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Title: Who Killed Caldwell? Author: Carolyn Wells * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900871h.html Language: English Date first posted: August 2019 Most recent update: August 2019 This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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Chapter 1. - The Letter
Chapter 2. - Archer Comes Home
Chapter 3. - The Tattoo Mark
Chapter 4. - Inquiries And Opinions
Chapter 5. - What Became Of The Bullet?
Chapter 6. - A Shining Mark
Chapter 7. - Stark Has His Troubles
Chapter 8. -Where Is Mason?
Chapter 9. - One Large Question Mark
Chapter 10. - All This, And Disgrace Too?
Chapter 11. - Was There An Intimacy?
Chapter 12. - The Caldwell Inheritance
Chapter 13. - Fleming Stone Takes A Hand
Chapter 14. - Actions And Reactions
Chapter 15. - Fleming Stone Remembers
Chapter 16. - The Redoubtable Ross
Chapter 17. - Fleming Stone Is Baffled
Chapter 18. - The Second Tragedy
Chapter 19. - More Mystery
Chapter 20. - Conflicting Clues
Chapter 21. - Abigail Beauregard
Chapter 22. - Proofs
Chapter 23. - Lorraine Has Doubts
Chapter 24. - Face To Face
“Heaven be praised!” exclaimed Irving Caldwell, as he sat staring at a letter he had just read.
“But I can’t believe it,” he went on, again scanning the page. “Come, children, come into the library and hear my news.”
The family were at the breakfast table in the dining room; and in front of it was the library, really the living room of the family. Across the wide hall was the great drawing room, and back of it a smoking and amusement room, for there were five young people in the house.
New York City cannot today boast of many of those old double-front brownstone houses that gave dignity to the social life of the last century.
But there was one fine specimen on an uptown cross street, just off Fifth Avenue, that was still a home.
The Caldwell house was a delightful combination of the old original dwelling and modern improvements. Its large rooms, high ceilings, old-fashioned windows and heavy doors did not prevent its being air-conditioned, electric-lighted and possessed of every comfort and convenience recent invention could give.
And Irving Caldwell’s family was, in the main, a happy one. His sons, Vincent and Bruce, his daughter Marcia and her husband, Perry Gibbs, and his adopted daughter, Lorraine Crosby, made up the circle, and they all rose from the table and went with him to the library as he had asked.
Caldwell was a distinguished looking man. Tall and straight, he had always been of forceful effect, until of late years he had become a victim of a form of angina pectoris which had made it necessary for him to be careful of himself and being careful irked him sore.
At sixty, he was impressive in manner and bearing yet gentle and friendly in all his relationships.
Seated in his big armchair, he looked again at the letter, as if to reassure himself that it was so, and said: “Archer is coming home.”
Then Vincent said, in an awed tone, “Archer!”
And Bruce said, eagerly, “When?”
And Perry said, indifferently, “Really?”
And Marcia said, in a low tone, “Dear Archer,” and Lorraine just stared, wide-eyed.
“Yes,” Caldwell went on, “he will come this afternoon. This letter is just to announce his arrival. I will read it to you.
I am coming home. I wonder if you will be glad to see me. If not, I shall go right away again. But I am tired of wandering, and I want my own home and my own people. Look for me about midafternoon of January 12th. From your son, Archer.”
“I am overjoyed,” Caldwell went on. “I can scarcely take it in, as yet.”
“Take it calmly, dear,” Marcia said, warningly. “You don’t want to have an attack when he comes in.”
“No fear.” But there was a light in his eyes and a tremor in his voice that told of his intense excitement.
“Then I shall have a new brother,” Perry Gibbs smiled. “I hope to goodness he will like me. Stand up for me, you fellows.”
“I hardly remember him at all,” Bruce spoke wonderingly. “I was only eight when he went away!”
A silence fell on them all, for each was busy with memories and thoughts of this long absent son and brother.
Archer Caldwell, the oldest son of the family, was little more than a name to the other children. For a tragedy had wiped him out of existence so far as they were concerned, and for fourteen years he had neither been seen nor heard from.
It happened in 1926, on Archer’s birthday.
The Caldwells were at their summer home in Fairfield County, Connecticut, and as Archer had been promised a rifle on reaching his fourteenth year, the gift was forthcoming. There was a rifle range near by, but before going there Irving Caldwell taught his son as to loading and firing the gun.
They were out in a field, and were shooting at a mark.
A neighbor, passing by, paused to look on, and another man joined the group. Caldwell was called away, for a moment, and bidding the lad do nothing till his return, the father hastened away.
The stranger who had joined them took the gun up and examined it, and suddenly turning to the neighbor, one Morton, shot him in the head.
Morton fell, and the man who shot him turned to Archer and said:
“Run, run for your life! You shot him. If you are caught here you will be hanged! Run! and never come back. It is death for you if you do!”
Archer doubted no word of this, and the murderer, brandishing the rifle at him, declared he would shoot him too, unless he disappeared forever.
Frightened almost out of his senses, and believing what he was told, the boy had run as fast as he could, taking no heed where he went. Seeing a trolley car headed for Bridgeport he jumped aboard and went on.
Reaching Bridgeport, and having no thought but to get away, he bought a railroad ticket to New York and went there by train. He had some birthday money in his pocket, and by the time he reached the city he had made up his mind.
He knew the docks and piers, and he went straight to where he knew a freight ship would be leaving for Africa. Cleverly, he managed to get on board unseen, and after they were well out to sea he went to the cook, said he was a stowaway and asked to work his way.
His engaging manners, combined with the fact that it was most inconvenient to turn around and take him ashore, gained his point for him, and he worked his way easily enough and landed at Capetown.
Fourteen years had passed, with no news of him whatever, and now Irving Caldwell had received a surprising and very welcome letter.
The letter had been mailed the day before, in New York City, so that gave no information as to where he had lived or what he had done in his long absence. While the others talked busily, the father sat in a deep revery, thinking about the boy he had lost.
And now the boy was coming home.
Boy he would not be, after all these years, but a man of twenty-eight, and—a stranger, oh, surely a stranger!
Where had he lived these fourteen years? What had he done? What sort of man had he become?
The father had come to look upon his son as dead, for it seemed to him nothing else could explain the long silence.
Archer’s mother had tried bravely to face the tragedy, but had succumbed to her grief and had died within two years.
Time and a busy life had made Caldwell accustomed to the burden, and he bore it more easily as the years went by.
But now, the sudden revelation that Archer was alive and was coming home was a shock that might well have proved dangerous to his weak heart, but it seemingly proved beneficial, for instead of wondering or showing signs of apprehension about Archer or about his arrival he was placidly happy in the memory of his childhood days and ways.
“Do you remember the day he fell in the river?” he said. “You were with us, Vincent, we were in a rowboat, fishing.”
But Vincent didn’t remember and didn’t try to.
“A queer thing,” he said, “Archer coming along like this. If he’s alive and well, why hasn’t he made it known before?”
“Lots of answers to that,” Marcia told him. “I wonder what he will look like. He was a beautiful boy.”
“No two of you look alike,” her father said, “but your mother thought Archer the best looking of you all.”
“That’s only because he was the first one,” declared Bruce. “Of course, Marcia is the prettiest, unless we count in Lorraine.”
“Lorraine was Archer’s sweetheart,” Vincent looked at the girl with an air of ownership; “now she’s mine, aren’t you, Lorry?”
“I am not. I’ve never seen the man I wanted to be sweetheart to.”
“Fie, fie,” Perry Gibbs frowned at her; “did you never learn you must not use a preposition to end a sentence with? I say, I’ll bet Archer has been right here in New York all the time.”
“Never!” said Bruce. “He went West, most likely, and has by now a wife and a couple of children. Maybe he’ll bring them with him. If they want a home, Dad, will you take them all in here?”
“Of course; though it may mean turning out some of you present incumbents. But you’ve had your turn.”
“Oho! A usurper, eh?”
“No, Bruce; the king comes into his own.”
Seeing a stormy look in Vincent’s eyes, Marcia said, in her decisive way, “Now, Father, no favoritism. Archer is the prodigal son. He has been lost and is found, we will all welcome him, but he is no better than the rest of us and has no special claim to your affection.”
“No, no, Marcia, of course not. Dear boy, I wonder if he has suffered privation or danger.”
“Not he!” cried Bruce, who worshiped his brother’s memory, “I bet he comes home a rich nabob.”
“All nabobs are rich. But I bet he comes home a pauper; why else would he come?” This from Vincent.
His father looked at him a little sternly, then said, with an air of calm authority, “If Archer comes home manly and honest, no matter what his finances may be, he is my eldest son.”
“Great Scott, Dad, this isn’t England! Your property isn’t entailed, is it? I have always assumed we should share and share alike, when you are through with it.”
“Your remark is not in the best of taste, Vincent, but your assumption is not far wrong.”
And then Irving Caldwell relapsed into his brown study.
“I wonder what we’d better have for dinner,” said the domestic Marcia. “Do any of you remember what Archer specially liked?”
“Don’t be silly,” Bruce told her; “don’t you think his tastes must have changed? I assure you I shouldn’t enjoy now what I loved to eat fourteen years ago.”
“Bread and milk, probably,” Lorraine smiled at him. “But old Molly will know; she remembers everyone’s tastes.”
“That’s so,” and Marcia rose to leave the room. “I’ll ask her about it. What room shall he have? His old one?”
“He can’t,” Vincent declared. “I have that now, and it’s so stuffed with my things you’d never get it cleaned out. And I don’t want to move.”
“You needn’t,” said his father. “Marcia, put Archer in the best guest room, the one across the hall from my room.”
“Oh, Dad, suppose we have important company!”
“The important company can have a lesser room, or we can shuffle things around when the time comes. And ask Molly what Archer used to like. Even if it’s a childish dish, it might please him. I seem to remember he was fond of fruit batter pudding, with two kinds of sauce.”
“Who isn’t?” exclaimed Bruce. “Tell Molly to make that, Marcia, and plenty of it!”
Marcia went away, and Bruce went on, “At least, we’ll all get our share of the fatted calf that will be continuously prepared.”
Irving Caldwell sat up straighter in his chair, and said:
“I may be wrong, but I seem to perceive an unpleasant note in some of the things you boys say. Do not make it necessary for me to mention this again.”
“It wasn’t necessary that time, Dad,” and Bruce spoke whole-heartedly. “I was only fooling, Molly will make me a fruit pudding whenever I ask her.”
“Yes, of course. All right. Lorraine, child, you are showing no enthusiasm at your brother’s return. Why?”
“I doubt he will remember me at all. And he isn’t my brother.”
“Oh, yes, he is. You are my legally adopted daughter, the boys are all your brothers.”
“Oh, then I can’t marry any of them! And I was just trying to decide which one I love most.”
“Yes, you can marry one of them,” he replied, taking her seriously. “The adoption papers provide for that.”
“Well, you are foresighted!” Lorraine said. “And you are as dear a father as they come!”
“That was my wife’s foresight. You know, your mother was her dearest friend, and Emily was a born matchmaker, and positively looked forward to seeing you marry one of her boys.”
“Yes? Well, so far, I like Bruce the best; but he’s too young to marry.”
“That’s my only fault,” Bruce asserted, “and it is one that time is bound to mend.”
“I am anxious to see our Archer,” said Perry Gibbs. “I’ve never seen him, you know, so I shall be able to form an unbiased opinion. Odd that he should send his letter from New York. If he is in the city and knows your address, why not come unannounced?”
“There’s small use in saying why or why not,” Caldwell told him, “when we know nothing of the circumstances. He will explain it all when he comes. You will be glad to see him, Perry?”
“Yes, Guv’nor, of course. You think he’ll approve of me?”
“Why not?” and the fine head sank back again on the chair cushion, and a silence fell.
Vincent rose, beckoned to Lorraine, and then left the room.
The girl followed him, and found him, as she had expected, sitting on the stairs. This was always their favorite chatting place. From childhood these two had told secrets, had quarreled and made up, on the stairs.
And now, she had a premonition of what was coming, and it was a true one.
“Lorraine,” he said, without preamble, “you must be engaged to me before Archer gets home. I am afraid he will get you away from me.”
“But I am not yours.”
“Yes, you are. But you have never solemnly promised, and you must do it now.”
“Can’t. I don’t feel a bit solemn, and I am not engaged to you, or to anybody else. Sorry, Vincent, but that’s the way it is.”
“You’re just waiting to see what Archer looks like!”
“And isn’t that what we’re all waiting for?”
Then she ran away.
“Why doesn’t he come? It’s mid-afternoon. It’s three o’clock. Afternoon is from one to six, and three is half way there.”
“No, it isn’t, Bruce. Half way between one and six is half-past three. But I think afternoon begins at twelve, post meridian, you know.”
“Lorraine, you know too much. Anyway, if you begin the afternoon at twelve, three is its mid, and it’s three now.”
“He’s bound to be late, anyway,” and Vincent turned back to the magazine he was reading.
“No,” his father said, “Archer was always prompt, I remember that about him very well.”
“Oh, it wouldn’t be his fault; but coming on a journey, there are always delays with trains or boats.”
“Why do you think he is coming on a journey?” Marcia asked. “His letter was posted here in the city.”
“Where do you think he’s been, Dad?” Bruce asked. “Let’s all guess.”
“Overseas, I’d say. He was forever reading books of travel or stories of adventure.”
“Maybe he’s a pirate bold, then. But if he’s already in New York, he may come in his own car.”
“He may come in rags,” put in Vincent.
“Not he!” and Marcia smiled at the idea. “Archer was very fussy about his clothes. He used to lecture me about dressing correctly.”
“And you never forgot it,” Lorraine said. “You are the best dressed woman I know.”
Marcia bridled a little. She was a careful dresser and always looked exactly right. Her fair hair was done in the very latest mode of puffs and rolls, and her light make-up was so deftly applied that it changed her pale countenance into a bright, live face.
Her powder blue house dress was smart and becoming, and she felt, complacently, that Archer must admire her appearance.
She had done all she could with her husband, but Perry was careless by nature and seemed incapable of reform. However, he looked all right, if he wouldn’t tousle his hair too much, and would sit up straight.
Lorraine’s little head knew no puffs and rolls, but was covered with soft brown ringlets, that looked to be natural curls whether they were or not. She wore a red dress, because of a dim memory that Archer liked red. Her face was charming when animated, but when she was quietly self-absorbed, as she so often was, it was not strikingly pretty.
Irving Caldwell sat in a happy daze, taking no note of time, merely waiting to see once more his long lost firstborn.
And then the bell did ring, though they did not hear it, Briggs did go through the hall and open the front door, and, as in a dream, they heard him say, “Mr. Archer,” and they looked up.
The big man stood in the hall doorway and looked at the group in the library.
His brown eyes moved from one face to another, his expression of uncertainty giving way to relief and satisfaction, then breaking into a smile of pleasure.
“It’s all right,” he said, “I didn’t know how you were going to receive me—”
Marcia went forward and laid her hand on his arm.
“Dad first,” he said, and crossed the room to the man in the chair.
Years seemed to fall from the man who rose and grasped the offered hand.
“My boy!” he cried; “my son, my Emily’s son—you are so like your mother. Welcome home, Archer, welcome home.”
His strength flagged, and he sank back into his chair. Marcia hovered round him, with a capsule of amyl nitrite ready in a handkerchief. These were always kept near by, in case of an attack of the dread angina.
“Wait, Father, wait! I must say this, first of all. I didn’t shoot Mr. Morton! That strange man that came along just then, he shot him really. He put the gun back in my hands and then he aimed it at Mr. Morton, and he pulled the trigger—I didn’t!”
“Yes, we learned that, later. He pretended you shot Morton and ran away in fear of the consequences—”
“I did do that; he told me I had killed a man and I must run for my life and never come back. I was so frightened, I ran and ran—”
“Dear boy, let’s leave all that for the moment, and just rejoice that you are back here with us. We want to hear your story, we want to know all about your life while away from us, but first, I must just revel in the blessed certainty that you are with us again. Oh, could your mother but have lived—”
“When, Father—when did she—”
“She lived for two years, and then her gentle heart could bear it no longer and she died of her grief.”
“Perhaps I was a coward to run away, but that man told me I would be hanged by the neck till I was dead unless I got out of this country.”
“Out of the country!” cried Bruce. “Where did you go? Oh, Dad, let him tell us that!”
“Where did you go, Archer?” and Caldwell was as eager to hear the answer as were his children.
“I ran to Bridgeport, hopped a trolley to New York. Of course, I knew all the piers—you know how I was always hanging around the ships—and I slipped aboard a freight ship going to Capetown.”
“Africa!” exclaimed Bruce.
“Yes; and so, you see, I could get no news from you or write to you for a long time. But, as Father says, let us leave my story for another time. The wanderings of Ulysses will keep.”
“You’ve been to school then,” Vincent exclaimed. “You knew nothing of Ulysses when you left here.”
“I’ve had time to get an education, as well as other things. Fourteen years seems to me like a lifetime. I say, Marcia, you’ve grown up a splendid woman. Am I wrong in deducing that gentleman beside you belongs to you?”
“I do, indeed,” the gentleman spoke for himself. “I am Perry Gibbs and your brother-in-law.”
“That’s fine! I congratulate you both. And is this my one-time sweetheart, Lorraine?”
“Yes, I’m Lorraine, but that’s as far as I’ll go.”
“Well, well, we must see about that later. And Bruce! Nearly six feet of him. How goes it, Brother?”
“Fine! Better than ever, now you’re here. When will you tell us all about Africa?”
“Why, why! People don’t tell of their travels any more, it isn’t done. But some day, you and I will take a long walk, and I’ll talk to you like a guide book.”
“Did you have adventures?”
“Nothing but. Now, that subject is dropped. Father, what happened to the man who shot Morton? Who was he?”
“He was no one we knew. He and Morton were rival candidates for some local office, and they had already quarreled furiously. Barron, his name was, and he said he only wanted to lame Morton so he could not be so active in his campaign, and he, Barron, would, be sure of the election. But the jury decided that it was murder in the first degree and I think it was. Anyway, he deserved what he got, because of his dastardly treatment of you. You see, he held out for a long time that you shot Morton by accident, but they broke him down and he finally confessed that he used you as a tool, and that he advised you to make your escape.”
“Thereby ruining my whole life, taking away my home and family and making me an outcast.”
“Why did you run away?” asked Vincent, a bit scornfully. “Why not face the music?”
“I was not very brave, perhaps, but he almost made me believe, at first, that I had fired the shot. And he frightened me out of my wits with his awful face and blazing eyes as he told me I would be hanged by the neck until I was dead, and he illustrated it, by clasping his long fingers round my throat and squeezing until I was almost dead with fright. There was no one to see, and he bade me run hard and fast and never stop till I had put a hundred miles between me and my crime. He suggested I go to Chicago, but I had my own plan and I carried it out. I am glad he paid his penalty, for I have not a forgiving spirit toward him. He ruined my life, he killed my mother, and brought sorrow to my father. You other children were too young to take it hard, and I trust you soon forgot the tragedy. And now, let us all forget it, for today, anyway, and celebrate happily the prodigal’s return.”
“Thank God for your return, my son. I have a wonky heart, but I think your coming will not aggravate it but will prove a cure for it. I have to avoid excitement, but I can’t think a happy excitement will be harmful. We will not hear tales of your adventures just now, but we are all eager for them. Were you—were you ever—er—”
“Broke?” Archer laughed. “I have starved in a dozen countries; I have begged my bread in a score of languages; I have almost died of thirst. And I have lived like a prince at palatial hotels, and have been entertained by monarchs of more than Oriental splendor.”
“Fairy tales?” asked Vincent.
“Not so, but far otherwise. Had I not led a charmed life, I had been dead a hundred times.”
“Say, Arch, will you write a book about it?” asked Bruce with shining eyes.
“Well, I’ll have to think over that. I shall want to get a job of some kind. I hope you’ll help me with that, Father.”
“Maybe. But, here’s the way I look at it. I feel that I owe you fourteen years board and lodging that you haven’t had. So your need of a job isn’t acute.”
“All right, I’ll take a little vacation first, renew old acquaintances and all that. I suppose my school chums have forgotten me and I fear I remember but few of them. My line is civil engineering. I took a few courses in that, and practiced it a lot here and there. But my methods may not suit American ideas.”
“You look robust, Archer, but not rugged. Are you a well man?”
“Oh, yes, Dad, but of late I have lived in India, and the climate and the jungle fever and the snakebite there do not conduce to good health.”
“Why did you stay there?” Vincent asked.
“Oh, hunting diamonds and gold and ivory and one thing and another.”
“India!” Bruce exclaimed. “Did you see the Indian Magic? Did you see the great Rope Trick?”
“Bruce, my child, when anyone asks you about the Great Indian Rope Trick, tell him, on my authority, that there is no such thing. In fact, the natives ask travelers to tell them what it is, for they never heard of it.”
“Are all the wonders of India fakes? I have a whole book about them—”
“Some day we’ll look over your book together, and I’ll explain things to you. They have doctors that pretend they do magic cures, but they are not magic, though some are wonderful.”
“Why didn’t you get one of them to cure your eyelid?” Vincent asked. “You’re really good-looking, except for that.”
“I know,” Archer said. “Do you remember that was coming on before I went away? It grew steadily worse. It doesn’t hurt and it doesn’t bother me any, but it does make me less an Adonis.”
“Couldn’t the voodoo doctors fix it?”
“No, I consulted one or two doctors in London, but the operation would have to be done by a specialist, at great expense, and I was poor then.”
“You must see someone over here,” his father said. “Some plastic surgery man, Crossley will tell us who. Now, Marcia, perhaps Archer would like to see his room, will you call Briggs?”
“I’ll call Briggs, but I’ll go up with him, too.”
“My same old room?”
“No,” Vincent answered him. “I have that room now, I hope you won’t mind changing—it’s so full of my junk and—”
“Oh, that’s all right. I don’t care what room I have.”
He walked with Marcia up the broad stairs, and she led him to the front room opposite his father’s room.
“Why, this is the best guest room!” he exclaimed; “don’t put me here, Marcia!”
“Yes, Father said to. You know the house has been done over a lot; see, you have your own bath and a dressing room, large enough for a smoking room, or whatever you choose to use it for.”
“It’s truly grand. I wonder you’ve stayed in the old house so long.”
“It’s just Dad’s determination. He’s had enormous offers, but he won’t sell. We’d all rather be in one of those big, new apartments. Dad’s room is just across the hall, you know. Our rooms are on the next floor, front, and Vincent has the other front ones. Bruce is back and so is Lorraine. The house is enormous, you know, and lots of room for everybody. There’s a servants’ house now, built in what was the kitchen garden.”
“Any of the old servants here? I suppose not, after so long.”
“Only the cook.”
“Oh, yes, old Molly. She was old when I was here, is she still on deck?”
“Yes, indeed. She’s not so awfully old, about fifty, maybe. What do you think of Lorraine?”
“I haven’t given her much thought as yet. Tell me about Father. Is it a dangerous heart trouble?”
“Oh, yes, if he has a bad attack. But he often goes a long time without any attack at all. We have to watch him closely, that’s all.”
“And you picked a good fellow for yourself, I see. Perry is a genial sort.”
“Yes, he’s all right. Dad thinks he’s lazy—and he is. You stand up for him, won’t you, Arch?”
“Sure I will. Do we dress for dinner?”
“Usually. Tonight, yes, it’s a gala for you. Have you clothes?”
“Oh, yes. English togs, they are. My last society act was in Calcutta, and they’re a swagger lot there. You can see how I look and if you say so, I’ll get some new ones. I’m glad to be home, girl! Do you think they’re all glad?”
“Who? What do you mean?”
“It may be my imagination, but I can’t seem to see very warm welcome in Vincent’s eyes.”
Marcia looked thoughtful.
“I suppose you know the reason for that, don’t you?”
“No, I don’t. What is it?”
“Only that you have put his nose out of joint. He isn’t the oldest son any more.”
And then Marcia went away to her own room, to dress.
He sat down on the side of the bed to think over what Marcia had said.
It seemed to him foolish for Vincent to take that attitude. In America, the oldest son had no special advantage over his brothers, as he had in an English family. He had no intention of assuming older brother airs with Vincent, no wish to counsel or advise him, and no desire to criticize him. He knew nothing, as yet, of Vincent’s manner of life or of his tastes or his principles.
It was none of his business, anyway. As the oldest son, he simply claimed his rights with the others. He asked nothing more.
But it would all straighten itself out, he felt sure. And when he could have a good talk alone with their father, he would understand the situation better.
Meantime, he would do his best to win Vincent’s confidence and liking, but he would admit no cause for his resentment at his brother’s return.
He dressed and went downstairs, finding Marcia and her husband in the drawing room awaiting.
“Don’t make company of me,” he said smiling at her.
“For one night only,” she returned. “After tonight you will be just one of the family. But tonight it is a case of fatted calf.”
“All right, I’ll enjoy the fleeting moment. Perry, old son, how did you manage to snare my sister? As I remember her, she was afraid of the boys. Don’t you know, Marcia, you used to run and hide if one or two of the fellows came home with me!”
“Yes, I know; all little girls are like that. But I outgrew it, as all little girls do.”
Just then Lorraine appeared.
She wore a simple but exquisite gown of chartreuse chiffon, and she wore no ornaments. But her bright brown hair was in lovely soft ringlets and her little heart-shaped face was aglow with smiles.
“For heaven’s sake!” exclaimed Archer, “now how did you happen to wear a dress like that?”
“Don’t you like it? Why, it’s my newest one! It—”
“Oh, yes, yes, I like it—I like it a lot. But look here,” he picked up a little box from the table where he had laid it, “see what I brought you from India.” He took from the box a necklace of peridots, in a light setting of delicately worked gold. The stones were just the color of her gown, and as Lorraine clasped it round her throat, it made a perfect finish for the costume.
“Beautiful!” Archer exclaimed. “How odd that it should match so perfectly.”
“Where’s mine?” Marcia asked holding out both hands.
“You’ll have to wait, honey, until I can get my boxes unpacked, then I hope to find tokens for everybody. I just chanced to have that in my dressing bag.”
The other men came in and then Briggs brought cocktails.
“See how you like these,” Marcia said to Archer. “But I suppose you have had all sorts.”
“Indeed, yes, and more, too. But an old home cocktail is the best, whatever it’s made of.”
“Yes, yes, boy; and I’ll have another, with you.”
“Now, Father,” said Marcia, warningly, “you know—”
“Yes, dear, I know, but Archer doesn’t come home every night—”
“I hope to,” Archer caught him up, “though I do stay out late sometimes.”
“Are you a society man?” Lorraine said, so earnestly that they all laughed.
“Of course,” Vincent made the answer. “You can see that from his swagger clothes.”
Archer laughed easily.
“First show me your society, Lorraine,” he said, “and then we’ll see about it.”
“Never mind the social part,” came rather plaintively from Bruce, “when are we going to hear about Archer’s adventures? I say, Arch, did you go into the jungles in India?”
“Rath-er! They are not at all nice, Buddy. Just miasma and fever—”
“Yes, and tigers.”
“All that some other time, Bruce,” said his father, and they went to dinner.
“Tonight you must be guest of honor and sit by me,” Marcia said; “tomorrow you may choose your own place.”
Marcia, a perfect hostess, sat at the head of the table and her father at the other end.
The dinner was a fine one, and the newcomer fitted into the family group as if he never had left it. The others did not insist on questioning him about his travels, except Bruce, who really couldn’t help it.
He said at last, “Look here, Bruce, I have a diary, and you may read it some time, but let up now on your catechism.”
“Oh, I say, Archer, did you keep a diary? Can I get it? Now?”
“No, Silly! It hasn’t come yet.”
“Have you a diary? I shall be glad to see that.”
“Of course, Father. But it’s only for the first two years. I kept one after that, but time and again my luggage was lost or stolen, and the other diaries went, with other and more valuable papers.”
“Aha, you had valuable papers, had you?” Perry spoke up. “Then I believe you are writing a book. I thought you would, everybody does.”
“But they don’t begin it while they’re living it,” Archer told him. “And the thieves in the Orient don’t steal literature, they only annex money-bearing papers. I could have borne loss of manuscripts, if I had had any, but I was never really rich and the thieves were hard on me.”
“Just why did you come home?” Vincent asked, a little bluntly.
“Not because I needed money. It was sheer nostalgia that made me come home. A very bad attack of homesickness—and I’m glad I had it!”
“I’m glad, too,” said Marcia, “and now, Archer, here’s a special dish made for you. And Molly wants to serve it to you herself.”
And instead of the butler, a smiling black woman offered Archer an elaborately decorated batter pudding, while a waitress hovered close with two kinds of sauce.
Archer jumped from his chair, took the pudding and placed it on the table, and then grasping her two hands said, “Why, Mollycoddle, you look just as you used to. How are you?”
“Oh, Mr. Archer, nobody has called me that, all these long years! Lordy, but I’m glad to hear it again! Now, some folks might not like that for a name, but I know what you mean by it.”
“Yes, I used to call you that, because you coddled me, made me puddings and things. Well, keep right on making them, Molly.”
She made a smiling exit, and Archer turned to his pudding with evident delight.
“We’ll have coffee in the library,” Marcia said, as she rose from the table; “the drawing room is attractive only when we have company, then it rises to the occasion. Shall we give a coming-out party for Archer, Dad?”
“A coming-home party, you mean. We must get his views on that. If he likes, he shall have a ball that will set the town talking.”
The matter was discussed over the coffee cups.
“You see,” Archer said, “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but you fellows understand how a chap like me hates to be lionized, or even held up to public view, which a ball seems like to me. At the same time, Marcia, if you and Father want it, I shall, of course, agree to any plans you make. I love to dance.”
“I think,” said Lorraine, and somehow, people always listened when Lorraine told what she thought, “that a small dance would be much nicer than a ball. Just a few people that Archer will like. You see, he will have to make new friends. When he went away, he had only schoolmates, and I doubt if many of them are available now.”
“Where are the Sperrys?” Archer asked. “Don’t they still live around the corner on the Avenue?”
“No, the block is all apartment houses now,” Marcia told him. “But I think Lorraine is right; a small party will start him with the right people, and if he can dig up any of his old acquaintances, so much the better.”
“You don’t have to decide right off,” Vincent said. “Give the chap time to get his bearings.”
“The news will get around rapidly.” Caldwell’s fine face beamed on his new-found son. “Reporters will come flocking!”
“Now, Dad,” Vincent laughed, “our Archer means a lot to us, but do you realize how few people we know are aware of his existence?”
“That’s so,” Marcia looked thoughtful. “We have lived right here all our lives, but all the friends we had around here long ago have moved away, and we have made new ones. Lots of these new ones have never heard of Archer, as Vincent says. This is not because we forgot him, but we thought of him as dead. Then Mother’s death came, and we grieved for her—”
“And too,” Perry Gibbs put in, “you must remember, Archer, that when you went away, the four children you left were really children, from eight to twelve years old. You must see that you could not live in their memory as you have in your father’s. And so, when they grew older and made new friends, it did not occur to them to speak often of the absent brother whom they looked upon as dead.”
“Yes, Archer,” and Caldwell nodded his head, “Perry is right. Your mother and I thought of you and talked of you as long as she lived. But we didn’t discuss you or your possible fate before the little ones. Vincent was twelve, the girls both ten and Bruce only eight. We tried to shield them from the fears and apprehensions we felt ourselves.”
“I know, Father, I understand; and right here let me say I want no apologetic attitude on the part of anyone. I went away for my own reasons, which seemed to me adequate; and which continued to seem so, until late years, when I could no longer withstand the craving for my home and my people. I am glad to be back and if I can make good with my family, I’ll trust to luck to find some friends later on. As to your parties and dances, Marcia, do just whatever you want to, and I’ll do whatever you tell me. I remember two or three old boys I shall try to look up, but like as not I shall prefer the new friends after all. Schoolboy friendships are seldom lasting. And, of course, people don’t know me or know of me; how should they? But all such things will adjust themselves. I want to go into some business soon, but I am going to take a vacation first; I think I’ve earned it.”
“Seems strange, doesn’t it,” Vincent said, “to think that nobody knows you or can recognize you outside this house! And, I say, how do we know we recognize you? None of us does, really, you know. Dad says you look like Mother, but I can’t remember her face very clearly. You surely don’t look like her picture!”
They all glanced up at an oil portrait that hung over the mantel. It showed a lovely, sweet-faced woman, atrociously painted, but it was a cherished possession of Irving Caldwell, and no suggestion had ever been made of replacing it by a newer or more worthy work of art.
Caldwell himself smiled a little.
“The picture does not do your mother justice, children,” he said, “but it is all I have. No, Archer does not look like that portrait, but I can see his mother’s looks in his face, which you could not be expected to do. Am I to understand, Vincent, that you are doubting your brother’s identity?”
“I don’t say that, but I do say he has given us no proof, no real proof—”
“Oh, Vincent!” Marcia interrupted him, “how ridiculous! Why, he has proved himself by almost every word he has spoken! And he is one of us, you can tell by his words and his actions. And his shape and size and his whole bearing! Why, he is Caldwell all through!”
“Thank you, Marcia,” and Archer smiled at her. “That is wholehearted recognition, I am sure. Sorry, you’re not satisfied, Vince.”
“There it is again,” Marcia said. “Nobody ever called you Vince but Archer.”
“And yet you could prove yourself, in a moment,” Vincent went on, “beyond all doubt.”
“No one seems to have any doubt but yourself,” Archer said, quietly. “What is the proof you want?”
“Show the letters tattooed on your back—if they are there!” Vincent replied.
There was a dead silence.
Then Archer said, in a different tone from any he had used before:
“They are there and I tell you they are there. I will not show them, because if you don’t believe my word you are calling me a liar, and that is a thing I do not stand.”
“I put it to you as a challenge; show me those letters or I shall not believe you are Archer. Come out in the hall and let me see them.”
“No!” Archer looked not angry, but haughty, and very firm. “They are there, as surely as yours are on your back, but I scorn to prove a statement I make in good faith and on my word of honor.”
“Father, I appeal to you!” Vincent cried, irately. “Tell him he must show them!”
Irving Caldwell laughed. “You are two silly boys!” he said, “Drop the subject at once!”
And just then the matter was concluded by the entrance of a stiffly starched white linen nurse, who had come to take her patient to bed.
Like a child, Caldwell begged to stay up awhile longer, but Miss Mason was adamant, and the two went off upstairs.
Vincent, too, left the room, and did not return. “Does Father have to have a nurse?” Archer asked in surprise.
“Nights, yes,” Marcia told him. “Stark, his valet, looks after him daytimes, but Miss Mason comes every night. She is capable and very kind.”
“Sorry if I upset Vincent,” Archer said, to the group in general. “But it had to come. Do you want to discuss it?”
“No,” Marcia said, “you were just right.”
“That goes for me, too,” said Gibbs, and Bruce cried out, “I’ll double it!”
But Lorraine said nothing.
And soon they all went upstairs, and so to bed. But no sooner had Archer closed his door than he heard a light tap against it.
The tap was light and a little hesitating, and Archer had half a mind to ignore it and not answer it at all.
But in a moment it was repeated, a little more imperative and a bit louder. So he opened the door and saw the nurse, her crisp white uniform shining in the dim hall light.
“What is it?” he said, and, before he could prevent her, she slid past him into the room, pushed the door shut and stood against it.
“What do you want? Have you something to tell me?” for he was almost certain her presence meant ill news from her patient’s bedside.
She looked round the room with interest.
“What a delightful room,” she said, and smiled at him in friendly fashion. “I want to look at you, I didn’t half see you, downstairs. You’re very splendid!”
“Have you an errand, Miss Mason? A message from my father?”
“Why, yes, I have. I didn’t think you’d be an ogre!”
He looked at her. She was fair-haired and blue-eyed, about twenty-seven or -eight, he guessed. She could be called pretty by those who cared for her, if any, but her face was hard, as a nurse’s face so often grows to be.
She had no appeal for Archer, nor did he look for any.
He spoke more sharply, as he said:
“What is your message, then? Will you give it me?”
“Yes, of course. And don’t be so high and mighty, I feel sure we are going to be friends.” Her smile, this time, meant to be ingratiating, exasperated him, and he grasped the door knob, saying, “I will ask my father what it’s all about.”
But again she slipped past him, crossed the hall and opened the opposite door, saying, brightly:
“Here he is, Mr. Caldwell; I have brought him, as you asked.”
“Hello, Archer; sit down, will you, and talk a few minutes. Or are you too tired?”
“I’ve never known what it is to be tired, and I could talk all night. But don’t let me tire you.”
“Mason will see to that. Go in the other room, Mason, and don’t listen at the keyhole. You’re a good nurse, but as full of curiosity as a cat! Run along now, and don’t come back till I ring.”
With an engaging smile at Archer the nurse went into the back room, which was separated from the bedroom by a bath and dressing room.
“Are you sure, Father, you feel strong enough to sit up and talk tonight? Tomorrow is another day, you know.”
“For you, Archer, yes. For me—maybe and maybe not. You know, I may live for years, and I may go off any minute.”
“Yes, I know angina is like that; we can only hope the attacks will prove mild and harmless. Your doctor is skilled? A specialist, I suppose.”
“Oh, yes; he’s one of the tops. Now, look here, boy, first of all, how are you fixed for ready money?”
“Enough for running expenses, for a while; if I don’t run too fast or too far. And a few thousands saved up, from my somewhat checkered career. I’ve had my ups and downs, being a soldier of fortune, now and then, but of late years I’ve had money enough.”
“Good. I have a man of business who comes once or twice a week. He’ll give you whatever you want. Don’t hesitate to ask him. You have no—er—you left no debts behind you?”
“Lord, no! I’ve never been in debt in my life, though I have been penniless.”
“For the last time, thank God! Now, although this isn’t England, I do make a distinction between my oldest son and my others. Tomorrow I shall make a new will, and you will, of course, inherit more than Vincent or Bruce.”
“Now, Father, why do you do that? It will make the others annoyed or at least dissatisfied—”
“Don’t try to advise me, boy! I never take kindly to advice.”
“But I want you to know that I am not grasping, I do not care for the seniority, I’d rather share and share alike.”
“Either you’re pretending or you’re a fool!”
The two men looked at one another.
“I am not either,” said Archer, quietly, and his gaze did not falter.
The black eyes of the man in the bed stared at him steadily a few seconds, and then he said:
“No, you are not, and I beg your pardon.”
Their hands met for a moment, and then Archer said, again:
“But I should be glad if you made Vincent’s share equal to mine. I am not advising, but calling your attention to the point that he will suffer greatly from disappointment, otherwise. As you know, he has looked forward to a distribution of your property, that must in any case be changed somewhat because of my advent. Don’t let the change be too great. It seems a strange thing to be talking thus about what will happen after you are gone, but—you set the key yourself.”
“Oh, yes, that’s all right. I’m everlastingly making wills, you know. Griffith says he could paper a room with my discarded wills. But now, with you here, it’s different, and I think tomorrow I shall make what will be really my last will. You mean to stay home, I hope. You’ve no intention of running away again, have you?”
“No, indeed. I say, Father, do you think Vincent doubts my identity?”
“Why, he can’t, really; and there’s no sense in his pretending to do so. It seems to me, he is like a man who has been jilted; his pride is hurt, and his vanity is disturbed. Vincent hasn’t your sterling qualities, my boy; and I say this in all sincerity and kindness. If his mother had lived Vincent would have been a far better man. I am no good as a preceptor or guide. You have made yourself, by having only your own conscience for a teacher, and I truly believe you are a better and finer man than you would have been had you stayed at home—that is, without your mother. She was a wonderful woman, I see some of her fine traits in Marcia.”
“Marcia is very capable, and most tactful. Bruce seems to be a manly chap.”
“Yes; now we’ll talk about their characters some other time. I want to go on about my will. I shall leave you this house and the country house in Fairfield County, and all my oil property and holdings.”
“Oh, stop! You can’t have anything left for the others!”
“Indeed I have! I am what is called a rich man, even in New York.”
“Well, truly, don’t talk any more about it to me, or I shall be unable to keep from offering advice, which you hate.”
“And which I never take.”
“Tell me, do you suffer with this trouble of yours?”
“Not much between the attacks. But during and directly after a spell, it’s like hell broke loose!”
“Don’t you think I’d better call Miss Mason now? You must be exhausted. You like her?”
“She’s better than the one we fired last; that’s all I can say. I hope she hears that, she’s always listening. But she does her work well enough, and she’s cheerful around the room.”
“We haven’t mentioned Lorraine. Does she seem like your own child after all the years?”
“No, indeed. She’s a dear girl, but I never can quite make her out. You have a try at it.”
“At making her out. She’s a sort of changeling, I think. I mean, she’s dear and sweet some days and then some days she’s as queer as Dick’s hatband.”
“Maybe she’s in love.”
“Maybe. She hasn’t confided in me.”
“Do you think she’ll marry either of your sons?”
“Not unless it’s you. Vince and Bruce are not inclined.”
“Don’t plan wedding bells for me. I never shall ask a gentle lovely woman to tie up to a worldworn, weatherbeaten chap like me. I want a business that shall occupy my time and my mind, and some day we’ll talk that over. Now I’m going to leave you. Shall I ring for your handmaiden?”
“Yes, and be down to breakfast at eight, or I’ll be disappointed. I don’t believe your life has accustomed you to breakfast in bed.”
“That, among other things. But I’ll be with you. Good night.”
He made his escape as the door opened to admit Miss Mason, for he was disinclined toward her friendliness.
The nurse went to the bedside and felt her patient’s pulse.
“You talked a little too long, but who could help it, with such an interesting companion! He is a grand man, Mr. Caldwell. And he is your oldest son?”
“Yes, and he is a fine fellow.”
“So he is, so he is. Now, take this spoonful, please—come, come, now, you must take it, or I shall tell the doctor not to let you have any callers in your room!”
The ruse worked all right, and Caldwell hastily swallowed the medicine.
Eva Mason was not a registered nurse, though she had had some training. But she was capable and reliable and willing to follow the doctor’s orders implicitly. And her tact and good humor kept her from resenting the sharp speeches of her patient. She was twenty-four, though she looked older, and she had an overweening secret ambition, the hope of which cheered her long night vigils and gave her imaginary escape.—
In case of the always feared attack of angina, she was to call Stark, the valet, who slept in a back room on the same floor, and he would come at once. He was a wise and skillful nurse, as well as a competent valet.
Miss Mason had called him one night, but it was an unnecessary call, and she knew it, and as soon as he arrived he knew that she knew it, and he gave her such a dressing-down that she never attempted it again.
The girl was attracted by almost any man, but she soon learned that she could make no conquests in the Caldwell household.
In the room back of Caldwell’s bedroom was another room, which was also his own. Here he wrote letters, received his lawyer or other agents, and sometimes sat there alone, to read.
A large table held current periodicals and new books, and well-filled bookshelves cased his favorite volumes.
In this room, Miss Mason spent her nights, which were not unhappy.
There was a couch, where she might rest, if she chose, but she oftener sat in a big easy chair and dreamed her visions.
She made regular visits to her patient, listened to his breathing and obeyed any orders the doctor had left her.
At dawn, she bathed and put on her street dress, and at seven-thirty, Stark took over, and she went down to her breakfast, and away.
“O.K.?” asked the valet, as he came in the morning after Archer’s arrival.
“Yes, all right. Keep him quiet today. He’s excited over his son’s coming home.”
Promptly at eight they were all at the breakfast table.
Irving Caldwell beamed with happiness.
“Well, well,” he said, “this is a great day for me! All my children gathered round me! Archer, my boy, you are indeed welcome home.”
“And glad to be here! No country in the world can produce pancakes like these!”
“I suppose you have eaten breakfasts in many lands,” Bruce still wore the look of wondering adoration that he had showed the night before.
“Yes, if they could be called that. They have run the gamut from grilled peacock down to a few half-ripe nuts and a plantain leaf.”
“Were you poor?” asked Lorraine, her eyes full of pity.
“Yes, and lost in the jungle, with no companion but a gun.”
“You had your ups and downs, then?” and Vincent’s tone was a little supercilious.
“Oh, I did have those, yes, of course.”
“Why of course? When you were affluent, why did you become poor? Gambling?”
“No, highway robbery, bandits, desperadoes, cutthroats. One gives up easily to those gentlemen.”
Bruce drew a long sigh.
“Whenever are you going to tell us stories about it?” he said, so plaintively that they all laughed.
“Perhaps you and I can have a session some time today. We’ll go into a huddle, just the two of us, and I will a few tales unfold, that will make—do you know your Shakespeare, kid?”
“Not very well, but doesn’t that go on, ‘harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blood—’”
“You’ll do! Good boy! I’ll find something for you in my duffle chest, if it ever gets here.”
“Where from? Where did you come here from directly, Archer?”
“From India, Vince,” and just then Caldwell rose and they all followed, and breakfast was over.
The morning papers awaited them in the library.
Perry picked up one, separated the sections and gave Marcia the one he knew she wanted.
“Choose your paper, Archer,” Caldwell said, “and see what one you want to read regularly.”
“They all look alike to me now, but I’ll soon make a choice.”
“Quick at making decisions, are you? That’s good, it argues an alert mind.”
“But perhaps not always a wise decision,” Vincent observed.
“Then it must be a poor thing, but mine own,” Archer came back. “I have saved my life several times by quick decision, so I am biased in its favor.”
“Tell us a story about one of those times!” cried Bruce, who had been waiting his chance.
“Don’t nag, Bruce,” Archer said, and then turned to Caldwell.
“Did you say you wanted me this morning, Father?”
“Yes, later on. Griffith will come about eleven, and I shall see him alone first. Then I want him to meet you.”
“Very well, sir. Bruce, my boy, if you’ll be at leisure at ten, I’ll tell you a story then.”
“I’d like to know when I’m to scrape my brother’s acquaintance!” Marcia said, plaintively. “You’re all having dates with him, and I’ve hardly had a word with him!”
“Come along and hear the story,” offered Bruce. “You, too, Lorry.”
“You can’t leave out Vincent and me,” Perry told them. “We’ll just consider we’re invited too.”
“But I didn’t plan for a regular audience,” said Archer, smiling. “My story isn’t important enough for so many.”
“Oh, I think so,” said Caldwell, “I was just thinking Griffith and I would stroll in.”
“Let’s charge admission,” suggested Lorraine, “and give the receipts to some charity.”
“I’ll pay for my seat,” Vincent said, “but I can’t be at the show, I’ve an engagement downtown.”
At ten o’clock, Archer was relieved to find only his two sisters and Perry and Bruce in his audience.
“It’s just a mysterious thing that happened to me,” he began. “If it interests you, I shall be glad to tell it.
“As you probably know, the Northwest Frontier Province of India is a scene of continuous fighting. Every man carries a rifle all the time, and fires it, whenever he can find something to fire at. They are the Moslem Pathan tribes, and are called the world’s greatest fighting men. They are led by Müllahs and fakirs, and it is their pride that they never forget or forgive. It is said they have but one good trait; they consider it a deadly sin to refuse hospitality.”
“Who would want their hospitality?” cried Marcia. “Who would care to visit the brutes?”
“No, they are not attractive,” Archer smiled at her, “they never neglect a blood feud, and they would commit any atrocity if well paid for it. They call the whole Frontier India’s Bear Pit.”
“I hope you never played bear,” Perry said.
“Well, I had to go through that country on my way to India, and it so chanced that I was making the trip alone. I was a daredevil chap, and felt sure there was no danger if I used proper care. I had a revolver, but I didn’t want to use it, unless I had to. It is said that in that part of the country the men cannot get work and are obliged to live by banditry.
“The railroads just there are far from safe or reliable and the train I traveled on broke down. I was told there was a good inn not far away, but I would have to walk there. Hopefully I set out, but let me tell you, never go to India, expecting warmth all the time. When the cold winds strike you, they search your very bones, and you feel willing to take shelter anywhere you can find it. But after buffeting the winds and getting soaked with the cold rain, I did come to the inn, and though it was a broken down old ruin, it looked to me like a haven of rest.
“As I told you hospitality is a ritual in India, and the landlord, who looked more like a brigand, took me in and banged the door shut behind me, with a manner that took the gilt edge off of his welcome.
“He then explained to me that he couldn’t put me up as he had but one vacant room.
“‘But one is enough,’ I cried, ‘I don’t want a suite. Lead me to it and quickly!’
“‘Nay, sir, you will not sleep there! You cannot! Alas, the room is haunted!’
“I told him I just adored haunts, and the room would suit me down to the ground. I had difficulty to make him believe me and had to pay double price to get the room at all.
“I was surprised to find the room in better condition than the rest of the house. It was furnished with some very old pieces that had once been grand but were now falling to bits. Ragged velvet hangings, broken furniture, cracking walls, crumbling cornice, it was ghastly, but it was shelter.
“The landlord advised me to lock my door, and then he went away. I got out of my wet things and into pajamas and dressing gown, and then began to look around. There was but one window, closed to keep out the wind and rain, and only one door, that by which I had entered. That was provided with a strong lock and a big key which I turned with much satisfaction. I gave a thorough search for any other mode of ingress, but there was none, so, laying my revolver on my bedside table, I went to bed and fell soundly asleep from sheer fatigue and exposure.
“I had valuables with me, money and some jewels, but these were in a belt that I wore round my waist both day and night.
“I was suddenly awakened by a faint sound, as of someone in the room. And at the same time, I felt a draft of cold air. Could someone have got in the window? I dared not light the lamp, but I snatched my pistol and fired in the dark, aiming toward the window. I heard another faint sound and I fired again.
“I heard no more, and I lay for some time, shivering with fear and wonder. I had been told that the room was haunted; had the ghost visited me? I rose and lighted the lamp and I searched everywhere. But no trace of the intruder could I find. Could it all have been imagination? No, for I was sure I heard a moan or groan after my second shot. Where had those bullets lodged? I must find them, for my own peace of mind. I did find one, in the window frame, but the other I could not find!
“Over and over the room I searched, under the bed, the dresser and the wardrobe, but there was no sign of that second bullet. It was then about three o’clock, and I returned to bed but not to sleep. With the first streak of dawn I was out of bed and once more hunting that bullet.
“But with no success. I dressed and went downstairs, and to my surprise found a much better breakfast than I had hoped for in that ramshackle old house. To the landlord’s inquiries as to how I had slept, I told him that I had seen no ghost or specter of any sort.
“‘But I heard a shot in your room!’ he told me.
“‘Yes,’ I returned, ‘I had a bad nightmare, and thought I saw a hobgoblin, and shot at it, but I missed it!’”
“And what did he say to that?” asked Bruce, who was thrilled with the tale.
“He just grunted and said I had a vivid imagination. As soon as I could, I paid my bill and was on my way.”
“Without finding out anything more?”
“I had no desire to find out more, I just wanted to get away. You see, he had told me the room was haunted. So I thought it my cue to shoot at a ghost. I was safe so far, and I desired to remain so. Remember, I had searched the room carefully for any way a person could enter, beside through the doorway. There was none, of that I was certain. The window was tightly fastened and the rain was still pouring down.”
“You know,” Perry said, “sometimes they can unlock a door from the other side. They have a gadget—”
“Yes, I know,” Archer agreed, “but that instrument wouldn’t work on that old-fashioned lock.”
“Was the innkeeper an Indian?”
“I don’t know. He was an uncanny looking old man, who might have claimed almost any nationality. But he was dangerous, and, to my mind, ghosts were not, so I agreed to the ghost theory, and went my way, and I departed quickly.”
“And you didn’t tell him anything more?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“And you never heard anything about who it was in your room?”
“Oh, I didn’t say that! Well, yes, I did hear further about it. It was just by chance that—”
Archer was interrupted by the entrance of Stark, who said that Mr. Caldwell wanted him to come upstairs to the study at once.
“Continued in our next,” he said, as he rose to go. “I did have a report. Puzzle it out for yourselves.” And he went off with Stark.
The valet led the way to the room back of Caldwell’s bedroom, which was sometimes dignified by the name of study.
Lawyer Griffith was there and he met Archer with a warm greeting. The legal gentleman was a middle-aged man with piercing black eyes and a firm, decided mouth.
“I’m glad to see you,” he said, heartily. “Your father has told me the tragic story of your life, and how he is going to try to make it up to you. And I am glad and proud that I can be of help to him and to you.”
Archer didn’t especially care for this speech nor for the touch of fawning manner that went with it. But he answered, politely, “Thank you, Mr. Griffith,” and let it go at that.
Then there was a long statement by the lawyer of Mr. Caldwell’s possessions. Archer was informed of the great size of the Caldwell estate and given a detailed account of how it was invested or secured.
Archer became a little bored with the continued lists of stocks and bonds, and shares and dividends, but as he glanced at the man who owned all this, he saw that Irving Caldwell was enjoying himself immensely.
Caldwell was not purse-proud, and never boasted, but he liked to hear this accounting of his property, since it was done for a proper reason and with a definite intention.
He wanted Archer to know as much as his other children about these things, and more, too, as he would be the principal beneficiary.
So, after the listing was finished, Griffith read the will aloud.
The two houses were left to Archer, and also the largest share of the securities. The other children were left goodly amounts, though they seemed small compared with Archer’s share.
He demurred at this, but his remarks, though listened to, were not acted upon.
“You see, boy,” Caldwell said, “you can give Vincent and Bruce presents if you like, and as your judgment dictates, but I realize your fitness for the position you must take, and I know all will be well.”
“You are very good, Father, you are too good. But I must speak what is in my mind, I must say what it is that troubles me.”
“Of course, of course, say it out, young fellow,” and Griffith looked at him keenly.
“Well, then, it is that Vincent seems to resent my being here. He feels, I am quite sure, that I ought not to have returned. Indeed, he has cast doubts on my identity. He has implied that I am not Archer Caldwell at all.”
Griffith laughed loudly.
“Is that so?” he cried. “Then he is jealous!”
“But,” Caldwell said, somewhat gravely, “I don’t, myself, understand, Archer, why you wouldn’t prove it in the way he suggested.”
“That’s just it, Dad, it was the way he suggested it that made me refuse.”
“Still I don’t quite see—”
“Tell me the trouble,” Griffith urged. “Let me advise on what seems, what must be an important question.”
“Tell him, Archer,” said Irving Caldwell.
“Well, you see,” Archer said, “it was this way. We both, Vince and I, had our initials tattooed on our backs, when we were schoolboys; I was twelve and he was ten. There was a traveling chap came around, we were up in our country place, and he tattooed a lot of the fellows. But we didn’t tell Father and Mother about it. Well, Vincent demanded that I show my tattooed letters to prove my identity!”
“And why didn’t you?” Griffith inquired, interestedly.
“Yes, why didn’t you?” said Caldwell.
Archer stood up. He looked hurt rather than angry, but when he spoke there was indignation in his voice.
“I’ll tell you why I didn’t. I am a good-natured sort, I like to do what people want me to do, but the one thing in the world I resent most is injustice. And I considered, and I do consider, Vincent was unjust! He has no right to doubt my identity—no one else does. But when he insisted on that piece of what he called positive proof, I refused, because I felt he had insulted me!”
“Will you show me the letters?” Griffith looked at him straightforwardly.
“Of course I will.” Archer already had his tie off, and in another minute he exposed his bare back to the two men.
The letters still showed a clear blue, and A. C. stood out convincingly enough.
“The letters are just like Vincent’s letters,” Caldwell said. “You know, I didn’t ask you to show, Archer.”
“I know you didn’t, and I was going to show you, anyway. I may have been wrong to feel as I did toward Vince, but it was his manner as much as his words. His very tone said, ‘Now I rather guess I’ve got you!’
I do want to be friends with him. But he practically called me a liar!”
“Better let the matter drop,” Caldwell said, wisely. “I’ll tell him I saw them, and then perhaps you two boys can compare your tattoos, and laugh over your childish escapade.”
“You’re right, Father; I suppose I am supersensitive. You see, I did not kill anybody, but I thought I did. I ran away from sheer fright and childish terror. I believed what that man told me, that if I were caught, I would be hanged. Remember, I didn’t know, until Father told me yesterday, that I was not the killer.”
“You didn’t know it!”
“No, Mr. Griffith, I did not. How could I? The last word I heard was that fearful ‘Go away and never come back! If you are caught you will be hanged!’ I ran like a deer, not knowing where I was going. I jumped on a car, and reached New York. The rest you know. But my mind is a blank about the shooting. I was so excited and nervous about the gun, that it might have gone off in my hands and fired the fatal shot. I was afraid to come home. Even as the years went by, I still felt that I was a murderer, and though I escaped hanging, my family would scorn and despise me. But at last I couldn’t stand it any longer, and I came home with a firm resolve that if I were not happily received I would go right off again. It never occurred to me that anyone would doubt who I am! And Vincent, of all people! I can’t understand it.”
“I can,” Griffith said. “Your brother resents your return home, because he had been put in your place. Not wrongfully, but because it was the only thing to do. Now you have your own place again, which is right, and which must be so, yet I am sure you can understand Vincent’s disappointment. It is human nature, of course. Nothing can be done about it, for you to attempt any rearrangement would be folly. Pray resolve to make the best of it, to be fair and just to your brother, but in no way depart from the knowledge of your position and the duties it entails upon you.”
“There you are, Archer!” Caldwell sanctioned the lawyer’s speech. “Just you follow that line and it will all come out right. Vincent is no fool. He really wanted that bit of positive proof. Make up with him as man to man, even if it can’t be brother to brother at first. That will come with time.”
“All right, Dad, I’ll go you. I’m beginning to feel that I shall have responsibilities, and I want to meet them rightly and capably.”
“We’ll take them up together, son, and when we get stuck, Griffith here will see us through.”
And then Archer was dismissed and went back to the group in the library. Vincent had meanwhile returned and joined them.
Bruce pounced on Archer.
“Tell us the rest of the story,” he cried. “We want it now!”
“All right, where did I leave off?”
“You said you heard something about it later.”
“Oh, yes. Well, it was some months later and I heard that the inn had burned down, and that it had been discovered that the room I had slept in that night had a secret entrance. It was a sort of trap door under the bed. Not the kind that lifts up, but a sliding cover that could be pushed back, and a man could come up from the floor below by a ladder. This is what happened, and the wicked landlord had plundered many of his guests by that means. He was so badly burned in the fire that he died, and then they discovered that he had a bullet in his breast, which he had carried for a long time. So I suppose I did hit him that night, but from the tales I heard of his crimes, I know the world was well rid of him.”
“It’s a good story,” said Bruce, critically. “Tell us another.”
“Not today. Marcia, Father asked me to tell you he would not come down to lunch, and would like something sent up on a tray.”
“Very well, I’ll tell Briggs. Don’t tell any more stories until I come back.”
She left the room, and Archer said, “Good housekeeper, that girl. She reminds me of Mother in her ways.”
“Me too,” Vincent agreed. “I say, Arch, do you remember that billfold Mother gave you on your birthday?”
“Billfold? I don’t know what a billfold is.”
“You don’t! I thought you had such a fine memory? Why, she gave it to you on your birthday, the day you departed.”
“Oh, that wasn’t a billfold! At least she didn’t call it that. She called it a wallet. Want to see it?”
Archer drew from his pocket a smallish wallet, more roomy than a simple billfold.
“There it is,” he went on. “Your own memory is failing, Vince.”
“No, it isn’t. I scarcely saw it, you know. You ran away soon after you got your presents.”
“And lucky I had it, too. It had my birthday money in it, and that proved useful I can tell you. Here, now, I’ll quiz you. Who was with us the day you and I went to White Gables?”
“White Gables? That’s the old Gordon place in Connecticut.”
“Yes, I know it is. And you and I walked there from our Fairfield house. Who was there beside the Gordons?”
“I didn’t go there with you. Must have been Bruce or Marcia.”
“No, it was you. And Mr. Gordon gave you a puppy and you named it Spot. Now, who else was there?”
“I don’t remember anybody but the Gordons.”
“Huh! You have no memory at all! Why, Ethel Corey was there. Yes, you’d better blush! And she was a very pretty girl, and you kissed her and she cried and ran to Mrs. Gordon and begged her to send you away. So we came home, and for weeks after you were mooning about Ethel, like a lovesick calf!”
“That’s so; I had forgotten her entirely, but I remember the dog!”
“I don’t wonder at that; he was a beautiful dog. He was here when I went away. Did you have him long?”
“Yes, he lived to be quite old. But I don’t remember Ethel. Was she pretty?”
“I wouldn’t know. After fourteen years one forgets childish things.”
“One up to you, Arch. I’ll say you have a mighty good memory.”
“I had to cherish my home memories, because I wasn’t making new ones all the time, as the rest of you were.”
“We thought of you very often, Archer,” Lorraine said, and slipped her hand into his as she sat beside him. “We wondered when you would come home.”
“Yes, dear; now don’t talk about me, tell me something of yourself. What are you doing?”
“Oh, Lorraine has found her niche,” Marcia said, coming along just in time to hear Archer’s question. “She is a glamour girl. She is the belle of every ball, and she has shoals of suitors!”
“Nonsense!” Lorraine cried. “Don’t believe her! They’re none of them in earnest.”
“But what about Owen Todd?” Marcia continued. “He—”
“He’s just pretending, like the rest,” Lorraine insisted, and Archer smiled at her confusion, and when Marcia still went on, she ran from the room and only reappeared at lunch time.
At the table, their talk turned on matters of social affairs, and Perry said, suddenly:
“Look here, girls, Archer must get into these doings, and you two must arrange it. Don’t wait for a dancing party, just take him right in. What are you doing this afternoon, Marcia?”
“Nothing that he can’t join. I’ll tell you, Archer,” Marcia was a quick thinker, “we’ll go for a drive first, you’ve never seen the parkways or the newest buildings, and then we’ll drop into Anne Dunbar’s exhibition, and wind up at the Barclays’, there’s always a cocktail party on there.”
“Fine!” agreed Lorraine. “We’ll show Archer off to great advantage and loud cheers! You’ll like it, won’t you?”
She looked at him uncertainly, and they were all surprised, when he answered, “I shall just love it! When can we start?”
“Bless you for a dear!” cried Marcia. “I was terribly afraid you’d balk. I say, are you heart whole and fancy free? Can we set to work at once seeking a proper life mate for you?”
“Oh, not quite so soon. I am a man of action, but I want to bask in the enjoyment of being at home before I think of making a home for anyone else. Can’t I be a butterfly for a season?”
“I’ll say you can!” Bruce exclaimed. “You’ve got what it takes, and you can sit and tell the girls stories, like Othello did, or was it that other feller, and see which girl is the most patient listener. And there you are!
“Not so fast, buddy. I shall kneel to the prettiest, bow to the wittiest and kiss the one I love the best. I learned that before I went away from here and I’ve had small education in courtship since.”
“I’ve heard there are wonderful social doings in India,” Vincent put in. “Weren’t you in them?”
“Well, yes, I was. In Calcutta and in Simla it is just as Kipling tells it. But not many New York girls, and I’m sure they are the ones I shall love the most.”
“You’re very satisfactory, Archer,” was Marcia’s sincerely meant praise as they left the dining room, “I’m so glad you came home.”
“So am I,” he returned.
Dinner that night was a merry occasion.
Irving Caldwell wanted to hear all about his son’s appearance in their own little social world, and was gratified at the reports.
“In fact, Dad,” Vincent said, handsomely, “Archer made good wherever we went. And he made no fuss about it. Where did you get that air of quiet dignity, Arch? It sets well on you.”
“I picked that up from the savages. Their warriors never lose their poise and are not afraid with any amazement.”
“Where did you get that quotation, my boy?” asked Caldwell, looking up.
“I don’t know, Father. I heard someone say it, and it just stuck in my capacious memory. Is it a quotation?”
“Certainly. It is from the Scriptures. The book of Peter, if I remember; Second Peter, I believe.”
“Well, it’s expressive, anyhow. There is probably nothing on earth more devoid of fear than a Bengal warrior.”
“Or a Bengal tiger?” suggested Bruce.
“Tigers live in Travelers’ Tales,” Archer told him.
“Don’t destroy all my illusions,” Bruce begged, and Archer promised that.
After dinner, they sat in the drawing room, for Marcia said Archer was becoming a celebrity and must be treated as such.
He was inveigled into telling the story of a tiger hunt in which he took an important part, and ten o’clock came all too soon.
At that hour Miss Mason came for her patient, but because of his earnest plea, she let him stay to hear the finish of the tale.
However, she repented this leniency, for as she took Mr. Caldwell’s arm to lead him from the room, he fell forward limply, and Bruce, who was nearest, sprang to catch him.
It was an attack of his heart trouble, but it was not a severe one, and Marcia quickly brought a glass capsule of amyl nitrite, which Mason broke in a handkerchief and held to her patient’s nose. Lorraine fetched a hot water bag to lay on his heart, and Vincent fixed a glass of brandy and hot water. Experience had taught them all, and the untaught Archer watched with interest their quick and efficacious gestures.
Then Miss Mason and Caldwell went up in a small automatic elevator, and Bruce ran ahead to open its door in the study for them.
The nurse told them that Mr. Caldwell would now be all right, and she could best manage him alone, so Bruce and Vincent went back to the others.
“Mason says he’s all right now,” Vincent told Marcia, “it’s but a light attack, probably caused by over-excitement. We must keep him as quiet as we can. Guess we’d better not attempt to have a party right away.”
“No, we’ll postpone that,” Marcia agreed. “But it’s a lesson to us, we didn’t realize the danger of anything unusual in his quiet life. We know it now, and we’ll guard against it.”
“I’ll help,” Archer said. “I’m really a good nurse, and I know a few things about this trouble of Dad’s. One learns in a place where half the population is ill. I’ll have a talk with his doctor, as soon as we can manage it.”
“I’ll arrange that,” Marcia agreed. “He’ll be all right tonight, Mason said so. She knows.”
“She just missed being a beauty, that nurse did,” Archer said, “but it was a thorough miss.”
“It isn’t her fault,” Lorraine shielded Miss Mason. “She does all she can for herself. She makes up just right, not a speck too much and she carries herself very well. Too bad her eyes are so pale and so close together, it quite spoils her face. Her complexion is good and her hair could be burnished to a golden bronze, but nothing could be done with that wide mouth; it is hopeless.”
Archer had stared at Lorraine as she stated these details; then he said, after a long drawn breath, “Well, now I know all about Miss Mason, her looks! How do you do it, Lorraine? And to think I said she just missed being a beauty! Why, she missed it by a hundred furlongs!”
The talk turned to the beauty of American girls, and Archer told them some things about Oriental beauties, and then they drifted apart, and before midnight all were in their rooms and most of them in bed.
Archer had wanted to get a word alone with Vincent, for he had concluded to show him the tattooing, and try to make friends with him.
He thought of going to Vincent’s room, but just then he heard his brother’s step in the hall. Perhaps Vincent was coming to see him, in that case it might be an easy matter. But the footsteps turned the other way and Archer heard a light tap on Caldwell’s door. This meant that Vincent hoped for a direct interview with his father, without going through the study, where the nurse probably sat.
At any rate, he concluded this was not an auspicious time to have a talk with Vincent, and he postponed the idea.
He opened his own door softly and looked out into the hall. It was dimly lighted, and all doors were closed.
This was as usual.
And it was as usual that Stark came to the study at seven-thirty in the morning to take over from Miss Mason the care of her patient for the day.
But he saw or heard no sign of the nurse.
This was not usual. He went on through to the bedroom, and he saw Irving Caldwell, who seemed to lie in a strange position.
Always fearful, Stark felt for his pulse, but found no responsive beat. His heart, too, was still, and his flesh was cold.
Attack in the night, Stark told himself. But where is Mason?
Doctor said it might be this way, Stark went on thinking. He was a phlegmatic sort, and methodically thought what he’d better do.
I must report this to Mrs. Gibbs, unless Mr. Archer is the one now. No, Miss Marcia is the boss. Where can that nurse be! Well, I’ll tell Miss Marcia.
Stark was not the traditional valet; he had not been with the family for a long term of years, he had not been Caldwell’s buddy in the World War, but he knew his duty, and he went to report to Marcia Gibbs.
The Gibbs’ rooms were just above those now given over to Archer. Stark went up to the third floor and knocked at the door of the front one, which was Marcia’s.
She jumped out of her bed, flung on a kimono and opened the door.
She was never without a fear of bad news from her father’s room, and had now a premonition that such was Stark’s errand.
“What is it, Stark? Father?”
“Yes, Miss Marcia. I—I—don’t know how to tell you—”
“Cut it short! Is Father ill—is he—”
“Yes, ma’am, he is dead.” He was as anxious as she to have the message brief.
He was saying something more, but she paid no heed and was half way down the stairs already.
He passed her in the hall, and opened the study door.
“Don’t go in the bedroom,” he said, imploringly, “don’t, Miss Marcia, don’t!”
“Why not? Is Mason in there? Where is Mason?”
“It’s her time to go home at half-past seven. I come on then.”
“Yes, I know that. But you are acting so strange; did my father die in the night? Of course I am going in there!”
But just then Perry joined them. Without knowing more than he overheard Stark say, upstairs, he had sensed the truth, and he took Marcia’s arm and made her sit down on the couch. “Wait a little, dear,” he said, and went through to the bedroom.
He was back in a moment, and sat down beside her.
“You must not go in there, Marcia, it will distress you too much. I want you to remember your father as he was in life. Just understand and trust me.”
And Marcia, being a woman in a thousand, obeyed him.
“Where is Mason?” Perry went on, to Stark.
“I don’t know, Mr. Gibbs. She is always here when I arrive. She tells me what sort of night Mr. Caldwell had and how much he slept and all that. I can’t understand it. I suppose he had a very bad attack. Well, if she was here she would give him the remedies, and—and she didn’t! I can tell by the way the bottles stand. It looks as if she ran away, for some reason, before he died.”
“I don’t know, Stark. You know more of such things than I do. Now, Marcia, we must call the doctor—”
“What good can he do?”
“No good in one sense, but it is right to call him. The question is, shall we call him first, or tell the others. We must tell Archer at once, I’d say.”
“Yes, that’s right. But telephone the doctor first. It will take him a little time to get here. Shall I tell Archer?”
“Yes, do; and I’ll call Doctor Crossley.”
To Marcia’s surprise, when Archer opened the door to her light knock, he was already dressed. “Why are you up so early?” she exclaimed.
“What has happened, Marcia? I heard you and Perry talking with Stark. You see, my jungle experiences have given me almost abnormal hearing. Is Father worse?”
“I’m sure you have guessed it, Father is dead. He died in the night. Oh, I am so glad you are here! So glad you came in time to see him. I know he died happier to have seen you once more! Come, now, you must take your place as head of the house—”
“Marcia, please—don’t call me that. Let it be understood that Vincent and I are equally in charge of things in general. You are really head of the house, and we boys are glad to do what you tell us. You are a capable woman, dear, I’ve learned that already. Have you called the doctor? Where is the nurse? Wasn’t she with him when—”
“No, that’s the queer thing! We can’t find Mason. Stark can’t imagine what has become of her!”
“Could it be that when Father died—it must have been a severe attack, that she considered her work finished and just went—oh, she couldn’t do that! Come, let’s go to him.”
They went across the hall and in at the study door.
After calling the doctor, Stark had told Vincent and he had told Bruce. They were both in the library, but had not been in the bedroom.
Archer grasped Vincent’s hand and said a word or two, patted Bruce’s shoulder and went straight through to the bedroom.
Vincent followed, but his nerve gave way at what he saw, and he ran back to the study.
It was only too apparent that Irving Caldwell had died in agony. A terrible spasm had left him in a contorted position. To Archer’s experienced knowledge of death and disaster, it did not look like a death from angina pectoris, but he only shook his head and went back to the others.
Stark had routed out the servants, and already there was a tray of coffee on the study table, of which Archer was glad to take a cup.
“I will go in there!” Bruce was declaring, “why not?”
“Go on, Bruce,” Archer said, looking gravely at Marcia. “Don’t touch him, and come right back.”
“Better so,” Vincent agreed. “Where’s Lorraine?”
“No one has told her yet,” Marcia answered. “I suppose I’d better do it.”
“I’ll go,” Vincent offered. “You sit still, Marcia.”
“Doctor Crossley,” Briggs announced, and the doctor came in.
He was one of those dapper little men, who have specialist written all over them. He had rather a bustling air, and he said:
“Well, well, and so our dear man is gone! I feared it was imminent, yes, yes, I feared that. May I go in there? Lead the way, Stark.”
As the doctor knew the way and was walking in it, Archer wondered why Stark was called on. But, he assumed, a specialist had to be escorted.
The bedroom door closed and it was several minutes before the doctor reappeared.
“I must make a sad report,” he said, pompously, and with a trace of suppressed excitement. “Your father,” he looked round the group, “your late father did not die of the heart trouble he had suffered so long—he died of poison.”
The doctor’s dramatic pause brought forth no word from his stunned listeners.
“Yes,” he went on, “yes, the symptoms are unmistakable, undeniable! Whether taken by himself or administered by a ruthless hand, a deadly poison ended his beautiful and useful life.”
“Don’t talk rubbish!” said Marcia, who could be sharp when aroused. “Whatever happened, Father never killed himself! Where is Miss Mason? She must be somewhere?”
“Yes,” the doctor agreed. “A good and faithful nurse; not skilled, but fully equal to her duties in this case. Fully—fully.”
He seemed to think the degree of fullness with which Miss Mason discharged her duties was of importance in their present suspense.
But Marcia was not heeding the doctor.
“Stark,” she said, “does nobody know anything about Miss Mason? Have you inquired downstairs?”
“Yes, Miss Marcia. Nobody saw her go this morning. She must have gone in the night. Her hat and coat and scarf are all gone, so she—she just went away.”
“But why—why would she do such a thing? It’s not possible! It’s not believable!”
Vincent and Lorraine had slipped into the room, unnoticed, and now Vincent said:
“Marcia dear, we must face facts. Mason is absent and her hat and coat too, we have to believe she has run away, from fright or some other reason. But, after all, she is unimportant compared to the vital questions. What ought to be done next, Doctor Crossley?” Doctor Crossley rose. He was a small man, and he obviously thought it added to his stature to stand.
“We have two duties before us, my dear sir; but they do not conflict. Oh, no, they do not conflict, they must be treated side by side, as it were, yes, side by side.”
Archer spoke, a trifle impatiently, “What are the two duties, if you please?”
Crossley gave him a quick glance, and went on, a little less pompously:
“We must notify the police, and that immediately. A sudden and unattended death, automatically demands that. It is the police who will have the two duties. One, to investigate the homicide, the other the tracing of the fugitive. I am sure it will not be hard to find Miss Mason; the police machinery for tracking down missing persons is widespread and efficacious. And once we get her, we shall know what happened last night. Shall I call Headquarters?”
“Yes, if you please,” Marcia said, keeping to her position as the head of things.
“They will come very quickly,” Crossley observed, as he took up the instrument.
“They can’t come too quickly!” Vincent growled. He was sitting at the study table, picking up papers from under a heavy glass weight, and looking over letters he took from a rack.
“Better leave the papers for the lawyer to look over, Vincent dear,” Marcia said, in her gentle way.
“No, my lady, it’s much wiser that the family looks over them before Griffith sets his eagle eye on them. You see, there may be some things that Dad wouldn’t mind our seeing, but he wouldn’t want broadcast. We must have a family conclave over his letters and documents. And, as I’ve noticed, here is his will, right in among some tradesmen’s bills and circulars. Let’s put it in a drawer and lock it up, against a more convenient season.”
Vincent pulled open a drawer of the table, which proved to be empty.
“Think of having an empty drawer!” he cried. “Mine are all stuffed to overflowing!”
Stark came forward.
“Mr. Vincent, sir,” he said, “that drawer is Miss Mason’s, and she always keeps in it a clean cap and some fresh handkerchiefs and the like of that. Now, if it’s empty, that shows she’s not coming back!”
The logic of this struck them all, and they stared at the open, empty drawer.
“Don’t put the will in there, Vince,” Archer said, “give it to Marcia to keep.”
The eyes of the two men met for a moment, but Archer’s expression was far from dictatorial, and Vincent handed the paper to his sister at once.
She folded it and put it in her handbag.
“I think you’re all terrible!” Lorraine cried out suddenly; “to talk about wills and letters and papers, and Father is dead! Nobody seems to care!”
Her voice sounded hysterical and Archer went over and sat beside her.
He had to push Bruce out of his chair to do this, but Bruce slid away willingly. He had accepted Archer as his hero and was more than ready to be a devoted slave.
Archer put an arm round the quivering girl, and said, in a low tone, “We’re all in the deepest grief, Lorry, dear, but for each other’s sake we try to hide it all we can. Now, are you going to lose control of your feelings and make us all more unhappy than we already are? Please don’t! Bring your will power into play, and conquer your impulse to break down! Be a brave girl and help us all.”
“I know, Archer, but for Vincent to say Father had secrets that the lawyer mustn’t know, seemed so—so, oh, accusing, you know!”
“Nonsense!” Vincent began, but Bruce interrupted:
“I know what old Vince means! And it is accusing! He thinks there was—er—was something between Dad and Mason!”
“You brute!” cried Vincent. “You’d better take that back, Bruce! and damn quick, too!”
There was an instant’s silence which was broken by the cold, grave tones of Archer’s usually calm voice:
“Stop it, boys, at once!” and then, more sternly, “Don’t you dare say such things in the very presence of your dead father!”
The front windows in the bedroom were open, and through the passage between the rooms came to those in the study the shriek of a radio-patrol car siren.
But already the Medical Examiner was being ushered in by Briggs.
“‘Morning, Crossley,” he said, and the doctor jumped.
“This is Doctor Latham,” he went on, to the family, “our Medical Examiner. He will want to question you all, I dare say. Had you not better go downstairs? Doctor Latham will join you later.”
Another radio car had come, and men were coming up the stairs and piling into the study.
Stark was hanging on to his poise, but precariously, for the police seemed to think that he was the only one who knew anything about the matter and that he knew it all.
Looking thoughtful and anxious, Marcia led the way downstairs.
She took her responsibilities seriously, and just now she felt the burden of this whole tragedy. Already she was wondering if she had done anything wrong. Had she paid enough attention to Mason’s demeanor? She remembered, suddenly, how the nurse would pat her patient’s arm or shoulder when leading him from the room. Caldwell depended on her, Marcia knew, and she knew also that her father had an eye for a pretty girl.
Eva Mason was not a beauty, but she had an attractive smile—oh, nonsense! Marcia thought all this on her way downstairs, and then chided herself for her foolishness. A nurse might be silly about a rich patient, might even try to get money from him, but kill him! Never.
And then they were all in the library and seemed to be waiting for somebody.
And the house seemed full of men. The double doors to the hall were open and Marcia could see men with cameras, stenographers with notebooks, men carrying queer contraptions, of which she knew neither name nor purpose.
For the first time in her life, Marcia’s poise deserted her, and her mind seemed in a turmoil. She did not know it was the routine set-up for a homicide case, and the wealth and importance of Irving Caldwell called for the fullest police attention.
A mysterious case, too. Already the Bureau of Missing Persons was starting the chase for Eva Mason.
Archer had noticed Marcia’s clenching hands and troubled eyes, and he went and sat beside her.
“Brace up, girl,” he said, gently, “this is the time to show your mettle. You have courage, I know, and now is the time to use it. And, Marcia dear, put off that feeling that it is all on your shoulders. We can do nothing now, of ourselves, it is all in the hands of the police and we must obey, not dictate.”
“Yes, I know. Who is that new man? He just came in.”
“That is Dunbar, the District Attorney. They say he is a splendid chap. He knew Father. He will ask us some questions.”
“But I don’t know anything about it all.”
“Then say so. Be calm and courteous, tell the exact truth, and if you don’t know, just tell him that.”
“You stay here by me, will you?”
“Yes, of course. Where’s Perry?”
“I don’t know. Doctor Crossley beckoned him out in the hall. I suppose they wanted to ask him something.”
And then Mr. Dunbar began his inquiries.
He called on Stark first, and the valet told a brief and straightforward story.
He said he slept in a rear room on the same floor as Mr. Caldwell. It was his habit to go to the master’s room at about seven-thirty in the morning, when he relieved the nurse who had been there all night. The nurse would give him her report and then would go home and return at seven-thirty in the evening. But on this particular morning, when he went in, there was no nurse to be seen.”
“Where was she?”
“I have no idea, sir. She has not since been seen or heard from.”
“Has no one telephoned to her home? Where does she live?”
“I don’t know that.”
“Who does know?” Dunbar looked round the room.
“I do.” Marcia answered, in a clear, steady voice. “That is, I have her address in my book. I don’t remember the number.”
“Will you get your book, please?”
She went to her own little desk in the library, and then told the address, which was in the midtown forties, care of Mrs. Blake.
“Have you the telephone number?”
Yes, Marcia had, and Dunbar turned it over to an assistant who went to make the call.
“Has Miss Mason ever failed to come at her usual time?”
“No, sir,” said Stark, as no one else replied. “She has been with us nearly six months, and she was always most prompt in arriving.”
Report then from the man who had telephoned: No, Mrs. Blake said, Miss Mason had not come home that morning at all. Yes, it was very unusual. She would probably come in soon. Yes, Mrs. Blake would let them know.
“Go there at once, Mooney,” Dunbar directed. “Find out everything you can. Search Miss Mason’s room, and look out for any evidence. Impress it on the landlady to inform us if the nurse returns.”
“Her testimony is of the greatest importance,” he went on, after his messenger had gone. “Go on, Mr. Stark, what did you do when you found the nurse had disappeared?”
“I didn’t give her another thought. I found Mr. Caldwell dead, and at first I was just bewildered, and then I knew I must do something, so I went and told Mrs. Gibbs. She came at once, and she told Mr. Archer, and soon they all came.”
“I see. Now, Stark, did you hear any unusual noise in the night?”
“No, sir, not a thing.”
“It is established that Mr. Caldwell died at approximately three o’clock this morning. You heard no stir or footsteps about that time?”
“No, sir, nor at any other time. I sleep very soundly, though I waken at a touch. Nurses are that way.”
“You were nurse to Mr. Caldwell?”
“By day, yes, sir. Miss Mason took over at night. Though not ill in bed all the time, Mr. Caldwell needed constant attention, and there was always danger of his sudden death from angina pectoris.”
“And did you think that explained his death, when you found him?”
“Well, I did—though I had thought his death, when it came, would be more quiet-like. He was all bunched up.”
“Now, Stark, Mr. Caldwell’s death was caused by poison. Had he ever spoken to you of suicide?”
The valet stared.
“Oh, no, sir! Mr. Caldwell wanted to live! He would do anything, take any doses that would relieve his fear of sudden death. And just now, of all times! You see, Mr. Archer had just come home, and Mr. Caldwell was so delighted. Why, the very excitement and pleasure of Mr. Archer’s coming, almost made his father worse. I could only calm him down by telling him that if he let himself go like that, it would bring on an attack. Then he would cool down right away. Oh, no, sir, whatever happened to him, Mr. Caldwell never killed himself! Never!”
“Well, then, can you think of any reason why Miss Mason should poison him?”
Stark hesitated. Twice he started to speak, getting as far each time as, “Well, you see—” and then as if by an inspiration, he said, suddenly:
“Might it have been a mistake—an accident?”
“Can you suggest how any poison could get in the sick room by accident?”
“Well, no, sir, but couldn’t the detectives ferret that out? They do, in the story books.”
“Real life is not quite the same. You don’t know then, of any opiate or sedative that might be fatal in a large quantity, that could have been given by accident?”
“No, sir; we never had anything of that sort. Mr. Caldwell never slept very much, but he slept regularly, and never took a sleeping powder. If he had done so, Miss Mason would have reported it. She is very careful with her reports.”
“Where is she, Stark?”
The man jumped, and had he been the guiltiest creature on earth, he could not have looked more frightened. His hands were clasped as tightly as a vise; his mouth was working piteously, and he trembled from head to foot.
“I—I don’t know, sir,” he stammered out, and then sank back into his chair.
Dunbar, who was rather a mind reader, concluded that the man was really more startled than scared, and he left him to recover himself and turned his attention elsewhere.
“Who saw Mr. Caldwell next, after Stark’s discovery?” he asked.
Marcia answered him, her voice calm and steady:
“Stark came and told me, Mr. Dunbar, and I went down to the study. He told me, too, not to go into the bedroom, as my father’s appearance would give me an unpleasant shock, and my husband also forbade me. So, I went and told my brother Archer, and he came right away.”
“Will you take it up from there, Mr. Caldwell?”
“My sister told me about my father,” Archer said. “I was already dressed and we went to the study and I went on through to the bedroom. As you know, my father had died during a convulsion and I wondered if that was usual in case of heart trouble. I know little of such things.”
“You have been away a long time, Mr. Caldwell?”
“Yes, fourteen years. I have been home but a few days.”
“My sincere sympathy. I knew your father well, and I, too, mourn his loss. Will you tell me if you heard any sounds in the night?”
“You mean inside the house?”
“I heard only a few. My brother Vincent came down from his room, and went into my father’s room. He stayed but a short time. That was about one o’clock or a little earlier. Then, perhaps it was nearly two, when Miss Mason went downstairs. Doubtless on an errand for the sick room; she was gone but a few moments.”
“You are an accurate witness, Mr. Caldwell.”
“Yes, it is my nature to be accurate. And my life in the jungle countries has developed my hearing almost to an abnormal degree.”
“How is that?”
“I did much hunting, and if you are after wild beasts you must hear them before they hear you.”
“I see. And you heard no further noises?”
“You didn’t hear Miss Mason leave the house?”
“No, I slept. I heard nothing more until Stark came along the hall from his own room at seven o’clock.”
“And soon after that Mrs. Gibbs brought you word of the tragedy?”
“Yes, as you say.”
“Now, Mr. Caldwell, as you have seen comparatively little of the nurse, Miss Mason, will you tell me what impressions you have formed of her? Sometimes, a stranger can see farther than one more familiar.” Archer looked a little surprised, but thought a moment, and then said, “I see your point, and it is well taken, but I am afraid I noticed the nurse so casually, I really made no definite guesses as to her character. To me, she seemed a kind and capable young woman, careful of her patient’s welfare, but willing to indulge him a little, now and then when he asked for it.”
“You know of no one, I suppose, who could have wanted your father’s death?”
Archer looked amazed.
“No one, indeed! But I have been here so few days, I know next to nothing of the household staff; I know nothing of my father’s friends—or enemies; I know almost nothing of his business or his business associates. I have met a very few of my family’s social acquaintances. So, you must see that it is impossible for me to imagine, let alone suspect anyone who could be responsible for the deed. I hope and trust it will be proved an accident, for though that would not lessen our grief for his loss, it would be easier to bear.”
“Yes, that is true. I, too, should be glad if it could be proved accidental. I see Mr. Mooney has returned from his errand. Come here, Mooney; what did you learn?”
“I went to Mrs. Blake’s, sir. She is a decent body, but all of a dither because of Miss Mason’s absence. She seems to think that some bogey-man came in at the window and killed Mr. Caldwell and then carried off Miss Mason.”
“Never mind what Mrs. Blake thinks, tell me what you found.”
“Mrs. Blake went with me up to the young lady’s room. It was all in order, just as she had left it last night. She always gets back at about eight o’clock in the morning. Then she goes to bed and sleeps as long as she likes. Afternoons she does one thing or another, and gets back here again for her night’s nursing. Well, Mrs. Blake says she’s always as regular to her time as a clock, and when she didn’t appear this morning, Mrs. Blake didn’t think much about it, Mason being a good and sensible sort, or so she said. Of course, we don’t know. I poked around a bit in her dresser drawers and the like of that, but I found nothing. No picture of a young man, no letters, only two or three books—they seemed to be novels, old ones. And that’s the lot.”
“Well, you seemed to do all you could, Mooney. Mrs. Blake didn’t have a picture of the girl?”
“No, sir, she said she had never seen one. She said she didn’t know what she ever did to enjoy herself, a movin’ picture once in a while or a bus ride of a nice day, that’s all she ever heard of, by way of Miss Mason’s outings. Queer girl, eh?”
“We don’t know that yet. We must find her, though.”
“Yes, sir, of course. That’ll be just pie for the Missing Persons outfit. I expect they’re on the job already.”
“I hope they are. Every railway station and boat pier and airdrome must be covered; also the bus conductors and taxi drivers questioned, and detectives put on the shops and picture houses near where she lived. From what we’ve heard, it seems unnecessary to consider the dance halls or night clubs, but you never can tell. The Bureau is very competent.”
“But they’ve so little data to start with,” Bruce said, always ready to talk or listen to anything that savored of adventure.
“What seems little to us means more to them. She took none of her clothes then or belongings, Mooney?’’
“Mrs. Blake said she missed nothing from her room. And so she thinks Miss Mason will return for her clothes or send for them.”
“We must be prepared for that event. Personally, I doubt her return to Mrs. Blake’s.”
“Do you think she killed my father?” Vincent spoke sharply.
“I don’t say that, but she must have known who did.”
“I can’t see how that follows,” said Lorraine, looking oddly wise.
But no one noticed her remark.
Briggs was called next.
The butler had been with the Caldwells for a long time, and he was so deeply affected by his master’s death that it was difficult to get a story from him.
“I don’t know much about it, sir,” he said, trying hard to keep his voice steady, “but here’s one thing you ought to know. The front basement door, it’s right under the front steps, was unlocked when I went to open it this morning. Now this is our rule. We all have our nights out, of course, and whoever is out latest must lock the door when he comes in. The door is always fastened, but a latch key will open it. At night, it must be locked inside with the stop-latch, and then a latch key won’t open it. Well, this morning, the stop-latch wasn’t on. It was my night out last night, and I fixed it all right when I came in, of course. No mistake about that. So, somebody went out that door after I had locked it and didn’t come back and fix it again.”
“It doesn’t seem to me a very secure way of locking up,” Dunbar said, and Briggs returned quickly:
“It’s never made any trouble before.”
“How do you know when the last one is in?”
“No one stays out after nine, unless it’s his night off. Then he’s allowed to stay out until eleven, or maybe later, if it’s a special occasion. And no one has ever left that stop-latch off before. I only tell you this, so’s you can judge if you think Miss Mason did it.”
“It looks that way, certainly. How well do you know Miss Mason?”
“Well enough. She’s had her breakfast and dinner here pretty regular for a good while, and I’ve naught to say against her, savin’ that she must have left that basement front door unfastened.”
Briggs sat down, exhausted by his own emphasis. He was rather more than middle-aged, but fully equal to his duties in the Caldwell house.
But he was accustomed to have things run smoothly, and this matter of Mason’s disappearance had deeply disturbed him.
It puzzled Dunbar a little, and he said, “You’re sure, Briggs, that there is nothing more you could say about the nurse, if you chose to?”
“A hesitant no is a yes. Now, out with it, what have you against the girl?”
Briggs then spoke out defiantly.
“Only that she is a little too fresh when she speaks of Mr. Caldwell. All my staff are most respectful—or they wouldn’t be here! To be sure, she isn’t on my staff, but I have called her down now and then.”
Marcia looked at the butler in surprise.
“Are you sure about that, Briggs? I have always thought Miss Mason most respectful to my father!”
“Yes, Miss Marcia, and so she is before you all. But she is a minx, for all that.”
“A good nurse, however?” Dunbar said, to Briggs. “So far’s I know, sir. Stark says she is.”
“But you can give no idea of why she went away, leaving no word?”
“That I can’t. It’s most extraordinary.”
“Then that will do, Briggs. You are excused.”
The servants’ quarters, which they chose to call The Barracks, was really a comfortable little home, built at the rear of the house, and connected by a covered passage.
The housekeeper, Mrs. Hinton, was a worker, for Marcia kept all the reins of government in her own hands, and only consulted with her regarding menus and other important matters.
But Mrs. Hinton was astute, and she had taken Mason’s measure long ago.
When asked to testify as to her knowledge of the nurse, she said:
“As far as I know, Eva Mason is a good girl. But you know what nurses are. If a man comes near her, she just nachelly has to pat his shoulder or paw his hand. She tried to vamp Stark, but he wasn’t taking any. But she was most particular about her duties. If the doctor gave her an order it had to be carried out, if it turned the house upside down. Many’s the time she’s delayed the cook, because she had to do a broth in a certain kind of tomfool fashion. But that was all in her day’s work.”
“Do you know if she had any expectations from Mr. Caldwell? Any legacy at his death?”
“I never heard her say anything about that, but like as not he’d leave her something. He was a most generous minded man.”
“Aside from that, can you believe that Miss Mason would bring about the death of her patient?”
“Lord no, sir! I’m sure she never did!”
“But she must have been there when he died. Somebody killed him, and there was no incriminating evidence found. If poison was given him, there must have been a container of some sort, bottle or glass or box—”
“Well, she didn’t give Mr. Caldwell poison! There’s some things you just know ain’t so!”
“Has she a beau? A sweetie?”
“I believe she has. But that won’t wash! A stranger man coming in this house at dead o’ night, and murderin’ a gentleman he never saw before, and knows nothing about! I could easier believe the master did it himself.”
“Which he didn’t,” declared Archer.
“No,” Dunbar agreed, “I’m sure of that.”
And then they were all dismissed, with instructions to return at two o’clock and not to leave the house in the meantime.
Briggs announced a buffet luncheon was served in the dining room.
Dunbar was invited to partake, and gladly accepted. Bruce corralled him, as he entered the room, and said, excitedly: “How you going to get Mason? You going to have posters? Let me write ’em up, will you?”
“How can we have posters, my boy? We have no photograph of Miss Mason and the first thing a poster needs is a portrait. Again, we’re not certain that we know her real name. Nor her birthplace, parents, age—all those things go to make up a poster.”
“We don’t know much about her, do we?” Bruce looked crestfallen. “But when they find her—”
“When they find her, we won’t need posters.”
“You won’t find her soon,” Vincent said, joining them; “nor, I’m thinking, will you ever find her! She’s a smart piece, is Eva Mason. But I’ll give you a tip. It’s an odd piece of business, but my father’s will was left lying on his study table, among a lot of papers. Now, if Mason saw that—and why shouldn’t she pry around—nothing to do all night? If she saw the will she would know that she was to inherit five hundred dollars at his death. I don’t think she killed him, she is too clever to think that would be a wise thing to do. But I do believe that somehow the will and the death of my father are connected. The rest is silence.”
“And very mysterious silence. Was it his real, bona fide will?”
“Hard to tell. He made a will every few weeks. Griffith will know, he’s the lawyer, he’s coming this afternoon. I say, Mr. Dunbar, we don’t seem to get anywhere!”
“No, it’s like a blank wall. Here comes a messenger fellow.”
A message was handed to Dunbar, who read it and put it in his pocket without comment.
Vincent controlled his impulse to ask what news it brought, and just then Archer tapped him on the shoulder.
“When you’re done luncheon, come up to my room, old man, will you?”
The “old man” touch proved efficacious, for Vincent really felt great admiration for this new brother of his.
And shortly he went up to Archer’s room and found him there, in his shirt sleeves.
“Are we going to have a bout?” he asked, smiling.
“I don’t think so. Look here, Vince, I want to show you my letters. See!”
He pulled his shirt over his head, and turned his back and Vincent saw clearly the blue A. C. that he had asked to see and had been refused.
“Why, you needn’t—” Vincent began, but Archer interrupted.
“And I apologize for the way I spoke to you. Of course, you didn’t call me a liar, even by implication. And I’m sorry.”
He held out his hand a little diffidently, but Vincent grasped it, saying:
“Nonsense! We didn’t either of us mean anything. Just a bit excited over our reunion. Forget it!”
“Gladly, if you will. Now, I haven’t looked at that paper which you say is Father’s will. But if he has made me heir to more than he has given you, I want that we should divide even. I said all this to him and to Mr. Griffith, but I want to say it to you.”
“No, we can’t do anything like that. You must take what is your own by birth and by Father’s desire. Naturally, when we did not expect to see you again, I had to be the oldest known son, because I was. But now it is a different story, and you have come into your own. I am the second son and Bruce is the third. We cannot alter what Time and Fate have made us.”
“All right, don’t take it quite so seriously. You sound like a preacher. After things are settled, and we know where we stand, we’ll have another confab. And all’s well with the world?”
“Yes, Archer, with us, anyhow.”
They shook hands again, and went down to join the group already assembling in the library.
Dunbar divulged then that he had received a message from the police stating that Mr. Caldwell had come to his death from the administration of aconitine at the hands of a person or persons unknown.
“Is that the same as aconite?” Marcia asked, with her ever-present desire for details.
“It is the alkaloid, the active principle of aconite,” Dunbar replied. “It is the most deadly poison definitely known, and has been known for more than two thousand years. The ancients called it The Queen Mother of Poisons. It is used in medicine, the plant for that purpose, aconitum napellus, being chiefly grown in Great Britain. The symptoms produced by death from this poison accord with those shown in the present instance and the scientific tests made prove it beyond doubt. Another variety of aconite is made from the plant aconitum ferox, a still more dangerous herb, which is made into a poison called hikh. When in India, did you ever hear of that, Mr. Caldwell?”
“I have,” Archer said. “They pronounce it bish, and they go to gather it on the heights of the Himalayas, 16,000 feet above sea level. I was told that they use it more like a dope, as they use hashish or cocaine, than as a poison, but I cannot speak positively about that. I do warn you, however, to take stories of Indian drugs with a grain of salt. The accounts given in fiction of the use of datura and curare make the scientists laugh. How ever, that does not affect your statement of the poison that killed my father. Is it possible to procure aconite in any of its forms, without a prescription?”
“No,” Dunbar said, “it is not. But prescriptions may be forged and I fancy our villains over here, have an educated wickedness that might prove more devastating than the savages’ ferocity.”
“Yes, that might well be. Knowing what a difficult poison it is to procure, Mr. Dunbar, do you feel that Miss Mason could have been the poisoner?”
“I cannot feel that the nurse was the poisoner, but not because of the difficulty of obtaining that poison. Why did she have to have that particular poison? A simpler one, more easy to come by, would have answered the purpose. Though the one she chose is a neurotic and produces death by syncope, thus avoiding danger of death cries that would call others to the scene.”
Lorraine rose and quietly left the room.
“Don’t recall her,” Vincent said, “she will come back. She just couldn’t stand the vivid picture you drew of our father’s death bed.”
“I am sorry, but my duties are imperative. I think we must consider the nurse implicated, as she had apparently put the place in order, leaving no telltale glass or spoon by way of clue.”
“You give her a strong character,” Archer said, thoughtfully. “If she could calmly clean up and put away, while the victim of a terrible crime lay dead or dying, she is unlike the ordinary woman, even a nurse.”
“A nurse may have sensitive feelings,” said Vincent. “Mason is very much of a lady.”
“That may be, but all nurses and doctors must get more or less hardened to the ills they see every day. If they went hysterical at sight of blood they’d not be of much use in a hospital.”
“Miss Mason didn’t have hospital training,” Marcia reminded them.
“I’d like to know what training she did have! Whatever happened, it’s quite apparent she kept her nerve. Cleared up and cleared out, in good order, is the way I see it.”
“Could she have had an accomplice?” Marcia suggested, longing to be of help.
“Alone all night, and being, as all nurses are, a silent stepper, she could have let in an accomplice very easily,” Vincent told her.
“Well, you may all go, now. I shall see you again, but not all of you together.”
Dunbar dismissed the servants, leaving only the family.
“Why, you haven’t quizzed me,” Bruce exclaimed.
“I’ve learned more from you than all the rest,” Dunbar returned. “You see, we have to go a lot by manner and appearance. If we had to ask questions in the dark, we’d never learn anything.”
“I suppose,” Vincent said, “you’ll have to wait for the fugitive to be traced.”
“We never wait for anything. But, we’ll be glad to get that girl. Hunting a fugitive, though, is much harder than finding a missing person. There’s always someone to help you with the missing person. They tell you of her ways and habits, and sometimes that’s a help.”
“We could tell you quite a lot about Mason,” Bruce offered.
“But, I fear, not the things I most want to know. Can you look into her heart?”
“ ’Fraid not.”
“There is where the truth is.”
“Can you often look into your suspects’ hearts?” Marcia asked him.
“Oh, yes, if we have the suspects. It’s these absent ones that are so hard to get the truth from.”
“Impossible, I’d say,” Bruce declared. “How can you quiz a witness if the witness isn’t there?”
“It can be done—but it is difficult, and seldom worth while.”
“It all looks so dark, so unsolvable,” Marcia sighed. “It’s bad enough to grieve for Father, without this terrible burden of avenging his death! Where will it all end?”
“The end,” Dunbar spoke despairingly, “is just one large question mark.”
It was the day after the funeral of Irving Caldwell.
The family was in the reception room, awaiting a visit from Inspector Cordon, who had been put in charge of the case.
Marcia had decreed that the police should not come into the library again. That room, she declared, was their family sitting room, and too, it was filled with memories of the dear one who was gone, and it should not be profaned by detectives and their horrid talk.
She gave over the reception room to them, and they could have a big table for their papers and things, and not intrude on the privacy of the library again. That was sacred to the home, and should stay so.
“You are wonderful, Marcia,” Archer said, to this; “you have generalship tempered with common sense, a combination not often seen. To think, I haven’t been here a week yet, and in that short time Father is dead and buried, and we are waiting to learn who killed him.”
“And we can do nothing but wait!” Bruce said, a trace of anger in his voice. “The Bureau people say they are hunting Mason, but it seems to me a very still hunt! Why don’t they advertise or in some way bring it before the public? People are often found in that way.”
Perry laughed at him. “Bruce, my boy, if you know more than the organization you speak of, why don’t you go and tell them so?”
“They wouldn’t know enough to believe me! I never saw such a pack of dumbheads! I did go there, and they told me that they had been complimented by the government on the way they conducted their business, and they just hated to make any change!”
“Well, then,” Archer commented, “you’ll have to designate the government a pack of dumbheads, since it’s their responsibility.”
“Don’t make fun! I’m in earnest. There must be some way to find Mason, beside sitting still and waiting for her!”
“There is a way,” came the low, uninflected voice of Lorraine.
“If you know of any, dear, you ought to tell us.” Marcia spoke very gently, for Lorraine was nervous and excitable, and the doctor had advised keeping her as quiet as possible.
“I know only what I imagine myself. I don’t believe anybody would pay any attention to it. I don’t believe anything!” Then she sat up very straight and said, in a clear, tense voice, “I don’t believe Father was poisoned at all!”
“Perhaps not,” Vincent said, for the sole purpose of soothing the girl, “let’s not think about it, Lorry.”
She paid no attention to him, but said:
“You see, it was a specially bad attack of his angina, that’s why he was all hunched up. Or maybe he had cancer—people often have that and don’t know it. But I’m sure Mason didn’t poison him, and nobody else in the house would.”
“Perhaps you’re right,” Archer assented, but Lorraine blazed up.
“Don’t baby me! You make me sick! ‘Yes, dear,’ and ‘Perhaps so,’ and all your palavering ways!”
“Stop it, Lorraine,” commanded Marcia. “Don’t say things you’re sure to regret. We all love you and want to say what will please you. Now remember that.”
Again Archer realized how his sister’s tact resolved itself into firmness when the occasion demanded, and Lorraine said no more.
Inspector Gordon arrived and with him Sergeant Cooper.
They were of pleasant manner, but definitely in earnest as to their work. Certainly Bruce could not call them dumbheads.
“I will first make a few inquiries about the missing nurse,” the Inspector began. “You ladies perhaps knew her better than the men.”
“No, I don’t think we did.” This from Lorraine, and spoken in a firm, clear voice.
Marcia shook her head, and was about to prevent the girl’s further disclosures, but Archer caught her eye, and nodded a message to let Lorraine proceed.
“How come?” and Inspector Gordon smiled at the speaker.
“Because,” Lorraine said, straightforwardly, “Miss Mason is a man’s girl. She likes men, but she cares nothing for women. My sister and I can tell you about her ability as a nurse and her behavior toward us as a family, but of the real character of Eva Mason, only a man can tell.”
“Are you speaking from definite knowledge, Miss Crosby, or from a general idea of her nature as you see it?”
“From both, Inspector. If you ask my brothers, and if they answer you truly, they will tell you that she has tried to be—well, personally friendly with each of them.”
It was impossible for the two policemen to keep from looking at the faces of the three brothers, who sat before them. And it was equally impossible for any one of the three to prevent the look of self-consciousness that came to his face at Lorraine’s words.
“Do you wish me to gather from your words, Miss Crosby, that owing to Miss Mason’s predilection for the male sex, she showed a personal fondness for Mr. Caldwell?”
“No, Inspector, that is not the point I want to make. My father was entirely able to ward off any familiar advances from his nurse, I have seen him do so. But I want to remind you that a woman of that disposition must have some men in her train. Must have some admirers, perhaps lovers, who would care enough for her to assist her in any way she might ask of them—even crime.”
“I see,” the Inspector looked at her gravely. “You mean that in our search for a criminal, we must not forget the possible victims of Miss Mason’s sex appeal.”
“Yes,” Lorraine spoke as if unwillingly, “that is what I mean. I know it sounds horrid, but—tell him, Marcia, tell him what I mean!”
Marcia looked tenderly at Lorraine, but spoke with firm decision.
“Inspector, my sister is very much affected by the shock of our father’s death. I used to make light of what they call ‘shock,’ but I know now it is a thing to be reckoned with very seriously. I hope you can address your questions to the rest of us, but of course I am not offering any restrictions.”
“I would like to state my experience with Miss Mason’s overtures,” Archer said, with a little smile. “It may throw a light on her character.”
“Tell us your story,” Gordon said, pleasantly.
“It was the first night I was here,” Archer began, “Miss Mason came and took my father upstairs to bed, and perhaps an hour later the rest of us went up. I had just closed my door when there was a light tap at it. I opened it and Miss Mason stood there smiling.
“Before she said a word, she slipped into my room, shut the door and leaned back against it, looking roguish. I was annoyed and asked her, rather sharply, if she had a message from my father. She said she wanted a look at me, that she hadn’t half seen me downstairs and that I was very splendid. Then I was angry and spoke really sharply to her. She pouted and said she hadn’t thought I’d be an ogre, and she did have a message from my father, which was a request to come to him for a little talk.
“I went to my father’s room at once, she ran ahead of me and opened the door, and then Father dismissed her, and we had our talk. I left the room when the nurse returned, and as that was the only time I ever spoke to her personally or had any opportunity to notice her friendly attitude toward me, I want to feel that it is on the record.”
“That’s just it!” Vincent said, sympathetically. “She is too much inclined to take the initiative in a flirtation.”
“I’ll say she is!” Bruce corroborated. “She didn’t even let me alone! Me, the baby! I didn’t want her patting my arm! It made me mad!”
“Arm-patting is her forte,” Marcia said. “She has tried it on me. I think it’s just a habit. And anyway, you boys could look out for yourselves. But with Father it was different. He was weak and ill, and she was—”
“Grateful and comforting,” offered Bruce.
“Yes, and pretty and sweet,” Marcia went on, firmly. “We can’t blink at the facts. Now, the point is, Inspector, if Miss Mason was a gold-digger, and if she read the will that was left on the study table that night, could she have poisoned her patient and then have been so frightened that she ran away?”
“I think it is possible,” Gordon returned, “but how did she expect to get her legacy unless she returned for it?”
“I mean,” Marcia amended, “if she did it, she didn’t mean to run away, but after she had done it, she was so horrified she just fled.”
“It is possible,” the Inspector assented, “but we have no evidence for it. But it seems probable that she knew about it. Even off duty, if she were dozing in the next room, say, she would surely hear an intruder who came into the bedroom and persuaded or forced Mr. Caldwell to drink that poison. And he did drink it, the autopsy proved that.”
“Might have been a capsule or something like that,” Vincent said.
“In any case, the intruder had to speak to Mr. Caldwell,” Gordon insisted; “and probably he answered, and either took the medicine willingly or under duress. Miss Mason must have heard something, unless she was very sound asleep.”
“I’m sure she didn’t sleep while on duty,” Marcia said, looking perplexed. “Stark often said she was absolutely dependable and faithful.”
“Where can she have got to?” Bruce asked. “The detectives haven’t found a trace of her! I thought they could always tell which way a fugitive went!”
“We only know she left this house, she did not return to her boarding-house and just simply disappeared. The detectives will track her, we are sure of that; but she is a clever piece to elude us thus far.”
“You will never find her,” Lorraine said, in the low, strained voice that had become habitual with her. “She is too clever to be caught. But I will tell you something about her, you don’t seem to know.”
“And what is that, Miss Caldwell?” the Inspector turned to her with interest.
“She has a lover,” Lorraine smiled a little, “a sweetheart. I hope he doesn’t know of her pawing habit.”
“Probably knows more than we do,” Bruce put in. But Marcia said, “Are you sure, Lorry? What makes you think so?”
“She told me. You know when she first came, she used to massage me, Doctor Crossley thought it would do me good. But she talked so much, I couldn’t stand it, and we gave it up. She told me about her beaus, she seemed to have lots of them—but one in particular was her favorite. She said he was a prince, and they were to be married next fall.”
“Do you know the prince’s name?” the Inspector asked her.
“Yes, she told me it was Oscar Ross, and she asked if I didn’t think Eva Ross would be a pretty name.”
“That may be very helpful, Miss Crosby; do you know where he lives?”
“In the city, I think, as she said they sometimes go for bus rides of an afternoon. But it was some time ago she told me; she may have another favorite now.”
Bruce was already studying the telephone book.
“No Oscar Ross here,” he said.
“I hardly think he’ll be in Who’s Who either,” Vincent added.
“We’ll find him,” the optimistic Gordon said, and then changed the subject.
“As to the valet, Stark,” he began. “Tell me something of his career.”
“Oh, Stark’s all right,” Vincent declared. “I know him well, and he adored Father.”
“But he could have had access to that will that was left out on exhibition,” Gordon persisted. “Many a man who is ‘all right’ is started all wrong by a hint of money coming to him.”
“But Stark has money,” Bruce informed them. “He told me so himself. He’s saved his wages for years. He’s going to buy a little place in the country and raise vegetables.”
“Perhaps a promise of getting that little place sooner than he had hoped, tempted him, and—”
“Not Stark,” Marcia declared, with an air that seemed to settle the question. “Stark is a man of principle. Father thought so too. He trusted Stark implicitly.”
“Every man has his price,” Gordon said, sententiously. “Then, of course, there is Briggs. Is he also high-principled?”
“He is honest,” Marcia told him. “I don’t know Briggs as well as I do Stark. But anyway, Briggs couldn’t come up to Father’s room and poison him, without Miss Mason’s hearing him.”
“Yet somebody did do that,” Archer said, gravely, “unless Miss Mason is the murderer, or is friendly to him.”
“Friendly to him, seems more likely,” Gordon agreed, “and that, maybe, goes for Ross. At any rate, that young man must be found, though he may be as irrevocably lost as Miss Mason seems to be.”
“I would be obliged,” the Inspector said, slowly, “if you two ladies would leave us now. I want a few words with your brothers.”
He spoke so definitely, yet with no hint of command, that Marcia rose at once, and taking Lorraine’s hand led her from the room.
Gordon closed the door after them, and went at once to the point.
“Can any of you tell me if Mr. Caldwell was on familiar terms with his nurse?” he asked, in a straightforward, man to man way. “It is of the utmost importance that I should know this, and though I would have been willing to speak of it before Mrs. Gibbs, I did not think it best for Miss Crosby to hear it.”
“My wife does not know it, I am sure,” Perry Gibbs said, “but I know that there was familiarity between them. I never should have mentioned it to anyone had it not been asked for by the police. I do not think I have a right now to withhold what I know.”
“Please tell it, Mr. Gibbs,” the Inspector said.
“Very well, I will. It was perhaps a month or more ago, and Stark told me that Mr. Caldwell wanted to see me. I went up to his room and tapped at the door. There was no response, so I walked in, we often do that. Mr. Caldwell sat in his big chair, and Miss Mason sat on the arm of it. Her arm was round his neck, and he was kissing her with—well, with determination. I was about to back out, when I heard her say—she didn’t know I was there—‘not until we are married.’ I went on in, then, I felt I must. She rose from her perch on the chair arm, and with utmost self-possession, said, ‘Here is Mr. Gibbs,’ and went into the study, as calm as you please. I sat down and talked to my father-in-law as if I had seen nothing unusual. He, too, showed no embarrassment. I never mentioned the incident to anyone.”
Bruce was the only one who showed his feelings. Archer and Vincent sat stolidly silent, but Bruce, looking at the Inspector, despairingly, cried:
“All this, and disgrace too?”
“I see no occasion for disgrace to us,” Perry Gibbs said.
“Well, I call it disgrace!” Bruce exclaimed with emphasis. “To connect my father with a disreputable woman, to say she claimed he was going to marry her! I don’t know what more you want, to spell disgrace!”
“Better keep still, Bruce,” Vincent advised. “You’re a bit inexperienced, but it is a basic fact that the way of a nurse with a man is along the primrose path. I’m no expert, but if the Inspector will ask any man who has been in a hospital or has had a nurse at home for quite a while, he will learn for himself how such things go. Which he probably knows already.”
“There is some truth in your statements, Mr. Caldwell,” Gordon agreed, “but I have never known a case where a nurse murdered her patient.”
“You’re going to see one now,” Vincent began, but Gordon interrupted him, sternly.
“That will depend on how the case develops. As I see it, much depends on the degree of intimacy between the nurse and her patient. If she was his mistress—I can speak plainly to you men—it’s quite on the cards that she poisoned him.”
“Many things; for one, she may have thought he had deserted her, and—”
“They were not lovers,” Archer broke in. “I could see that he might have been physically attracted, and a nurse has illimitable opportunities; and he may have thought it no harm to be a little gay, but I would bank on his fine nature and his innate principles of right and wrong.”
“And another thing,” Bruce said, with one of his uncanny flashes of insight, “even if Dad was—er—all mixed up with Mason, it was only because he was bored stiff, having nothing to do, and she was a divertissement. Then when Archer came, he forgot all about Mason, I saw that!”
“My coming stopped all the fun, eh?” Archer smiled.
“There’s more than that to it,” Gordon said, gravely. “What Mr. Gibbs overheard makes the case serious.”
“But,” Archer said, “remember, Perry was quoting only Miss Mason’s words; she said, ‘not until we are married.’ Dad didn’t say that.”
“There is no fear of disgrace,” Gordon went on. “What Mr. Gibbs told us need go no farther. But to my way of thinking it is an indication of Miss Mason’s attitude. Marriage had been quite evidently spoken of, and, in feminine fashion, she held it over his head as an argument not to refuse her favors. If I knew her better I might judge whether she would dare to return here for redress of some sort. She might sue the estate for a broken promise.”
“I think she would have little chance of success,” Archer observed, “but she may return to get the legacy left her in my father’s will.”
“Her return, of course, would argue her innocence,” Vincent declared, “but she might know who did the killing.”
“No, sir, she need not necessarily be innocent to return. We of the Force have a saying that murderers always return to the scene of their crime. But I do not expect Miss Mason back. Yet I must learn all I can about her.”
“There’s no use quibbling over the degree of their intimacy,” Bruce said, in his sudden way, as if just waking up from a brown study. “If there was anything at all between them, it makes her a natural suspect, isn’t that so, Archer?”
“To a degree, yes. But she must be found, in any case. Yet, I fancy she will not be found easily; she seems to me an exceedingly wise and cunning mentality.”
“You don’t know our Bureau work, Mr. Caldwell. When we set out to trace a fugitive we almost invariably succeed in our quest.”
“I hope, Inspector, this quest will not prove an exception. But I think, if you can get hold of Mr. Ross, before he, too, disappears, it will be a good thing.”
“He will be stopped before he gets very far. Will it be possible for me to see the valet now?”
“Of course, Inspector. Bruce, catchee Stark.”
Bruce darted for the door and disappeared down the hall.
Gordon smiled. “Your brother likes to take orders from you, Mr. Caldwell.”
“Yes, from him,” Vincent assented. “He wouldn’t take any from me. But Archer walks in and the whole household kowtows!”
“Primogeniture,” Archer retorted, and Vincent nodded.
“Just luck,” Archer went on, to Gordon. “I happened to be the first child of my parents. But Lady Luck didn’t bring me a happy life, Inspector.”
“No, sir? You were in foreign parts, I hear.”
“Yes, very foreign. Not much law and order in some places I visited.”
“No, I dessay not. Africa, now. Pretty wild, eh?”
“Wild is right. Come and see me, sometime, Inspector, out of business hours. I’ll show you some of my spoils.”
“Glad to, sir. Thank you.”
Bruce came, and Stark, too.
Archer took charge.
“The Inspector will ask you some questions, Stark. Take that chair. Answer as fully as you can.”
“Yes, Mr. Archer,” and Stark sat down.
Gordon did not ask any statistics, his age or how long he had been in the Caldwell house, he went directly to the subject of the nurse.
“I understand Miss Mason is a pretty and charming girl,” he began, conversationally. “You know her well, I suppose?”
“Never spoke half a dozen words to her, unless I had to,” was the illuminating reply.
“Weren’t you good friends?”
“Good enough, as that goes. But we had different hours. She was on duty nights and me, daytimes.”
“You saw her when she came and went?”
“Yes, sir. We had to tell each other about the medicines and such things.”
“And the last time you saw her? I’d like you to tell me all about that.”
“Not much to tell. She came, as usual, at seven-thirty, and I gave her my day’s report and told her what to give Mr. Caldwell during the night.”
“And what were those orders?”
“For the night, you mean?”
“As near as I rec’lect, there was only his medicines as per usual and his beef tea at midnight, and a glass of white wine if he called for it.”
“There was no new medicine prescribed that day?”
“No, sir. I was on duty in the day, and the doctor was in for a few minutes in the morning, but he didn’t order any new prescription.”
“What did you do after your talk with Miss Mason?”
“I went to my room and had a wash-up, and then I went downstairs and had my dinner and after that I went to a movie. I was back here before ten, and then I went to bed.”
“And slept all night?”
“Yes, that is, I never sleep steady, right through, but off and on, you know.”
“And on that night you slept as well as usual?”
“Oh, yes, why not?”
“You heard no noise in the halls?”
“I heard the people when they came up to bed, I always do, but I think nothing of that, I only listen for strange sounds, burglars or such.”
“And you heard no strange sounds that night?”
“Didn’t hear Miss Mason go downstairs, late?”
“I might have heard her, sir, but I’d not give it a thought. Why, she was up and down stairs a dozen times every night.”
“Oh, fixin’ things. Getting some boiling water, getting out ice cubes—she always nearly wrecked the refrigerator doin’ that! Or she might run down to speak to her beau—I don’t know that, but I wouldn’t put it past her.”
“You don’t like Miss Mason, I take it.”
“Who says I don’t? She’s all right. A little fresh, now and then, that’s all.”
“She liked Mr. Caldwell?”
“Well, she liked all the Mr. Caldwells, also Mr. Anybody Else; but I suppose you mean the old man?”
“I mean Mr. Irving Caldwell, and you must speak of him with respect.”
“Yessir, I will. Well, yes, Mason liked him a lot—yes, I would say, a lot.”
“Why so emphatic? And why did she like him such a lot?”
“Why? Did he hand it to her? And how!”
“Talk English, man. What do you mean, handed her what?”
“Oh, just money—plain, ordonry money.”
“As you say, sir.”
“Besides her salary?”
“Why did he do that, Stark? Why?”
“Well, I suppose because he was so fond of her, or—I guess it was more like, because she was so fond of him.”
“Was she, you understand, personally fond of him?”
“She was, you understand, sir, personally, very fond of him.”
“How do you know? You almost never saw them together.”
“Bein’ an Inspector, sir, I dessay you often know things that you don’t ezzactly see. Sort of intuition, you’d say. Well, I’m like that.”
“Oh, are you? And you gathered that Mr. Caldwell and Miss Mason were—”
“Intimate is the word, sir, if you’ll excuse my mentioning it.”
“I suppose you realize what you are saying, Stark. You are making a very grave accusation against a man who is dead and a woman who is not here to defend herself.”
“I do realize it, Inspector, and I am watching my step. All I tell you is true.”
“But if Mr. Caldwell was fond of Miss Mason, why would she kill him?”
“Well, you see, sir, since Mr. Archer came home, Mr. Caldwell he—he wasn’t so intimate with Miss Mason anymore.”—
“And she didn’t like that?”
“She didn’t like that at all.”
“But I’ve heard she has a beau of her own.”
“Mr. Caldwell wasn’t a beau—he was—a gold mine.”
“Well, why did she kill him?”
“Inspector, sir, I don’t say she did kill him, it’s only that I don’t see how anybody else coulda done it.”
“I believe you said she left the house before she gave him certain medicines or something of that sort.”
“I did say so, and it is true. The doses he should have had at four o’clock and six o’clock were not given to him. I can tell by the bottles.”
“Well, you see, either of us, after we gave a dose from a bottle, would put a mark on the label, and there weren’t any marks. Not any, after two o’clock.”
“Then, be careful now, Stark, you assume that, some time after two o’clock, the nurse or someone else, gave Mr. Caldwell a dose of some preparation of poison that caused his death.”
“Nobody else could get in there to do it, but Mason.”
“Then you accuse her?”
“I do. May Satan fly away with her to the lake of fire and brimstone!”
“Go easy with your curses, you know they sometimes come home to roost.”
“And then, sir, she had the nerve to wash the glass and put it back on the shelf!”
“The shelf in the bathroom cupboard. There’s a medicine chest on the wall beside the wall cupboard for towels and soap. We keep a coupla glasses there for his wine or milk.”
“Your imagination is in working order, Stark. You may go now, but don’t leave the house without permission.”
“No, sir, Inspector,” and Stark left them.
“Well,” Gordon said, “there’s a fair sample of our usual routine.”
“It may be usual to you,” Bruce said, “but it was mighty unusual to me, and very interesting. I deduce that Mason is out of it, and that Stark is the villain of the piece.”
“I don’t agree,” Gordon said. “I must go now. I’ll leave Cooper and a couple of the boys. Don’t let anyone go out of the house without Cooper’s knowledge and consent.”
That evening Griffith came.
The days were so filled with policemen, that they asked the lawyer to make an evening appointment.
As Bruce lyrically expressed it:—
“And the night shall be filled with Griffith,
And the cops that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents like the circus
And silently steal a base.”
Only Lorraine smiled on him, the rest discouraged Bruce’s humorous efforts.
Griffith came and brought with him the signed will of Irving Caldwell.
“Old stuff,” Bruce remarked. “Marcia has it already yet.”
“I know,” the lawyer said, patiently, “but hers is an unsigned copy. However, since you are acquainted with the contents I needn’t discuss them with you, my duty is to read the will to you.”
He did so, and as the testator had told Archer, he was the principal legatee. Fully half of the entire estate was comprised in Archer’s share, but that left quite enough to make the other children millionaires also.
As Griffith finished, there was a silence, which he broke by saying:
“My client wanted me to tell you that aside from Archer being his eldest son, he felt that because of his saddened and ruined life, he was entitled to whatever happiness money could bring him, and for that reason he bequeathed to him a larger share than to the others.”
“I know,” Archer said, quietly. “My father told me all this when I came home. I want to tell you all, that I honestly tried to make Father change his decision, and let us all share alike. This he refused to do, and when I insisted, he grew so disturbed that I feared he might have an attack. So, I let the matter drop, then, but I took it up again later, with, however, no greater success.”
“Mr. Caldwell told me of this,” Griffith stated. “He said that he had told Archer of his plans and that Archer had urged him to change them and to give all the brothers and sisters an equal inheritance, or, failing that, at least to make his own and Vincent’s shares the same.”
“That would have been only fair,” Vincent muttered, not looking at Archer. “But it seems Father did not agree with you, Mr. Griffith.”
“Far from it. He was even angry at what he called my interference. I reminded him that it was Archer’s wish and I was only speaking for him. But Mr. Caldwell would not hear of making any change, and declared that if I referred to it again, he would get his will drawn by another lawyer. I, therefore, followed his directions to the letter.”
“I did all I could in the matter, Vincent,” and Archer spoke with an air of finality equal to Griffith’s own. And it seemed to the lawyer that there was a new note in Archer’s voice, that betokened his entire acceptance of the situation regardless of Vincent’s dissatisfied expression.
Marcia added a word, and, as usual, her opinions were wise and just.
“Then,” she said, “all that is settled and we know where we stand. There is no question of right or wrong, no thought of favoritism. Father was privileged to make his will as he chose and I know that none of us would be disloyal enough to raise any objection or make any criticism. Who witnessed the will, Mr. Griffith?”
“Doctor Crossley, who happened to come in at the time, and my own secretary, who came up from my office. I took the signed will away with me, and Mr. Caldwell kept the carbon copy. But, I understand, he left it carelessly on his study table, and it became common property.”
“Not quite that,” Marcia smiled. “It has been in my care, and I suppose I may keep it.”
“Yes, of course. Now, if there is anything further I can tell you, or do for you—”
“Not just now,” Archer said, speaking seriously, “but after a time, I dare say I shall want some consultation.”
“At your service. And I assume you want me to attend to the distribution of the smaller legacies; there is a long list of charitable bequests and also the servants, a few friends and a few distant relatives. Mr. Caldwell gave me full instructions regarding these, and with your assent, I shall see that they are carried out.”
“Yes,” Archer said, “you all agree, don’t you?”
He gave a careless glance round the group, but only Marcia said anything.
“Yes, Archer; let’s have those matters settled soon.”
“Then we’ll know how much there is left to divide,” put in Vincent, “if any!”
“There’s ample,” Griffith smiled. “You will be surprised at the result! What about this house? Shall you all remain here?”
“Not all,” Vincent answered, “I know one who won’t.”
“Where are you going?” cried Bruce, in surprise.
Marcia took the helm.
“I doubt if any of us stay here, Mr. Griffith; we all love this old home, but it is outmoded, and my husband and I would greatly prefer to live in a modern apartment. Lorraine would stay with us, and the others do whatever they see fit.”
“Well, you seem to have parceled us out!” Bruce told her. “I think I’ll string along with Archer. How’s that?” Bruce looked hopeful.
“Can’t settle such a large deal in a hurry, Bruce. We’ll have to have some family conclaves and see about it.”
“I rather think you’d better get clear of the police before you plan much of anything,” Vincent said, “they may have something to say about it.”
“Where do they stand now?” the lawyer inquired.
“About where they did when they started,” said Lorraine, in a hard, tense voice.
“Hello, when did you wake up, Bunny?” Bruce asked her.
“I’ve been listening to you, and I say you’re all horrid! All you think of or speak of is Father’s money, and what you will do with it! Not one of you cares a fig whether his murderer is found or not! How can you all be so heartless!”
“Lorraine,” Archer began, and there was that in his voice that made them all listen. “I am going to ask you to change your attitude toward the rest of us. You accuse us of things that are not so. Father’s will and the business that it brings with it must be attended to now. It is not in any way delaying the search for Father’s murderer. But that is in the hands of the police, and we can do nothing personally.”
“I can,” and Lorraine’s face became animated and beautiful, as it always did when she was excited.
But Archer went on:
“If that is so, we shall all be glad to have you do it. But now, we want a little further talk with Mr. Griffith, and it is necessary we should lose no time. After these details are settled, we will have a talk with you. Now, Mr. Griffith, am I right in thinking that if we should conclude not to live in this house, we can sell it?”
“But, of course, sir. This house is yours, with all its furnishings except such as may be the personal property of others. Perhaps you would be happier separated than together, now that your father is not with you.”
“What did you say, Vincent?” asked Bruce, although Vincent hadn’t said a word. He looked up inquiringly, and Bruce went on: “Oh, I thought you said, ‘I’ll say we would!’ You must have been thinking aloud.”
“I’d live anywhere to get away from your silly chatter!”
“Oh, you can’t do that; I know how to give absent treatments!”
“Gentlemen, may I have your attention,” Griffith asked, somewhat coldly. He did not like Bruce’s frivolity and sympathized with Vincent’s impatience at his brother’s chaff.
“I think you will make no definite plans for the future,” he said, as they all listened, “until the truth about your father’s death has been discovered. What is your own opinion? Do you feel that it must have been the nurse who gave the poison?”
“I can’t see how it could be otherwise,” Marcia said, “but it is by no means the only possible solution.”
“Who do you mean, Marcia? Who do you mean?” Lorraine cried, in quick, short accents.
“No one, definitely, dear. Keep quiet, let Mr. Griffith talk.”
“I have seen Miss Mason but once,” he said. “I can’t say I know her. Tell me something about her.”
“She has very good manners,” Marcia began, and Lorraine said abruptly:
“She always wears black garters.”
“Side or round?” asked Bruce, seemingly in deep earnest.
“Don’t you know?” Vincent asked him, and Archer looked annoyed.
“Don’t look so pained, brother,” Vincent went on, “Bruce can’t help being that way. Just overlook it.”
“Mr. Griffith,” Marcia said, “I would greatly value your opinion about Miss Mason. We are, none of us, good at description, but Mrs. Hinton, the housekeeper, knows Mason very well, and I think could give you a word picture of her.”
“Will you call Mrs. Hinton?” he said, gravely. “I am not a detective,” he added, as Bruce went on the errand, “but I have a desire to know something of the nurse. She interests me.”
“She interests us all,” Marcia agreed, and then the housekeeper came.
Mrs. Hinton was at ease with all of the Caldwell family, but the important looking lawyer filled her with awe. Police she understood, and revered not at all, but this legal gentleman, as she told Stark afterward, kerflummoxed her all to pieces.
Yet he was courteous.
“Mrs. Hinton,” he said, “you knew Miss Mason well, I believe.”
“As well as might be, sir. She is a sly piece, and it would be a smart one, who could pin anything on her.”
“Never mind the pinning, just the knowledge of it is all I want. Now, tell me, do you honestly believe she poisoned her patient, a kind old man—how could she?”
“And did you never hear of folks who bit the hand that fed ’em? Well, Mason was like that. Give her an inch and she’d take an ell; give her an ell and she’d take the whole kit and b’ilin’l That’s the way she was, sir.”
“You know even more about her than I thought. What does she look like?”
“Like a whitish sepulsher, sir, and that’s what she is.”
“Then you do think her guilty of Mr. Caldwell’s death?”
“Well, either that, or, anywise, she knew all about it.”
“Explain that, please.”
Mr. Griffith’s tone frightened her and she waxed voluble.
“Yessir. You see, they was three persons who could have been the murderer and one of ’em was. There was Mason, and there was Stark and there was Ross.”
“Yessir, he is Mason’s beau. I was of a mind he couldn’t of done it, but lookin’ back, I see that he could and maybe did. Yes, maybe did!”
“Was he here that night?”
“How could he have kilt Mr. Caldwell if he hadn’t been here?” Mrs. Hinton had lost her awe of the lawyer. “Yes, he was here, but it was earlier.”
“Earlier than what?”
“Than the time Mr. Caldwell died.”
“How do you know when he died?”
She looked at him a little contemptuously. “Everybody in this house knows everything about Mr. Caldwell’s death. Except,” she added, quite as an afterthought, “except who kilt him. That’s what everybody wants to know!”
“And you’re the only one who knows.” Griffith spoke quietly but it had an astonishing effect on her.
“Me know!” she screamed. “What do you mean? How could I know?”
“Don’t make a scene, Mrs. Hinton,” Griffith said, sternly. “You have behaved well, so far, now keep it up. You have tacitly admitted that you know the murderer. I don’t think you do, but I think you suspect someone other than Miss Mason. Is it Ross or Stark?”
He stared at her so steadily, that it seemed he was hypnotizing her, and perhaps he was. For she quivered with what seemed fear, and then, in a whisper, she said:
“Not Ross, he was here early.”
She nodded her head, silently, and seemed about to crumple in a heap.
But Griffith spoke again in his dominating voice, and she drew herself together and looked at him.
“Did you see Stark give the poison?”
“No, sir, I saw him after he had given it.”
“Where was he?”
“Coming out of Mr. Caldwell’s room.”
“No, sir, the study.”
“Where were you?”
“On the stair landing, watching.”
“How could you tell he had killed Mr. Caldwell just then?”
“It was wrote on his face, sir! Never was such a murderer’s face! Full of rage, and yet sorta dumfounded, as if he couldn’t believe in his own wickedness! A malison on him!”
“You may go, Mrs. Hinton,” Griffith said, and she went slowly away.
“What do you think of her story?” Marcia asked him.
“The merest hint of truth, if any, and her own diseased imagination. She seems to me like a borderline case.”
“She never was like that before. But I can’t think it was Stark. What would be his motive?”
“Motive enough,” Vincent spoke out. “He saw the copy of the will on the study table, and naturally he read it, and learned he was to get five thousand dollars and he wanted to cash in.”
“You, none of you, really believes it was Stark or Mason either,” Lorraine said, sitting up very straight, and speaking in a high, strained voice. “If you’d listen to me, now—”—
“What is it, Lorry, that you have in mind?” Archer asked kindly.
“Just this,” she said, and now her voice was low and intense: “this is too much for the police, you must get Fleming Stone.”
“Get him?” cried Archer. “Who is he, a detective? Well, get him! I will pay his fees. If he is a good man, we want him.”
“He’s the best in the world,” Bruce said. “He’s the highest and the highest-priced—”
“Get him!” repeated Archer. “I will be responsible.”
“Very well, I’ll get him,” said Lorraine, quietly.
After the lawyer had gone, Vincent said, with a resigned air, “Well, Archer, now you’re top of the heap and cock of the walk, and monarch of all you survey—”
Archer interrupted, “And fish, flesh and good red herring! What of it, Vince?”
“This of it. What are you going to do for the rest of us—the ones you have done out of their expected patrimony—”
“Try matrimony,” Archer told him. “Sometimes it’s very lucrative.”
But Marcia spoke seriously.
“You ought to be ashamed, Vincent, to speak like that! You act as if Archer had done something wrong! He has returned to his own home and taken his own place. Wouldn’t you have done the same, if it had been you?”
“I should have come home sooner, if indeed, I had run away at all. It seems to me an act of cowardice.”
“You have said something like that before, Vince,”
and Archer’s glance was direct. “Please don’t do it again.”
“He won’t,” said Perry. “You’re acting pretty low-down, Vincent, and I think you’d better change your line.”
“I think so, too,” agreed Bruce, and then there was a silence which was broken by Lorraine, who said, in her low, soft voice:
“What the devil do you want, Vincent?”
“Beggars mustn’t be choosers,” he returned, gruffly “Oh, yes, sometimes they choose horses, and ride—”
“A beggar on horseback is not an admirable character,” Vincent growled. “If wishes were horses—”
“That’s enough horse-play,” Archer said, decidedly; “I suppose it all means, Vincent, that you want more money than Father left you. Well, I will give you some.”
“What do you want money for, Vince?” Lorraine asked.
“To bail out Mason, if she is caught and jailed,” Bruce grinned.
“Go to bed, you children, I’ll stay down here for a while, and get my thoughts in order.”
Archer was sitting in the big chair that had been Irving Caldwell’s favorite seat, and anyone but a disillusioned co-heir would have said he graced the position. His calm poise was forceful in its very immobility and he looked round on the group with gentle kindliness, yet with an air of proprietorship, as he spoke.
“Soon we will have a confab about selling houses and making living plans, but I think we should get finished with the police first.”
“I’m going for a walk,” and Vincent left them.
Then the Gibbses went up to bed, and the two younger members of the family sat looking at Archer.
“You’ll make a good boss,” Bruce stated, as if reaching a decision.
“Don’t talk about bossing, it is the farthest thing possible from my intentions. I wish you could understand, all of you, that I am one of you, and have a right here, not as a newcomer, but as one of Father’s sons, and a rightful heir to what he has given me.”
“Nobody is sore but Vincent,” Bruce looked earnest. “He’ll get over it. But I don’t see why you have to give him money.”
“My affairs, Bruce, my boy. And now, will you scoot to bed? I want a few words with Lorraine alone.”
“Going to propose? Oh, let me stay, do!”
“No proposals while we are in the hands of the homicide squad. Good night, Bruce.”
Unwillingly the youth departed, and Archer looked at Lorraine.
She was looking pretty and a little excited.
“Shall I really get Mr. Stone?” she asked him. “Do you really want him?”
“I said so, didn’t I! Where do you keep him?”
“Oh, I don’t own him—”
“Keep smiling, you look pretty when you smile.”
“Yes, I know. My face is never pretty in repose. And when I see it in a mirror of course it is always in repose.”
“Well, then I must keep you smiling. Now, as to the great detective.”
“Oh, yes. He is a friend of my friend Owen Todd.”
“The chap you blush about. I used to know him—when I was home before. Same old Todd?”
“I suppose so. I’ve only known him lately. Well, he is very friendly with Mr. Stone, and he suggested that we get him to track down Mason.”
“And a good plan, too. Don’t worry about the expense, it is all Father’s money, and it is right to use it for anything that will lead to the discovery of his murderer. You think it was Mason, don’t you?”
“Either Mason or Stark, or both. Then perhaps Mr. Stone could find that Mr. Ross—he is Mason’s best beau. Although I think she had lots of others.”
“How could she? I mean, how could she entertain boy friends, when she was on duty here, evenings, and resting up in the daytime?”
“Oh, well, she had time for Ross, so she had time for others. I believe she went to moving pictures or to tea rooms with them before she came here each day. She didn’t sleep all day.”’
“And you mean, perhaps one of these other men helped her instead of Ross.”
“Yes, that’s what I mean, but it doesn’t sound very plausible, does it? That’s why I think Fleming Stone could work it out. He’s a wizard on detective problems.”
“Then we must have him. I say, Lorraine, have you entirely forgotten that you used to be my sweetheart?”
“As you said yourself, Archer, there must be no talk like that while we are in the hands of the homicide squad.”
“You little witch!” he caught her in his arms. “Now, if you stop smiling, I can let you go; if you keep on smiling, I can’t.”
She pulled a long face.
“I must go now. Very well, Owen will be here tomorrow morning and we can see about it then.”
“Isn’t he in any business?”
“Yes, but not on Saturdays. I wonder if he’ll remember you.”
“I don’t remember his face, though I remember he was in some of my classes. What does he look like?”
“I don’t know. Just an average man. Rather good-looking but not handsome. Good night, Archer.”
“Good night, dear.”
He spoke a little abstractedly, as if he were already thinking of something else, and Lorraine pouted a little as she went up to her room.
She wondered if Archer was already thinking how he would spend his money. And she wondered if he would again refer to the fact that they had called themselves sweethearts when they were children.
The next day Owen Todd came.
Briggs put him in the reception room and went to tell Lorraine.
When she came in, Archer came too.
Todd spoke to the girl first and then turned to the man.
“Archer? How you are changed! I never should have known you!”
“There’s a long spell between fourteen and twenty-eight. And how you are changed! I never should have known you, either!”
They both laughed, and Owen said:
“It all comes back to me. We were both in Miss Pillsbury’s class—”
“Oh, Old Pill!” Archer cried, and Todd said: “Yes, that’s what we used to call her! You’ve got it! You remember her!”
“Of course I do. Old Cross-Face!”
“I know. She was what you might call austere.”
“All of that! Do you remember the day she locked you in the coat room for an hour?”
“Indeed I do! But tell me of your wanderings; where all have you been?”
“No, those things must keep for another time. We want to ask you about something more important. Tell him, Lorraine.”
So Lorraine told him how much they wished to get Fleming Stone to help them, and Todd assured her it could be done if the detective was not engaged on another case.
“Come along with me, Archer, and we’ll go to see him now,” he suggested, but Archer said:
“No, take Lorry with you. She will be more persuasive, and I have some matters requiring my attention here. I hope you can get him. Don’t stick at the price.”
“Oh, Stone isn’t grasping. He cares more for an interesting or peculiar case, than for the money it will bring him.”
“Surely he will find our case interesting.”
“Of course he will. Good-by, then; take care of yourself, old man!”
“Why not?” Archer said, and the two emissaries started off.
Perry Gibbs came into the library.
“Where is Lorraine going with Todd?” he asked. Archer told him of the plan to get Fleming Stone to take the case.
“Good thing if he does,” Perry declared. “Then we’ll soon have Mason in our midst.”
“Let’s hope so. Todd says the man is very clever.”
“Oh, yes, more than that, he’s a magician. I say, Archer, there’s something I want to say to you, and I don’t quite like to. I don’t know how you’ll take it.”
“Gosh, Perry, don’t be afraid of me! Am I such an ogre?”
“No—but it sounds funny—”
“Let me be the judge of that.”
“All right, then. It’s just that—now you are a man of affairs, you’ll want a secretary, a confidential secretary and one you can trust. I’m applying for the position.”
Archer looked relieved.
“Is that all? I feared you were going to accuse me of flirting with Mason, or something really terrible. Well, as to a secretary, yes, I suppose I shall have to have one, and I don’t see why you wouldn’t fill the bill. Can you read and write?”
“Fairly well. And I am a certified accountant and I am a speed stenographer and typist, and as to the confidential part, I am discretion itself.”
“All to the good. But I am not inclined to make any definite plans until after the police give us a clean bill of health.”
“I know. And you are right. But you will have a lot of very important business before that day shall come. Better let me help you in a small way until you are ready to launch out. Oh, I’m not insistent, I’m only laying the matter before you.”
“Is that it? Then don’t ever come to me when you are in an insistent mood! I don’t take kindly to advice and not often to suggestion.”
“I’m glad you’re like that. That’s the sort I like to work for.”
Gibbs rose, but Archer said:
“Wait a minute, will you? And tell me this. Why, in the name of common sense, are you boys all so crazy for money? Here’s Vincent, disgruntled because I came along and, as he seems to think, stole his birthright. Which I didn’t do. It’s more as if he stole mine—which he didn’t do. Now you want a job, right off, and it must be for the sake of the salary, it can’t be for anything else.”
“Well, you see,” Perry looked a little hesitant, but went on, “Mr. Caldwell left Marcia a pile, and she is the best wife living, but her money isn’t mine, and I would like a little more of my own. Yes, Father Caldwell left me a nice present, but—you see, don’t you?”
“Yes,” said Archer, “I see.”
“All right, then, we’ll let the matter drop until after the police have crossed us off of their docket or whatever they call it.”
“Will the police like our getting a private detective?” Archer asked.
“Lord, yes! As long as it’s Stone. He and Gordon are old cronies. They’ve often worked together.”
“Do we tell him everything?”
“Sure. Except what he tells us, that will be the greater part. We tell him all we know, and he tells us the rest.”
“He may slip up on this case.”
“It will be his first slip.”
“Is he so omniscient, then?”
“I dare say I’m over enthusiastic, but I’ve heard a lot about him, and it’s all to the good.”
When Lorraine came home at lunch time, she told them that Mr. Stone was just finished with a big case, and was about to take a rest.
“But,” she said, “Owen is a plaintive piece and he just kept at it till he persuaded Mr. Stone that he looked so well and strong that a rest would positively harm him, make him flabby or flaccid or something like that. Anyway, Mr. Stone is coming tomorrow morning.”
“Will he stay here?” asked Marcia.
“I don’t think so. He stays when a case is out of town, but he lives just down the road a piece, and I think he’ll go home nights and Sundays.”
“We owe Mr. Todd a vote of thanks,” Archer told them. “Lorraine, will you see that he gets it?”
“Indeed I will. What will he do first? How does a private detective work?”
“I think he just looks around,” Perry said, “and then falls into a brown study—”
“And when he comes out of his trance,” Bruce took it up, “he knows it all, and he just walks out and comes back, bringing Mason.”
“Who vamped him to a standstill,” Perry contributed to the nonsense, but Lorraine spoke out:
“Don’t make me sorry that I succeeded in getting Mr. Stone,” she said, “and please be serious about it all. We must find out who killed Father, and I think it is not a subject for silly chatter.”
“You’re right, Lorry,” and Marcia looked grave, “I hope, boys, you will not parade your brilliant repartee before Mr. Stone.”
“No, ma’am,” said Bruce, pseudo-penitently. “I promise to be wise as a serpent and harmless as a dove.”
“That means your being silent,” Lorraine said, calmly. “See that you remember.”
“If he finds Mason, we can probably do the rest ourselves,” and Perry seemed to think himself helpful.
“No,” Archer admonished, “the case is now in Mr. Stone’s hands. Working with the police, he must bring the matter to its conclusion.”
“He will do it!” and Lorraine’s eyes were shining when she spoke.
Fleming Stone was received in the drawing room.
This was because it was Marcia’s habit to make an occasion, whenever anything unusual occurred.
So when the detective arrived, he found the whole family waiting for him. Marcia rose, and was at her queenly best as she greeted him, and then introduced Archer and the others.
All were quiet and courteous save Bruce, who could not suppress or conceal his excitement at having the great man under their roof. He waited until Stone was seated, and then drew a chair as near to him as possible and sat down on it with an air of complete satisfaction and expectancy.
Although Bruce was twenty-two, he was boyishly addicted to hero worship, and he gazed at their guest, not rudely, but with rapt adoration.
Stone smiled kindly on him, and after some small talk, he opened the subject in which they were all most interested.
“Tell me,” he said, “is there no word of the nurse as yet?”
“No,” Archer answered. “Inspector Gordon says there never was such a disappearance. He says if an earthquake had swallowed her, she couldn’t have been more unfindable. I’m told she is a clever young woman, but to outwit the Missing Persons Bureau is a big performance.”
Stone agreed, and added that such a startling feat could only be done by a quiet, inconspicuous person, one who could so control her manner and actions as to seem entirely justified in what she was doing.
“That’s Mason all over!” Marcia exclaimed. “I often noticed that whatever she was doing seemed the best thing to do in the circumstances.”
“Not only seemed, but was,” Vincent stated. “I noticed her care of Father, and I assure you, Mr. Stone, she was the perfect nurse. She never dictated but she persuaded her patient, when nobody else could do anything with him.”
“That’s true,” Lorraine agreed. “And if Mason planned to disappear, she would plan so carefully, and carry out her plans so perfectly, that she would really be undiscoverable!”
“Also which she has done!” Bruce declared, as if that settled it, and they never would see Mason again.
“It is thought she left the house during the night?” Stone asked. “Could she have been hidden in the house until daylight?”
They looked at one another, and then Vincent said, “I know Mason pretty well, and if she did give my father poison, she would get out of the house at once. She is a creature of impulses, and her first idea would be to run for safety. But, as Marcia says, when she did anything she did it perfectly. She had her plans all made—”
“You’re contradicting yourself,” Archer said. “If she poisoned Father on a sudden impulse, she couldn’t have laid her plans beforehand for her escape.”
“She didn’t need plans,” Bruce put in eagerly. “Father said something that made her mad. She gave him poison, in a mad, passion, and then she had to run away. Why, how can you say she planned it, when her landlady says she left all her clothes and things at home? And she didn’t plan anything about getting the money Father left her in the will. No, she was so frightened at what she had done in a mad moment, she just flew off! And her smartness is shown by the fact that she can’t be found!”
“That’s plausible,” and Fleming Stone smiled at the enthusiast; “but we must find her. She is clever, but perhaps not the cleverest person in the world.”
“You’re that,” and Bruce’s face was so simply sincere that Stone just nodded, as at childish babble, and went on:
“Of course, I can’t say yet that I feel sure of Mason’s guilt; if someone else had done the poisoning she might have run away from sheer fright. Now, just supposing that Miss Mason is innocent of crime, can any of you suggest which way to look for the criminal? A business associate, a disgruntled servant? A quarrel of long standing? Somebody gave Mr. Caldwell that fatal drink; somebody desperately wanted him to die. It is hard to see a strong enough motive for Miss Mason—”
“I can tell you of her strong motive,” Perry Gibbs said, a little reluctantly; “I suppose I ought to. As I went into the room one day, I heard Miss Mason say, before she saw me, ‘not until we are married!’ I went on in, and she was sitting on the arm of Mr. Caldwell’s chair, in decidedly affectionate position. She was entirely unembarrassed, and greeted me pleasantly. But I am positive she said that and meant it, just as I have repeated it.”
“What was Mr. Caldwell’s reaction to this?”
“He looked at me and laughed. He too, showed no embarrassment. It somehow seemed as if neither of them meant anything, it was just a joke.”
“If the nurse had won his promise to marry her, it was no joke,” Stone said. “There are not many ways to find out if she had done so. In fact, I can think of only one way.”
“What is that?” queried Bruce, listening intently. “To find Ross, Miss Mason’s young man. He would be likely to know her secrets. But I can’t think Mr. Caldwell offered her marriage.”
“You have heard of similar cases, Mr. Stone.” Archer looked serious. “You know how a nurse manages a man patient, if she wants to. But I quite agree with you. My father would never offer marriage to his nurse because of her ingratiating ways. Miss Mason is seductive by nature, but I hold to my opinion of my father.”
“Well, I don’t,” Vincent declared. “I love and respect my father’s memory quite as much as Archer does, but—a man and his nurse are soon started. As a man of the world, Mr. Stone, you must know how to face facts.”
“And I do face them, when I know them to be facts.”
“Well, then, Mr. Stone,” Archer looked thoughtful, “if Mason is not the criminal, why did she run away? Or do you think she saw the murder done and ran away in sheer, unreasoning terror?”
Vincent gave an unpleasant chuckle. “You ought to know, Arch, that’s what you did yourself!”
Archer’s eyes flashed, but he quickly smiled, and, ignoring Vincent’s jibe, he turned to the detective and said, “I can’t seem to get away from Mason as the killer. Had it been anyone else I think she is the sort who would raise an alarm, or run to Stark for assistance.”
“I can see only Mason’s hand in the crime,” said Bruce, who would have agreed that anyone did it, whose name was suggested by Archer.
“If not Mason, then it was Stark,” Marcia said, looking judicial. “Nobody else could have managed it.”
“Stark is out of the question!” Vincent spoke scornfully. “If not Mason, then I say it was Mason’s boy friend, Mr—what’s his name, Ross. Find him, Mr. Stone, and you’ve got something.”
“Yes. And I think Ross will not be so entirely lost to sight as Miss Mason is. Now, Mrs. Gibbs, may I have a desk or a table somewhere? I am a bit methodical, and I want to start right.”
“Yes, indeed, Mr. Stone, you come along with me. Will you stay here while you are working on our case?” They went up the stairs.
“I should like to have a room, with the privilege of going home when I wish.”
“You shall have everything as you like. Now, I think this room right back of Father’s bedroom will be just right for you. We call it the study and it has a desk and table. Then—come this way—you may have this guest room at the back of the house. It is a pleasant room and has its own bath and dressing room; and of course, when home ties call you, you are free to run away.”
“You are splendid!”
“Good! Now, feel free to go and come just as you choose. Stark will look after you. His room is on this floor also. So is Archer’s. All the rest of us are another flight up. Come downstairs again, when you like. Lunch is at one.”
She went away, and Stone went into the study. He did not stand musing, but made a quick search of one or two closets, the desk drawers and pigeonholes, a small sideboard and a filing cabinet. But nowhere did he find a scrap or a remnant of anything left by Miss Mason.
A clean sweep, he thought to himself. She must have been prepared in advance. Me for her lodgings as soon as may be.
He went downstairs, ready for the street, but stopped in the library to speak to Archer.
“I’m going to Miss Mason’s whilom home,” he said. “I suppose I make my reports to you as head of the house?”
Archer looked perplexed.
“I suppose so,” he said, “but I don’t like that term, head of the house. It was all right for Father but it doesn’t fit me. Let’’s call Marcia head of the house, can’t we?”
“Of course, if you like. But I’d rather make my reports to a man.”
“Can’t you make most of your reports to the family, and, if there is anything special or private you can tell me and we’ll see about it?”
“We’ll try that plan, anyhow, and see how it works. Now, Mr. Caldwell, I’m going to see if I can’t dig up something from Miss Mason’s landlady, and while I’m gone, will you telephone Gordon to come here to see me, if possible, this afternoon?”
“Sure. You’ll be back for lunch?”
“Oh, yes. Mrs. Gibbs asked me to.”
“Great girl, Marcia. She reminds me of our mother. Lorraine isn’t at her best just now. The shock affected her whole being. But she is a splendid character.”
“Yes, I can see that.”
Stone went off, he had his own car, and having Mrs. Blake’s address he went directly there.
The landlady was not pleased at seeing him and told him she was very busy, but he could go up to Miss Mason’s room and snoop for himself.
“Isn’t it locked up?” Stone asked, with such a look of reproof that she was frightened.
“No, sir, why should it be?”
“Because now it is government property! Why, you might be arrested for being careless with it! You have a key?”
“Oh, yes, it is in the door. You see, sir, the girls wanted to go in there. I didn’t see no harm. I didn’t know the gover’ment owned it! Do they own all this house?”
“They don’t exactly own Miss Mason’s room, but as it is in your charge, they expect you to be careful with it. You are responsible if anything is taken from it.”
“I didn’t take nothing from it, sir, God’s truth, I didn’t! Only except three or four books, which Miss Mason has told me often to take if I wanted to read them. But, I don’t get hardly any time to read, I’m that drove!”
“Where are the books?”
“There on the shelf, behind you.”
Stone looked at the books; they were worn and cheap ones, but not library books. The titles were, “Story of Abigail,” “What Will Can Do,” “A Girl in Her Teens” and “Try, Try Again.”
“Uplift stuff,” he said to himself, and put them back on the shelf, saying aloud, “Keep them, Mrs. Blake. Don’t give them up to anyone. I may want to see them again. And I may have to take the key to Miss Mason’s room—”
“Oh, land! you can’t do that! Why, I’m a goin’ to rent that room soon’s I can.”
“What are you going to do with her things?”
“That’s what’s botherin’ me! What do you think?”
“I think you must remember they’re all government property now, and—watch your step!”
“Lordy, sir! you do scare me.”
“I’m not from the police, I have no authority over you, but I think an Inspector will come to see you soon, and he will tell you what to do. Where did Miss Mason keep her money?”
“I dunno. In her stockin’ like as not.”
“I mean in what bank? She must have saved up something.”
“Oh, yeah. She had some in some Savings Bank, but she never told me what one. She was fearful close-mouthed!”
“Why do you say was?”
“Well, I think she’s dead. Oh, yes, I know some thinks she killed Mr. Caldwell, but she didn’t! She had her little faults, Eva Mason did, but kill! Never!”
“Then we must look further. Do you know any of her boy friends?”
“No, I don’t!”
“You are so positive I think you do. Don’t you know Mr. Ross?”
“Oh, him! He ain’t her beau any more—but he don’t know it.”
“How do you know it?”
“She told me she was goin’ to fire him. She’s got somebody else.”
“Someone who has promised to marry her?”
Mrs. Blake burst into chuckles of laughter.
“Splash! You mean Mr. Caldwell! Well, I suppose she did think he would, but you and I know better! Ugh, how girls can believe everything that’s handed out to them I can’t see! No, I think Eva had another feller, a new one, and, I think she ran away with him!”
“Then, you don’t think she had anything to do with the murder?”
“‘Course not! She ain’t that sort. Well, sir, you’re very entertainin’ I’ll admit, but I got my work to do, so good-by. Yes, I’ll keep them books safe, I ain’t read ’em yet. Good-by.”
Stone went up to Eva Mason’s room, and as he had feared, he found nothing of any interest.
Mrs. Blake had declared complete ignorance of the addresses of any of Eva’s boy friends, Ross or any other, and Stone had hoped to find an address book, but there was none. A cheap but tidy pen and ink stand he saw on the table, but not a letter or any scrap of writing was to be found. A runaway could not carry much luggage, he had not supposed Eva Mason had taken any. Yet, why not? She must have had a bag or suitcase, and if so, why not have put her ready money and papers, if any, in that!
His imagination was working well, but he was getting no definite information.
He stood in the middle of the decent but cheaply furnished room and wished the walls could talk. But walls have only ears not tongues, and he decided to leave.
A girl’s face peeped round the half open door. A pretty girl, with blue eyes and red hair.
“Who are you?” she said, in a charming voice, and Stone smiled at her. That was enough. She came in, and sat cozily, on the corner of the table.
She was quite evidently waiting for an answer to her question.
“I am trying to get a line on Eva Mason’s disappearance. Can you help me?”
“Why should I?”
“Perhaps she is in a jam, or do you know why she disappeared?”
“Why do you keep saying disappeared? As if something had happened to her!”
“Do you know that something has not happened to her?”
“I know nothing about her. I don’t want to know anything!”
“Why? Did she steal your boy friend?”
The chance shot told. The girl jumped down from the table and made for the door.
But Stone headed her off and caught her by the arm.
“Wait a minute,” he said, gently, “I apologize. But you know Eva is a vamp, yet I am sure she couldn’t get a chap away from you, unless you were more than willing!”
“You’re dead right, she couldn’t! What do I care for Gus Baker? I’m sick and tired of the sight of him!”
“I think I know him! Where does he live?”
“Oh, I don’t know—Little Old West Tenth Street or somewhere. Eva’s welcome to him, but she can’t keep him!”
“Do you think Eva went away with him?”
The girl went white, but she had pluck. She kept her air of scorn, and said, “I hope so! That would be the finish of both of them! If you see her, you tell her Sally Gale said that! I’m Sally Gale—I wish I wasn’t!”
She burst into tears and ran from the room.
Stone decided not to follow her, and he went downstairs and left the house.
But his face was sad.
Inspector Gordon came that afternoon.
He was glad to see Stone and after their greetings they at once began to discuss the matter in hand.
They were in the library. Marcia and Archer were there too, and of course, Bruce, who sat where he could watch both the detectives.
“It’s the most mystifying thing!” Gordon was saying. “Somebody must have seen that girl going from this house to—to wherever she went!”
“You’ve had letters about it?” Stone inquired.
“Hundreds of them. And every one has been looked into. We’re thorough, you know. But nothing has produced even a trace of her that can be relied on. She has been reported in a dozen states, but she wasn’t in any of them.”
“Did she elude the policeman on this beat?”
“Must have. Either she watched from the front windows and saw him go by, or she just had devil’s luck. Anyways, he saw nothing of her.”
“Have you any idea of the time she left this house?”
“Can’t have. Nobody saw her go, that we know of. The family went to bed before midnight, and after that we have no record till Stark went to the study at seven. We assume that she went before daylight, but we may be wrong. What to do!”
“The letters give you no clue, even aside from definite facts?”
“No, they’re mostly instructions how to find her or taunts and jeers at our failure to do so.”
“Railroad stations? Steamboat piers? Airdromes?”
“All been covered. But see, Stone, what a handicap we are under. We’ve no picture of her, we know only vaguely what she looks like; we’ve no idea how she was dressed when she left here. It is thought that she did not leave the house in her uniform; but I think she might have done so. A trained nurse always commands respect.”
“If she didn’t wear her uniform away, then she changed into her street dress, and since neither a dress nor a uniform is left behind, she must have carried a bag or a suitcase,” Stone said, and Marcia nodded her head.
“Mason always left her uniform here, when she went home in the morning,” she said, “and changed into it when she came at night.”
“Where did she change?” Stone asked.
“In Mrs. Hinton’s room, that’s the housekeeper; she has a little sitting room off the pantry. But we’ve looked around and there is nothing of Mason’s there.”
“Let’s get down to motives,” Stone suggested. “Why would Mason kill Mr. Caldwell?”
“For her legacy,” Marcia said, promptly. “Without doubt she read Father’s will, which lay on the study table all night.”
“But she didn’t wait to receive the money,” Gordon objected.
“Frightened at her own crime, and ran away in terror,” Archer said, “that’s what we all think. She might be wrought up to do the deed, by anger or by avarice, and then be appalled at her success, and rush off anywhere away from here.”
“Logical enough,” Gordon agreed, “but we do want a bit of proof. You see, she left no money or letters or papers in her room at Mrs. Blake’s, so she intended when she left there not to go back.”
“Oh, I don’t know,” Stone demurred, “she may be the sort that carry all their money and jewelry on their persons all the time. And I doubt she had letters of any importance. Somehow, I don’t think she meant to commit the crime before she came here. I think it was done in a sudden fit of temper or burst of rage, and she just had to disappear.”
“In that case,” Gordon asked, “where did she get the poison? That required premeditation.”
“Yes,” Stone admitted. “It could be explained, though. Perhaps someone brought it to her, one of the servants, or this beau of hers, the redoubtable Ross.”
“What’s redoubtable mean?” Bruce asked, so earnestly that Stone answered him:
“I don’t quite know, Bruce, I rather think I used it wrongly. But it’s a good, strong word. However, Gordon, Mrs. Blake told me that Mason had fired Ross, and another source of information makes me think that his successor is one Gus Baker. Shall we hunt him?”
“Why can’t she get less common names?” growled Gordon. “Say, Trelawney or Montmorency! There’s eight pages of Bakers in the telephone book!”
“I think Ross would know more than Baker,” Stone went on. “And I’m not sure there is any Baker. That was grapevine information.”
“What’s grapevine—” Bruce began, but Archer told him if he asked any more questions he would be excluded, and since it was Archer’s reproof, Bruce subsided.
“I don’t believe any of Mason’s boy friends know anything about this family. Eva is very close-mouthed about the people she attends, I was told that when I engaged her. I’m sure she wouldn’t confide in her young men.”
“I didn’t mean that, Mrs. Gibbs,” Stone explained, “but I think we might learn something about the girl from them. We know so little about her, outside this house.”
“That’s true, Mr. Stone. But,” Marcia went on, “it is in this house that the motive for the murder must be looked for. And I think we must feel that the motive was greed, whoever was the criminal. Mr. Griffith told me that he frequently brought large sums of money to Father, in small bills, for Father was, Mr. Griffith said, everlastingly handing out money to the servants, that is, the servants who had anything to do for him. Stark, Briggs, Hinton and, of course, Mason.”
“No motive for the murder there,” Stone said, as if thinking aloud.
“Oh, I don’t know,” Archer said, hesitantly; “maybe he had promised Mason a goodly sum, and Griffith had advised him against paying out these douceurs to people who were receiving a regular salary, and Father had agreed it was a foolish thing to do. And maybe, then, he didn’t give Mason what he had promised, and she lost her temper and in a fiendish rage gave him the poison. Then, when she came to her senses, she would see the only thing to do was to run away. She could carry her uniform under her coat, or manage it some way. Perhaps put it in the first rubbish can she met.”
“But still,” Stone demurred, “that would mean she had the poison ready, so she was guilty of premeditated murder after all.”
Lorraine had come into the library a little time before, but had said nothing until now.
“No, Mason didn’t have the poison ready,” she said, “it was brought to her or given to her by someone in the house or who came to the house.”
“That takes us back to the servants or to Miss Mason’s outside friends,” Gordon said, decidedly. “I incline, and have from the first, to Stark.”
“The valet is always the obvious one,” Stone told him, “but in that case, Stark and Mason must have been in cahoots. What was their relationship?”
“Nothing,” Marcia said, “more than associate servants.”
“Now,” Lorraine said, with the air of a seeress, “but there has been more than that between them.”
“Be careful, dear,” and Marcia looked at the girl, anxiously, “don’t fancy things!”
“No,” said Lorraine, simply, “Mason told me.”
“Told you what?” Gordon pounced on his chance. “Told me that Stark adored her and wanted her to marry him.”
“When was this?”
“I don’t know; soon after Mason first came.”
“How long has she been here?”
“Nearly six months,” Marcia informed.
“Then Stark must have got over it,” Bruce said. Marcia shook her head at him, but Gordon said, quickly:
“Why do you say that, Mr. Caldwell?”
“Oh, anybody can see the way he looks at her, as if she was scum of the earth. And one day, she came in with a new hat on—it was pretty fierce!—and Stark said, ‘Hello, Tippity-Witch!’ and Mason was awful mad!”
“Well, Stark never gave Mason poison to give to Dad,” Marcia said, positively, and they mostly agreed.
“I think it was given by mistake,” Archer said, but Gordon interrupted his further speech.
“I can see no possibility of a mistake, and I can’t see any motive except that he had ruined the nurse and refused to marry her.”
“Don’t go too fast,” Stone warned him, but the Inspector continued:
“She told Mrs. Blake that Mr. Caldwell had promised to marry her. I fancy he had no intention of keeping that promise and thought he could buy her off with large money. But, it seems, that was not sufficient for Miss Mason’s claims, and she had her revenge. She probably took the money, too, and that helped some. I expect the sum was large enough to allow her to ignore the bequest left her in the will. At any rate, she dared lose no time in taking her departure. Well, we’ll find her yet! I wish I could lay hands on Oscar Ross!”
“Who?” cried Stone, sharply.
“Oscar Ross, Mason’s late beau. Why, do you know him?”
“No—no, I don’t. But I can find him.”
“Be about it, then, we want him badly.”
Gordon left them, and Stone went up to his study. He sat down at the desk, but he leaned back in the comfortable chair and let his thoughts play around the name of Oscar Ross. What did he know of such a person? But he did know something. Oh, yes, it was the name on a shop a few blocks further south than the house he was in, and it was over on one of the numbered Avenues, beyond Lexington. He could go right to it in his car, but perhaps he ought to tell Gordon first.
He tried to get Gordon, but couldn’t locate him, so concluded to wait awhile and then try again.
He was still sitting there when Stark came and tapped at the door.
“Hello, Stark, I’m glad you came. I want a little talk with you. You know what I’m here for, don’t you?”
“They tell me you’re to find out who killed Mr. Caldwell. And, Lord knows, sir, I hope you can do it.”
“Sit down, Stark, and let’s talk about it a little. Do you know anything about it that you haven’t told?”
The valet seemed startled, but answered quietly enough, “No, sir.”
“Well, I believe you, because I’ve no reason to do otherwise. But I wish you could prove it.”
“Prove what, sir?”
“That you know nothing more than you’ve told. By the way, you haven’t told anything, have you?”
“I have answered all the questions asked of me, Mr. Stone.”
“Well, now, suppose you answer me some questions that I don’t ask of you.”
“You talk in riddles, sir.”
“Well, don’t answer in riddles, tell me the truth. Are you in love with Eva Mason?”
“I don’t know, sir. I think I am.”
Stone burst out laughing.
“You told the truth that time!”
“Yes, sir, you said I must.”
“And it was a case of love at first sight, eh?”
“Just about that.”
“And they say, hottest love soonest cold—”
“Yes, sir, I found it so.”
“You did? I thought you said you were still in love with the lady.”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mr. Stone, I don’t know!” Stone changed his tune. He was looking for some information, not trying to cheer a lovesick swain.
“Of course, you couldn’t continue to care for Miss Mason, if she was in love with Mr. Caldwell.”
“She wasn’t in love with him, sir. She just pretended to be.”
“To get his money?”
“That and—other considerations.”
“She expected him to marry her?”
“I suppose she did.”
“And she had reason to?”
“As to that, I’d rather not say.”
“And I’d rather you would say. You sleep on this floor. You came in the night and listened at the door of Mr. Caldwell’s bedroom.”
“Only a few times.”
“But that was enough?”
“Yes, sir, that was enough! You know what a nurse is—”
“Look here, Stark, that seems to be the universal opinion! I don’t believe all nurses make love to their patients.”
“All the good-looking ones do.”
“Well, come along with it. Where did Miss Mason get that poison?”
“Somebody must have given it to her. She couldn’t possibly have bought it herself.”
“Who gave it to her? You?”
“Oh, no, not me!”
“The Ross boy?”
Stark smiled. “Him? He hasn’t sense enough to go in when it rains!”
“The doctor, then?”
“I don’t know—unless it was somebody outside. Nobody in the house could have done it.”
“Nobody in the house? Nobody, Stark?”
“Well, nobody that was Mr. Caldwell’s child, his real child.”
“You don’t mean Miss Lorraine!”
“Heavens above! No! She is an angel. There’s no one in the world so lovely a lady as Miss Lorraine.”
“Then, Stark, you have to mean Mr. Gibbs.”
“Maybe I do.”
Stark looked apologetic, but determined on veracity, since Stone had commanded it.
“You’ve gone so far, you must go on. Are you just speaking from your imagination, or do you know something?”
“I know Mr. Gibbs was awful fond of Mason, but Mrs. Gibbs didn’t know it. And I know that Perry Gibbs and Eva sometimes met outside of an evening, just before she came in the house.”
“She seems to have made havoc in this household; but if that’s all you can tell about Gibbs, it isn’t much, Stark.”
“No, sir. But there is more. One day, he was going out of this room, and he turned and whispered to Mason, but I heard him. He said, ‘It’s in the bathroom wall-cabinet.’ And she said, ‘Oh, thank you, Perry,’ just like that.”
“And you think he meant the bottle of poison?”
“It could have been, sir.”
“And she looked pleased?”
“She looked scared, as if somebody might have overheard. They wouldn’t think I heard, but I am specially acute with my ears. And anyway, he went away, and she sent me downstairs quick, on an errand, and when I came back she was just coming out of the bathroom, with something in her hand, all covered over with a clean handkerchief. And whatever it was, she put it in her drawer, the one that nobody but her ever touched. Well, there’s the story, Mr. Stone, and that’s all I know about it.”
“When did this happen?”
“The very night Mr. Caldwell died.”
“You mean, earlier in the evening?”
“Yes, sir. It was just as Miss Mason came into this room, he must have walked upstairs with her, and after he whispered that to her, he went right downstairs again. And then, at three o’clock, that same night, was the time they say Mr. Caldwell died.”
“You did right to tell me, Stark; don’t tell anyone else.”
“No, sir. I’m glad to have told it though; it worried me.”
Left alone, Stone considered the matter. Perry Gibbs! Marcia’s husband! Well, it would not be difficult to follow it up. Yet, there was only Stark’s unsupported word for it. Gibbs would laugh at the story. Perhaps better look around a little first. Find out where Gibbs could have procured the poison. It’s not easy to come by these days.
And if Mason’s hand administered it, but Gibbs had given it to her, he was the principal. In that case, it might be that he knew where she was and would follow her! He must be watched!
And as Stone thought of the possibilities and probabilities, he wondered he hadn’t thought of Perry Gibbs himself.
Later that afternoon, Stone picked up the Inspector and the two went to interview Oscar Ross.
The name was across the doorway of a small delicatessen shop, and they found the proprietor inside, and he frankly admitted that he was Oscar Ross. When he learned the identity of his guests and their business, he asked them to an inner room, and whistled for a boy, who came to take his place.
Ross was a large, rather clumsy man, without grace of movement, but with a strikingly handsome face. A clear olive complexion, large dark eyes and wellshaped features, crowned by softly waving dark hair, gave him more the effect of a movie hero than a shopkeeper.
Though quite evidently uneducated, he was self-possessed and properly civil. He looked at the Inspector with curiosity rather than awe, and took little interest in Stone.
“We want to know,” Gordon began, “all you can tell us about Miss Eva Mason.”
“Pretty big order,” and Ross smiled, but his expression was sly.
“You know her very well, then?”
“Better than most. What yuh wanta know about her?”
“First, where she is now.”
“Well, sir, you’ll have to ask someone else that. I take it from the papers she’s vamoosed.”
“That’s just it,” said Stone. “Did you help her get away?”
“Not me. If I had my way, she’d be back here in a jiffy.”
“You’re fond of her, then?” Stone smiled in friendly fashion.
“You bet! Leastwise I was, till she got sorta high and mighty, and made me feel I wasn’t good enough for her.”
“What do you mean by good?” Gordon asked.
“Aw, I mean rich, might as well say so.”
“Do you mean Miss Mason had smiled on you, and then decided she wanted a richer man?”
“Ezzackly that! Say, guv’nor, do you think she killed that bloke?”
Ross looked at the Inspector as if begging for a negative answer.
“We rather hoped you could give us some information on that subject. Is Miss Mason engaged to you?”
“Now how do I know! We was engaged, but she got stuck up, and she kinda broke it off—oh, I understood, she broke it, so’s she could pick it up again if she wanted to.”
“Did she have someone else in her mind?” Stone asked.
“Did she! Why, her mind was just full of Some One Elses! I could name half a dozen, but what I minded most, was her foolin’ with that old man!”
“Sure. So silly! Oh, I know—nurse, and all that, but she wasn’t content just to fuss ’round him, she believed he was goin’ to marry her. I told her she was just makin’ a fool of herself, but she came back at me good and plenty, and said that I didn’t ’predate her, that she was a real lady and I was fur beneath her. That made me mad, and we had a few words, and I ain’t seen her since.”
“When was that?” Gordon inquired.
“ ’Long ’bout two weeks ago, or nearly, and I did hear she’s tryin’ to get Sally Gale’s beau now. Well, joy go with her!”
Ross’ face was indicative of anything but sincerity in his wish, and Stone surprised both his hearers by saying:
“I suppose you mean Gus Baker.”
“Nobody else! I say, sir, do you know him?”
“No, but I’ve met Sally Gale. A pretty girl, I hope Baker stands by her.”
“Look here, Ross,” Gordon said, “you’re telling us nothing. We don’t care about you young people’s love affairs. Give us more about Miss Mason. Did she seem to have money?”
Ross looked embarrassed. He shuffled his feet on the bare floor and he drew up his shoulders and thrust out his chest in an effort to seem independent.
“Well, I don’t know just how you mean that, but she had pocket money. If ever I was shy a bit, for the moment, she was alius willing to pay the shot.”
“Did you pay her back?” Stone smiled.
“If she asked for it.” Ross looked sulky.
“But she didn’t often ask for it?”
“That’s about the how of it. But anyways, I don’t know the least mite about where she is now, or why she went away. I haven’t seen her for more’n two weeks, and I dunno as I ever wanta see her again.”
“What were her relations with the Caldwell family?” Stone asked.
“She isn’t no relation to ’em; just a nurse.”
“I mean, did she like them? Did they like her?”
“Yes, I guesso. She thinks the new chap who came home from Africa or wherever he was is great, but I think he didn’t cotton to her, ’cause she soured on him right away.”
“Do you think Gus Baker would know anything about Miss Mason?”
“I know he wouldn’t. He’s a dumbhead in his own right, and he don’t hardly know Eva anyways. She only vamped him to rig Sally. But have you given old Stark the grill? He’s dead in love with Eva, ’cordin’ to her tell.”
“Do you know him?”
“I used to. He worked in a drug manufacturin’ place then. But that was three, four years ago. Like as not Eva ’zaggerated his affections for her, that’s a way she has.”
“Is she ambitious?” Stone asked, a little suddenly, for Gordon had risen to go.
“No, sir, not that I know of. Except to get money—big money, I mean. She wouldn’t marry a feller who wasn’t rich—so she says.”
“We didn’t learn much from Ross,” Gordon complained, as they went away.
“Picked up a little,” returned Stone, who was thinking. “But I can’t feel any urge to go to see Baker.”
“Nor I. I think our investigation must be made in the Caldwell house.”
“Ever think of a dweller in that house who is not a Caldwell?”
“You must mean either Lorraine or Gibbs. And I’m sure you do not mean Lorraine.”
“I do not. But I have heard that Perry Gibbs was infatuated with the seductive Eva. What about it?”
“Not much, I imagine. Gibbs is a queer dick, hasn’t much mentality, and what he has works in a queer way. The only way he could be mixed up in the murder would be if he were in cahoots with Mason, and they made common cause, because they were both anxious for money. It is a possibility.”
“And have you crossed off Stark?”
“I haven’t really crossed off anybody, yet. I want to find that girl first. But I remember, Stone, you were always an impatient worker, wanting to find out everything at once. Nothing will get away from us, and when we find Mason, we’ll know it all.”
“It’ll be a long day before you find Mason, Inspector; then you wash out all of the family, including Gibbs?”
“So far as I can see now, the murderer was not one of the family or household. I rather looked at Mrs. Hinton, but she is incapable of planning the thing as it happened.”
“How did it happen?”
“How you do catch a feller up! I don’t know how it happened; that’s what they engaged you to find out.”
Stone looked at the speaker, but the twinkle in Gordon’s eye showed that he felt no twinge of jealousy, and Stone said:
“All right, then I’ll go to it.”
When Stone reached the Caldwell house, he found no one around to speak to, so went up to the study, and lighting one of his favorite cigars, sat down in the easy chair to think over what he could do to find Mason.
For he was determined to find her.
As if in answer to his thoughts, there was a telephone call from Headquarters and Sergeant Cooper asked if the Inspector was there.
“No,” Stone said, “but he is on his way. You’ll soon see him, I think.”
“Then I’ll tell you now, sir. A nurse’s white uniform has been found and it is thought to be Miss Mason’s.”
“Where was it found?”
“In the ladies’ room of the Grand Central Station. It was all bunched up small and stuffed under the low sofa. It has a laundry mark, so we can check up on it, but it’s pretty certain to be Mason’s.”
“I think likely. Glad you told me. Thanks.”
H’m, the detective thought. Grand Central, eh? I suppose they’re searching Chicago trains. I’ll bet she doubled on her tracks—maybe she went north, got out at Hundred and twenty-fifth Street and came back by the subway—at three A. M.? Well, I don’t know, it will be worth while to find out where she took a ticket for, just to be sure of where she didn’t go! From what I have heard of Miss Eva Mason, Unregistered Nurse, I rather think she is smart enough to be worthy of my steel! And I am going to find her, as I may have said before.
A tap came on his door and his murmured invitation brought Lorraine.
“May I come in?” she asked, and came in, closing the door behind her.
“There’s a family conclave going on up in Vincent’s room, and Marcia sent me to ask if you’d come up there, please.”
“About my work here?”
“No, about a family matter. But do come.”
Stone rose at once, and went with her.
In Vincent’s playroom, back of his bedroom, the Caldwells awaited him.
Just Marcia and the three brothers, for Gibbs was absent.
“Come in, Mr. Stone,” Marcia invited. “This is not a detective matter, but we hope you will give us a bit of advice.”
“If I can, most assuredly,” and Stone sat in council.
“Will you tell him, Vincent?” Marcia said, and smiled.
“Yes, of course; it’s this way, Mr. Stone. I am engaged to a Miss Lowry, and we had planned to be married this spring, well, in about two months. Now, the question is, whether we ought to go on with our plans, or should we postpone the affair until after we are relieved of police attentions?”
“It is a delicate problem, Vincent.” The various Mr. Caldwells bothered Stone so he called the younger ones by their first names. “And I am not sure I can answer it offhand.”
“But we’re not asking an answer,” Lorraine said, “we just want your opinion. Why must those two lovebirds postpone their happiness because of a lot of red tape that will never be unraveled!”
“Who says it will never be unraveled?” Stone’s tone was grave.
“It can’t be.” Lorraine looked like a sibyl pronouncing doom. “No one but Mason could have killed Father, she is gone beyond recovery. If you think she will ever let herself be found, it is because you do not know Mason!”
“But, Lorraine,” Archer said, in his low, musical tones, “there are others to be considered besides Vincent and Miss Lowry. Personally, I don’t feel like advising, since I am so out of the world of polite conventions, but I should want Marcia to have her way in this, whatever she may decide.”
“I can’t help feeling it would be a very bad thing for Vincent and Miss Lowry,” Marcia said, “in that it would bring much adverse criticism of them and of our whole family.”
“What do we care for the criticism of ill-natured people?” asked Lorraine, stormily. “Our friends won’t feel like that!”
“Yes, they will,” Bruce declared. “I’ve heard some talk already.”
“Suppose, after asking Mr. Stone to give us his opinion,” Marcia said, “suppose we let him give it. What do you think, Mr. Stone?”
“Shall I speak right out, let the chips fall where they may?”
“Yes, indeed,” Vincent said. “I have great respect for your ideas.”
“Very well, then, as I see it, I think it would be wiser for the young couple to wait until things have been further investigated. I may tell you the police are far from satisfied of Miss Mason’s guilt. Should they decide on another suspect, even though wrongly, it might be exceedingly unpleasant to have the wedding planned. To be obliged to postpone it would be much worse than postponing it now, of your own accord. What does the bride-to-be think about it?”
“She is most amenable,” Marcia said, “to whatever we decide. She has expressed her willingness to abide by our decision.”
“And you expect me to make the decision for you?” Stone smiled.
“Not that, quite,” Vincent told him; “just say what you think.”
“Well, then, since you ask me to be frank, I will repeat what I have already said, that I think you would be wiser to wait, and I will add that I feel sure you will regret it if you do otherwise. Pray, wait for a time, at least, before you set the date or announce your wedding. I am not frightening you, I do not mean that anything dreadful is going to happen, but a detective senses events and I hope you will accede to my earnest request that you postpone your plans for at least, say, a month.”
“We will,” Vincent responded to this plea, and they all expressed agreement.
Perry came in then, and the subject was dropped.
The party separated and went their ways, and Vincent followed Stone to the study.
“May I come in a moment?”
“Yes, indeed, do!” and Stone set a chair for him.
Vincent closed the door and then sat down.
To Stone’s surprise, instead of a question about the marriage he anticipated, Vincent opened quite another subject.
“Mr. Stone, I know your information covers a wide range, do you know anything about tattooing?”
“Only in a general way. What do you want to know?”
“If it can be removed.”
“I can’t tell you that positively. I recommend that you ask a doctor who must also be a specialist in such matters. It may be a simple thing to remove it by some of the new scientific methods, but be careful that you get a skillful physician. Why do you want to remove it?”
“Well, I may be oversensitive, but I don’t want to get married, looking like a sailor!”
Stone laughed out. “How do you know that your bride won’t think it an ornament? That’s what it is supposed to be.”
“Only in heathen countries, I think. Anyhow, I’ll remember your advice if I do anything about it. I say, Mr. Stone—the way you talked about postponing the wedding—you didn’t mean any—any of us—”
“Put such an idea out of your mind, boy! I meant nothing at all, but a reasonable caution not to get the plans and arrangements started, until you are released from police jurisdiction. A false alarm may be raised, it is even possible for a mistaken arrest to be made, the police are not infallible. But why jeopardize—not your life happiness, I don’t mean that, but the peace and beauty of your wedding day? For that might happen, if you were subpoenaed as a witness.”
“I see,” and Vincent left him, looking deeply impressed.
And then Marcia came.
“I won’t trouble you but a minute, Mr. Stone, I know how busy you are; but I want to thank you for what you did for us just now.”
“Did I do anything?”
“Indeed, yes! Vincent is entirely satisfied to put off his wedding plans as you advised, and he is quite satisfied that it is best to do so. Tell me, Mr. Stone, nothing can happen, can it, that will reflect in any way on our family? I mean, suppose Stark should be suspected, or Mrs. Hinton, it wouldn’t affect any of us, to—that is, to the public?”
“No more than the suspicion of Mason’s guilt affects you.”
“Yes, I see. That is what I mean. And no one would suspect one of the family, would they? I mean, of course, an unjust suspicion.”
Stone looked at her. Could she have any idea of Perry’s intimacy with Mason? He didn’t believe for a minute that Gibbs had slipped a vial of poison into the wall cabinet for the nurse, when Stark saw the gesture, but it might have been a note or a little gift, or even money, since Mason was such an avaricious sort.
But he said, “No, Mrs. Gibbs, I am quite sure no one in his senses could suspect a member of Mr. Caldwell’s family, nor, I think, his staff of servants. About Miss Mason, I cannot say, not knowing her at all. One has to judge a little by personal acquaintance.”
“Yes,” Marcia agreed, “and I would not suspect Mason, if there was any other possible suspect.”
“Don’t worry over it, dear lady. I assure you that everything possible is being done. You cannot help, so try to think of other things while you must await the solution.”
“I will, Mr. Stone, your advice is always good. And if you will, speak a word or two to Lorraine. She is amenable to kindness.”
“I will indeed, and thank you for the suggestion.”
In the office of Inspector Gordon, Fleming Stone was listening to the recital of the other’s troubles.
“There never was a disappearance like this!” Gordon exclaimed. “If the dratted girl had been carried to heaven in a chariot of fire, she couldn’t be more mysteriously—gone! Why, we can’t get a hint of a clue to follow up! Plenty of letters, oh, yes! but all from dam-fools whose advice is so silly it makes you sick! For heaven’s sake, Stone, if you have any detective genius, put it to work on Eva Mason!”
“The trouble is,” Stone told him, “when your men got to work on the problem, Little Eva had about seven or eight hours start. One can travel a good distance in seven hours.”
“And all we know is that she started on those travels from the Grand Central.”
“We don’t know that, Gordon. We guess that she left her uniform there, and I think our guess is right. But we don’t know that she took a train there. If it was three o’clock in the morning, it seems to me the ticket seller would have remembered an unattended girl buying a ticket. The station is often crowded, but that isn’t a rush hour.”
“Well, the ticket man is of your opinion, and he says he didn’t sell a ticket to a young lady at any hour that night.”
“I don’t believe he did. Mason was too cute for that loophole. But I think surmising what she did is a waste of time. I am going to find her, in person, but it will take time.”
“Give me a week, and then if I don’t have her, I’ll give up my profession and go to farming.”
“Like the story-book detectives. What do you think about Stark? Was he in with Mason or against her?”
“I haven’t solved Mr. Stark yet. He’s a problem child. But he is desperately in love with Mason, and may be in touch with her. But I don’t think the latter is true. If he knew where she was, he would go to her, and he hasn’t been. I’ve had him carefully trailed. But he is so seemingly wise and yet so reticent it’s hard to learn anything from him.”
“Keep on trying. If anybody can do that, it’s you.”
“Let’s consider the family. Archer comes first.”
“Yes, and Mrs. Gibbs second. Those two are out, on the face of it. But Vincent, now. Somehow, I never liked that chap.”
“Vincent didn’t kill his father.”
“How do you know?”
“Well, for one thing, he is thinking of getting married, and a prospective bridegroom doesn’t put his head in a noose just before his wedding day.”
“Who is he marrying?”
“You’d better not mention it, but it is a Miss Lowry.”
“Oh, yes, Jane Lowry. I know her, a lovely girl. No, not Vincent, then. Bruce?”
“I think the last person in the world I’d suspect of murder, would be Bruce Caldwell. To me, he seems the best type of Young America. No, not Bruce.”
“Leaving Miss Lorraine and Gibbs.”
“Yes; and while I have no reason at all to suspect them, it is within the bounds of possibility.”
“Not with Lorraine, I’d say. So we come down to Perry, himself. He could have managed it, either with or without Mason’s assistance, but, working together they could have put it over easily.”
“Gibbs hasn’t enterprise enough for the job.”
“Mason had enough for both of them.”
“What would it get for Gibbs?”
“Only the immediate receipt of their bequests from the old man, instead of waiting indefinitely.”
“Were they in want of money?”
“Gibbs is always in want of money.”
“Why doesn’t he get a job?”
“He does, every now and then, but he is lazy and he has no sticking quality.”
“Then, if he is to be suspected, it takes Mason too, to make up the team.”
“That’s right. So, as you may have heard, we’d like to find Miss Mason.”
“Did you ever see her?”
“No, nor any one of our people. That’s what makes it so hard, you see. If she had ever been known to the police, it would be another story.”
“Funny she never had a picture taken.”
“Mrs. Hinton told me about that. She says Mason is very vain and thinks she is a lot better looking than she really is. And, Mrs. Hinton says, when she goes to a photographer, and later gets the proofs of her sittings, she is so mad because they don’t ‘do her justice,’ that she tears them all up. Mrs. Hinton says she has known her to tear up the finished pictures when they were really a good likeness.”
“I’m glad you told me that, it will help me to find her.”
“I don’t see how, but I wish I could tell you more. Have you got a hunch?”
“A small one. If it’s right, we can work it out soon, if not—then, it’s just too bad!”
Fleming Stone, on reaching the Caldwell house again, went to his study and rang for Stark.
As the valet entered, Stone thought what a good-looking, well set up chap he was. Could the five thousand dollars he would receive from the estate have been the temptation to Mason?
“Stark,” Stone said to him, “as man to man, tell me, you were in love with Miss Mason?”
“I am in love with Miss Mason,” the valet corrected.
“You have no doubt of her innocence, then?”
“Not the slightest, sir.”
“Why did she run away?”
“Because she saw who it was that killed Mr. Caldwell, and she feared she would have to tell.”
“And who was it?”
“Oh, Mr. Stone, I wish you would tell me that! I lie awake nights, wondering—wondering who it could have been!”
“And you think Miss Mason saw the murder done?”
“I can’t think of any other reason why she should go off like she did.”
“No, I can’t either. But, Stark, where is she? Where did she go?”
“If I knew that, Mr. Stone, I’d not be here.”
“Do you know of anything she wanted to do? Any ambition, I mean. Did she want to study to be a trained nurse?”
“She never said so to me. I don’t think she did. She got good money for her nursing as it was. Lots of people like her sort better than the trained kind.”
“Did you describe her to the Inspector, Stark? You know they have no picture of her. Have you a picture of her?”
“No, sir, I haven’t, I wish I had.”
“But you told the police what she looked like?” Stark was blushing furiously, but as Stone persisted, he replied:
“Yes, sir, I did, but the man who was writing it down said it sounded like the prize-winner in a beauty contest, and everybody laughed. But, I just told the way she looked to me.”
“You’re sure you don’t know where she is, Stark?” It would have been a brazen liar who could have spoken falsely to those searching eyes, but Stark said, composedly:
“Indeed I don’t. I suppose she has some sort of relatives somewhere and she may have gone to them, but I don’t know—I don’t know.”
The sadness in the man’s voice convinced Stone of his veracity more than the words themselves.
“I’m sorry, Stark,” he said, “and I’m going to find Miss Mason. I hope everything will be all right.”
“I hope so, sir,” and then Stone knew that the valet was none too sure of his hope.
After Stark went away Stone sat thinking, and hoping that his mental energy would show him some new way to look for help in his quest of the missing nurse.
He got just the glimmer of an idea, but it was vague, and, too, it meant another visit to Mrs. Blake, the boarding-house keeper.
But it might prove helpful, and he went at once. Mrs. Blake was just going out, but she stopped long enough to take him into her sitting room, and show him where Eva Mason’s books were.
“They’re all on that shelf,” she said. “You can look at ’em here, or take ’em away with you, just as you like. And if you care to—to remember my kindness—” Stone woke to his culpability. It hadn’t occurred to him that Mrs. Blake had been trying to tell him that all along, but he wouldn’t understand!
A present of a five dollar bill transformed her into a happy, beaming lady, and she made her visitor feel truly welcome.
She tripped away, and Stone remembered a line of Browning’s which seemed to him to fit the occasion:
“How soon a smile of God can change the world!”
Then he set himself to consider Eva Mason’s taste in literature.
But he soon realized that the books had been selected for a reason unconnected with any style in writing, or claim to popularity, but for a very certain and definite purpose. He felt no need to peruse the volumes, he had found all he wanted, and he placed the books in a neat pile on the table, and left the house without waiting for Mrs. Blake’s return. His five dollars had been well expended, and if the books proved as helpful as he hoped, he would “remember” Mrs. Blake further.
As he returned to the Caldwell house, and went up to his study, he heard voices in Archer’s “study” or whatever he called the room that corresponded to Stone’s.
Had he heard the words, he would have been surprised to learn that Archer and Vincent were discussing their visiting detective.
Archer lauded Fleming Stone as a man, but said he had done little if anything, as yet, in the way of detection.
Vincent held that Stone had not been long enough on the job for them to criticize, but he was surely an all round good chap.
Then Vincent told his brother that he wanted to ask him a question.
“Go to it,” Archer said, “I’ll answer to the best of my knowledge and belief.”
“And first, old chap,” Vincent looked embarrassed, “I want to beg your pardon for the beastly way I acted the first night you came home.”
“If you want forgiveness for that, old man,” Archer smiled, “you can have it only by promising never to refer to the subject again.”
“Do you mean that!”
“Indeed I do.”
“Well, you are a brick! I’ve been a pig, Archer, a beastly pig, but if you’ll let me, I’ll try to make up for it.”
“Just forget it and trust me. Now, what’s your question?”
“Well, it’s this. You know, sooner or later, I’m going to marry Jane Lowry.”
“Yes, and I hope it will be soon. But we’ll take Marcia’s advice regarding that.”
“Yes. Well, I hate to get married with these blue letters on my back, like a common sailor! With all your experiences in strange places, didn’t you learn of some way to take them off?”
“To remove your tattooed initials?”
“Yes, don’t you think it a good idea?”
“Well, it takes some thinking about.”
“All right, think.”
“You see, Vince, sometimes it’s better to bear the ills we have, than—”
“Yes, I know the rest of it. But no ill could come from their removal.”
“Have you tried?”
Vincent looked sheepish.
“When we were in the country last summer, somebody knew of an old woman, who could remove warts or moles by—by pow-wow, you know, by magic.”
“Yes, I know.” Archer’s strong will power kept him from smiling, and he was rewarded by his brother’s look of relief. For he had expected a ragging.
“But the pow-wow lady didn’t do me any good at all. She said I didn’t have faith enough, and I must try it again with her, and first I must pray for greater faith. But I didn’t go to her again.”
“Just as well; she never could have removed those letters. Have you been to any reliable doctor?”
“Yes. I asked Doctor Crossley, but he said the only thing to do would be to cut them out, flesh and all. He said I might lose more than a pound of flesh, but I had too much weight anyhow.”
“He was being funny with you?”
“Yes. And he wouldn’t talk sense, except to say if I concluded to have it done, he would recommend a specialist surgeon for the operation, but it would be very expensive. So I thought maybe you might know of some other way besides an operation.”
“They do have a way of removing tattoo marks, in India, without recourse to the knife. But it is a very painful process, I’ve heard; I don’t know just what they use. I could write to a man I know in Calcutta, but it would take a long time to get an answer.”
“Never mind that, do write, will you, Archer? Lord knows how long it will be before I marry Jane, and any way it would do no harm to get the treatment, even if I don’t use it.”
“I’ve heard it is a painful process—”
“Don’t insult me! I rather guess I can stand a scratch or two!”
“Yes, I think you could. Well, I’ll write, but don’t look for an answer soon. You see, we can’t do up this matter by cables.”
“Oh, Archer, I do hope we can work it somehow! I can stand any amount of pain in such a cause.”
“Very well, old man, I’ll write. And here’s another thing. When you are married, I’m going to give you one of the houses for a wedding present. You can choose, this one or the country place. Whichever you take, you can sell it, or live in it, or do what you please with it.”
“No, I can’t accept such a big gift! I don’t—”
“That’s enough, youngster. You will accept it, because you must. It only remains for you to choose between the two.”
“Archer, you are a prince! I am glad you came into your own, and I am proud to be your brother.”
“Then make me proud to be your brother.”
Vincent sat quietly as if thinking.
Then he said, “I say, Arch, let me see your letters, will you?”
“You did see them. You said they’re all right.”
“I know, but let me see them again, please.”
“Of course, but it’s a nuisance!”
However, Archer got up good naturedly, and pulling off what clothes he had to, he showed Vincent his bared back.
Vincent looked closely at the letters, even touched them, and then shook his head.
“They look funny, Arch. Not like they did when you had them done.”
“Yes, I know it, Vincent. And I’ll tell you why. It’s because, like you, I wanted them off, and like you, I thought I could do it myself. A fellow told me where I could get some stuff that would take them off and leave no sign, no mark of any sort. So I tried it, and—you see the result.”
“Did you follow directions?”
“Yes, of course. It nearly killed me, for I had blood poisoning and it took a long time to get over it.”
“I’ll bet you didn’t use it right. If you had it would have been successful.”
“Maybe. Anyhow, take your lesson, and don’t try to monkey with your letters yourself. If you are so anxious to have them off, I’ll try to get some stuff from Calcutta that I know is all right. But I won’t get it, unless you promise to use it only at the direction and with the approval of a good doctor. Promise that?”
“Yes, indeed. You can pick out the doctor, but not Crossley—he laughed at me.”
“Very well then, I’ll see if I can get the remedy. But don’t postpone the wedding for it.”
“I’ll promise you that, too.”
Fleming Stone was determined to find Eva Mason.
He felt that he owed it to the Caldwell family, to the police and, most of all, to himself that he should make good his promise to find the girl.
He had glimpsed the books that Miss Mason had left at her boarding house, and learned enough in that way, not to be obliged to read the books through.
They were fiction, but quite evidently written with intent to help girls who wanted to make something of themselves. At first, he had thought they were of an uplift nature, but they were more practical than that, he soon discovered.
“What Will Can Do” was the story of a girl who wanted to be a doctor, and by reason of her strong will she overcame the obstacles in her path and succeeded in entering the profession.
Another, and the one that interested Stone the most, was called “The Story of Abigail.” This, too, was the tale of a girl, whose ambition was to get into the motion picture game, and who, against most adverse circumstances and dire disasters, rose to be a film star by her own determination and perseverance. She went to Hollywood, without introduction or friendly influences, and she pushed her way into the presence of the magnates of the industry, and succeeded in spite of every obstacle.
Stone’s more lengthy reading of this book than the others, was because he had a hunch that Eva Mason had ambitions of the same sort as the story-book Abigail. There were certain pages, he noticed, more dogeared than others, more thumbed and pencil-marked, and these pages had to do with the practical ways and means used by Abigail to bring about her intentions.
He fancied the idea of Mason’s starting off in the middle of the night, on her wild goose chase for fame and fortune.
To his mind this did not necessarily argue her the murderer, but he assumed she did not start until after Irving Caldwell’s death.
He wondered who could tell him, if the girl had such an ambition.
He bethought himself of the housekeeper, Mrs. Hinton, as the most likely, and he went in search of her.
The lady was flattered at thought of an interview, and received him in her pleasant sitting room.
Stone asked her first about Mason’s nature, whether she had a good opinion of herself or otherwise.
“Well, sir, she ain’t a inferiority complex, if that’s what you mean.”
“Then she has self-respect?”
“And how!” Mrs. Hinton’s face was expressive.
“Is she a pretty girl?”
“I s’pose her beaus think so. And, she thinks so herself! She thinks nobody was ever more beautiful.
“You have a photograph of her?”
“Not me! You see, sir, she always tore up he pitchers, because she said they didn’t do her justice.”
“She didn’t save out one or two of the best ones?”
“I’m sure she didn’t.”
“Where did she have them taken?”
“Oh, at the biggest places, on Fifth Avenue, you know.”
“You don’t remember the photographers’ names?”
“I don’t, sir. But most all the smart set ones had a chance at her.”
“Perhaps they have kept the negatives.”
“Maybe. Though I don’t know why they would. Miss Mason gave each one such a dressing down as you never heard! I was with her twicet, but I wouldn’t go again!”
“Mrs. Hinton, did it ever occur to you that Miss Mason had a desire to go into the movies? I mean to be on the screen herself?”
“Land sakes! I never thought of such a thing! And I don’t believe she did. Though, come to think of it, she used to go to the movies a lot, and when she came home, she’d talk about ’em a lot. And, I mean about the acting and the voice and all that. Never about the story or the pictures themselves. That sorta looks like she took an interest, eh?”
“Yes, but it’s not much to bank on. She never told you she’d like to act for the screen?”
“No, sir, she didn’t. But Eva was a sly one. If she had such an idea, she wouldn’t gab about it. She was terrible close about herself.”
“Well, you keep close all I’ve said to you, Mrs. Hinton. You’re pretty clever yourself, and you must know that when a detective talks to you as I have, confidentially, you must keep it to yourself.”
“Oh, yes, I know that, Mr. Stone. You may depend on me. Silence a la morty! That’s my motter.”
Stone gave her courteous good day, and went as soon as possible on his quest for a picture.
As it turned out, it was not a long or difficult job. The second and third photographers he tried produced negatives of Miss Eva Mason.
So, the girl had used her own name, having, it seemed, no notion that she would so soon be in the limelight.
Both the cameramen promised some finished photographs of Miss Mason in various poses, and agreed to hasten the work, and deliver the pictures the next day.
Although a bedroom had been given Stone at the Caldwell house, he seldom stayed there overnight, unless there was some special reason.
He had ordered the pictures sent to his own home, and received them there the next morning.
He looked at them in surprise. He had always thought of the nurse as a demure, white-garbed automaton, intent on her duties and in the world but not of it.
The pictures showed a young woman, arrayed in cheap copies of fashionable costumes, aided and abetted by such trinkets and ornaments as Miss Mason had chosen to add. There was a profusion of heavy, tawdry jewelry, hats of the most bizarre effect, evening gowns startlingly low cut, with corsage bouquets larger than prize cabbages.
Stone smiled at the lot, noticed how the photographer had tried, though vainly, to mitigate the offensive display by shadows and clouding, but if that was Eva Mason in person, Stone doubted her ever reaching screenland.
Still, the acquisition of these camera studies would surely delight the Missing Persons Bureau, and Stone went there first. As he expected, his achievement was greeted with applause, and leaving one of each pose with them, he went on to the Caldwell house.
He showed the pictures to Marcia first, and Lorraine came in, too.
Stone noted the different reactions of the two women.
Marcia was sorry, and begged him to destroy the lot and not let them be used in the papers. “They are frights,” she said, “and they are caricatures. Mason never looked like that, around here! Why did she rig up so, to be photographed?”
But Lorraine was shaking with laughter.
“I never saw anything so funny!” she cried. “Look at that hat! Do you suppose she went out with Mr. Ross, looking like that? Oh, each one is a scream! No Missing Bureau can find Mason with those for guidance! She was not pretty, but she looked well in her uniform, and she wore a very different expression from the face in those pictures!”
Fleming Stone began to think his great find was not as useful as he had expected it to be, but he said nothing of his Hollywood hopes.
“Had Miss Mason any ambition for any career other than a nurse?” he asked.
“I don’t think so,” Marcia replied. “You know a nurse thinks her calling a noble one.”
“Mason doesn’t think that,” Lorraine contradicted Marcia. “She said one day, in my hearing, that she meant to make a name for herself; and when I asked her how, she said she hadn’t yet decided that.”
“Well, anyway,” Fleming Stone said, “these pictures are going to be sent out by the police in the various ways they promote such matters. It may be that Miss Mason has two sides, one the demure nurse, and one the overdressed, ultra-fashionable girl in these pictures. They may trace her from these.”
“Of course,” Marcia said, examining a picture, “they are her features. But she has almost distorted them in her efforts to look interesting and, too, she has used cosmetics, even mascara, without knowledge of how it should be applied.”
“All the same,” Lorraine declared, “I’d recognize the picture. It is Mason, any of us would know it.”
“We’ll show it to the boys tonight,” Marcia suggested. “Can you leave them here, Mr. Stone?”
“Yes, until tomorrow. I am going now, I have some engagements that will keep me all afternoon. I shall not be back here till tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll keep the pictures safely for you,” and Marcia put each back in its cardboard folder.
That evening they all discussed the pictures.
“I only saw Miss Mason a few times,” Archer said, “but in her nurse’s uniform she looked a lady; these pictures are of a very common person.”
“They’re both Eva Mason all the same,” Lorraine spoke musingly. “I wonder if we all have two sides to our natures, which would show up separately, if photographed.”
“Both of yours would be all right, Lorry,” and Archer smiled at her.
“I think we have more than two sides,” Vincent asserted. “I’m sure my nature would require a whole panorama.”
“Or a motion picture film,” Bruce added. “Anyway, they’ll never catch Mason with these pictures. Wherever she has gone, she didn’t take these duds with her. Isn’t that what Inspector Gordon thinks?”
He looked at Marcia, who was always expected to know any facts that might be called in question.
“Yes, I think Mason’s landlady said that as far as she could tell, all Miss Mason’s clothes were still in her room.”
“Then she’ll come back!” Bruce said, with conviction. “No woman would give up all that finery unless she had to.”
Archer looked at him, a little reproachfully. “Perhaps she has to,” he said.
“You mean, maybe she did the murder? Well, maybe she did. It wouldn’t surprise me.”
“But, Bruce,” Marcia chided, gently, “Miss Mason had no motive. Why should she kill Father? He had always been very good to her.”
“I know; but not good enough. She wanted to marry him. You know what Perry overheard.”
“I can’t think it,” and Marcia sighed deeply. “I think Father was jollying her. Not a nice thing to charge him with, but better than to imagine he would marry her! You all know he couldn’t have meant that!”
“Talking about it does no good!” Lorraine spoke almost angrily. “Let’s talk about something else. The Fairchilds were asking me today, Marcia, if we were going to stay in this house or not.”
“It’s none of their business,” Vincent said, scowling. “Can’t we be allowed to take our own time to make our plans?”
“Oh, they didn’t mean anything. When are we going to make our plans?”
“When are we going to do anything? When the police say we may! None of us killed Father, I don’t see why we have to be grilled all the time about it!”
“Vincent,” Archer said, “don’t be childish. You must know that we have to abide by the law, and the law is not bothering us any more than is necessary, according to their routine. We can’t change the law, and there’s no sense in grousing about it.”
“I know it, Arch, but it seems to me they don’t get anywhere.”
“Mr. Stone is getting somewhere,” Perry declared, “he got those pictures, when nobody else had sense enough to hunt them down! I tell you he’ll let us know, pretty quick, whether Mason is our best bet or not.”
“Yes, I think he will,” Archer agreed. “In that case it may all be over sooner than we think. Do you really want to move out of this house, Marcia?”
“Yes, we do. I know it seems like giving up old associations and all that, but Perry and I do want a home by ourselves. I’ve kept house for a big family for years, and I was glad to do it, while Father was here; but now, I think I am entitled to a little home of my own.”
“I think so, too,” and Archer spoke heartily. “I shall stay here until you all get settled, and then I’ll see about it. Lorry, want to go with the Gibbses or stay and keep house for me?”
“I’ll wait and see,” and Lorraine, being in one of her silent moods, said no more.
Soon after, they all went up to their rooms. It was nearly midnight and the evenings always seemed long now, with no guests and no gaiety, though none of them wanted parties. They were all restless, and it was weary waiting for the police to complete their work.
But they were all young people and had no other grave cares to keep them awake, and most of them fell asleep as soon as they were in bed.
Some hours later, and to be exact, it was quarter to eight o’clock in the morning, Archer heard a low knock at his door.
He jumped up and opened it, to see Stark standing there, in a trembling, nervous state, and whispering:
“Come with me, Mr. Archer, come, please!”
“Of course, Stark—just a second!” He threw a dressing gown over his pajamas, pushed his feet into slippers and went with the valet.
“What is it, Stark? What is the matter? Has Miss Mason returned?”
“No, sir, it’s Mr. Vincent, sir, I can’t get in!”
They ran up the stairs and in at Vincent’s door. He was not in his bed, and Stark went on to the bathroom. These rooms were just above the rooms Irving Caldwell had used.
The bathroom door was closed, and Stark said, “It won’t open, sir. It is locked on the inside and I’ve knocked and knocked and Mr. Vincent makes no sound. He must be in there or the door wouldn’t be locked.”
Naturally, in spite of Stark’s words, Archer took the knob in his hand and tried to open the door. The knob turned but the door was locked.
“Ordinary lock?” Archer asked. “I’ve not been in this bathroom. Is there a window?”
“Not big enough for anyone to get in or out. Looks like we’ll have to break in, sir.”
Archer stooped to the keyhole and called, “Vincent! Vince, open up!” but there was no response.
“Is there anything the matter with Mr. Vincent?” he asked of the valet. “Anything like the heart trouble my father had?”
“Oh, no, sir! I’m sure not!”
“Well, Stark, as you say, we must break in. He has fainted or had a seizure of some sort. Not like Vince! Don’t get a lot of men, just let someone bring a crowbar. Won’t that do it? Don’t let’s use an ax, unless we have to.”
“I’ll get Amos; stand by, sir,” and Stark ran down the stairs.
It seemed long till his return, but Stark came, bringing the house handy-man.
“No, sir,” he said, to Archer’s repeated question, “no window in the bathroom, ’cept a fancy one of stained glass, too small to be any use. We’ll have to do the best we can.”
Archer did not interfere, and soon the two men had the door open.
Stark went in first, and then beckoned to Archer.
Vincent lay on his back in the tub, his head entirely under water.
The tub was nearly full of water, and the body was slumped, with the knees raised.
The face was peaceful and the eyes were closed.
Archer stood, for an awed moment, looking at the awful sight, then he said, in a shaking voice, “He is dead, isn’t he Stark?”
“Yes, sir, he is.”
“Then we must not touch the body—but it seems as though we must lift him out of the water!”
“No, Mr. Archer, no, it’s the law, in this country, not to touch a dead body, if you find one.”
“I’ll call Doctor Crossley—you stay here.”
Archer went into the study and called Crossley. The doctor himself answered, and Archer asked him to come at once, only saying the case was urgent and for him to make haste.
“Yes, yes, right away,” Crossley began, “who is ill? What is the—”
Archer laid down the instrument, not wanting to listen to the inevitable chatter.
“Stark,” he said, looking in at the bathroom, “the doctor is coming at once. You stand by, and I’ll go and tell Miss Marcia and Mr. Gibbs. Don’t touch anything.”
The Gibbs’ rooms were on the same floor, just across the hall from Vincent’s. Marcia was already up and dressed and she opened the door to Archer’s knock.
“What is it?” and though her eyes were frightened, she spoke calmly.
“Another tragedy, Marcia. Sit down, dear.”
“Oh, I’m not the fainting kind. Tell me, Archer.”
“It is Vincent; there has been an accident. He was in his bath, and he must have had a stroke of some sort, and he slipped under the water—”
“Is he drowned?” asked Perry, appearing from the bathroom.
“I think so. I have called Doctor Crossley, he is coming right away. We must notify Mr. Stone—I wish he had stayed here last night—”
“Why, Archer, you said an accident,” Marcia looked troubled, “why do you speak of Mr. Stone, like that?”
“I don’t know. But I can’t understand it. If Father had slipped down in his tub, like that, we would say he had had an attack of his heart trouble. But Vincent had nothing like that, had he?”
“No,” Perry said, “not that we know of. Crossley will know. I’ll call Stone, Archer, you go and get dressed. I suppose it will be the whole rumpus over again!”
Archer looked at him, scathingly, and was about to reproach him for his crude and heartless speech, but changed his mind and said nothing. He turned on his heel and went to get dressed.
He was back in Vincent’s study before the doctor came. In fact, Fleming Stone reached the house first.
He gave but one look at the still form in the bathtub, and then began looking round the rooms. He touched nothing, but there was little that escaped his experienced attention.
He was in Vincent’s study, when the doctor came.
“What? what?” Crossley was exclaiming, “another sorrow? another sadness for these dear people! My! my! Too bad. Where is he? Briggs, downstairs, told me Vincent—”—
But by this time he was in the bathroom, and was looking at the body.
And Inspector Gordon also had arrived, and he went into action at once.
“Take him out,” he said to Stark. “Here, I’ll help you. That’s right, come on, we’ll lay him on the bed.”
They did so, and Stark spread a Turkish bath sheet over the body.
Then Crossley made his examination and Stone was an interested observer.
“You find no cause for death aside from drowning?” the detective asked the doctor.
“No, but why should he drown? He was always a strong, well man. I’ve looked after these Caldwells for many years and Vincent never showed any signs of incipient disease of any sort. No, no, sir! No signs at all. Always strong and hearty! Yes, yes—look at him! No fat, all muscle, almost an athlete, you might say, yes, you might almost say that! Not unqualifiedly—no! Why? Because Vincent was lazy, yes, sir, lazy! Too hot for tennis, too windy for golf, too cold for swimming—oh, I knew the lad—knew him for years. Always some excuse, but really just indolence.”
“How did he keep his muscles in such fine order, then?” Stone asked.
“Grace o’ God, I guess! Ha, ha, not by exercise, anyway.”
“Oh, I say, Doctor Crossley,” and Bruce came in from the study, “I heard what you’re saying about Vince, and, you don’t know! He and I did a lot of exercising together, all sorts. Sparring, running, swimming, we were always at something or other.”
“All right, young man, all right, all right! Don’t butt in here, now. Run out, we are busy.”
“Go on, Bruce,” Stone said, seeing he showed no inclination to obey the doctor.
He went away then, almost running into Doctor Latham, the Medical Examiner, who was coming in from the study.
“Hello, Stone,” the newcomer said, “you here already?”
“Yes,” Stone replied, without explanation. “Take a look here, Latham; anything other than plain drowning apparent?”
The Examiner set himself to work to answer the question, and as he and Crossley went technical, using words and phrases outside Stone’s ken, the detective went back to the study. Vincent had called this room his playroom, because he and a few chums sometimes played cards up there, but study was not an inappropriate name. For Vincent was reading law, and though he was as Crossley had said, indolent, he was trying to conquer that failing, and he did well by his books.
Archer was advising that they all go down and have breakfast, as there would be much to do later.
“Yes,” Fleming Stone agreed. “I want to ask you all a few questions myself, and I’d like to do it before the police detectives start.”
“What do you want to question us about, Mr. Stone?” Lorraine asked, her eyes wide with astonishment. “Do you think any of us drowned Vincent?”
“My dear child,” Stone returned, “try to remember that questioning is not accusation.”
“No, I ought to know that,” and her smile was apologetic. “Can’t you ask your questions right here at the table, and save time?”
“Yes, do,” Marcia agreed; “and it will be pleasanter, too. Oh, I can’t realize that Vincent will never be with us again!”
“Now, dear,” Perry began, but his wife stopped him.
“Yes, I know, Perry,” she said, brushing away her tears, “I won’t give way. Mr. Stone, ask me first, won’t you, and then, if I am called away by my household duties—”
“Yes, Mrs. Gibbs, I will. My questioning will not be difficult, it is only necessary to find out where you all were.”
“I know. I wish you had been here, if only to see how calm and quiet everything was. We were all in the library in the evening, and we all went up to bed somewhere round eleven. We didn’t all go at once, sort of dawdled along, you know. Perry and I went up together, went straight to our rooms and we talked a bit and then went to bed. As for me, I went right to sleep, for I was tired. What did you do, Perry?”
“I went in the sitting room and smoked a cigarette or two and had a drink or two, and then I went to bed.”
“About what time?” Stone asked. “Do you know?”
“Nearly; I’d say it was about one, maybe a little after.”
“You slept all night?”
“Yes, I’m a famous sleeper.”
“I think,” Stone said, looking round the group, “instead of asking each of you how he slept, I’ll ask anyone who heard any noise in the night or anything unusual, to tell about it.”
Lorraine spoke first.
“I heard sounds all night long,” she said, her eyes a little staring. “I thought people were coming and going up and down stairs, all the time. Who was it?”
“At what time did you hear this?” Stone asked, not seeming to doubt her statements.
“Oh, I don’t know that! I never know what time it is. And what difference does that make? I heard whoever it was who went upstairs and murdered Vincent, and the doctors can always tell just what time a man died.”
“But you said you heard those sounds all night long,” Stone spoke gently. “Were there more people?”
“No, you don’t understand! Of course, it was just the first time that I really heard footsteps, the other times were the memories of them, or perhaps dreams—or—perhaps dreams.”
“Do you often dream, Miss Lorraine?”
“Mr. Stone, I dream all night, every night.”
“I hope, as a rule, your dreams are happy ones. Now, Mr. Archer, did you have any dreams?”
“No, unlike Lorraine, I never dream. And I heard no disturbance of any sort. Are you thinking an intruder caused Vincent’s death?”
“It is a possibility we have to consider.”
“Yes, of course. If so, we must find him. Oh, as to my procedure, I went to my room about twelve, I think. Bruce and I went up the stairs together. I didn’t go to bed at once, I sat in the study and read until half past one, then I went to bed. I slept soundly and heard nothing unusual. I am still conscious of street noises, but I am training myself to get used to them. Once asleep, the next thing I knew was Stark, who came to wake me and tell me of the locked door.”
“Bruce? Any report?”
“No, Mr. Stone. I went upstairs with Archer, and then on up to my own room. I slept like a top all night, and Marcia wakened me this morning. Mr. Stone, somebody did for Vince. He never drowned all by himself!”
“Why do you say that, Bruce?”
“It stands to reason. Why would he get into his bath, and then calmly lie back until his head was under water and he suffocated?”
Stone looked round the table.
Each face was turned toward Bruce.
“I will take this oportunity to ask you all,” Stone said, “if Vincent ever drank too much.”
“No!” said Marcia and Bruce together.
But Perry Gibbs did not say no, he did not say anything.
“Yes, he did,” was the appalling announcement made by Lorraine.
“Lorry, what are you talking about?” Archer exclaimed, in real amazement.
“He did,” she repeated, “and you mustn’t blame him for it. He was trying to stop it—you see, he couldn’t help it. It was like a spell that came on him sometimes, and—and he couldn’t resist. I was trying to help him!” The memory was too much for the girl, and she quickly left the room.
“Do you think Lorraine meant all that, Marcia?” Archer asked.
Marcia made no answer, and her husband spoke for her:
“Yes, she did, Stone; I know it to be true. I was trying to help Vincent myself. But he was conquering his habits, and I’ll tell you one reason why. He didn’t want Archer to know of it, and he always drank very little when Archer was with us. But are you trying to say it was because of his having taken drink, that he went to sleep in his bath, or something like that?”
“Something very much like that. There is a bottle half full of whisky in Vincent’s bathroom, and beside it a corkscrew and bits of tinfoil, proving pretty conclusively it was freshly opened last night. Only one used glass is there, so Vincent drank alone.”
“And he was locked in the bathroom—door locked on the inside,” Perry said, musingly. “Then it isn’t murder, whatever it is.”
“Unless someone poisoned the drink,” Bruce offered, and Stone said:
“That could be. In that case he didn’t open the fresh bottle himself. Then who did? Had Stark opened it for him, he would have carried away the bits of tin foil that had been round the neck of the bottle.”
“Figuring it out,” Perry said, with an air of teaching Stone his business, “we have to think that Vincent opened the bottle himself, drank half its contents, went for his bath, fell asleep in it, and slipped down into the water, drowning before he could save himself.”
“Or even cry out,” added Archer. “Think that must have been the way of it, Mr. Stone?”
“That seems to conform to conditions as we know them,” Stone answered.
And then Stark appeared, and asked them all to come to the library.
Inspector Gordon was in charge, and he asked them questions much the same as Stone had asked. But his own opinions were already rather well formed and what he was really after was their confirmation.
The various emissaries from the police had been and gone, save for a few camera and fingerprint men.
The scene of the death being confined to a locked bathroom, there was small use in searching the whole house.
However, two police detectives were doing this, and others were interviewing the servants.
The butler and the valet were questioned by Gordon, who already knew them.
Briggs had one item of interest and that was all. He stated that when he went downstairs that morning, at his usual hour—
“What time is your usual hour?” Gordon interrupted him.
“Seven o’clock, sir. Breakfast is not served as early as when Mr. Caldwell was with us.”
“When I went down at seven this morning, I found the side door was unlatched.”
“What do you mean by unlatched?”
“There is a Yale latch, just like the front door, but the guard was up, so anyone could walk in and out at will.”
“Whose duty is it to see to that latch at night?”
“And did you attend to it last night?”
“I most certainly did, sir.”
“Then who changed it?”
“I have no idea who could have done so.”
“There was a similar occurrence, I believe, the night Mr. Irving Caldwell died.”
“Yes, sir. The same thing happened to the front door.”
“And you don’t know who was responsible for that, either?”
“It has not yet been discovered, sir?”
“Have you ever known, Briggs, of the side door, or either door, being left open, that is, on the latch, so that someone could come in?”
“Yes, sir, I sometimes leave it open for some of us who expect to be out late.”
“I don’t mean you, I mean any of the family.”
“Any of the family out late?”
“No! don’t be stupid! I mean, have you ever known any of the family to leave the latch open so that a friend could walk in without ringing the bell?” Briggs looked very much at a loss. He hesitated, made as if to speak, and then concluded not to, and at last said, in a low voice, “No, sir.”
“You’re lying, Briggs,” said Gordon, coldly. “Now start again, and this time tell them the truth.”
The Inspector repeated his question, looked sternly at the witness and received in reply a reluctant but unmistakable “Yes, sir.”
“Very well. Who is in the habit of leaving that door unlatched?”
“Nobody’s in the habit, but most any of them would do it, now and again, sir, just now and again.”
“Which of them? Miss Marcia?”
“Oh, no. She wouldn’t; leastways, if she did, she’d fix it again.”
“Ah, I dare say the young men are less careful?”
“Mr. Vincent, now, did he remember to put the catch right?”
“Oh, no, sir, never.”
“I see. And did Mr. Vincent fix that catch last night?”
“I’ve no way of knowing, sir.”
“Very well, Briggs, that will do for now.”
Inspector Gordon looked at Fleming Stone, expecting to find him greatly interested in the latch of the side door.
But Stone’s thoughts were evidently elsewhere, and he said:
“Door or no door, it seems to me that someone must have gone up to Vincent’s room in the night. The whole matter doesn’t look as if he were alone all the time. Had he been alone, late at night, he would not, I’d say, go into the bathroom and lock the door while he took his drink. He would have been far more comfortable in the study, and at that hour he was not likely to have a visitor.”
“Except the one for whom he left the side door open,” Gordon reminded him.
“It is not at all certain that Vincent left that latch unguarded. Was he in the habit of having friends come up unannounced, like that?”
Stone looked from one to another, and Marcia replied:
“I wouldn’t say he made a habit of it, but I have known of such callers. When Father was here, he was not always pleased with the friends that Vincent picked up, and so Vince let them in secretly.”
“What do you mean, Marcia,” Archer asked, “by the friends Vincent picked up? That sounds as if they were not—not presentable.”
“Oh, they were the right people and all that sort of thing,” Marcia told him. “But they were a wild—at least, a gay lot, and Father was down on them.”
“Were they wild enough to come here last night and kill Vincent?” Archer looked vindictive and also apprehensive.
“Don’t go too fast,” Stone said, quietly, “we have no evidence for such an implication.”
“But there is something in the suggestion,” Gordon sounded as if he were glad of any way to look.
Stone looked at the Inspector, but with a vague glance that told of a preoccupied mind. Then he said, quickly:
“Yes, yes, Gordon, it is a suggestion. Follow it up; do you know who these young men are?”
“I am assuming Mrs. Gibbs can tell us that.”
“No, Inspector,” Marcia said, in her gracious way, “I can’t do that. I don’t know definitely who they are, and it wouldn’t be just or right to make a guess at it. Besides, I went out that side door myself last night, and I left the catch off so I could get in again. I think I fixed it when I came back, but it is possible I didn’t.”
“What occasion called you to that door, Mrs. Gibbs?”
“The door opens into a covered runway that leads to the street, and also leads back to the house that the servants occupy. I went there to speak with Mrs. Hinton, my housekeeper.”
“I see. Then you might have left the door unlatched?”
“Yes, Inspector, I might have. You know I have much on my mind; we all have in these troubled days.”
“Yes, yes, Mrs. Gibbs, I know.”
“It seems to me,” Stone said, slowly, “that Vincent’s actions are not like those of a man alone. I can’t dismiss a feeling that someone locked him in the bathroom.”
“And then, how did the intruder himself get out of the bathroom?” asked Bruce, not at all as a poser, but seeming confident that Fleming Stone could tell him.
“Do you read detective stories?” Stone asked him.
“In one of them—one by S. S. Van Dine, you will find a chapter devoted to the matter of getting out of a locked room. He tells of about a dozen ways it may be accomplished. Some such thing could have happened in this case.”
“Then you incline to the idea of an outsider coming in and murdering Vincent, who was already in his tub, but, thinking everyone had gone to bed, had not locked his door.”
“It could be as you say, Gordon, but there is no evidence for it that I can see.”
“No, and therefore I rule it out. We must stick to our facts. I look at it like this: both Mr. Archer and Stark were asleep on the second floor, or if not asleep they were in their rooms. Now both these men have exceptionally, if not abnormally good hearing, yet neither of them heard a footstep in the hall. I consider this as proof that there was no footstep to hear.”
“Logical enough, Inspector,” and Stone nodded assent.
“It seems to me,” Archer said, “conclusive proof that no one did come up from downstairs, for I know my own hearing is very acute, and I am told that is true of Stark also. I see only accident in my brother’s death, but if you see murder, Mr. Stone, I think we must use every effort to find the murderer.”
“Indeed, yes!” Perry declared, with an emphasis that implied his willingness to help. “But which way to look? That is our vital question.”
“That’s right, Perry, you always hit the nail on the head!” was Bruce’s contribution to the argument. It was his oft-stated contention that Perry never said anything with any sense to it.
Police Detective Hatton came into the room then with some information and some material clues, he informed the Inspector as he entered.
“All right, Hatton, tell your story.”
The detective put some articles on the table before him, and then described them.
“This small bottle was in the bathroom, on the washstand. It is nothing of importance, I think. It has no odor. But in the wall cabinet that hangs above the washstand, I found several unusual drugs.”
“Drugs!” exclaimed Gordon. “Was he an addict?”
He looked at Marcia, but Hatton said, quickly, “I don’t mean that kind of drugs, Inspector, I mean—see, what I have here.”
Hatton set forth three or four small boxes and bottles, and expounded.
“You see,” he said, speaking to the Inspector, but looking round at the others, “Mr. Vincent Caldwell had these in his medicine chest in the bathroom, and as they seem odd medicines for a young man to keep on hand I brought them down for you to see.”
“What are they?” Gordon asked. “Why are they not labeled?”
Stone, who sat near Hatton, picked them up and looked at them, one by one.
“This,” he said, “is a strong solution of some mineral acid. It is dangerous and should be labeled and kept by itself, if kept at all. This is a stick of lunar caustic, equally inexplicable in a man’s medicine chest. This is a strong skin bleach and this is a well-known skin soap. These last two, though strong of their kind are comparatively harmless; but the acid solution is a menace. It is a corrosive poison, that is to say, it destroys living tissues with which it comes in contact. This lunar caustic, also called nitrate of silver, acts in the same way upon living flesh, and cautery is a thing dangerous and often fatal. Doctor Crossley, could Vincent have come to his death by means of these things?”
“No! bless my soul, no! What was the boy doing with the beastly things? Does anybody know?”
“And here is a book on electrolysis,” Hatton went on, as if anxious to exhaust his findings. “Just a pamphlet, it was tucked in between the bottles, like it belonged to them.”
“Strange! Very strange!” exclaimed Crossley. “How in the world did Vincent come by these things, let alone why! My, my! the young people of today are past my comprehension! Vincent Caldwell and lunar caustic! Well, well, what are we coming to?”
“I noticed those drugs in the wall cabinet,” Stone said, quietly, “and after I saw Mr. Vincent’s dead body, I thought I could understand his having them. But perhaps some one of the family can explain it all better than I can.”
There was a pause, and then Archer said, “Yes, Mr. Stone, I can explain it, so far as I know about it, and the rest we can imagine. It will be a long story, but I will be as brief as possible.
“As the members of the family know, when we were children, both my brother Vincent and myself had our initials tattooed on our backs. There was a—a fakir, I suppose we may call him a make-believe doctor from China, who came to Fairfield, our summer home, and traveled about, pretending magic cures and doing very real tattooing. Vincent and I, always ready for anything unusual, patronized the tattooer and had our initials put on our backs with indelible inks or whatever they use.
“We were afraid to tell our parents, and I went away with the secret still untold. I don’t know when Vincent told of his.”
“How old were you when it was done?” Stone asked him.
“I was twelve and Vince was ten. Of course, you can see, that was proof enough of my identity, if such had been needed when I came home. Now, for the later story.
“It was only a few nights ago that Vincent came to my room, and asked me if, with my Oriental experience, I knew of any way by which the letters could be removed from his back.
“I asked him why he wanted it done, and he told me that he was thinking of getting married, and he didn’t want to go to his bride, looking, as he expressed it, like a common sailor.
“I understood the situation, but I couldn’t advise him. I had heard of it, and heard that it was a dangerous operation, and I wasn’t willing to take the responsibility. He said there was no one to ask permission of, Father was gone, and I stood next in his esteem. I suggested that we talk it over with Marcia but he said no, it wasn’t a subject to discuss with a woman. Then I proposed consulting Doctor Crossley, but Vincent said no, we must go to some great skin specialist, and if I wouldn’t go with him, he would go alone.
“I did all I could to postpone his decision, and I finally told him I would write to a doctor I know in India, and ask him if he could recommend an American doctor with the necessary skill. He agreed to that, but I haven’t written yet.
“I asked him if he had tried to get the letters off himself, and he didn’t go into details but I gathered that he had. So, what I think is, that the skin bleach and the sunburn soap, or whatever they are, he had used, and they proved ineffective. The caustic and acid I don’t believe he had tried, do you, Doctor Crossley?”
“No, I think not, there was no sign of their use on his body.”
“Also,” Archer went on, “here is this book on electrolysis. Vincent mentioned that to me, saying someone had told him it would remove a birthmark, and that tattooing was the same thing.”
“Not the same thing at all!” cried Crossley. “Stuff and nonsense! Tattooing is from the outside, a birthmark is from the inside! Say, did Vincent consult all the names in the telephone book? Poor boy, it’s no wonder he died. Did he propose to use his electrolysis himself?”
“I don’t know, doctor. I’ve told you all he and I said on the subject.”
“He spoke to me about it,” Fleming Stone said, “merely in a casual way, just wondering if I knew anything about the possible removal of the marks. I didn’t, and I told him so. But when we looked at the body, I was quite convinced that death was not caused by any of these drugs we have been speaking about.”
“No, sir! I should say not! My, my!” Doctor Crossley almost shouted in his emphasis, “the boy died of drowning, and nothing else!”
“We have another clue to present,” Hatton said, quite willing to cut off the doctor’s flow of speech: “here it is.”
From a small box, he took two cigarette stubs. They were not burned down to their gilt paper tip, but there was no lettering visible.
“A new kind to me, sir,” Hatton told the Inspector. “Maybe some of Vincent’s fancy brands,” Crossley said. “He was a great boy for novelties.”
“I never saw Vincent smoke that kind,” Marcia volunteered, and Perry agreed with her.
But Bruce said, “You never can tell about Vince. He’ll praise up one cigarette, and then suddenly, he’ll be raving about another.”
“Where were they found?” Archer asked.
“In an ashtray in the bathroom,” Hatton told him. “That’s odd,” Marcia said, “Vincent never smoked in the bathroom. I trained him not to. It isn’t a nice habit.”
“Seems to me everything about Vince last night is queer!” Bruce mumbled, as if thinking aloud. “I don’t believe he drank all that whisky himself. And I don’t believe he smoked those big fat cigarettes! He always liked slender ones. Don’t you see, somebody else was here, who smoked those things in the bathroom, and who drank most of the whisky, and who came in at the door that had the latch off! See how it all hangs together! And he was trying to get Vincent’s letters off for him!”
“Ingenious, Bruce, but don’t go too fast,” Stone smiled at him.
“But, see, Mr. Stone, how it all fits in!”
“Do you know the visitor?” Archer asked.
“Well, he would be one of those bounders that Vince has lately taken such a fancy to.”
“That will do, Bruce, dear,” Marcia said, gently, and Bruce, always amenable to his sister, said no more.
“A hard crime to reconstruct,” Stone said, as if thinking it over.
Gordon took him up quickly.
“Why do you say crime, Mr. Stone?” he demanded. “I say that everything we have heard, every clue we have found, points to the death of Mr. Vincent as being positively accidental. Unless an autopsy shows death from some of those poisonous drugs we have noticed—but none of those drugs is to be taken internally.”
“Vincent may have had some other remedy that was to be taken, and if he took that we’d have no way of knowing.”
“There must have been a container, bottle, box, powder paper—something!” Gordon retorted.
“Mighta been a capsule,” Bruce murmured, and then, as he caught Marcia’s glance he was still.
“A hard crime to reconstruct,” Gordon went on, “but, as I said, if it was an accident, there’s no crime at all.”
Gordon hadn’t said this, but he wanted to draw out Stone’s reaction to it.
There was none, for Stone was thinking deeply, and wishing this session was over. Yet he dared not leave while there was any chance of gaining further information.
Stark was not in the room then, and Stone was roused from his reverie by hearing Gordon say:
“The valet, I know, used to work in a drug factory.”
“So what?” said Bruce, who was then due another reproof from Marcia.
Gordon ignored the youth, and went on:
“It may be that Stark was honestly trying to get some lotion or acid that would remove those letters from Vincent’s back. Or, it may be that he was angry at Vincent—”
Marcia interrupted him, with a serious look, and said:
“Have you any reason to suggest that, Inspector, or are you just trying to find a way out?”
To anyone else, the Inspector would have made a sharp retort, but nobody could willingly offend Marcia, she had a sweet, simple dignity that somehow forbade it.
“Well, Mrs. Gibbs,” Gordon floundered a little, “you see, a valet not infrequently has cause to get annoyed, and as Stark is familiar with drugs he might have felt inimical toward Mr. Vincent for some reason we do not know of, and—”
“You’re getting too involved, Inspector,” and Marcia spoke very gently. “Have you any real suspicion of Stark’s enmity toward my brother?”
“No, Mrs. Gibbs.”
“Then let’s not discuss him, until you or some one of us has a real reason to do so.”
“Very well. Then I think we have no more to ask just now, but no one must leave the house. The inquiry is not over, it is merely postponed until we have some further information, which I think will be soon. You are all excused.”
But though they were excused, no one left the room. They gathered in groups and talked in undertones.
“It’s too bad for Archer,” Bruce was saying to Fleming Stone. “You see, he and Vincent were just getting chummy.”
“Yes,” Archer assented, “when I first came home, Vincent felt a little resentment, but we slowly grew together, and we had already begun to lay the foundations for a real friendship.”
“And now Bruce will have to do Vincent’s part,” Stone said, kindly.
“Yes,” agreed Archer, “and he can do it.”
A week later, the police knew no more about the murders than they did at the beginning. That is, they knew more about them, “but it was not knowledge that was of any help whatsoever in discovering the identity of the criminals.
Inspector Gordon held to his conviction that there were two murderers. He said no one person would have a motive for killing Irving Caldwell and also for killing Vincent. Besides, he would not admit that Vincent was murdered. He sniffed at the idea of a visitor being with Vincent while he was in his tub, and hooted at the explanation of the door locked on the bathroom side. He said the dozen ways of doing the trick were all very well in detective stories, but were utterly worthless in reality.
Fleming Stone listened to all this, and offered no contradictions.
He only said, mildly, that if Vincent was so anxious to get the letters off his back, it was quite possible one of his friends came over to help him with it.
“Possibilities are the thief of common sense,” Gordon stated, with the air of inventing an aphorism, which, however, he had heard from somebody else. If that were the case, he argued, why did the friend run away? Surely, no one would think he murdered Vincent!
The family, what was left of it, had decided to separate.
Marcia, now that her father was gone, was keen about an apartment of her own. She said she was tired of running up and down a dozen flights of stairs, and longed for the bright sunshiny rooms of the newest apartment houses.
Archer told her she was right, and he thought her entitled to have her own way after years of taking care of the family.
“I shall stay right here,” he went on, “until the police have run down our criminals, or have shelved the case. I can’t understand the whole matter, and though I feel that I’d know more about it if I had been at home all these years, yet maybe not—the rest of you don’t.”
“No, we don’t,” Marcia agreed, “and I don’t see why we should. We none of us knew those men friends of Vincent’s, and we don’t want to know them. If one of them killed Vince, the police ought to find him, or Mr. Stone ought to. But we can’t help.”
“What has Lorraine decided to do?” Archer asked.
“Oh, I don’t know. That girl gets queerer and queerer every day! There will always be a room for her with us, wherever we live, and I hope you will let her keep her rooms here as long as you have the house.”
“Yes, of course. I’m like you, Marcia, after the police work is done I want a time of rest and peace. I am not going to lead a lazy life, but the estate will require a lot of time and attention before it is all settled, and I want it all in order. How long shall we keep Mr. Stone?”
“We put the case in his hands, I think he’ll tell us when he is through with it. He won’t expect us to tell him.”
“All right, dear; just as you think best.”
“You’re a great comfort, Archer. You’re always so calm and wise. You must continue to be my Court of Appeal, even when we do not live together.”
“Yes, indeed! Call on me in any uncertainty; if I don’t know the answer, I’ll make it up. Hello, here’s a Special Delivery for Mr. Stone. I’ll take it up to him, he ought to have it at once.”
“Yes, he stays here nights almost all the time now; they send his mail up from his house. I wonder if he fears another of us will be killed and he wants to be among those present.”
“Don’t be frivolous about it, Marcia, dear, it’s too real for that.”
“I know, Archer, I’m sorry. But I’m not myself these days.”
“Oh, yes, you are; your own splendid self.”
He ran up the stairs, carrying Stone’s letter, and as the door stood half open, he went into the study.
It was a long envelope, with the rope border of red, white and blue, and Stone took it, and carelessly threw it on the table.
“You walk as lightly as a cat,” he said to his visitor. “I didn’t hear you at all.”
“I know; heavy men, they say, often walk lightly. And we dance like fays!”
“I’ve heard that said of fat men, but you’re not fat.”
“Would be, if I didn’t get the better of it. Any new developments?”
“No, none. It’s discouraging. You needn’t glance at this letter so hopefully, California is too far off for clues.”
“I thought clues were considered an exploded theory.”
“In name only. Writers of detective stories scorn clues on their first pages and then fill up their books with them. I’d be glad and thankful for a clue to Vincent’s death, even if it exploded.”
“It all seems clear to me. You see, Vince was so earnest when he talked to me about it, that I felt sure he wouldn’t be content to wait until I could get letters to India and back, and I was certain he would try some of his own remedies. But I only had in mind something like his soaps and lotions, I never dreamed that he would have caustics and acids in his possession! But those things didn’t kill him, did they? Did the doctor say they did?”
“Oh, no; the poor chap was drowned. And to my mind that is even more inexplicable. Why would a husky young fellow like him, slip down in the water and drown?”
“There’s only one answer to that.” Archer made the gesture of draining a full glass.
“I suppose so. But it’s queer. He was in the bathtub, let us say, and the whisky bottle was on the table, which he couldn’t reach.”
“As to those details, I can’t say. But I can see no other possible explanation of his going under.”
“Unless somebody pushed him under.”
“I’m afraid I’m too skeptical of those ways of locking a room on the inside, when you’re outside. Do you really believe that was the way of it?”
“I can’t see any other explanation.”
“I believe you’re pulling my leg! I won’t answer you. How long are you staying?”
“I don’t know that. You engaged me, I believe, so you can give me my walking papers at your pleasure.”
“I assure you it won’t be a pleasure! I enjoy your society very much. But you must feel sometimes, don’t you, that you have reached the limit of your ingenuity?”
“Yes; in fact, I often feel that before I begin.”
“And you begin all the same?”
“Oh, yes. If you don’t begin, you can’t finish, you know.”
“And are you going to finish the Caldwell case?”
“Yes, I think so.”
“Going to find Mason?”
“Of course; that’s the first step.”
“Mr. Stone, you’re a great man! I take off my hat to you. And I’ll leave you to your work, for what you propose to do will take all your time and effort.” Archer rose, and with a bow and a friendly grin, he went away.
Stone did not waste his time, but after locking his door, he read the letter from Los Angeles.
It was from Hugh Crosby, an astute young man, whom Stone sometimes employed as an assistant on a complicated case, and who was both wise and clever enough to give Stone satisfaction.
The letter ran thus:
Dear Mr. Stone:
The streets of Hollywood are filled with busy and well-dressed people, each intent on some great project. Among them walks a young man, of good presence and prepossessing manner. His face wears a knowing look and his eyes dart restlessly hither and yon, from this stranger to that, ever seeking for one face.
And, oh! this morning I saw her—well, that is, I saw the 3,704th person I thought was the one I am after! I may as well own up that the only reason I had for that belief was her name, Abigail Beauregard, which I found out, by happening to stand next to her in an agency, and hearing her tell the agent.
When she left the premises, I followed and scraped her acquaintance. I am not entirely certain she is your long-sought, she is different at different times. Now, docile and plaintive, again, rampageous.
I will keep her in Safe Deposit until I hear from you. Better wire message in code.
Yours to command,
Fleming Stone’s face wore an expression of satisfaction.
He reached for the telephone, called the airport, and then went to his dressing room. Inside of half an hour, he was downstairs telling Briggs he was going to Chicago and wasn’t sure just when he would be back, perhaps not for two or three days.
And then he went to Hollywood.
Crosby met him, and they went to the hotel where the blithe young man had engaged rooms for his employer.
“Good work, Crosby,” Stone said, as they had their talk after dinner. “How did you size her up? Not for looks, but for nobility of character.”
“Missing—the character, I mean. I haven’t seen her but that once; feared I might make her Stone-shy. But she’s as smart as they come, and also has the power of seeming an innocent country maiden.”
“Can I see her tonight? I want to rush this thing, Crosby, there is reason for haste.”
“I know where she lives, shall I telephone and ask her if I may go to see her? Then you can go along, but I don’t know as she would see you if you just pounced on her.”
“Fix it as you think best, but let me interview her as soon as may be.”
Crosby telephoned and reported that Miss Beauregard would be pleased to see him.
They started at once, and found the girl in a pleasant boarding house, and were taken to her sitting room.
She welcomed them politely enough, though with no enthusiasm, and looked questioningly at Stone.
Crosby introduced the detective and left him to explain his presence himself.
“I want to interview you, Miss Beauregard,” Stone began, “and I want to see you alone, if I may. Is that all right?”
“Yes, indeed,” she said, seeming pleased. “What paper are you on?”
Crosby disappeared, and Stone disclosed his errand.
“I am not a reporter,” he said, “I am a detective, and I am employed on the Caldwell case.”
“Oh, my God!” Eva Mason exclaimed, and then, pulling herself together quickly, she said:
“And why do you come to me, on such a matter?”
“Because you are in it, up to your neck, and I can help you—but only if you are frank with me and tell me the truth.”
“That’s easy enough,” and the girl seemed entirely self-composed, but Stone was conscious of a nervous tapping of her foot on the rug, and he watched her closely, without seeming to do so.
“First, why did you change your name?”
“Oh, Mr. Stone, what a foolish question! Why, because a girl with my ambitions must have an unusual and attractive name.”
“And you chose Abigail, because you had read the book about Abigail—”
“Now, how did you know that?”
“But I don’t know where you got your last name. That wasn’t in the book.”
“Mr. Stone, are you acquainted with the science of Numerology?”
“Not at all.”—
“Well, I won’t explain it to you, but according to its directions, if I used the name of Abigail, I had to choose a surname with the letters b and g in it, and the only nice one I could find was Beauregard. Don’t you like it? It’s much nicer than Gibbons or Bagby.”
“Yes, I agree with you. Now, to go back to the time when you were Miss Mason. Do you know the whole police department of Manhattan is looking for you?”
“Of course I know it! And if I felt I had any reason to, I would tell them where I am. But it is none of their business.”
“You are a potential criminal.”
“I don’t know what potential means, but I am not a criminal at all. I was engaged to take care of a sick old gentlemen. I did so, and when he died suddenly, in one of his heart attacks, I came away. My work was finished, and I had no reason to stay.”
“Is it the habit of a good nurse to take French leave like that? Do you always leave your engagements without a word to the family?”
“I don’t know about all that, my work was done and I left. That’s all.”
“What did Mr. Caldwell die of?”
“I was not with him at the last, Mr. Stone. I was in the study. When I went in the bedroom, at my appointed time—I made regular visits, during the night—I found him dead, with no other reason for it but his angina pectoris, which, as we all knew, was liable to carry him off at any time. I knew I had done nothing wrong, I hated all the questioning and undeserved blame that I would get, so I just came away.”
“And left New York then and there for Hollywood?”
“Perhaps so, perhaps not. Now, don’t tell me you are going to take me back to New York just when I have started on my career! You can’t be so cruel! Ask my manager, he will tell you that I have talent, and he is going to give me the chance to prove it.”
“Were you intimate with Mr. Caldwell?”
“Not to any great extent. He wanted me to be, but a girl has to look out for herself. I suppose you got hold of the book about Abigail from Mrs. Blake. And that sent you here to me! Well, you are a smart one!”
“Now, look here, Miss Mason, Irving Caldwell was poisoned; we know that. If you didn’t do it, who did?”
“Good gracious! I don’t know! I’d say Vincent, maybe—”
“Vincent is dead, too.”
“You don’t mean it!” Eva Mason jumped from her chair, and walked up and down the room.
“Give me a minute!” she said, stammeringly. “Not Vincent!”
“Yes, why not? Come now, can you help us find his murderer?”
“Was he killed, too?” She stared at her visitor.
“Yes, I think so. Not all of the police agree with me, though.”
Stone gave her the details and she sat thinking. He noticed her deep concentration, and did not hurry her.
At last, she seemed to come to a conclusion.
“I am clairvoyant,” she said, slowly. “I can tell you all. Do you want me to?”
“I do. But I don’t believe in clairvoyance, just tell me what you can in the way of plain facts.”
“It is my clairvoyant powers that tell me the plain facts. Here they are. It was Vincent who killed his father, and since then the deed has so troubled his conscience that he killed himself.”
“No, that won’t do. Vincent was looking forward to marrying a lovely girl, and he would not kill himself—”
“How blind you are! Of course, that explains all. He might stifle his conscience and bear his remorse for himself, but when he thought of joining his wicked criminal self to a lovely, innocent girl, he couldn’t face it, and took the only way out.”
Eva Mason looked like a sibyl. Her face, deftly made up, was not beautiful, but it showed thought and wisdom, and her eyes, half-closed, gave an impression of occult knowledge which she was expressing truthfully.
“Do you know of the letters he had on his back?”
She began to shake her head negatively, then suddenly stopped the motion, and said, calmly, “Yes, I’ve seen them.”
“And have you seen Archer’s?”
Her face flamed, and she said, angrily, “No! I couldn’t make Archer!”
But Fleming Stone was born a good many days before yesterday, and he did not care to pursue her Reminiscences of a Vamp.
He rose to go, saying, “I thank you sincerely, Miss Beauregard, for what you have told me. It may be you have turned my suspicions in the right direction. If you will keep our whole evening’s talk confidential, I will.”
And Eva Mason was glad to give him her promise.
On his airplane trip back to New York, Fleming Stone had time for thought, and he came to the conclusion that although he had found Miss Mason, the secret of the Caldwell deaths was still a secret. He believed that the nurse was merely a tool in the hands of a master villain.
A master criminal, then, who had arranged the deaths of both victims.
It was absurd to think of any of the four children. Archer, the new found and petted darling of his father, Marcia, the gentle, gracious lady, Vincent, who himself became a victim, or the young, happy-hearted Bruce.
But that left two, who were not children of the millionaire.
Gibbs, none too well satisfied with his bequest, and Lorraine, whose mind, so far as Stone could see, was more or less disordered.
He had left Mason to the care of Hugh Crosby, and knew that she would be available whenever he chose to call for her.
He felt uncertain at first whether to tell them all about Mason, or whether to report only to Archer, who had engaged his services.
But when he reached the house the whole family were gathered in the library, and they seemed to know that he had news of some sort.
“Yes,” he said, “I found Mason, and she’s a washout.”
“What does that mean?” asked Lorraine, who was looking very sweet and amiable.
“Oh, only that she may or may not have been instrumental in the death of Mr. Caldwell, Senior, but she was not the principal.”
“Who was?” Bruce asked, eagerly.
“I don’t know; we are back where we started. It seems to me that Mr. Caldwell had some enemy, someone in town, perhaps, who killed him, with the help of Mason. I don’t mean with her connivance, for I think her entirely innocent of the crime, but she was the active element in the murderer’s plan.”
“Then she poisoned him, unwittingly?” Lorraine’s eyes were bright, and she looked excited, as if on the verge of a discovery.
“I can’t state that positively, but it looks that way.”
“Where is she?” Marcia spoke sternly. She was in no way responsible for Mason, and felt no care where she was or what she was doing, but she was determined to find out anything that affected the memory of her father.
“She is in Hollywood,” Stone told them. “I went there to see her. She is already employed by a fairly good manager, and is said to be capable of a certain style of acting.”
“She’s an actress, all right,” Lorraine pronounced. “Is she living there? In Hollywood, I mean?”
“Yes, in a good boarding house.”
“Where does she get her money?” Perry asked. “They don’t pay much to beginners.”
“I don’t know,” Stone replied. “What have you learned from Gordon? What is the verdict?”
“They say,” Archer informed him, “that Vincent drowned. And they say that he could not have slipped down in the tub and drowned accidentally, unless he had taken a great deal of whisky. As the Inspector put it, ‘unless he had been sodden drunk.’ Yet the autopsy proved there was no excessive amount of liquor found in his system, and no poison.”
“What do you conclude from that?” Stone asked.
“Suicide,” Archer said, looking sad but positive. “It couldn’t be anything else, Stone—with the door locked on the inside.”
Stone looked thoughtful. He made no audible response, but murmured what sounded like, “There’s the wis—”
“What are you saying?” Archer asked. “The whisky bottle, half empty?”
“We know all that,” Bruce said, impatiently. “Didn’t you get anything definite from Mason? Did you ask her why she ran away?”
“I did, and she said that she went into the sick room at her stated time and she found Mr. Caldwell dead. She knew he might die suddenly, at any moment, and she didn’t feel that she had done anything wrong. She said that as he was dead, her work here was finished, and she left.”
“Without telling any of us!” cried Marcia.
“Without her salary?” exclaimed Perry.
“Mason is queer,” Lorraine spoke as one who knows. “If she wanted to walk off like that, she’d just go. She probably had money saved up.”
“Oh, that isn’t the way of it,” and Bruce looked wise. “It’s as Mr. Stone suggested, Father had some enemy that we know nothing about. He was a friend of Mason, or made himself a friend of hers, and he paid her well.”
“Paid her for what?” Stone looked at Bruce sternly.
“Why for killing Dad. I thought she did it all the time.”
“Gave him the poison?”
“Sure. Maybe she didn’t know it—and maybe she did. You girls don’t know about such things, I expect you can’t believe it.”
“I can believe it,” Lorraine assured them, “but I don’t. It wasn’t Mason.”
“Who was it, then?” Bruce challenged her.
“Oh, I don’t know. But Mason was queer.”
“You ought to know, you’re queer, yourself.”
“I am not, Bruce! But Mason was; she thought Archer isn’t Archer!”
Archer laughed. “You mean she said she thought so. She didn’t, really. But she said to me two or three times that she didn’t believe I was really Archer Caldwell. She said I was a fake.”
“What did you say?” Stone looked interested.
“I just answered, politely, that she was mistaken in her judgment. And I told her my proofs—some of them.”
“What are your proofs?” said Stone, “I’ve never seen them.”
“At your disposal,” Archer answered gaily. “Here’s my imperfect eyelid, for one. That came with me, when I was born. Then, the tattooed letters on my back, they were added to my make-up when I was twelve. And, whenever any of the family mention an occurrence that I knew about before I went away, I can always tell them the details. In fact, I often remember more than the others.”
“Yes, you have a wonderful memory,” Marcia backed him up. “Here, I’ll give you a test I’ve just thought of. What was the nickname Mother used to call you, when you were little?”
“Oh, Marcia, she called me dozens of pet names!”
“Yes, but I mean the one that she left off when you went to Miss Gray’s school.”
“Oh, that one. Why, she called me Budge and she called Vincent, Toddie. Those were the names of two children in a book she had. And then, when the schoolboys called Vince, Toddie, they made it sound silly, and he was mad, and he begged Mother not to call him that any more. So she stopped it and, of course, to stop one, meant the other, so there was no more Budge and Toddie, but we two young gentlemen were called by our right names. That right, Mr. Stone?”
“I’d say that is good straight proof!”
“All right. You can read my diary, if you want to. It’s for the first two years, which were, of course, the hardest. But it may give you a slant on my character. And I have this wallet that Mother gave me on my last birthday at home. And—a little keepsake that Lorry gave me on the same great day.”
“Oh, what is it, Arch, you never showed me!”
“Why should I? What do you care?”
“But I do! Tell me, is it that little—”
“Hush, my child. I’ll show it to you when we are alone. And now, Mr. Stone, do you want any more proofs? Because I am sure I can dig some more up for you.”
“No, thank you; your proofs are what they call overwhelming. And now, Mrs. Gibbs, may I be excused if I go up to my study? I have to get my report ready for the Inspector. Where is your diary, Archer? Not as proof, but I’d be interested to read it.”
“Where is it, Marcia? I think you have it.”
“Yes, it’s here in the desk.”
She opened the desk and took out the diary for Stone.
“Here it is, and if you like old writings, here is an autograph album, of my mother’s; look it over, some of the entries are funny.”
“Thank you, but I fear I may neglect my work if you offer me too much entertainment.”
They all separated then, and went their several ways.
Archer went up the stairs, a step behind Stone, and when they reached the top, he said:
“I say, Stone, what did you mean, when you said ‘wis’ and then stopped short?”
“I don’t remember that I did do that.”
“Oh, yes; we were speaking of Vincent’s death, and you said, there’s the wis—and no more. What did you mean?”
Stone smiled, and said, “It seems to me obvious, I must have meant whisky.”
“Not you! You never mispronounce a word. When you say whisky, you sound the h. What did you start to say?”
“Wissahickon,” said Fleming Stone, and, smiling, walked away.
In the study of the late Irving Caldwell, he sat down to think things over. He was tired from his hurried journey to California and back in such mad haste, but he had gained what he wanted, and now he must make the most of it.
He picked up Archer’s diary. No one could doubt its identity.
Only a schoolboy would make those flourishes and fancy capitals. Only a schoolboy would start a day’s record in a welter of long words and elaborate sentences, and then fall into mediocre diction and wind up with hasty and almost undeciperable scrawls.
But Stone became interested and read on, until he had a good idea of the character of Irving Caldwell’s oldest son and a knowledge of his childish aims and objectives, and their rapid changes in the record of the two years.
The book was small, perhaps three by four inches, and was not made for a diary at all. It was just a blank book, and had lasted the two years, as no day was given a full page of space, and there were often weeks of silence.
It was bound in tan leather, and was worn and ragged along all edges and corners, but it was a human document and Fleming Stone gave it his most careful attention.
He looked too, at the old autograph album. As they were made then, the pages were of varying pale tints and had gilt edges. Most of the entries were written by Mrs. Caldwell’s girlhood friends, but later additions were made by her children, and Archer’s was written shortly before his fourteenth birthday. It was his own composition, and ran thus:
Who’s fairer than the fairest rose?
Why, that’s my mother, I suppose;
Who than the rose is much more fair?
Why, that’s my mother, I declare.
From her son, Archer.
Fleming Stone studied the lines. They were, beyond doubt, sincere, but tinged with some ideas gathered in the lad’s classroom work in Early English Poetry.
He put away the diary and the album and concentrated on his problems as they were affected by his visit to Hollywood.
One thing that kept recurring to his mind was the possibility that Vincent had been both murderer and suicide. He felt sure that Mason knew Vincent well, and her words had weight with him.
Assuming Vincent’s self-destruction, the evidence was all plausible. He drank enough of the whisky to dull his senses, or perhaps excite them to the sticking point, then he either deliberately drowned himself in his tub or was drowned because unable to save himself.
Stone didn’t like the theory, and he wondered if he didn’t like it because he hadn’t thought of it himself.
Of course, he thought, Vincent was queer. He had learned that as soon as Archer was expected home, Vincent had begged Lorraine to be engaged to him, and not to Archer. Lorraine had told Stone this herself, and told him too that Vincent had never referred to it again, and Archer had never spoken of it.
But then, Lorraine was queer, so all that didn’t amount to anything. Still, the idea of Vincent committing suicide in that peculiar fashion did not appeal to Stone’s trained imagination. He must have been murdered. But then, there was the locked door! And then, Stone smiled, there was the—Wissahickon!
Well, he would see Gordon tomorrow, and then he would attend to another errand and then he would know whether he had a right to let his convictions run counter to all laws of evidence and clues and all things that a detective should hold sacred, and fly off at a strange new tangent.
And if he felt warranted, he would do it, let the chips fall any place they liked.
The next morning Stone started out to see the Inspector, but went on his other errand first. This took him to an office high up in one of the skyscrapers, and proved hugely satisfactory.
“It is a pleasure to meet one who knows his business as thoroughly as you do,” he said, as he took leave of the scholarly looking man who had so pleased him.
“Whatever is worth knowing is worth knowing well,” was the scientist’s return, and Stone agreed.
He went next in search of Gordon, and found that worthy in a dull mood.
“Never saw such a case!” he growled. “Can’t get at anything like the truth, and no way to look for it.”
“Cheer up,” Stone told him, “I’m just back from Hollywood.”
“What in blazes did you go there for? Gallivanting? Or do you fancy yourself a great lover?”
“I may be that, but I didn’t have a screen test for it. However, I spent an hour or so with Miss Abigail Beauregard.”
“High heavens! Who is she?”
“She’s an aspirant for film honors. But you know girls don’t go on the screen under their own names.”
“And what is the real name of Albino Boulevard?”
“Why, it is Eva Mason.”
“What! Are you talking true?”
“Very much so. Our Eva is in a real screen show, and I assume she is doing well, as they are keeping her on.”
“And you saw her?”
“Yes, she isn’t much to look at.”
“Tell me, Stone; don’t trifle with me.”
“All right, I’ll tell.”
The detective told him all of the story of his call upon Eva, except her suggestion that Vincent had committed suicide, and as he didn’t believe that himself, he saw no reason for telling Gordon.
“Shall we arrest her?” was the Inspector’s first reaction.
“On what charge?” Stone showed surprise. “We have no evidence that she was concerned in any way in Mr. Caldwell’s death. And don’t spread the story, Gordon, or the Hollywood reporters will not only make Miss Mason lose her job, but will greatly interfere with our bringing things to a climax, which I mean to do.”
“Bring things to a climax! What do you mean, Stone?”
“Just what I say. You know I never interfere with the police or work against them, that’s why I’m here telling you this. There’s a big disclosure coming, and I will tell you more about it as soon as I can, but not for a day or two. And Miss Mason is perfectly safe, she is under constant surveillance, the guard being a friend of mine, who is entirely trustworthy.”
“I’m glad to hear all this, for I was at my wits’ end which way to turn.”
“Don’t turn at all, just go straight ahead. We’re going to come out on top, unless I’m more mistaken than I ever have been in my life.”
“All right, I’m always satisfied to take you at your word.”
“‘The sunrise never failed us yet,’” Stone said, cockily, and Gordon was smiling again.
“I’ll telephone my man now,” Stone said. “We’ll both feel better for a word from him.”
After a session on the long distance wires, Stone told Gordon the report.
“Crosby, that’s my man, says he has been to see the manager who is training Beauregard in the way she should go. The manager thinks the girl has an unusual trick of banter which may yet make her popular. Anyway, he is giving her a tryout, and she is so eager to succeed, she works hard, and I don’t think we ought to stir her up with reporters, until we know what they’re to report about. In a day or two, perhaps tomorrow, I will tell you what I have in mind and we will work together.”
Gordon agreed to this and they went away to Stone’s favorite club, where they talked of Hollywood as a whole, that being a subject of which neither of them knew anything whatever.
The next morning, Stone sat at his study desk.
The door to the hall was ajar, and he saw it being pushed slowly but steadily open.
“Come in,” he called out, cordially, and Lorraine’s face appeared.
“Come on in,” he repeated, rising, and opening the door wide. “Why the hesitation?”
“I’m afraid I’ll interrupt your work—”
“So what?” he smiled at her, but she still seemed diffident, and he turned serious.
“Lorraine,” he said, “do something for me, will you?” and without waiting for her answer, he drew a chair to the table for her, and gave her a pad and pencil.
“Now, write, in figures, please, four hundred and seventy-one dollars.”
She wrote it a little timidly, making her figures with care.
“Thank you; now write twenty-four dollars, in figures, mind.”
This was accomplished, and he looked at her work.
“Lorraine,” he said, looking thoughtful, “have you any of your letters or papers written long ago, when you were twelve or thirteen?”
“Why, I don’t know,” she looked bewildered. “Perhaps so; do you want them?”
“Perhaps so; have you any of the other children’s? Any of Archer’s, before he went away?”
“Why, yes, I have my Club account books, we both worked on those.”
“Can you let me see them? Now?”
“Yes, I’ll get them in a minute; I have to go up in the storeroom.”
“Run along, then.”
She soon came back with two old record books, which turned out to be the secretary’s reports and accounts of the Amaranth Art Club.
“I was secretary,” she said, “and treasurer, too, but I never could make my accounts come out right, so Archer helped me with that part, he is splendid at figures.”
Stone looked over the books, secretly chuckling at the minutes of the meetings.
“You chose a beautiful name for your club,” he said.
“Yes, isn’t it? We were a long time deciding on it. Aren’t Archer’s figures beautiful?”
“Yes, and he makes a good dollar mark; some people make it like this:
Stone drew a dollar mark on the pad before him, with a single upright mark through the S.
“Oh, but that’s unpatriotic! I wouldn’t do that! Nor Archer wouldn’t, either!”
“Why are you so sure of that?”
“I’ll tell you. We had a writing teacher in school, and she made a great point of it. She told us that the dollar mark was made from the letters U.S. which stood for our country, the United States. And she said that to make only one upright mark, was to mutilate the U, and so it was an insult to our country’s name, as bad as an insult to the flag. She was so emphatic, I’ll bet nobody in her writing class ever made a single upright in a dollar mark.”
“Let us hope not. But when Archer went abroad, maybe he forgot the writing teacher, for in his diary, I’m pretty sure the mark has a single upright line.”
“Then he didn’t write the diary,” Lorraine said, shaking her head at him.
“Never mind, perhaps I’m mistaken.”
Lorraine rose, as if to go, and then sat down again. “Mr. Stone,” she said, and then stopped.
“Yes, my child, what is it?” The tone, even more than the words seemed to give Lorraine confidence, and she said, in a low voice:
“Did you ever think that—that Archer isn’t Archer?”
“Why, whatever put that idea into your head?”
“Isn’t it in your head, too? In the back of your brain? We have queer things in the back of our brains, you know.”
“But why think that Archer isn’t himself!”
“I don’t think it, I—I just know it—”
“Better forget it. Have you told this to anyone else?”
“What did she say?”
“She only laughed at me.”
“Well, let’s drop the subject or you’ll have me laughing at you.”
“No, you won’t laugh at me—I know that.” Lorraine looked at him and an eerie expression came to her face. “We know a lot, we do! I know more than you do—”
“Then you’d better tell it! Seriously, Lorraine, I sometimes think you know more than you tell. Now if that is so, you’re committing a great sin—”
“A sin! What do you mean?”
Stone was right when he thought that would rouse her. He wondered how far he’d better go.
Then he said, “Do you know what an accessory after the crime is?”
“No, I never heard of such a thing! What is it?”
“Only that if you know something, or think you know something that the rest of us don’t know, you must tell it, or you may be judged an accessory, which is almost the same as being the criminal.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“Very well, I refer you to the lawyer, Mr. Griffith. He will tell you that what I say is true.”
Lorraine gave him a shamefaced smile.
“Oh, it’s nothing, anyway. I only meant that I know a test that would prove if Archer is Archer or not. But—I don’t like to try it.”
“Come along, I’ll try it!”
He rose and taking the girl’s arm, helped her to her feet, and started toward the hall door.
Lorraine walked by his side, saying nothing, but seeming docile enough.
Stone led her across the hall, and tapped at the opposite door.
Archer opened it, and looked his surprise.
“A delegation?” he said, “come right in.”
“I’ve brought a lady,” Stone stated, “who wants to make a test of your identity.”
“Anything to oblige,” and Archer laughed. “What can I do for you, Lorry dear?”
“I—you see—I don’t know—”
“Don’t know whether I am really your brother Archer or not? Well, well! And you have a test you want to try? I’m ready.”
“I don’t like to—”
“But you’ll have to, now, Lorraine. You can’t start up a game like this, unless you finish it. You must give me my chance.”
“Yes, that’s only fair.” Lorraine seemed to regain her poise suddenly, she was always strong for fair play.
“Archer,” she went on, “do you remember when we had the chicken-pox, you and I?”
“Good gracious! That’s a long way back.”
“I know; I was only six, and you were ten, and were isolated from the others, in the—”
“Yes, I know, in the old nursery. We had the disease severely, but I don’t remember much about it, do you?”
“I remember we were terribly worried for fear the eruption would leave scars.”
“Did it? I don’t see any on your face, or on mine.”
“You know the doctor said if we scratched, it would leave permanent scars. Well, you did scratch, and you did have three scars that Mother said would be permanent.”
“I remember the illness, Lorraine, and I remember about our hoping our faces would not be marred, but I don’t remember my three scars you mention. Where were they?”
“On your body, on one side, between your hip and your armpit, the doctor said that was the usual place.”
“My stars! You must have had a chart! I don’t think there are any scars there now, but I don’t know. Want me to look? I suppose they could be there and I not know it.”
“Let Mr. Stone look. Go in your bedroom, and show him.”
Lorraine had assumed a commanding air, and the two men obeyed her.
“You won’t find anything, Stone,” Archer said, as he took off his clothes. “Smallpox scars remain, but chickenpox scars don’t. Any doctor will tell you that.”
“Yes, I’ve always heard that, though I’ve had no experience of the malady.”
“I remember the itching, it was fierce. But I think Lorry exaggerates a little. She was only a baby, six years old. There, give me the once-over. How am I fixed as to scars and battle-wounds?”
“I find no trace of pock-marks, and I think you outgrew them.”
“I think so too, but I believe Lorraine is making this a test of my identity.”
“I scarcely think it can be considered as such. Who doubts your identity?”
“Why, I told you, that nurse person did.”
“Much she knows about it! But I don’t think for a minute that Lorraine has any real doubts.”
“Then why this hullabaloo over the pock-marks?”
“You know Miss Lorraine is, er—unusual.”
“Good word, unusual! Yes, that is just what she is!”
“Well, let’s go and report.”
“All clear!” Archer sang out, and Fleming Stone said:
“No scars, Miss Lorraine; there are some tiny marks which may or may not be the lingering remains of the chicken-pox, but certainly no scars. It is not surprising that your brother forgot the illness, until you reminded him of it.”
“Oh, forget it,” Lorraine spoke a little pettishly, and Archer said:
“It’s all right, Lorry; you can try to trip me up whenever you choose, I don’t mind it a bit.”
“I don’t want to trip you up, dear, I just wanted to know if your scars all healed over.”
“If you believe in me, Lorry, I have no scars on body or mind.”
“Of course, I believe in you. Say, Archer, I believe you do remember all about our illness, but you don’t want to own up.”
“Own up to what?”
“To the way you behaved. You would scratch, and they had to tie your hands all up in rags, so you couldn’t, and then, you would get me to scratch for you. And I did, and that’s why I wanted to know if I had marked you for life. I’m glad I didn’t.”
“Pshaw, it wouldn’t have mattered. Don’t take it so to heart!”
“I take everything to heart.”
“I know you do, that’s what makes you such a darling!”
“Yes, of course. Now, I’m going. Ask me again, Mr. Stone, when you want any more help.”
“Yes, Miss Lorraine.”
She left them, and Archer said:
“The little scamp! Did you put her up to this game?”
“No, she came to me with her story.”
“All right, I’ll always take your word. And, as we all know, Lorry is queer. I say, Stone, have they decided about Vincent?”
“Not entirely, I think; they’re sort of hanging fire. I’m only a detective you know, I don’t belong to the Force.”
“You don’t doubt me, do you? I mean, you don’t think I’m deceiving you about my identity?”
As he was not deceiving Stone, that gentleman replied:
“Not a bit, no. But tell me more about Mason.”
“No, you tell me. I only saw her two or three times in the sick-room, I couldn’t judge her much. Is she suspected of doing the poison act?”
“Doesn’t it look that way?”
“No, I don’t think so. If she had done it, knowingly, she’d know she’d be caught. She was smart enough for that. You know she was trying to trap the old man into marrying her. Well, she didn’t do that!”
“No. Doesn’t it seem queer that she left before she received her bequest from her late patient’s will?”
“I don’t believe she knew of the bequest. Dad was chary of telling his plans, always.”
“But the will lay on the study table all that night.”
“Yes, I know that. Mason must have had some reason for running off, but I don’t know what it was.”
“Maybe mixed up with her beau, Oscar Ross; he told me himself that she broke off her engagement to him in a way that left her free to pick it up again.”
“Handy plan! Wonder how it’s done.”
“But I doubt she’ll remember Ross now, if she’s really making good on the screen.”
“I can’t seem to see Mason as a film star! But, of course, I only saw her in uniform, with a demure face under a stiff white cap.”
“She may be playing nurse, in her pictures.”
“Maybe,” Archer responded, as Stone was leaving the room.
Then the detective, after a few minutes’ preparation left the house and sought Gordon once more.
But the Inspector was out, and Stone found for himself a secluded telephone booth.
After a necessary but not long delay, he was connected with Hugh Crosby.
“I want to talk to Miss Beauregard,” Stone told him.
“I think I can get her,” Crosby returned, “but wait a minute. She has been saying she wants to talk to you. Shall I get her over here?”
“Yes, as soon as you can.”
And so, Stone found himself once again listening to the ex-nurse’s voice.
Her talk was rather amazing.
She said first, “I have a confession to make, Mr. Stone.”
“Over the telephone?”
“Yes, unless you will come here.”
“Can’t do that, go ahead.”
“Well, it’s that I have a little more to tell about the night Mr—the night I left New York.”
“Don’t be so gruff, you frighten me! Speak a little more gently.”
“Go on, please, my dear Miss Beauregard.”
“Better. Well, I did give the sick man some medicine that was not his regular dose.”
“How come you did that?”
“Somebody asked me to.”
“Oh, I see. And what sort of medicine was it you gave your patient?”
“A new sort, that would make an immediate cure, so thorough that my services would not be needed any more.”
“That was your dismissal, then?”
“Yes; so I left at once. I was surprised to learn that the patient had died.”
“Yes, you must have been. I think you would better come back to New York, don’t you?”
“No, sir, I do not! I had trouble enough getting here; now, here I stay.”
“Why did you have trouble getting there, where you are?”
“It wasn’t an easy trip. But a decent girl, who behaves quietly and like a lady can get anywhere.”
“I see. Look here, will you tell Mr. Crosby all about that medicine you mentioned just now, and he will communicate with me.”
“Yes, if you’ll see to it that I get into no trouble. That’s why I’m telling you, you said you could help me only if you knew everything.”
“But I don’t know everything. You tell Mr. Crosby who gave you that sure-cure medicine, and then I’ll see if I can help you. And remember, you’re in a jam!” Then Fleming Stone cradled the receiver.
Fleming Stone sat in the study, thinking it all out.
He was convinced that the man who claimed to be Archer Caldwell was not Archer Caldwell at all.
If this was true, and it must be true, or all his conclusions were wrong, and Fleming Stone’s conclusions were seldom wrong—then the man claiming the Caldwell name was an impostor.
The fact of his knowing the family history so thoroughly could be explained by his having known the real Archer, and having known him so well that he became familiar with the other’s life and pretended it was his own.
This condition of things had offered itself to Stone’s imagination many times, but the obstacles to accepting it had seemed insurmountable.
Now, he had come to the conclusion that he must have a try at it, and if the obstacles proved too stubborn he would give it up.
He let his fancy roam, and he wondered if the real Archer Caldwell had died in some foreign country and this impostor had dared to impersonate him.
Stone remembered having heard or read of such things, though it seemed an incredible fact. Yet, if true, it would explain all the uncertainties, all the contradictions.
It was hard to believe, but it was harder to believe some of the conclusions he had been forced to arrive at.
And then Lorraine had said she knew this man who had come among them was not Archer. True, Lorraine was “queer,” but she might be right, all the same.
He was inclined to accuse this man outright, and see how he reacted.
He studied again the diary that lay on the desk before him. He noticed, for the first time, that the writing was strangely neat and regular for a diary that had been kept in varying and inconvenient circumstances.
It was in Archer’s handwriting, no doubt about that. It was in pencil, but it was written steadily and uniformly. Was that likely when a man was wandering from one place to another, now tramping like a vagabond, now visiting important people?
Another thing Stone noticed was that apparently his pencil had always been sharp, making the writing clear-cut and legible. In the exigencies of travel, would the writer not sometimes have had to use a dull or stubby pencil?
Was the diary a copy?
The question flashed through Stone’s mind like an illumination!
He studied the writing more closely. Yes, every time the pencil had been used to a dull point, it was immediately followed by sharp, clear writing. The fellow didn’t mind trouble for the sake of a good pencil point.
Stone dropped the diary and went across to Archer’s room.
“Lend me a pencil, will you? I’ve broken the point on my last one. I hate a dull pencil!”
“So do I,” and Archer pointed to a cloisonné jar on the table that held several freshly sharpened pencils.
“How lavish!” cried Stone, “I never had so many sharp pencils at once in my life.”
“Stark will do it for you,” Archer returned. “He does mine, every morning.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Stone smiled and went away.
A point of testimony, he said to himself. I shall go to it!
He scrutinized the diary itself. Just a blank book, with no printed dates. But he was looking at the cover. Worn, yes; but worn in an odd way. Not real wear and tear! How stupid he had been not to notice that before! It was worn on purpose; rubbed with sandpaper or something—he couldn’t quite make it out, but the thing was worn and soiled by intention, he was sure of that!
And it would fit in with his rapidly growing conviction that the diary was a copy. And he was sure now that the diary was a copy. He had shown it to a famous graphologist, and the expert had told him that there were certain points in a person’s handwriting that never change from the cradle to the grave.
Though, of course, he smiled to himself, people seldom write in their cradles or their graves!
But the graphologist had asserted that the diary was not written by the same hand that wrote some school papers of the boy who had run away, and which Stone had begged from Marcia for comparison.
He had scarcely thought of this before, as he had no thought of Archer being other than he claimed.
Now, it took on a more important meaning, and he resolved to proceed as if he were sure of his supposition. He was already visualizing a buddy, who would be confidential to the last degree.
He had made up his mind, and would not turn back—unless he had to. He was determined to investigate.
He sounded Marcia on the subject, but she was dubious. She said that Perry had sometimes doubted he was really Archer, but she believed he was.
Stone spoke to Bruce, but his first words brought such a howl of rage, that he desisted at once.
He decided to have a showdown that very evening, feeling sure that he could call the impostor’s bluff. He went to see Gordon, and so imbued him with his own decisions, that Gordon agreed to come up that evening and see it through.
“And bring a couple of men with you,” suggested Stone, “he may cut up rough.”
During dinner that evening, Stone exerted himself to be entertaining, and as they had coffee in the library later, he said, casually:
“Inspector Gordon is coming here tonight, for a short session, guess you’d all better stick around.” They made no objection, and soon Gordon came. Stone dropped his affable air, and said:
“I am going to ask your undivided attention, while I bring before you a question that needs an answer.”
“Go to it,” said Gibbs, carelessly, “give me a little more coffee, please, Marcia.”
“I am here,” Stone began, “as you all know, at the request of Mr. Archer Caldwell, to discover the identity of the person who killed Mr. Irving Caldwell and his son Vincent. In my opinion, the same person is responsible for both deaths. It is a sad disclosure I have to make, and if anyone here wishes to make any statement, I will ask him or her to do so now.”
“You sound as if you suspected someone in the room,” Archer said, in a voice of reproach.
“I do,” said Stone, “I suspect you!”
“Me!” and Archer smiled unpleasantly. “Is this a joke?”
“Far from a joke,” Stone replied, “I am in very serious earnest. I accuse you, sir, of fraudulently impersonating Archer Caldwell, whereas you are a totally different person.”
“This is a grave charge, Mr. Stone.”
“It is meant to be. You have committed a grave offense. Imposture is not a minor crime, when carried as far as you have carried it.”
“I do not know what you are talking about,” Archer said, haughtily. “I came home from abroad, made good my claim to being Irving Caldwell’s eldest son and have been treated accordingly. You have offered me a base insult, and I must request you to retract it.” Stone wondered whether anyone beside himself noticed the quiver of Archer’s drooping eyelid, a sure sign, with him, that he was nervously upset.
“Instead of a retraction, I will ask you to make good your claims. Just what are your proofs?”
“My father accepted me without any doubt as to my identity.”
“Is that a proof, Inspector Gordon?”
“No, Mr. Stone, not in the circumstances. After fourteen years, a man could easily be mistaken in one he had seen last as a boy of fourteen.”
“You bore me, Mr. Stone, with your absurd proposition. If you expect to prove that I am not Archer Caldwell, you may as well stop where you are. You cannot controvert my proofs. Do you doubt my defective eyelid? The tattooed letters on my back? My diary of two years of my wanderings? My gifts and keepsakes that I cherished when far from home and my loved ones? Do you doubt these things?”
“Yes, sir, I do. Your diary is a fake—a copy! Your injured eyelid was injured, at your order, by a skillful surgeon, it is not a great stunt to cut the osculo-motor nerve, the third cranial muscle—”
“Peace, man! I forbid you to go on! Inspector, will you order Mr. Stone to stop his senseless babble! I have proved a hundred times that I am the man I claim to be; no one can doubt it.”
“I doubt it,” said Lorraine, in a low but cutting tone. “I doubt it and I have reason to.”
Bruce was sitting next to her. He put his arm round her and laid his fingers across her lips.
“Don’t say such things, Lorry, dear! We all know and love our Archer, and we have respect for Mr. Stone. Let us hear what he has to say, and then we may understand his meaning.”
“My meaning is this: the man who came here, declaring himself to be Archer Caldwell, is not Archer Caldwell or any kin of his.”
“I thought so from the first,” Perry said, slowly, looking at Stone. “And, I was sure you thought so. How are you going to make him admit it?”
“I’ll make him admit it,” and the Inspector looked at the accused man, grimly. “We’ve got tabs on you, Mr. Whoever-you-are, and we want to know your real name, and where you live.”
“My name, as you all know, is Archer Caldwell. I live in this house, which I own, and out of which I propose to turn anyone who doubts my word!”
“You’ll have to get your own word undoubted first,” Gordon went on, now thoroughly angered by the other’s attitude.
There was a silence then, for Briggs appeared at the hall doorway, and he was ushering in a visitor.
The man entered the room swiftly, gave a glance round and went straight to Marcia, saying:
“Marcia, dear, I’m Archer.”
“I know you are!” she cried, putting her arms round his neck. “Oh, Archer, who is that man?”
Archer looked in the direction she was looking, and said, in no cordial tones, “George Brill! What are you doing here?”
“Yes, what are you?” said a man who had come in with the new arrival. And he was the Chief of Police, and Gordon knew it, and told of it.
“Chief Driscoll,” he said, and the man who had wrongly called himself Archer Caldwell, fairly shriveled up with fear.
There was a stampede. Bruce, with a youthful readiness to accept changes, flew to the new Archer, and grasped his hand, gazing into his face with the same devotion he had shown to the other a short time before.
Chief Driscoll asserted himself.
“I must know about this,” he said. “Gordon, who is this man?”
“Nobody knows, Chief. He has been masquerading as Mr. Archer Caldwell, but I am credibly informed that is not his name. Also, he is a murder suspect; shall I look after him?”
As the Chief answered, “Yes, do,” the man made a dash for the hall door, where he was met by two brawny policemen who interfered with his further passage.
“Bring him back here,” Driscoll ordered, “we want his story.”
By now, the later claimant to the Caldwell name turned to the one between the policemen.
“George Brill,” he said again, “why are you here? Are you the one who has been impersonating me?”
“At your service.” Brill saluted impudently in the direction of the speaker.
“I will give you his story, in a few words,” the real Archer went on. “I am Archer Caldwell, this man is George Brill. We were buddies in India, we were lost in the jungle; I had jungle fever, and he stole all the valuables I had on me, as well as my diary and my billfold and some other personal matters, and went away, leaving me to die alone in the jungle.”
“Why didn’t you?” exclaimed Brill, without realizing that was his endorsement of Archer’s tale.
“No thanks to you! I was dying of fever and thirst, when a caravan came by and—never mind the rest, they took me back to the hotel. As soon as I was able to travel, I came in search of you.”
“How’d you know I was here?”
“As soon as I got well enough to think at all, I thought this would be your game. You knew I’d come!”
“Did you, Mr. Brill?” This from Gordon, who was deeply interested.
“Answer him!” Archer glared at George Brill.
“I—I suppose so,” he said.
“You knew if I lived I’d hunt you down! When you left me, dying, as you thought, in the jungle, I felt you robbing me of my money belt, but I was too weak to resist. I was just alive and that was all. I should have died in a short time if the caravan hadn’t come that way. And if I hadn’t been so ill, you would have killed me. My jungle fever saved my life!”
“Oh, pshaw, I wouldn’t do you any harm. I’m awful fond of you!”
Archer frowned at him. “If that’s so, give me back my diamonds.”
Archer turned to Gordon. “Inspector,” he said, “are you arresting this man?”
“I’ll say I am, sir.”
“Then, when you search him, you will probably find a belt round his waist, and in it five large diamonds. They are my property. He stole them from me. Didn’t you, Brill?”
There was no reply, and Archer stepped a little nearer.
“Didn’t you, Brill?”
“Yes, damn you!”
“Take him away, Inspector,” Driscoll said. “You have your man, take him.” They did.
“I have been in savage countries,” Archer said, “and I have seen wickedness and outrage beyond compare, but even a heathen wouldn’t treat a friend as Brill has treated me. Let’s talk about something else. Where’s Father, and Mother? And where’s Vincent?”
There was a silence and then Marcia said:
“Mother is dead, dear, and Father, too. He had angina and went very suddenly.”
“And Vince?” Archer said, after a pause.
“He is dead, too,” Perry said. “It has been a house of tragedy.”
“And George Brill in it, impersonating me! Did he fool Father?”
“Completely. I can see now, you two don’t look alike, but the family, not having seen you for fourteen years, were naturally ready to accept him. Now, let’s try to look at the bright side. I’m your brother-in-law in charge of Marcia here. Bruce is our youngest hopeful, and glad to transfer to you his passion for hero-worship.”
“Just what I want, Bruce, give me plenty of it! I’ve had no petting since I went away. I expect it from Lorry, too.”
“Maybe,” and the girl smiled at him, a little shyly.
After a time Fleming Stone said, “I think Archer ought to know about the deaths of his father and brother tonight. It seems to me necessary. It is very late. Perhaps Archer will stay for a talk with me and the rest of you go to your rooms.”
“Yes,” Archer said, “that suits me. Run along, girls, and tomorrow we’ll make a good start on our new life.”
Bruce wanted to stay, but Stone said he wanted Archer alone, so it was that way.
“There’s an awful lot to be said,” Stone told him, “but tonight we’ll make a start on it. How do you happen to have such control over Brill? He is afraid of you.”
“He ought to be! I made him. I rescued him from savages, and I took care of him for years. I could scarcely believe it when I learned his treachery! Yes, I was always master, except when I was so ill.”
“And he left you, before you were dead, knowing you must die soon, perhaps—”
“Yes, perhaps from the fever, perhaps by wild beasts—though no jungle tiger could have been a worse menace than George Brill.”
“You were really buddies?”
“So I thought, and during the long nights in the jungle, I told him tales of my early life, and he begged for more reminiscences, saying he couldn’t sleep and wanted to hear me talk. I little thought he was storing up my tales in his mind for such a terrible purpose!”
“Do you happen to remember telling him of a school-teacher you had, named Pillsbury, and you boys called her ‘Old Pill’?”
“No, I don’t, but George has a very quick mind, and it would occur to him, that likely the kids would call her that. He is quick as a flash on the uptake, and I can see how he would know a hundred incidents by way of proof and would repeat them with telling effect. As to his drooping eyelid, he must have had a plastic surgeon fix that up. And I’ll bet he was smart enough to have A. C. tattooed on his back, too!”
“Yes, he did that.”
And then Fleming Stone told the story of Vincent’s strange death.
“Of course, Brill did that! Probably Vincent faced him with the accusation that he was a fraud, and he killed Vincent for his own safety. He would do that!”
“Vincent was killed in a locked room.”
“That’s nothing, you know that instrument they have to turn a key from the other side.”
“Yes, it’s called a ouistiti. And I nearly accused Brill of using it! I got as far as what he said sounded like wis and then I thought I’d better not give away my knowledge. Now, I’ll tell you about Mason, and then you must have your rest.”
Stone told the story of Eva Mason and of Abigail Beauregard, and Archer at once said:
“Brill bribed Mason to give Father poison, of course. Probably paid her a heap to give him the medicine he provided, which I know must have been bikh, and ordered her to disappear immediately. She was a smart girl?”
“As smart as they come.”
“Then she obeyed him, and she did disappear. He paid big, of course; I wonder you ever found her. What will be done with her?”
“That’s up to the police. The case is hanging fire, but your testimony will straighten everything out. You and I will be the chief witnesses against him.”
“I’ll do my share! I understand it all better than you do, Stone, for I know him so well! He is truly a wizard with his wits! He can think up more deviltry than the devil himself.”
“I’ll say so; look at this diary.”
“Why, that’s mine! No, it isn’t, either, but it’s a duplicate, or nearly! Did that villain make this up to trick you?”
“Yes, and almost succeeded. You’re right to call him clever!”
“How did you catch on?”
“First by the dollar mark, he made it with a single upright mark.”
“We were taught in school never to do that. But George always did, said it saved time.”
“You see, no one had seen your writing for fourteen years. So Brill just used his own. I went to a famous graphologist, and he assured me that the diary writing was not done by the same hand that wrote your school papers, of which I had some copies.”
“Good Lord, Stone, if you hadn’t been on the job, I’ll bet George would have cleaned up all the money and got away before I came home! You see, he knew I’d be on his tracks if I lived. But he was almost sure I would die right after he left me.”
“We were going to arrest him for Vincent’s death tomorrow.”
“Tell me again just how Vincent was found.”
Stone told him, and after listening attentively, Archer said:
“Yes, I see. Brill told me about it some time ago. Not in connection with Vincent, of course. But we were speaking of murders in general, and he told me of that chap in England who married one woman after another, and killed each one in the bathtub. They called them the Brides of the Bath, Well, it seems Brill read somewhere the way it was done, and he told me. He said the man Smith, the murderer, made the discovery that if you take hold of a person’s feet in a bath, and pull them up sharply, the sudden duck-under rushes water violently up the nose and the victim dies without a struggle. But how did Archer get him into the bath?”
“I think I know that. I had concluded that he was drowned in some such way, though I didn’t know it was Smith’s habit. And I’m pretty sure that Vincent was endeavoring to get the tattooed letters off his back. So, it’s clear enough that Brill was about to make a pretense of removing them, and told Vincent it must be done under water.”
“Yes, that’s it. Just the sort of cleverness he possesses! And then he went out, leaving Vincent there, drowned, locked the door from the outside with his ouistiti and went away.”
“Yes, you’re right about his cleverness. I say, have you three chicken-pox marks on your right side?”
“Yes, rather faint, but discernible.”
“That will confute him, then. Lorry tried to make him prove he had them, and he couldn’t put up the goods.”
“Dear little Lorry. She seems depressed.”
“Because she suspected Brill almost from the first. She will be all right now, you’ll see.”
The next morning Archer saw George Brill for the last time.
It was in Gordon’s office, and Fleming Stone was there, too, also Bruce, who refused to be separated from his new brother.
“You see, Arch,” George Brill was saying boldly, “I thought you were dead, and I just played stand-in.”
“George Brill,” and Archer spoke like an avenging spirit, “I denounce you as the worst man on God’s earth.” He turned to Gordon. “This fellow was my buddy, we were lost in the jungle. I was ill with fever, I was dying, and he knew it. He took from me all my money and valuables, he went back to the hotel and said I had asked him to collect my things as I was dead of jungle fever. Then he came over here and took my place, thinking his secret would never be known.”
“As your buddy, did you tell him much about your early life?”
“Did I? Night after night he made me entertain him with yarns of my childhood. Then I had the fever, I was delirious and dying, and this man, pretending to nurse me, took my belt, containing money and diamonds which I had mined in Kimberley, then pretending that he was going for help, left me alone to die of fever—or tigers. Had I not been so ill and so alone, he would have killed me, but he was sure I was done for!”
“How did you get out?”
“I was picked up by a caravan. They took me back to civilization, and I was very ill, but my will helped me and I recovered. I had feared this man did what he did do, but I never grasped the extent of his wicked crimes until Mr. Stone told me last night. It is so much worse than I had imagined, I feel like returning to India as to a civilized country compared to this!”
“Don’t go!” said Bruce, “you must stay here to take care of us.”
“I’ll do that, boy.”
They were all silent for a moment, and then Fleming Stone said:
“To me, the appearance of Archer Caldwell was a corroboration of my own conclusions. As I had told Inspector Gordon, I was ready to denounce this man as an impostor, and I intended to do so last evening, then, if I failed to convince the police and the Caldwell family that I was right, I would give up the case. I knew the man would raise a storm of denial, and also the family would be unwilling to believe me. But I was so positive of my convictions that I could believe in no other solution of the problem. The appearance of the real Archer was a drastic proof of my decisions. It had seemed to me from the very first, that Mr. Brill’s glib category of proofs of his identity had been carefully worked out in his own fertile brain. But it would be difficult to prove my own beliefs in the face of the indignation I would encounter. Yet I meant to do it, for I was so sure of my facts.”
“Yes, Mr. Stone,” and the Inspector looked understanding; “yes, it would have been a hard thing for you to put over. Yet you were perfectly right, and Mr. Caldwell’s appearance was an answer to all uncertainty.”
“It was for others, but I was sure there was something wrong about the man Brill. But so much of it was based on little things that he said or did, which seemed to me conclusive, but were hard to explain to others, if listened to unwillingly. Mr. Brill’s actions were not only sly but they were tentative, as if he were trying to work out one plan after another.
“Eva Mason had gone away before I came; but I found her and I have seen her. And I have lately talked with her over the telephone. She did not know it was poison that she gave to her patient, Mr. Caldwell Senior, and she asserts it was given to her for him, with the assurance that it was a new cure and would be efficacious.”
“Now, now,” Inspector Gordon said, “would a smart girl like Eva Mason swallow that kind of talk?”
“She swallowed the money, anyhow! How much did you give her, Brill?”
It was Archer who asked, but there was no reply.
Then Archer said, sternly, “Tell him, George, at once!”
“Five hundred dollars,” Brill said then, and added, “and well spent, too.”
“Bikh, I suppose?” Archer asked, and George Brill merely nodded his head.
“Go on,” said Gordon; “why did you kill Vincent Caldwell?”
Again Brill was stubbornly silent. And again a word and a look from Archer made him speak.
“Self-defense,” he said, surlily. “He told me he was sure I was not really his brother, and he charged me with having killed the old man. And he said my tattooed letters were faked, and that he was going to tell Gordon—and I had to stop that. As you know me now, it doesn’t matter. But I’ve only myself to blame. I should have finished you, Archer, when I had the chance!”
“When did you copy the diary?” Gordon asked, wanting to know all.
“On the steamer. I had plenty of time. Having made my plan, I was careful to omit no necessary detail. I meant to be Archer, I meant to stay and I had to have my own handwriting. The copying was a nuisance of a job, I thought I’d never finish it. But it had to be done, I had to keep on writing, and it had to be like the diary.”
“Very deliberately you stole your buddy’s birthright,” and Gordon gave him a look of utter scorn.
“I didn’t think I was taking his birthright from him. I thought he was dead—he ought to have been! If that damned caravan hadn’t come along—”
“Not another word, Brill! Your talk is outrageous!” said Stone. He was not often surprised at a prisoner’s actions, but he could scarcely believe he had heard George Brill aright.
“You can see for yourself, Gordon,” Stone went on, “if the real Archer hadn’t turned up last night, I might have had a hard time putting my case over. If you had believed my findings, we might have brought Mr. Brill to confess, but the family, I think, would not have admitted I was right.”
“Oh, I think I would have come to see your side of it,” Gordon said. “I had to believe in this man’s identity, because all his relatives were so sure of it. But since I have heard his terrible talk now, I can believe no sin would be too wicked for him to try.”
“I don’t care for what he says,” Archer told them. “My marvel is that he could really be this fiend of a man and yet seem my good and pleasant buddy while we were together.”
“I was!” Brill broke out. “I had never thought of this dodge until that last night we were in the jungle, and you were, I was certain, dying. It seemed to be a chance, and I took it.”
“Oh, hush up, George!” Archer cried out. “I know you, and I know you were planning it for a long time.”
“Have it your own way,” Brill growled, and that was his confession.
Archer went away, and Stone stayed only to get a signed confession from the prisoner.
The real and the make-believe Archer Caldwells never met again.
The wicked George Brill was well and truly electrocuted and none of the Caldwells heard the terrible things he said during his last moments on earth.
And when the time was ripe, Archer and Lorraine were married, and Archer’s diamonds were recovered and reset, and made a perfect wedding gift for a lovely bride.
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