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Title: Madame Storey Intervenes Author: Hulbert Footner * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1000101h.html Language: English Date first posted: Jan 2020 Most recent update: July 2020 This eBook was produced by Colin Choat and Roy Glashan. Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg of Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html To contact Project Gutenberg of Australia go to http://gutenberg.net.au
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IN order to recuperate from the strain of the tremendous publicity that followed upon her success in the famous case of the Smoke Bandit, Mme. Storey retired for a few days to the house of her close friends, the Andrew Lipscombs, who lived in the Connecticut hills remote from any neighbor. I accompanied my employer, since she insisted that I needed a holiday as well as herself.
We simply locked up, our offices and went away, leaving the telephone to ring, the mail to accumulate, and the hordes of curiosity-seekers to mill around the door as they would. We supposed that we had kept the place of our retreat a secret from all, but that fond hope was soon dissipated. Late on the night of our arrival, as we were playing bridge with our friends in the blessed quietude of their house, my employer was called to the telephone.
She returned to the card table with the grave remote look that I knew so well, her working look, and my heart sank.
"Well, Bella, we have another case," she said.
I laid down my cards. It was useless to protest, of course.
"There's been a terrible affair down at Fremont-on-the-Sound," she went on. "A gentleman has been found shot dead in his study, and a young girl has been arrested. The man who called me up, evidently the girl's lover, begged me to come and try to get her off. His voice coming through the receiver had an extraordinary quality; young an manly; shaken with grief and agitation; yet proud and confident of his girl; it won me completely. I said I would drive right down."
"Murder?" said Mr. Lipscomb, startled, "and so close to, us? Who's been murdered?"
"Good God!" cried our host, springing up. "Why, he's the great man of the neighborhood. His house, Fernhurst, is one of the show places! Who is said to have killed him?"
"The girl's name is Laila Darnall."
Both Mr. and Mrs. Lipscomb stared at my employer in a stupefied fashion. The former was the first to find his voice.
"Merciful Heaven!" he gasped. "She's his ward! Said to be richer than he is. An exquisite young creature; a sort of golden princess; we see her being whisked about in automobiles from one great country house to another. Oh, this will create a terrible sensation! Who called you up?"
"He called himself Alvan Wayger."
"I never heard of him."
"A sort of princess!" Mrs. Lipscomb echoed, aghast. "With everything in the world a girl could wish for! Why on earth should she want to kill her guardian?"
"I don't know," said Mme. Storey. We must go and find out. Will you lend me a car and a chauffeur?"
"Certainly. I'll go with you for a bit of extra protection. I suppose you'll be out the rest of the night. It's near midnight now."
The distance was about twenty miles and we made it in better than thirty minutes.
Fernhurst proved to be an immense country house built of stone in the elaborate style of twenty-five years ago, and standing in its own private park. The house was all lighted but we found it perfectly deserted except for a solitary constable on guard, and the young man who had telephoned to Mme. Storey.
He was a striking looking fellow with a shock of shining black hair, and fiery dark eyes. Somewhat rough in dress and abrupt in manner, but with a glance full of resolution and capacity. It was that kind of terribly direct glance which is disconcerting to ordinary persons, but it is always a sure passport to Mme. Storey's favor.
In spite of his grinding anxiety, his whole face softened at the sight of my employer's beauty. It was a fine tribute.
"I never thought you would be like this," he murmured.
They wasted no time in exchanging amenities.
The young man explained that everybody in the house had just gone down to the magistrate's in the village, where a preliminary hearing was about to be held.
"We mustn't miss anything that takes place at that hearing," Mme. Storey said crisply. "Drive on down, Bella, and take notes of the proceedings. I will follow as soon as I have looked over the ground here."
I was directed to a large old-fashioned double house standing at the head of one of the village streets. This was the residence of Judge Waynham, the magistrate.
Already there were half a dozen cars standing in the road, and a knot of people whispering at the gate. A strange sight at midnight in the quiet village! Mr. Lipscomb, who did not wish to intrude himself in any way, waited in the car. Inside, there were people all over the house. No one questioned my presence.
The magistrate had not yet come downstairs and everybody was standing about with frozen, horrified faces. A maidservant was threading her way back and forth among them. The judge's office was in the back parlor on the left hand side, and everybody tried to push in there, a quaint room which suggested the era of 1885.
I saw the accused girl sitting on a little sofa with her face hidden on the shoulder of a youngish woman in black. Picture a slender, silken girl wearing a flower-like evening dress of printed chiffon and a white fur cloak which had slipped back. I could not see her face, but the short fair curls that showed against her slender neck were somehow most piteous. She was making no sound, but her delicate girlish shoulders were shaken with sobs.
It was too dreadful to think of anything so fresh and young and fair in connection with murder. As more and more people crowded in, they opened the folding doors into the front parlor.
The distracted maidservant was bringing in chairs. I maneuvered myself alongside a comfortable village matron who looked promising as a source of information. She whispered to me that the lady in black was Mr. Suydam's housekeeper, Miss Beckington.
A good-looking woman of thirty-five I should have said, who appeared younger; very modish, very efficient, one guessed, though at present the tears were rolling down her checks as she held the girl close.
Miss Beckington was something more than a mere housekeeper, my informant added, since she was a person of good family herself, and perfectly capable of acting as hostess to Mr. Suydam's guests.
She was wearing a plain black morning dress, a close-fitting hat and a raccoon coat. Near these two sat a portly, nervous-looking elderly gentleman, fingering his watch chain. This I learned was Judge Gray, the girl's lawyer.
The magistrate entered the room. He had forgotten to brush his hair and it stood straight up all over his head in a very odd fashion. A rosy, kindly old gentleman, he was so nervous and distressed he scarcely knew what he was saying.
"Who are all these people?" he demanded. "After all, this is my private house!"
Nobody answered him, and he was obliged to accept the crowd. He had the constable shepherd everybody but the principals into the front room.
I got myself a chair in the second row where I could use my notebook without being conspicuous.
Judge Waynham sat at his desk facing the rest of us, and a scared village stenographer took a place beside him with her notebook.
"Laveel," said the magistrate sharply, "you made the arrest, I assume. It is your place to lay a charge."
This was the chief constable, a tall, lanky man with a good humored, heavily-seamed face. Like everybody else connected with the case he seemed completely overcome. He stood beside the magistrate's desk hanging his head as if he were the guilty one, and mumbled in a scarcely audible voice:
"I charge Miss Laila Darnall with the murder of her guardian, Cornelius Suydam."
One could feel a shiver go through the room. Suddenly the girl sprang to her feet, showing us all a white and agonized face, the face of a terrified and uncomprehending child.
Her slender frame was racked with sobs, but her eyes were dry.
I shall never forget that desperate face.
Though the other woman and the lawyer tried to silence her, she cried out:
"How could I--how could I have done such a thing? Don't you believe me? Have I not a friend here? Why has everybody turned against me? I am the, same girl!"
Perceiving three handsomely dressed ladies sitting in the front row--these, I learned, were her cousins--she ran to them crying:
"Helen! Isabel! You believe me, don't you? You know I could not have done such a thing. Tell them all that you believe me!"
"Hush, Laila!" said one of them in cold correct tones. "Yes we believe you. But let the proceedings go on."
Laila turned from her in despair.
"Haven't I a friend here?" she cried.
Miss Beckington held out her arms.
"Come, dear," she said tenderly, while the tears rolled down her cheeks. "I am your friend. I know you could not have done it!"
The girl flung herself into her arms.
"Oh, thank you! Thank you!" she murmured, weeping freely at last. "Forgive me because I have not always been friendly toward you. Once I thought you were cold and unfeeling."
They sank down on the sofa together. It was very affecting, the more so because one could see that Miss Beckington was ordinarily a somewhat hard and self-controlled young woman.
"Do you wish to answer to this charge, my child?" asked Judge Waynham.
"I didn't do it! I didn't do it!" she cried without raising her face from Miss Beckington's shoulder.
"The prisoner pleads not guilty," murmured the magistrate to his stenographer. "Who is your complaining witness?" he asked the constable.
"Mr. Lumley, your honor, Mr. Suydam's butler."
This man stepped forward to testify. A large, soft-looking man with a dead white skin, he was obviously educated and intelligent, and made a very good impression. He kept glancing at his young mistress commiseratingly. His obvious unwillingness to testify against her, gave his evidence all the more deadly effect.
While he was speaking Mme. Storey and Alvan Wayger entered the front parlor from the hall, and took seats in the darkest corner.
I had a great curiosity concerning this interesting young man who was said to be the heiress's lover. The village matron was still beside me. Calling her attention to him, I asked who he was.
"Oh, that's Alvan Wayger," she said indifferently. "He's nobody in particular. New people here. Haven't made friends much. They say he's a clever inventor, but I never heard of his inventions. Lives with his mother in a little house across the railway tracks. That's his mother against wall across the room."
I saw a plain, middle-aged won glancing at her son and his unknown companion with that peculiar jealousy that one sometimes sees in the faces of mothers with an only son. It is a sad thing to see.
Mme. Storey, who had just arrived, had draped a light veil around the brim of her hat so that she could see all without being recognized. Lumley, the butler, testified as follows:
"My name is Alfred Lumley. I have been employed by Mr. Cornelius Suydam as butler for the past four years. At the present time the household consists of Mr. Suydam, his ward, Miss Darnall, his housekeeper, Miss Beckington, myself butler, Mrs. Finucane cook, and five maids. There is also Dugan the engineer, who has a room in the basement; Leavitt, the gardener, who lives with his family in a cottage at the park gates; and Pressley and Gordon, chauffeurs, unmarried men who board with the gardener's wife.
"I retired tonight shortly before eleven. There were no guests in the house, and I believed at the time that everybody was in bed except my master, whom I left reading in his study, as was his custom. The study occupies a separate wing of the house, somewhat cut off from the other rooms.
"I was in bed, but had not fallen asleep when I heard the muffled sound of a shot. Had I been asleep I should probably not have heard it. But I knew it came from inside the house. You could tell by the ring of it. I sprang out of bed and flung on my clothes. I heard the clock of St. Agnes's strike eleven. My room is on the third floor of the house.
"I didn't attempt to waken any of the women folks, but ran down the two flights of stairs. I knocked on the library door. No answer. I tried the door. It was locked."
"One moment," interrupted Judge Waynham, "was it your master's custom to lock the door when he was in his library?"
"No, sir. No, indeed, sir."
"Well, go on."
"I called loudly. There was no answer. My first thought was of robbers. The safe was in the library. I could not tell how many people there might be, and I was afraid to venture outside the house alone. So I ran down to the basement and wakened Dugan. He was provided with a gun and electric torches.
"He threw on his clothes and came with me. We went out the front door and around the house to the library windows. There is a big bay with French windows opening directly on the terrace. The windows were open."
"Cool as it is?" interrupted the magistrate.
"It was my master's custom, sir the room was brightly lighted. We saw--"
Lumley hesitated, and a shudder went through his stout frame.
"Go on," prompted Judge Waynham.
"My master was seated at his desk in the center of the room. His head had fallen forward on the desk blotter. There was a bullet hole just back of the left temple. His blood had spread over the desk and was already dripping to the floor. He was dead. The door of the safe stood wide open. Beside it, lying open and face down on the rug was a little memorandum book. I recognized it as a book my master always carried upon his person. On the open page was written down the combination of the safe. . The safe was full of papers, none of which appeared to have been disturbed, but there was a little drawer which had been pulled out and emptied. An emptied jewel box lay beside it."
"Do you mean to say," interrupted Judge Waynham, "that Mr. Suydam sat in that brightly lighted room late at night with the windows open and unshuttered?"
"Such was his custom, sir," said Lumley deprecatingly. "I had ventured to remonstrate with him about it, but he only laughed at the idea of personal danger. The windows were protected by copper screens, of course. The murderer had fired through the screen, and had then raised it to enter."
"Well, go on."
"Dugan and I searched outside with the electric torches. Bordering the terrace is a flower bed, and in the loose earth of the bed we immediately found the tracks of the murderer where he had come and where he had left again. Only one set of tracks. They appeared to be those of a large man wearing rubbers, but there was a peculiarity in the tracks."
"Please explain yourself."
"Well, in the middle of the print of each foot there was a roughness which suggested to both of us that the rubbers had been tied to the wearer's feet by strips of rag or something of that sort."
The man's story was almost too painful to follow. A deathly silence filled the room which suggested that his hearers were actually holding their breath.
"We followed the tracks to the edge of the flower bed," he went on. "In the grass we lost them, but knowing that a person leaving a place in a hurry usually runs in a straight line, I kept on in the same direction. This took us across a rosebed in the center of the lawn, and here I found the tracks again. By taking a line with the library window and the rose bed we were enabled to find the tracks again where the murderer had struck into the woods. A little way in the woods we came to a place where the earth had been recently disturbed."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, a hole had been dug, and hastily filled in again. We dug there and found first a pair of old over shoes gray with dust and dried mud; secondly a thirty-two caliber automatic pistol; thirdly several pieces of diamond jewelry tied up in a woman's handkerchief. Dugan immediately recognized the overshoes as an old pair that he used in the winter when he shoveled snow. He had last seen them lying beside the furnace pit where they had been dropped and forgotten."
Lumley hesitated, with a piteous glance in the direction of his young mistress.
"Go on! Go on!" said Judge Waynham impatiently.
"The tracks that led away from that place had been made by a woman," said Lumley very reluctantly. "She was wearing what is called, I think, a common sense shoe, that is a shoe with a moderately broad toe and a low heel. The tracks led us toward the main driveway, but we lost them in the grass before we got there, and, of course, the hard driveway revealed nothing. So we turned back toward the house meaning to call the police."
His voice sank.
"As we approached the house we saw a figure standing in the driveway, its back toward us. The figure of a woman. We stepped into the grass to avoid giving warning of our approach. A moment later I recognized Miss Darnall." A low murmur of horror escaped from the listeners.
"When I touched her she screamed," Lumley went on, "I thought she was about to collapse in a faint."
The girl suddenly cried out:
"Was that strange? Was that strange? A man coming up on you in the dark without warning!"
Judge Gray and Miss Beckington quieted her.
"I led her into the house," Lumley went on unhappily. "As soon as we got in the light I saw that though she was dressed just as you see her now, that she was wearing shoes with broad toes and low heels. Moreover the gun was quickly identified as one which had been given her by Mr. Suydam some months ago. It was his opinion that everybody ought to be furnished with the means of personal defense. One shot had been fired from it. The handkerchief was also Miss Darnall's. It has her initials embroidered on it."
There was a silence. The girl's shuddering sobs could be heard. Miss Beckington patted her shoulder. Judge Waynham wiped his agitated face on his handkerchief.
"Well, is that all you have to say?" he asked.
"Not quite all, sir," said Lumley in an almost inaudible voice, while we in the front room leaned forward to hear. "I had Miss Beckington roused up, and I delivered Miss Darnall into her care. I forced Miss Darnall to take off one of her shoes--I thought it my duty to do so, and Dugan and I returned to the woods with it. I had read somewhere that the proper procedure was not to attempt to fit the shoe into the suspected tracks, but to make a new impression alongside. This I did. I am sorry to say that the impressions corresponded exactly. That is all I have to say, sir. When I got back to the house I telephoned for the police."
Laveel, the constable, laid the sport shoe on the desk.
"One question," said Judge Waynham. "How could Miss Darnall ever have got hold of those overshoes? I assume she was not in the habit of visiting the cellar."
"I asked that question of Dugan, sir," said Lumley. "He told me that a week ago when he was confined to his bed by an attack of tonsilitis, Miss Laila came down to his room to visit him. To reach his room she had to pass the furnace. She must have seen the overshoes then."
The girl tore herself out of the protecting arm of Miss Beckington. Her soft young face worked piteously.
"It's a lie!" she cried. "I never saw the overshoes until to-night! It's all lies! I--I--"
Judge Gray put an arm around her shoulders.
"My child," he said soothingly, "be silent! This is neither the time nor the place. You must be guided by me."
She sprang to her feet.
"Let me be!" she cried hysterically. "I will speak! I won't have these people thinking I did this awful thing! I can explain everything. I have nothing to conceal. I had been out of the house ever since nine o'clock," she went on wildly and incoherently. "As for my shoes, I always put on sport shoes when I went out in the park at night. Would they have me wear slippers? Since nine o'clock! I heard no shot. I didn't know anything was the matter. But when I got back to the house I found that the hall was lighted up and the front door standing open. So I was afraid to go in. That's why I was standing there looking at the house.
"My handkerchief? My handkerchief, I still have it with me. One wouldn't carry two. In the pocket of my cape--"
Turning, she searched with frantic trembling hands in the folds of the cape.
"It's here--I'll show you."
Then a despairing cry:
"Oh, it's gone! I swear I had it awhile ago!"
She dropped on the sofa shaken with fresh sobs. It was an unspeakably painful exhibition.
"What did you go out of the house for?" Judge Waynham asked gently. "You don't need to answer unless you wish."
"Yes, Yes, I will answer," she cried, striving hard for self-control. "I went out to meet my--to meet the man I am engaged to marry. He wasn't allowed to come to the house, I was forbidden to see him. That's why I had to meet him by stealth. I'm not ashamed of it. It's Alvan Wayger."
A soft, long-drawn Oh-h! of astonishment escaped from the listeners. In a village where everybody prided themselves on knowing everything, this was a startling disclosure. The heiress and the poor young inventor! Everybody looked at the handsome dark young man who sat there with a perfectly blank mask upon his face.
So far as I had observed the two had not once looked at each other during the proceedings. Judge Waynham energetically polished his glasses. When he recovered from his surprise, he looked relieved. I think we all had the same thought: perhaps, after all, here was a perfectly natural explanation of the girl's movements.
"Will you answer a few questions, Mr. Wayger?" asked the judge.
"Certainly, sir," said the young man, marching up to his desk.
"Miss Darnall met you in the park at Fernhurst to-night?"
"Yes, sir. We had an appointment to meet at nine o'clock at a certain stone bench under an elm tree near the entrance gates."
"How long did she remain with you?"
"About two hours, sir."
"Can't you tell me exactly what time you left her?"
"No, sir, I didn't look."
"Did you then go straight home?"
"How long does it take you to walk home?"
"Fifteen minutes, sir."
"At what time did you reach home?"
"I cannot tell you exactly, sir, I took no notice."
Here there was an interruption from the front room.
"If you please, judge, I can tell you," said a bitter voice.
Mrs. Wayger, the young man's mother, had risen. She cast a look of jealous dislike on the girl.
"I was lying awake when my son came home," she said.
"After he was in his room I heard the clock in St. Agnes's steeple strike eleven."
She sat down again. Young Wayger received this without a sign of emotion beyond lowering his head slightly. His face was not hard, but simply inscrutable.
For my part, I could not help but sympathize with his determination not to betray his private feelings before that gaping crowd. Judge Waynham's face fell.
"So," he said heavily, "then it appears you must have left her at a quarter to eleven or earlier." Wayger made no answer.
"Miss Laila," said Judge Waynham, turning to the girl, "if Mr. Wayger left you at a quarter to eleven, and Lumley found you at a, quarter past eleven, what had you been doing during that half hour? You need not answer unless you wish."
We all held our breath waiting for what she would say.
"I will--answer--I will answer," she stammered. "I hadn't been doing anything, just walking up and down the driveway. I was greatly troubled in my mind. I was trying to think--to think of some way out!"
It was a deplorably lame answer.
In spite of his iron self-control, I saw a spasm of pain pass across the young man's face. I think we all gave the girl up for lost then.
Judge Waynham's kindly old face was heavy with distress. He tapped his glasses on his desk blotter while he considered. Suddenly a gleam of hope lighted up his eyes.
"The circumstances are unfortunate, most unfortunate," he said, "but no motive for such a terrible deed has been shown, or even suggested. Mr. Wayger, I would like to ask you a few more questions."
The young man signified his readiness to answer.
"What were the relations between Miss Darnall and her guardian?"
"I object!" said Judge Gray instantly.
Judge Waynham wagered a soothing hand in his direction.
"This is only a magistrate's hearing," he said. "You will have your day before a jury later."
He repeated his question of Wayger. That young man's face hardened.
"I don't know that I care to answer that," he said firmly.
"It's not up to me to repeat what I learned from Miss Darnall in confidence."
At this juncture Mme. Storey raised her clear, distinct voice from the back of the room. If you had heard that voice in the dark you would have known that it belonged to some one notable.
"Mr. Wayger, I advise you to answer," she said. "The whole truth must come out. By your apparent reluctance you are only prejudicing Miss Darnall's interest."
All the people goggled at the veiled woman, and looked at each other.
"Who is this?" you could see them saying The young man instantly changed his attitude.
"Very well," he said. "The relations between Miss Darnall and her guardian were bad. He was a very oppressive guardian. He had peculiar notions. It is well known that Miss Darnall's income runs into hundreds of thousands of dollars annually, but he would not allow her a cent of spending money."
"What!" exclaimed Judge Waynham.
"It is quite true, sir. Of course she was provided with everything a fashionable young lady might be supposed to require. She was encouraged to buy whatever she wanted in the shops and have the bills sent in. But she had no money to spend. She was not allowed to drive her own car. In fact she was never allowed out unless accompanied by a chauffeur or a chaperon. All this was very galling on a girl of spirit.
"We wished to get married," he went on in his quiet, self-respecting manner, "but that was quite out of the question, of course. I have all I can do to make ends meet as it is, and Mr. Suydam had absolute control over Miss Darnall's money for two years longer, and partial control for four years after that. He had no use for me at all. He made no bones of calling me an impostor and a fortune hunter. That didn't bother me at all I have my work to do, but it distressed Miss Darnall very much."
"But this has been going on for some time," suggested Judge Waynham. "This would not account for Miss Darnall's special trouble of mind tonight. Can you tell me what caused that?"
"Certainly, sir. It was what we had been talking about all evening. I have completed an invention. I need not go into detail about it. Properly applied, my invention would revolutionize a certain important industry. Well, I have received an offer from the corporation which controls that industry. Miss Darnall was strongly opposed to my accepting the offer. It was not a good offer, and, what's more, there is reason to suppose that they mean to suppress my invention, as is sometimes done.
"Miss Darnall wanted to finance it, so that we could start manufacturing on our own account in competition with the trust. It was not the money she was thinking of so much as the publicity. She believed it would make me famous. But Mr. Suydam had positively refused to let her have the money."
"And the matter was at a critical stage?" asked Judge Waynham.
"Yes, sir. I am forced to accept this offer. Inventors must live."
"Hm!" said the judge unhappily. "What were the conditions of the late Mr. Darnall's will?"
"I see Mr. George Greenfield in the next room," Wayger said. "He is Mr. Suydam's attorney, and he can answer that question better than I can."
Mr. Greenfield was called upon.
He was a handsome, middle-aged man with a youthful air, and a good-tempered expression, the sort of man that children instinctively take to.
As he came forward, he cast a deeply compassionate look on the unfortunate young girl. In answer to Judge Waynham's question, he carefully explained the provisions of her father's will.
I need not repeat them beyond stating that Mr. Suydam was given absolute control of her affairs. In case of Mr. Suydam's death the will provided that Mr. Greenfield himself was to succeed him as Laila's guardian and trustee.
"Do you corroborate what this young man has told us respecting Mr. Suydam's attitude as guardian?" Judge Waynham asked him.
"I'm sorry that I must," he said regretfully; "for Mr. Suydam was one of my best friends. It was not mere harshness that made him behave in this manner. He was actuated by the best of motives. He looked about him and he saw how the young people of today were running wild, as he put it. It was to save Laila from that that he kept her under such strict control. I have often attempted to show him that he was mistaken in his method, but he was a very self-willed man."
"Had you heard anything about this invention of Mr. Wayger's?"
"Yes. Only today I lunched with Mr. Suydam at, Fernhurst. Miss Darnall waylaid me as I arrived, and carried me to her sitting room, where she told me all about it, and implored me to use my influence to persuade her guardian to advance the money necessary to finance Mr. Wayger's invention. But, knowing Mr. Suydam as well as I did, I told her it was useless. The poor girl was much upset. 'Can nothing be done?' she cried."
"And what did you reply?" asked Judge Waynham.
Mr. Greenfield started to answer, then as a sudden realization came to him, caught himself up, and changed color painfully.
"I would rather not answer that," he said in a muffled voice.
"I must insist," said Judge Waynham.
"I answered jestingly," said Mr. Greenfield anxiously. "It had no significance whatever. I said, 'Nothing short of giving Cornelius a whiff of poison gas.' It was only in jest."
"Oh, quite, quite!" said Judge Waynham, and both men laughed in a strained fashion.
But the incident created a very unfortunate impression. Judge Waynham seemed to give up hope. His kindly face sagged with weary discouragement. He hesitated, tapping the blotter with his glasses. He could not bear to condemn that daintily reared girl to a cell, but he had no choice.
"I am reluctantly forced to order that Miss Darnall be--" Mme. Storey interrupted him.
Rising and throwing back her veil, she said in that arresting voice of hers:
"Mr. Magistrate, before you close the case, if I might be permitted to put a few questions in the light of what I have learned."
Judge Waynham's jaw dropped in pure astonishment.
"But, madam, who are you?" he asked.
Alvan Wayger answered for her.
"Mme. Rosika Storey," he announced.
There was a general exclamation of surprise and interest. Every head in the room turned toward my employer as if moved by a common lever. For the moment even the unfortunate Laila Darnall was forgotten. At this time Mime. Storey was the most talked of woman in the country, I suppose. "The cleverest woman in New York," the newspapers were calling her.
Everybody present had the feeling that her entrance into the case would make their insignificant village famous. The good little magistrate flushed and stammered in his gratification.
"But of course, of course. I am honored, Fremont is honored by your presence amongst us, madame. Won't you be good enough to join me on the bench. I mean at my desk."
He relieved his feelings by suddenly shouting for the maid.
"Nettie! Place a chair for Mme. Storey!"
Serenely oblivious to the goggling eyes, my employer seated herself beside him.
"A prima facie case appears to have been made out," she drawled. "Still there are one or two little matters that might be gone into further."
Instantly everybody realized that the case, instead of closing, was only just starting.
"Miss Darnall required a large sum of money," Mme. Storey continued. "Therefore the few pieces of jewelry that were taken could have been of no use to her. The theory is, of course, that she opened the safe and took the jewelry merely to make it appear that robbers had done the deed. A very, very clever plot!
"Well, if she was such a clever plotter, why didn't she plot a little further, and leave a way open to return to the house? She must have realized that some one would likely be awakened by the shot? There is a discrepancy here."
I saw a hope dawn in the magistrate's harassed face.
"I have made a hasty examination of Mr. Suydam's study," Mme. Storey went on, "and--er--some other rooms in the house. Unfortunately for my purposes, the body had already been removed to Mr. Suydam's bedroom. I should therefore like to ask the butler a question or two concerning it, if I may."
Judge Waynham made haste to give an assent.
"Lumley," said Mme. Storey, "you told us you left your master reading when you went to bed. But when you found his body he was sitting at his desk. This was not a position for reading, was it?"
"No, madam. When I found him his fountain pen was still grasped in his right hand, and his left hand was spread on the blotter in such a way as to suggest that it was holding a paper. He was undoubtedly writing at the moment he was shot."
"But the paper itself was gone?"
"This suggests that he was writing something which was of interest to the murderer," remarked Mme. Storey, "who therefore carried it away. That's all for the moment, thanks.
"On Mr. Suydam's desk," she went on to Judge Waynham, "I found an ordinary calendar and memorandum pad on the top leaf of which he had written: 'Write G. G.,' then a dash and the word 'will.' Underneath was another memorandum: 'Write Eva Dinehart.' Now I take it 'G. G.,' is Mr. Greenfield."
That gentleman spoke up for himself.
"Yes, madam; such was Mr. Suydam's nickname for me."
"Had you had any discussion with him to-day about his will?"
"No, madam, it was not mentioned."
"Have you his will?"
"Yes, madam, I drew it up. It is kept in my safe."
"Had you had any talk with him that would make it necessary for him to write to you?"
"No, madam. Whatever it was, it must have come up after I had gone."
"What time did you leave him?"
"Thank you. Now Lumley, what did your master do after Mr. Greenfield had gone?"
"He had Miss Beckington into the library, madame," the butler answered with a wondering air.
None of us could see which way this questioning was tending.
"It was their day for going over the household bills."
"Can you tell me anything about what took place between them?"
"Why do you hesitate?"
"Well, there was an incident which was a little unusual."
"What was that?"
"Mr. Suydam called on the phone, and asked me to connect him with Central. Ordinarily he would let me get him what he wanted."
"You listened?" suggested Mme. Storey with a bland air.
"Well--yes, ma'am," said the butler in some confusion. "Mr. Suydam asked for information. He read the names of three New York business firms over the wire, and asked to be given their telephone numbers. I remember the firms. They were: N. Hamill & Sons, Nicholas Enslin, and Dobler & Levine. Information reported to him that no such firms were listed."
"What did your master do after Miss Beckington left him?"
"Went to the country club to play golf, madam."
"And Miss Beckington?"
"She went into the city by train."
"Rather a hasty trip, wasn't it?"
"So it might seem, madam."
"When did she get back?"
"Just before dinner."
"Carrying several parcels?"
"Yes," said the butler, with a loop of surprise, "now that you mention it."
"Wasn't that rather unusual?"
"Yes, ma'am. Ordinarily everything would be sent."
"That's all, thanks."
Mme. Storey turned to Judge Waynham. Her beautiful face was as grave as that of some antique head of Pallas.
"When I was in the house I asked to be shown Miss Beckington's room," she went on. "The door was locked, but the constable obligingly forced it for me. I am aware that this was a high-handed proceeding on my part, but I was sure that the owner of the room would forgive me if her conscience was clear.
"In the room was a desk which I likewise forced. In a drawer I found these papers."
From a sort of reticule of black velvet that she carried Mme. Storey took a sheaf of papers and spread them before the magistrate. He blinked at them owlishly.
"They are, you see, blank billheads for the three firms whose names you had just heard mentioned: N. Hamill & Sons, Nicholas Enslin, Dobler & Levine."
"But what does it mean?"
Mme. Storey held up her hand to bespeak a moment's patience.
"I returned to the library. I found in a cabinet all the household bills for months past. Upon consulting them I found every month a considerable bill from each of these mythical concerns."
"Good God, madam!"
"It means," said Mme. Storey with her grave air, "that Miss Beckington has been swindling her employer out of hundreds of dollars monthly."
Every eye in the room turned on the housekeeper. Laila Darnall jerked herself free of her arms, looking at her in astonishment and dismay. Miss Beckington, who had been pale before, now looked livid. There was an awful terror in her eyes. Her attempt to smile in a scornful and superior way was something you could not bear to look at. I mean, it seemed indecent to see a human creature expose herself like that.
"I take it that Mr. Suydam discovered the thefts today," said Mme. Storey. "That brings us back to the will. Mr. Greenfield, is Miss Beckington mentioned, in her employer's will?"
"Yes. A comfortable legacy."
"I thought so. Naturally, his first act upon discovering her treachery would be to write to you to cut that out. Now as to the second name on that memorandum pad: this Mrs. Eva Dinehart happens to be an acquaintance of mine. She conducts a special sort of employment agency. You go to her for help of a superior and confidential sort such as a social secretary or a lady housekeeper--need I say more?"
"But the murder, madam, the murder?" asked Judge Waynham excitedly.
"I am establishing the motive," said Mme. Storey gravely. "Dishonor and disgrace faced this lady. At the very moment he was shot, her employer was writing the letters that would have ruined her."
"But have you any evidence?"
"I found none in her room or next to none," said Mme. Storey dryly.
Miss Beckington preened herself, bridled, smiled in that ghastly, would-be contemptuous manner.
"But I recommend that you have her searched," added Mme. Storey quietly.
At these words the woman sprang up electrified.
"I won't submit to it!" she cried in a shrill hysterical voice, and made as if to bolt for the door. Laveel, the constable, seized her. She struggled like a wildcat. Everybody looked on dazed. It was inexpressibly shocking to see the elegant Miss Beckington suddenly reduced to such a state.
"Take her into the dining room," said Judge Waynham.
"Lumley, will you please help him." Mme. Storey added. "You, Bella, you search her while the men hold her."
It was not a job I relished, but I had no recourse other than to obey.
To make a long story short, I found in her stocking a handkerchief bearing Miss Darnall's initials; fastened inside the lining of the raccoon coat was a pair of sport shoes; and, thirdly, the strangest of all, wound around and around her body under the top part of her dress a ladder made of thin strong cord. Fastened to one end of it were two steel hooks. I returned across the hall and laid these things on Judge Waynham's desk.
"I thought so," said Mme. Storey offhand. "You see, she had had no opportunity to dispose of them."
She lifted up the objects one by one.
"The handkerchief she stole from Miss Darnall as she sat beside her, hoping thereby to make the poor girl's story sound more incriminating. The shoes, you see, are replicas of Miss Darnall's from the same manufacturers.
"Miss Beckington bought them today, I have no doubt. She knew that Miss Darnall always wore such shoes in the park. The rope ladder she used to leave her room and to return to it. If you look for them you will find the marks made by the hooks on her window sill."
At this sudden upset of the case, every vestige of order disappeared. All the people came pressing into the back room crying out and attempting to congratulate the one or to abuse the other. Miss Beckington shrank from them.
Judge Waynham's mild face crimsoned with anger, and above all the racket I heard his trembling voice:
"You miserable woman! You deliberately set out to fasten a horrible murder on this helpless child. In all my experience I have never known the like!"
Miss Beckington had collapsed now. All the fight had gone out of her.
"I didn't! I didn't!" she wailed. "I tried to make it appear that a robber had done it!"
"Your purchase of the shoes doesn't bear that out," said the judge sternly. "All through the proceedings you sat there with your arms around her, whispering hypocritical comfort in her ear, while the evidence was produced against her."
"It is horrible!" Miss Beckington's voice rose almost to a shriek. "I knew they wouldn't hurt her!" she cried. "Young and pretty as she is, and with all her money, no jury would convict her! She was safe!"
"Silence!" cried the magistrate. "Your excuses aren't helping you any! Lock her up!" he said to the constable.
When Miss Beckington was removed the crowd threatened completely to overwhelm Mme. Storey and the young lovers in their well-meant efforts to congratulate them. Mme. Storey regarded this demonstration with good-humored dismay.
I opened the door into the hall to allow them to slip out, and held it until they had secured themselves in the dining room opposite. Over there, I presume, the lovers thanked Mme. Storey in their own way for saving them. I was not present at the scene. Presently the young couple escaped through a side door of the house, but were seen as they ran hand in hand for a car, and the crowd pursued them cheering.
Their faces wore an expression of the most beatific happiness. There was nothing cold and self-contained about the young man then. Mme. Storey, Mr. Lipscomb and I drove home feeling well pleased with ourselves. All in all the case had only taken three hours, including the drive both ways.
Our host had to be told all about it. After I had finished sketching the case, Mme. Storey, puffing gratefully at a cigarette, drawled:
"For complete and unmitigated devilishness I think we shall have to award Miss Beckington the palm in our gallery of criminals, my Bella."
The lovers were married shortly after, and prepared to go into business together. Alvan Wayger's invention, not at all romantic, but useful, consisted of a new process of enameling that would produce cheaper and more durable kitchenware for housewives.
As soon as the trust discovered that he had the backing to manufacture it, they made him a fair offer which he, having no taste for business, accepted; and with the money he built fine laboratories in Fremont, where he is now pursuing his experiments with every facility that the heart of inventor could desire.
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