and added,

“Why, in the name of your Puritan ancestors did you ever dare call this place Limbo?”

“Why not? What’s the matter with the name?”

“Well, isn’t it the name of a locality adjacent to the infernal regions?”

“Yes, but it has other definitions as well. Look in your dictionary,—but as you probably won’t, I’ll tell you that it is defined as a place or condition of neglect or oblivion.”

“This place shows no sign of neglect.”

“No, the shoe is on the other foot. I want to be neglected and consigned to oblivion.”

“Do you, really?”

“Yes, except for my chosen companions. But to those I can explain the situation.”

“Glad you number me in the chosen.”

“Of course. You’re near the top of the list. But most of my friends have gone back to the city. Few can stay up here so late as this, and few want to. I stay into October. To me this seems the best of the year.”

“It suits me here,” said Stone, idly flicking off his cigarette ash, “but if you want to provide a real entertainment, can’t you whoop up a ‘case’?”

“Good cases aren’t whooped up. There are one or two available down in the town, but not the sort we’d enjoy.”

“Careful! Suppose a passing neighbor heard you say you’d enjoy a murder!”

“Why not? Doesn’t the skillful surgeon enjoy a delicate operation? Doesn’t the learned lawyer enjoy tackling a complicated suit? Don’t parents enjoy training up a refractory child in the way he should go?”

“Yes, to all your questions from my point of view. But the man in the street probably would not agree.”

“Then he’s beneath our notice. Hello, here comes Paddy Potter. Observe him, he’s a character.”

A strange looking man turned in at the gate.

His appearance can best be compared to the stage presentations of the melancholy Jacques.

His sparse black hair was long and fell in wispy locks about his neck. His mournful eyes seemed like black caverns in a pale, pasty-white face.

Save that he was clean shaven, his face was remindful of Van Dyck’s Charles I, though of less aristocratic effect.

He was, apparently, constitutionally nervous, and twisted his hat in his never-quiet hands as he addressed Farnum.

“Came to look at the mums,” he said, with a doubtful air. “Kinni?”

“Surely, yes,” returned Farnum, heartily. “How are they all over at the Reef?”

“Various like. Mr. Berkeley, he’s all right. Miss M’ria, she’s up and coming. Mr. Lowell, a bit up-setted, and the rest of the younger generation kinder put out like in consequence.”

“So? What’s the matter with Lowell?”

“In love again. Seems to be permanent this trip. Oh, well, it’s none of my business, don’t ask me questions.”

“All right, Paddy. Piano working overtime?”

The man’s strange face took on a rapt look. Had an artist or a photographer been there a masterpiece must have resulted.

Paddy, whoever he was, reacted to the piano suggestion, and his nervous fingers seemed to be playing unheard harmonies on the brim of his old hat.

“Run along, Pad,” Farnum said, in a kind voice. “Prowl in the garden all you like.”

The man strolled away with an easy, rolling gait, and went through the garden wicket, latching it behind him.

“Looks like Charles the First,” said Stone.

“You caught that, did you? Good! I always say there’s a likeness, but not many can see it. He’s a musical genius, and as he has only a dilapidated old piano, it must be positive pain to him to play on it. It is to those who hear him.”

“He’s not Irish, is he? You called him Paddy.”

“No, his name is Paderewski Potter. He’s a general handy man over at Rocky Reef, that big house you can just see on the ledge.”

“Why doesn’t he have a better instrument, if he’s really a musician?”

“He works for Linus Berkeley, an old friend of mine. Linus thinks if he had a decent piano he’d never get anything done, and that’s doubtless true.”

“Is he all there, mentally?”

“Oh, yes. I mean there’s nothing seriously wrong. His brain is weak but not disordered. And aren’t all geniuses a little ‘touched’?”

“He’s a genius?”

“Beyond all doubt. Wait till you hear him play.”

“On a rickety, out of tune—”

“Rickety, but not out of tune. He attends to that himself.”

“And he loves flowers?”

“Mad about them. Of course, there are gardens over at the Reef, but he loves to amble round mine also.”

“Who is Berkeley?”

“A friend of mine these many years. Incidentally, a splendid chap. By force of circumstances, he is rather a sport.”


Mayo Farnum laughed outright.

“No, and I didn’t mean to mislead you. I meant sport in the botanical sense,—in the Luther Burbank sense.”


“Well, he’s a Virginian, and he married a Boston girl, whose ancestors rocked the cradle of the Pilgrim Fathers.”

“And he went Puritan?”

“Not quite that, but as she was the stronger personality, she persuaded him to live in Boston and its environs and so he naturally absorbed more or less of the Bay State manners and customs.”

“A graft on the family tree.”

“Exactly. But after all, it worked well in his case. The gentleness and courtesy of the Southern gentleman never deserted him, while the absorption of straight-backed New England ruggedness rather built up a character of sterling worth, and in consequence Berkeley is one of the finest personalities I know.”

“And his family?”

“The lady wife died years ago. But instead of returning to his native heath, Linus stayed here, and brought up his son, his only child, to be a New Englander. In this he was aided and abetted, if not, indeed, driven by his sister-in-law, the surviving sister of his late wife. Miss Maria Winslow runs his house, his home and his family and friends. Hers is an iron hand in a velvet glove, and it doesn’t seem to bother Linus in the least.”

“And the boy, what’s he like?”

“I guess he’s all right. I don’t quite get him, but I know little about that Younger Generation. He’s good-looking, nearly thirty, clever, well-mannered, but of an obstinate nature, not unlike his Aunt Maria. I’m told his mother was, too, notwithstanding her sweetness and light. Lowell is always nice to me, but we have little in common. He’ll never be the man his father is. Yet he’s a good boy. I’ve never heard aught against him.”

“And the old maid lady?”

“She’s the god in the machine, after all. Without fuss or pother, she rules the roost, and the men obey her. It’s second nature for New England men to obey New England women, whatever the relationship.”

“But Berkeley isn’t a New England man.”

“He is in spots. And the spots are close together. But he’s clever, and a most interesting talker. You must meet him. I’ll take you over there some day.”

“Hold hard, there, old man. How long do you think I’m staying? I ought to be for going home now. But I love it up here.”

“I’m glad you do,” said Farnum, sincerely. “I feared you’d be lonely, I have little society.”

“And I want little. But you haven’t told me much of Miss Maria. Personally, I mean. If I’m going there to call, I’d like to know the family first. I don’t care about the guests.”

“Well, she’s a born New England spinister. She must have been born as she is now. She couldn’t acquire all the earmarks in one lifetime. And she’s getting on for seventy. Little, wiry, headstrong, determined, dictatorial, autocratic,—oh, look in the Thesaurus for words that mean inclined to boss everybody who swims within her ken.”

“Her brother and her nephew?”

“Those two most of all. And the servants. Good to them, but absolute boss.”

“And her looks?”

“Handsome in a rather usual way. You know the type. Big, deep-set black eyes and an abundance of snow white hair, still worn in a sort of old-fashioned pompadour. Always well dressed, delightful manners, and a sense of real humor. Good conversationalist and charming hostess. Why are you so interested?”

“Only idle curiosity. I’ve never seen them, or heard of them before. But that odd combination of North and South catches my fancy.”

“Well, Miss Maria will catch your fancy, I make no doubt. She is the essence of independence. If she chose to take offense at something a waitress did, she’d like as not discharge her on the spot, and get up and wait on the dinner party herself. She loves to work,—housework, I mean, and she does far more than she need, for they have well-trained servants.”

If Fleming Stone could have seen Miss Maria at that moment, he would have believed these statements.

She sat in the great kitchen at Rocky Reef, by a wide and spacious table, on which were some fifteen or twenty red and freshly boiled lobsters.

Enveloped in a large apron of flowered dimity, she deftly used a silver fork or a silver skewer, as best suited her purpose, and her slender, delicate fingers flew as she picked the edible portions from the shells.

On the table, swinging her slender legs sat a pretty girl, her face alight with amusement and interest as she watched the performance.

“No, you can’t help,” Miss Maria was saying to her. “In my house no one shall open my lobsters but myself. Yes, I’ve taught ’em,” she went on talking even as the girl put her question, “and what good did it do? They don’t know the lady from the coral, and they absent-mindedly eat more of the claw meat as they pick it out! No, Rosalie, you can’t help, I haven’t time to teach you.”

“But if I have to pick out lobsters for Lowell, what shall I do?”

“Are you really going to marry him, then?” The great dark eyes of the older woman peered earnestly into the young and shining eyes of the girl.

“Am I? Well, I guess yes!” and the impulsive arms were flung round Miss Maria’s neck, as their owner slid along the table toward her.

“Look out, look out,” came the warning, as Rosalie tipped a big pan full of red shells off on the floor.

“Oh, I’m so sorry! Wait, I’ll pick ’em up!”

“No, leave ’em lay. Prissy will clear up. ’S long as you didn’t upset the picked out meat, I don’t care. Rosalie, are you sure you ought to marry Lowell?”

“Yes, indeed! Why not?”

“Has his father consented?”

“Lowell says so. Mr. Berkeley hasn’t said anything to me about it,—directly, that is.”

“You’re together a great deal.”

“Yes, doing the crossword puzzles. But he has not referred to Lowell and me.”

“Well, he will. Don’t worry.”

“I never worry. ’Tisn’t my way.”

“You’ve known Lowell only a short time.”

“Two months. That’s an age nowadays. Why I had a friend—”

“Who did what?”

“Married a man she’d known less than a week.”

“Were they happy?”

“Well, no. They’re getting divorced now. But Lowell is different.”

“I should hope so!” said Miss Maria, fervently. “Were you brought up to be a housekeeper?”

“ ’Fraid not. That’s why I want to learn about the lobsters and all that. What is the lady?”

“I can’t show you now. These are all done. Next time I’ll give you a real lesson.”

“Where’s my girl?” cried a gay voice, and Lowell came hesitantly into the kitchen. “Where’s my ray of sunbeam?”

“Here, seemingly,” Rosalie answered, looking sweet and roguish as she smiled at him.

She was a dainty little piece, black hair, naturally curly; olive skin, always of a deep shade, though browner now because of an out-of-doors summer; graceful figure, with small bones and lithe muscles; altogether Rosalie Buchanan was a little beauty without being a paragon of good looks.

“Now, dearie,” Miss Maria said to her nephew, “take your sweetie away, I’ve work to attend to. And, Lowell, you two better talk to your father before long. He won’t like it if he isn’t consulted.”

“You mean you won’t like it if he isn’t consulted,” said her nephew, understandingly. “What do you think about it, Aunt Rye?”

The small and dainty figure of Miss Winslow drew itself up to full height, which wasn’t saying much.

“I think whatever my brother thinks,” she said in her primmest way, her lips pursed as only a New England woman can purse.

“Oh, no you don’t,” Lowell returned, gayly, “and besides, he isn’t your brother.”

“Brother-in-law, then. Clear out, you two,—I told you that before.”

“You did, Milady. We go. Come along, Rosy Posy girl.”

Arms round one another, the two went off and for a few moments there was silence.

“What’s it about, sweetheart?” Lowell asked.

“She sassed me,” said Rosalie, dejectedly.

“Shall I go back and brain her with that hammer she was wielding. What was she doing with a hammer, anyway?”

“Cracking her lobsters’ claws. She won’t let anybody else touch her old lobsters!”

“I know she won’t. Great comfort, too. Who wants to eat—well, things they don’t want to eat?”

“Oh, Lowell, I never can learn to take care of you properly. I’m afraid of those awful lobsters!”

“They are fearful wildfowl, I admit. But we don’t have to have them. You can cook chicken, can’t you?”

“No, I can’t cook anything! And she got it out of me, the admission, I mean, and she thinks I’m a numskull!”

“She’d better not! And I don’t care if you are, in the matter of cooking. You’ll never have to cook, but—well, you see, our women folks always knew how to do things whether they did them or not.”

“Yes, I know. She said that. Oh, she was pleasant enough, but I know what she thinks of me. And I bet your father will side with her.”

“Let him! He won’t refuse to let us marry, I know that. Dad has never refused me anything in my whole life. He isn’t going to begin now.”

“She thinks he is.”

“Oh, come now, little rosebud, forget it. Let me tell you of something pleasanter. I know some lovely things!”

“Tell ’em to me, then.”

And he told her, so convincingly that she promptly forgot anything troublesome or unpleasant, and remembered only that life was made for loving.

Then she remembered something else.

“Oh, Lowell,” she said, “I’ve a friend coming up here to-morrow. She planned to stay at the hotel, but I’d so love to have her here with me. Can’t I? Would anybody mind?”

“I don’t think so, darling,” replied Lowell, a little hesitantly, because he did think so. But what Rosalie wanted, she must have. Even a friend who was a stranger to them.

Why couldn’t she have had the girl introduced properly, somehow?

“Who is she?” he went on.

“Mimi Bell. And she’s such a rogue! Oh, you’ll just love her. She’s called Miss Mischief by her friends, and she lives the part. Such a witch, she is!” Rosalie’s black eyes danced and she proceeded to detail some of Mimi’s mischief, until Lowell Berkeley became really alarmed lest his fiancée should have made a mistake.

“Why not let her stay at the hotel, and run over here often to see you? And you go often to see her,” he suggested, tentatively.

The tears came into her eyes.

That was enough for Lowell.

He kissed them away, and told her she could have a whole boarding school full of girl friends if she wanted to.

“And remember this, Posy,” he went on. “If ever you want to cajole Dad into something he doesn’t approve of, turn on those big tears. They’re wonderful! I dunno how you do it, but it’ll fetch Dad every time! You remember that in case of need, will you?”

“Course I will. But I don’t believe your father is going to be so very difficult as you think.”

“Maybe not. You’re a Virginian, and so’s he. That’s a bond to start with. Then you’re as pretty as they come, and he adores pretty girls. Is your Mimi pretty?”

“Beautiful,” she replied; “lovely, exquisite like Dresden china! I’m afraid she’ll make trouble.”

Her fears were justified, later on. Mimi did make trouble.


Chapter 2
Tragedy Comes to Rocky Reef

Mimi Bell came, terrible as an army with banners.

The world was hers and she was prepared to hold her possessive rights against all comers.

Careless, thoughtless, heedless, mindful of nobody but her own sweet self, she lacked utterly all sense of justice and all impulses of generosity or gratitude.

Pure blonde was her type; cheeks like the inner pink of a seashell, eyes of delphinium blue, hair of touseled yellow floss.

A plump little shape, that vaguely suggested the Gilbertian lady who feared “there will be too much of me in the coming by and by.”

And for the rest, an insinuating way, a dazzling smile and a store of wit and wisdom that was all the more powerful for being securely hidden.

Her wisdom bade her make her debut at Rocky Reef with a wistful air and an appealing manner.

These accomplished, she soon had the household at her feet.

Even Lowell was hard hit.

He didn’t waver in his allegiance to Rosalie, but he allowed his eyes to stray to her lovely friend.

Collingwood Stewart, Lowell’s chum and guest, however, saw nothing in the newcomer to disturb his adoration of Rosalie. To him, Mimi was a beautiful doll, but Rosalie was, he had persuaded himself, the love of his life.

Of honorable intent, Stewart had hugged his secret to himself, but now, as he saw Lowell’s straying glances become a trifle more frequent, he dared hope that old Low might transfer his affections to Mimi, and that he, Stewart, might catch Rosalie’s heart on the rebound. Stranger things than that had happened.

And so, feeling he must not neglect opportunity’s knock, he was, on a golden autumn morning, strolling with her through the gardens of Rocky Reef.

“Rocky Reef,” mused the girl; “was there ever a reef that wasn’t rocky, I’d like to know?”

“But this is specially so,” returned Stewart, looking at the jagged cliffs ahead of them. “What I don’t see is, how they ever managed to scratch out even these far from perfect lawns and gardens.”

“Oh, Paddy Potter could coax any wilderness to blossom. He’s a born gardener as well as musician. Isn’t he funny looking?”

“Funnier than I am?”

Collingwood Stewart was unusual of appearance. His hair was red,—not fiery, but deep auburn, and so thick and so tightly curled that it clung to his head like a wig. The fact that it grew low on forehead and temples added to its wiggy effect, and distracted the observer’s attention from his really fine features. His hazel eyes, too, were flecked with red, and his strong jaw and thin lips helped to make up a face belligerent and even at times darkly threatening.

“You’re not funny looking,” Rosalie returned, thoughtfully, “but you can look alarming,—even terrifying. Don’t ever get angry with me, will you? It frightens me to think of it!”

“Yes, I shall get angry with you, unless—”

“Unless what?” The girl whispered and gazed at him like a scared rabbit.

“Unless you will love me. Mimi is going to cut you out with Lowell, she’s begun already. You know how fickle he is; it’s always the latest arrival for him! You’re well clear of him.”

“Colly Stewart, you must be crazy! Why, Low and I are engaged—”

“You can’t be till his Dad says so.”

“He’ll say so, all right. And I love Lowell—”

“No, you don’t. You love his wealth and possessions, and the Berkeley pearls, and the social prestige you would have. I can’t give you all that but I can love you more—”

“No, you can’t! Nobody could! Lowell adores me, and I’m crazy about him—”

“Are you?—are you, Rosebud? I don’t think so—” his arms went round her, and the curly black head nestled on his shoulder.

They had drifted into an arbor, whose shielding vines were now nearly bare of leaves, but a hasty glance around disclosed no eavesdroppers, and Stewart held her close.

“There, look!” he said, suddenly, and obeying, Rosalie could see Lowell and Mimi in the distance. They were close together, and two glances were not necessary for Rosalie to grasp the situation.

“Pshaw,” she said, scornfully, “a mere flirtation. Whoever marries Lowell Berkeley must expect that sort of thing. He doesn’t mean anything.”

“Nor does his love-making to you,” Stewart burst out, angrily. “Any girl can vamp him!”

Rosalie knew this for the truth, but she was of no mind to acknowledge it.

“Nonsense. I know my Lowell. And how about yourself? Do you call it honorable to make love to your best friend’s fiancée?

“Yes, when he neglects her for another, a namby-pamby little chit, not worthy of your friendship.”

“Oh, come now, Mimi is a darling. We’ve been friends for ages. She’s only fooling. She knows she can’t cut me out.”

But a shadow fell over the piquant little face, and a spot of angry red showed on either cheek, beneath the tan.

Was it possible she had to watch her step? Could Lowell dare look at another girl, except in the merest foolery of flirtation?

Well, she must take no chances.

In her secret heart she knew she hadn’t really landed Lowell yet. His father didn’t entirely approve of her. Why, she didn’t know, except that the man belonged on a higher stratum of culture and education.

He had what is known as background; and though she didn’t quite understand the word in that connection, yet she knew she didn’t possess it.

Miss Maria had it. That was why she could pick out her own lobsters without loss of dignity.

Lowell had it. That was why he sometimes looked at her with the merest shadow of doubt in his dark blue eyes.

Eyes unlike Colly Stewart’s. Eyes that if she displeased him made Lowell look grieved and hurt rather than angry.

Rosalie knew little about these things, but she was amazingly quick to pick up knowledge and she had begun to realize that crashing the Berkeley gate was going to entail some restrictions and modifications of her behavior.

She had succeeded in making Lowell fall in love with her. She had more or less cajoled Miss Maria into liking her. And by the simple means of doing crossword puzzles with him, she had won the interest of Linus Berkeley.

Rosalie was a wizard at the puzzles, her quick mind and knack for quizzes making up for her ignorance of classical allusions and literary references.

This greatly pleased Linus, whose own immediate family had no talent for puzzle solving and no willingness to try.

Jane Bristol, Miss Maria’s social secretary, would gladly have worked at the game with Mr. Berkeley, but she was hopelessly stupid about it, though quick witted enough in most ways.

So the good-natured Rosalie spent hour after hour with Linus Berkeley, over the eels and emus and the symbols for tellurium or other strange chemicals.

Of course the latter were outside Rosalie’s ken, but she could tell her host certain catchwords or bits of slang current among her friends, and she could think quickly of words she already knew.

Moreover, she was from Virginia and so was he, and they were mutually helpful in recalling the better known flora and fauna of that state.

All of which entrenched her position with Linus more and more, and she felt it was practically secure, until Mimi came.

Why, oh, why had she ever invited Mimi to Rocky Reef? Mimi was too free and easy, verging on the gauche. She laughed too loudly, and sat about in not quite becoming attitudes for a Puritan household.

Rosalie should have remembered this, but quite capable of adapting her own ways to the exigencies of the occasion, it had never occurred to her that Mimi couldn’t, or wouldn’t do the same.

And pretty Mimi undoubtedly was. Even more so than when Rosalie had last seen her.

And now she was stealing Lowell! Small wonder Rosalie was alarmed for her future.

She had forgotten all about Colly and his impassioned pleas.

He sat watching her and could almost read the thoughts that brought changing expressions to her mobile face.

But he was wise, was Colly Stewart, and he said she calls no further word at the time about the love affairs of anybody.

They went back to the house and Rosalie went in search of Lowell’s father for a session at the puzzles. It seemed a step in the right direction, to say the least.

“There you are, my friend and pardner,” he said, as the girl appeared, and if his voice sounded the least bit strained and insincere, Rosalie put it down to her own perturbed spirit and not to any real intent on the speaker’s part.

She was not one to borrow trouble, Rosalie wasn’t.

She had found Linus in the small room that served as an overflow book room and also as a sort of office, what time he wished to look after some business matters.

The house at Rocky Reef was, first of all, spacious. Whoever built it, and it was one of the oldest houses in the vicinity, had lordly ideas of entertainment.

Every room was enormous, every ceiling was high, and though on the top of a steep cliff it gave an unmistakable impression of solidity and safety, remindful of the house mentioned in the Scriptures that “was founded upon a rock.”

The Reef was picturesque rather than ungainly, but in spots it was dangerous unless one were sure footed.

Many wide verandas were on every story. These, with their sloping roofs, their slender supporting pillars and their balustraded railings marked the house as a summer cottage on the North Shore.

As did also the towers that sprang up from most corners and the gables that were equally ubiquitous.

Awnings, hammocks, and porch furniture were everywhere, and flower stands and window boxes added bright bits of color to the effect of white paint and yellow veranda floors.

Inside, the halls, rooms and staircases ran riot. No stranger attempted to learn his way about if on a short visit.

But, the topography once mastered, it was a marvelously comfortable and satisfying home.

Every one of the family and every guest could have as many rooms as he wished.

But, as is often the way in such cases, the family had a few favorite rooms which they used in preference to larger and more elaborate apartments.

One of these was the small book room,—Miss Maria objected to the term den.

It was off the great and beautifully appointed library, and it held on its convenient shelves many books of reference, which made it an ideal place for working out crossword puzzles.

Here, as she had expected, Rosalie had found her host, and with her brightest smile she threw herself into an armchair and picked up the book they were working on.

It was one of the difficult series, and it needed both brisk wits and higher education to cope with its obscure allusions.

“You’ve been away, Mr. Berkeley,” said the girl, conversationally, before they began work.

“Yes,” was the curt rejoinder, for Berkeley hated comment on his personal affairs.

“Where were you?” she continued, at risk of giving offense.

“Timbuctoo,” he said, gravely, and opened the book at the marker.

Rosalie grinned, but dropped the subject of his absence from home. He had been gone but a few days, and it was none of her business, but she longed to know where he had been.

And then people began to go by the windows. This always annoyed Linus Berkeley. The window he liked best to sit at was a low one, but it was too tempting to would be neighborly souls, so he seated himself by one whose sill was higher.

This window faced the sunset. Its sill was not a shelf, but a mere sill, about five feet from the floor, and too narrow to lay a book on.

It was not a casement window as many of them were, but an ordinary window, with two sashes that ran easily up and down.

Linus pulled both sashes down, remarking that he guessed that would fix things.

It did, for though some teasing ones tapped on the double pane, they could not reach over the top to talk for long.

The two enthusiasts then set to work on their fascinating word quest.

But when among the long words they ran across “idolization,” Rosalie, tapped her pencil on her pretty teeth and said, softly:

“That’s the way you love Lowell, isn’t it?”

She was almost frightened at the expression which came to the man’s face.

“Yes, and more,” he returned, solemnly. “My whole life is bound up in that boy. I loved his mother, and to me he represents her spirit. I would make any sacrifice for him, suffer any deprivation if such might bring about his happiness.”

She gazed at him curiously.

“You look like a fanatic,” she said; “a religious fanatic, you know. Ought you to idolize a human being like that? Does it gee with your religion?”

“What do you know about religion?” he scoffed. “Or about sacrifice, for that matter?”

“Nothing,” she said, and sighed.

They went back to their puzzles.

Then Mimi’s yellow head pushed itself in at the door.

“Good Lord!” exclaimed Linus, “can we never have a moment’s peace? What do you want?”

“Don’t eat me!” begged Mimi, looking like a penitent angel. “I just wanted to see if Lowell was in here.”

“Well, he isn’t,” said Lowell’s father. “But I am, and I yearn for a bit of your society. Rosalie, scatter, and give over for a time to Mimi, the blonde.”

“I will,” Rosalie said, in a tone much more gay than she felt, “but look out for her, Dad. She is in an extremely dangerous mood, and she’s going to vamp you.”

It was the first time Rosalie had ever called him Dad, but she did it to impress on Mimi how sure of the relationship she felt.

Miss Mischief looked demure, and instead of seeming embarrassed, she gave Linus an impudent wink, which Rosalie fondly hoped had deeply annoyed him, for the master of Rocky Reef disliked familiarity of any sort.

Coming out of the book room and crossing the library, Rosalie came upon Jane Bristol.

The secretary, a trimly built, trimly gowned girl, passed her with a friendly nod, but Rosalie turned, and slipping her hand through the other’s arm, said, cajolingly;

“Do play with me a little, won’t you, Miss Bristol? I haven’t a friend left in the world.”

Surprised into a smile, Jane said;

“What nonsense! Or have you quarreled right and left?”

“No, they’ve just deserted.

‘Forsaken, forsaken, forsaken am I.’”

“What do you want to play at?” Jane couldn’t resist the witchery of Rosalie’s smile.

“I dunno. Let’s go out on the Reef.”

Getting capes and rugs, the two girls went out on the wild and windy rocks.

Wrapping themselves up well, they sat on one of the many natural seats formed by the fissures of the reef, and conversation languished.

Jane said nothing, and Rosalie suddenly realized this wouldn’t do.

“Miss Bristol,” she said, “where did Mr. Berkeley go when he was away for several days?”

Jane stared at her.

“I’m not a tale bearer,” she said, slowly. “If you want to know such matters as that, you must ask some one of the family.”

“I don’t want to know, if it’s a secret,” Rosalie declared; “I never thought of its being a mystery.”

“Nor is it. But I’ve no reason to tell you what you can learn from your friends as well or better.”

“True enough,” and Rosalie smiled again.

As usual her smile won the day.

“A fuss over nothing,” Jane exclaimed. “Well, if you’re really interested, he went to New York.”

“Nowhere else?”

“That I don’t know.” And from her tone it was evident she spoke the truth.

“Do you know what he went for?”

“Now you are getting inquisitive,” Jane laughed. “No, I don’t, and if I did I shouldn’t tell you.”

“Oh, well, I’m only spoofing you! To come to my real cause for curiosity, what do you think of Miss Bell?”

“I think she’s a love! I never saw any one so pretty or so sweet. Don’t you just adore her?”

“Oh, I do, I do!” and so fervent was the tone, Jane looked up quickly.

“Come on,” Rosalie cried, gayly, “let’s go through the list! What do you think of Lowell?”

Jane Bristol gave a gasp and nearly tumbled from her somewhat insecure perch.

Rosalie regretted her foolishness at once. Her intuition told her poor Jane was in love with Lowell, and now the secret was out.

“My goodness,” she cried, “don’t sit there, Miss Bristol. That rock isn’t safe. Don’t accidents ever happen on this reef?”

“Never, to my knowledge.” Jane was staring at her.

“Don’t look so frightened. I’ve no intention of throwing you down the cliff.”

“Nor anybody else?” Jane’s lip was trembling. “No, nor anybody else. Have you taken leave of your senses?”

“No. Come on back to the house.”

“But you said you’d play with me.”

“I have a piece of work to do. I forgot it.”

They went back, and Rosalie threw herself down in a porch hammock.

But after a minute and a half spent in thought, she decided she had no idea what was the matter with Jane Bristol, and didn’t care what it was, either. Dinner was rather late that night.

The young people were fond of dancing and Jack Stafford, a next door neighbor, had come over for the express purpose of dancing with Mimi, who was much like a puff of thistledown on the dancing floor.

Jane Bristol, too, was a fine dancer, and the young men and girls had a gorgeous time while Linus and Maria looked on.

“Rosalie is the pick of the lot,” said Linus to his companion.

“Yes,” was Maria’s reply, but her lips compressed into that straight line which, with her, meant unwilling agreement.

“Do you like Mimi?” Berkeley pursued.

“I loathe her,” said Miss Maria, with calm, quiet accents and a set face.

“Lowell doesn’t,” said Lowell’s father, and he glanced across to where the young pair were deeply absorbed in one another, only half screened by a long stemmed palm.

“No.” And with a glance of mingled misery and disgust, Miss Winslow slowly left the room and went up the stairs and along the interlacing corridors to her own rooms.

Linus beckoned to Rosalie as she passed him in the dance.

Soon she ran back to him.

“What is it?” she asked, smiling at him.

“Want to finish up that Number thirty-seven? Just the one,—it’s nearly complete.”

“Yes, of course I do. Now?”

“If you like.”

But Colly Stewart, overhearing, refused to let Rosalie off his dance, and Linus good naturedly told her the boy was right.

“We’ll do the puzzle to-morrow,” he said, and looked after her almost affectionately as she was whirled away.

Soon after, Linus, too, went upstairs.

His apartments were at the same end of the house as Maria’s, and before he entered them, he stepped out on a veranda to look at the ocean.

Then he went to his rooms, leaving the young people unchaperoned, as was the custom, even in the summer cottages of strict Massachusetts.

Nor did they stay up very late. Midnight saw the neighbor, Jack Stafford on his way home, and the others dispersing to their respective rooms.

Good nights and Toodle-oos were duly called out, and then lights went off and silence fell on Rocky Reef.

And it was the next morning that Fleming Stone received the news of what had happened in the watches of the night, and had followed the course suggested by those true words of Jonathan Swift.

It was the news that wakened him, brought as it was by Mayo Farnum to his bedside.

“Did you say you wanted a case, old chap?” Stone’s host inquired of him.

“A case? Case of what?” murmured Stone, slowly awakening.

“Get up and get dressed,” came Farnum’s order. “We’re called to solve a mystery and the sooner the quicker.”

It was characteristic of Stone that he stopped not to make reply, stopped not to reason why, and not yet having enough data to do or die, he merely dressed himself and went quickly downstairs.

He saw Farnum engaged in conversation with Paddy Potter. He therefore deduced the trouble was at Rocky Reef.

He saw no preparations for breakfast, so he assumed it would be served to them at the Berkeley home. Without words, therefore, he went along.


Chapter 3
The Roll-Top Desk

The three men walked over to Rocky Reef. It was too short a distance to necessitate a car. Stone fell behind the other two, catching a word now and then of their conversation, but not getting clearly the story.

Occasionally he heard Potter say, petulantly,

“Don’t ask me questions. Mr. Berkeley told me not to babble.”

This made Stone smile. He had seen Paddy several times, and always that was his chief grievance,— that people would ask him questions. Stone suspected the man was merely disinclined to answer questions because of his indolence, but he felt there was no use pestering him, so he bided his time.

He took it for granted that there was a crime to be looked into, and he had slid into his detective frame of mind as naturally as the old time fire horses slipped into their harness.

He looked ahead toward the great craggy reef whither they were bound. It seemed to recede, which was, of course, the result of his own impatience.

Determined to get something to direct his floundering thoughts, he called out to Potter, “Give me the main fact of the matter.”

Whether the sternness of his voice carried authority, or whether Paddy was eager to be forced to speak, he didn’t know, but an answer was forthcoming.

“Miss Buchanan, she’s dead,” was the startling announcement.

“How much more do you know, Farnum?” Stone asked.

“Nothing,” was the curt response. “Paddy has been instructed to hold his tongue, and I’m helping him to obey orders.”

“Well, I’m not,” Stone declared.

Though not at all a self-assertive sort, he couldn’t quite submit to being snubbed by Mayo Farnum, and he resented the affront to his dignity.

Yet he knew if he quizzed Paddy Potter further, that worthy would tell him not to ask questions, and then Farnum would chuckle.

Also, he had gained his point in getting the statement of the tragedy,—for the death of that beautiful girl was a tragedy whatever had brought it about.

Though Farnum had promised to take Stone over to the Berkeleys’, he hadn’t yet done so. But the young people had been over to Limbo, and Stone was slightly acquainted with them.

He looked over toward the house.

Rocky Reef was the last place in the world, seemingly, to look for a crime.

And Stone had no knowledge that there had been a crime. But a sudden death and sending post haste for two detectives, gave color to the idea of something very wrong.

It was a gray morning. The red brick and white paint of the big house made a brilliant picture as it reared its great bulk along the rocks.

The reef was wild and dangerous enough to be Norman’s Woe. But so far no sign of woe was to be seen, though as they neared the front door, some one was pulling down the inner blinds and hanging a bunch of fall blossoms to the old knocker.

There were two front doors, and as they approached one of them slowly opened disclosing Linus Berkeley.

The tall, graceful figure of the Southern gentleman showed a courtliness that his years in New England had not marred, and his grave smile was a kindly greeting.

“You see,” Farnum said, “Mr. Stone is staying with me, and as he is an active detective, while I am a shelved one, I brought him along.”

“I’m glad you did,” his host returned; “I fear this matter will tax the powers of any investigator who interests himself in it. I have called the police, but suppose you two men take a look at the scene before the officials arrive.”

He led the way through the rooms and halls until they reached a closed door. This he opened with a key drawn from his pocket.

“I haven’t touched her,” he said, and stood aside for the others to enter.

The three went in, and Linus Berkeley closed the door.

To Fleming Stone it seemed that he had never seen a stranger or more terrible sight.

Across a corner of the small room, which he took to be an office or study, was a large roll-top desk. It was an unusually massive and heavy affair, looking as if it had been built to order, as in fact it had.

The roll top was down—as far as it would go.

But its complete closing was prevented by the fact that some one was sitting at it,—sitting in the swivel chair that matched the dark wood of the desk.

Only the body was visible, for the head was hidden beneath the fallen roll top.

One slender arm, the right, was thrust out of sight in the desk and the other hung limply down.

The body, garbed in gay Oriental pajamas, and an even gayer Chinese coat, was obviously that of a girl,—Rosalie, of course.

Both Stone and Farnum, hardened as they were to the sight of strange deaths were conscious of a thrill of horror at the weird sight.

“Tell us about it, old man,” said Mayo Farnum to his friend.

“She was found like this by the servants this morning,” Linus told them.

“Has the roll top been lifted?” Fleming Stone asked, as the speaker paused.

“Yes, and wisely, I think. She was first discovered by Priscilla, a ladies’ maid in the house. The girl called Paddy and he came in and jerked the top up, saw she was dead, and gently lowered it again. I haven’t touched it, nor any one else, but I approve of Potter’s action, for there might have been a possibility of saving her life.”

“Yes, it’s all right,” Stone agreed. “That not touching the body business is overdone sometimes. I fancy her neck is broken.”

“Must be,” Farnum said, shortly. “Accident, I suppose?”

“I think so—I hope so,” Berkeley declared. “Though I know her nature only slightly. It may be suicide.”

“Or murder,” said Farnum, bluntly.

“Oh, not that!” cried Linus. “Who could want to do such a thing? She—she is my son’s fiancée.” Fleming Stone was examining the roll-top desk, without, of course, fingering it.

“It’s unusually heavy,” he observed, “yet it runs with utmost ease. She could easily have pulled it down on her own neck, either intentionally or accidentally. Or,—some one else could have done it.”

“Not a murder,” Farnum said in his positive way. “Too much of a coincidence to get the girl in just the position necessary. It’s my belief her neck is broken.”

“Yes, it is,” Stone agreed. “At least, I feel sure it must be. You’ve called the police, Mr. Berkeley.

“Yes, they must be here shortly.”

“Have you told the family?”

“Some of them. My son and my sister, and a young chap who is a guest here. A chum of Lowell’s.”

“The servants?”

“I asked Paddy to say nothing, and he’ll obey me. But the maid, Prissy, they call her, is an excitable sort, and can hardly keep a still tongue, I fear.”

“Oh, well,” Farnum put in, “as soon as the police arrive ’twill be a secret no longer. Are you giving us breakfast, Linus, old man? We came away without any.”

“Of course, yes. We’ll go at once. I called you, Mayo, because I want a—well, a friend at court. If it turns out to be foul play,—and it is not impossible,—I want a first class detective right here on the spot.”

“Then you want Stone, not me. Don’t bother with compliments. I’ve been a good enough detective in my day, but I’m getting old-fashioned. Fleming is more up-to-date and more versed in the modern tricks of the trade.”

Stone said no word of denial or confirmation. Opinions of his powers meant little to him. He was already in deep thought concerning the strange and unusual aspects of this affair.

“I want to be here when the police lift the desk top,” he said.

“And you shall,” returned Linus. “I’ll keep the key, and they’ll not be able to steal a march on us.”

The three men went out to the breakfast room, to be greeted by the appetizing fragrance of coffee and the pleasing odors of bacon and savory omelettes.

They found Lowell and Colly Stewart already there, also Miss Winslow, presiding over the Paul Revere coffee service that was one of the historic treasures of the Winslow family.

Maria had not approved of keeping the girls in ignorance of the tragedy, and had herself told Jane and Mimi, bidding them come downstairs as soon as they dressed.

Lowell looked up and bowed absent-mindedly as his name was mentioned to the two visiting detectives, but returned at once to his downcast attitude and expression of hopeless despair.

Stewart, alert and listening, said no word, nor was he asked or expected to do so.

Miss Maria was doing the talking and few ever had the temerity to interrupt her.

“I’ll give you some hot coffee, dearie,” she said to her nephew. “You’ve let that grow cold.”

Lowell said nothing, and Brown, the butler, brought a fresh cup.

“Who did it?” said Collingwood, as Miss Maria paused for a moment.

Lowell looked up at his friend, with angry eyes.

“Don’t be a fool, Coll,” he said; “there’s been no crime. It was an accident, of course. Rosalie was poking about in the desk for a pencil or something, and the old roll top came down on her, and she couldn’t get it up again.”

“Nothing of the sort,” exclaimed Maria. “That desk top doesn’t come clattering down so easily. I ought to know. I’ve lived with it all my life. The girl did it herself. She wanted to end her life, for some reason, and chose that method. A most unpleasant one, but there’s no other logical explanation. You can all try all you like, but you can’t make that top come down except you pull it down. However, I don’t see what difference it makes. The poor child is dead, and we must take care of the matter. Where do her folks live, Lowell?”

“I don’t know,” and her nephew raised indifferent eyes to meet her horrified glance.

“Not know where your sweetheart’s family lives!” she cried, aghast. “I never heard of such a thing! Linus, don’t you know anything about her?”

“Only what Lowell has told me. But don’t kick up a bobbery, Maria. Her chum, Miss Bell will know all those things. She’ll tell us how to communicate with the Buchanans. If I had felt sure it was a simple accident, I shouldn’t have called the police. I’m sorry I did—”

“Don’t be,” Mayo Farnum advised. “You are not sure, and you did exactly right to notify them. Here they come up the drive now.”

Fleming Stone rose, and with a word of excuse to Miss Winslow, he stepped into the hall.

Farnum followed him, and Linus, hand in pocket, went too.

Again Linus unlocked the door of the book room, and with a gesture bade the newcomers enter.

Brief introductions named them as Coroner Anderson, Detective Sergeant Compton and a somewhat dumb looking policeman named Clay.

But above these underlings was Inspector Escott, from Boston, who, happening to be in the vicinity was called upon to be helpful, and, nothing loath, accepted the invitation.

Escott looked a little askance at the two private detectives, whose names he knew well, but soon forgot them in amazement at the scene before him.

“Who is it?” he whispered, in an awe-stricken voice.

“Miss Rosalie Buchanan, a guest of the house,” Linus said speaking clearly.

“How did it happen?” put in the coroner.

“We do not know,” Linus proceeded. “The young lady was perfectly well and happy when she went upstairs last night, and we know nothing more of her.”

“Then there’s much to be found out,” Escott announced, a little superfluously. “Anderson, will you raise the desk top?”

But the coroner was under the desk, looking at the feet and legs of the dead girl.

“Death sudden, even instantaneous,” he said, emerging. “Yes, may as well get about it.”

Slowly, Doctor Anderson rolled up the heavy mahogany top of the old desk.

“What a weight!” he exclaimed. “Broke her neck, —yes, of course. Come down with a crash and had it been a blade instead of a wooden edge, it would have decapitated her. As it was, it did for her just as surely. She hadn’t a second to cry out, or even to move her legs or arms. Suffocation, you see; congestion of the brain. Look at her face! Distorted, discolored, but no sign of conscious agony. Poor girl. Don’t let her lover see her. Engaged to your son, wasn’t she?”

He turned to Linus.

“Yes. The boy is beside himself with grief. Don’t disturb him until you have to.”

The coroner and the detective sergeant stepped back that Escott might better see the conditions, but Mayo Farnum and Stone held to their positions at either end of the long desk.

The first and most noticeable thing was a flood of crimson, which had soaked into the desk blotter and was smeared on the sleeve of the Chinese silk coat.

“Blood!” exclaimed Linus, in a hoarse whisper.

But Escott and Stone said, simultaneously;

“No, red ink.”

They were right. A bottle of red ink was overturned near to Rosalie’s outstretched hand, as if that had been what she was reaching for.

The cork, which had evidently been insecurely put in the bottle, lay near it, but as the writing surface of the desk was perfectly level, the ink had spread but little.

But the fact was obvious to all that the girl had been in search of something beyond the ink bottle. Her finger tips were near a pigeon hole which was deep and dark, but in which the end of a box could be seen.

“Wait a minute,” said Escott, as the sergeant made as if to pull out the box. “Do not handle— yet.”

Stone approved his caution, and awaited his next move.

And that was Escott’s pointing to a strange object that lay on the desk.

Both Stone and Farnum had already noticed it, but said no word.

It was a small rolled bit of linen or cotton that had been used, beyond all shadow of doubt to protect a cut finger or thumb.

Wound around with a length of thread, it had been worn until it was loose, and it had slipped off some one’s finger.

Escott drew attention to it, and asked Linus if any of his household had a cut or burnt finger.

“Not to my knowledge,” was the reply. “One of the servants may have such a wound, but I’ve not noticed anything of the sort on any of the family or guests.”

“Not on Miss Buchanan, by any chance?”

“No,” said Linus, and smiled a little as he added, “that circlet of rag is not exactly her size, I think.”

Escott nodded, as if the observation was of no account, and said, slowly;

“It is an unusual clew, and may be of the greatest value.”

With a pair of scissors used as tongs, he lifted the little bandage from the desk and laid it aside on a clean sheet of paper.

It was soiled from wear, as such bandages are likely to be after a few hours use. It was large, quite evidently having been used on the finger of a large man.

“Or a man with large hands,” amended Stone, as Escott voiced his deduction.

“Yes,” rejoined the Inspector. It might be noticed he was not overly pleased to have amendments to his remarks.

Yet he was courteous of demeanor, and Fleming Stone paid slight attention to his mental attitudes.

“Any blood inside?” he asked.

“A little,” Escott returned, without, however, inviting Stone to examine the clew more closely.

“Now, Inspector,” the detective said, “we must decide where we stand. You are, of course, in charge of the police investigation, but I have been asked by Mr. Berkeley to look into the case,—if it is a case. I can work with you, if you like, but I do not care to work against you.”

Escott looked at him somewhat dubiously.

“Mr. Stone,” he began, “you—and Mr. Farnum, too, I take it,—are retained by Mr. Berkeley, because of his friendly acquaintance with you. Ordinarily, I prefer not to work with non-professionals, but as this is, it seems to me, an intriguing case, I want to remain on it. I too dislike friction, and so I propose that we work together, yet independently as regards our findings and our deductions therefrom.”

“Just my idea, Inspector,” said Stone, heartily, for he liked this frankness, “All right with you, Mayo?”

“Yes,” said Farnum, “and I, too, shall reserve the right of keeping my discoveries, if any, to myself.”

“Then,” Stone said, with decision, “I am permitted to examine this small bandage. Rest assured I shall not touch it.”

“No finger marks on that old rag,” put in the policeman named Clay.

“Of course not,” Escott said, “but we mustn’t let it lose its shape. It’s a most interesting clew.”

“It certainly is,” Stone agreed. “It was used on a right forefinger, I take it. There are a few slight smears of blood inside, or, perhaps red ink.”

Escott made no reply, but Stone and Farnum noticed his eager attention to the words.

“Clever,” Stone thought to himself, “but a bit slow on the uptake.”

The coroner was making a closer examination of the body.

“Take it away when you can, Anderson,” directed the Inspector. “We want to get at the desk.”

“Gotter be photographed,” Clay said, in his indifferent way.

“Get busy, then.”

The camera man was waiting outside, and all but Escott left him to his task and went into the big library.

Miss Maria was there, and Jane Bristol with her.

“What is it?” Miss Winslow asked. “Accident or suicide?”

“Suicide, nothin’ ” Clay told her, with a lamentable lack of respect. “Why should a youngster like that end it all? Ever’thin’ to live for, she had. Engaged to a first class feller—where is he, anyway?”

“My son?” asked Linus. “I’ll call him when he’s needed. Do you want him now?”

“No, oh, no,” said Clay, quickly, who knew he was forging ahead too fast.

“I’d like to see him,” said Coroner Anderson. “I must interview him, Mr. Berkeley, and it’s better to get at it.”

“I’ll call him,” Maria volunteered, and went off, returning shortly with Lowell, closely followed by Mimi and Colly Stewart.

“Is there another small room where I can be more alone?” Anderson looked about him.

He was a thin, wiry man, with an air of efficiency, and being shown a small sitting room by Miss Maria, he pounced on it, and settled himself therein.

“Mr. Lowell Berkeley first,” he said, as he went through the door.

Lowell followed him and Anderson wasted no time.

“Engaged to the lady, weren’t you?” he said, shortly.

“Yes,” Lowell told him, with equal taciturnity.

“You know of no reason for her to take her life?”

“Good Lord, no! She was as happy as the day is long.”

“And so were you?”

“And so was I.”

“Well, I don’t think for a minute it was suicide.”


“No, murder.”

Lowell went white.

“What?” he exclaimed in a low voice, “who would kill her?”

“That’s what we have to find out. Who objected to the match?”


“Better tell the truth young man. It works out best in the long run. Did your father approve?”

“Well, Dad wasn’t crazy about her at first, but he learned to love her.”

“H’m. How long’s she been here?”

“About a fortnight or so.”

“And she made good in that time. Quick work.”

“Not at all. One had only to see her to admire her.”

“Well, so she and your father became good friends?”

“Oh, yes. They had bonds of interest. You see—”

“Wait a minute.” The coroner jumped up quickly and ran to the window. Looking out, he caught a glimpse of a black skirt and hastening legs incased in black stockings and French heeled shoes.

“Who would that be?” he asked, describing her to Lowell, as he came back.

“I don’t know. One of the maids, I daresay.”

“Your aunt’s maid, like as not.”

“Perhaps, yes.”

“And now what was it about the bonded interest between your father and your girl?”

Lowell had taken a desperate dislike to this impertinent chap, but he was not one to show his hand, so he said, coldly;

“I was about to say, they were both from Virginia and both fond of working out Crossword Puzzles.”

“Yes, yes, I see. And you left them here last night doing puzzles.”

Lowell stared at his inquisitor.

“Nothing of the sort. We young folks all went upstairs to bed at the same time. We had been dancing—”

“Yes, yes, never mind that.”

Rising, Anderson bowed his witness out, and then, closing the door, he made entry in his little red book: “Open and shut case. Father thinks girl not good enough for his lad, and therefore does away with her.”


Chapter 4
Natural Curl vs. Permanent Wave

But when the coroner opened the door to invite another witness, he found, like Othello, his occupation gone.

Inspector Escott had come into his own. And he preferred his audience in mass formation.

The look on Anderson’s face was a bit comical, but Escott ignored it, and merely inquired if the coroner had finished his examination of the body.

Realizing at once that he was relegated to his proper place, Doctor Anderson said glumly that he had.

“Then have it removed. Mr. Berkeley, would you prefer to have it taken to a mortuary establishment, or let it remain here?”

Lowell looked up, a new spasm of pain distorting his agonized face.

“Keep her here,” he cried out. “Don’t take her away.”

“No, son,” his father said, “We must do right by the girl. It is better in every way to have matters properly attended to. Take her down to the village undertaker’s, Inspector.”

Lowell seemed about to protest, but his Aunt Maria went and sat beside him, whispering some sage bit of advice, and he nodded his head in assent.

“This is not an inquest, Anderson, so I’ll just ask some informal questions and we can all have the benefit of the replies,” Escott said.

They were in the main library, which, fortunately, was spacious, for there seemed to be a great many people.

Jane Bristol hovered near Miss Maria, ready for any service she might render.

Suddenly, a small dainty figure made a whirlwind entrance.

It was Mimi, who had taken longer to dress than Jane, and now appeared, clad in a white sports suit and looking frightened but lovely.

She paused a moment at the door, as if uncertain where to sit. Then she hastened across the room and sat down beside Linus, who occupied a large, straight backed arm chair.

Before any one could wait on her, Mimi had pushed up a small chair and seated herself close to Berkeley’s side.

Very demure she looked, and very appealing. Her blonde curls were a bit ruffled and her lips and cheeks merely pink, not brightly tinted as usual.

She was obviously trying her best to keep silent and behave with propriety, but the situation was too much for her, and she burst forth in an explosive gasp,—“Who killed Rosalie?”

“We do not know that she was killed,” Escott said, “why do you think so?”

“Don’t be silly!” exclaimed the girl, with a scornful air that would have been funny in less grim circumstances. “I know how she died, and it was no accident and no suicide. It was murder—” her voice faded away and her big blue eyes filled with horror as she gazed, unseeingly straight ahead of her.

“Will you tell what you know of her death?” the Inspector said, quietly.

“Oh, I understand you! I’ve read loads of detective stories and I know that the last one to see her alive and the first one to find her dead, are the ones to suspect. But I’ve nothing to conceal. We were all dancing, all us young people, I mean, and when we stopped,—and it wasn’t late,—we all went up the stairs together. Except, of course, Jack Stafford, he went home.”

“Before you all went upstairs?”

“Some of us had gone up—”

“Be frank, Miss Bell. It’s the wisest course.”

“So I’ve been told. Well, Rosalie and Miss Bristol had gone up, anyway, and Lowell was waiting to turn off the hall lights.”

“Is Mr. Lowell Berkeley in love with you?”

If the question was blatantly frank, it was no more so than Mimi’s reply.

“Oh, no, indeed! Mr. Stafford is in love with me. Lowell is Rosalie’s beau.”

“Well, and then Mr. Stafford went home?”

“Yes, he lives close by. Then Lowell and I roamed on upstairs, said good night and went to our rooms. Sometimes I go to Rosy’s room for a pow-wow, but I didn’t last night. I was too tired.”

“Yet you say you weren’t up late.”

“No; well, I guess I was tired of having nothing to get tired of. It’s pretty much awful dull up here, you know.”

Mimi’s rudeness was passed by, and Escott said, hastily;

“Then you didn’t see Miss Buchanan again—alive?”

“No, poor dear. But don’t waste your time on me. Talk to somebody who can give you the low down on things. I’d like to know myself some few points. Has her bed been slept in?”

Miss Winslow volunteered an answer to this. “Yes,” she said; “The gown she wore last evening is thrown over a chair in her room.”

“We’ll search the room later,” murmured Escott. “We’re getting the main facts just now. And one is, perhaps, this. Your finger is bleeding Miss Bell. See, it has stained your white frock.”

“Gosh, so it has! You’ll have to let me off, Inspector, while I go backstage for repairs.”

“Wait a moment, please. How did you hurt your finger?”

“Hurrying with my dressing this morning. I caught it on this belt buckle and gave it a nasty scratch.”

“Did you tie it up in a bit of linen rag?”

“I certainly didn’t. You can’t fasten that Exhibit A on me! And, beside, if I’d wanted to protect this little scratch from possible infection or anything like that, I’d have used a strip of adhesive tape, and not an old-fashioned rag bandage, like mother used to make.”

“You already know, then, about the bandage found in the desk?”

“I sure do.”

“And how do you know? This is your first appearance downstairs this morning, is it not?”

“Yessir. But I hung over the banister and listened to what was being said. Did you really find a cot? That’s what we used to call them.”

Escott smiled involuntarily at the old time name. “Yes, we found one on the desk, near Miss Buchanan’s hand. But it could not have been from one of her fingers, it is too large.”

“Therefore, it must be too large for mine.”

“Probably. But your fingers are not so slender as hers.”

“No, she was a scrawny piece.”

“But rarely beautiful,” said Escott, with the sole intention of stirring up Mimi’s ire.

“Oh, yeah! Naturally curly hair, and all that! If you ask me, I’d rather have a permanent wave that looks like a natural curl, than a natural curl that looks like a permanent wave.”

“That will do, young woman,” said Linus, sternly. “I forbid you to say anything derogatory to the dead.”

“Oh, sure. Sorry. Well, can I help any more?”

“No, Miss Bell. Go and change your frock, if you wish.”

Mimi hurried away, and they heard her running up the stairs.

“Find anything, Strack?”

“Yes, sir,” and the policeman whom Escott had sent on the errand, opened his hand and disclosed a cot, made like the one found in the desk, but a little smaller.


“In Miss Bell’s waste basket, sir.”

“H’m. Observe, Mr. Stone, Mr. Farnum. A cot, as they are called, from the waste basket of Miss Bell.”

“May I see the two cots together?” asked Fleming Stone, showing for the first time a real curiosity.

“Later on, please. Let us get on with the inquiries.”

“It would seem,” the Inspector said, in his decided way, “that both Miss Buchanan and Miss Bell came downstairs again, after they had gone up to bed.”

“But it doesn’t explain the larger cot,” remarked Mayo Farnum.

“Nothing is explained as yet. I fear we have a complicated case to investigate.”

“I’d like to ask a favor,” said the coroner, more humble now than he had been.

“Certainly, Doctor,” returned Escott. “What is it?”

“Before I take away the body of the girl, I’d like to experiment with some one who is willing, as to how that desk top would come down.”

“I volunteer,” said Fleming Stone, willingly enough. “I’ll be your dummy. I only make one stipulation. Mayo Farnum must be the one to drop the desk lid.”

“We don’t want any more ingenious murders,” said Escott, quickly.

“It isn’t that,” Stone explained, “but Mr. Farnum is calm and his nerves are steady. A nervous temperament might drop the lid unintentionally and cause an accident.”

“Go to it, Mr. Stone,” said Escott. “We can be audience, of course, Doctor?”

“Oh, yes. It’s just a simple bit of reconstruction. I want to prove something.”

All the men present, except Lowell and Colly Stewart went back to the small book room, and at Anderson’s directions Fleming Stone seated himself at the big desk.

“As I am much taller than the young lady who sat here,” Stone said, “I must sit a bit farther back.”

He pushed the desk chair back a little, and then allowed Doctor Anderson to arrange his head in the position Rosalie’s was found.

Also, his right arm was stretched forward toward the pigeon hole to which hers had been directed, and he was told to look straight ahead of him.

“Mind now,” Stone said, “only my friend Farnum is to touch the desk top.”

“All right, sir,” Escott promised, “that is agreed.”

It was not a harrowing scene. First, Farnum merely lowered the roll top gently down on Stone’s neck, when it was easily seen that had it been pulled down rapidly, the result would have been far different.

Then the coroner, pushing up the top, asked the detective to pull it down on his own neck.

This, it was quickly seen, could not be done with one hand, and if two hands were used, one could not have been found inside the desk.

These efforts proved suicide not possible, but murder an easy act.

“And accident?” queried Farnum, deeply interested.

But an accident could not be compassed. No amount of jarring or bumping against the desk would start the top on its way down.

“Then it was indubitably murder,” the coroner declared. “Thank you, Mr. Stone. I’ve no choice as to my report.”

“What are you doing? Let me see!” cried Mimi, as she came running in. She had changed into a pretty gown of black and white printed chiffon and there was scarcely a sign of the scratch on her hand.

But Escott scrutinized her fingers, and easily found the one that was scratched.

“And on which you wore this cot, until you could get some adhesive plaster,” he continued.

Mimi blushed at the sight of the little bandage, but she only laughed, saying, “Exactly that. And glad to have it, too.”

And then the coroner’s men took away the body of lovely Rosalie.

Mimi collapsed utterly, and threw herself in a big chair in a corner of the library, shaking with sobs and quivering in nervous excitement.

“Pull yourself together, Miss Bell,” advised the Inspector, calmly. “I must question you a little more and then you can give yourself over to a luxury of grief. Please tell me exactly what you did on going to your room last night.”

“Nothing, but undress myself and go to bed.” Mimi’s big blue eyes were as limpid and innocent looking as a baby’s, and she showed wonder rather than resentment at Escott’s question.

Her exquisite Dresden China effects were brought out more clearly by the simple gown she was now wearing, and which was far more becoming to her than the gay colors she usually affected.

“Be careful,” warned Escott. “At what time did you come downstairs?”

“After I went up to bed?” Mimi stared at him.

“Yes, some time after. Perhaps about two o’clock.”

“Guess again, Mr. Inspector. Little Mimi was sound asleep round about two o’clock.”

“Then you didn’t hear Miss Buchanan come down?”

“I sure didn’t. If I had I’d have rushed after her, to see what was going on.”

“Did you hear any one in the halls or on the stairs?”

“Couldn’t. The carpets or rugs in this house are sound proof, I’ll say.”

“Was Miss Buchanan’s room near yours?”

“Next but one. Priscilla the maid had a small room between us. She might tell you if any one went downstairs in the night.”

“We know Miss Buchanan did come down. We know she must have met some one or been joined by some one, or else she killed herself. And the coroner has declared that an impossibility.”

“Yes,” Mimi nodded her head thoughtfully. “She must have come down. Poor Rosalie. I wonder if she knew she was coming to her death.”

“You know no more about it than you have told us?”

“I haven’t told you anything about it, have I?”

“No, and I wish you would. What cigarettes do you smoke?”

“Any kind I can lay my hands on. I’m not at all particular. Is it time now for the clew of the cigarette stubs?”

“Yes, it is. Do you like Ali Babas?”

“ ’Deed I do! Who doesn’t? Found any?”

“Yes, three stubs quite unconcealed, in a small ash tray.”

“Then, since you say Rosalie came downstairs, she must have come down to meet the man who smoked those things. Who is he? Nobody in this house uses them, as a steady diet.”

“Then it could have been the murderer.”

“Must have been, I’d say. What price Jack Stafford? He always has expensive cigarettes, but I’m not sure of the brand.”

“Go and see,” the Inspector nodded his head at one of his aides.

“I have some of those Ali Babas,” Miss Maria volunteered. “A friend gave me a package. I never opened it, but some one may have taken it from my room.”

“Will you send for the package, please.”

“Go and get it, Prissy,” Miss Winslow told the maid.

“Were you downstairs during the night, ma’am?” the Inspector asked her.

“Me? Mercy, no. Why should I come gallivantin’ down?”

“There might be many reasons. To see the house was properly locked up. To see that the lights were all out, to get a book, or something to eat, or—oh, there are lots of reasons. But did you come down?”

“Most certainly not.”

But Fleming Stone’s quick eye caught a flutter of nervousness as the thin old hands clasped and unclasped in their owner’s lap.

His intuitive mind told him that Miss Maria was not the sort who would quibble about a statement. If she wanted to tell a falsehood she would do it with a straightforward air and a decided tone.

As she had just done. Her positive denial was to him an assertion of the opposite. He was as sure she had come downstairs as if she had said so.

Now, what did she come for? But such questions must wait till later.

Escott was going ahead with his inquiry.

“Then where were you, about three-thirty or four o’clock this morning?”

“In my bed, asleep.”

“You are a good sleeper?”

“On the contrary, I am a very poor sleeper. But I am usually asleep in the early morning, though I’m awake until then.”

“You slept well last night?”

“After I succeeded in getting to sleep, yes. That is, after the young people came upstairs and went to their rooms.”

“They disturbed you?”

“No, not that. I want them to have their good times, their dancing and their late hours. I’d be unhappy if they didn’t.”

“You heard them come up, then?”

“Oh, yes. They were all laughing and talking together. I like to have them enjoy themselves.”

“And at what time did you hear some one go downstairs?”

This shot told. Miss Maria looked almost frightened for a moment, and then recovered her poise.

“I thought I heard some one in the hall perhaps an hour later. But I’m not certain. I have acute hearing, but the carpets are deep and soft, a footstep is not easily discernible, and is impossible of recognition.”

“You heard more than one person walking?”

“Only one, that I recall. I may have heard another as I dozed off. It made little impression on me. It is not unusual for the family or guests to go about at night, if they wish. There are many errands that might call them downstairs.”

“Yes, I daresay. Ah, here is Priscilla back again. Well, my girl, did you find Miss Winslow’s cigarettes?”

“No, sir. They are not in her room.”

“I’m not surprised,” Maria announced. “The young people have access to my rooms at any time. They are welcome to take cigarettes, perfumery, note paper, or anything they want. It never bothers me. I want them to feel free of my things.”

“A delightful attitude for a hostess,” said Escott, smiling at her. “And does your brother-in-law make free of your things, too?”

“Not often, though he’s welcome to do so. But he never smokes cigarettes.”

“Only cigars?”

“I am present,” informed Linus, calmly. “Ask me. Yes, I smoke cigars and sometimes a pipe.”

“Who then, do you suppose left the stubs of the Oriental cigarettes in the ash tray?”

“I’ve not the least idea. I didn’t smoke in the little book room after dinner, last night. I watched the dancing, took a turn round the grounds, sat for a bit in the library, and went upstairs soon after my sister did.”

“And where, may I ask, are the Berkeley pearls?”

Had a bomb fallen, the faces of those present could not have looked more amazed.

Miss Winslow raised her hands in mid air and clasped them in front of her.

Linus Berkeley turned white and even his lips seemed bloodless.

Lowell gave a stifled moan, and leaned back in his chair as if exhausted.

Linus recovered himself first, and said, quietly;

“So far as I know, they are in the old desk. I brought them from the city, having had them cleaned and restrung, and I put them there till I should hand them over to my son, to give to his affianced bride.”

“Will you see if they are there now?”

“I’ll go,” and Maria jumped from her seat and was at the door before Linus could intercept her, if indeed, he cared to do so.

Miss Winslow was gone but a moment, and returned with a jeweler’s box.

On being opened there was disclosed a most beautiful string of pearls, perfectly matched and only slightly graduated.

Linus took the box from her and handed it over to the Inspector.

“Where did you find this?” Escott asked, quietly.

“In one of the pigeon holes of the roll-top desk,” Maria told him.

“Which one?”

“The one at the end of Miss Buchanan’s finger tips.”

“As if she had been reaching for it, when the roll top came down on her neck.”

“That I can’t say, but it might seem so.”

“Be quiet, Maria,” her brother-in-law admonished her. “You cannot assume any such intent on the girl’s part.”

“I haven’t, Linus. I only say it might be so.”

“Has any one present any reason to think that Miss Buchanan knew of the pearl necklace in the desk?” Escott inquired.

No one answered, until at last Mimi said; “Rosalie knew of it, yes, for she told me about it.”

“When?” snapped Escott.

“Yesterday afternoon. She said Mr. Berkeley was going to give them to her last night. I suppose he failed to do so, and she went after them herself.”

“It looks that way,” said Escott, a little drily.

“It doesn’t look that way to me!” Lowell declared, with an angry ring in his voice.

“How does it look to you, son?” asked Linus, gently.

“As if some marauder,—some burglar, say, knew about the pearls, came here in the night, made Rosalie get up and go downstairs with him, and then, as he tried to make her show him where the pearls were, he killed her by bringing the roll top down on her neck.”

“That might be the explanation,” said Escott, thoughtfully. “But, in that case, why did he go away without the gems?”

“Scared off,” vouchsafed Mayo Farnum. “The desk lid made more noise than he anticipated, and he decided to run for his own safety.”

“Not knowing whether he left the girl dead or alive?” Fleming Stone asked of his friend.

“What did he care? He was probably unknown to her, and had no fear of recognition. He gave up the pearls to save his skin, of course.”

Usually anything but awkward of movement, Stone now dropped the pencil he had been holding. Not only dropped it, but in making a grab to retrieve it, only shot it farther away.

With a chagrined smile, he crossed the room and picked it up, then said:

“I think Mayo, we’d be for going home. We can’t impose on the hospitality of Rocky Reef indefinitely, and we can return this afternoon for later news. What say?”

“Come along,” and Farnum rose.

After a few words more the two men slipped quietly away, and walked over to Limbo.

“I couldn’t stand it another minute,” Stone declared and his friend agreed with him.

“We’ll have a good luncheon,” Mayo said, “and then for a real hobnob. We’ve something to talk about, I’ll say!”


Chapter 5
Who Killed Rosalie?

Mayo Farnum’s household staff at Limbo was a family affair.

A stalwart Gloucester fisherman, named Tripp, was an efficient and well-trained butler, and his wife, Callie, was an excellent cook.

Their two grown children, Nat and Rowena, were respectively, second man and housemaid. The rest on Farnum’s payroll were gardeners.

Without unnecessary ceremony, but with complete and correct service, the house was run smoothly and to the satisfaction of Mayo Farnum.

Fleming Stone, too, was satisfied. He had been greatly enjoying his stay with his old friend, and now that a murder mystery had crept into the situation, he was pleased at the prospect of working it out in company with the retired detective.

Though clever at deduction, Farnum was by no means the equal of Stone in achievement or reputation. But both anticipated pleasurable interest in the exchange of theories and opinions on what looked like an intricate and puzzling case.

And now, freshened by a bath and a change into white flannels, the pair forgathered on the big lounge porch, prepared to discuss the all engrossing subject over the imminent cocktails.

It was a gorgeous autumn day, and though many summer people had left Oleander Park, there were many yet remaining, and passers-by on the broad avenue peered curiously in at the flower dotted lawns and the well kept gardens.

Vines screened the porch from intrusive attention; and stretched out in long wicker chairs, the two friends sat gazing out to sea.

Smoking equipment within reach, they looked up with interest as Tripp wheeled a tea wagon toward them, and Farnum proceeded to concoct the cocktails from its furnishings.

It was nearly three o’clock in the afternoon, and Farnum mentioned this to the butler.

“Hope the luncheon isn’t spoiled by the delay,” he added.

“No, sir,” and Tripp smiled. “It’s a clambake, sir, and waiting a bit really improves it.”

“A clambake? Goody!” cried Stone, boyishly. “The real thing?”

“Gen-u-wine, sir,” Tripp assured him; “steaming now, out under the tarpaulin.”

The old Gloucester expert could engineer a clambake far better than many who provided them for the beach restaurants.

Tripp’s clam chowder, steamed clams, clam fritters and every other approved method of preparing the bivalve, were the best of their sort, and were fully appreciated by those privileged to try them.

“Everything on deck but the watermelon,” he said; “couldn’t get that, but Callie, now, she’s got a dessert for you—”

“Don’t let her trouble,” begged Stone. “By the time I reach dessert my interest in food stuffs is entirely gone.”

“Yes, a dessert is out of place at the end of a clambake,” Farnum agreed. “Guess the Tripp family will have to take care of that part of the feast.”

Their glasses filled, Tripp was dismissed, and the two friends grew grave as their thoughts turned to the scenes they had so recently witnessed at Rocky Reef.

“Regarding the sudden death of Miss Buchanan,” Farnum began, his tone a bit whimsical, but by no means frivolous, “was it a murder?”

“It certainly was,” his guest replied. “There is no other accounting for it.”

“You ought to know,” and Farnum’s thoughts flew back to the incident of his pulling the desk top down on Stone’s neck. “Well, then, who did it?”

“Not so easily answered. As far as I can see, everybody who slept under the roof of Rocky Reef last night can be logically suspected.”

“With or without motive?”

“Motives are not always self-evident. We must discover a motive before we can accuse a suspect, but not necessarily before we suggest one.”

“Then let’s suggest names in turn. You begin.”

“I’m willing to suggest in my turn, but I’m not willing to begin.”

Farnum laughed. “I’m not, either,” he said.

“Let’s work it backwards, then,” Stone proposed. “Eliminate the names of those we both feel sure are innocent.”

“I’ll begin on that. Linus.”

“Because he’s your friend, or because he called you to the job?” asked Stone, seriously.

“Both,” returned Farnum, with equal seriousness. “Also, because the man is incapable of such a deed. I have known him for years, remember, and he has the finest, highest principles and the strongest sense of justice of any man I know. Also, as a southern gentleman, he would find it impossible to deal out to a young and beautiful girl a brutal and horrible death. And beside all that, he is absurdly indulgent to his son. To my certain knowledge he has never refused Lowell anything he wanted. He had no fault to find with Rosalie. He might have wished Lowell had chosen a girl of higher culture or more illustrious antecedents, but you can’t imagine his killing the pretty little thing for such reasons.”

“No,” agreed Stone, “I can’t.”

“Then we must eliminate Linus. Now, it’s your turn.”


“Yes, we may as well get him settled. Of course, we both eliminate him. He was besottedly in love, he had no reason to be jealous. To be sure, she teased him a bit by fooling round with Collingwood Stewart, but that’s the natural and normal proceeding of any up-to-date girl. And even if he came into the room and caught her stealing the pearls, he would scarcely consider it a case for capital punishment.”

“Don’t go too fast, Mayo. We’re only eliminating names as yet, not considering motives or reasons.”

“All right, go ahead, then. It’s your turn.”

“My turn, nothing! I’ve just chosen Lowell for elimination. Do you agree?”

“Yes,—oh, yes, indeed. Both he and his father are out of the question. Well, then, if it’s my turn, I strike off Maria.”

“Go easy there. What do I say, if I don’t entirely agree?”

“Oh, just say you don’t. We’ll come back to these people, later. But you can’t suspect that woman. She’s a raw-boned New England spinster, but she’s not the stuff murderers are made of.”

“What true murderer is? I mean, apparently. Take Crippen, Landru, Smith and their ilk, or take Richeson and Lizzie Borden over here. Would you have picked them out as murderers before you knew of their crimes?”

“Well, Maria is different.”

“Everybody’s different from everybody else. And Miss Maria avowedly disliked the girl. And, too, in such a case, it might have been partly accidental. I mean, if Maria caught her taking the pearls, she might have meant merely to startle her with the roll top, and it slipped from her grasp—”

“Who’s going into details and motives now?”

“Correct! Decant me another of those comforting cocktails of yours and we’ll let Maria slip into the discard. And it’s my turn, and without fear of successful contradiction, I eliminate Jane Bristol.”

“Yes, I’ll agree. Jane’s a good girl. A bit downhearted as a rule, but who wouldn’t be in her position?”

“What is her position? As an incentive to downheartedness, I mean.”

“Oh, well, the contrast between her own drab life and the gay colored patchwork of existence for the other young people.”

“Right you are, Mayo. And though that’s no motive for murder, we’re not talking motives. Go on, you.”

“I will. Right here and now, I strike off Paderewski Potter.”

“Gosh! Wish I’d thought of him. There can be no objections on the part of this committee to removing all suspicion from his illustrious name. And yet—”

“Yet me no yets. Paddy’s definitely off, and you know it.”

“Then, I counter with Prissy. That Priscilla of the Berkeleys is a bit of an enigma, I hold, but that doesn’t argue her a murderer.”

“No, though she’s far more likely as a suspect than Potter.”

“So? Well, we still have a few of the younger generation to consider.”

“It’s my turn,” Farnum cried, eagerly. “I cross off Jack Stafford.”

“Slacker! You do that because he doesn’t live in the house, and you think you have a cinch. Well, for me, Stewart, then, he of the long and pompous name.”

“Collingwood? But he’s one of my pet suspects.”

“We’re not telling our suspects now. We’re eliminating. And I vote for the removal of the dead wood, Collingwood.”

“Don’t try too hard to be funny. And here’s Nat to tell us luncheon is served. I say, Stone, do you realize what name, if any, we have failed to eliminate?”

“I do, indeed. Why didn’t you choose to cross it off?”

“Why didn’t you? Yes, Nat, we’re coming right along. No more of this, Fleming, until our return. We mustn’t spoil Callie’s clambake by untoward thoughts.”

Nor did they. The marvelous procession of dishes, from clam chowder onward, was enjoyed until human nature could bear no more.

“Wonderful,” Stone declared, “to eat a clambake in circumstances of decorum and politeness.”

“Yes, all too many people think a clambake must be eaten on an oilcloth table cover, with pasteboard plates and paper napkins.”

“Amid noisy and jostling surroundings and strangers for neighbors.”

“With the chowder mostly hot water, enlivened by sprigs of thyme and sage.”

“And the seats hard wooden chairs or lengths of board on trestles. While here we have the complete bachelor service, a palatial dining room, and an outlook like a botanical garden on the borders of Paradise. To say nothing of the neat handed Phyllis, who appears all too seldom.”

The last with a smiling nod at Rowena, pressed into service because of the over numerous viands that went to the special menu.

Pretty Rowena smiled in her turn, her poise not at all shaken. The Tripps were an admirable family, admirably trained.

Luncheon over, coffee, cigars and a very special liquor awaited them on the porch, and they returned at once to their talk.

“Well, Fleming, so you realize we named the cast of Hamlet, leaving Hamlet out.”

“Perhaps not quite that, but if you mean we omitted to choose Mimi as an innocente, I’m obliged to agree.”

“Well, she seems to be the one we tacitly evaded making mention of. And as neither of us saw fit to speak of her, can we not take it we agree about her as a possible candidate for suspicion?”

“They’re all that.” Stone looked deeply thoughtful. “But she has many of the requisite qualities, I must say.”


“Envy rather than jealousy, old man. Lowell was Rosalie’s very own, and Mimi doubtless felt envious. But she could scarcely be jealous, as he had never been her property,”

“Yeah? But save the lessons in English composition till we have more idle moments. Envy, then, she possessed. How about its mates, hatred and malice?”

“If she’s the guilty party, they must be present in her wicked little heart. But in any case, I’d say she was a prey to envy.”

“And had motive and opportunity. But, stay, have we finished our list? Are we free to ramificate?”

“I think the list is complete. Except, of course, for the rest of the servants. We’ve only mentioned two of those. But it isn’t like a servant’s job, is it now?”

“No, though it isn’t fair to count on that. Still and all, we can’t consider the servants when we don’t even know their names.”

“Have to leave suspicion of them to the lesser breeds without the law.”

“Meaning Escott, Anderson and Co.?”

“Exactly. How quick you are on the uptake!”

“Well, then to a full and unimpeded confab about Mimi.”

“Go to it. By the way, Mayo mine, who is she?”


“Just that. Who is she? Cophetua’s Beggar maid, or Lady Clara Vere de Vere, admirably disguised?”

“Your intuitions must tell you such things. I’ve no records from the Bureau of Vital Statistics, and to me she seems neither a scion of an F. F. V. or qualified for membership in the Society of Colonial Dames.”

“No. But there are other estimable backgrounds beside Massachusetts and Virginia.”

“Somehow I can’t see her emerging from any of them. The estimable ones, I mean.”

“Don’t be too much biased by the lipstick and the slangy chatter. All the youngsters indulge in those nowadays.”

“Oh, yes. I’m not entirely a fossil, Fleming. In fact I have a niece or two of my own, not to mention the up-to-date Rowena.”

“I know. I know. But it’s hard for me to remember that there may be a sweet girlish nature, say, like Wordsworth’s Lucy, beneath their motley make-up.”

“I never was as crazy about Lucy as some, though I admit it may be because of insufficient data. But to get right down to it. I wonder if any one over there knows of Mimi’s relatives. Linus doesn’t. Lowell doesn’t. Maria may know a little, but not much. I’d say Rosalie knew the most of any one over there. Now Rosalie’s gone. Of course, she knew.”

“Maybe and maybe not.”

Farnum stared at him.

“How do you mean? She was Rosalie’s friend. Rosalie brought her there.”

“And probably knew her history. But maybe she didn’t. Girls nowadays don’t have much history. Fielding said, ‘All history is false except the names and dates.’ And with these adventuresses, most of the names and dates are the falsest of all.”

“Yes, I see. And you’re right.”

“That’s one of your finest traits, Mayo. You do see, bless you!”

“Well, go on from there.”

“Our going on must be progress without this data we’re speaking of. If it happens to come out, all very well, but if not, we can’t get it. Lowell knows nothing whatever of Mimi’s past or future. And very little of her present. I asked him. He was uninterested but frank. He states he neither knows nor cares whence she came or whither she’s going. But he’d be glad if she’d be on her way.”

“Poor boy, he’s in the depths of woe, and it’s too bad that gadfly of a girl has to be around there buzzing and nipping at him.”

“It certainly is. She ought to be pushed out. But the chivalry of the men and the upright and unbending sense of a hostess’ duty that Miss Maria has, won’t allow them to invite her to leave.”

“I’ve a notion to give her a hint myself,” declared Farnum, but Stone said, quickly;

“Don’t do it! She’d be impervious to hints anyway, but aside from that we want her here, if she is our suspect.”

“Then make hay while the sun shines. Let’s talk about her now, then go over and talk to her, and then see where we stand.”

“Nowhere, probably. However, what about opportunity?”

“It looks to me as if they all had opportunity and plenty of it. Now, we know Rosalie came downstairs after she had been to bed, or at least, had prepared for bed. She had on pajamas and boudoir coat. The girls wear those things on all sorts of occasions now, but Rosalie had been in evening dress, and had changed to this boudoir costume.”

“And in that rig she came downstairs. All right by me, so far.”

“Well, then,” Farnum went on, “Mimi heard her go down.”

“The carpets are very soft, and the girl was light of foot—”

“All right. Say, Mimi had her door open either for air or in spying mood, and she saw Rosalie go down. Wouldn’t she hop out of bed, if she was in bed, and follow—follow,—follow—”

“Shut up. Yes, of course she would. Well?”

“Well, that’s all,—’most all. Say, she got down in time to see Rosalie pawing about for the pearls, and being of that envious disposition, came to a hasty conclusion it would be nice to have the pearls herself.”

“But Rosalie hadn’t found the pearls yet.”

“You don’t know that. Maybe she had, and told Mimi so,—”

“No, Mayo. Remember, when the packet was found that had the pearl necklace in it, it was sealed at both ends.”

“So it was, Fleming. Well, that doesn’t matter. The two girls got hold of it and scrambled for it, and in the scrimmage the desk top came down. Mimi, perhaps to stifle Rosalie’s cries, jammed the top down, and—there you are.”

Stone shook his head.

“Good in spots, but not all over. I can’t see Mimi walking off and leaving the pearls for any swine that came along.”

“But, Good Lord, man, she couldn’t get them then! Nothing, I’m sure, would induce her to raise that desk lid, and see that dead girl, she must have known she was dead, or she would have screamed,—far better to leave the necklace lay, and save her own neck. No, Miss Mimi had no thought then but to get back to bed and play the innocent.”

“Illogical, Mayo. If Mimi had the nerve, and the wickedness and the diabolical cruelty to kill her friend, then she would never leave the place until she secured her booty. She was safe enough. If some one had come in and caught her there, she could have said she just arrived, and could have flown into hysterics at the sight of the dead body.”

“Yes, but you can argue against everything. Well, let’s hear some arguments from you against somebody else. We’re not sure it was Mimi.”

“No, we’re not. Now, here’s something I picked up in the library.”

Stone drew a full length lead pencil from his pocket, and waved it aloft.

“I saw you pick it up,” Farnum smiled; “it was when you dropped your own to cover your depredation.”

“Quite right. Well, do you recognize it?”

“Can’t say I do,” and Farnum handed it back after a careful survey.

“It’s one of the pencils that come in the crossword puzzle books. You know, they’re sticking in the little holder on the cover of the book.”

“Oh, yes. Are you sure this is from a puzzle book?”

“Sure. Because of the make and number of the pencil, and because of the way it is sharpened. When those books are sold, the pencils are sharpened by a little machine that makes a different point from the contraption most of us use.”

“And where does that get us?”

“It’s only a straw in the right direction. I’m told Prissy always straightens up that room while the family are at dinner. So, had this pencil been there then, the maid must have picked it up. So, it fell there after dinner. Now, who dropped it?”

“Who does puzzles over there?”

“The only ones known to do them, I’m credibly informed, are,—or were Mr. Berkeley and Rosalie. The others held various attitudes, some detesting the things, some merely indifferent, and some liking them, but not clever at the work.”

“Yes, I’ve heard that Linus and Rosalie were everlastingly at them.”

“They were. Yet I’m certain neither of them dropped this pencil.”


“Because it seemed to me of such colossal importance that I inquired of two of the servants, Prissy, and your friend, Paddy Potter.”

“And found out—?”

“That both Mr. Berkeley and Miss Buchanan were fussy about their pencils, and never used the ones that came with the books.”

“What was the matter with them?”

“I don’t know. Too hard or too soft or something like that. They always used another make and a certain number or letter.”

“And from that you built up a theory?”

“I never build up a theory from such a small point as a pencil point. And beside, those sharp pencil points break very easily.”

“I wish you’d quit that silly joking!”

“Why, I will. I thought it amused you.”

“Don’t be silly!”

The two men looked at one another and laughed. It always entertained Stone to irritate Farnum, and the good-natured Mayo didn’t really mind it a bit.

“Well, let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter.”

“If I tell you, will you promise to leave the discussion of it till later, and come with me now, into Neptune’s great ocean?”

“I will, with unconcealed pleasure.”

“Well, then, the finding of the pencil told me as plain as words could speak, that somebody else around the house, somebody beside Mr. Berkeley and Miss Rosalie, was working on the puzzles, at least, enough to use the pencil that came with the book, and enough to use up the lead to a considerable extent. You can see it has been used till it’s quite dull.”

“If Paddy had found it, he’d have whacked it into his sharpening machine.”

“Of course, he would. Well, I asked him an obscure question or two about it, but he had no ideas on the subject, and little if any interest in it.”

“So then?”

“So then, I tackled the pleasant-faced Prissy. And she knew quite a lot.”

“Such as?”

“Such as that Miss Maria does the puzzles.”

“Maria! Why, she detests them!”

“She says she does. But Prissy knows and she says Miss Maria works at them incessantly when she’s alone.”

“But why keep it secret? It may seem to her an undignified pursuit, but her brother revels in it—”


“All right. Did Prissy say why Miss Maria made a secret of this thing?”

“She did. It’s because she’s not adept at the game, and she wants to wait until she becomes so before joining the expert workers.”

“Well, I’ll be hanged! Maria! How they’d laugh at her if they knew!”

“That’s just what she’s afraid of. Now, come along and ho, for the ocean waves!”


Chapter 6
Stafford’s Story

Though the water was cold that only made their dip in the ocean the more invigorating, and later, as they sat again on the porch, their thoughts drifted back to Rocky Reef, and they wondered how things were going over there.

“How about jogging over to spy out the land,” Stone suggested, tentatively.

“I’m with you,” Farnum returned with alacrity. His brisk consent was promptly quelled, however, when Stone said;

“ ’Tisn’t necessary, Mahomet, here comes the mountain to us.”

And no less a personage than Inspector Escott came along, stopped at the gate and sauntered along the path to the porch.

“Welcome,” said Farnum, going down the steps to greet him. “We were just about to hunt you down.”

“Better this way. We can talk more freely.”

“Is there an occasion for free talk?” Stone asked, as the Inspector took a seat.

“A little. You chaps scooted off before I knew you were going.”

“Yes. We had to have a little pow-wow of our own. You’re welcome to the gist of it, if you want it.”

“I want anything I can get in the way of intelligent assistance. The case seems to me to grow more perplexing every minute.”

“What have you done since we left?” Farnum asked, straightforwardly.

“Just questioned the rest of the household, and started in on the investigation of young Master Stafford.”

“The next door neighbor?” Stone asked.

“That same. He’s a wily cuss and I don’t quite make him.”

“As how?”

“Well, first of all, I thought we’d never lay hands on him. He was as elusive as an eel, and I had to post a man at his gate to waylay him before I could be sure he was a visible human being.”

“Did his visibility help you any?”

“Only in a negative way. He disclaimed all knowledge of anything that could possibly be helpful or suggestive, and gave me no information save such as he had no intention and no knowledge of giving.”

“Of any value?” put in Farnum, who had been letting Stone carry on the conversation.

“Two points only. One that he was over head and ears in love with Rosalie Buchanan, and the other that he was inordinately jealous of Lowell Berkeley.”

“Which self-evident facts, of course, he denied.” This from Stone.

“Yes, of course. But his rattled speech and embarrassed air gave him dead away.”

“It was common knowledge, wasn’t it?” Farnum asked, indifferently,

“They say so over there, now. But common knowledge becomes of greater import after a crime has been committed than it was before.”

“Is he under suspicion—by any one?” Farnum asked this eagerly.

“By me, yes,” Escott said, soberly. “But not alone. I think of him as working with another—”


“Are you going over there?”

“Yes, we thought of it.”

“Well, go ahead, and let me know later if anything of importance turns up. If so, I’ll run down here this evening for a few minutes. Now tell me anything you know, and then I’ll be on my way.”

Fleming Stone gave him the lead pencil he had picked up from the floor, and told him where it had presumably come from.

Escott took small interest in it, saying that though the puzzle solvers might be cranks on their pencils, doubtless others of the household weren’t so pernickety and would use any old pencil for jotting down memoranda or that sort of thing. To his mind it didn’t prove Miss Maria a puzzle fan, and he believed Prissy exaggerated her interest in the things. Also, even if the maid told the truth it didn’t seem plausible to think the fact that the pencil had been found on the floor meant anything against Miss Maria or any one else. A pencil, more or less, in a house given to all sorts of literary pursuits, was only a drop in the bucket. For his part, the Inspector implied rather than stated, he had enough to do without gazing at lead pencils.

“And the linen bandage?” queried Stone. “Anything further turn up about that?”

“Linen bandage? Oh, the finger cot. No, I think not. As a matter of fact I forgot all about it. I can’t squeeze any real juice out of those fiddly-faddly clews. To me, the psychology of Jack Stafford’s behavior means more than a hundred dropped handkerchiefs or cigarette stubs.”

“It well may be,” agreed Stone, affably. “Tracked those Ali Baba stubs yet?”

“No, I left that for you. Don’t want you to be disappointed by a lack of clews.”

“Good for you, and this being thus, suppose we take a run over to the Reef now, and see you this evening.”

So the weary Inspector departed, and the two detectives started for the big house that stood grim and stark against the sunset sky.

Never before had Rocky Reef worn a grim look. Its red bricks and white paint, with its bright flowers and gay awnings had anything but a grim effect.

But now, things were different, and the jagged reefs and the shuttered windows looked dour and even sinister.

“I got off light,” said Stone, chuckling as they walked along. “I thought of course I’d be raked over the coals for suppressing evidence. But his highness didn’t seem to think it was evidence and didn’t look upon my act as suppression.”

“Frankly, I don’t see much to it myself, Fleming. Say Maria does do the puzzles on the sly, does that argue her a murderer? And, if not, why drag in the lead pencil?”

“You lack a lot of imagination, my friend. And the Inspector does, too. But if this thing is ever cleared up, I’ll bet that pencil will loom up in the evidence to its full height.”

“Like as not,” agreed Farnum, “but a pencil’s full height isn’t a tall order. I say, where are you going? Rocky Reef is up the next avenue.”

“I know it, my child, I know it. But I’ve an unconquerable whim to call on the way at young Stafford’s home.”

“You won’t see him. You know how elusive he is, according to Escott.”

“Elusive, evasive and ungetattable. Yes, I know. Wherefore, we try it.”

Try it they did, and found the lad in a hammock on the veranda.

A small but pretty house was the Stafford cottage, and his parents being away, Jack had it to himself.

“I thought you’d come,” he said, with somewhat rueful grin. He ran his fingers through his touseled hair, and pushed chairs toward them. “You haven’t much to say, have you?”

“Not much,” Stone said, kindly, for he saw the lad was pretty well exhausted. “Rather we’d wait till to-morrow?”

“No, go ahead, and get it over. But for gosh sake, do get it straight! They’ve accused me of being in love with everything in petticoats over there. Rosalie, of course, and Mimi and Jane and, I believe, Miss Maria and Prissy.”

“Are you such a gay Lothario?”

“Nothing like it! I did love Rosalie, but none of the rest.”

Stone watched him closely.

“Mimi said she was your choice,” he observed.

But Jack was unperturbed. “I know she did, and she thought so, too. But I made up to her in order to get over there to see Rosalie. Mim didn’t really mind.”

“Are you sure of that?”

“Well, I don’t care if she did. She’ll get over it. Probably catch Lowell on the rebound. But I worshiped that Rosalie flower. Gosh, wasn’t she a beauty! And my love for her wasn’t any calf love, either.” Stafford sat upright, and looked far more manly than he had at first.

“You see, I could have done things for her that Low never could have done, with all his money and prestige.”

“Such as what, Jack?”

“Oh, keying her up to a more lofty plane. Stepping stones to higher things. You know what I mean. As that old guy, Wordsworth or somebody said, ‘She shall be mine and I will make a lady of mine own.’ Remember?”

“Yes. You’re fond of poetry?”

“The real stuff, yes. And I wanted to teach Rosalie to love and appreciate it. You see, Lowell would never think of doing such a thing. He’d feel the lack of it in her, but he’d never try to supply that lack.”

“And so to help along you pretended to be interested in Miss Bell—”

“Just that. Now, what about it?”

“This about it.” Stone spoke more sternly now. “Why didn’t you own up that you were over at the house last night?”

“They all knew it. We were dancing till midnight.”

“Yes, but I mean later. You came home at midnight, but you went back there again, say, about two o’clock in the morning.”

“Nothing of the sort! Who says I did?”

“You’re saying so yourself, right now. Your excited manner gives you away.”

Stafford calmed down by an evident effort.

“No, Mr. Stone, you’re mistaken.”

“I’m not mistaken. You were there for some time, —long enough to smoke three cigarettes.”

“Three cigarettes! You’re crazy! I wasn’t there at all.”

“Yes, you were. Now who was with you? Rosalie or Mimi or—Lowell?”

“None of them. I didn’t go myself. Everybody smokes cigarettes, if you’re banking on that.”

“But not everybody smokes Ali Babas. You do.” Stafford looked down at the half smoked cigarette he was holding. His glance traveled to the ash stand near, where were many stubs, of the brand Stone had mentioned.

“Granted I smoke these. They are expensive, but they please me. They’re one of my few extravagances.”

“And you smoked three of them in the small book room at Rocky Reef last night, or early this morning. Who was with you at the time?”

“Well, as it can do the girl no harm now, I’ll tell you it was Rosalie. But it was earlier, not more than one o’clock. She was still wearing her evening gown, a pale green thing that made her look like a sea nymph. We talked only about twenty minutes or so.”

“Yet you smoked three cigarettes.”

“Yes, but I was nervous and flustered. I merely lit them, took a puff or two and stamped them out.”

“What were you talking about that was so engrossing?”

“I was trying to persuade her to marry me.”

“And Lowell came in and caught you there. Which of you killed her?”

“Neither of us! How dare you? At any rate, when I left she was alive and as well and happy as ever!”

Stone watched the speaker, missing none of his gestures.

But they all pointed to the same thing. To a nervous temperament, made more nervous and excited by the successive questionings he was being subjected to.

His voice failed him now and then, as his throat became dry, and his long, well-shaped hands were fidgeting painfully as he interlaced and released his never still fingers.

It was clearly impossible for him to control himself, and Stone was sorry for him.

Yet dared he go off and leave him? Might he not run away and give them no chance to learn for certain whether or not he was implicated in the crime?

“Miss Buchanan positively refused to marry you, then?” Stone asked, finally.

“Not quite that, I’d rather she had been more definite. No, I take that back. Even the slightest hope is better than some certainties!”

“What was there about the girl that won all your hearts?” Stone asked this in honest curiosity.

“Oh, she was such a peach! And so—so interesting, you know. Never did what you’d expect, always a little surprise up her sleeve. And charm! Well, she was just a bundle of charm. Sweet, roguish, merry, and sometimes wistful and appealing. Oh, that little face, when she coaxed!”

“But she was engaged to Lowell.”

“He said so, but she never quite admitted it. Colly,—you know Collingwood Stewart,—he was as crazy about her as I was. Though we were neither of us quite like Lowell. He was a driveling idiot,— and gloried in it. If he hadn’t shown her quite so plainly how he idolized her, he would have had a better hold over her.”

“And Mr. Berkeley?”

“What about him?”

“Did he fall a victim to the charm of this paragon?”

“Why, I shouldn’t put it that way. I mean, he had no deep admiration or affection for her himself, but his one idea in life is that Lowell must have what he wants. So, if Lowell wanted this—paragon is the right word!—then Lowell must have her, and that was that.”

“Miss Maria was fond of the girl, I believe.”

“For the same reason. If she was Lowell’s choice, that settled it. Miss Maria was always lovely to her, and tried to teach her a bit about—you know—housekeeping stunts and all that. But Rosalie was a butterfly, and she never planned to do housework. Good Lord, why should she? Miss Maria was brought up to it and loved it, as my mother does. But Posy! No, not any for her.”

“And Miss Maria resented this?”

“No, sir, she didn’t. Or, if she did, she didn’t say so. She was sweet and dear always, to Rosalie. And I believe she feels her death deeply. Oh, we all do. Can’t you find the beast that did it, Mr. Stone? Or you, Mr. Farnum? You two, working together, ought to dig up the truth. And if you catch him, and don’t want the trouble and expense of a trial and conviction, I’ll gladly attend to him for you.”

The words were simple enough, but the look of revenge and hatred that distorted Stafford’s face would have made any criminal quail.

“Where are your people?” asked Stone, casually.

“Gone abroad. They took Sis with them, leaving me to hold the fort. I didn’t go because I had heard Rosalie was coming up here. I didn’t know then how deep in Lowell was. Wish I’d gone to Europe with the crowd.”

“You’ve servants here?”

“A man and his wife. They’re caretakers, but first class ones. They look after me all right. If I entertain, I get people down from the town house, or over from a hotel.”

“Can the caretakers here vouch for your movements last night?”

“Why, I don’t know. I never thought of it. Probably, yes. Mrs. Osgood has her share of curiosity, and sometimes keeps tab on my outgoings and incomings. I’m keeping nothing back, Mr. Stone. I went over to Rocky Reef after I came home, same like I told you.”

“How did Rosalie know you were coming? You didn’t ring the bell?”

“No.” For the first time Stafford seemed at a loss. “No,—I didn’t ring the bell. I—I threw pebbles up at her window—”

“I see. And she came quietly down and let you in?”

“Yes, sir. Yes, that was the way of it.”

“Well, we’ll be jogging, Mr. Stafford. You’ll not leave Oleander Park?”

“I would, like a shot, if I could put it over. But the Escott gentleman has put the kibosh on hasty departures, so I remain, his obedient servant.”

Both Fleming Stone and Mayo Farnum were a bit puzzled by the volatility of Stafford’s manner and speech. Now despairing, now dignified and now jocose, he seemed annoyed rather than really frightened. The situation, apparently, bored him more than it alarmed him.

Still, as Farnum sapiently observed, you never can tell.

Rather silent they walked on, and turned in at the entrance to the beautiful lawns and gardens of Rocky Reef.

Half way to the house was a pergola of logs covered with vines that autumn turned to gorgeous colors, giving an effect as of brilliant hued flowers.

In this sat Linus Berkeley, and hurrying away from it they discerned his son, quite evidently desirous of escaping their presence.

“Come in, come in, Mayo, and you, Mr. Stone. Shall we sit here, the seats are none too comfortable. Or go up to the house, where cushions and easy chairs abound?”

“Stay here a bit, and then move on,” Farnum decided for him, and forthwith seated himself on a wooden bench.

Stone perched in a window seat, and this time Mayo became spokesman.

“I’m not sure, Linus,” he said, “you want to keep us on, now that you have Escott and Detective Compton on the job.”

“And Clay,” added Stone, quietly.

“Guying poor old stupid Clay, Mr. Stone? Now that’s too bad of you!”

“On the contrary, Mr. Berkeley, I’m quite serious. I think Clay knows a lot more about his work than many give him credit for—”

“Now, good for you! I agree to that. I, too, think Clay a deep thinker, though his manner and general physical effect is against him.”

“It is. But like Mayo, I’m wondering, Mr. Berkeley, if you care to keep us on. I want to warn you it’s a case of both or neither. If you feel you have more help than you need, fire us, but I’m Farnum’s guest, and I tell you plainly whither he goest, I too, will went! So, how about it?”

“Of course I want you both, rather! I have every confidence in the ability and efficiency of you two, and—well, I may as well admit, I’m a trifle disappointed in Escott. He’s clever and experienced, but he lacks—what is it he lacks?”

“Perhaps originality—or imagination,” Stone suggested.

“Yes, those must be the things.” Linus looked a little vague, as if willing to defer to Stone’s opinion, though not entirely understanding his suggestion.

“Then we’re kept on,” Farnum asked, with a slight sigh of relief.

“You bet you are! And how are you progressing? Though I don’t mean to hurry you, and the affair is in its early stages.”

“You want it carried to a conclusion, irrespective of where we may be led?”

“Yes—yes. But with a proviso. As you know, the dead girl was none of my kin. I cared for her only because my son cared so much,—so very much for her. You have doubtless heard that I have never denied my son anything he wanted. That is practically true. I’m not advocating the plan. It wouldn’t do at all in the case of ninety-nine out of a hundred sons. But Lowell has responded finely to it and never, I mean in important matters, have I been sorry for giving him what he wanted. So, when the matter of Rosalie came up, I tried for a time to persuade him to choose some other wife—”

“Pardon the interruption,” Stone said, “but what was your main objection to the girl?”

“To put it plainly if not bluntly, I suppose it was that I do not altogether subscribe to the poet’s dictum that

‘Kind hearts are more than coronets,
And simple faith than Norman blood.’

Rosalie had no coronet, save the imaginary one Lowell invested her with, and she certainly had no Norman blood, but, on the other hand, she hadn’t an unusually kind heart, nor did she display any simple faith. My metaphor is not turning out very well, but I’m sure you get me. Well, I wanted my son’s wife to have culture and background, and I told him so. Like the general run of headstrong youth, he pooh-poohed at this, set me down as an old fogy,—my son and I are on familiar and understanding terms,—told me I had never refused him a wish, and for Heaven’s sake not to begin now, of all times! So, as was to be expected, he won out, I invited the young lady to visit here, and—gave them my blessing. She was not gauche, or ignorant,—but, well, my family traditions run in different channels. However, times have changed, also, she was to be Lowell’s wife, not mine, and while I had certain preferences I couldn’t feel that they were of sufficient importance to allow me to wreck the boy’s happiness. Lowell is not young, he is twenty-eight, and since, after hearing my objections, he was in no way moved by them, I gave him the privilege of making his own decision as far as I was concerned.”

At this point, Jane Bristol came walking quickly across the lawn. Dressed in white, and carrying herself well, she made a pleasing picture.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Berkeley,” she said, “but I’m afraid you’ll have to come to the telephone. Mr. Wyatt is on the long distance—”

“Certainly, of course. Excuse me, gentlemen, please. Jane, stand by till I return.”

Smiling, the girl took the seat Linus had vacated, and without pausing for the amenities, Stone asked her, almost abruptly;

“Are you not very quick of hearing, Miss Bristol? I think I have heard so.”

“Yes, I am,” and a slight look of surprise showed on her face.

“Then, please answer a question or two, if you are willing to consider them confidential.”

“Yes, I will.”

“Very well. Did you not hear several people going up or downstairs last night, after the lights were out?”

There was a pause for a fraction of a second and then the answer came;

“Yes, I did.”

“Sounds that most people could not hear?”

“I fancy so. I often hear faint sounds unheard by others.”

“Did you hear Miss Buchanan go down?”


“At what time?”

“That I don’t know. I have no illuminated clock, and I seldom make a light to note the time.”

“I see. Did she go down more than once?”

“Yes, twice.”

“And Miss Bell went down?”

“Yes, Mr. Stone.”

“And Miss Winslow went down?”

There was a long pause, and then Jane said, “I didn’t hear her.”

Her eyes fell, her voice trembled, but aside from these signs, Fleming Stone knew she was lying.


Chapter 7
Jane Takes Part

Jane Bristol had quickly recovered her poise.

Watching her narrowly, Fleming Stone decided she did so by sheer force of will, by carrying out a positive determination. He always admired real strength of character, and he was conscious of a growing interest in this girl.

She sat in a low chair, but not a lounge chair. Of average size and height, he judged her to be about twenty-six, or so, and of somewhat wide experience. It was his habit to size up a stranger quickly, and he seldom went wrong in essentials.

Not likely to be called pretty, Jane was a bonnie girl, of the type the Scotch call sonsie. Her hair was dark brown and her eyes a deep, smoky gray. Heavy eyebrows and lashes gave her a mysterious look, but her winsome smile and a trifling dimple that came and went in one cheek denied a too serious disposition.

A well shaped mouth, not small, showed a row of really lovely teeth, and Jane Bristol gave a general effect of quick perception and canny understanding.

She was rather tall, but her every movement was full of grace, and she was lithe and lissome as a young birch tree.

Ignoring her momentary lapse, she smiled and went on, composedly;

“Such abnormal powers of hearing are not entirely enviable, I assure you. I am only too often wakened or kept awake by some trifling sounds that would not disturb most people.”

“Then you heard, last night, the sound of pattering pebbles on one of the bedroom windows near you?”

“Which window?” asked Jane, quickly.

“Miss Buchanan’s; isn’t her room near yours?”

“Very near. But I heard no pebbles. Who threw them? Also, where did he get the pebbles?”

“Are there none about?”

“Not to my knowledge. The drive is made of a composition of some sort. Who threw them?”

“I’m not sure anybody did.”

“But there must be some small stones available, Miss Bristol,” said Farnum, smiling at her. “Why, suppose somebody wanted to wake somebody up.”

“Oh, he could probably find small stones, but it would be a job to find small enough ones, or enough of them, for his purpose.”

“Had he done so, you would certainly have heard them?”

“Sure to. A noise like that would waken most people, anyway.”

“Especially the one at whose window they were aimed.”

“Yes, of course. Who threw them?”

“Miss Bristol,” Stone said, wagging his head at her, “that’s the third time you’ve asked that question. Don’t you suppose if we wanted you to know we would have told you the first time?”

Jane laughed outright.

“Oh, I don’t know. I often think you detectives keep back information to appear more wise than you are.”

“You are anxious to help solve this mysterious death, are you not?”

Fleming Stone was serious now. It was no time for a trifling answer.

“Yes,” Jane returned, slowly, “I am, to a degree.”

“To what degree?”

“I am not willing to tell anything I may know that might implicate, wrongfully any friend of mine. Don’t mistake me. I mean surmises or opinions, not positive facts.”

“You would, then, tell any positive facts you know, regardless of the results of such an action?”

“I suppose it would be my duty.”

“And you are a stickler for duty?”

“I have what is sometimes known as a New England conscience. It is troublesome at times, though sometimes I can still it.”

The last clause was said a little proudly, as if the speaker prided herself on her ability.

Then, suddenly bringing the gaze of her gray eyes back from the crags at which she had been gazing, Jane realized the intentness of the two men who were regarding her.

“And sometimes it is justifiable to still it,” Stone said, gravely, “but not in the matter of a murder case.”

“I haven’t said I am stilling it.”

The well set head went up a trifle in its poise. The girl’s breath came and went a bit more quickly, and she became suddenly alert, as one who unexpectedly scents danger.

“Let us assume you are not. I put it to you then, that you are possessed of definite facts, which if stated to the authorities would be helpful to them in learning the identity of a criminal,”

“What sort of facts?” the voice was crisp now, almost resentful.

“The sort of facts that by a peculiar circumstance are known only to yourself. Nor can be known to another unless you divulge them.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

Jane’s wide-eyed wonder was beyond all doubt sincere, and she spoke the absolute truth.

“I will tell you what I mean, and you must then tell me your facts. I wish you’d conduct the query, Mayo. You know Miss Bristol better than I do.”

“That doesn’t matter. If you feel you must go on with this, Fleming, you must e’en gang your ain gait.”

“Very well, then. I will do so. Miss Bristol, by a peculiar dispensation of Providence, it has been given to you to hear things many others cannot hear. This unusual trait of yours can be of inestimable benefit to the investigators who are endeavoring to make certain discoveries in the cause of justice.”

“You want me to listen! To overhear people’s conversations!”

“Not at all. Don’t go too fast. I want you merely to tell what you have already heard. What you have heard unintentionally and inadvertently. And I want you to realize that your refusal to do this is obstructing the processes of the law and is an act which, your New England conscience, if in good working order, must necessarily disapprove of.”

The obstinate look that he saw coming into Jane’s eyes prompted the reference to her conscience, which, he saw at once, struck home.

She had looked entirely ready to vouch a stubborn refusal to his suggestion, but now she wavered.

Then, of a sudden she looked so piteous, so deeply distressed, that Stone felt almost like a criminal himself.

Truly, there were drawbacks to a detective’s triumphs.

“I suppose you mean you want me to tell you what people I heard go up or downstairs late last night,” she said, at last, speaking in a low tone.

“Exactly that, Miss Bristol, but I want you to see clearly that it is your bounden duty to do so. Had you seen the crime committed, you would have told us so, would you not?”

“Yes—I suppose I should.”

“Then remember, any knowledge you have and withhold from the police, is the same thing, in kind, if not in degree.”

“Is it really?”

“Certainly, yes. Now, are you willing to tell us of all whom you know to have gone downstairs last night, after you all went up to go to bed?”

“Yes, I will do so. You assure me it is my duty?”

“It is,” Mayo Farnum corroborated Stone. “Anyone keeping back information that may be of help is himself breaking the law.”

Jane Bristol sighed.

Both men were a little puzzled. Whom was she shielding so carefully? What revelation were they about to receive?

“Well,” said Jane, after a moment’s thought, “I’m afraid I’ve made a mountain out of a molehill. For nearly everybody went down.”

“All at once?” Stone asked, calmly, concealing his surprise.

“No, of course not. And it was nothing unusual. The people in this house are given to going up and downstairs all through the night. Sometimes, I go down myself, to raid the icebox or refill my cigarette case. Mr. Berkeley went down first. That was soon after we all came up. I suppose he was making sure his addle-pated crowd of young hoodlums had locked up the outside doors.”

“You know everybody’s step, then?”

“Oh, yes, I can’t help knowing them. Next, I think, Rosalie ran down. If something like a powder puff skips down the stairs, that’s Rosalie. After a time Rosalie came back.”

“And Mr. Berkeley, did he come back?”

“Oh, yes, he only stayed down a moment or two. He was up again some time before Rosalie went down. You understand there was nothing stealthy about these goings and comings. It’s a common occurrence. If they meet one another they stop and chat. They speak in low tones, but I can’t help hearing their voices,—not their words. Where was I?”

“Rosalie had come back upstairs—”

“Oh, yes. Well, then, pretty soon, Miss Maria trotted down. Her quick little steps are, of course, unmistakable. She was down quite a few minutes, prowling around the housekeeping quarters, most likely.”

“Then she returned, at last?”

“Yes, and went to her room.”

“And to her bed?”

“No, not at once. She pottered about. It’s a way she has.”

“And that’s all?”

“All, except that Mimi went down later,—a good deal later. After cigarettes, I daresay, for I smelled her smoke immediately after,”

“She returned quickly then?”

“I think so, but I’m not sure. I was getting sleepy myself and I wished to goodness they’d stop scooting up and down.”

“I don’t blame you. It must be very trying.”

“Oh, I don’t really mind. And it’s nobody’s fault. They can’t realize how acutely I hear every sound they make. And if they did, they wouldn’t remember it. They’d just say ‘Sorry!’ and do it right over again.”

“Well, Miss Bristol, I don’t myself see that you had justification for such decided unwillingness to tell us. But some of these trips downstairs may have had some meaning to you, that you haven’t mentioned to us.”

“No; I heard nothing alarming.”

“Did you hear nothing like a sound Miss Buchanan might have made when she met her death? She couldn’t scream, the doctors tell us, but she could have made a choking sound, a gasp or a deep sigh.”

“I heard nothing at all of that sort, Mr. Stone, and I feel sure had there been such a sound, I should have heard it, unless, of course, it was too faint even to reach my ears.”

“When you heard Rosalie go down, and didn’t hear her return, did you think nothing of that?” asked Farnum.

“No, I didn’t, for right after that they came and went, and as I was uninterested, I gave it no definite thought.”

“Of course, Miss Bristol,” Farnum said kindly, “When one has no idea an incident will later take on definite importance, one doesn’t pay any attention to it, nor even remember it.”

“That’s just it,” Jane agreed; “I hear the same people going up and downstairs night after night, and nothing comes of it. Why should I, then, have been careful to note last night, the return of each one, or the time any of them remained downstairs?”

“No reason in the world why you should,” Stone assured her.

And then Linus came back across the lawn, bringing an invitation from Miss Maria that the callers remain for dinner.

They were easily persuaded to do this, and Jane Bristol left them, saying Miss Winslow might need her.

Then Mimi came, and stood, like a Peri at the gate, wanting to join the group but feeling uninvited.

“Sit down, child,” said Linus, kindly, without, however, rising. “Are you at loose ends?”

“All of that,” she returned, dolefully. “Lowell is too melancholy for anything. I don’t blame him for that, but I can’t talk to a man who makes no response whatever.”

She took the chair Jane had vacated, but found it unsatisfactory, and changed to a long, cushioned affair of the deck chair type.

Here she curled herself into a graceful posture and nestled into the cushions.

“Such a nice girl, Jane, isn’t she?” and Mimi watched the expression on Linus’ face.

“I thought you didn’t like her,” he said, showing only a slight interest.

“I didn’t at first, but I do now. She has been so nice to me.”

“You like the people who are nice to you,” Stone observed, smiling at her.

“Yes, don’t you? I thought everybody did.”

Mimi’s blue eyes opened wide. She often allowed them to do this, because she knew they were lovelier wide open.

A very pretty girl was Mimi, but her face was by no means perfect. The mouth, well shaped as it was, seemed a trifle too large. The eyes, while not at all protuberant, might have been more deeply set, to their owner’s advantage.

She used too much make-up, and her plump cheeks showed up all the rounder for the applied rouge.

But her teeth were like dazzling pearls, and her smile was alluring, and her clusters of gold curls, always falling over her forehead, tempted one to push back the lovely, straying locks.

“How is the wound on your hand, Miss Bell?” Stone asked, solicitously.

“The one I made the cot for?” asked Mimi, quickly.

“Yes,—unless you have another.”

“No, I’m not all scratched up. It’s practically all well.”

“Oh, no, it isn’t! I can see it from here. Better have a doctor look at it, Miss Bell. You don’t want a case of blood poisoning.”

“’Deed I don’t! I’ll see somebody about it tomorrow. Will you take me to see a doctor, Mr. Berkeley?”

“Me?” he exclaimed in surprise. “Better ask one of the younger chaps.”

“I don’t believe it’s serious enough for medical attention,” Stone followed up. “I daresay a shot of a good antiseptic will allay the inflammation.”

“Oh, my goodness!” Mimi cried out, “get me all hot and bothered thinking I’m in for blood poisoning and then tell me it’s of no consequence!”

“Make another cot for it,” and Stone smiled at her teasingly. “Where did you get the linen for the one you did make?”

“I dunno. I just used an old rag.”

“No, no, guess again. That was the finest kind of linen cambric.”

“Oh, so it was. But it was old, I cut up a worn out handkerchief. Is it a matter of importance to anybody?”

“And what did you make the larger cot of?”

“What larger cot?” The blue eyes were very wide open now. “What do you mean, Mr. Detective?”

“I thought you made the bigger one to wear over the smaller one. As an extra protection, I mean.”

“You don’t mean anything of the sort. Now, what do you mean? Mr. Berkeley, make him tell me what he means!”

“Tell her, Stone,” said Linus. “Oblige the lady.”

“They’re made so much alike,” Stone said, carelessly, “I thought the same person made them.”

“All cots are made alike. There’s only one way to make ’em.”

“But they’re not made or used any more. We use sticky plaster instead. Not half as comfortable, either. Well, then who did own that big cot?”

“Whoever dropped down the desk lid on that poor girl,” Linus offered. “You know how those old-fashioned bandages work loose when they’ve been worn for a while. I suppose that was the case, and as he pushed down the roll top, the cot slipped from his finger. His wound must have been pretty well healed, as apparently he didn’t miss it enough to retrieve it.”

“Plausible enough,” Stone agreed, “and I can imagine the villain missing it later on and wondering where he dropped it.”

“Why would he want to kill Rosalie,” said Mimi, in a low voice. “Who could do in that lovely girl?”

“Doubtless the pearls were at the bottom of it,” Linus said. “My theory is an intruder,—a stranger from outside,—knew of the jewels and came for them. Rosalie was downstairs and hunting in the desk for a pencil or a bit of paper, when he came in and surprised her.”

“And then?” queried Stone, looking interested, but puzzled, “what then?”

“I can only judge from appearances, Mr. Stone. He must have compelled the girl to sit at the desk and assist him in his quest.”

“Did Rosalie know where the pearls were?” Stone asked.

“Yes, she did,” Linus replied. “I brought them home yesterday, no, the day before, it was. I put them in a small drawer, and somehow Rosalie wheedled it out of me that they were hidden there. She begged me to let her see them, but I positively refused. They were to be hers on the announcement of her engagement to my son. But that occasion hadn’t arrived. It may, of course, be, that Rosalie was so anxious to see her new treasures that she crept down in the night to get a peep at them.”

“No harm in that,” said Mayo Farnum. “I liked that girl. A pretty little thing, and she adored Lowell. They would have been happy together.”

“Would they?” said Mimi, in a deeply doubting tone.

Linus looked at her sternly.

“Mimi,” he said, “I’ve told you before I will not allow any speech against Rosalie, or implying anything against her in this house. Unless you can curb your tongue you cannot remain under this roof.”

“Mr. Berkeley won’t let me stay here, and the police won’t let me leave!” she exclaimed. “What’s a poor girl to do? Can I come over to your house, Mr. Farnum? You look gentle and kind.”

“No. Sorry, and all that, but I never entertain feminine guests.”

“Then I am in a fix! Guess I’ll have to elope.”

“At what time did you come downstairs last night, Miss Mimi?”

Fleming Stone spoke in a casual way, but his deep-set, dark eyes seemed to clash with the wide open blue ones.

“Last night? After I went up to go to bed?”

“Yes, that’s the time I mean.”

“Why, I didn’t—”

“Be careful, now, one is so apt to be forgetful. Just think carefully and tell the truth.”

“After that speech, I won’t tell you at all! Tell the truth, indeed! Do you think I’m a liar?”

“Most people are. If you’re not, you’re in a great minority.”

Mimi looked nonplussed. She wasn’t quite getting this, and she feared to make a mistake.

“Guess I won’t reply. I’m entitled to counsel, I believe?”

Linus laughed outright.

“You little minx,” he said. “Counsel, indeed! I’d hate to be your counsel.”

“Nobody asked you, sir,” she said, and she looked so roguish, that Linus smiled at her even more kindly.

Mayo Farnum was disgusted at his friend’s attitude. Usually indifferent to feminine charm, particularly the kind known as vamping, Linus once in a while succumbed to the beauty of some little doll faced chit, and invariably paid for it.

Farnum had watched his friend’s liking for Rosalie, but had put it down and rightly, to the fact that she was willing to do puzzles with him.

This Mimi person, knew naught of puzzles, and moreover, she had all the earmarks and effects of a wicked little adventuress.

With a sigh, Mayo realized that he had his work cut out for him to rescue Linus from this siren, but in the circumstances, he felt that he could snatch the brand from the burning.

From the veranda of the house, Miss Maria beckoned to them, and the group rose and obeyed her summons.

They seated themselves in the vine draped porch for the cocktail hour.

“We have to settle some matters,” Miss Winslow said, snapping her words off short, as she always did when annoyed or worried. “Arrangements must be made. Are you remaining here long, Miss Bell?”

“Only as long as I have to,” said Mimi, in dulcet tones. “The Chiefest Inspector refuses to let me out of his sight. I suppose that means he thinks I killed Rosalie. But, if you want me to, I’ll go back to the hotel.”

“No, stay here,” said Linus, and Farnum groaned silently.

“How good you are,” and Mimi’s smile would have melted a heart of flint.

Not Miss Maria’s, however, who merely sniffed and went on.

“Colly is staying, too, and of course, we’ve no objections, but in times of sorrow, families often prefer to be alone.”

“You look upon this then, as a time of sorrow?” Mimi’s expression was politely inquisitive.

“The death of the fiancée of my son, and in such deplorable circumstances, can scarcely be adjudged anything but sorrowful,” said Linus, reproachfully.

“No, of course not. I’m sorry. Shall I go to the hotel?”

“Certainly not, if my brother says otherwise,” and Miss Maria’s voice was acid.

“What time was it when you came downstairs last night, Miss Maria?”

This time it was Mimi’s voice that was acid, and her sharp, incisive tone seemed an accusation in itself.

“Downstairs? Why, I didn’t—”

“Be careful,” the girl said, mimicking Fleming Stone’s serious manner. “One is so apt to forget. Think well, and tell the truth.”

Unable to restrain a smile at this mockery, Linus gave Mimi a reproachful glance, which was utterly lost upon her.

“Behave yourself, child,” he admonished. “Maria, do not answer.”

“Of course I shall not answer. I never reply to impudence.”


Chapter 8
Plenty of Clews

“No, let’s call it a day,” replied Fleming Stone to Farnum’s suggestion that they drop in at Police Headquarters.

They were on their way back from Rocky Reef, and Stone longed to relax with a pipe and a glass, instead of discussing the affair with the authorities.

“All right,” Mayo agreed, “forge ahead.”

And soon they were comfortably settled in the big living room at Limbo.

This room, with no pretensions to elegance or even harmony of furnishings, was filled with what seemed to Farnum the essentials of human comfort.

Lounges, easy chairs, handy small tables, smoking stands, wheeled tea tables and book racks, writing desks, built in book shelves, convenient tuck-cupboards and a roomy, hospitable fireplace all went to make up a living room that could be satisfactorily lived in.

“I shall go to the funeral,” Farnum said, “but you needn’t feel obliged to do so. Linus and his people are old friends of mine, and I owe them a certain respect. You scarcely know them, and they will not resent your absence.”

“That’s good,” Stone agreed. “I’ll probably go over to the house and look around a bit. The aunt from Chicago will show up to-morrow and that will relieve the Berkeleys of some responsibility. Having the service at the mortuary chapel is a relief also. But the inquest will be at the house. I don’t want to miss that.”

“No, of course not. But, I fancy it won’t amount to much. Probably a quick adjournment, as they haven’t such a lot of evidence so far.”

“They may dig up more by Monday. And Auntie Oakes may bring data that will help along.”

“Put not your faith in Aunties. Little they know of their frisky young nieces, as a rule.”

“I put no faith in this particular aunt, that’s a sure thing. I doubt she’s an aunt at all.”

“Odd that the girl had no relatives, no family connections of any sort.”

“What was she? Had she any—er—profession?”

“She played more or less in the moving pictures, I think. But she wasn’t a star or a film queen, I should say. The Mimi lady has more pretensions to success in that field.”

“A queer pair for the house of Berkeley to be mixed up with.”

“Very much so. I’m surprised Lowell fell for them. I’m sure they annoy Linus exceedingly.”

“It struck me he rather liked the Rosalie one.”

“Well, she was a Virginian, you know. Also she played at the crossword puzzles with him. He does enjoy those silly things.”

“They’re not silly. The puzzle fans love them, just as we murder fans love a good mystery.”

“Well, we’ve got one made to our hand right now. Let’s see; to-morrow is Saturday, and the day of the funeral. Then the inquest is set for Monday. We’ll have Sunday to dig around for clews.”

“Clews, it is? We’ve enough of those to sink a ship, and where do they get us? Look here, Mayo; Miss Bristol told us a whole lot about the ups and downs of the family after they went to their rooms last night, but she said nothing of Lowell or the visiting boy, Colly what you call him. How come?”

“Oh, that’s easy. The two lads sleep in the other wing of the house. They’re outside the reach even of Jane’s long ears. What an odd piece she is, by the way.”

“I rather like her. She strikes me as sincere. Is she in love with young Lowell?”

“Oh, I daresay. All the girls are. He has money, good looks, good manners, all the Christian graces. His father dotes on him, and was going to let him throw himself away on that Rosy girl. Now, I suppose Lowell will veer to Mimi, and Linus will have to swallow her.”

“Well, come back to Rosalie. Was she trying to steal the pearls?”

“That’s a vital question. Why should she, when they would soon be hers any way? And yet, how else explain the position in which she was found?”

“Who found her? I never heard the direct statement.”

“Why, the housemaid found her first, when she went in to open up the room in the morning. She went at once to Paddy Potter, and after verifying the hysterical girl’s story, he went to Linus with it. Linus told Maria, and later the others.”

“I can’t get the main issues. Was Rosalie alone in the room, except for the murderer, when it happened?”

“Must have been I should think, unless the third person was an accomplice.”

“Well, then, supposing she was alone there, the murderer comes in, she must know him, or she’d scream.”

“Yes, she doubtless knew him. Now, she may have been engaged in groping for the pearls when he arrived, or he may have made her do it after he got in.”

“The second suggestion is more logical I think for, as she was to get the necklace so soon, why steal it?”

“All right, Fleming, say the intruder,—it must have been an intruder in that case,—forced her to get the pearls, intending to take them from her.”

“And dropped the desk lid unintentionally?”

“Not necessarily. Say, he didn’t know where the necklace was hidden and she did. He used her as a catspaw, and then deliberately killed her so he could get away with the loot.”

“It seems so weak. If he had any idea the pearls were in that desk, or even in that room, he could have hunted around and found them himself. Why run the danger of murder?”

“There may be many answers to that question. But, I take it, you feel convinced, as I do, that the murderer and the would be thief are identical, and are, of course, some one from outside.”

“Well, no, Mayo, I don’t subscribe to that theory one little bit. Unless it was the nonchalant Mr. Jack Stafford, I feel convinced it was one of the people who slept at Rocky Reef.”


“For one thing, because they were chasing up and downstairs all night. According to Jane, almost everybody strolled down now and then, though she was not so sure about their return.”

“Why should she be? She says herself it is the usual occurrence. So, not knowing any tragedy was taking place, why should she keep tabs on them all, more carefully than usual?”

“Perfectly true. There is no reason why she should do so. The marvelous thing is that she should tell us as much as she has about the traffic on the stairs.”

“Do you remember it? It’s all a jumble to me.”

“Fie, fie, old man. Has your right hand lost its cunning? Of course, I remember it, Linus went down first, but he went back shortly. Then Rosalie went down, I’d say, to meet young Jack. He went home, and soon after she was sent off on the long trail. Now, soon after that, Maria went down, and I’d like to know what she found down there. If she went in the book room, she must have seen the dead girl. I can think of no reason she’d have for not arousing the household so I’m assuming she did not go into that little room. Doubtless her objective was the kitchen or pantry. Probably she never gave a thought to Rosalie.”

“Don’t you think there was a light in the book room?”

“It wouldn’t be visible if the door was shut. I tried that to-night. Now, what did all these people go downstairs for? I grant Linus and his sister were looking after household matters. He the locking of the doors, and she the pantries.”

“But why did Rosalie go down, after she had returned from her session with Stafford?”

“You tell me.”

“All right, I will. She went to chase a dictionary. You see, the only hold she had over her future father-in-law was to help him do the puzzles. I talked to him about that, and it seems that, while she had little real education, she had picked up a lot of odd words and could fit them into the puzzles with skill and cleverness. Mimi told me that Rosalie and Linus had talked a long time yesterday about Niobe and Elbert. She declared, for her part, she couldn’t imagine what they were talking about, until she discovered they were puzzle words. So, I just picked up the book the puzzlers have been working on, and, sure enough, Puzzle Number forty, has those two words in the answers at the back of the book. Now, as you know, there are a lot of reference books on the shelves of that little room, and a glance at them showed plainly they had been taken down recently, and put back hastily. I looked more closely and saw that the ones used included a smallish atlas, a manual of mythology and a Webster’s Dictionary. These, the servants would straighten out in due time, but to me they showed proof they had been used recently.”

“Yesterday afternoon?”

“I hardly think so. Miss Maria’s housekeeping would have the room tidied at that time. No, I think Rosalie came downstairs in the night to look up Niobe and Elbert in the reference books.”

“I seem to remember hearing of Niobe, but who was Elbert?”

“He’s a mountain in Colorado. These two words cross one another and they are both crossed by the word ‘odelet,’ meaning a little ode.”


“Not to a puzzle fancier. Well, a slip of paper marked the page in the dictionary where the odelet appears, and so, I couldn’t help thinking Rosy had dug up these answers to please and surprise Mr. Berkeley the following morning.”

“Far fetched.”

“Many a good clew is far fetched. And it gives a sane, a logical reason for the girl’s coming downstairs so late at night. I’m told she was a nervous wakeful sort, and was probably working on the puzzles in bed and needed the book of reference, so slipping into her boudoir coat and slippers she ran softly down. You remember Jane said, if a thistle puff wafted itself downstairs, it was Rosalie,—or something of that sort.”

“Yes, I remember. Well, go on constructing. Then she was down there when the intruder came?”

“Yes, if there was an intruder. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that she was fishing for pearls on her own account. Say anything had happened which threatened the security of her engagement to Lowell. May she not have decided to annex the necklace and be on her way? Remember she was not a girl of high moral character.”

“How do you know?”

“From various and sundry gossip I’ve picked up.”

“In that case, wouldn’t the dictionaries be scattered about?”

“Oh, no. She may have finished using them, put them away, though not very tidily, and then, poked around in the desk on a general investigating expedition.”

“Wouldn’t the light in the room show from the outside?”

“We don’t know that it didn’t. No one passing would think anything queer of that, and those in the house couldn’t see it. This old house doesn’t show streaks of light under its doors or windows, you know.”

“I also know I’m going to bed. You can sit up and do crosswords if you like, but I feel that the night will bring counsel.”

“You have, I’m sure, chosen the better part, but I’ll stay here a bit longer. By the way, Mayo, have you noticed that every one of the people over there, not counting the servants now, says he or she was sound asleep in bed at two o’clock?”

“And not one of them was!”

“That’s going too far. Lowell and his friend, Stewart, may have been asleep. Mimi may have, but I fancy she was on the alert. Rosalie was downstairs, we know. Linus had been. Stafford had been over. Miss Maria went down. Jane was awake, and, for all we know, might have hung over the banisters or even gone downstairs. Yet no one seems to have seen any one else.”

“Then it can’t be very suspicious. If they had seen one another, they’d have told of it.”

“Maybe so and maybe not.”

“Yes, maybe not and maybe so. Good night.”

“Good night, Sleepyhead.”

Farnum went slowly upstairs, and Stone filled his pipe afresh and settled down for one more think.

I’ve often longed for clews, he mused, just old-fashioned, Sherlock clews, a dropped handkerchief, a broken cuff link, all those things. Now, I’ve as fine a collection of hackneyed clews as one might wish to see, and what do they say to me? Just about nothing! Well, then, I must make them talk.

Best of all I like the finger rag. The cot, they call it,—funny name. I’m quite awake to the fact that it may have been planted, but it doesn’t seem likely. Who’d think of planting such a clew? Mimi had one on, too, a little one. She could have wrapped the larger one over that—but I haven’t really been suspecting Mimi. Suppose I begin. There’s no reason why she couldn’t be the murderess. But she’s so blonde. Do gentlemen suspect blondes? On the other hand is a detective a gentleman? I must make a note to investigate those cots. The material and pattern may tell me something.

The pearls,—the Berkeley pearls. Sounds like a nineteenth-century novel. That necklace is a grand clew, but Linus has it back now—

Here’s an idea. Suppose Rosalie and Lowell have quarreled. Over Colly or Stafford or anybody. Suppose he said unless she was more exclusively his own property, he’d bust up the engagement and she could get her pearl necklaces elsewhere. And then suppose that she plans to fly the coop, necklace and all.

Well, the only way to get said necklace is to steal it when the Berkeleys aren’t looking. So, suppose little Rosy Posy goes down for the bauble, knowing, of course, where it is kept. Say, she reaches for it, almost gets it, when along comes Lowell. He makes a spring for her or for the pearls or for the desk, anyway for something, and in the scrimmage down comes the roll top on the back of the little slender neck. It snaps like a match, and poor little Rosalie is brutally murdered. Perhaps unintentionally, but dead, anyhow. What can Lowell do but depart? No use of taking the pearls, no one is going to rob the dead. No use of raising an alarm then and there. Time enough for that in the morning. And a young chap, all unused to murder, would feel rather sick, I think, and would be glad to hasten away.

Now, suppose we transfer this crime to the broad shoulders of Colly Stewart. He was desperately in love with Lowell’s girl, but,—no, that won’t do at all. They weren’t Colly’s pearls, and, so far as I know she wasn’t in love with him. It may be that she was tired of Lowell, was ready to chuck the idea of being a Colonial Dame or whatever they are, and just wanted to take the pearls and clear out.

In that case, it was more likely an accident.

The desk itself bristles with clews. Red ink bottle upset. Why the red one and not the black or the green? The cot, right at her very hand, yet of course not hers.

Then the disturbed reference books and the puzzle pencil on the library floor.

I must go over there to-morrow morning and chase up these things. They’re important if true.

And the aunt person will arrive. Her story will either straighten things out, or leave confusion worse confounded. Dunno which.

Then we have all day Sunday to work things out, before the inquest on Monday. Ought to have things licked into shape by that time.

Rising and stretching his long, lithe frame, Fleming Stone carefully locked up his friend’s few doors and went off to bed.

He went to sleep, too, for he had trained himself to put aside his problems when it was time for his rest.

“Well,” said Farnum, next morning, as they met at breakfast, “have you spotted the murderer? Who is it?”

“Miss Maria,” said Stone, solemnly.

When he said it, he meant it not at all seriously, but he had no sooner uttered the words than he felt it a premonition of the truth.

Why not?

“Good Lord!” Farnum was exclaiming, “you don’t mean that!”

“I didn’t, when I said it,” Stone admitted, “but I’m thinking it may have been an inspiration. How does she strike you as a suspect?”

“Rotten! I wish you’d let the family alone! Either aloud or silently, you’ve accused all the Berkeleys, Miss Bristol, Colly Stewart and even poor old Paddy Potter.”

“Nothing of the sort!” Stone stared at him. “Miss Maria is the first one I’ve mentioned, and, as I told you, I didn’t mean it when I said it. I said it because she seems really the least likely.”

“That’s what the detective story writers do, pick out the least likely for the criminal.”

“Yes, but now, come to take Miss Maria seriously, there’s a chance, just a chance that she might have—”

“Hush your nonsense! I won’t listen to you!”


“Keep still, I say. On that subject, anyhow.”

Stone looked at his friend in amazement. Farnum was more excited, he thought, than the matter warranted. He dropped the subject, and asked instead, what time they were to go over to Rocky Reef.

“Right along now,” was the reply, “soon’s you’ve finished breakfast.”

They started off at a swinging pace. It was one of those golden autumn days, when the glow in the air is not a haze, but a brightness that is almost tangible. The sea was a dancing sparkle, and the gardens, of which they passed several on their route, were masses of crisp red and yellow bloom.

They were not early birds at Limbo, but at Rocky Reef, doubtless by reason of circumstances, everybody seemed to be up and doing.

Even Mimi, never renowned for domestic activities, was helping by shelling beans, a feat which struck Fleming Stone as a clever dodge, for it brought her looks of approval from Miss Maria.

Linus greeted the two callers and took them to the book room, which has always been used as his study, and which he had no intention of giving up, because of an unpleasant association.

“You see,” he began as they sat down for a chat, “the aunt, Mrs. Oakes will arrive this morning. I shall have to meet her, of course, but I want to see as little of her as possible. Don’t misunderstand me. This is not exactly snobbery. I daresay she is quite as good as we are, but I am not accustomed to such people, and I shall hope to make her stay here short.”

“I don’t blame you, Linus,” Farnum said; “and if you want to excuse yourself entirely, I’ll take charge of the situation.”

“No, I want to be decent. But Mimi has told me she is not really Rosalie’s aunt, but a hired one.”

“A hired one!” and Farnum’s amazement was beyond doubt, sincere.

“Yes; it seems young women do such things when no other chaperon is available.”

“They do,” Stone informed them. “But don’t make too much of it, Mr. Berkeley. Treat her as if her story must be heard, and that once told, let her understand she is to take her leave. I’d like to be here at the interview.”

“And I’d like to have you. And, my Lord, here she comes!”

A station taxicab drove up to the door, and the aunt, presumably, alighted.

Not a bad looking woman, and possessed of a certain dignity, she paid the driver and came up the steps.

A few moments later, shown into the book room, she bowed rather distantly and taking a fresh handkerchief from her bag, dabbed her perfectly dry eyes with it.

“And is my little girl really passed on?” she said, in a voice whose trembling was a trifle overdone.

“Yes, Mrs. Oakes,” Linus said, gravely. “You must allow us to share your grief, for she was my son’s fiancée and the poor boy is inconsolable.”

“Yes, yes, indeed, he must be all that! Can I see him, poor chappie?”

“I think not. He is not seeing any one at all.”

“Now, Mrs. Oakes, we haven’t much time,” Farnum put in rather briskly. “We want you to tell us all you can about the parents or other relatives of Rosalie Buchanan.”

“Yes, I see. Well, she was born in Virginia, you know, in the state of Virginia. Beautiful country, the South, ain’t it?”

“What town or city?”

“Well, now, I declare, if that hasn’t just slipped my memory. You see I haven’t seen much of her late years, and so—”

“You’re not her real aunt, I understand?” Stone put in, and Farnum hastily controlled his impulse to laugh.

“Now how’d you come to understand that?”

“Are you her aunt?” asked Farnum, so sternly that the woman jumped.

“Well, yes, and no.”

“Better leave out the yes, altogether.”

“If you say so.”

“Just what is, or was, your connection with the girl?”

“I’m a professional aunt or mother or sister, as the case may call for.”

“I see. And you are hired by your clients.”

“Yes, sir. That’s it. By my clients.” Mrs. Oakes took on a new accession of dignity, and, excusing himself, Linus Berkeley rose and left the room.

He said, afterward, he couldn’t stand it another minute.

“And you can give us no further information regarding Rosalie?” asked Stone, honestly disappointed.

“ ’Fraid I can’t. Not one to talk about herself, Rosalie wasn’t.”

“Then, I see no occasion to keep you longer. A Berkeley car will take you to the Railway station, and you can catch a train at once.”

Few people could have said this as inoffensively as Stone. He smiled politely and touched a nearby bell.

“And don’t I get paid for the time I’ve used up a-comin’ here?” Mrs. Oakes was belligerent now.

“Did Miss Buchanan owe you anything on your salary?”

“She did. She owed me fifteen dollars, she did.”

As the sum owed was far less than this, and Farnum suspected as much, he said calmly;

“I am not sure that is quite accurate, but if you will go at once, and without disturbance, I will pay that sum, and thereby square accounts between you and Miss Buchanan’s estate.”

Baffled, but quite unable to think of any way to mend matters, Mrs. Oakes sullenly prepared to depart. The man who had answered the bell had ordered a car, and as Mrs. Oakes was about to leave, Stone announced his intention of accompanying her and took a seat at her side in the car.

“My Land!” exclaimed the departing visitor, looking about her, “and Rosy woulda had all this if she’d lived!”

“It looked that way,” said Stone, who wanted Mrs. Oakes to like him, and gave her one of his very best smiles.


Chapter 9
Linus’ Theory

It was not very far to the station and Stone knew he must make the best of his time.

He looked at the woman beside him. Peroxide hair, highly made up complexion and carefully plucked eyebrows, she yet had a wholesome round face and good nature gleamed in the light blue eyes.

He decided to treat her as an old pal.

“I say, Mrs. Oakes, what did you come for, anyway? I believe you know something you haven’t told, that’s what I believe.”

“Why, how you do make on! You seem to know a lot. Are you one of those famous suspicioning detectives?”

“Yes, just that. Now, come on. Out with it to me, though you didn’t care to tell the others.”

“That’s right! Say, why did Mr. Berkeley go out, so sudden like?”

“Oh, he’s moody at times. Especially so, just now. But you tell me.”

“Well, I will. Do you know, Mr. Stone, I can’t bear people who are so stern to me. But you, now, you’re real kind, and I just expand like a flower under kindness. I reelly do, I assure you.”

“Well, then what was the message you didn’t deliver?”

“Oh, sakes, I didn’t have a message! You sound like I was a spiritchoolist.”

“No, but you know about the Buchanan family. Do you know them well?”

“Oh, I haven’t seen them of late. I don’t go South much nowadays.”

“Did you use to go often?”

“Oh, well, now and again,—just now and again. You see, they ain’t any Buchanans left on the old place now.”

“How do you know?”

“Well, you see, I wrote down there to find out. I wanted to know if Rosie was due for some money some time,—case of a death, or any such matter.”

“And was she?”

“Not a bit of it! My, I’m expanding more and more! Ain’t I?”

“Expand away. I like it. What did you learn about the girl?”

“Why, that there wasn’t any. I mean, any Rosalie. No one by that name in the family, and never had been. What do you think of that?”

“I don’t understand it. How could that nice, well bred young girl take the name and make up such a yarn, and get away with it?”

“Oh, Rosalie is smart,—was, I mean. But she never lived in Richmond in her whole life.”

“Why not?”

“There was some trouble, somehow.”

“Family feud?”

“Dunno. But see here, Mr. Stone, I came here for the express purpose of being paid to tell what I know. That’s the way we are, in our profession. And I could see immejit I’d get nothin’ out of that frozen pudding of a Linus, and he wouldn’t let me get a peek at the boy. Bet I coulda put it over with him!”

“You can put it over with me. Not a pig in a poke, though. You tell me something worth hearing before the train gets in, and I’ll pay you properly. But be quick about it.”

“It’s worth—”

“It’s worth what I give you. Now, go ahead.”

“Well, Rosalie was brought up by her nurse, a negro mammy, and she never lived with the Buchanan family at all.”


“How do I know? I only know what the girl told me, and that wasn’t much. But her money was as good as the next, so I hired out as her aunt, and I played up whenever she wanted me.”

“Was that often?”

“Well, more or less. If she was going to have a new beau to call on her, she’d have me there, anyway, until she sized him up.”

“To see if he were exacting in the matter of chaperonage?”

“Yeah. They generally weren’t.”

“It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the Buchanans didn’t acknowledge her as a daughter, there was something wrong somewhere?”

“Of course. And you know those old mammy nurses are so attached to their kids they’d stand by ’em to the last ditch.”

“And this old nurse, was she—”

“She wasn’t really old. I don’t s’pose she’s more’n forty now.”

“Is she—was she still looking after Rosalie, when she came here for this visit?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know much about Rosie’s affairs, but I can see now, she didn’t make any haul here, so I’ve nothing to hope for. Say, Mr. Stone, did she—do you think she—you know—tried to get hold of the pearls?”

“Why should she? They would soon have been hers any way.”

“Yes, unless something had come to light so the chap didn’t want to marry her after all.”

“You mean, he learned she was illegitimate?”

“Well, he might have. Or he might have switched to somebody else. Mimi, maybe.”

“There’s a possibility, but I think Lowell loved Rosalie deeply and truly.”

“Poor Rosie, she got all the bad breaks! Is that my train?”

“Yes. Have you anything more to tell me?”

“Not a word. Cough up.”

Fleming Stone “coughed” so liberally that even Mrs. Oakes was satisfied.

He made her tell him how he could get in touch with the Buchanan family, and also obtained the address of Rosalie’s “mammy.”

He assisted her on the train with as much graceful attention as he would show a friend of his own, and waved a farewell as she smiled at him from the window.

Returning at once to Rocky Reef, Stone found Linus talking earnestly with Mayo Farnum, in the book room.

“Well,” Stone said, casually, “your Rosalie Buchanan is a Mrs. Harris. It seems they ain’t no sich pusson.”

“What do you mean by that?” asked Linus, looking mystified.

“The Buchanans repudiate her.” And then Stone told the whole story as he had received it from Mrs. Oakes.

“I don’t believe a word of it,” Linus said, after listening; “I think Mrs. Oakes made it all up. Rosalie told me she was not a daughter of the house, but a cousin, and that she was welcome to make her home with them. But, she was a girl who loved gay doings and bright lights, which she didn’t get much of in Virginia.”

“I stand by Rosalie,” said Colly Stewart, who, with Lowell, had just come into the room to learn what Mrs. Oakes had said. “I don’t know or care anything about her family connections, and it doesn’t matter now. I loved her as much as Lowell did, and had she lived, I don’t know what mightn’t have happened. But now it’s all past history, and Low and I have preserved our friendship intact through it all. I’d like to know, though, who jammed down that roll top!”

He glared at the big desk as if the offending piece of furniture had voluntarily killed the girl.

“I don’t believe the Oakes woman’s story,” Linus repeated, “because she seemed to me an incorrigible liar. But as Colly says, it’s past history now, and there’s no use raking over the ashes. But, son, I don’t want the funeral services held here,—at this house.”

“All right, Dad. In the church, then?”

“No. I don’t want the girl looked upon as one of our people. I bear her memory no ill will, I am ready to help in the search for the cowardly brute who killed her, but I’d rather the funeral was put in charge of—of some one else.”

“There’s nobody else, Mr. Berkeley,” said Stewart, in a sort of dismay. “After Mrs. Oakes’ story, whether it’s true or not, you must see there’s no one to take the matter in charge.”

“Dad’s right,” Lowell said, decidedly. “I agree with him. Then, if there is no one legally responsible, or even morally so, the situation must be put up to the authorities.”

“The police?” cried Colly, aghast at the thought. Miss Maria came in then.

“Of course,” she said, taking matters into her own hands as usual, “as you all know, there aren’t a handful of people who would want to attend the service and those only from curiosity. We must leave it to the coroner to look after, and if he chooses to have no public service of any sort, so much the better.”

“As I am so decidedly in the minority, I withdraw my objections,” Colly said, handsomely. “It seems to me an inhuman thing to do, but I bow to your superior judgment.”

“Don’t be pedantic,” Lowell growled, “Dad knows best. And if I make no objections, surely no one else ought to.”

And then Mimi drifted in. It was the habit of the house to congregate, and a few gathered, always drew more.

Mimi, in a pale gray georgette frock, looked gentle and lovely.

Ignoring several chairs pushed forward for her, she perched on the arm of the great easy chair in which Linus sat, and Fleming Stone, noting the man’s gentle smile was not surprised that Mimi’s light caress of the gray lock at Berkeley’s temple, was not rebuffed, but rather enjoyed.

Then Mimi insisted on hearing the Oakes story.

“You can’t tell,” she said, judicially. “It is difficult for Scrub Oakes to tell the truth, but she has been know to do it.”

“What a pleasant nickname,” said Farnum.

“It suits her,” and Mimi tossed her head. “So you’re not going to give Rosy Posy Christian burial. Why?”

“Oh, let up, Mimi!” begged Lowell, wearily. “Can’t you be kind?”

“Yes, dear, I can,” she returned, a note of real feeling in her voice. “Come for a walk in the garden, and see how nice I can be.”

The two young people went off together, and as the eyes of Linus followed the pair, Stone wondered afresh, what his mental attitude might be.

For Linus Berkeley was deeply anxious over something,—anybody could see that.

However, when he spoke, it was regarding quite another subject.

“Are the police living up to regulations?” he said, abruptly. “I thought they had to interview the servants and all that—”

“All being done, Mr. Berkeley,” Stewart said. “That’s routine work, unless they have some real reason for suspicion, and you can see their reports if you like. Now, if they are to arrange the funeral services, may I have a conference with them? I won’t do anything especial without consulting you people, but I do want to make sure there’s a little beauty and harmony about it all. Some flowers, you know, and some music. I’ll attend to it all, unless Lowell wants to help.”

“Go ahead, Colly,” Linus said, “do just what you think right. I’m not afraid to trust you.”

“Nor I,” echoed Maria. “Colly’s the very one to see to that part. He has wonderful judgment and taste.”

“Yes, and don’t stint the expense,” Linus said to Stewart. “We all want it to be right and proper, you know.”

“I know,” and Colly nodded. “You want it all correct and proper, but not any personal touch. Not as if she were one of the family.”

“Yes,” Linus replied, gravely. “For she wasn’t one of us, really. You see, you’re all on the wrong tack. Somebody killed the girl, of course, but it was none of us. It was some intruder, by which I mean some one known to Rosalie, but not to the rest of us. Mrs. Oakes’ story may have been untrue, if you like, but you must admit there may have been spots of truth in it here and there. We must believe she was a gold digger, and we must assume she was a man hunter. While I deplore the manner of her taking off, I am honestly glad my son is released from her influence and I hope and trust he will learn to forget her and become interested in some more worthy character.”

“Come, come, Linus,” admonished his sister, “don’t talk like that, or they’ll think you put little Rosalie out of the way—”


The horrified look on Linus’ face and the amazement in his eyes made Maria smile at her shocked brother.

“There, there,” she said, “don’t take it so hard. I was just joking—”

“It is not an appropriate subject for jokes, Maria. When I say I am relieved that Lowell is freed from her influence, I do not lose sight of the dreadfulness of the situation or the wickedness of the crime. And if any one has any thought of my implication in the murder, they are at liberty to probe my connection with the case as deeply as they see fit.

“Meanwhile I would like to ask help in investigating my theory of the affair, which I have believed to be the truth from the beginning.”

“What is your theory, Mr. Berkeley?” Escott said, speaking from the window. He and Clay had come up on the porch just in time to hear the last words.

“Oh, are you there, Escott? And Clay, too? Good! but come inside, listen to my suggestions and tell me what you think.”

They obeyed and took seats while Linus resumed his talk.

A report of Mrs. Oakes’ statement had been sent to these men, so they were primed and could take in the further developments.

“You see,” Linus said, “Rosalie was a little adventuress. I’m not blaming her, though I might if she were still alive. But I do realize what kind of girl she was. Like others of her sex, she was endeavoring to marry a man with a large fortune. Or, perhaps, having a lover, she wanted only some available cash to oil the wheels of their romance, and she chose this way to procure it. I mean the way of the Berkeley pearls.”

Linus’ voice was a bit husky, but his tones were solemn and his face showed grave, set lines.

“Supposing she could get possession of those,” Escott said, “suppose the man she cared for was egging her on, and suppose he had an appointment with her to come here help her abstract the pearls,—she knew where they were kept,—and then take her with him as they both hurried out of this town.”

“Then who killed her?” said Colly, his cheeks flaming.

“That man, I think,” Linus returned, slowly. “He came at about two, she let him in, and then, thinking she could do it better than he could, her slender little arms went into the desk, to seize the box, when, overcome by greed, he pushed down the roll top, and she was killed instantly.”

“It is plausible,” Clay exclaimed, “and it is both possible and probable. I believe you have hit on the truth, Mr. Berkeley. What do the rest of you think?”

“I’m for it!” Farnum declared. “I believe it to be the truth of the matter and I think Mr. Berkeley deserves a lot of credit for thinking it out. I have thought from the start it was murder, but I couldn’t see any hint of the criminal. Now, this unknown man must be traced and apprehended, perhaps not such a difficult job after all.”

“Anything seems to be a difficult job where Rosalie is concerned,” put in Miss Maria. “Such an obscure, unknown, elusive bit of baggage I never saw. She pulled the wool over the eyes of Linus and Lowell, but she didn’t fool me!”

“Oh, come now, Maria,” said her brother, “you rather liked the pretty little thing. And Lowell adored her—”

“Lowell!” Maria sniffed. “He’d fall for any pretty face. Look at him now, skylarking with Mimi! What does he care who it is, if it’s some sweet little thing who looks upon him as a hero?”

Stone smiled at this apt description, and thought to himself that there were plenty of sweet little things who looked upon any handsome young millionaire as a hero.

Inspector Escott cleared his throat with a portentous sound.

“I cannot say I agree with you, Mr. Berkeley,” he declared; “your theory is plausible, even probable, but it doesn’t seem to me to be the true one.”

“Have you a better one, Inspector?” Linus asked.

“Perhaps not better, but more in keeping with the evidence. For one thing, I am forced to the conclusion that the murderer was a woman. I cannot believe a man, however black hearted, could be guilty of such a brutal piece of business as dropping that roll top on a defenseless girl. I don’t mean because of his better nature, or anything like that, but I mean it isn’t the way a man would kill a woman. A woman, however, especially a mean spirited, jealous or envious woman would resort to such despicable means.”

“You mean Miss Bell, I suppose,” Clay said, looking thoughtfully at his superior officer.

“Who else? I find it impossible to think any one of this household is implicated in the crime, but Miss Bell is of different caliber and I can readily believe in her guilt, the more so, as there are bits of evidence pointing to it.”

“What are they?” Fleming Stone inquired.

“The fact of their intimacy, for one thing. Miss Buchanan knew where the pearls were, what more natural than that she should show them off to her friend, in a spirit of braggadocio? Miss Bell, knowing the great value of the gems and seeing her sudden opportunity to injure Rosalie, drops the heavy desk lid, not, perhaps, intending a fatal blow, but in hope of maiming her rival, and usurping her place.”

The pompous manner of the Inspector matched his stilted diction, and as he sat back in his chair, conscious of the bombshell he had thrown, he looked round for approval.

Judging from the expression on the faces of his hearers, he found slight encouragement.

“I cannot say whether your theory is right or wrong,” Linus said, in his careful way, “but I will say I cannot feel that you have enough to found it upon. To my mind it is largely a figment of your imagination. Yet you may be right. I have heard that in a multitude of counselors there is safety. It seems to me there is only confusion and vague assumptions.”

“Yet it is believable,” Maria said, thoughtfully. “I never liked that Mimi and I’m only afraid now, that she has set her cap for Lowell, and will, as they say, catch his heart on the rebound.”

Could she have seen, at that moment, the two young people she spoke of, her fears would have seemed justified.

Lowell and Mimi were standing, arm in arm, outside the little cottage that had been appointed for the use of Paderewski Potter. It was far enough from the big house to make the noises of the old piano inaudible, for though Paddy was a truly marvelous performer, few cared to hear his wheezy old instrument.

But Mimi was interested, and Lowell stood at her side, looking at the blonde curls that clustered round her little pink ear.

Paddy saw them through the window, and nodded pleasantly as he went on with his playing.

He had given them some of his best classical efforts, and his skill rose triumphantly above the difficulties he had to contend with in the old piano, when suddenly he changed his mood, and began to play softly, the old song of “Sweet Alice, Ben Bolt.”

We are told how Svengali made the air immortal with his musical genius added to the finest of instruments. But Potter, so manipulated his broken strings and recalcitrant keys that his hearers forgot the drawbacks and heard only the wailing, sorrowful dirge.

Mimi quivered with emotion, and was about to turn and flee for sanctuary when Potter rose from his seat, flung open his door, and invited them inside, speaking in tones more of command than request.

Mimi drew back, but Lowell urged her on, and they went in and sat side by side on a small sofa.

“I want a word with you, Miss Bell,” their host said; “no objections, I s’pose?”

“Yes, decided ones,” Mimi answered, spiritedly. “I have no reason to talk with you, and no wish to.”

“ ’Fraid?”

“No, indeed. But I have better things to occupy my time than conversation with you.”

“Yeah. I dessay. But a word or two, now. To cut it short, what did you go downstairs for late at night, when Miss Rosalie was sitting at the roll-top desk?”

“I didn’t do any such thing!” Mimi returned, wrathfully.

“ ’Scuse me, but you did. I saw you.”

“Oh, you were spying about, were you?”

“Yes; so, you’d better explain.”

“There’s little to explain. I knew Rosalie had had a letter from a man she was afraid of. I had a notion he was coming to see her late that night, and I went down to see if I could be of any help.”

“He came to kill her?”

“Mercy, no! He came for the pearls!”

“Aha, then you knew the pearls were in the desk! I fancy you are the ‘man’ you speak of! Now, look here, Miss Bell, we’ll say no more about this now, but at the inquest on Monday, I advise you to tell of it. For, if you don’t, I will.”

“You threaten me?”

“Call it what you like. But to my mind, that killing business was a woman’s not a man’s, and if you don’t own up, suspicion may fall on some woman whom I admire and respect,—as, I do not—you.”

“Don’t be silly! I have a perfect alibi.”

“That phrase is enough to condemn you! Your alibi is that you were in bed and asleep. Who can corroborate that? I saw you come downstairs,—the back way. I saw you in the room with Miss Buchanan. Now, you tell what you did there.”

“For God’s sake, Mimi, tell the truth,” said Lowell, his eyes troubled and his lips set in a straight line.

Instead of speaking at all, Mimi gave a low, stifled moan, and rising suddenly, darted out of the cabin and ran swiftly along the path to the big house.

“Watch her, Mr. Lowell,” Paddy said, with grave emphasis. “There’s no telling what she’ll do. She’s bad all through, that one!”

“Oh, come, now, Paddy, you’re mistaken. Miss Bell is not such a fine character as Miss Buchanan was, but she’s a dear, and she is in no way mixed up with that terrible crime. You’re imagining things, and I want you to stop it. Unless you do, you’ll make big trouble for me.”

“If I do, I’ll make big trouble for you!” Potter returned, speaking gruffly. “You’ll do well to look out for your own women folks. Leave Miss Bell look out for herself!”


Chapter 10
Detective Talk

“Well, for two such great and glorious murder fans as we are, we don’t seem to be making any spectacular progress in the discovery of the killer of Rosalie Buchanan.”

“I grant you the great and glorious, Mayo, but murder fans is, I think, too slangy and vulgar a term for our hair-trigger intellects.”

The two detectives sat on the comfortable veranda at Limbo, and though Stone as was his won’t, lay practically immobile in a long deck chair, Farnum rocked vigorously in an ancient but honorable wicker rocker.

It was Sunday evening. They had partaken manfully of a supper of lobster, with attendant shrimps, and a salad as mysterious and intriguing as one of their pet murder cases.

Farnum had attended the brief funeral services and had seen Rosalie committed to a little grave, bought for her by the Berkeley estate.

As a matter of convenience, the use of the church had not been asked for and the mortician parlors had proved better adapted to the occasion.

As no relatives or friends of Rosalie had been discovered, the audience comprised only Farnum and the Rocky Reef people, with such of the police as were enough interested to be there.

Fleming Stone did not go. He went over to the Reef, and put in a short time examining two or three of the rooms there.

One was the room, or rather suite, that Rosalie had occupied.

To his surprise it was almost entirely empty of any of her belongings. There were no frocks, shoes, hats or toilet appurtenances to be seen.

He called Paddy Potter to him to inquire into this.

“Oh, Miss Bell, she took ’em all,” the virtuoso told him. “Nobody cared. Miss M’ria, she was glad to get rid on ’em, and likewise Miss Bristol, she had no use for ’em. The maids they stuck up their noses at the very idea!”

“Was Miss Mimi mixed up in the murder, Paderewski?”

“Now, that’s a queer way to put it, sir. If you mean, did she do it, she did.”


“Nachelly, so’s she could get into Miss Rosalie’s shoes. She presumed to get the pearls and then, to hook in Mr. Lowell, also, as well as, and in addition to.”

“But she didn’t get the pearls.”

“Well, no. You see, she got scared, and ran away. As I figger it, she didn’t plan to kill the girl, but to sorta stun her like, and then annex the shiners and pretend the hull thing was an accident. Miss Rosy, bein’ stunned like, couldn’t tell a clear story and Miss Mimi woulda said she,—Rosy, I mean, had snaked the joolry. See? But, Lordy me, Mr. Stone, you know more about all this nor what I do. Ain’t that the way you purview it?”

Stone was always delighted with Potter’s odd diction, and to-day was no exception. The man spoke a jargon of his own. He had picked up some Southern phrases from Linus and many New England locutions from Maria and local neighbors.

Others he had gleaned from the heterogeneous lot of books that he found somewhere and read.

“Then, I take it, Potter, Miss Mimi will have another go at the necklace.”

“Onless she can come by it more affably, sir. Meaning, if she can so charm either of our Berkeley men—”

“What! Are you referring to Mr. Linus Berkeley?”

“Him and his son. I’m thinkin’ Miss Mimi would take either of them right thankfully.”

“But the father—”

“Lawsee, now, Mr. Stone, you wasn’t born yesterday, was you? Ain’t you never heard of a fine elderly upstandin’ Deacon in a Baptist church, so far forgettin’ his upstandin’ness as to bow down and wusship a silly little bit o’ fluff?”

“Yes, of course, but not Linus Berkeley! You’ll be saying next he was in love with Rosalie!”

“No, sir. She honer’bly was Mr. Lowell’s propity. But this Mimi Goldilocks,—well, I kin see things. He looks on it as a fair field and no favor. If Lowell wants her, and if Mr. Linus does too, well—let the best man win!”

Though vowing to himself he had never heard such drivel, Stone went aimlessly through with the task he had set himself. He examined the bedrooms of the men of the household, but felt a delicacy about rummaging among feminine belongings.

Dismissing Paddy with what was meant to be a withering glance, he received in return a smothered chuckle, which was, however, suppressed at once.

“Mr. Stone,” Potter said, seriously, “I’m sorry if I seemed jocose. Believe me, I reckernize the seriosity of this situation, and if you can do anything to help, for the Lord’s sake, do it! And if I can do anything to help you help, jest you lemmeno. You remember, now.”

“I’ll remember,” Stone told him.

As soon as the two friends were settled down together, Stone listened to the account of the funeral, and then he told of his interview with Potter.

Farnum took it all in, silently.

“Fleming,” he said, slowly, “the case is too big. And getting bigger every minute. It is absurd to think of Linus so much as looking at that litle gold-digger, as even he admits she is. But the older a man gets the foolisher he grows, and—stranger things than that have happened. However, I shan’t borrow trouble in that direction. And,—oh, this suggestion is idiotic! but would you say that it might be better for Linus to be roped in by the blonde vamp, than for Lowell to be caught in her snares?”

“No, I shouldn’t say anything of the sort. We’ve got to save them both, Mayo, and we’ve got to be damn quick about it!”

“Well, for the moment, anyway, I’ll leave that business to you. I feel there’s much to be done regarding a hunt for the murderer.”

“Why not adopt that nameless man who came to call on Rosalie?”

“That wasn’t a nameless man, it was Mimi.”

“Pretty sure about that, aren’t you?”

“Yes, and she may not be through with her homicidal experiments yet.”

“Have you picked the next victim?”

“I think so. I’m looking for it to be Maria.”


“Because she knows of Mimi’s guilt. She knows she killed Rosy.”

“Your imagination isn’t running away with you?”

“No, Fleming. I gathered a lot at the funeral this afternoon, just by watching the faces of the various people. Now, Maria has a very readable face. Jane Bristol, I wouldn’t attempt to make out, she is almost as close shuttered as Linus himself, but Maria shows all she knows in her eyes or by the expression of her lips.”

“And Mimi?”

“She has an open face, lets it express all her innermost thoughts, but, alas, not truly. Her looks belie her and she belies her looks. I wouldn’t believe her facial expressions under oath! So, we must hunt her down in spite of herself, not because of her divulgences.”

“What fearsome words you use!”

“Who cares? If they’re in the right place.”

“Very well, go ahead.”

“Then we must first turn that yellow-headed liar inside out and upside down, and see what makes her wheels go round. Especially why Maria is so sure she killed Rosalie.”

“How do you know Maria does think so?”

“Because I read her expression. Every time the dead girl was mentioned by the clergyman, Mimi looked at the little white face in the casket with an unmistakable glare of utter hatred. Miss Maria, watching Mimi, noticed this and resented it. Now Maria wasn’t crazy over Rosalie, but she liked her ten times better than she did Mimi. And if looks could have killed, Mimi Bell would have been dead at a very early stage of the proceedings.”

“What did Linus do?”

“He looked at them both. He seemed pained at their evident attitude toward the dead girl, for he’s a fair-minded chap and believes nothing but good should be said of the dead.”

“And Lowell?”

“He just brooded. I don’t think he raised his eyes once. Mimi tried every possible way to attract his attention, but without success. Jane Bristol sat looking at him, too. I doubt if she realized how conspicuous she made herself by staring so at Lowell. I suppose her cap is set for him, too. Girls have no reticence or modesty nowadays.”

“Mayo, the whole case is muggly.”

“And just what does muggly mean?”

“Heavens! How can anybody not know what muggly means! Why, I mean that the case is all muggled up, all in a snarl, all helter-skelter. Now do you understand?”

“Not particularly. What are you going to do about it?”

“Straighten it out, of course. And I’m glad of the muggle. It helps in the long run.”

“Oh, I daresay. Wish I knew how.”

“Well, to start with, who is directing the theft of the pearls? It may not be the same individual as the killer, you know.”

“You think Rosalie was stealing them, then?”

“I certainly do, but not necessarily on her own initiative. She may have been coerced by some one else.”

“Mimi, I suppose you mean, since you don’t believe in a gentleman caller—”

“Well, there are others. It could be any one of the people abiding at Rocky Reef.”

“Not any of the Berkeleys.”

“Not Linus, of course. The pearls are his already. But perhaps Maria or Lowell. Or the Stewart visitor, or even the mysterious Jane.”

“Why call her mysterious? Isn’t she just the regulation type of social secretary?”

“I don’t think so. But I can’t see her engineering a great jewel robbery.”

“I should say not! Stone, let’s get down to cases. Clews, for instance. What about that finger stall? That ought to mean something. And the other one. One finger stall is a clew, two seem to me a little bit queer.”

“Yes, they are queer. What do you make of them?”

“Oh, I think they’re understandable enough. Say Mimi put on the first one and found it inadequate. So, she wrapped another around it. I’ve often done that myself, and it would explain the large sized one.”

“But they’re not made of the same material.”

“Not? How do you know?”

“Well, I surveyed them, with a critic’s eye. The little one is undoubtedly Mimi’s. Made of fine linen, and carefully cut. The other is of coarse cotton cloth, torn, not cut, and quite evidently made for a man’s finger, not for a dainty little person like Miss Bell.”

“Well, then, you must admit it’s queer—”

“Oh, I do. Very queer. But how to eliminate the queerness, that’s the thing.”

“Can you judge nothing from the material used for the larger cot?”

“Yes, a little. I have examined it, and I find it is cotton, not linen, that it was probably cut from a handkerchief which was bought at one of those five and ten cent stores—”

“Yes, there’s one of those at Oleander Park.”

“Not likely our murderer bought it here, though. More probably he got it in Boston, or some large city. I have my aides working on Boston and Manchester.”

“You look for success from that?”

“I’m leaving no clew untracked. Now, take the red ink, Mayo. Why was the red ink upset and not the black or the green, both of which were nearer to the girl’s groping hand?”

“Well, you tell me. Why was it?”

“It was done on purpose. There was a string round the red ink bottle, and after the deed was done, that string was pulled out, upsetting the bottle and spilling the ink all about.”

“Did you find the string?”

“Not yet, but I hope to. However, I found a very pretty track made by the string as it was pulled away, and some red blurs, where it had dragged along.”

“You’re a hummer, Stone! I’ll hand it to you!”

“Oh, well, what’s the use of having clews if you don’t make use of them?”

“True, oh, king! Now, how are you going to find a man to fit the cot and the inkbottle string?”

“By elimination, I suppose.”

“All right. Eliminate the three Berkeleys and Miss Bristol. You’re just wasting your time on them.”

“Have they alibis?”

Farnum looked closely at his friend to see if he were pulling his leg, but Stone looked so calmly inquisitive, there seemed no reason for suspicion.

“They all have the same alibi, that they were in bed and asleep.”

“And a good one, too, only difficult to prove. By the way, Miss Bristol wasn’t asleep. She was listening to the family chasing up and downstairs.”

“Yes, and the best alibi she could have! If she were implicated in the crime, she surely wouldn’t declare she was awake all through it.”

“It would be a clever thing to do.”

“Fleming, because you and I are subtly clever, you mustn’t think ordinary people are.”

“Miss Bristol, to my mind, is far from being an ordinary person. I think her exceedingly clever, and I shan’t wonder a bit, if she yet corrals the heir of all the Berkeleys.”

“Lordy! I hope she does, rather than have Lowell tie up to one of those fly-by-nights!”

“I suppose you’re right, but those little flutter-budgets are really more entertaining than the gentle Jane.”

Stone’s friend gazed at him with a scornful air. When Farnum elected to look dignified he looked very dignified indeed.

“I suppose you know what you’re talking about,” he said, coldly, “but you’re showing me a new phase of your nature. Would you really rather talk to Mimi Bell than to Miss Bristol?”

“In connection with this case, yes,” returned Stone, imperturbably. “For I can’t imagine Jane Bristol as the criminal, but I can imagine Mimi as the guilty one. And yet, not quite, either. In fact I can’t vision a woman in it at all. I mean in the principal role, the murderer.”

“I thought you leaned to Maria?”

“A little, just a little. But she’s a different feminine type from Mimi or Jane.”

“Well, coming back to menfolks, then, what about Paddy?”

“He’s a perfectly good suspect. He is so devoted to the Berkeley family that he’d kill anybody who, in his estimation, threatened the health, wealth or happiness of the household.”

“Well, Fleming, we’re getting away from the question of clewses.”

“Yes, and I don’t want to do that. Let’s make a list of them and see where they point.”

“Go to it. There’s stationery at your elbow.”

“The best conditioned house I ever saw! Who else would think of having scratch paper and pencils in the drawer of a porch table?”

“You would, for one.”

A kindly smile crinkled up Farnum’s sun-tanned face and he shook back his white locks as he prepared to listen to Stone’s deductions.

The difference in the appearance of the two men was strictly analogous to their characters, and their temperaments.

Fleming Stone, as he grew older, grew more and more quizzical of glance and lenient of countenance.

His smile was a bit more kindly, his manner a trifle more gracious, as if passing time called out to him to “gently scan his fellow man.”

His stern, ascetic features had not changed, but his graying hair softened his expression, and the fine wrinkles about his eyes, betokened a more humorous outlook than he showed of yore.

“A real clew,” Stone said, after a moment’s thought, “is Miss Bristol’s account of what she heard Thursday night of steps on the stairs and in the halls.”

“It wasn’t Thursday night, it was Friday morning, at half past two.”

“Yes, I know, but it always comes more natural to say the night. Well, at two o’clock, Friday A. M. Jane Bristol heard six or eight people in the halls. It can’t be that all of these people were on casual and legitimate business. I am compelled to believe one or more of them was engaged in or cognizant of the murder.”

“If it was a murder.”

“Of course it was a murder. The police proved it could be neither accident nor suicide, so, what else is left but murder?”

“Well, Rosalie was one of the people whose footsteps Jane heard. I’ll say Rosie was touchin’ on and appertainin’ to,—or however you worded it,—the murder,—if it was a murder.”

“Mayo, sometimes I believe you try to get me so irritated that I’ll fly into a rage. Well, in a minute, I will!”

“Oh, no, keep ca’m, do—ee keep ca’m, now. You were talking about footsteps.”

“I was. By the way, it’s strange how many of the most recent stories have to do with footsteps. There’s that Washington yarn, about the man with a limp.”

“And that weird one about the ghostly footsteps—”

“And in that book called The Wraith—”

“And the ones the cat made,—the Persian cat—”

“I’m not talking about footprints, but footsteps, a totally different matter. Miss Bristol said nothing about footprints.”

“That’s so. No more she didn’t! Fire ahead.”

“Well, as I say, I believe some one of those people whose footsteps Jane heard was the murderer.”

“It’s a free country, you can believe what you like.”

“Don’t you? Be serious, Mayo.”

“I am. It comes back to this. If the murderer is an inmate of Rocky Reef, whether family, guest or servant, then it’s very likely that he came downstairs that night and that Miss Bristol heard him.”

“He or she.”

“I refuse to be over meticulous. We have no pronoun for a common gender but our best grammars say that he includes both sexes, and I use it that way.”

“And you’re right, old man. I apologize and hurry along.”

“I accept your apology, if you’ll do the hurrying.”

“Then, as I see it, we have six or eight people, who vow they were in bed and asleep at the fatal moment, and Miss Bristol declares that she heard the prowling about the halls and stairs at that same hour.”

“True in the main,—I mean your account is. But Jane may have been mistaken, also the people in question may have been mistaken—”

“Or may have been lying.”

“Yes, Stone, that’s right. They may have been lying. Now, can we determine whether the criminal was in the house that night,—staying, I mean,—or whether he came in for the purpose. If the latter, so far we know only of Jack Stafford, and this legendary man who came to call on Rosalie and presumably snitch the pearls.”

“Where does the famous Paderewski sleep?”

“In various places. Sometimes, in that cabin-like structure that houses his precious piano. Again, if Linus is ailing or nervous, Potter stays in the house and sleeps in the master’s dressing room. In summer he sometimes sleeps on the porch at the rear of the house. It is the servants’ porch, but very comfortable and cozy.”

“A bit of a nomad.”

“Yes, he’s gypsyish. But you’re not aiming at Paddy, I hope. Never was there such devotion as he feels for Linus. And for the rest of the Berkeleys.”

“That’s just it. Mightn’t he have killed the impudent Rosalie to free young Lowell from her vampire clutch?”

“No, not Potter. He has no imagination—”

“Tut, tut. A musician and no imagination?”

“Not the sort required to do murder, anyway.”

“No, he doesn’t seem so. Well, come back to young Stewart. Don’t say he’s not the type to commit murder. Types seldom do the thing they’re typed up to do. I know little about the chap. But he was head over heels in love with Lowell’s girl, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was. And he’s one of my possibles.”

“Is Jack Stafford another?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“In fact any one is, who doesn’t belong to your beloved Berkeley tribe. Well, old man, it’s fine to see such loyalty, but it somewhat disqualifies you for an assistant sleuth. So let’s drop individual suspects and get back to general clews. What about the crossword puzzles?”

“Well, what about ’em?”

Farnum’s round calm face lost some of its placidity. He gave Stone a slightly startled glance.

“Did you know Maria is very fond of them?”

“Maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. They say she’s ashamed of her liking for them, considers it a weakness, and won’t let the others know she enjoys the game. But I think that’s ridiculous. Maria is mighty independent, and she won’t be put upon by anybody. But even if she adores the things, that’s nothing against her, and most certainly not a clew pointing to her guilt!”

“It might explain her going downstairs in the night. Perhaps she wanted to look in the dictionary. You know they get to be fanatics and if a thought of a word comes to them in the midnight watches, they have to tear downstairs or wherever the reference books may be.”

“Oh, I say, Stone, let’s leave Maria out of this. We know she didn’t kill the little girl. Why stir up trouble to no good purpose?”

“I’m afraid it’s already stirred up, Mayo. The police are onto this fad of Maria’s, and they’re looking into it.”


Chapter 11
It Couldn’t Be Mimi

Monday morning brought the inquest, but as an entertainment it was not up to the expectations of the audience.

The large assembly room at the mortuary was not crowded, although many curiosity seekers were gathered there.

Coroner Anderson was taking the matter very seriously, as is the New England habit, and his manner was curt and tone severe as he questioned his witnesses.

The maid, Priscilla, was asked to tell of her finding the body of the dead girl.

This she did, with much hesitation and even contradiction of her own statements.

Anderson paid little attention to this, however, for he knew all the details of the discovery of the tragedy.

“You didn’t raise the roll top of the desk, did you?” he asked of Prissy.

“Lordy, no!” she exclaimed. “I didn’t go anear her. I ran for help.”

“To whom?”

“I started for Mr. Brown, he’s the butler, but I met Paddy Potter in the hall and I drug him in.”

This seemed to be the limit of Prissy’s knowledge, and Potter was called next.

The witness was a bit disconcerting, for Paddy had a superior complex of his own which did not tend to put the coroner at ease.

There was no reason why Doctor Anderson should be nervous or embarrassed, but, perhaps owing to the presence of Inspector Escott, and the two private detectives, he felt a certain self-consciousness that was far from comfortable.

“Well, Mr. Potter what did you do when you saw the poor girl in such a terrible position?”

“I did what any one else woulda done, I stood and looked at her.”

“For how long?”

“Land! I don’t know. I wish you wouldn’t ask me questions!”

Fleming Stone smiled, remembering Paddy’s aversion to being questioned, and now finding himself in the witness box, where questioning was inevitable.

“Don’t be impertinent, my man,” and the coroner scowled at him.

“Go on with your questions. I’d ruther answer ’em, than to be called ‘my man’?”

“Mr. Potter,” with exaggerated courtesy, “tell us then, exactly what you did in the terrible emergency in which you found yourself.”

“Oh, just what anybody woulda done. I went to tell Mr. Berkeley about it.”

“Mr. Linus Berkeley?”

“Yes. We call his son, Mr. Lowell. And, having told Mr. Linus, I felt my responsibility at an end, and I just stood by in case I could be of help.”

“And were you?”

“Sure I was. The butler, Brown, and the second man, Garson, they was so overcame by the situation, they was plumb dazed. I kept ’em up to the mark and now and then I gave a jolt to the cook or the maids. I keep my head better’n most, you see.”

There was more of this sort of desultory conversation which got them nowhere.

Linus Berkeley, his sister and his son were called, but they too, had no evidence of importance to offer.

Fleming Stone had heard their stories before, and he devoted his attention to watching their faces as they told them over again.

Linus was grave and calm, but Stone detected an underlying nervousness, which he attributed, doubtless correctly, to a distaste for the publicity thrust upon himself and his family by this lamentable occurrence.

“Why,” Linus was thinking, “did his son, that paragon of fine young manhood, have to get mixed up with a girl who, for some reason, had met this awful fate? He knew young men must sow a few wild oats and all that, but seldom did the sowing yield a crop of murder! To be sure, Rosalie had been a pretty little thing, and though not of the Vere de Veres, yet he, Linus, had given his sanction to the engagement. Under pressure, to be sure, but—well, Lowell had always had what he wanted, and presumably, he always would.”

Miss Maria was thinking much the same thoughts as her brother-in-law.

But her face was more set in anger, more definitely resentful, and though she would have died for Lowell, she hated to have other people dying all over the place.

As for Lowell himself, he was moody and sullen when spoken to, but just in a dull daze when he sat silent.

It was not until Mimi was called that there was any deep interest shown.

The girl was so lovely. In a simple little black silk frock, her golden curls escaping from an odd-shaped but very effective black hat, she looked the picture of quiet, restrained woe.

Those who knew her, felt that the woe seemed deeper than it really was, but to a stranger she appeared the victim of an inconsolable sorrow.

Her big, gentian eyes were, for the most part, cast down, but this only made them appear more beautiful and pathetic when raised.

Linus Berkeley watched her closely, though not ostensibly.

Fleming Stone decided Berkeley had a marvelous power of seeing things at which he seemed not to be looking.

Mimi answered questions with neatness and dispatch.

A clear-cut mentality, hers, and she responded to or parried the coroner’s queries with equal ease.

“You were a great friend of Miss Buchanan’s?” asked Anderson.

“Yes,—and no,” replied Mimi, looking wise like a cat.

“That is not an answer,” the coroner reproved her; “moreover, it is a locution I detest.”

“Sorry,” said the girl, carelessly. “If you’ll give me a list of your detested—er, what do you call ’em,—locutions, I’ll do my best to avoid them.”

He looked at her sharply, but the fair face showed no trace of guile, and there was no twinkle in the blue eyes.

“You were Miss Buchanan’s friend?”

“I was, indeed, except, of course, when we quarreled.”

“Which was often?”

“Off and on. We didn’t always see eye to eye, if you know what that means, and when we didn’t, we spoke right out in meetin’ and said so.”

“Had you had a quarrel lately?”

“Top hole! I mean we had a rouser!”


“The very day she died. Poor Rosie. If I’d known she was going out so soon—”

“What was the quarrel about?”

“Do I have to tell?”

“You do.”

“All right, then. Needs must when the devil drives! Well, she said I was stealing her beaux and it had to stop.”

“And were you?”

“I was trying to. But it’s hard sledding to get the guys away from Rosie B.”

“I wish you’d take this matter a little less lightly, Miss Bell.”

“Yessir. I will. Anything to please.”

“Now, tell me at what time you went downstairs again, after you had gone to your room for the night?”

“Didn’t do anything of the sort.”

“Yes, you did. You were seen.”

“Oh, was I? Well, then, I knew Rosie had gone down, and I went down to try to make up the quarrel.”

“Why were you so anxious to make it up?”

Mimi smiled at him.

“If I didn’t, she could get me fired, and I didn’t want to leave Rocky Reef.”

“And what time did you say you went down?”

“I didn’t say, and the reason I didn’t say, is ’cause I don’t know. My watch is almost never going, and when it does go, it’s almost never right, so I don’t look at it much. Hence these ignorance.”

Fleming Stone looked steadily at Mimi. He was uncertain whether, if he had had any real interest in the girl, he would want to spank her or kiss her.

She was so adorable to look at; the seashell pink of her cheeks did not come out of a box, and her hair was in large, soft ringlets, not the tight, crisp curls Rosie wore, and which Mimi declared meant a “permanent.”

Stone had only a vague idea what a permanent was, but he knew Mimi’s rippled gold locks could not be called that.

But Mimi was saucy, decidedly so.

Not only in words, but the patronizing smiles and tolerant nods she gave the coroner were on the very edge of impudence, if indeed, they were not quite over the brink.

Very rude, too, was her impersonal stare. She seemed to look straight through the man, as if he were not there at all.

Coroner Anderson was not accustomed to these things. Usually he awed the witnesses he questioned, and for this chit of a girl to treat him with a patronizing good humor was almost more than he could stand.

He took refuge in bluster.

“Never mind about your watch. Where was Miss Buchanan when you found her?”

This time Mimi hesitated. Had he struck something at last? Coroner Anderson looked at her steadily, a bullying smile dawning on his thin lips.

“Will you answer me, please?”

“Oh, yes, certainly. What was it you asked?”

“I said, where was Miss Buchanan when you found her?”

Mimi looked prettily puzzled.

“When I found her? We weren’t playing hide and seek.”

Whatever the coroner thought of her, Mimi had captured the audience. They chuckled or giggled, according to sex, at this bit of repartee.

Anderson reddened.

“Be careful, Miss Bell; foolishness is not permitted in transactions of the law.”

“No? And it seems to me to be the only thing I’ve heard during these proceedings. Well, Mr. Coroner, if you’re trying to connect me up with the death of my friend, you may as well spare your efforts. I didn’t slam the desk lid down on her either by accident or with malice aforethought.”

“We’ve only your word for that.” Anderson spoke very gravely now. “Where was she when you first saw her on going downstairs?”

“In the—in the little book room.”

Mimi’s sauciness had disappeared. Her tricksy mood had vanished. She was all too evidently scared, and badly scared at that.

“What was she doing?”

“She was—she was looking up some word in the dictionary,—some puzzle word, you know.”

“So late at night?”

“That meant nothing to her. Day and night were one to that girl. Yes, she put away a dictionary or some kind of a reference book just as I went in the room.”

“And then?”

“And then—well, then, we—we began to talk—to talk, you see—”

“Yes, I see. And did you make up the quarrel?”

“What quarrel?”

“Never mind. It doesn’t seem to weigh heavily on your memory. Now, Miss Bell, you state that Miss Buchanan was alive and well, when you saw her?”


“And you went downstairs just about three o’clock?”

“Y—yes. I mean, I don’t know as to that.”

“I know. You were seen and the one who saw you says it was just about three.”

“Then I suppose it was.”

A desperate attempt to return to a flippant manner was not very successful.

“The doctors agree that Miss Buchanan died at about two o’clock.”

“She couldn’t have, ’cause she was all right when I left her.”

The words were spoken clearly, the voice didn’t quaver, Mimi’s hands lay quietly in her lap, but fear had come into her eyes. Had she cast down her eyes none could have known that she was alarmed, but her eyes were frightened, their lovely blue was clouded and the white eyelids fluttered uncontrollably.

Fleming Stone was deeply interested.

He hadn’t before thought that Mimi was implicated, in any way, in Rosalie’s death, he didn’t think so yet, but surely there was some thinking to be done.

Linus Berkeley, too, was watching Mimi.

He had the air of a man who had just wakened to a possibility.

Could it be, thought Stone, that Linus, hitherto without any such suspicion, was beginning to wonder just where Mimi stood in the matter?

Lowell next came under his scrutiny. The boy had a readable face, and just now its expression was divided between anxiety and fear.

As frightened as Mimi herself he looked, and his apprehension was manifested in his trembling hands and restless feet.

Glancing at Farnum, Stone saw that his attention was all on Lowell.

The older man was watching the boy with what seemed to be almost consternation.

This Stone didn’t understand, for surely Mayo wasn’t thinking of Lowell as implicated in the crime at all. But if Mimi was, then Lowell of course was worried.

There was no doubt that he was coming more and more under the influence of the golden haired girl.

Though his fiancée had been dead but a few days, it would seem that this other girl was catching his fickle heart on the rebound, and as usual he was falling a victim to the nearest pretty face he could see.

Not that Lowell was really a gay Lothario, but if a pretty girl set out to vamp him she could usually succeed.

Seldom indeed did Lowell Berkeley run after a girl for himself. It was unnecessary, for they always were ready and willing to run after him, and all he had to do was to meet them half way.

And now he was frightened. What had he to fear unless it was the thought of Mimi’s treachery to her friend? Unless he feared that the quarrel over himself had led to desperate measures, and Mimi had—

Pah! It was too absurd. To think of that fairylike creature,—sitting not far from him,—ruthlessly bringing down that heavy desk lid on her friend’s neck. If it had happened, it was, it must have been an accident. And Mimi was afraid to tell about it, lest she be suspected of wicked intent.

And if all this were true, of course, Lowell, sensing it, would feel an equal fear and a similar anxiety.

Stone glanced at the jury.

Well to do, sane-looking sensible men. Men of perceptions and understanding. Men, for the most part, who would have no thought of psychology or criminology, but would judge sternly and straightforwardly from the mass of evidence presented to them.

And the representatives of the law.

Not smart alecks but persevering, plodding workers, of the sort who catch criminals.

The audience, sitting breathless, centered their interest on Mimi and Lowell. They knew little about Rosalie, but they could see Mimi, and she was good to look at.

Moreover, she was good to listen to, for her talk was entertaining, to say the least and she seemed to be regaining her confidence in herself, or perhaps in her power to charm.

Try as he might, the coroner couldn’t upset her declaration that Rosalie was all right when they parted.

“Why didn’t Miss Buchanan go upstairs with you?” asked Anderson.

Mimi cast down her eyes, but not at all in fear or worriment.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, and the wise glance she threw at the coroner said as plainly as words, “Don’t be too inquisitive!”

Clearly she meant to hint that Rosalie had an appointment with some one else, some one more interesting to her than a girl friend, and Mimi’s eloquent countenance made this seem almost a statement.

The coroner, poor man, was at his wits’ end. He sighed and made another attack.

“You have taken all Miss Buchanan’s belongings, I understand,” he said.

Mimi flushed a little, but replied, suavely;

“Yes. Nobody else wanted them, and they were offered to me, so I took them. Should any one claim them, I will willingly give them up.”

“You have them all still?”

“Not all. Quite a number of the older garments I gave away or threw away.”

“And the papers or letters or any such material?”

“Rosalie wrote very few letters, and she had no documents of value.”

“But the letters she did have, what did you do with them?”

“I burned them. They were of no interest to anyone, and I knew my friend would prefer them out of existence.”

“Ah, love letters?”

“Some of them. But mostly from unknown admirers, or young people who had seen her dance and were mad about her.”

“Of both sexes?”

“Yes, and of all grades of education. Some from college students and some from really illiterate people. I made a bundle of the lot and burned them all. It is what I should have wanted, and I knew Rosalie would want it.”

“Yes? Now, Miss Bell, I ask you again if Miss Buchanan was alive and well when you left her soon after three o’clock. Do you want to change your story at all?”

“No,—of course not. Why should I?”

But the voice trembled now, and the soft lips quivered.

Mimi looked like one who had escaped, and then had suddenly found the way of escape cut off.

“No matter why. You’re sure you stand by your statements?”

“Certainly I do. I can’t understand you.”

“I fancy you do understand. But if not, you soon will. I told you you were seen downstairs, going into the book room. You were seen by such an important witness, the evidence must be sifted. Miss Winslow.”

Maria came forward looking miserable, indeed. She took the seat indicated and awaited questions.

“You saw Miss Bell come downstairs last Friday morning at three o’clock?” asked Anderson, without preliminaries.

“Yes, I did.” Though low-voiced the reply was clearly spoken.

“What did she do?”

“She went into the small book room.”

“What did she do there?”

“I watched her from the hall, and as soon as she stepped inside the door she said, ‘Oh, my God!’ and stepped back into the hall.”

“Did she see you?”

“No, she couldn’t. Then, after a glance around she went into the book room, and went closer to—to the body, scanning the scene.”

“The desk and Miss Buchanan, you mean?”

“I do. She looked at it all closely for several minutes, and then, she lifted the roll top.”

Mimi gazed at the speaker as a small bird might gaze, fascinated, at a wild animal.

“Then you saw what the roll top had concealed?”

“I did.”

“Miss Winslow, answer carefully now. When you saw Miss Buchanan seated at the desk, could you recognize her?”

“Yes. I could not see her face, but I knew her boudoir coat and her pajamas. They were very handsome and of an odd design. Oriental.”

“Yes. Then, what did Miss Bell do?”

“She stood, as if in doubt. She looked at Miss Buchanan and she leaned forward as if to touch her.”

“Did she do so?”

“Not to my knowledge. She slowly pulled down the desk lid, and went out of the room upstairs.”

“Thank you, Miss Winslow. Now, Miss Bell, what have you to say to that?”

Mimi looked at him, coldly.

“You really want to know, Mr. Coroner, what I have to say to it?”

“I certainly do.”

“You won’t take my word that it would be better for all concerned to drop this point right here?”

“Assuredly not.”

“Then I shall tell you what you ask.”

If the room had been still before, it was even more silent now.

Mimi sat up a little straighter, looked the coroner in the eye, and began.

“Every word Miss Winslow has told you is absolutely true. It all happened just as she said. The reason I know this, is because I saw her all the time in a mirror. It is so hung that I could see her in it but she could not see me in it, although of course she could see me in the room. I did find Rosalie there, her head in the desk. I did lift the lid, who wouldn’t? I had no idea then of anything but an accident and it might not have been too late to aid her.

“But when I lifted the lid, I saw at once that she was dead—”

“How did you know?”

“Don’t ask me to answer that! It was too awful to describe. Her lovely face was swollen, discolored,— oh, need I go on?”

“No. Tell the rest.”

“All the time I could see Miss Winslow in the mirror. And,—I shouldn’t tell this, but that she has tried to get me in bad,—I saw a gleam of hatred come to her face. Whether hatred against Rosalie or myself I do not know. But the expression was unmistakable.

“Also, I knew then that the sight of Rosalie, dead, was no surprise to Miss Maria. She had seen her before, she had lifted that roll top before I did, and— it was she who had rolled the top down!”

Mimi sat down,—for she had risen in her excitement,—and hid her face in her handkerchief.

“Is this so?” asked the coroner of Maria. “Did you lift that lid before Miss Bell did?”

“No,” said Maria Winslow.


Chapter 12
Miss Winslow Goes Downstairs

Somehow, Miss Winslow’s negative, emphatic though it was, did not carry conviction.

It may have been a tremor of hesitation in the voice of the witness, or it may have been the physical contrast between the tall, gaunt New England spinster and the gold headed, roly-poly youngster, who dared accuse her of lowering the desk top.

To say Miss Maria had raised the top, when she had denied that fact was bad enough, but to say she had lowered it, was tantamount to accusing her of the death of Rosalie, whether premeditated or not.

A hush fell on the listeners. How would Coroner Anderson take this?

As a matter of fact, he did not take it at all. He passed it over to Miss Maria.

“Did you lower the desk lid?” he asked, calmly.

“Certainly not,” she replied, showing no rancor. There was a lot to Maria Berkeley beside her Puritanism, and it was easily seen that she felt she had reason to resent deeply the words of the girl who had flung the accusation at her.

For, of course, Mimi meant to accuse Miss Winslow, and it was in a paroxysm of rage that she did so.

Maria realized this, and was silent, feeling that the least said would be the soonest mended.

Nor did Mimi say anything more. The coroner, after a pause for the jurymen to speak, if inclined, dismissed the two women, certain he could learn no more from them. At least, no more facts. What they might say in their angry fury he did not care to hear.

Anderson felt that he had not covered himself with glory in his quizzing of the two women. For his part, he reflected, he’d rather have to do with men.

He called Collingwood Stewart.

The self-sufficient young man came briskly forward, dropping into the witness chair with an easy grace yet with an air of alert interest.

He drummed on the sides of the chair, as if impatiently waiting for the exercises to begin.

“You’re visiting at the Berkeley home?” asked Anderson, looking at him sternly in a hope of cowing this ebullient lad.

Colly’s red hair, close matted on his head like a knitted cap, gave him a gnome-like aspect, and too, the waggish youth delighted in rolling his eyes until they seemed to have a cast in them, which gave him a truly weird appearance.

Colly had no special reason to harass the coroner, who, he well knew, had troubles of his own, but Anderson had tried to ballyrag the little girl and he must get his comeuppance.

So the hazel eyes, slightly crossed, followed the coroner’s every moment and compelled a sort of return regard that waxed more and more insistent every minute.

“Eh? Beg pardon; what did you ask me?”

“If you are staying at Rocky Reef.”

“Now you know I am. Are you just making talk?” The gentle, cultured voice made it impossible for Anderson to stick to the gruff and belligerent tones he had adopted, and willy nilly he modulated his harsh speech.

“I’m making an inquiry,” he said, quietly, “and I trust you will answer questions definitely and briefly.”

“Definitely and briefly it is. Let the good work start in.”

“You were in love with Miss Buchanan?”

“Whew! Definitely and briefly, I believe you said. Well, then, yes.”

“Knowing she was betrothed to your host?”

“Now, look here, old man. Honor among thieves, you know. A man can’t control the impulses of his heart, but he can observe a code of honor. I did no underhand business, I never sought to undermine my host in the estimation of the lady, and if I felt admiration for her, and told no one of it, I can’t see that I did anything dishonorable.”

“You didn’t make a date with her to come down stairs again after the others had all retired—”

“I most certainly did not! Don’t give me any more of that sort of talk. From the days of the cave dwellers, men have taken other men’s women, but in this day, and in our circles, it isn’t done between friends.”

“Were you downstairs again, after going up with the others and saying good night in the hall, the night Miss Buchanan died?”

“No, I was not.”

“You were in one of the upper halls or corridors.”

The hazel eyes forgot to squint, and looked straight at Anderson.

“How do you know I was?”

“I am asking questions, not answering them. Were you or were you not, out of your room after you entered it to go to bed?”

“Definitely and briefly,—I believe those are my orders. Well, then, yes, I was.”

“What for?”

“Or, as Alice said, ‘With what porpoise?’ Well, as a side light, let me tell you that just about everybody in this house was out of his or her room that night, or, rather than morning, between two and three o’clock.”

“I am not asking for general information, only a statement regarding yourself.”

“Oh, yes, that’s so. Well, then, definitely and briefly, I stepped out in the hall—”

“What for?”

“To spy about.”

“To spy about what?”

“About the house, the halls, the rooms, the people on the stairs,—anything I could see of interest.”

“You were dressed?”

“Oh, yes. I’m a very punctilious person. I hadn’t begun to undress. But I got no thrills,—none at all.”

“You saw anybody?”

“I’ll say I did! The big staircase was as full of people as that—you know—that hifalutin picture of Rossetti’s, ‘The Golden Stair.’ Well, no, there weren’t so many there all at once. They came and went—like troutlets in a pool.”

“What—what’s that?”

“Nothing that would help you. Drive ahead.”

“Who did you see?”

“You mean whom. Never mind,—oh, never mind. Well, I saw everybody in the house, I guess, except Miss Maria and Mr. Berkeley and Miss Bristol and—”

“I didn’t ask you who—whom you didn’t see, but who—what ones you did see.”

Between his efforts at pure English and the crossing of Stewart’s eyes, Coroner Anderson was getting all hot and bothered.

“All right, all right,” Colly volunteered, kindly, “I’ll tell you that. I saw Mr. Linus Berkeley go down first. He came back in a minute. After a while Miss Winslow went down, and she, too, came back in a short time. Miss Bristol,—now, come to think of it, I don’t believe I did see Miss Bristol, after all.”

“Naturally you didn’t, because I didn’t go down,” Jane vouchsafed in a quiet tone.

“You went down, Mr. Berkeley?”

“Yes, just for a moment, soon after I went up. I went to get a book from the shelves.”

“A dictionary?”

“Yes. Of foreign words and phrases. I wasn’t down three minutes.”

“That’s right, he wasn’t,” put in Colly.

“And you, Miss Winslow?”

“Yes, I ran down for a minute, to get a letter I had left on the mantel-piece.”

“And came right back?”

“You bet she did!” Colly stated. “She flew like the old Nick was after her. I think she was afraid of the dark!”

“Was it dark?”

“Oh, come now, Mr. Coroner, don’t try to catch me with such transparent tricks. It wasn’t pitch dark, I could see these passengers I’m telling you of, but it was dark enough to scare a timid woman.”

“But you said the stairs were full of people—”

“But I said, not all at once. They gave one another the right of way. I doubt if at any time there was more than one on the stairs at a time.”

“Don’t you mean were?”

It was a palpable hit. The audience snickered, and Colly himself laughed good-naturedly.

“Touche!” he said, “if your erudition runs to furrin lingo. Now, go on. You want to know next about the rest of the lot, I suppose.”

“Yes, sir. Did you hang over the banister all night?”

“Pretty much. But there weren’t so very many more.”

“No, you’ve accounted for most of them. Who knows at what time Miss Buchanan herself went down?”

“I do,” voluntered Jane Bristol. “It was something before two o’clock.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I heard her go down, and soon after I heard the clock in the little book room strike two.”

“But I understood Mr. Berkeley has no striking clocks in the house. He objects to them.”

“I do,” stated Linus, as the coroner looked at him for confirmation. “But it is only a tiny clock in the book room, and if the door is closed its striking cannot be heard upstairs.”

“Then the door must have been open when Miss Bristol heard two o’clock strike.”

“Yes, it must have been,” Jane agreed. “I assumed Rosalie had run down on some slight errand, probably connected with her puzzles. She was mad over the things.”

“Did you hear the roll top of the desk move at that time?”

“I did. But I thought nothing of it. The desk was used by us all for stationery, pencils and all that.”

“And Miss Bell has testified to seeing Miss Buchanan alive at three o’clock.”

“The evidence of a terrified witness cannot be taken too seriously.”

“No, that’s true. Now, Miss Winslow, were you also terrified when you saw Miss Buchanan in such a tragic position?”

“Yes, I was.”

“And you ran upstairs—”

“I hastened upstairs thinking I must tell my brother. Then, I hated to awaken him, and concluded to wait until daybreak. A few hours could not matter and I wanted to think things over a bit.”

“To try to think out who had committed this crime?”

“No, I did not then look on it as a crime. I assumed an accident. And I thought if I roused the household then and there, they’d all stay awake until morning, and it seemed a useless ordeal.”

“You never cared much for Miss Buchanan anyway, did you?”

“You have no right to make such a statement.” Maria spoke calmly but very sternly. “She was dearly beloved by my nephew, and therefore I loved her for his sake. The boy is very dear to me.”

“And you didn’t care to tell him the sad news?”

“I wanted to spare him as long as possible. It would be a fearful shock to him and I wanted to give him as long a sleep as I could.”

“Now, Miss Winslow, out of the love you bear your nephew, I ask you to give us all the help you possibly can. In your opinion was the death of Miss Buchanan a crime or an accident?”

“A—an accident, I think.”

“No, you don’t think that. You are perjuring yourself, for some reason of your own. Would you swear, on oath, that you think it was an accident?”

“No, I could not do that.”

“Then you adjudge it a crime. Now, who do you believe committed that crime?”

“I do not know.”

“But you think the murderer was—who?”

“I’ve no idea!”

“Then I’ll tell you. You think it was the work of Mimi Bell. Isn’t that so?”

“No! I wouldn’t accuse anybody of a terrible thing like that!”

“Even if you thought it true?”

“No, a thousand times no! I suspect no one.”

Mimi was gazing at her curiously. On the girl’s lovely, curved lips appeared the faintest trace of a supercilious smile.

“Mr. Coroner,” she said, slowly, “you must see, you must understand that Miss Winslow’s denial is equivalent to an accusation. She wants you to believe that I killed my friend, my dear Rosalie. But she is afraid to put that in words, for she knows, only too well, that I did not kill Rosalie. She knows that she did it herself—”

“Stop, Miss Bell. I cannot allow you to—”

But Mimi interrupted him.

The rose in her cheeks turned to a deep scarlet, her eyes blazed like blue flames, and she attempted to speak.

But her voice failed her, and she sank limply back in her chair, a lovely picture of utter helplessness. Two big tears gathered in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks.

Dejection showed in every line of her face, and then, catching her breath, she spoke in a small woebegone voice;

“It is what I must expect. I have no friends, no home. No one to help or advise me. The world is not kind to a poor girl who must meet her misfortunes alone. I must expect injustice, unkindness and misunderstanding. I loved my friend, I have done much for her, as she would be the first to tell you, if she could do so. But she cannot speak for me, and no one else will. I must take whatever fate sends me.”

The mournful note in the soft voice, the pathetic droop of the flower-like head, went far to gain the sympathy of the jury. Miss Winslow might have wealth, prestige, ancestry and culture, but she hadn’t the charm, the exquisite beauty of this mournful child.

Lowell moved restlessly in his chair. Linus looked deeply distressed and even Maria seemed regretful for the hard-heartedness she had herself shown. Then Linus spoke.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said, “but I cannot allow this child’s assertions to go unrefuted. I want to announce myself her friend, and to express my regret at the difficult position in which she finds herself. I firmly believe in her entire innocence, and I desire that statement to be placed on record.”

Lowell followed this with a word of agreement.

“I endorse what my father said, and I am sure no one can harbor any suspicion of Miss Bell who was a sincere and devoted friend of Miss Buchanan.”

Some of the jurymen looked a little surprised at this unusual style of argument, but others, evidently deeply impressed, nodded their heads and indubitably agreed with the views of the father and son.

Miss Winslow said nothing, but her fine old face no longer showed an expression of belligerence, indeed, Miss Maria evinced no feeling of any sort regarding the subject under discussion.

“Passing on to the subject of motive,” the coroner proceeded, “no opinions as to that have been advanced. Nor is that state of things to be wondered at. Indeed, the marvel would be that any one could find a good and sufficient reason for the violent death of a lovely young girl. It may, of course, be suggested that it is a crime of passion. That a desperate infatuation for the young lady might bring about the obsession of a madman who would go so far as to end her fair young life.”

The jurymen indicated by facial contortions registering horror at the thought, that it seemed to them impossible.

“However,” Anderson told them, quite unnecessarily, “there has been no evidence pointing to such a thing, no hint even of a motive of that sort. In fact, we have had no suggestion of any motive at all, and unless we do I cannot see how we can fasten this crime on any individual.”

This, of course, was practically an instruction to return an open verdict, which, after some more desultory and futile inquiries the jury promptly did.

After the words “person or persons unknown” had been thundered forth by the broad-chested foreman, the audience rose, and beginning at once their buzz of chatter, meandered slowly from the room.

Mayo Farnum and Linus Berkeley walked away together.

“You’re satisfied, of course,” Farnum said.

“Yes, I am,” and Linus sighed. “No matter how much one suspected that doll-faced chit, one couldn’t sit still and see her condemned without a shred of evidence. The whole case has been badly handled, or rather, it hasn’t been handled at all. The police up here have never before had a murder to deal with and they hadn’t the least notion of how to go about it. Even Escott, experienced as he is in some ways, is a babe in arms when it comes to murder. It isn’t a New England trick, you see.”

“These girls are both Southern, aren’t they?”

“Yes, but we don’t feature that sort of crime in the South, either. A feud or a duel, or even a square shooting between man and man is one thing, but the crass killing of a sweet young girl, is another matter.”

“But it was done.”

“Of course it was, but not by a Southerner. And, by the way, Mayo, let’s not talk about it too much. It gets on Lowell’s nerves, and I’m willing to confess it jars me a little.”

“Who did it, Linus?”

“That’s what I don’t want to know. If you feel that your duty compels you to go on with the inquiry, go ahead, but don’t come to me except for definite questioning that you deem imperative. I will help all I can, but I won’t mull over the awful details to no purpose.”

“That’s fair enough, and I’m willing to shut off all investigation. But I’m not sure Stone would consent to that. He’s like a puppy at a root once he gets started.”

“I know it, and he has a right to be. Don’t misunderstand me; I only want to be excused from long confabs that may be useful to him or to you, but very wearing to me and my family. I want to forget the whole affair so far as I can. I want the others to forget it. You know Lowell wasn’t so deeply in love that he can’t get over it.”

“I’m told he’s transferring his affections to Miss Bell.”

“Very likely”; Linus smiled a little. “You know Lowell. He’s a born ladies’ man if there ever was one.”

“Would you approve of that match?”

“If the boy’s heart is set on it, yes. Naturally, I’d prefer him to choose a Puritan maiden, but I’m sure he’ll never do that, so far as I’m concerned, he can woo where he will, and I’m for her, if she’s Lowell’s choice. Young people aren’t what they used to be, as everybody knows. And I’m content to let my boy have his own way and I hope to Heaven it’ll be a more primrose path than he trod with poor little Rosalie.”

“Mimi’s staying on here, then?”

“I think so. For a time. I’m going away for a week or so. I have to go to Chicago and I think I’ll go on to Wyoming to look after some real estate that seems to be skyrocketing in spite of the depression. Want to take a flyer?”

“No. I can’t afford it, and, too, I’m not over fond of a gamble. Good old bonds for me. No, thanks, I won’t come in to-day. Stone will be expecting me to talk over the inquest with him. You know, we like these crime mysteries as you like crossword puzzles. Does Mimi do those as well as Rosalie did?”

“No. Mimi is an ignorant kid, except for a sort of native wit she possesses. But Rosalie had a talent for the puzzles, a positive genius. She’d think of a word while I was reading the definition.”

So Berkeley left his friend at the gate of Rocky Reef, and Mayo went on over to Limbo.

And life at the two houses settled down to its old routine.

Stone and Farnum spent much time studying over the typed reports of the inquest, and they evolved one theory after another, only to toss them each away in turn. For it seemed that Fleming Stone never agreed with Farnum and Mayo never agreed with Stone.

The autumn hastened along, and the two friends began to plan a return to their city homes.

At Rocky Reef, too, things went on more or less as usual. Linus went off on his Western trip. Mimi prolonged her visit without waiting for a definite invitation.

Rosalie’s death seemed to make little difference in their household, and Lowell and Mimi drifted together more and more, while Colly Stewart seemed to take an interest in Jane.

And then early one morning Jane heard Miss Maria go downstairs. Jane had provided herself with an illuminated clock, and she noticed it was about three, when she heard the soft footsteps on the stairs.

It was perhaps twenty minutes or a half hour later, when she heard Miss Winslow come up again.


Chapter 13
History Repeats Itself

When Fleming Stone was wakened by Farnum’s hand grasping his shoulder, and none too gently shaking him, he gave his tormentor one disgusted look and closed his eyes again.

“No, no, that won’t do,” Farnum said, insistently. “Wake up all over; pull yourself into shape.”

“What for? What’s it all about?” and Stone swung his legs out of bed and stared at Paderewski Potter, who, with the imperturbable Tripp hovered in the background.

“Tell him, Paddy,” Farnum said, concisely, and he was obeyed.

“Well,” Potter said, “it’s Miss Mimi, she’s the goner this time.”

“Not dead? Mimi!” and Stone jumped up and began to dress.

“Yes, sir, and much like the other victum. Like Miss Rosalie, you know, only this time she’s caught in the winder, ’stid of in the desk.”

“The window! What do you mean? Tell the story straight from the start.”

“Yessir. But I ain’t got much time. You see I’ve gotter—”

“Then don’t waste your time in needless explanations. Go on with the facts.”

“Yessir. Well, I was up earlyish this morning to play a little, Mr. Berkeley bein’ away, and nobody to be disturbed like by my symphonies. And after a while I sort meandered along to the house to see if the coffee was started, and as I passed the little porch where that high winder looks out from the book room, you know, I saw—oh, Lordy, I saw Miss Mimmy’s yeller head sorta hangin’ out, and her curls flappin’ in the breeze. I steps along quick, and sure enough there’s the poor lady, dead,—anybody could see she was dead!—and that there window slammed down on the back of her neck, same like the lid of the big desk was slammed down on Miss Rosalie’s neck.”

Stone pulled on his other shoe.

“What did you do?” he said.

“Well, sir, you see, we’re gettin’ kinda experienced in such things. I looked at her good to be sure there was no sign of life in her, and there wasn’t, so I didn’t touch her, I went and hunted up Prissy and told her I must speak to Miss Maria.”

“Why not Mr. Lowell?”

“Two reasons, sir. He’s pretty much gone on the lady, she’s rather crep’ into Rosy’s place in his heart, and I felt sure he’d be no good. But Miss Maria, she’s wuth any two men an’ a boy, so I ruther tell her.

“Well, she came a runnin’ with her dressin’ wrapper flung around her, and her slipper-jacks flip-flappin’ and I told her right out. She didn’t scream, not bein’ that sort, but she said, ‘Come along,’ and we went along. She looked at me ca’m like, and says, ‘Is she surely dead?’ I told her she was, which, o’ course she could see for herself, and she took immejit charge. ‘Call Mr. Farnum and Mr. Stone,’ she says: ‘and don’t telephone, go over there yourself. Then call the police, you can telephone them, but don’t say much over the wire. I’ll get the doctor here, though of course, he can’t do anything. And I’ll tell Miss Bristol and the boys.’ So I came along.”

“The boys?”

“Yessir. Mr. Lowell and Mr. Stewart, he’s there yet.”

“Oh, yes, of course. Well, go on with your errands, Paddy. We’ll go right over to the house. Good Lord, Mayo, what next!”

“History repeats itself,” Farnum said, as, a little later, they strode along in the direction of Rocky Reef.

It was just such a morning when they had gone on a similar errand, to find Rosalie the victim. This time, also, they went off without breakfast, being in too great haste to stop for anything.

They spoke little on the way over,—there seemed to be little to say.

Fleming Stone gave voice to a line of Shakespeare’s :

“One woe doth tread upon another’s heels,
So fast they follow.”

But Farnum only gave a nod and continued his deep cogitation.

They reached Rocky Reef and went at once to the little porch on which the window in question opened. They knew it well, and they applauded the wisdom, probably Miss Maria’s, of the placing of a screen around the actual tragedy.

It was a tall, four part screen, and Stone moved an end panel as if it were a door and stepped inside.

As he had expected, the sight of Mimi’s face was awful. Disfigured, distorted, discolored, it could be seen only by stooping and looking up at it.

Viewed from above, one saw only a hat and a mass of yellow curls.

The sashes had, evidently, both been up when the girl thrust her head out of the window. Her throat rested on the narrow sill, and then, the lower sash had fallen, or had been slammed down on her slender neck, breaking it just as Rosalie’s had been broken.

“Murder,” Stone said, nodding his head positively. “And by the same fiend that did for Rosalie. You know, Mayo, they say murderers always repeat their method, no matter how many crimes they commit.”

“I know that is a rooted belief,” Farnum snapped, “but there’s no truth in it. You commit a murder. I want to commit one and have you suspected. I copy your method. That’s all.”

“Then you think these two girls were killed by different murderers?”

“I don’t say that. I only say that insistence on a murderer sticking to a certain formula is rubbish— absolute rubbish.”

“I always thought so myself,” Stone agreed, mildly. “But this peculiar,—this really bizarre method of killing—”

“Could be imitated as well as invented,” Farnum growled. And so belligerent was his tone that Fleming Stone merely said, “Sure it could,” in a conciliatory voice, and let it go at that.

Then he said, “Well, I’ve gathered all I can from this side, let’s go in. Friend Escott and his band of merry men will soon arrive—”

“Not Escott, he’s gone back to Boston. Probably Middleton will rule in his stead.”

“All right. I find no fingerprints, do you?”

“Of course not. This killer is nobody’s fool.”

“Few leave prints nowadays, anyhow. Criminals, as a class, are quick to learn.”

They went in the house, meeting no one save a footman who let them in, and dismissing the man, they went at once to the book room.

Here they found Maria, pale and somewhat shaken, but of an indomitable will and courage that told of her acceptance of the situation, and of her responsibilities that followed in its train.

“Linus is away,” she said, “and Lowell, poor boy, is back in his melancholia. I shall have to take charge, of course, and I rely on you two men for help.”

This was willingly promised, and while Mayo talked further with her, Stone approached the body, in its strange and unnatural position.

He couldn’t quite understand it. Unless the girl had been rendered unconscious, and the doctor could tell them as to that, how could she have been made to stand as she was standing, while the murderer brought down the window sash on her neck?

He had never satisfactorily figured out just how Rosalie was induced to put her neck in the exact position to be killed, but for a second victim to do the same thing was incredible.

He decided he must solve this problem before going any further.

Taking a chair, he sat and stared at the body.

The window had not yet been raised, and so, of course, the body maintained its upright position.

The right arm was somewhat raised and the hand was against the wall at the side of the window. The left arm hung limply down.

The feet, in their pretty shoes and silken stockings, were on tiptoe, as if the girl’s chin had scarcely been high enough to reach the window sill.

Stone wanted to investigate this, but dared not raise the window to lift the head.

The shoes had very high, slender heels, but the tiptoe position raised them an inch or two from the floor.

The detective sought to reconstruct the scene.

But his data was scant and unsatisfactory.

First, though, he decided, Mimi must have known whoever it was talking to her at the window. For talk to some one she certainly did. Yet stay! he was visioning that person outside the window, when he might equally well have been inside! In fact, that seemed much more probable. Say, he was inside, then, and persuaded the girl to look out at something. Say she looked out eagerly, in her determination to see it, whatever it was, and then, when her neck was in just the right place on the sill, the brute let the window fall suddenly, and held it down. It would make no noise, falling on the soft flesh, but it would break her neck as Rosalie’s had been broken.

This was all very well as far as it went, but Stone felt it didn’t get him anywhere. That axiom that if the victim puts up no fight the murderer is a well-known friend, seemed trite and hackneyed. Of course, Mimi knew her attacker, or she would have put up a yell that could have been heard far out to sea.

He looked round the room for clews. The police must soon arrive, and after that he would be at their mercy.

How about clews?

He studied the floor, the walls, the furniture, but saw nothing that might be of help.

He glanced at the crossword puzzle books. He knew where they were now. But they were not much used since Rosie’s death, and they were all on their shelves in straight, tidy rows.

Miss Maria looked at him.

“Well, Mr. Stone,” she said, “what do you think of the case now?”

“I think it is the most astounding case I have ever known. The most interesting, too, and the most difficult.”

“You think you can’t solve it, then?”

“Oh, I don’t say that—”

“But I say it for you. You know you can’t ferret out this mystery. But you hate to admit that, so you stall for time, and get nowhere. I know you detectives, Mr. Stone, never say die, of course, but—can you say anything else?”

“We already know more or less about the murderer of Mimi, Miss Winslow.”

“You do! May I ask what you know?”

“We know it is the same individual that killed Rosalie.”

“And how do you know that?”

“Because the methods are so similar.”

“Bah! They’re not similar at all.”

“Oh, yes, very much alike. Then, too, we know that in both cases the girls knew who their enemy was, and so had no fear.”

“They must have felt fear when the desk lid or the window sash came down on them.”

“They didn’t know it, that is, not long enough to realize it. Death was practically instantaneous, and I am confident neither girl knew what hit her, or even knew that she was hit.”

“And the killer just hit and ran?”

“Just that, or, at least, that is my opinion so far.”

“Well, I see nothing to contradict that, of course. But it doesn’t tell you who the killer is.”

“Indeed, no. Have you any notion of his identity?”

“I haven’t now, no.” Miss Maria looked dejected. “I did think it was Mimi who killed Rosalie, but she couldn’t kill herself, could she?”

“I don’t think so, not the way she died. Both cases could have been suicides if the victims were bigger, stronger girls, or girls with a determination to end their lives. But these two had no wish to die—had they?”

“Oh, no, I’m sure they hadn’t. Now, Mr. Stone we’ve got the whole terrible business to go through with again, haven’t we?”

“Yes, but I hope we nail the killer this time.”

“You won’t. He’s too smart for you.”

“This time ought to be easier than the other, though.”


“Well, we’ve more to work on.”

“I don’t see that you have. You’ve the same sort of victim, the same method of murder, and you are, in both cases entirely ignorant of any known motive for the crime.”

“I can’t deny that, Miss Winslow,” said Stone, very seriously. “I have been utterly unable to learn the motive. Tell me, is your nephew as distressed over this death as he was over Miss Buchanan’s?”

“Yes, just about the same. You must know he was not deeply in love with Rosalie. It was a summer flirtation, really. But they were engaged and would have been married, had she lived.”

“And all that is true of Mimi?”

“I think so. Though it may be he is just overcome by the recurrence of the tragedy, and the whole affair has upset his nerves. He is in a peculiar state, I hope his father will come home soon.”

“You’ve sent for Mr. Berkeley?”

“Yes. That is, we’ve instructed the New York office to do so. They can get in touch with him through the Chicago office, and he will come East as soon as he can. But if he’s busy with a big mining deal, he may not come at once.”

“He can’t do anything, anyway,” said Lowell, who came in just then and heard their last remarks. “Oh, my God!”

The young man saw Mimi, and turning quickly he left the room.

“Call him back,” Stone advised. “He’d better get the first and worst over before the police come, or they’ll put a wrong construction on his agitation.” Maria went after her nephew and returned, bringing him with her.

“Pull yourself together,” Stone said, kindly, but Farnum took up the matter.

“Yes,” he said, “get yourself in hand. Escott isn’t coming, and the Inspector who will come in his place is a Tartar. He has gimlet eyes that bore into your very brain. You’ll need a stiff upper lip with him.”

“What for?” asked Lowell, angrily. “I haven’t done anything. You talk as if I killed Mimi! Well, I didn’t.”

“Don’t be a fool,” Farnum said, bluntly. “It isn’t what you have or haven’t done, but what they think you may have done; and more, what you act as if you had done. To see you now, anybody would be justified in thinking you had killed both the girls!”

Lowell looked at first scornful, then, with a sudden change, he looked frightened.

“I say,” he blurted out, “I can’t help feeling upset, and I can’t help showing it. You fellows are used to crimes, hardened to ’em, and you are callous. But if I see two lovely helpless girls put out of existence in a ghastly way, I can’t treat it as part of the day’s work!”

“The boy’s right,” Stone said, calmly. “Now, Lowell, you get some breakfast, get a cup of coffee, anyway, and then go to your room, take a couple of aspirins and lie down. And don’t come downstairs till I send for you. There’s no need of your being around while the police are turning themselves up.”

“All right, Mr. Stone, I’ll do just that. I do feel rotten, and I’ll try to rest.”

He went off and Fleming Stone’s eyes followed him with a look of disapproval not unmixed with pity.

“Where is Miss Bristol?” he asked, surprised at the absence of the capable secretary. “But she must be busy, I’m sure. Now, Mayo, finish up your prowling about, the strong arm of the law will be here shortly, and then Othello’s occupation will be gone.”

“I’ve seen about all I want,” Farnum returned, grumpily. “I’m all in the dark, and I don’t hesitate to say so. I’m glad I’m retired, for they can’t tell me off as they would if I were still in harness. You’ll catch it, Stone.”

“Yes, they’re none too well pleased with the work I did on the Buchanan case—”

“What work was that?” asked Farnum, looking puzzled, and Stone made a face at him.

Yet it had to be admitted that Fleming Stone had not covered himself with glory in the matter of Rosalie’s death. Unless he could do something more definite in the present matter, his name would never be placed in the Hall of Fame in the police precincts of Oleander Park.

But the quiet-mannered and close-mouthed detective had done more than any one knew. He had learned facts and he had drawn deductions which he never told, but which he now began to think must be dragged out into the light at any cost to anybody.

“Breakfast is served,” announced Brown, appearing in the doorway.

“Go to it,” Stone told the others, “I’ll look round here a little bit more, then I’ll join you.”

So Miss Maria and Farnum went to the dining room, and found Colly Stewart and Jane Bristol there, and though the meal was a rather silent one, there was more or less discussion of the new tragedy.

Left to himself, Fleming Stone quickly looked into a few matters that were puzzling him.

To begin with he scrutinized the garments Mimi was wearing.

The detective knew a lot about women’s clothes. He knew it in the same way he knew a lot about politics, the drama or the doings of high society. He read it in the papers. And while he could not be said to waste much time on the fashion pages or big advertisements, he took in enough of them to know what was being worn by women who recognized the modes.

And why shouldn’t he? It was as much a part of his business as information on other and apparently more important matters. But Stone rated the examination of clothing among the significant details of his search, and he looked with deepest interest upon Mimi’s costume.

She had on a charming sports frock of knitted silk and wool, in a russet shade, the jacket opening over a soft blouse of burnt orange. Her stockings were the correct hue of the moment, and her brown suede shoes blended with the general coloring.

Through the glass pane, he could see that a smart little brown hat crowned the golden head, and had remained in place because the descending window sash had caught a bit of the brim and held it.

Stone marveled at the brutal manner of death, and felt almost certain that the hand that had slammed down that window was the same one that had banged down the desk top.

While not believing implicitly that the second murder by a criminal must repeat the method of the first one, yet he knew it frequently occurred and in this strange and bizarre double tragedy the killings were too similar to be ignored.

Of course, it might be a clever dodge of quite another hand, but Stone was of the opinion that the two girls were killed by the same murderer.

This, of course, ought to prove helpful, but the detective realized that he was up against the workings of a master mind, and he knew that the cleverer the criminal the more difficult the solution of the problem.

The helpfulness of the fact that one hand had brought about the death of two girls would, he felt sure, be counteracted by faked evidence or planted clews intended to mislead.

Stone was ever on the alert for planted clews, and was seldom taken in by them.

But the garments and belongings of Mimi were her own and not, so far as he could see, the possible device of the murderer.

The girl’s handbag had fallen to the floor at her side.

Regardless of the heinousness of the sin of touching anything he picked it up and hastily ran through the contents.

His eyes opened wider with surprise as he continued his search.

For, beside the inevitable make-up box, handkerchiefs and cigarettes, there was a large wad of banknotes, untidily thrust into a rubber band, a soiled silken wallet containing her insignificant trifles of jewelry, another similar silk container, holding some junk which Stone recognized as Rosalie’s “jewelry” and—wrapped in tissue paper, the Berkeley pearls!

Replacing everything as he had found it and laying the bag carefully back on the floor, the detective picked up the golden brown coat, from a nearby chair and ran through the pockets. He found only gloves and a light chiffon scarf, all of which he replaced and started for the dining room.

But on his way he was delayed by a footprint or two on the soft, thick rug of the book room.

These footprints, one whole, the other fragmentary, were unmistakably made by the soles of golf or tennis shoes.

On the whole one, the pattern was clearly defined, and consisted of four circular marks along the outer edge and a shape something like the end of a bridge span on the inner side. The heel repeated the design on the sole in smaller pattern and midway between the two was a circular indentation.

A peculiar design, so much so, in fact, that Stone’s thoughts ran to faked footprints, but he couldn’t tell as yet.

He turned back for a moment, hoping to find further prints, but saw none. He ran outside, followed the porch around to the window where hung the head of the unfortunate girl, and was rewarded for his trouble by finding several of the same shoeprints at various points on the porch.

For a moment he studied the ghastly sight presented by the dead girl, and then, slowly retraced his steps.

As he rounded the corner of the porch, and was about to go back into the book room, Paddy Potter came to him.

“Shall I erase them footprints, Mr. Stone?” he said, with a hint of hidden meaning in his tone.

“Good Lord, no! What an idea!”

“I better had, Mr. Stone. Yessir, I better had.”

“You better hadn’t! Go on about your business, and be careful what you do!”

Paddy had never heard Stone speak so sharply before and scarcely knew what to make of it. But he disappeared, and Stone went back to the book room and to the window where the girl’s body stood.

With a quick glance about, he moved softly to Mimi’s side, and after one hesitant instant, he raised the hem of her gown.

Warily, he raised it more yet, until at last he could see the frou-frou of her silk and lace lingerie.

A glance sufficed and in a moment the skirt was down again, and Stone was on the other side of the room.

“Brand new,” he murmured to himself. “Exquisite material and latest mode. Daintily perfumed and far more elaborate than any girl would wear, except—I am,—I must be right! Mimi was staging an elopement!”


Chapter 14
A Frustrated Elopement

“Now, then, what’s all this?”

The familiar question, in what was indubitably the voice of a policeman, allowed Stone to grasp the situation.

The Inspector, who had been on his vacation at the time of Rosalie’s death, had returned, and would conduct the case. Looking up, Stone saw that the man matched the voice. Bluff, belligerent, intolerant and dictatorial,—these were the adjectives that necessarily came to mind at sight and sound of Inspector Middleton.

The family were still seated at the breakfast table, though just about to leave it, and Middleton was accompanied by the plain clothes detective, Clay.

These visitors had brushed past the footman who admitted them, and had made straight for the dining room, where they had heard sounds of voices.

Middleton, a big, heavily built man, of course, overshadowed the timid soul, Clay, and promptly delivered himself of a loud spoken monologue.

“I’m Middleton,” he informed them; “Detective Inspector Middleton. I’m here to find out who killed the young lady,—I may say, the young ladies, for the case of the Buchanan girl is still a mystery. Indeed, I doubt if it is positively decided whether it was accident, suicide or homicide. Sorry I was not here at the time. Things might have gone differently. And now for introductions. Clay, I’ll ask you to name these people for me.”

Most of his hearers bristled with resentment at the words and attitude of this egotistical representative of Law and Order. But Fleming Stone felt merely amusement. He thought he had seldom seen anything so funny as the pompous Inspector, who, with his inflated chest and domineering frown, acknowledged the introductions with the slightest of nods, but was clearly docketing each one in the filing cabinet of his mighty brain.

The list completed, he said, condescendingly, “I am happy in the privilege of knowing you all, and I trust and believe I shall have your sympathy and assistance in solving the great mystery now presented to our attention.”

He had looked at Fleming Stone as he spoke, and Stone chose to take this as an invitation to respond.

“As somebody has aptly said, Inspector, there are no mysteries; there is only lack of knowledge.”

“What? what?” Middleon fairly spluttered in his indignation. “No mysteries? Nonsense,—nonsense, my good sir. Life is made up of mysteries, from our birth to our death.”

“They’re not mysteries,” Stone affirmed. “Science has left no vestige of mystery in matters of birth or death. And so, in all things, if we lack knowledge, we dub it a mystery and take unearned credit to ourselves in gathering the knowledge necessary to elucidate it.”

The Inspector’s reddening face registered scorn, chagrin and wrath in about equal proportions, but Stone had accomplished his intent, which was to stir the man up, and he followed Miss Winslow’s example and rose from the table.

Having heard something of the peculiar conditions of this tragedy, Middleton and his aide were both anxious to see the fearful scene.

Learning that Mr. Berkeley was not at home, the Inspector chose to address himself to Lowell as his representative.

The boy was unable to give any information, which the Inspector chose to think was evidence of his guilt. Miss Maria repeatedly answered the questions flung at Lowell, but Middleton ignored and repeated the query to Lowell.

Seeing Prissy, Stone beckoned to her, stepped aside and in a low voice bade her do an errand for him.

Then he followed the others to the book room.

But though in a measure prepared for it, the sight was too much for the Inspector. He dropped into a chair and covered his face with his hands.

Stone watched him closely, uncertain whether his emotion was sincere or a play to the grand stand.

It was real enough, however, and it was only by a strong effort that the man brought himself back to his duties.

More cold-bloodedly, Clay was examining the still figure.

“I never saw anything like that,” he said, in an awestruck whisper. “Why, the girl did it herself!”

“No, Clay,” Stone returned, “I don’t think so. To my mind it’s a case very like Miss Buchanan’s and the work of the same hand.”

“Not at all,” declared Middleton, glowering. “That idea of the murderer repeating his method is an exploded theory. It is another murderer, who copies the method of the first one.”

“Immaterial,” Stone said, with a shrug intended to annoy the Inspector and succeeding.

“Is this your case, Mr. Stone?” he asked.

“To a degree,” was the suave reply. “I am engaged by Mr. Berkeley to work on the Buchanan case, and in his absence, Miss Winslow has retained me on this.”

“I doubt if we can get on together.”

“If not, it won’t be my fault,” Stone told him, cheerfully. “I had no trouble with Mr. Escott, and, indeed, I am not one to make trouble. I say what I think as any self-respecting detective must do. I am in no way antagonistic to the police and desire only to work with and for them peaceably and helpfully.”

“Very well, then let us get to work. Is the family and household all here?”

“The family,” said Miss Winslow, “consists of my brother-in-law, who is away for a few days, my nephew and myself. Miss Bristol is my secretary, and Mr. Stewart is a college chum of my nephew and an old friend of the family. Mr. Farnum and Mr. Stone are friends and neighbors and are also detectives at work on both these terrible murders. I trust there will be no friction.”

“No, madam, no. Certainly not. Now, will you call the servants?”

“When necessary, yes. But they have their tasks, and I don’t want them idling in here until you are ready to question them.”

The Inspector seemed to lose a portion of his self-assumed authority, and said, more quietly; “Who discovered the body?”

“Paderewski,” said Miss Maria, without looking up, for her thoughts were elsewhere.

“Who?” Middleton almost shouted. “Who, did you say?”

Farnum obliged.

“She means Potter, a handyman on the staff.”

“Why did she call him Padder thingumbob?”

“His name is Paderewski. His mother was an intense music lover. We call him Paddy.”

“Fetch him in.”

Paddy was fetched, and told his story just as he had told it to Farnum and Stone earlier in the day.

“What were you doing awake at that unearthly hour?”

“I was a playin’ my piano. I’m a musician, an accomplished one, and I take a chance to play when I can ketch it.”

“Do you have a light when you play?”

“Whiles I does, and whiles I doesn’t.”

“Had you a light this morning at any time?”

“No, sir. I was playin’ things I knew.”

“Were you looking out of your window?”

“Now an’ agin,—just now an’ agin.”

“Did you see any one come in? Into the grounds, I mean.”

“Nary a soul. ’Course I wasn’t lookin’ out all the time, but I didn’t see nobody.”

“Nor hear anything unusual?”

“No; but I wasn’t likely to with that there tin-pan a goin’.”

“Meaning your piano?”

“Ezackly that. It’s a terror, that old rattlety bangoree!”

“Why don’t you have a better one?”

“Why don’t pigs fly?”

“Well, come back to the awful discovery you made. Who do you think killed the poor girl?”

“My Land! Ain’t that what you’re here to find out?”

“Answer my question.”

“Well, I think it was some thug that we don’t any of us know anything about. Some gangster person like, you know. Both those young leddies was from Chicago, where the gunmen come from. An’ methods bein’ so sim’lar, it does seem likely somebody had it in for ’em both. Past hist’ry, like as not. You know, same’s when you step on a dry stick, an’ it flies up an’ hits you.”

“Yes, I know what you mean. Now, you know nothing more definite?”

“No, sir.”

“Miss Bell was a visitor here?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Was she staying long?”

“Fer the land’s sake, how do I know? Ask Miss Mariar things like that.”

“Was the young lady in love with Mr. Lowell Berkeley?”

“Ask him. I ain’t in the confidence of the family.”

A most unsatisfactory witness, and Middleton gave him up.

Lowell was grilled next, for the Inspector was not above the very human vice of curiosity concerning romances.

“You were in love with Miss Bell?” the weary looking lad was asked.

The question seemed to stir him up a bit.

“No, I was not, and it’s nobody’s business if I was!”

“Oh, yes, it is the business of the law to find out these things.”

“All right. I wasn’t exactly in love with Miss Bell, but I was friends with her. It’s barely a fortnight since my fiancée, Miss Buchanan died, and while I liked Miss Bell, I certainly had no feelings of affection for her.”

“But such might have come to you, eh?”

Lowell merely shrugged his shoulders at this asinine remark and Middleton had the grace to look ashamed.

In the slight pause that followed, Clay ventured a question.

“Is that the costoom Miss Bell wore last evening?” he asked, in a hesitant way, and of nobody in particular.

Stone looked up alertly at this, and as no one else volunteered, Jane Bristol said, “No, it isn’t.”

“About what time did she go to bed?” pursued Clay, making hay while the sun shines.

“We all went upstairs early,” Jane replied. “About eleven, say. Then Miss Bell was wearing a simple evening gown of white georgette.”

“Therefore,” Clay began, but Middleton cut in.

“Therefore,” he repeated, “Miss Bell changed her gown and came downstairs again.”

“It would certainly seem so,” Jane Bristol agreed, but her cast down eyelids veiled any twinkle that might be in her eye.

“She wasn’t going away,” the Inspector went on, “for though she has her hat and coat down here, she has no traveling bag, that I can see.”

“No,” said Jane, “there is none about.”

“Nor she isn’t dressed up much. I don’t quite get it. Mebbe she had been out for a bit of fresh air.”

“Maybe,” assented Jane.

“And like as not, it’s no murder at all, but an accident.” Middleton quite warmed to his subject. “Maybe she just wanted a little walk, took a whim to go out the window, ’stid o’ the door, and when she got the window open, it fell back on her neck and killed her. How’s that, Mr. Stone, sir? Don’t you agree with me?”

The man’s attitude was so cocksure and self-satisfied, that Fleming Stone almost hated to disturb it. But it had to be done.

“I agree with you, Mr. Middleton, on one count. On the others, no.”

Wrath reddened the Inspector’s large face, and wrath blazed in his small eyes. However, he curbed his temper, and said, icily;

“Will you explain yourself, please.”

“I will,” and Stone’s voice was firm but not censorious. “When you say the window sash fell on her neck and killed her, I agree with you perfectly. But I cannot agree with your other assumptions. To begin with, Miss Bell was intending to go away, and on a very important errand. The idea of her going for fresh air or exercise at three in the morning, is absurd. The idea of an accident is equally improbable, for the position of the hands and feet indicate no such conditions. Had the window fallen by accident, she could have freed herself at least enough to scream for help. It was far easier to raise the window from her neck than it was for Miss Buchanan to push back the desk lid.

“Nor do I agree that Miss Bell’s gown is what you call ‘not dressed up much.’ Though not showy, it is a handsome costume, a French model, and almost new.”

He paused to beckon to Prissy, who was looking in at the door, and she came over and whispered to him.

He nodded, and she tiptoed from the room.

“As I told you,” he resumed, “Miss Bell was going on one of the most important trips a girl ever makes. She was going to elope.”

A stir went through the audience. Lowell looked dumfounded and Maria stared in wide-eyed amazement.

All showed the greatest surprise and bewilderment, Mayo Farnum indeed, shaking his head in utter disbelief.

Satisfied with the effect he had created, Stone went on:

“Though you fail to appreciate her costume, it is a modish and expensive suit. Moreover, her hat is new, her shoes and stockings are new, and—” he paused, glancing apologetically at Miss Maria and Jane, “I’m sorry to seem indelicate, but this is a most important point. The lingerie Miss Bell is wearing is brand new and of exceedingly fine quality, a type, indeed, that a girl would don only for a very special occasion. That she did put them on when she dressed for her going away, is proved by this fact. The maid, Priscilla tells me that all Miss Bell’s lingerie that she wore yesterday is now in her bathroom hamper, not soiled at all, but discarded for this more elaborate set. These are intimate revelations, but they have a decided bearing on the case, and prove, to my mind that Miss Bell was planning to elope.”

“Has it struck you, Mr. Stone,” Middleton said, with a supercilious smile, “that an eloping young lady, especially one with such elaborate tastes, would have with her a bag or suitcase, or luggage of some sort?”

“Isn’t that point clear to you, Inspector?” and Stone gave him a tolerant glance; “to me it seems that a secret elopement, which this, of course, was to be, would preclude the carrying of a suitcase. But I forget, you haven’t yet examined the handbag, which lies there on the floor. In it you will find a rather interesting collection, including a large roll of money, some jewelry, and—the Berkeley pearls.”

“What?” the exclamation came from Lowell, while Middleton made a grab for the handbag on the floor.

Slowly the Inspector explored the bag.

It was a suede leather bag of fine quality, and of a color that blended with the brown tints of Mimi’s costume.

The roll of bills, hastily counted, proved to contain between four and five hundred dollars, the inexpensive jewelry was easily recognizable by those who knew the girl; and the small bundle in tissue paper, held by a rubber band, was assuredly the pearl necklace, the heirloom of the Berkeley family.

There was no card or letter, no name or address of the owner of the bag, and save for two or three monogrammed handkerchiefs, no hint of Mimi’s connection with the contents. Some make-up materials, a package of cigarettes and a silver lighter completed the list and though Middleton handed the bag over to Clay, to be held by the police, he gave the Berkeley pearls at once to Lowell as the rightful owner and custodian.

“Did you give the pearls to Miss Bell?” the Inspector asked him, directly, and Lowell answered as straightforwardly;

“No, I did not. I do not like to accuse the dead, but it must be that since the pearls were in her possession, she had come by them dishonestly.”

“Apparently in her possession,” Stone corrected him. “The necklace could have been put in her bag by some one else.”

“Who would do such a thing?” Lowell exclaimed, in amazement.

“The murderer, perhaps,” said Stone. “Where were the pearls kept?”

“In the safe in the library. It is a wall safe, concealed by a large picture.”

“Who has a key or knows the combination?”

“It’s a key,” Lowell explained. “An old-fashioned safe, rather. I have a key, Aunt Maria has one, and of course, Dad. But an enterprising thief could get hold of a key easily. We’re not a careful crowd here, and a bunch of keys may be left about anywhere. I hate to think of Mimi’s doing such a thing, but I think Mr. Stone is right about the eloping business. The girl has been odd for several days, I couldn’t think what was the matter with her. She certainly had some big thing on her mind. Well, go on, Mr. Inspector, Can’t you have the—the body taken away?”

“I’ve been waiting for the coroner, Mr. Berkeley. I see he is arriving now. He will attend to that.”

Anderson, the coroner, came in, with one or two assistants.

Like all the rest, he gave a start at the strange spectacle that confronted him.

“Another!” he exclaimed, softly. “How terrible! Worse than the other one, I’ll say.”

“At first glance, what do you call it, Anderson?” asked the Inspector.

“Murder, sure! And a mighty clever killing. Any suspects?”

“Not yet. We haven’t progressed that far. But how was it accomplished?”

“First, I’m assuming it was the same murderer that did for Miss Buchanan. If so, he followed the same general plan as before.”

“But that was easier. A man could persuade a girl to sit at a desk, but to get her to stand at a window like that—”

“I know, I know, Inspector, but you must remember a man can usually persuade a girl to do pretty much what he tells her to. I mean, a man she is fond of—or afraid of.”

Fond of—or afraid of. Fleming Stone nodded his head in approval of this.

“And now,” Anderson went on, “I’ll step outside and take a look. The window opens on a porch?”

“Yes,” Maria volunteered. “We’ve kept a screen around it, and allowed no one to go near—”

She could not finish her gruesome statement, but all understood her.

The coroner went outside, around the corner of the porch, and stepped inside the screen.

He carefully examined Mimi’s head and face, now fearfully distorted and discolored, and marveled afresh that a brute like the murderer could exist.

He raised the window sash slightly, but replaced it, concluding to raise it from inside the room. He noted some footprints on the floor of the porch, and was careful not to disturb them.

In the meantime Fleming Stone was looking in vain for the footprints he had noticed on the rug. A soft Anatolian, he had seen the prints plainly on it, but on his return to the book room after breakfast, the rug had been brushed or smoothed over and there was no sign of a print on it.

“Paddy!” he said, to himself. “Now that means he is shielding somebody. Well, the same prints are out on the porch, but I wanted the one in here. There was one fine one, and some scrappy bits beside. Well, now for the awful tableau!”

And it was awful.

The coroner came back, and proceeded, without a word, to raise the window and as he motioned one of his men to hold it up, he lifted the slight form in his arms and laid it on a couch.

Unostentatiously, Jane Bristol handed him a fresh handkerchief, which he at once threw over the face of the dead girl.

The stiffened body looked ghastly as it sprawled on the couch, but the disfigured face was far more horrifying.

After a brief silence, the coroner said:

“Almost the same as the other murder. This girl was somehow persuaded to stand against the window and put her head out. I am certain the murderer was in this room, though at first, I thought he might have been on the porch, leaning through.”

“Yes, he was in this room,” declared Inspector Middleton, with the air of having made the discovery himself.

“And just why do you think so?” asked Anderson, with an innocent look that delighted Fleming Stone.

“Oh, because—why, er, because—he was talking to the girl, you see.”

“He could have done that equally well, standing outside on the porch, and could have more easily made his getaway. No, I think he was inside, because he could do his awful deed better so. You see, he had to get the girl, all unsuspectingly in the exact position, and then, jam down the window and break her neck, just as Miss Buchanan’s neck was broken. At any rate, that is the sole and only cause of Miss Bell’s death, her neck was broken by the falling of the window sash, probably, though not positively certain, let down or pushed down with murderous intent. I shall make an autopsy, but I am sure it will give us no contradictory information.”

“Who did it?” Lowell asked, in a frightened way.

“Most likely, the same one who did for Miss Buchanan. The two crimes are nearly identical, and though that is not proof, it is an indication that the same master mind was responsible for both killings.”

“Will you be good enough, Mr. Coroner,” Stone asked, speaking gravely, “to show the ladies the lingerie Miss Bell is wearing. I think it is an important clew.”

With equal gravity, Anderson raised the hem of the girl’s skirt enough to show the lace and chiffon garments that were fit for a royal princess.

“Oh!” and Jane Bristol clasped her hands in speechless admiration.

Miss Maria, on the contrary, set her lips firmly together, and turned her gaze away from what seemed to her a sinful extravagance.

Mayo Farnum’s drawn face showed a peculiar expression. Stone couldn’t read it to his own satisfaction, but he realized that Mayo was deeply interested in those dainty garments as a definite clew to something or somebody.

There was a look almost of agony on Farnum’s face, which, as he caught Stone’s eye, quickly changed to a smile,—a forced smile that was even more pathetic than his sadness had been.

“He knows something,” Stone thought to himself. “Something that is corroborated by that costly underwear. Now what is that Middleton guy going to do?”

The Inspector rose, and said, with his usual air of pomposity;

“It would not occur to me to look for clews in what I deem an improper manner, but I am not entirely in accord with this modern fad of frankness and lack of all reserve. And now, Doctor Anderson, since you have reached your conclusion, will you have the body removed, and leave me free to pursue my investigations?”

The coroner agreed to this, the proper paraphernalia was brought and Mimi Bell was taken away forever from Rocky Reef.


Chapter 15
Prissy to the Fore

Inspector Middleton put on his gravest aspect, the one he kept especially to intimidate his witnesses.

“It seems to me,” he said, severely, “that the hasty conclusion that Miss Bell was intending to elope, implies a knowledge on the part of some one that she was harboring such a plan. If so, and if any one knows further particulars regarding it, it is, of course, his or her immediate duty to give up such knowledge. Is it also known with whom Miss Bell expected to run away?”

There was a long pause, as these questions elicited no response.

Then Fleming Stone vouchsafed a small item of information.

“One day,” he said, “a few of us sat out on the lawn, and Miss Bell complained that she was not wanted here. She asked Mr. Farnum if she might visit him. She spoke jestingly, but Mr. Farnum told her flatly that he never entertained ladies. Then Miss Bell said the police would not let her leave Rocky Reef just then, so she feared she would have to elope. I don’t know that she meant this seriously at all, but that’s what she said.”

“Thank you, Mr. Stone. Now can any one else tell me anything about this? Miss Winslow, she didn’t confide in you?”

Maria looked horrified at the bare idea.

“Confide in me? I should say not! We were not on confidential terms.”

“And you, Miss Bristol?”

“No, I exchanged no confidences with Mimi.”

“I did,” Lowell broke forth; “Mimi was good to me; sort of sorry for me and sympathetic. We talked quite a lot together, but she never said a word about eloping. However, if she did run away, it’s easy guessing who went with her.”


“Why, Jack Stafford, of course. Mimi knew no men in Oleander Park but us two,” glancing at Colly, “and Jack. He admired her a lot, but I can’t see him eloping with her.”

“Nor murdering her!” exclaimed Stewart.

“Oh, I don’t know,” said Clay, who had just entered the room from some errand he had been on.

“Get anything, Clay?” asked Middleton, eagerly.

“Some. And I got him. He’ll be over here pretty quick. Here’s his shoes.”

Clay held out a pair of good looking tennis shoes, which several present recognized at once as being like shoes Stafford wore.

“You always drag Jack into these messes, and he never has anything to do with them,” Lowell grunted, in complaining tones. “Why don’t you tackle the likely ones first?”

“And which are the likely ones?” the Inspector flashed back.

“Oh, me, and Stewart, here, and the Unknown,— there’s always an unknown, you know.”

“I’ll tell you what the chap was after,” Stewart informed them. “He was chasing the pearls, you see. Of course, he was a rank outsider, we house people could snake the Berkeley pearls without any spectacular staging but Mimi had some friend from Hollywood or thereabouts, and she had told him about the necklace and he came to help her acquire it, and, perhaps, incidentally, to take her on a wedding trip. Then, he—oh, well, I’ve divined enough of the plot. If you want any more you must sing it yourself.”

Stone looked at the young man with some curiosity. He had never seen Colly in this mood before, and he had to admit there might be some truth in his reconstruction of the case. If Mimi had been eloping with the unknown stranger,—it might well have been she arrayed herself in purple and fine linen. Then, either premeditatedly or impulsively, the man had concluded he wanted the pearls without the girl, and had taken a desperate way to accomplish this end.

Stone hinted this briefly to the Inspector, who looked at him scornfully.

“Don’t forget these shoes, Mr. Stone,” he directed.

“I haven’t heard anything about them to remember.”

“Only that they are shoes belonging to Mr. Stafford, who lived in the next house to this. And, there are prints of these soles on the porch round the window where the girl was killed. Dim traces, too, can be found round the corner of the house straight to this very room.”

Fleming Stone knew then why Potter had erased those same marks from the soft, shiny rug of the book room. Well did he recognize the pattern that was the same on the porch floor and on the shoes now on exhibit.

But he couldn’t tie up the elopement plan and the murder with Stafford!

That gay, pleasant-natured youth, why would he kill Mimi,—unless, of course, for the pearls.

How those pearls kept everlastingly cropping up, and yet not getting stolen! Doubtless, Rosalie was trying to get them when her fate overtook her, and now Mimi was so similarly stricken.

Yet, in both cases, the pearls remained safe in the house. Fleming Stone decided there was much food for thought in these conditions.

“I’m going up to have a look in Miss Bell’s room,” he said in a low tone to Middleton.

“Wait a minute, here comes Stafford,” the Inspector told him.

Stone looked curiously at the young man, as he lounged in, gave a general nod of greeting, and slumped into a chair.

“After me again, are you?” he said, not angrily, so much as in a bored tone. “When you don’t know whom to quiz next, you pick on me. Well, go ahead, and get it over. I don’t know anything.”

“Are these your shoes?” Middleton put on his sternest manner.

However, it had small effect on Stafford. He looked at the shoes, and then said, “Yep, they’re mine. Where’d you get ’em, and what do you want of ’em?”

“When did you wear them last?”

“Yesterday, up to six o’clock, or thereabouts, when I dressed for evening. Why?”

“Where did you spend the evening?”

“At a dance, over at the Golf Club.”

“What time did you get home?”

“Earlyish. It wasn’t much fun. I was home by one o’clock, I’ll say.”

“And then, or later, you changed your clothes, changed your evening shoes for these we have here, and came over here to Rocky Reef. What for?”

“Excuse me, sir, I did nothing of the sort. Why don’t you ask a chap if he did this or that, and not tell him that he did do it. It would be far less irritating.”

“I’m not here to save you from being irritated. There has been murder done, and we must ask you questions, which I will ask you to answer truly.”

“Go to it. I’m in a truthful mood to-day.”

Inspector Middleton went to it.

He questioned and prodded and quizzed, he endeavored to frighten, intimidate and browbeat young Stafford, but he made no headway whatever. Repeatedly his suspect declared he had not been at Rocky Reef the evening or night before. That on his return from the dance, he went straight to bed, from which he was pulled by a determined policeman.

He freely admitted ownership of the shoes, but said he had not had them on since he put them off at about six the night before.

He took no interest in the fact that his shoes perfectly matched the footprints on the porch, and while he was humanly distressed at the story of Mimi’s death, he showed little, if any personal interest.

“But you were about to elope with her,” the Inspector shot at him.

Jack stared at him. “Don’t be silly,” he said, “I’m not the eloping type.”

And further conversation brought out no more details of Stewart’s proceedings the night before than he had already given.

Stone felt positive the chap had nothing to do with the murder. More people than he could possess that popular and fashionable model of footwear.

Also, Stone remembered that Jack had lied more or less when questioned about Rosalie, and so, why not as to Mimi?

But he felt sure nothing would eventuate from the quizzing, and he left the room quietly, intending to slip upstairs and take a look at Mimi’s belongings.

He was joined by Clay, who asked permission to go with him.

“Come along,” he said, and the two went upstairs, to find Prissy in charge.

Also, to find they had been followed by Jane Bristol, who slipped into Mimi’s room before they could close the door.

“Good for you, Miss Bristol,” Stone greeted her. “I’m glad you came. Between you and Prissy here, we ought to find out quite a lot concerning Miss Bell’s procedure.”

“I know nothing about it,” Jane told them, but the maid was less reticent.

“What do you gentlemen want to know?” she asked, looking like the wisest of Solons.

“Anything you can tell us,” Clay began, but Stone said;

“No. Just answer questions, Prissy. First, had you any reason to think Miss Bell planned to go away last night?”

“No reason, no. But Miss Mimi was forever doing onexpected things. I never would be surprised at anything she might do. And it sure stands to reason she was eloping when she put on those darling linjerries at three o’clock in the morning.”

“How do you know she put them on at three o’clock?” asked Clay, sharply; “did you see her then?”

“Land, no, sir. But they all say she was done in ’long ’bout three, and I’m just surmisin’ as it were.”

“Go to it, Prissy,” Stone invited. “Surmise some more. What strikes you?”

“Nothin’ much; only the cool, ca’m way she went about it. She came upstairs about midnight, that I know. Then, she rooted out some few letters or papers, which she burned. Nothin’ in the waste basket to speak of, but a heap of burned paper in the fireplace. Then, as you can see for yourselves, she took off the clothes she was wearin’. There’s her dress hung over a chair, the way she always leaves it. And her shoes, kicked off anyhow. She was careless with her clothes, but never to hurt ’em. Well, then, there’s the underclo’es bunched into the hamper. Fresh last night, they was, when she dressed for dinner. Then, if you please, at three A. M. she starts in all over again, and blossoms out in a whole new outfit from A to Zed. She takes her joolry and her cash and somehow she digs up the pearls. Where she got them, I can’t imagine.”

“Unless Mr. Lowell was running the whole show,” suggested Clay,

“Don’t be silly! Why should she elope with him, when she could have had a church wedding with him? No, whoever she went downstairs to meet, it wasn’t anybody belongin’ to this house, or this neighborhood. Mr. Stafford, now. That’s fool talk. Her beau last night came from outa town, and the plan was for them two to go quietly off and get married.”

“But no suitcase?” said Jane. “That’s the strange part.”

“No, ma’am. Miss Mimi, she knew she could get all the things she wanted at the first stop. And she couldn’t risk goin’ downstairs with a suitcase. S’pose sombuddy hadda seen her! She could p’raps explain her running around in her street clo’es,—say, tryin’ on a new frock or sumpin, but not if she was carryin’ any luggidge. No, sir.”

“You’ve reasoned it out very well, Prissy,” Stone told her. “I believe what you’ve deduced is every word true. Now, the thing is to find her companion. And, mind you, her companion in the elopement scheme needn’t necessarily be the murderer. Of course, he may be, but there might have been some other intruder who scared off the eager swain, and then killed the girl for the gems she carried.”

“But he didn’t get the gems,” Clay mused. “That’s the most puzzling thing of all. But it’s a puzzle that must be so solved. The most obvious explanation is that when about to steal the pearls, he was held up by some member of the household, who threatened him with a revolver, and the would-be bandit ran away,”

“That would mean Lowell or Stewart must be the attacker,” Clay said. “And I don’t think so.”

“Nor I,” agreed Stone, “but there are others.”

“Meaning Maria?” Clay inquired, doubtfully.

“No,” said Jane Bristol, “he means me. And he’s not alone in his suspicions. Others in this household think I had a hand in Rosalie’s death and presumably they think the same of Mimi’s tragedy.”

For the first time, Fleming Stone saw Jane look beautiful. Usually, her facial expression was entirely under her control, but just now, desperate with all the sadness and horror of the occasion, she seemed to show her very soul and it was stark agony.

She looked, he thought, like the Mater Dolorosa, and he marveled that he had never before noticed the classic beauty of her features. But he had never noticed her much, anyway, for Jane was a self-effacing sort, and, too, she had never looked like this before, when Stone had seen her.

He stared at her, wonderingly, then was brought back to earth by Clay’s commonplace voice, saying;

“Now, now, Miss Bristol, don’t take on like that! Nobuddy thinks you’re mixed up in this business, why, there’s lots of ’em more to be suspected than you! Yes, lots.”

“For example?” said Stone, slowly.

“Well, Miss Maria. She’s capable of it, as you must admit. She’s a termagant, though she pretty much hides it under a cloak of New England aristocracy. She’s a Machiavelli, when it comes to planning and all that—”

“Wait a minute, Clay, go slow, now. I can swallow Miss Winslow’s cleverness, even her diabolical ingenuity, but where does it get us? Miss Maria couldn’t plan an elopement for the girl—”

“Cut out the elopement. That’s a little yarn of your own. I don’t believe in the elopement theory. Not without a bag of clothes. The girl was going away that’s plain, but why mightn’t Miss Winslow have inveigled her downstairs for some purpose, and then jammed the window down, same like—the desk lid was jammed down?”

“Meaning Miss Maria staged that tragedy, too?”

“I didn’t say so. I’m not one who thinks two similar murders must be the work of the same killer. But I do say that Miss Maria is a woman of strong passions and strong capabilities for wickedness. Isn’t she, Miss Bristol?”

Clay shot the question at Jane so abruptly and so forcefully, that the girl was startled.

“Why,—why,—” she stammered a little, but quickly regained her poise, “I suppose we all have capabilities of doing wrong, but that doesn’t mean that we give way to our impulses.”

But Prissy spoke up, determinedly;

“Miss Maria, now, she could do wrong if she liked,” she informed them, and though she looked directly at Jane, she paid no attention to her dismayed glance and her frown of disapproval.

“She could,” she repeated, “and she did,—lots of times—”

“Mr. Stone,” Jane said, with dignity, “can you not stop this girl? She must not babble on like that! On the witness stand is one thing, but it is disgraceful for you two detectives to trap her into giving what must be warped if not false evidence!”

“You’re right, Miss Bristol,” Clay said, decidedly. “Prisser, or whatever your name is, shut up, now. If necessary you will be called on by Mr. Middleton to tell what you know.”

“I’ve finished looking about this room,” Stone told his companion. “I see nothing of importance to note down. You see, there are no belongings packed up, no letters left to be mailed; everything is just as if the occupant intended to return here. Yet that seems contradictory. Indeed, I find practically nothing in the whole case that is not contradictory.”

“Contradictory to what?” quizzed Clay.

“To what might have been expected. To the portent of other evidence. To the general character of the girl. Mimi was a bright one. How could she let herself be duped into an intrigue that led her to such a terrible fate?”

“The man must have been some one she knew—” Clay said, though that point had long since been conceded. “That brings it back to Jack Stafford.”

“Or the unknown man from out of town,” supplemented Stone, but Clay shook his head doubtfully.

“That unknown man is a crutch for a lame dog,” he said, “it’s what a detective always falls back on, when he is at the end of his rope.”

“Or he falls back on the accident theory.”

“Accident be blowed!” Clay scowled. “Any one who thinks accident, better try it, that’s all. Likewise suicide is out of the question. Prisser, would Miss Mimi kill herself?”

“Oh, no, sir! Oh, my, no! Why, she was as happy as the day is long.”

“What do you think, Miss Bristol?”

“I’m sure she’d never dream of suicide,” Jane declared. “She was young, pretty, popular,—why should she want to die? And she was not the sort to love very deeply. Hers was a butterfly nature.”

“As was Miss Buchanan’s?”

“Yes. They were not much alike, but butterflies both.”

“They didn’t look at all alike,” Stone commented.

“Opposite types,” agreed Jane. “But each lovely in her own way. I think I liked Mimi’s effects better. Her golden ringlets, so soft and babyish, were to my mind, prettier than Rosalie’s tight black curls. Rosalie’s curls were natural, she couldn’t make them any softer or fluffier. But Mimi’s were made by the coiffeur and his hot irons, and they had to be done frequently too. Yet, oddly, enough, Rosalie’s curls looked like a permanent wave, and Mimi’s looked as if they were natural.”

“Yes, yes,” said Clay, who was not much interested in the subject, “now, Miss Bristol, do you know if Miss Bell had any relatives living? Or was she, like little Rosalie, alone in the world?”

“Her mother was living, I am sure, Mr. Clay. I often heard Mimi speak of her and always with the greatest love and respect.”

“Maybe you did, Miss Jane,” Prissy remarked; “but some of us heard otherwise.”

“Explain yourself, Prissy,” Stone told her. “What do you mean by that?”

“Just what I said. Why, I’ve heard Miss Mimi swear awful, when she opened a letter from her mother and found it didn’t contain the check she had expected. And one night she was a-talkin’ to Miss Rosalie, and she said terrible things about her mother.”

“All that’s beside the question,” Clay said. “Does any one know where the mother lives? Had Mimi a home address?”

“Yes,” Jane told him. “I’m sure Lowell knows it. But he doesn’t know her mother. You see, none of us ever saw Mimi, until she came here just before Rosalie died.”

“No, I suppose not. Well, Mr. Stone, shall we go downstairs again?”

“May as well. Nothing more to find up here, that I can see. She thoroughly cleaned out anything of interest to us, and left only the dry sticks.”

The two men went down to find that the strong arm of the law had moved forcefully, in their absence.

Miss Maria sat in a corner of the sofa, busily engaged in having a good old-fashioned crying spell.

“What have you done?” Stone inquired of the Inspector, and Middleton told him.

“I’ve arrested that young whipper-snapper from next door,” he began.

“You have!” cried Stone, “on what grounds?”

“Grounds enough. Oh, you weren’t here, I forgot. Well, Mr. Stone that man was in here last night, I mean in this room, and he left the tracks of those shoes of his, on the rug. As you see, it’s a fine, smooth surface, this rug is, and they must have showed up fine. But, a busybody, hanging around wiped off the rug, where the prints were, and now they’re not here.”

“Oh, they’re not?” and Stone looked down at the floor. “Now, who wiped them off?”

“That half-witted guy they call Potter.”

“Paddy Potter? Oh, no, Mr. Middleton, he isn’t half-witted. Quite the contrary.”

“You think so? Well, I think anybody is halfwitted to wipe away definite evidence in a murder case.”

“How do you know it was definite evidence?”

“Well, Potter says the prints he wiped away were from the same shoes as those prints outside on the porch.”

“Oh, I see. And you take his word for it?”

“Yes, Mr. Stone, I do. He’s a queer one. He keeps saying, ‘Don’t ask me questions!’ and he goes all to pieces if you so much as look at him.”

“Yet you believe his word?”

“Yes, because he hasn’t sense enough to make up a lie,—a good one.”

“You’ve other evidence?”

“Well, yes. You know, Mr. Stone, it’s the routine work that counts, after all. Splashes of deductive genius are all very well, but the spade work must be done, and done by experienced hands.”

“Yes, I daresay.”

“So, I’ve had my men over to young Stafford’s house and they’ve searched his room and all that, and they put two and two together—”

“And made twenty-two, I suppose.”

“Well, they got enough proof to warrant an arrest, anyway.”

“In your estimation?”

“Come, come, now, Mr. Stone, are you questioning my judgment?”

“How can I tell that, until I learn what your judgment is based on?”

“You may read the reports—”

“Take too long. I know a quicker way. Farnum, how about it? Do you think the arrest of young Stafford was justified by the evidence dug up against him?”

“Hard to say, Fleming. Evidence depends so much on its quality and kind. Now, a definite clew is one thing, but vague evidence, like—well, like footprints is quite another.”

Inspector Middleton looked perplexed. He was not annoyed by the attitudes of these two detectives who were criticizing his acts, for he had confidence in their knowledge and judgment, more, indeed, than he had in his own.

But Stone had been absent from the room, and Farnum had said nothing, being seemingly wrapped in deepest thought, so Middleton was left to use his own powers of decision, and he was beginning to think he had decided wrong.

“Yes,” Stone was saying, “broken cuff links and dropped handkerchiefs are easy picking, but footprints are Oh, Lawks!”

And Inspector Middleton was both chagrined and alarmed to think he had based his arrest of Jack Stafford on “Oh, Lawks!”


Chapter 16
Jack Stafford’s Whopper

“History repeats itself,” Fleming Stone observed, as he settled comfortably in a long wicker chair on the porch at Limbo. “Little more than two weeks ago we sat here mulling over Rosalie’s weird taking off, and here we are now ready to mull over Mimi’s.”

“I’m not,” and Farnum looked both glum and grumpy. “I’d like to chuck the whole business and go off for a holiday. Would you come along?”

“Good Lord, Mayo, what has come over you? And, beside, you know what a detective’s holiday means; just another case.”

“Well, I’d like another case. I’m fed up with this one. I’d like to see it go down in history as one of the great unsolved mysteries of this century,”

“Pooh, pooh, old man, what ails you? Didn’t eat too many clam fritters, did you? Why, we’re just getting the Rocky Reef matter licked into shape, and I begin to see light at the end of the tunnel.”

“Do you, Fleming? Do you, truly? Have you any theory I don’t know about?”

“I don’t deal with theories, Mayo, as you ought to know by this time. But I did scratch up some home truths this morning, and—for Heaven’s sake, don’t look so scared to death! What are you afraid of?”

“I’m afraid you’re going to make a fool of yourself. No, I know such a procedure is not your habit, but—”

“Speak out, old man. Tell the truth, no lie thrives. I promise not to be offended, and perhaps your fears are well grounded.”

“Well, I think you’re going to move heaven and earth to get young Stafford out of jail, and put somebody—anybody in his place.”

“And why not move anything movable to get the chap freed, seeing as he is innocent?”

“How do you know he is innocent?”

“Well, of course, I didn’t read it in the morning paper. But, for one thing, what would that boy have as a motive?”

“They say there are only—”

“Lord, Mayo, don’t drag in that drivel! I know; they say there only six possible motives for murder. Also, they say there are only three; and, again, they say there are five, or eight, or two. And they all begin with greed and end with revenge. I like best the four list; money, love, hate and homicidal mania. And how about the last in the Reef murders?”

“Meaning Jack Stafford? Oh, no, he isn’t anything neurotic. He may have killed the girls, but if so, he did it in a burst of human passion, not any degeneracy or dementia.”

“That’s true enough, he’s a normal chap, if hot-tempered. But hold on, Mayo, those murders were not maniacal, but they were premeditated. Not done in a burst of human passion, but carefully carried out, after even more careful planning.”

“By a clever brain, then.”

“I’ll say so! So clever that it amounts almost to ‘the perfect crime.’ And it would have been just that, had it not been necessary to commit the second murder. It is that which opens up avenues of thought and theory.”

“Leading where?”

“Can’t say, until I reach some goal. At present they’re twisting and intertwining, till I despair of straightening them out.”

“Don’t try. As I say, Fleming, pitch the case overboard and go off somewhere with me. We’ll go abroad, if you like.”

“I think, Mayo, that you, as our English cousins put it, are sickening for brain fever. Go to Timbuctoo or Zanzibar, if you feel like it, but I’ll stay right here on the job. In fact, as I hinted to you, I seem to have a glimmer of a suspicion of a hint of an idea, and if it gets a little something to feed on, it may wax fat and prosper.”

“Oh, go to the devil, Stone! and take your theories with you. What do you think of that Middleton man?”

“He’s about as good as they come—but they don’t come very good. He’s of that appropriating sort, who listens to ‘your theory.’ Then, soon, it is ‘our theory,’ and if at all good, it quickly becomes ‘my theory.’ You know the sort.”

“Of course. Escott wasn’t like that. Well, don’t give this precious theory of yours to Middleton, or he’ll swipe it.”

“What do I care if he does, so long as he acts on it. I’ve no desire for fame and glory in this matter, but I confess to a feeling of natural curiosity as to who cooked up those guillotine murders. And why, I can’t get the motive at all. Don’t say pearls, for the most sensitive criminal is not sufficiently scared by his brutal crime to fear to grab the loot afterward. And if so, he wouldn’t have that same timidity twice. No, the motive, whatever it was, was not to gain possession of the Berkeley pearls, priceless though they may be.”

“I wish Linus would come home—”

“When do they expect him?”

“Soon’s he can get here. Lowell telephoned the New York office, and they said, he might be delayed one more day in Chicago, but he’d come right along after that.”

“I don’t see, though, what he can do, more than is being done.”

“Nor I. But I want him here. His calm, clear judgment is always a help in itself.”

“That’s right. What a pity such a fine, really noble man must have all this sordid trouble in his home.”

“It’s partly his own fault. I mean, he has always spoiled Lowell, letting the boy have whatever he wants, and when he wanted to bring these low down girls into the game, Linus ought to have put his foot down against it.”

“He did try, he told me so, but Lowell overpersuaded him, and of course he’d no idea that the boy would fall in love with them. It wasn’t real love, it was a foolish infatuation, but the girls were pretty, and of attractive personality too.”

“Linus is a prince of men, I never knew a finer character. And he is so devoted to Lowell, he would do anything in the world for him. I think he had nothing against Rosalie, except that she was a little short on education, and even that doesn’t bother a Southerner as it would a true New Englander. Of course, Linus went Bostonese when his wife was living. He adored her as he does the boy. But if Lowell had wanted to marry a circus freak, his father would have tried mildly to dissuade him, and if he persisted, Linus would just hand out his blessing and the Berkeley pearls.”

“There’s no sense in looking at Lowell as a possible murderer, is there? No, nor any one else under that roof! How can people be so ridiculous? Anyway, Fleming, now they’ve arrested Stafford, don’t kick up a bobbery. Let him be tried, and if he’s innocent, he’ll be acquitted. You can bet on that.”

“I don’t know that I can. He may be railroaded through so the police can save their faces. I’ve known such things to happen.”

“Well, anyway, wait till Linus gets here. If he thinks best to raise ructions about the arrest, let him, but why should we?”

“Only in the cause of justice.”

“You don’t know that it is justice.”

“Well, we know, we must know, that Mimi wasn’t planning to elope with Jack Stafford. Why should she? Why shouldn’t the two of ’em go to Lowell and say they’d fallen for one another and wanted him to call himself off? He wouldn’t make a duel of it,— I doubt if he’d have cared much. He wasn’t wild about Mimi, whatever he may have felt for Rosalie.”

“Wait a minute, Fleming. You think both murders were the work of the same hand, don’t you?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Well, then, Jack Stafford must have done them, for nobody else was as gone on those popinjays as he was. Colly Stewart flirted with them, but he never would have married either of them, he’s too Back Bay for anything like that. And nobody else around here knew them, except as they met them casually at a Club dance or a restaurant. Which brings it down to Stafford, or some dark horse who loomed up out of their murky past.”

“And killed them both?”

“Why not? After the pearls, of course, and the girls most likely in cahoots with this Desperate Desmond. But, when he thought he had the game in his own hand he decided to make it a lone hand.”

“A very muggly theory, Mayo. Nothing clear cut or definite about it. Can’t you do better than that?”

“I don’t have to. I’m not an active detective, I’m a mere looker on, and I don’t want to be that. I’ve served my time at detecting, and I’m ready to quit it.”

“All right, old chap, but since you’re pledged to Mr. Berkeley to do all you can for him, you’re in honor bound to see it through.”

“Even if the finger of suspicion points to some one he loves and honors?”

“Aha! Now you’re getting around to it, eh? I am reminded of the scene in ‘Sentimental Tommy.’ Remember? It went something like this:

“ ‘Elspeth would not tell how much she had and it was twopence halfpenny.

“ ‘Neither would Tommy tell and it was twopence.

“ ‘Elspeth would not tell what the surprise was to be, and it was to be a gun.

“ ‘Tommy also must remain mute and it was to be a box of dominoes.

“ ‘Elspeth did not want dominoes.

“ ‘Tommy knew that, but he wanted them.’

“Do you see the connection? No? Well, I only mean that you will not name your suspect, and it is— well, never mind. Neither will I name my suspect, and it is—well, never mind. But they are the same name.”

“Really, Stone? Have you a definite suspect?”

“I refuse to answer your question and I have a definite suspect.”

“Cards on the table, then! you tell me your guess and I’ll tell you mine.”

“Nixy. You tell me yours first.”

“We’ll write them on papers and exchange.”

“No, Mayo, I won’t do that. Moreover, I am not guessing, as you call it. I’m taking this matter seriously—”

“Good Lord, you can’t take it more seriously than I do! Now, if we are thinking of the same person, you must agree that it’s better to allow Stafford’s arrest to stand. Let sleeping dogs lie.”

“Mayo! You can’t mean let him be unjustly accused and perhaps convicted—”

“Oh, it won’t go so far as that. And, as I say, when Linus gets home, he will smooth out things a lot.”

“You have confidence in his smoothing powers. How will he do it?”

“Oh, he has influence and he can accomplish what other people couldn’t dream of doing.”

“But your arguments sound as if Stewart is guilty, and Linus is to pull him out of a mess.”

“Yes, I look at it sorta that way. Hello, here comes the redoubtable Paderewski. Hello, Potter.”

“Good day, sir. Good day, Mr. Stone. Kinni come in a minute?”

“Of course. Come along; take a chair. Any news?”

“Well, yessir. That there Mr. Stafford, you know, since he’s kinda cooled off in the cooler, he’s tellin’ a new story. And it’s a whopper, sir, a large and elegant whopper!”

“Meaning a falsehood, or just an astonishing tale?” Stone asked, smiling at him.

“Well, both, I sh’d say. Anyhow here it is. Young Mr. Stafford, he says that ’long ’bout pretty near three o’clock, he saw a strange man a-comin’ in at the gate and moseyin’ along toward the house. Says the chap was goin’ along mighty—what d’ yer call it?— stealtherly, you know.”

“Why didn’t Stafford tell this before?”

“I dunno.” Potter looked more than ever like the melancholy Jaques. His lank figure and his long ragged locks gave him a forlorn air, indeed, he seemed on the verge of tears.

“Queer he kept so quiet about it,” Farnum said, musingly.

“Well, sir, he says as how he forgot it. That’s the whopper, sir! You know yourself, a feller couldn’t forget a p’int that’s mebbe goin’ to save his life. Could he, now?”

“Not likely, Paddy. What do you think is the truth of the matter?”

“Don’t ask me, sir. I dunno anything about it. And I hate to be asked questions.”

“You must get over that idiosyncrasy of yours,” Stone told him, a little severely.

“What, Mr. Stone! What’s that you say?”

“Never mind, I only meant you must learn to answer questions when they’re asked, without making any objections.”

“Oh, all right. Whatter you want to know?”

“You’re a good sort, Paderewski. Now, tell me what you think Mr. Stafford means by his whopper, as you call it.”

“Why, I just think it’s a yarn he’s been a makin’ up, to save his own skin.”

“You don’t think he saw any man at all?”

“I do not. If he had, wouldn’t I have seen him also and likewise?”

“But you said yourself, you were so wrapped up in your music that you neither heard nor saw anybody.”

Paddy’s eyes fell.

“You score,” he said, dejectedly. “I did say that, and I was. Well, anyhow, I don’t believe a strange man could spraddle around these grounds without my knowing it somehow. Well, here’s another bit o’ news for you. Miss Mimmy’s mother is coming.”

“When?” cried Stone.

“To-night, as ever was. Mr. Linus, he’s a fetchin’ her. Guess they’ll blow in about dinner time.”

“How did he get hold of her?” Farnum inquired, a puzzled expression on his tanned face.

“Dunno. Wish you wouldn’t ask me questions. Anyway, Miss Maria had a telegram and she made a bee line for the kitchen to kill a few fatted calfs and things.”

“Linus and Mrs. Bell! Well, that’s a jolt. Can you do that crossword puzzle, Stone?”

“I cannot, not without fasting and prayer.”

“Well, I suppose it isn’t entirely inexplicable. Probably Mrs. Bell is much like Auntie Oakes was. Probably she is out for anything that may come her way.”

“Well, I only hope this queue of youth and beauty will come to an end soon. What did Mr. Lowell say about it, Paddy?”

“Oh, well, he and Mr. Stewart, they just looked at each other, and Mr. Stewart said, ‘Do you know her, Low?’ and Mr. Lowell said, ‘No, and I don’t propose to, either. You do that for me, old chap, won’t you?’ And Mr. Stewart he said, ‘Do what Bub?’ “And Mr. Lowell said, real coaxing like, ‘make believe you’re me, and meet the old dame.’ ”

“Did he mean that?”

“Yes, sir, he did. He kep’ tellin’ Mr. Stewart he must pretend to be him, ’cause he jest couldn’t go through with it. Said he wouldn’t see any more of those girls or their mothers whatever happened. Said his father would be home soon, and he could take the hull matter in charge.”

“So he can,” Stone agreed. “Mr. Linus and Miss Maria can do up anybody’s mother.”

“That’s another thing,” resumed Paddy. “Miss M’riar, now, she says she won’t be to the party neither. But Miss Bristol, she perks up, a laughin’, and she says she will. And she’ll be delighted to attend.”

“So shall I,” Stone chimed in. “Jane Bristol can take care of things, and I’ll help her if need be. I don’t know what the Bell woman will be like, but she can’t be as bad as the Oakes party! Will you join the dance, Mayo? Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you join the dance?”

“No, not I,” said Farnum, looking worried and upset.

“What’s the matter, old chap?” Stone asked him; “you don’t seem to be in your usual gayety of mood. Well, Paddy, you run along, and tell Miss Maria that we accept her kind invitation to dinner.”

“But she didn’t invite you, sir, and besides, Mr. Farnum says he won’t go.”

“But you see, Paddykins, Mr. Farnum will go, and also I don’t give a whoop whether we’re invited or not. We go, in either case. Got it?”

“Got it in one, sir. And Mr. Berkeley will be there, You’ll be glad to see him.”

“You bet we will! Tell Miss Maria I’m passionately fond of chocolate roll, and now run along.”

“Of course, we must see the Bell of the Ball, Mayo. I expect to learn a thing or two from her myself.”

“Perhaps she’ll know something about this elopement business. Also, perhaps she can tell us something about Mimi.”

“What do you want to know about Mimi?”

“Anything I can learn. I tell you Fleming, it’s time we got down to brass tacks!”

“Yeah, just what I was thinking. We have all our campaign laid out Mayo, and now we must get busy, —really busy, on it. I quite agree that the Bell lady can give us a hint or two. I feel sure Linus Berkeley will help us in some way, and if Miss Winslow absents herself from the dinner table to-night I shall not be sorry. She uses up a lot of time, and gets us nowhere. And the police are proving more helpful than I dared hope. I’m fond of Clay, and I think he does some really good thinking. Another good fellow is Miss Bristol. She has brains and knows how to use them. I’m anxious to see Mr. Berkeley, for I’m wondering what sort of attitude he’ll show about this Mimi affair. You can’t expect a man to take it calmly, when his son’s fiancées are dying all about the place.”

“You won’t see anything unusual or excited about Linus Berkeley. He’ll be grave and calm, and probably as polite and courteous to the mother of Mimi as to one of the Colonial Dames of his own circle.”

“Oh, very likely. He is the most self-contained and self-reliant man I ever knew.”

“He’s all of that. Now, come on and tog up to meet the Chicago Fair.”

Probably Fleming Stone had experienced greater surprises but he couldn’t remember any at the moment, when he met Mrs. Bell.

Miss Maria, who had evidently changed her mind about making an appearance, was in the drawing room, garbed in a charming confection of mauve poplin.

Her guest, Mrs. Bell, who sat by her side, was a fragile little person in soft dove colored satin and delicate lace.

The visitor had twinkling blue eyes and a modicum of rouge and lipstick gave her a pretty, soft coloring. Her hair was golden, not like Mimi’s but acquired at some first class beauty parlor.

The most striking thing about her was her placidity. She made no sudden gestures or quick motions, but showed always a mildness and calm that gave her an effect of good breeding, whether she possessed it or not.

She greeted the men prettily, but remembered that she was in sorrow, and made few remarks.

Lowell had taken to her, and he sat near her, wondering whether she really was Mimi’s mother or not.

Fleming Stone expended no wonder on this. He was sure she was not. Why he felt this to be true, he couldn’t have said, but he had the firmest sort of conviction that this gentle and gracious woman was no blood kin to the pert, almost hoydenish girl that had so charmed Lowell.

As to Rosalie, he knew nothing but decided to find out if possible.

With his best and most graceful manners, he rose and sat beside Mrs. Bell.

Very soon he turned the conversation to Rosalie.

“I never knew her well,” Mrs. Bell said, speaking a trifle coldly. “She was an odd girl, very different from my darling.”

“Yesm” said Stone’s sympathetic voice, “they were different. And Mimi, of course, was the more beautiful.”

“It isn’t for me to say that,” murmured the mother. “Rosalie was a handsome girl, of course. They were perfectly contrasted types.”

“They had been friends a long time?”

“Oh, no, not very.”

Fleming Stone distinctly saw a tiny look of fear come into the eyes he was watching. “But very dear friends,” he pursued.

“Oh, yes, but like all other girls, they now and then had their little spats. Usually about their beaux, and such matters. Nothing that ever lasted long. What a beautiful home this is.”

“Yes; tell me, Mrs. Bell do you think your daughter was about to elope the night she—she was killed?”

Stone was more or less alarmed, lest the lady should be annoyed or angry at him. But she didn’t seem to be. On the contrary, she seemed eager to talk about it.

“I’ve no way of knowing,” she said, somewhat helplessly. “Of course, Mr. Berkeley has been talking to me as we came along in the train. He thinks there was some of her Chicago beaux, or her dancing partners, who learned about the pearls and they managed somehow to steal them.”

“That is a rational view to take of it, I think. Was she fond of these young men?”

“Oh, yes, Mimi loved society. She hated to be alone. She wanted gayety all the time.”

“And are you like that?”

“Pretty much,” and she smiled at him.

“Tell me,” Stone thought if he spoke very casually he could put it over; “are you Mimi’s own mother?”

“Now, now, you naughty man. You mustn’t be curious!”

“But I am. You see you look so much like her, that lovely gold hair and those chicory blue eyes, now, don’t be angry with me, will you?”

“No, no, I won’t,—anyway, not this time. By the way, don’t you believe you could catch the eye of that slave with the tray of cocktails?”

“Yes, if you’ll answer my question.”

“Fie, fie, you mustn’t make bargains!”

Stone nodded to the butler, and soon Mimi’s mother, if she rightfully claimed that relationship, was busily engaged with her glass.

But not yet had she answered Fleming Stone’s question.


Chapter 17
The Pleasant Mrs. Bell

The evening drifted along. Everybody seemed ill at ease, but they also seemed to be trying to hide it, and succeeded fairly well.

Linus was grave, but Stone saw he was nervous. A physical nervousness that showed itself in his restless feet and twitching fingers.

Maria was voluble and excited. But this, too, Stone knew, was a sign of worry and anxiety.

Lowell was quiet and broken, like one who had been through deep waters. He had changed his mind about not appearing at dinner, as also had Maria, and these decisions had been the result of Linus Berkeley’s persuasion.

But Lowell seemed changed all through.

Stone thought to himself, if this thing ever blows over and is forgotten, Lowell will be a better man.

Not for an instant did Stone suspect the boy of either murder. His fickle fancy had made him adore Rosalie, and after he lost her, he quickly turned to Mimi, but for neither had he felt any deep or real love. Stone’s perceptions told him this, and he remembered that Lowell had been in love with each girl at the very time she met her death, and in those circumstances, he certainly would not kill her.

The detective had not forgotten the familiar line, “But each man kills the thing he loves,” but he knew it did not apply to men of Lowell’s temperament.

Not that the lad was a weakling, on the contrary he had a strong, fine character. He had inherited his mother’s uprightness and will power, and had also inherited his father’s sense of right and justice.

But he had a mobile heart that readily responded to overtures from pretty girls, and, so far, he had shown no intention of checking this tendency.

If Jane Bristol had been more strikingly beautiful he would have wooed her long ago, for he thoroughly liked her and appreciated her sterling qualities.

As it was, Stone hoped that the tragedies would some day be forgotten and Lowell would realize that a fine woman was more worthwhile than a painted lady.

But there was much to be done in the meantime. Jack Stafford must be got out of jail and somebody else must be put in his place.

Mrs. Bell was, beyond doubt, the happiest one in the room. She smiled and chattered with the airs and graces of a girl, and though her work was not greatly appreciated by her hearers, Fleming Stone watched her with a certain interest not untinged with admiration.

Later on, the men went to the book room for a talk.

Linus told his story.

“I stopped in Chicago,” he said, “to find out anything I could about Mimi. It seems her reputation is not of the best. We don’t want to speak ill of the dead, and I don’t want to criticize the girl my son admired, so we’ll let it go at that. Details are unnecessary. As you doubtless all surmise, Mrs. Bell is not her mother, she is merely a friend who adopts that role when convenient. But I brought her here, because I thought she might help us in our search for the criminal.”

“She seems a very nice person,” Lowell said, carelessly.

“She isn’t,” his father informed him. “I also looked into Rosalie’s ancestry, and that, too, is not a pleasant story. Some day, we can consider it, but I think now we should turn out attention to immediate investigation. I propose that the police interview Mrs. Bell,—they may get more out of her than I did—and then, when they are satisfied, I propose we send her home, letting her take the body of her so-called daughter with her. I will give her a comfortable sum for expenses and so forth, and I fancy she will be entirely satisfied.”

“That’s all right,” Colly put in, “but who did the murders? That’s what I want to know.”

“I think,” Linus said, “it was no one that we know or know of. I think the girls were determined to have the pearls, but I don’t think they had any intention of marrying my son to get them. They, or one of them, arranged that a friend of theirs should come to some place near Oleander Park and stay there. Then, some night this man came over here, and with Rosalie’s assistance, made a try at it. But he concluded he wanted all the loot himself without sharing it with her, so he killed her, premeditatedly and by an ingenious method. Then, I have no doubt, he was frightened or superstitious or both, and ran away rather than lift the desk lid. And I think the death of Mimi was just the same. This man had persuaded her to elope with him, taking the pearls with her. He probably told her to carry no luggage as they could buy what she wanted en route; and, again desiring the whole of the booty, he killed her in the same way he had killed Rosalie, or, at least, a similar way. Again he feared to search her bag for the jewels, as it would necessitate his coming into the room and he might meet some one.”

“But he was in the room when he killed her,” objected Stone. “Didn’t you know that?”

“Are you sure? No, I didn’t know it, but I assumed he stood on the porch.”

“No, there were shoe prints in here on the rug.”

“Is that so? I had pictured him outside. But I don’t know that it matters. If inside, he may have heard some sound in the house that frightened him off. At any rate, he did leave without the pearls, whatever the reason.”

“You think it was the same man in both cases?” Colly asked.

“Why, yes, it seems so to me. Though it may not have been. If the killer of Mimi knew of the method of Rosalie’s death, he could have imitated it. But that would mean two men up here instead of one. I still think it was one or two of the girls’ friends from Chicago, or thugs, perhaps, from that city. A professional killer, reading of the first tragedy, might plan to duplicate it to his own advantage. I’m only offering these suggestions as they occur to me, for I can’t help feeling they are more likely suspects than any of the citizens around here, or members of this household.”

And then Inspector Middleton and Detective Clay were announced.

The Inspector, who had never met Linus before, greeted him with an important air.

“Glad to see you, Mr. Berkeley, though sorry, indeed, that it is on such a distasteful errand.”

“Yes. I suppose your errands are mostly distasteful—necessarily so.”

“To be sure. Ah, well, we are a necessary evil, as you say. But I think you’ll admit we’ve done good work.”


“In clapping young Stafford in jail.”

“Because, I understand, he wore tennis shoes.”

“That’s not quite all,—not quite all. Because he wore tennis shoes when he came over here to kill Miss Bell.”

“How do you know he did come over here to kill Miss Bell?”

“Because he wore tennis shoes,” said Lowell, catching his father’s tone.

“I had intended staying away a little longer, Inspector,” said Linus, “but I’m glad I came home as soon as I did, if I can help free young Stafford from an absurd mistake. He didn’t kill Miss Bell, and he had no motive to kill her.”

“Except that he is very hard up, and has been pawning some of the family silver while his parents are away. Except that he was deeply impressed with the method by which Miss Buchanan was killed, saying it was marvelously clever, and looked more like an accident than any murder he had ever seen. Except that he was skulking round this house at three in the morning, wearing tennis shoes. Except that he was seen by an eye witness leaving the porch and going out of the gate at something like quarter or half past three. Except that he could tell no coherent or consecutive story of his doings that night. Except that he got all hot and bothered when he was asked to.”

“Stop, Inspector, that’s enough of those pseudo motives, they aren’t real. If Jack killed Mimi, why didn’t he take the pearls away with him?”

“Scared off, same like he was when he killed Rosalie.”

“Oh, so history repeated itself again?”

“Yes, and not surprising, either. I don’t suppose, from what I hear, that at any time everybody in this house is asleep. They seem to have a habit of prowling round, up and downstairs and through the rooms and halls all night long. Miss Bristol will tell you that.”

“Yes, I know, but if he was so anxious for the pearls, he could come back to get them—”

“Good land, Mr. Berkeley, he didn’t know when the coast was clear, and no way of finding out.”

“You have a vivid imagination, Inspector. Well, I have some other influences I can use that will stand me in equally good stead. I haven’t heard any argument yet that leads me to think Jack Stafford is guilty, so, unless you will undertake to do it yourself, I will make a move to get him out.”

Inspector Middleton looked discouraged. If he did what Mr. Berkeley asked he lost his man, and if he left it to Berkeley to do it, he not only lost his man but a lot of his prestige.

“I’ll attend to it,” he said, grumpily; “at least, I’ll try to.”

“All right, Inspector, and if you don’t succeed, I’ll help you out.”

“But if it wasn’t Stafford, Mr. Berkeley,” Clay said, in his hesitant way, “who was it?”

“Now, Clay, do you take me for the sort of man who hires a dog and then does his own barking? I have you and Middleton on this job, and I also have my friends Mr. Farnum and Mr. Stone. If you four can’t ferret out the murderer, I’ll call in more detectives, or—I’ll let the whole matter drop. There are no family or friends of the two dead girls who will care if the problem is never solved, and I have small curiosity in the matter myself.”

“We can’t let the matter drop, Mr. Berkeley, until we have exhausted every means in our power to succeed in our quest.”

“Very well, go ahead with it, then, and I will help in any way I possibly can, but you must take the initiative. And for Heaven’s sake, take it better than you did when you railroaded young Stafford into jail.”

“We didn’t railroad him in,” Middleton declared, beginning to lose his temper at last.

“Well, whatever you call it, don’t do it to anybody else, until you’re sure of your man.”

And then the police went away and the others went back to the drawing room.

Mrs. Bell was entertaining the ladies with some songs that sent Jane into peals of laughter, but which made Maria look scornful and even slightly disgusted.

When the singer finished the one she was engaged on, Linus didn’t ask for more, but escorted her to a chair with decision and dispatch.

“Just a few questions from Mr. Farnum and Mr. Stone,” he said, “and then to-morrow morning you will meet the police for a short conference after which I daresay you will be allowed to return home, with many thanks for your assistance.”

“Something a little more tangible than thanks, Mr. Berkeley,” the lady said, and Stone was reminded of the speech of Auntie Oakes. Probably these professional relatives had a jargon of their own.

“I shouldn’t be surprised,” and Linus smiled at her pleasantly.

“I’ve only a few questions with which to bother you, Mrs. Bell,” Stone said, as Farnum nodded to him to speak first. “Are you really Mimi’s mother? Don’t be afraid to tell the truth, it can’t harm you in any way.”

“Well, then, no, I wasn’t,” and Mrs. Bell shook her head, coquettishly. “I couldn’t be; Mimi was only about ten years younger than I am.”

That’s a whopper! thought Stone, but he said, “Oh, any one could see that. I noticed it the moment I looked at you. That’s what puzzled me. Do you know anything about Mimi’s real mother?”

“No, sir, I don’t.”

“Nor Rosalie’s?”

Mrs. Bell hesitated a little. She plucked at her gown, thoughtfully, and she cast a dubious glance at Linus Berkeley.

“Tell anything you know, Mrs. Bell,” he said, helpfully. “That’s what you’re here for.”

“But there’s so little to tell. No, I know nothing of Rosalie’s people, indeed, nothing of her life. She was Mimi’s friend, but I seldom saw her.”

“You seldom saw Mimi, I daresay,” Stone put in, with his pleasantest smile.

“Well, not so often. She was a gay little piece, always on the jump.”

“How did she happen to come here?”

“Why, Rosalie invited her. They were always great chums.”

“Mimi couldn’t have killed Rosalie, could she?” Stone said, casually.

“Oh, mercy, no! Don’t mention such a thing as that! Those two girls had their faults, I know, but they couldn’t commit crime.”

“Not even theft?”

“No! they were little scallywags, but they couldn’t do a serious wrong.”

“But,” Linus said, “we know Mimi tried to get away with the necklace.”

“Maybe and maybe not. Suppose somebody else tucked it in her bag.”

“That we can never find out,” Stone declared, “and it doesn’t matter now, anyway.”

“No,” Linus agreed, “except that we don’t want suspicion to rest on an innocent person. And Stafford is innocent. I’m sure of that.”

“Of course,” Lowell agreed. “Old Jack couldn’t steal and murder! It’s too absurd.”

“Sure it is,” Colly Stewart corroborated. “I string along with Mr. Berkeley and believe a thug gentleman from Chicago manipulated the whole matter.”

“Why Chicago?” asked Mrs. Bell, bridling. “There are worse places than Chicago, I’d have you know.”

“There are? Then I beg your pardon. My mistake.” But he smiled at Mrs. Bell so chummily that she promptly forgave his impudence.

Soon the two detectives went away and pursued a rather silent walk back to Limbo.

But on reaching the house, they turned as with one accord into the big living room and settled down for a smoke and a chat.

But though the smoking progressed duly, the chat was not forthcoming.

“Well, old man,” said Stone after some desultory remarks from both, “I think we may as well plunge in. What do you want me to do?”

“Now, just what do you mean by that?” Farnum looked surprised.

“What I say. It’s your case, they’re your friends. All along you’ve wanted me to keep off the grass where the Berkeleys are concerned. Shall we let suspicion hover over their heads, as it bids fair to do, or shall we keep on trying to dig up other suspects?”

“We must certainly get Jack Stafford out of his pickle.”

“Linus will ’tend to that. He can pull wires and roll logs, and, too, it’ll be an easy matter, for they did slam that young man behind closed doors without rhyme or reason. Consider Jack the same as set free. What next?”

Mayo Farnum drew a long breath. Then he gave Stone a long look. Then he sat silent for what seemed a long time.

Stone wached him curiously, but said nothing.

At last Farnum spoke, but what he had to say seemed unworthy of the time and thought he had expended on it.

“You got a suspect?”

“The same one you have.”

“Cards on the table. Who is it?”

“You won’t like to know.”

“Huh! One of the three Berkeleys, then.”

“Maybe and maybe not. But one of the present Rocky Reef household.”

Farnum brightened visibly.

“It can’t be Jane Bristol. Then if not one of the three Berkeleys, it must be Stewart. Why pick on him?”

“Why can’t it be Jane? And again, why not Paddy? He’s practically a member of the household, or he thinks he is.”

“That’s so. I’ve had dreams of Paddy. But I wish you’d tell me if it’s any one of the Berkeleys themselves.”

“You would shield a murderer and cover up the crime?”

“You bet I would if one of those three was suspected!”

“Mayo, then you’re a villain yourself.”

“All right, I never said I wasn’t. Now, tell me, which one have you got your eagle eye on?”

“The same one you have.”

“But it’s absurd to suspect him.”

Stone gave him a quizzical look.

“Don’t think you can fool me with your pronouns. Though I think you’ve said that the masculine pronoun stands for both sexes.”

“If you’ve ever studied English grammar you must know that it does.”

“Look here, Mayo, who was the man Jack Stafford saw skulking about the Reef grounds?”

“Too easy. That man, my young friend, was the gentlemanly thug from Chicago, which locality, Mrs. Bell mistakenly tells us is not the worst in the world.”

“Why didn’t Paddy see him?”

“Friend Thug was too clever for that.”

“Pretty darned clever he was, then. Few people I’d rather not try to deceive than Paderewski Potter.”

“Yes, he is a clear-headed chap. With an eye single to the Berkeley family.”

“I’ll say it is! And he’ll stick to that single eye point of view till the Inferno is a skating rink. I say, Mayo, you’ve put me into a beastly position.”

“As how?”

“Well, suppose I have a suspect, and suppose it is somebody over at Rocky Reef. What am I going to do about it?”

“I’d hate, Fleming, to have you cut your visit here short; yet, in the exigency you mention I really can’t think of a better thing to do.”

The two friends looked each other straight in the eye, and Stone realized how much in earnest Farnum was.

“Drop the business, lay down my arms and—”

“Disperse, ye rebel! Yes, just that. I’m desperate, Fleming. Of course I know the identity of the murderer, and I won’t allow that identity to become known to any one else if I can help it. If you know it, I can’t help that. But after all, I don’t think you do. You’re throwing a bluff to force my hand—”

“Oh, come now, old man, don’t make me really mad! You know I’m not doing that. You know I know as well as you do, who killed those two girls—”

“You think the same person killed them both?” Farnum’s surprise was unmistakable.

“I do, and so do you, and so does everybody who can think at all. Now, why not own up, tell me your suspect, and I’ll do whatever you want me to in the matter.”

Mayo Farnum looked up at this, and his face cleared somewhat.

“You promise that, Fleming?”

But before the reply was voiced, an interruption occurred and Clay appeared before them.

“I know it’s late,” said that rather apologetic individual, “but I saw your lights so I knew you were still up.”

“Lights up, all up,” said Mayo trying to veil his disappointment at being balked of the promise he was about to extract from Stone.

“Yes, I wanted to see you, you see.”

“I see. And now you see us, what can we do for you?”

“Well, I’ve been over to Rocky Reef.”

“Yes, I know. We were there.”

“No, I mean again, later. I’m just from there, in fact. Well, the confessions have begun.”

“What do you mean?” and Farnum looked so belligerent that Stone scarce knew whether to laugh or cry.

“You know, sir, there’s always a time when those most interested start in confessing. Each one does it to shield somebody else.”

“Nonsense, Clay,” Farnum scowled at him, “that’s in story books. Like most of your ilk, you’ve read too much detective fiction. Confession to save another is drama but it isn’t founded on fact.”

“It is in this case,” said Clay, stubbornly. “You see, I was prowling round the Reef grounds—”

“Like the other intruders,” Stone smiled.

“Something like that. I hoped the visiting lady had gone to bed and I could get a little gabfest with Mr. Berkeley or even Miss Maria, when I found I could see in the window and there was the Berkeley family, hobnobbing in the little book room and nobody else with them. I tapped on the window, and Mr. Lowell let me in.

“ ‘You’re just in time,’ Miss Maria says, excitedly; ‘I’m glad you happened along.’ Well, both the men tried their best to shut her up, but she wouldn’t be silenced.”

“Was she hysterical?” asked Farnum, very gravely.

“I don’t know as to that; she was dignified but determined looking and very pale. She had on that frozen face look she sometimes shows, when she’s made up her mind.”

“I know,” Stone added.

“They never let up on their efforts to stop her talking. Mr. Berkeley, he’d say, ‘Now, now, Maria, don’t let your emotions run away with your judgment. And young Lowell, he’d say, ‘come now, Auntie, be sensible,’ but nothing would move her, and she finally said: ‘Be quiet, you two! Mr. Clay, I killed those two girls and I want to confess it.’ Well, I just said, ca’mly, ‘Tell me about it, madam,’ and she began to rattle off a string of statements so foolish you could see right off they weren’t true a bit.”

“What did she say?” asked Farnum, but Stone said, quietly,

“What did the other two say?”

“They didn’t have a chance to get in a word. Such a flow of langwidge as she treated us to, I never heard!”

“All right, what was the gist of it?”

“That she had killed the girls and that she had her own reasons but she wouldn’t tell ’em to anybody, ever. And we could do what we liked with her, but she was the criminal.”

“H’m,” said Stone, “shielding somebody, I s’pose.”

“I’ll say she was. But I dunno who. That is, not for certain. But here’s what happened next. I told her to rest quiet like through the night, and I’d see her again in the mornin’. I come away, planning to send an officer to guard the place through the night. As I come down the drive, somebody paddled along behind me, and there it was Mr. Berkeley himself. ‘Wait a minute, Clay,’ he said, ‘don’t take my sister’s statement seriously. She said that to shield me. I killed the two girls, and you can arrest me as soon as you like.’ ”

“What did you do?”

“Same’s I did to her. Told him to go to bed and sleep over it, and then I sent two men to guard the house.”


Chapter 18
Just One Confession After Another

“Well, the night ought to bring counsel to those two liars,” said Farnum thoughtfully, after Clay had gone.

“Which two liars?” asked Stone a trifle absent-mindedly.

“Well, Linus and Maria, if you feel you must know. And see here, Fleming when that flatfoot butted in, you were just about to promise me that you’d do whatever I asked you to, regarding revelations and such.”

“You’ve not got your statement quite correct. I said, if you told me your suspect. And beside, as they put it in England, ‘The Case Is Altered,’ since these wholesale confessions have broke loose.”

“They don’t mean anything. They’re to shield one another. Folks always do that when they see possible danger to their loved ones. Unjust danger, of course I mean.”

“Oh, of course. Now, you feel that Linus and his sister are both telling falsehoods?”

“Sure I do. And the reason therefore is too simple. You see, Maria worships Lowell, and when the boy is in danger of police suspicion, she states that she is the killer. Perhaps she knows they won’t convict a Winslow, and a lady Winslow at that, or perhaps she just forges blindly ahead in a mad plunge to save him at any cost. Well, it isn’t true; she didn’t do it.”

“Who did?”

“Somebody else. Then, seeing Maria putting her head in the noose, possibly, Linus frantically rushes to the rescue and takes the crime on his own shoulders, as little likely to bear a load of guilt as any Winslows’ scapulae ever were.”

“Leaving Lowell for the First Murderer and Second Murderer.”

“I never said it was one of the three—”

“No, but I say so. It’s quite time, Mayo, to let up on your hole and corner play. Yes, I know you’re devoted to your friends, but, after all, it’s a murder case, and you’ve no right to withhold evidence or to let your sympathies blind you to justice and law.”

“I knew we’d split on this rock, Stone, so, I really think we’d better drop all discussion of the case between ourselves. You never could see it as I do—”

“Perhaps I could, Mayo.” Stone spoke gently. “As I see it, you feel sure that Maria Winslow or one of the two Berkeleys committed the crimes, but you don’t think they were done by the same person.”

“Something like that.”

“Well, I feel sure, too, that one of those three is the criminal but I think that one did both murders. So, we’re only differing in a part of our belief, not the whole of it.”

“Where we differ, Fleming, is our way of looking at the matter. I am ready to keep back what I know, to connive at secrecy and even become an accessory after the fact, rather than have dear friends of mine suspected, if I can in any way prevent it. In any way.”

“For a good man, Mayo, you’re a pretty bad one.”

“But look at it. Those two fancy girls are out of the world, and except for the horrid manner of their taking off, it’s better for all concerned. No amount of bringing the criminal to justice can do any good to those two victims or their people. In fact, they haven’t any people. If any one came forward with a plea that justice be done to his relative or friend, it would be different. But why drag in the dirt ancient and honorable names that after all are probably free and clear of all connection with the matter?”

“I suppose, then, both Maria and Linus confessed to save young Lowell—”

“We haven’t the slightest scrap of evidence against Lowell. No, Maria confessed to save the boy from a threatened suspicion, but Linus confessed to get Maria out of the tangle she would soon find herself in. Do you know what will happen next?”

“Of course. Lowell will confess to shield his aunt and his father.”

“Of course he will,” Mayo smiled triumphantly, “and his confession will be no more true than the others. Those three are innocent—”

“Wait a minute, they’re not all innocent, and you know it, old man. Don’t try to put anything over on me!”

“Well, if they’re not, I don’t want to know it.” Farnum spoke like a petulant child. “But there are others. There’s—”

“Lord, don’t go over the suspects. I know them all by heart, their motives, their methods and their alibis. Now, admitting for the moment that one of those three is guilty, which would be your choice?”

“Don’t talk rubbish. I haven’t any choice because I love them all equally and I believe equally in their innocence.”

“May the Lord forgive you for these whoppers you’re telling, old man. You may believe in the innocence of one of them, but you can’t believe in three pure white souls. For, mark you, they had motive and no one else did.”

“The theft of those magnificent pearls would be motive enough for anybody.”

“But why kill two lovely young girls to get them?”

“They weren’t lovely young girls. They were as bad as they come, literally. Lowell didn’t know this at first, but when he learned it—”

“Aha, so it’s Master Lowell who rouses your fears and apprehensions!”

“I didn’t say so.”

“You didn’t have to. Facial expressions speak louder than words. Well, as little old Clay says, let’s go to bed and sleep over this vexed question. I’m ready to help you, in your own way, but Mayo, you’ll have to walk as delicately as King Agag, if you mean to keep your footing.”

“I know it,” said the old detective, and so pathetic was his woebegone countenance that Stone burst out, heartily:

“I’m with you, old man, with you to the finish!”

For the first time in his life, Fleming Stone had sacrificed his rigid sense of justice on the altar of his friendship.

And because of that, Mayo Farnum put in a good night’s sleep.

Next morning, the two detectives went over to Rocky Reef.

But they made a belated start, and on reaching the house found matters in full swing.

Mrs. Bell had been duly reimbursed for her time and trouble and had departed, agreeing that the girl’s body should be sent to her and she would attend to the funeral arrangements. Jack Stafford had been released from his durance vile and now the police were vainly trying to make up their minds which of the many suspects to arrest.

The inquest had resulted in an open verdict.

Middleton was sure that the three Berkeleys, as they were called, though Miss Winslow was no Berkeley, should be freed from all thought or suggestion of evil doing. The more so, as Lowell, running true to form, had confessed to the two murders, and declared his aunt and his father entirely innocent of either.

“Rather a free flingin’ around of lives,” was Clay’s version of it.

But Mayo said, “You don’t half understand, Clay. A New Englander would perjure himself and would even suffer unjust punishment, to help or save his family or his family’s name.”

“But if he’s tried and convicted, the family name goes blooey all the same.”

“Sure. But in that case he saves the people. Lowell would never let his elders be arrested while he had voice to protest.”

“Their family tradition and loyalty is a sort of fetish,” Stone observed, and Clay, who had never heard of a fetish let it go at that.

“But the Berkeleys aren’t New Englanders,” objected Middleton. “That family is Southern—”

“And Southerners are even more proud of their ancestry and more careful to keep the blots off their scutcheons.”

“Well,” said Clay, “then people that live in such fragile glass houses ought to be mighty careful what they fling around.”

“They are,” Mayo told him. “And, what’s more, they tell the truth, as a rule. If they want to lie they do it on a big scale and for a big motive. Now, look at Lowell. Youngest of the lot, but coming right up to the scratch with his confession as soon as needed.”

“And untrue at that.” Stone looked at Farnum curiously.

“Yes, of course,” Farnum said, absent-mindedly. “Where’s the boy?”

“At breakfast,” Clay told him. “I sent him to get a tuck-in, to fortify him for his day’s work.”

“Couldn’t you have got these matters wiped off the slate sooner?” Farnum asked, a little petulantly.

“Well, we can’t wipe away a confession before it’s made,” Clay said. “I felt sure there’d be a string of confessions and counter-confessions, but it’s part of the performance. We don’t take much account of ’em, ’ceptin’ as side lights. Now, we’re up against it. We’ve got to settle on the likeliest one, arrest him, and—”

“And then railroad him foolishly into jail as you did young Stafford.”

“Oh, now, now, we ain’t really done young Stafford no harm.”

“But you ought to have known at once that Jack Stafford was innocent,” Stone said, with a stern look.


“What was your chief reason for his arrest?”

“His shoes,” answered Clay, promptly, “Those fancy soles that tracked all over the porch and even along the driveway.”

“Yes, and if you’d had half an eye you’d have seen that Stafford’s shoes couldn’t possibly have made those marks.”

“Why—how—” Clay looked bewildered.

“For the simple reason that the prints on the porch were made by new shoes and Stafford’s shoes are worn off on one side. They are the same style of soles, a popular pattern this year, but the murderer’s shoes were brand new, and Jack’s had been worn quite a lot. Of course, this didn’t show on the driveway, but on the porch, the marks were clear and plain, and showed definitely a brand new shoe.”

“Whyn’t you tell us, Mr. Stone?”

“It was your business to see it for yourself. Now, for the Lord’s sake, don’t go and muddle up all these confessions. You have three, made, apparently in good faith. But it isn’t probable the whole three did the crimes, either jointly or severally, and you must be careful, or the real criminal will slip through your fingers yet. I’m not criticizing your work, Inspector, but I do feel now as if you had the game in your hands and as if you were going to muff it.”

But the worm was ready now to turn.

“Thank you, Mr. Stone,” and Middleton’s voice was icy, “but I think we can play our own game, and without assistance. You have your own methods, they seem strange to me, judging from a girl’s underclothes and all that, but if, as you hint, we have the game in our own hands, it’s certainly no thanks to you.”

“Not at all,” Stone spoke blandly; “But I can’t help hoping you will get the right intent of those confessions, for they, taken all together, hold the very kernel of the truth of the matter.”

Clay looked at Stone wistfully, and glanced at Middleton. Apparently he saw there was no use in urging that the Inspector depend more on Stone’s help for the irritable Middleton had, it was evident, small use for the New York detective.

“Remember,” he said, a little teasingly, “they can’t all three be guilty, they can’t all three have the same motive, but they can, all three, be shielding one another. Watch your step, to find out which is which.”

And with this somewhat cryptic utterance, Stone left the room.

Unostentatiously, Clay followed him.

The policemen joined the other detective and they walked along the path to the arbor, where they sat down.

“Are you willing to tell me all you know, Mr. Stone?” Clay asked, in his hesitant way.

“I might have been, but for the Inspector’s remarks. Now, wait, don’t think I am pettish or miffed; it is only that Mr. Middleton says it’s no thanks to me that the police have the game in their own hands. Lord knows I don’t want thanks, but I do like to see justice done. Now, even with the help I have given them, and I hold I have helped, the police will never get at the truth of this matter. And the reason for that is that they will never understand the motive for the deeds. They are looking on it as an ordinary case. It is far from being an ordinary case. As I’ve often said, there is no mystery in this world; there is only lack of knowledge. Now, the knowledge that would make the truth of these murders plain and clear is in full view, if one has but the perspicacity to see it.”

“I wish I could see it,” and Clay’s deep drawn sigh was despairing.

“Well, keep at it, and perhaps you may. You’re far more likely to do so than the Inspector is.”

“I found out a few facts from that Mrs. Bell, as she calls herself. Before she left this morning, I had a heart to heart talk with her, and gee-whillikens, Mr. Stone, but those two kids were bad ones! Mimi was just a—well, we won’t use harsh names, we’ll say she was promiscuous. But Rosalie, now, she was an adventuress, out for the goods of any sort.”


“I’ll say so! And liar and,—well, she could have been a murderer, if the chance came her way.”

“And her victim?”

“Would have been Mimi, of course. You see, those two girls were after the Berkeley necklace, and were pretending they were in cahoots, but they weren’t. Each was on her own, and would have killed the other if she’d had a good opportunity, and if it would have netted her the pearls.”

“You’re assuming a lot about two pretty little girls.”

“Assuming nothing. Mrs. Bell gave me the low down. And pretty little girls of to-day’s vintage and Chicago grown, are mighty hard-boiled propositions. No, those babies were at the root of the whole trouble, and they got their comeuppance, for which this rotten old world is at least, that much the better. Well, I see you’re not in any confidential mood this morning, so I’ll leave you. Sorry old Muddleton sassed you, but it seems it’s boomeranged back on him. How about that Paddy Palooski?”

“What about him?”

“Could he have been the killer person?”

“Heavens, no! He’s a musical genius and they never run to deeds of violence.”

“Yeah?” and Clay eyed the detective sharply.

“Well, I’ve a little looking in to do in his case. Good morning, I’ll pump you again some other time.”

Stone smiled as he watched the disappointed man walk away. He had liked Clay from the start, but the policeman was lacking in initiative, and moreover, handicapped by the Inspector’s sometimes absurd orders.

Then, seeing Farnum beckoning from the porch, Stone went back to the house.

He found Middleton had gone also, and the family were gathered in the small book room.

Stone sensed something in the air that gave him a grim foreboding. Who was going to confess now, he wondered.

He found the three Berkeleys, and Paddy Potter awaiting him, and he and Farnum went in and closed the door.

“I have called this meeting,” Farnum said, as soon as they were seated, “to make a little statement that seems due about now. Also,” he smiled slightly, “to make a confession.”

Stone didn’t smile at this, the look on Mayo’s face was too grave.

“I killed those two girls,” Farnum went on, in a quiet, even voice. “These other confessions made by the family were all the result of mistaken belief in one another’s guilt. Miss Winslow, panic stricken lest her nephew be accused made her false confession. Then Linus, to save his sister-in-law, declared his guilt. Then Lowell, to shield his father and also his aunt, took the blame on himself. Now these were all noble gestures, but a child could see through them. The real truth is that I murdered those two girls, that I did it with premeditation, and that I did it for the good of all concerned.

“I hated to see my young friend married to Rosalie, who has a defect which makes it wicked for her to marry into a fine American family. Later, when he transferred his affections to Mimi, I found it necessary to commit a crime again, and I did so. I would do more than that to save Linus Berkeley’s son from a broken, a shattered life. I am telling this true story to you people, and I leave it to your judgment what is best to do. I’ve no desire to pay the penalty for my deeds, but if you agree that I ought to do so, I stand ready. I have no regrets, no remorse, and if I had it all to do over again, I should do exactly the same.”

“Care to give us details?” said Fleming Stone, looking at him squarely.

“No. I tell you what I did, but I do not propose to answer a lot of questions. If you turn me over to the police, which is, of course, your bounden duty, I’ll give them a minute account. But here and now, there’s no occasion for such a course.”

“Not the slightest,” said Linus Berkeley, thoughtfully, and looking at Farnum as if he had never seen him before. “Mayo, you’re a wonder! This is a case where we are agonized by our loving friends.”

“Don’t take time for jesting,” begged Stone, seemingly hard hit by this new revelation. “Let’s see what we can do about it all.”

“There’s only one thing to do,” said Lowell, bluntly. “That is, of course, hush it all up, right here and now. Farnum has saved me from a life of misery and I am not insensible to his great deed. I see now, —I’ve learned things, that for me to marry either of these girls would have been hell—and worse than hell for me. Uncle Mayo, as I used to call him, has rescued me from such a fate and I only want to do my part, whatever it may be, in hushing up the whole thing.”

Maria looked bewildered. She had felt so sure of Lowell’s guilt that she had been willing to sacrifice her own life to shield him. Was he guilty, and was he gladly accepting Farnum’s sacrifice instead? For Maria wasn’t sure the matter could be hushed up so easily as all that.

Her thoughts were broken in upon by Linus’ voice. “Yes, you are a wonder, Mayo,” he repeated. “How did you come to think up that particular fairy tale? Well, as Stone says, we’ve no time for unnecessary talk, so let’s get down to brass tacks. Four people in this room know the real truth, and only four. And the two who do not know it, are the two I would most gladly conceal it from. But that may not be. Maria, Lowell,—you two are still in the dark as to the murderer’s identity. It was I who committed the two murders. No one can contradict me now, for all but you two know the main facts.”

There was a dead silence, and no one contradicted Linus Berkeley’s statement.

Both Lowell and Maria, who had fought the idea, realized now that they had known all the time, but would not acknowledge it even to themselves.

“I do not propose,” Linus went on, “to ask any leniency or to make any excuses, but one or two things I do want to clear up. First, as to motive. Do you remember Rosalie’s dark, curly hair?”

“I ought to,” Stone said; “I secured a few hairs and took them to be examined by an expert. He told me—”

“Yes,” Linus said, quietly, “he told you that that curly hair was not the result of a permanent wave, but was the crisp, kinky hair that proves a strain of negro blood. I, also, had this vouched for, and I went South, looked up the girl’s family records and learned beyond all doubt, she was the daughter of one of the Buchanans and a quadroon maid employed in their household. This mother was the mammy’ who had cared for Rosalie all her life, though not living with her at any time. Never mind details, you can imagine what it means to a Virginian gentleman to have his son contract an alliance with one who has even the slightest trace of negro blood. I took up the matter with Lowell, not telling him the entire truth, but enough to see that nothing would make him give her up. If I persisted in my refusal to allow the marriage, they would elope.

Knowing my lad to be as stubborn as I am myself,” he gave Lowell an affectionate smile, “it seemed to me there was but one thing to do. Eliminate Rosalie. I tried to buy her off, but no amount would tempt her to give up the prestige of being connected with our family. So, I built up what seemed to me a perfect crime. I lured her downstairs that night by slipping a note under her door to come down at a certain hour to finish up a difficult puzzle to which I had discovered the key word. She came, of course, and baiting her with a promise of the pearls, which she knew all about, I caused her to put her arm and her head into the old desk. She had no thought of danger and when she was in exactly the right position, I brought down the roll-top swiftly enough to kill her at once, and make it impossible for her to cry out.”

“And the cot?” said Stone, interested in the clews.

“A planted clew, of course. As was the red ink, the pencil on the floor, the disarranged word books and other odds and ends. Perhaps I overdid that, but I was bound not to be suspected if I could help it. I knew of Jane’s acute hearing powers, so I was very careful to wear old slippers and take the stairs as quietly as possible. The rest you know, as to the first murder. I did it as Mayo expresses it, with premeditation, and for the good of all concerned. I would most certainly do it again in a similar circumstance. If it damns my immortal soul forever, it is cheap at the price to save my boy’s happiness. I was not much surprised when Maria and Lowell essayed to take the guilt to themselves, but I was overcome when Mayo followed suit. My dear old friend, of many years, you are indeed true blue!”

“What about Mimi?” growled Farnum, a bit embarrassed. “Can I have her?”

“No. I soon found that my fickle lad was turning his affections in her directions, and I sighed as I saw I had another girl to get rid of by fair means or foul. I did hope it could be fair, for Mimi was a regular baddun! But Lowell was even more gone on her than he had been on Rosalie, which is saying a heap! So, again my shoulder to the wheel. Oh, I know you all think there were other ways out, but there weren’t. I have the stubbornest will in the world, except for Lowell, who beats me, hands down. I set to work, and, running true to form, I resorted to a variant of the same procedure. The window chanced to be just the right height, and I persuaded the girl to meet me downstairs by the simple ruse of asking her to elope with me. Oh, yes, I had more or less led up to this by judicious love making, and she came willingly enough. I told her I had heart trouble,—Lord knows I had!—and that she might be a widow shortly. This clinched it, for it assured her of the Lowell name, fortune and pearls. I told her to bring no big bag for we could buy all she wanted en route. By cajolery, I got her head in the right position and let the window down as I had the roll top. I bought those shoes because the rubber soles made no noise, but I had no idea Stafford had the same pattern, and was shocked at that bit of business. Had he stayed under arrest I was just about to tell the truth and free him. Paddy saw me, coming or going or both, so I knew my alibi was in his hands —and, therefore, safe! I felt I had again committed the perfect crime, but I knew too that such crimes always have a flaw or two that upsets the apple cart. Now, as the speakers perorate, I think that is about all. As in the first murder, so in the second. I have no remorse or regret. I am not proud of my deeds, but neither am I ashamed of them. If necessary, I will pay the penalty exacted by man. There will be none called for by a just God. To marry either of those girls meant a ruined life for my boy. To persuade him to give up either of them was impossible. My motive was pure and sincere and though I transgressed a man-made law, I have violated no divine command. I am religious, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. If I must go from this world, I go willingly, I make no remonstrance. You here, from Lowell to Paddy are my dear friends, my future is in your hands. If it is your judgment that I should give myself up to justice I stand ready to do so and face the consequences. If, on the other hand, you feel—”

“You bet we feel,” cried Lowell; “give yourself up to justice, indeed! Where is any justice to give yourself up to? When I confessed to save Aunt Maria, I had a shadowy vision of the truth. Now that I know it, I revere and honor you, Dad, as a grand old man! The rest of you can think as you like, I say that my father has committed no crime, and since what he has done might be misconstrued as a crime, it must be buried in the hearts of these friends here who know and love him. Jane and Colly need know nothing of what has been said here this morning. Except for my own stubborn pig-headness, there is no blame to be attached in any way to the name of Berkeley.”

“Good for you, boy,” said Farnum, looking at him affectionately, though unable to rid himself entirely of the view that the whole trouble was due to Lowell’s selfishness and obstinacy, “this matter must go no further. I have confidence enough in human nature to believe that we all present agree to wipe out from our memory the knowledge we have just achieved and present a bland, unknowing countenance to the arm of the law when as and if it reaches forth. I know we can persuade them that the confessions of last night contradict one another, and so mean just nothing at all.”

“You’ve said it all, Mayo,” Stone declared. “I subscribe and agree to all you say, and I’m sure the rest here do also. Miss Maria and Lowell, I think we needn’t even ask, and Paddy—anything to say, old man? Do you agree to the keeping quiet plan?”

“I wish you wouldn’t ask me questions,” came the petulant voice, on the verge of tears now from nervous excitement. “But I wanter tell you,—Mr. Stone, he was onto all this all the way along.”

“Tut, tut, Paddy,” said Stone, reprovingly, “you promised to keep our little confabs dark. Forget ’em. If you don’t, I’ll pester you with questions,” and Potter subsided.

“All right,” he gave out, as a parting shot, “but Mr. Stone he did know it all. Why, he asked me to hunt up that red ink string before you did, Mr. Berkeley, and then when you got it first, he just laughed and said it was all the same to know you wanted it as to have it himself.”

“Oh, I didn’t know all,” said Stone, trying to treat the matter lightly; “how did you get the girl’s head in position the second time, Mr. Berkeley?”

“You know that, Paddy,” and Linus looked grave as he turned to Potter. “Tell him.”

“Yessir. Why, he just said, ‘Put your throat right on the sill, dearie,’ he says, ‘and then I can lift you over,’ and she did. He was outside on the porch, you see.”

“Never mind further details,” said Stone, quickly, who hadn’t realized they would be so gruesome. “At least, not unpleasant ones. Why did you leave the pearls in the bag, Mr. Berkeley? And how did you leave New York and get back there so soon?”

“I left the pearls there because I thought it the safest place for them. And the train trip was merely a matter of connections. I came up on an excursion train to Marblehead, and hung around there until time for action. Then I went back to New York later, and next day, picked up Mrs. Bell and returned.”

“I followed your movements correctly then,” Stone said, looking at Linus. “But I felt all the time that you had me in on this thing because I was staying with Mayo, and you couldn’t decently leave me out. So, I didn’t feel like tripping you up at any time.”

“How long have I been under your suspicions, Mr. Stone?”

“Almost from the first, Mr. Berkeley. Your planted clews were pretty thick, there were too many books out of place, too many cigarette stubs, and too many bizarre incidents in the desk. I soon saw that the bottle of red ink had been pulled over by a string, the string left its mark as it was drawn from the desk, and the cot, while very clever, was a bit too much, on top of all the rest. Then Paddy suspected you so strongly, and tried so hard to hide his suspicion that it was noticeable. So I watched him, and learned a lot. Then, when Mimi announced that she had burned all Rosalie’s papers and letters, your expression of relief and satisfaction was so great any one could have read it who was at all noticing. I was sure you felt glad that some letters or notes of yours were destroyed. So, in one way and another, you continually failed to conceal your thoughts and as no one warned you against this, your face became more and more an open book, which I could read as I ran. Another mistake was getting those new golf shoes. To be sure, you had no idea they were like Stafford’s, but aside from that, they were indicative. Nobody buys new golf shoes as late in the season as this, and the clear, plain prints you made with them on the porch, was enough of a clew to send me flying to the shoe store at Marblehead to see who had bought them.”

“Why Marblehead?”

“Oleander Park was out of the question. So I tried Marblehead as the most appropriate place, but was ready to push on my search if necessary. I was not hounding you down, Mr. Berkeley. When I found that Mayo was sure you were his quarry, and gave up the chase, I was ready to do the same, and I checked up on your movements more to help you if it later became advisable.”

“You’re a good scout, Stone,” Linus choked a little; “I don’t deserve such friends as you and Mayo.”

“And Paddy,” added Stone, kindly, as he saw the devotion in the musician’s eyes. “He helped you a lot here and there. When he brushed those new shoe prints from the rug in this room, I could have hugged him. It told me he knew about your visit there, and it kept the same information from the police.”

“And Jane,” put in Maria. “She has been loyal, Linus. I don’t know that she definitely suspected anything, but she was on the watch, and on the defensive.”

“Jane’s a brick,” said Lowell, so earnestly that Linus looked at him quickly.

“You keep right on that way of thinking, boy,” his father said, with a serious note in his voice.

“Well,” Farnum said, rising, “I guess we’ll be for getting along, Fleming. Don’t do anything or say anything, Linus. What you’ve said this morning will never be repeated. Walls may have ears but they haven’t tongues, and it won’t be long before the Berkeley affair will be past history and forgotten.”

“Good-by, Mr. Berkeley,” Stone said, holding out his hand. “I offer you my respect and my congratulation. You found yourself in a mighty difficult position, from which you saw only one way out and you took it. You had the highest and finest motive possible, and it goes to prove that Love will find a Way.”


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