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Title: Collected Short Stories by Carolyn Wells Author: Carolyn Wells * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1900921h.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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Book One - Fate's Assistant
Book Two - Harcourt's Literature
Book Three - Who Held the Phone
Book Four - A Spangle of Existence
Book Five - A Morning Call
Book Six - Mrs. Merriwether's Luncheon
Book Seven - The Stolen Gems
Book Eight - The Adventure of the Lost Baby
Book Nine - The Adventure of the Mona Lisa
Book Ten - The Adventure of the Clothes-Line
Book Eleven - Christabel's Crystal
Book Twelve - A Point of Testimony
Appeared in Sunday Magazine, December 10, 1905
Of course, in a way, the responsibility was entirely on the head of the head waiter. After Grace Fairfield had decided to eat lunch, alone as she was, at Delmonico’s, she walked in bravely, and with a somewhat overacted sang froid. But, immediately conscious of the many casual glances at her, she became embarrassed, lost her way among the jungle of beflowered tables, and threw herself helplessly, though metaphorically, upon the dignified mercy of the head waiter. That omnipotent being seated her pleasantly, whisked some table paraphernalia about, flourished a lithographed menu at her, and departed.
By this time Miss Fairfield had recovered her equanimity, and proved it by raising and adjusting her white veil without even glancing toward the mirror-lined walls. Then she removed her gloves and glancing about her, gave a little sigh of satisfaction. Grace Fairfield dearly loved to look at her fellow-women. In accordance with the law of compensation, her fellow-men dearly loved to look at her, but that doesn’t affect this yarn.
As the restaurant was crowded with fascinating femininity, Miss Fairfield foresaw an hour or two of genuine pleasure. She loved to study the faces, gowns, hats and manners of those about her for no especial reason save an impersonal interest in properly conducted humanity. If scraps of their conversation came to her ears, she listened unashamed, for secrets should not be told in public places. Satisfied that she herself was not the object of undue notice, she calmly ordered her luncheon, and then gazed about the room, absorbed in the moving picture.
Owing to the position of a huge pillar, the table next to her own was unusually near. It was occupied by two white-clad young women, who, like Miss Fairfield, had evidently come in from some summer resort for a day in the city. Even had Grace been so minded, she could scarcely have avoided hearing their conversation; but being at once interested in their appearance, she made no effort to exclude their voices.
“You see, Eglantine,” one of the girls said to the other, and at this Grace Fairfield’s scruples, if she had any, would have vanished—a girl who permitted herself to be called “Eglantine” was entitled to no consideration of any sort.
“She’s a perfect wreck,” went on the high-pitched though not overloud voice of the girl with the leghorn hat. “At least, she was until I talked to her this morning. I do believe I did her good. I said: ‘Florence, you’re a perfect little fool! You play fast and loose with him and tease him to the very limit, then you expect he’s going to follow you round and hang onto your apron string.’ Why, last night at the hop she flirted with every man there. I wouldn’t stand it, if I was Dick Hamilton.”
“He isn’t going to stand it,” said the girl who had been called Eglantine. “I know something about that affair myself.”
“I know too,” eagerly broke in the other, “Florence told me all about it this morning. They had a fearful fuss last night, just before the hop broke up, and Mr. Hamilton told her that she’d got to say ‘Yes’ or ‘No’—he wouldn’t be kept dangling on a string any longer. Of course he didn’t use those words, but he just gave Florence Vail to understand that it was her last chance with him.”
“What did she say?”
“Why, the goose said, ‘No.’ she is so sure of him, you know, and she’s such a born coquette, that she told him if it must be either, it must be ‘No.’ And then that little idiot went home and cried all night because she had said it, and she’s going to ask him to go driving with her this afternoon and tell him she’s changed her mind—or at least give him a chance to find out.”
“She is! Is she?” said Eglantine. “Well, I guess she isn’t! Florence Vail has lost Dick Hamilton for good this time.”
“Why, Mabel, what do you mean?”
Eglantine’s face expressed intense interest; but, had the speakers noticed it, so also did Grace Fairfield’s. She neglected her soft shelled crab in her anxiety to hear the rest of the story, but she was careful to preserve an effect of absorption in her own thoughts and indifference to all about her.
“Just this,” said Mabel, and a hint of spiteful satisfaction rang in her tone: “I sat with Roger Hall coming in on the train this morning. He’s at the Harper House, where I am, you know, and that’s where Mr. Hamilton has been staying too. Well, Roger says that Mr. Hamilton is going to India, and that he’s going today.”
“India? What in the world for?”
“Oh, his excuse is that he’s going to hunt first editions of Kipling—he’s a book-fiend, you know—but really. Roger says, he’s going because Florence Vail refused him.”
“Oh, what a lovely mess,” exclaimed Eglantine, and despite her urban appearance she showed all the unction of a village gossip.
“Yes, isn’t it?” assented Mabel. “And it serves her right. Florence Vail thinks she owns all the men at Sea Ridge and most of the other places on Long Island; and I’m just glad she’s lost the one she likes best!”
“Oh, I don’t know; Florence is a dear in some ways. You know we’ve been together at the Ocean Swell all summer, and I’ve seen a lot of her. She is a flirt, but she doesn’t really care for anybody but Dick Hamilton.”
“Well, then she should have treated him differently. She’ll never see him again, unless she goes to the dock this afternoon to see the Bouvardia sail.”
“The Bouvardia? That doesn’t go to India.”
“No, he’s going to London first then on to India from there, Roger told me so.”
“I think it’s too bad,” said Mabel. “I’ve a notion to go right back to Sea Ledge and tell Florence he’s going. I’d like her to have a chance to do something.”
“What could she do? It’s two o’clock now, and the steamer sails this afternoon, probably about three. Don’t be silly, it’s none of your affair.”
“No, but I like Florence better than you do, and I’m sorry for her.”
“Well, I’m not. She deserves all she’s getting. Don’t you want a melba peach?”
“No. I want that big tray of sweets, and then we’ll pick out what looks flummeriest.”
“All right, we’ll have that. And we must hurry a little, for I have to be at the tailor’s at half-past two.”
Grace Fairfield was thinking. Her interest in the two girls she had overheard talking had dwindled away, and her thoughts were all of the unfortunate Florence, and to her mind, the no less unfortunate Dick. It was absurd of course, but she felt as if she must do something in the matter. To think that Fate was taking swift steps to part two loving hearts, and that she, Grace Fairfield, knew of something that could bring them together, if only circumstances would allow!
With her mind full of half-formed intentions, she called for her bill. As she dipped her finger-tips in water, her plans seemed to materialize, and as she drew on her gloves her face beamed with a glad determination. So eager was she to begin her campaign against Fate that she impatiently waited for her change. When it was brought, she picked up the coins gave the waiter a rather larger tip than usual, with an undefined sense of bidding for luck, and started blithely off.
A moment’s pause at a news-stand, and then her goal was a public telephone station, where she was not known, but where there was a comfortable booth. After consulting the book, she called up the Ocean Swell at Sea Lodge, Long Island, and asked for Miss Florence Vail.
After the irritating necessary delay, this conversation took place:
“Is this Miss Florence Vail?”
“Are you in a booth, or can other people hear you talk?”
“I am in a closed booth. Who is this please?”
“Never mind my name. I am a humble instrument of Fate. If you keep your head, think quickly and act quickly, I can help you to secure the happiness you want most. Can you hear me?”
“Yes, I hear you perfectly; but I can’t imagine what this is all about.”
“There isn’t time to explain. Now listen and don’t faint. Dick Hamilton sails for India this afternoon.”
“What? Who are you!”
“I’m Fate, I tell you! Now, keep still. He’s going because you refused him last night. Do you want to marry him?”
“Yes, I do. I was a fool!”
“You were, indeed. Now, if you want to counteract your foolishness, there’s only one way to do it, and that is to meet Mr. Hamilton at the steamer and tell him so.”
“I will, I will! But how can I?”
“I don’t know how you can, but if you want to do it, you must find a way. Can’t anybody come with you. Your mother?”
“I haven’t any mother. Oh, who are you?”
“Hush! What have you—a father, a chaperon?”
“My father is in New York. His office is in the Townsend Building.”
“That will do. You must take the three o’clock train from Sea Ledge. You’ll get in New York at three-forty-five. Take a cab and rush like fury. Stop for your father—he’ll be ready for you—and then drive like mad to the pier. The Bouvardia sails at five and you ought to be there by half-past four. Now, scoot! Good-by.”
Miss Fairfield rang off, and once more studied the telephone book. She had meant to ask Miss Vail her father’s name, but in the excitement of the occasion had forgotten to do so. However, there was only one Vail in the Townsend Building so that made it easy, and she called up his number.
“Is this Mr. Valentine Vail?” she inquired politely.
“Yes,” was the reply, “what can I do for you?”
“I’m a friend of Florence’s,” said Miss Fairfield glibly, “and she wants me to ask you to wait for her. She’ll be at your office at about four o’clock, and she wants you to go with her on an errand, a most important errand.”
“H’m. To pick out a set of furs, I suppose. She remarked this morning that summer was the time to buy them. Well, whatever Flossie says goes. I’ll be here.”
“All right, good-by,” and again she rang off.
Her work was now done. Surely after such assistance those two foolish young people could get together? But it seemed so tame to drop the matter and prosaically take her own train back to Stamford, Connecticut. She wished she could talk with Hamilton. It was absurd, of course, and she had no intention of doing it, but it would do no harm to see if by any chance he was in the telephone book. She found two Richard Hamiltons, and merely because she couldn’t bear to stop the fun she concluded to try them.
The first one she called proved to be a most ill-tempered man, and she rang off hastily. The next time a subordinate answered, who told her that Hamilton had left the office and gone to his apartment. She inquired the address of Hamilton’s rooms and said good-by. Then she called up the bachelor apartment house. Here a rather curt clerk consented to make inquiries, and finally informed her that Hamilton had gone to his club.
Grace Fairfield’s mood had changed. From a spirit of reckless daring, she had passed to that of dogged persistence. Richard Hamilton must be found! She had put Florence Vail in a miserable position, otherwise, and she must rescue her. After trying two clubs in vain, she tried a third and was told that Hamilton had been there but had just gone out.
In despair, Grace cried out. “Oh, isn’t there anybody there who can tell me where he went?”
Perhaps the emotion in her voice touched the heart of the statue-like servant who was answering her call, but at any rate he asked a passing club member, who was a friend of Hamilton’s, if he would take the receiver. And so, when Grace cried again: “Can’t you, please tell me where to find Mr. Hamilton?” a kind voice replied: “Why, yes; he has just gone around to Mrs. Lyons on Fifth Ave.”
“Is there a telephone there?” inquired Grace breathlessly.
“No, I don’t think so. No, I’m sure there isn’t. Can I do anything for you?”
“Yes, Go and tell him—no, go and ask him to telephone me—no, that won’t do. Will you please go and get him, and bring him to this telephone? Go quickly! It’s a matter of life—” Her unknown friend had apparently gone; so she waited for ten minutes, and then called up the club again. Hamilton had not yet returned. Would she give her telephone number? She would not, but would repeat her call later. It was now after four, but her next call brought her success at last.
“Is this Mr. Richard Hamilton?” she asked in a voice weak with excitement and exhaustion.
“Yes. Did you wish to speak with me?”
“I do, and I‘ve no time for unnecessary words. Are you going to India?”
“Are you sailing on the Bouvardia this afternoon?”
“No, I’ve changed my plans and am going—”
“Oh, I don’t care when you are going! Wait a minute. If Florence Vail would marry you would you go at all?”
“Excuse me, madam—”
“Answer my question! Would you?”
“Well, not alone.”
“Then listen. Florence Vail thinks you’re sailing on the Bouvardia, and she’s now—now on her way there to tell you—well, to tell you she doesn’t want you to go—without her.”
“What? Miss Vail on her way to the pier? Is she sailing?”
“No, stupid! She thinks you are. Oh, how dense can you be! But never
mind; you must go there at once and head her off—and listen! You must
let her think you’re sailing on that steamer or she’d never forgive
herself or you for her going there.”
”Is she alone?”
“No, Mr. Vail is with her. Now fly! But mind, you must let her think you intended sailing, and her coming made you change your mind. Can you do that?”
“You bet I can! But who am I to thank for this information and advice?”
“Fate, now run as fast as you can. Good-by!”
Fairly trembling with the emotions of the moment, grace left the booth, paid her not inconsiderable bill, and crossing the street, revived her exhausted nature with an ice-cream soda.
“I’ve made a mess of it,” she soliloquized. “I needn’t have spoken to Florence or her father at all. If I’d hunted up Mr. Hamilton first and told him how matters stood, it would have done just as well. But I couldn’t know that, and anyway if he had been going Florence couldn’t have made the train, if I’d waited any later. Well now, I’m going to that boat myself.”
Feeling like a heroine in a magazine story, Grace hailed a hansom and drove to the pier. Bidding the cabman to wait for her, she went aboard the Bouvardia.
But the crowd was so great, and it was so difficult to tell the passengers from their friends, that she couldn’t feel sure which were the actors in her own little comedy. Several times she noted eager, alert young men dash across the gang plank, but they either disappeared or conducted themselves in such a manner that she knew none of them could be Hamilton; and there were dozens of couples who might have been Florence and her father.
But at last a young man came on board who, Grace intuitively felt, was Dick Hamilton himself. He was of a large handsome type, and in his correct afternoon dress didn’t have at all the appearance of a departing tourist. Grace fancied she could see in his face a mingled expression of happiness and uncertainty, and she watched him closely as he made a quick and systematic survey of the crowd on deck. At last he apparently satisfied himself that the object of his search hadn’t yet arrived, and selecting a spot from which he could see all who approached, he stood calmly by the rail, waiting. Whereupon, Miss Fairfield selected a position near him, and without looking his way waited also.
It was not long before she saw by the expression on the young man’s face that some one he knew was arriving. Following his glance, she saw a fine-looking middle-aged man helping a girl from a cab. Grace hadn’t the slightest doubt as to the identity of these people, and in ten seconds she had noted every detail of Florence Vail’s appearance.
She was a pretty, vivacious girl, with a roguish, willful face and a fascinating smile. The dainty costume of white embroidered linen and the black hat with plumes met with Grace’s entire approval, and she breathed a sigh of relief that her beneficiaries were such proper people.
Then she looked back at Dick Hamilton, and was amazed at the change in his demeanor. His eager alertness was all gone, and he leaned against a pillar in an attitude of hopeless dejection. Grace almost burst into laughter, as she suddenly realized that the young man was merely acting his part. She had told him over the telephone to pretend that he was about to sail, and of course Florence must find him properly despondent. With bowed head and folded arms, Hamilton (for Grace felt convinced it was he) stood, looking like a man whose last earthly hope has departed. Although careful to avoid any appearance of recognition, Grace drew nearer to him and waited.
In a moment Florence and her father approached. Breathlessly, Grace watched the meeting and unashamed of her eavesdropping, listened for words that would prove the identity of the actors in her little drama. From the look on Florence’s face, Grace saw that she was deeply touched at Dick’s evident misery.
A moment more and a white-gloved hand was laid gently on the big gray suede one, and a girl’s voice said softly: “Dick!”
With an admirable start of surprise, the man looked up from his reverie, and exclaimed: “Florence! Why are you here?”
Grace could have embraced them both, in sheer joy at the success of her plan, and also in admiration of Hamilton’s acting.
Vail, who had doubtless been coached by his daughter, stepped aside a little and seemed interested in watching the crowds of people.
“I came to tell you good-by,” said Florence. She spoke so low that Grace was obliged to edge up a little nearer, but she knew she was in no danger of being recognized, and too, the lovers were already oblivious to the fact that there was anyone else on the boat but themselves.
“After your good-by of last evening, another one was hardly necessary,” said Dick.
“That’s right,” said Grace to herself. “Give it to her, she’s a naughty little coquette.”
“I wanted to say too,” went on Florence, stammering a little, “that—that I’m sorry you’re going.”
“That alters the case,” cried Dick, and a light came into his eyes as he grasped both the little white-gloved hands. “Listen, Florence, the boat sails in a few minutes, and we’ve no time to waste. If I postpone this trip and go later in the season, will you go with me? Will you, love?”
“Yes,” said Florence, with such an adorable glance at the big man that Grace wondered how he refrained from catching her in his arms.
But he only said: “Come on then, my girl. Let’s get out of this, quick. Where’s your father?”
“But,” said Florence, “don’t you have to see about your luggage and your ticket?”
“Oh—er—yes. Well, you stay here with your father. Don’t move, now; stay right in this place and I’ll go and order my things sent back, and I’ll get my —er—ticket extended.” From the difficulty he seemed to find in making these prevarications, Grace judged that young Hamilton was ordinarily a truthful man.
He soon returned, and they started merrily away.
Grace followed and saw the two get into a four-wheeler as she climbed into her own hansom.
On a sudden impulse she pulled off one of her dainty oxfords , and as her cab passed Florence’s she tossed the shoe in at the window, crying: “Fate’s congratulations and good luck!” Then she said to her driver: “To Blank’s shoe shop, as fast as you can.”
Harry Harcourt had long been a success in his own line of light literature. And his line was a trunk line with spurs in any number of directions. His acquaintances called him a free-lance when they spoke to him and a hack-writer when they spoke of him.
But, to be accurate, he was neither. He was simply a manufacturer and vendor of marketable light-literary merchandise, and he thoroughly understood his business. After a studious and hard-working apprenticeship, he had now reached the place where he could turn off a sonnet, a short story or a special article with that peculiar touch about it which makes it acceptable to any editor. He was as versatile as Kipling, as prolific as Cyrus T. Brady, and as sure of having his work accepted as C.D. Gibson or T. Roosevelt.
Of course, the financial result of this state of things was a comfortable competency, though perhaps not affluence. But Harry Harcourt was not ambitious. The best rates of the best periodicals were good enough for him, and he lived happily with his wife and children in a small suburban town, and occasionally ran over to the city for a breath of “hot air,” as he expressed it in his light-literary way.
Harcourt was a methodical man. Indeed, it was to this trait that he attributed his success. In the preface of his career he had systematized his work. He had reduced all jokes to common denominators, and discovered that the skeletons of all short stories looked alike. He had classified tables of jests, ready for instant use. They were alphabetically arranged, as: Appendicitis, Bernard Shaw, Chauffeurs, Divorce, and so on. Moreover, he was always on time. In January he wrote his summer-girl verses, his Fourth of July jokes, and his articles on “The Advantages of the City as a Summer Resort.” In June he wrote his Christmas ballads and his jests on New Year resolutions.
He worked at his desk every day from nine till one, his copy was always neat and clean, and his return envelopes carefully stamped and addressed. They were rarely used, for he kept his trained finger on the editorial pulse, and most of his stuff was accepted on its first offer.
So all was well, and as we may deduce, there was not a fly in Harry Harcourt’s light-literary ointment.
But suddenly and with no apparent reason things began to change. One day a manuscript was returned to him in his own neat return-envelope. Though unusual, this was not absolutely unprecedented, and it caused Harcourt only a momentary surprise, after which he sent it off again to the next most desirable editor. But next day two more manuscripts came back to him, and the day after another. After this, he began to have nearly as many rejections as acceptances, then just as many, and then more.
The sensation in Harcourt’s mind regarding this phenomenon was not disappointment, discouragement, dismay or despair. It was a healthy intelligent curiosity as to what the dickens it all meant. He knew his market and his work too well to think for a moment that one was overcrowded or the other inferior. There must be a reason, he knew—a good reason—and he determined to find it. He was in that peculiar stage where an author is both too successful and not successful enough to march boldly to his editors and ask explanation. So he puzzled over it himself, but he couldn’t solve the mystery. And matters grew worse. His stuff was selling so poorly that his bank account was seriously threatened.
Something must be done; but what? He thought of Dr. Osler’s theory, and wondered if he ought to be chloroformed. He didn’t feel that he ought to be, but he wrote a humorous poem on the thought, as was his wont on all such thoughts. The poem was returned to him with printed thanks, and again he was mildly surprised and deeply mystified.
He was thinking it all over one day, when his friend Jack Norton came into the library. Norton was a well-to-do man, and consequently was in automobile togs.
“I say, Harcourt,” he said, “lend me your horse and gig, will you, to tow my machine around to the garage?”
“Sure!” said Harcourt. “What’s the matter this time?”
“Needle-valve worked loose, and I’ve a choked carburetor,” explained Norton. “I thought I’d tinker it up myself—been supining under the old thing for half an hour, but it’s no go for either of us. Thanks awfully for your gig. By the way, old man, what’s up with you? You look as seedy as seed.”
“I am!” suddenly exclaimed Harcourt, and then in a burst of confidence he told his friend of his troubles. “There must be some reason.” He concluded. “Of course you don’t understand, Norton; but I know the stuff I write is just as good, and better, than what I’ve always done.”
“It is queer,” said Norton, his jolly face grave at the tale of his friend’s woe. “I’ll tell you, Harry, the trouble must be purely mechanical. Get down under your desk on your back and gaze up into your apparatus. Test everything, and you’re bound to come across the trouble, whether you can fix it or not, ta-ta, old man.”
Harcourt looked after his friend’s vanishing raincoat, and from sheer force of habit ruminated on his words to see if they could be used as material. As he ruminated, the solution of his own problem flashed upon him.
All at once he understood why his jokes had been rejected, his stories returned, his verses sent back. And as he realized the truth, he turned ghastly pale and bowed his head in his hands. Thus his wife found him, as she tripped blithely in to ask for a little shopping money.
“Harry!” she cried, “what in the world is the matter?”
“Matter enough! I am ruined!” he replied, in a melodramatic atmosphere.
“Ruined? Why? How?” and bravely renouncing her shopping expedition, Mrs. Harcourt sat down beside her husband.
“I don’t often bother you with business details, Ethel,” Harcourt began; “but I can tell you in a few words why I don’t and can’t sell any more manuscripts.”
Ethel didn’t say “Why?” she just looked at him, knowing he’d go on.
“Because,” he continued, “the only thing the editors buy nowadays is automobile stuff. Whether it’s a joke, jingle, short story or book, it must be about automobiles, and written in their crazy jargon. The hero must wear automobile togs, and the heroine a motor cap held on with a shirred chiffon veil. Then the intricacies of the machinery must be detailed ad nauseam, and incidentally a little fool love story shows its nose every thirty-eight pages. Oh, I know the trouble with my stuff now! It’s back numbers, Osler, appendicitis, cruelty to animals, dialect stories, nature books—all the legitimate subjects are knocked out by an automobilization of forces.”
“Well, deary, can’t you write automobile jokes and stories too?”
“No! I can’t write about the confounded things, when I don’t know a carburetor valve from a spark plug. And I can’t afford to buy one, and I couldn’t afford to take the time to learn it and to run it if I did. And we’d probably both get killed anyway, and then what would become of the children?”
“If we could only afford to get one, perhaps I could learn to run it and then I could tell you the technical terms,” said Ethel sympathetically.
“No, you’d get them all wrong, and besides you couldn’t crawl under the thing and spend the day—you’d spoil your clothes. And then, I tell you, I can’t afford to buy one. To buy one means to buy a more expensive one every succeeding year. And the way my work has been going lately I’m just about broke as it is.”
“Are you sure you can’t write about them without owning one?”
“Of course I can’t. You have to know just how the cones of the countershaft affect the leverage and foolishness like that. And I don’t know!”
“Do the editors know?” asked Mrs. Harcourt softly.
Her husband looked at her. “By Jove, Ethel!” he cried, “you’re a wonder! You saved my life. Of course they don’t.
“And so,” the pretty voice went on. You could at least write jokes and jingles about automobiles.”
“I can do more than that!” cried Harcourt. “I can see it all now. I must have been wool-gathering not to have seen it long ago. I’ll write short stories—yes, even serials and books. And I’ll lift the jargon from the best-selling stuff in the market. Clear out, Ethel dear! I’ll see you at dinner. But now I must systematize this thing.”
With happy alacrity Harcourt took an indexed blank book from a pile of new ones in his supply closet. Then getting together a number of recent automobile novels, he quickly recorded such terms as “lowered the sprag,” “advance sparking lever,” “taking out the inlet,” “cotton-waste in the tool-box,” “back-kick,’ and “speedometer.” Then growing bolder, he appropriated whole phrases, such as, “If the aspiration-pipe works loose, the vapor can’t get from the carburetor to the explosion chamber,” and “If the connecting-rod that works the magnet gets out of adjustment, the timing of the explosions will be wrong.”
He was not always able to understand why there should be worms in the steering-gear, and why a jockey-pulley should be provided for the purpose of breaking belts, but all these things went into his indexed notebook in alphabetical order.
Then to work! He took his original “skeletons” of jests and fitted them out with his new gear. The “Mother-in-Law” joke was done up in a dozen ways, all relating to the easy destruction of one’s mother-in-law by an automobile. The “Irate Father” joke, the “Tramp Sawing Wood’ joke, the “Little Brother,” the “Young Wife, the “Minister’s Call,” all were worked over the automobile allusions. Writing with feverish haste, Harcourt soon had a large bundle of these ready.
Verse came next. Ballads were easy, “Where is the auto of yesteryear?” made a fine refrain. Sonnets, limericks, all styles of meter, flowed swiftly from his trained and facile pen.
Then short stories. All the stories recently returned to him were remodeled with no trouble at all. The plot and characters were kept intact, the local color shifted to some place outside for automobiling, and the whole thickly sprinkled with phrases from the notebook.
The scheme worked well, as he knew it would. Everything he sent out was accepted and his output was limited only by the time necessary to write the manuscripts properly. Soon Harcourt was rich enough to buy an automobile.
“But we don’t want one, do we?” he said to his wife.
“No, indeed,” she replied, shuddering at the thought. “It would be like a merchant riding in his delivery wagon. “We’ll take a sailing trip on the Mediterranean, and while we’re doing that you can write a novel about a motor trip through Normandy, and publish it over both our names.”
“Just the thing,” cried Harcourt, and we can get post-cards down at the post-card shop, for illustrations photographed en route.”
“I must win,” said Lloyd, “and you must help me, my girl.”
“You will win,” responded Barbara, “because I shall be so glad when you do.”
“That’s all I want, deary, just the one word; you’ve no idea how it helps.”
“But you must be very careful, Rob. Don’t let your enthusiasm get sidetracked.”
“That’s just it, Barbara. How you understand! And truly, I’ll try—truly, my girl—and if—no, when—I win, it will be because of your faith in me.”
At this Barbara Scovel smiled. Lloyd, catching her expression, smiled too, and then they both laughed.
“Never mind,” said the young man; “it’s true in its own way.”
“Yes,” returned Barbara, with a half sigh, “in its own way.”
The two had been friends for two years. Robert Lloyd wished to make their relation a dearer and more irrevocable one; but Barbara, although twenty-seven years old had not yet consented. That she would consent eventually, Lloyd had not the slightest doubt, and being obliging before all else, he waited. Nor did he especially mind the waiting, as long as Barbara waited with him. The world was full of a number of things, and most of them were so interesting, and they enjoyed them together so thoroughly, that the question of their relationship dwindled to a mere detail. Occasionally, indeed frequently, he urged her to give him a definite promise; but always, with no great difficulty, she changed the subject and diverted his thoughts into another channel, and they remained as good friends as before.
Robert Lloyd was an architect. But he had neglected that branch of architecture with which every man is said to be innately familiar, and so far the plan for his own fortune had not taken definite shape. Indeed, there was nothing definite about Lloyd, and so great was the charm of his personality that when with him one instinctively felt that definiteness was banal and in no way to be desired.
He suited Barbara Scovel wonderfully. So genial were they mentally, so sympathetic were they temperamentally, and so absolutely identical was their sense of humor, that the many hours they spent together were seasons of harmonious and unalloyed delight. Especially strong in each was a whimsical sense of the dramatic, and many an apparently ordinary situation furnished these two with an opportunity for subtle ecstatic enjoyment.
Lloyd was a constant visitor at the Scovel house in New York City, and spent many week-ends at their country home in the summer; and never did he lose his power to amuse and interest Barbara; never did he do or say anything that jarred on her taste or offended her sense of proportion; and never did he fail in the least occasion for kindly courtesy and unobtrusive gentleness. In a word, Robert Lloyd was charming; but the word must be taken in its most liberal and comprehensive meaning.
Barbara Scovel was charming too; but her charm was not for everybody. Indeed, only those who knew her best were allowed to discover the fact at all. To others she was brilliant, clever, indifferent and a trifle haughty. Her patrician face gave one the impression of the “daughter of a hundred Earls,” and her calm graciousness of manner in no way disturbed this impression. Had it not been for the irrepressible twinkles at the corners of her mouth, Barbara’s countenance might have been called impassive. When they appeared, it was lovable.
The girl was an orphan and lived with her uncle Colonel Scovel. Perhaps it would be more nearly correct to say he lived with her, for Barbara dominated the establishment, and the old Colonel was well pleased to have it so. Capable of anything that required organization and direction, Barbara’s housekeeping was systematic, comfortable and satisfactory to all concerned. Her servants were well-trained and reasonable, and her home was her castle. Robert Lloyd would have fitted admirably into her domestic picture, but then, he was a man who would have fitted in anywhere, and moreover Barbara Scovel’s domesticity would have accommodated any man she saw fit to bring into it.
“I do wish, my dear,” said her uncle at dinner one evening, “that you would make up your mind to marry.”
As he had often expressed this wish before, Barbara was not at all startled, and she replied calmly: “I have made up my mind to marry.”
“Well, well, my dear,” said the old Colonel, “this is good news indeed! Not that I want to lose you; but I realize that after a man has had his seventy years, he can’t expect another seventy, and before I begin to shuffle I do want to see you safely in the keeping of some good and wise man.”
“He won’t be so good and wise as you, Uncle Dan. You’re a saint and a Solomon rolled into one, and a Colonel Scovel besides.”
“Oh, no, we don’t expect the superlative virtues of the Scovels from those unfortunate enough to be born into other families; but who is it that you have found not altogether unworthy? You say you’ve made up your mind to marry. Who is the lucky dog?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t made up my mind as far as that. I’ve only just come to the conclusion that I shall marry. Doubtless that implies a bridegroom, but at the present moment I haven’t selected him.”
“There are only two candidates, I suppose,” said he uncle comprehensively.
“Yes,” said Barbara, “there are only two candidates.”
That evening John Hollister called. He was the other candidate. Personally he was a big, handsome man, with a business-like head set squarely on his broad shoulders. When Barbara entered the drawing-room, he rose with an air that was more than American politeness. It had the touch of foreign courtliness, which, when properly worn, sits well upon the chivalrous American.
A peculiarity of Barbara’s nature was her adaptability. So marked was this trait that at times she was fairly chameleon-like. Thus in the presence of John Hollister, her own demeanor always took on a shade more of gracious dignity. This was involuntary and even unconscious on her part; just as with Robert Lloyd she always fell into a chummy and informal attitude.
“You’re very beautiful tonight, dear,” said Hollister, as he adjusted a chair for her.
“What a subtle compliment!” she returned, laughing into his blue eyes.
“You mean that it isn’t. But did I ever pretend to be subtle?”
“No, you couldn’t even pretend it; you don’t know what subtlety means.”
“Would you like me better if I did?”
“Indeed I should. Oh, John, it is too bad! You have so many good, sterling qualities, but you haven’t a spark of imagination or a speck of appreciation of the finer nuances of life.”
“You don’t pronounce nuances very well, but I know what you mean. I tell you you are beautiful, instead of writing a club-footed sonnet to a flower-faced vision and then reading it aloud with killing glances in your direction.”
“Yes, just that,” said Barbara willfully ignoring his sarcastic intent. “Oh, John, if you could write a sonnet to me, I wouldn’t care how lame its feet were!”
“But I can’t, and I don’t want to. I’ll leave that sort of thing to your soulful friend Lloyd. He has such a vivid imagination, he imagines himself a poet.”
“Yes, and imagining oneself a poet is the straightest road to being one. Why don’t you try it?
“Because I’d rather see than be one. It isn’t my line, Barbara, you know it isn’t. I offer you a love in plain prose; but it’s a bigger love than ever cramped itself into the prescribed limits of a poem. And some day you’ll realize that and accept it.”
“Then you’ll find out how far a realistic husband beats an imaginative lover.”
This speech jarred on Barbara’s taste. John Hollister’s speeches often did. But she only answered gaily: “Now you’re on forbidden ground. Let’s talk of something else.”
“Very well, we will. Why weren’t you at the Dickens Club last evening?”
“Uncle Dan didn’t feel very well, and I didn’t like to leave him. Who were there?”
“Robert Lloyd for one.”
“Yes, I know he was. He came down afterward.”
“Then you know all about the meeting.”
“No, I don’t. We didn’t talk at all. What women were there?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure. I didn’t see any.”
“John. How ridiculous! You must have seen them.”
“Not individually. Of course I saw a lot of feminine members of the club, en masse, but I didn’t speak to anyone of them, except to say good evening to Mrs. Dow the hostess. As soon as the program was over, I came away. You weren’t there.”
“John, you’re a goose. I’m sure I never could marry a man so utterly blind to the little prettinessses of life.”
”H’m, well, if you call Mrs. Barstow a ‘little prettiness’—”
“Oh, then you did see her.”
“Yes, as I saw the grand piano or the crystal chandelier; but with no more personal interest.”
“You’re incorrigible. But why didn’t you telephone and ask if I was going?”
“I did mean to, Barbara; but Charlie Holden blew into the office just as I was leaving and carried me off to dinner.
“Where did you dine?”
“At the Waldorf, that’s the sort of glittering generality he likes.”
“So do I. John, will you take me there to dine some night?”
“Yes, if the Colonel will go.”
“Nonsense! I’m twenty-seven years old, going on twenty eight, and it’s ridiculous to consider a chaperon necessary in my case.”
“You’re much younger looking than that, Barbara; you’re still a girl, and there are certain conventions—”
“Oh, bother the conventions! For once, John, won’t you let yourself go and grant me this, just because I want it?”
“You know, dear, that the wish of my heart is to grant you anything and everything just because you want it. And if your uncle will agree to the plan, I’ll take you to the Waldorf for dinner; but I tell you frankly that I don’t approve of it.”
“You’re an old prig! Weren’t there lots of young ladies there last evening?”
“I don’t know, child I didn’t look. Can you never learn that there is just one woman in the whole world for me! The others simply do not exist.”
“That’s a beautiful attitude of yours, John; and I do love and appreciates it. I believe you’re unique in that respect.”
“I don’t believe anything of the sort. Any decent man who truly loves a woman must naturally be oblivious to all other women—at least as far as the personal note is concerned.”
“Yes,” said Barbara, looking at him earnestly; “but with many men that would be a pose. With you it is the real thing.”
“It is,” said John Hollister simply.
As Barbara’s management of her uncle was little short of absolute despotism, it was no difficult matter to obtain his consent to the proposed dinner.
“And I hope to goodness,” the old man remarked at the close of the discussion. “You’ll come back engaged to him! It isn’t right, Barbara, to shilly-shally the way you do between Hollister and Robert Lloyd. You’re a fairly strong-minded young woman, and you ought to know which man you mean to marry, and tell him so, and stop tormenting the other as you are doing.”
“I wish I did know, Uncle Dan.’ And Barbara’s face took on a seriously troubled expression.
“Oh, fiddlesticks! You’re a few years too old not to know the flutterings of your own heart. From my own viewpoint, they’re both good eligible men, and I’d be glad to give you to either. Now, which one do you care for the most?”
“Truly, Uncle Dan, I don’t really know.”
“Then you don’t love either.”
“It isn’t that exactly. But I love certain qualities in both. And there are other traits in each of them that I just hate.”
“H’m. Girls weren’t so analytical in my young days. They either loved a man or they didn’t.”
“I wish I could be like that,” said Barbara, sighing; “but—well, listen, Uncle Dan, it’s this way: When I’m with John Hollister, he seems the best man in the world. He’s strong, his character, I mean—and he’s so honorable and so sensible and so—such an all-round splendid man. And then he’s so kind, and he adores me absolutely. Well, all those things make me love him—and I do. And then he’ll suddenly break out with some speech that shows such utter lack of imagination, such a commonplace mentality, such an absence of the ideal, that I shudder to think of living my life with that kind of man. Why he has no appreciation of the poetry of existence, no enjoyment of the delicate shadings of thought or speech.”
“In fact he calls a spade a spade.”
“Yes, and I don’t mind that, when one is talking about a real iron spade. But he calls an imaginary spade a spade, or an ideal spade, or a fanciful or poetical spade. They’re all spades to him, and that’s what I can’t stand.”
”How does Robert Lloyd designate these various garden utensils?”
“Oh, Robert! Why, he calls them by the loveliest romantic names. Or perhaps he describes them by some apt quotation, or even just glances at you with an expression on his face that does away with all need of spade terms.”
“Sounds rather mushy to me.”
“Yes, but it isn’t. Robert couldn’t be mushy. His sense of humor saves him from any sort of false note. Uncle Dan, you never can understand what Robert’s intellect means to me. It is just perfect. Clever, educated, humorous, it is so exquisitely restrained. He never carries a jest too far, never pushes a whimsical suggestion too hard, and never spins a thread of fancy too fine, and then, his perception is so marvelous. He instantly appropriates and assimilates my most obscurely expressed thoughts—he fairly knows what I’m going to say before I say it, and then he says it better than I thought it. His humor is of the best and finest type; and as for poetry, real, true poetry, he just lives it and breathes it. His soul is full of it, and it’s always spilling over.”
“You’re sure it isn’t a pose?”
“No, I think it is a pose. But that’s where Rob’s cleverness reaches its height. He poses so perfectly that he deceives even himself; and we both know this and enjoy it. Oh, you can’t understand uncle, but it’s the most subtly delicious thing in the world!”
“Seem a bit histrionic.”
“Yes, it is. It’s the perfection of acting, to a perfectly appreciative audience. That’s another lovely trait of Robert’s. He adores perfection in anything, whether it’s a building, a rose, or an epigram.”
“He thinks you’re perfection, doesn’t he?’
“Yes, and when I’m with him, I am. He seems to bring out the very best of me and makes me feel that I am right up there to his level of perfection.”
“Must be a delightful feeling, and does it remain with you when Lloyd departs?”
“Yes, until John Hollister comes. Then he makes me feel that I am a beautiful everyday woman—the only woman in the world for him, but still not a paragon of cleverness and intellectuality.”
“Then it looks to me as if Lloyd was your choice.”
“But, uncle, aside from all his charm, or rather beneath it, he’s not a strong, reliable character. He doesn’t always tell the truth; he’s not at all dependable; and to trust him is like trusting a waving willow-tree. John Hollister is like the Rock of Gibraltar.”
“It’s a hard case, Barbie dear. How happy could you be with either, were t’other dear charmer away.”
No, not that, but how happy could I be with either, if only he possessed the traits I love in the other man.”
“I don’t think, my girl, that you really love either of them.”
“I do, uncle. I really love them both, to a certain extent in each case. That sounds silly, I know, but it’s the honest truth.”
“And when they’re not here, which do you wish would come?”
“It depends. Sometimes, when I read a clever story or poem, or think of something original and funny, I can hardly wait to see Rob and tell him about it. And then at other times I just long for John’s sound, sane kindness and common sense affection. If a composite man could be made from the best traits of both, that would be the man for me.”
“You’re not very romantic, Barbara. Is this analytical spirit typical of this age, or are you a sporadic instance?”
“I don’t know. I only know that’s the case as it stands, and I’ve known it for a long time. I’ve studied those two men, and I’ve studied myself, and, as I tell you, they both have qualities that I love and adore, and they both lack qualities that are compulsory in the man I marry.”
“Well, my child, I think you over estimate the case. Just decide on one or the other, and you’ll soon come to think that he’s all right.”
Barbara smiled, but did not contradict her uncle’s opinion. She rarely did.
“What do you think, Rob?” she said the next time she saw Lloyd. “I’m going to dine at a restaurant tomorrow night with John Hollister. Won’t it be a lark?”
“Don’t go with him. Go with me. We’ll have a lot more fun. Go with me tonight, won’t you?”
“Uncle doesn’t like me to go without a chaperon,” suggested Barbara experimentally.
“Oh, don’t let him know you’ve gone. Tell him you went to dinner at Mrs. Dow’s or somewhere. He’ll never know.”
“Do you think nice girls go about un-chaperoned like that?”
“Oh, yes. Why, the other night at Sherry’s I saw dozens of lovely girls without any outward or visible sign of chaperon. One of them was stunning. I wish you could have seen her. She had the most classic face I ever saw. It was like the Venus of Milo in a pink picture-hat. The combination was incongruous, but very fetching.”
“Rob, if you care for me as you say you do, I shouldn’t think you’d take so much interest in other women.”
“Why, my little girl, what do you mean? You know how I love you. Everything I do, every thought I think, is all for you—you—you! Deary, sometimes I think it’s wicked to love anyone as I love you. You’re my life, my heart, my very existence.”
“And yet you’re interested in other pink-hatted ladies.”
“Why not? You’re a girl of a thousand; but as I’m not totally blind, I can’t help the other nine hundred and ninety-nine.”
“John Hollister never sees anybody but me.”
“John Hollister doesn’t see anything. He can’t, he’s tone-blind. He doesn’t even see you as I do.”
“I don’t believe he does. And yet, Rob, he’s a much better man than you.”
“I know it. I’m a worthless sort. I don’t succeed at anything. But, Barbara, I have ideals. And that is something. Hollister doesn’t know what an ideal is. He’s a fine business man, but he couldn’t ‘carry a message to Garcia.’ ”
“No, but he could make Garcia bring a message to him.”
“Yes, I believe he could. But never mind Hollister. Let’s put all unpleasant things out of our mind this afternoon. I’ve brought that new story of Kipling’s, and I’m going to read it to you. And now if you’ll allow me to arrange you in this big chair, with this pillow at your back—so—we’ll have the best time ever.”
And they did. The reading was occasionally interrupted by appreciative comments or sympathetic expressions of glee. Together they wept at the pathos of the story, Nor was Lloyd’s weeping unmanly. Indeed, he justly prided himself on his lachrymal powers, never maudlin, but with the effect of tears wrung from a strong man, he often thus (purposely) showed the gentle side of his really lovely nature, and the result was artistic and effective.
“It’s our story, deary,” said Lloyd as he finished. “It is just what we have so often planned and dreamed as the ultimate perfection of life. And some day we will live it, you and I, in our own castle in Spain.”
“Yes,” said Barbara dreamily, “and there will be red roses by the thousands.”
“Millions,” corrected Lloyd— “yes, millions, and a moonlit lake, with swans and gondolas—”
“And pagodas and Alhambras and daffodils.”
“Yes, all our own particular delights just crammed in together.”
“Then we’ll have to include the Flatiron Building and the sheep in Central Park.”
“Yes, and the ‘light on the sill and the wind on the tree.’ ”
“Of course. Barbara, what’s the use? Do come to me, deary! Go with me to our castle in Spain, and let us be happy. I love you so, mine!”
“Don’t Rob, don’t! It is such a temptation! I love the picture so! But—”
“But the confounded Hollister stands in the way!” broke in Lloyd fiercely. “Barbara, you don’t love him, and you know it! You can’t! You couldn’t live with a man who doesn’t know his ‘Alice’ and his ‘Omar’ by heart.”
Barbara smiled at the literary masterpieces Lloyd had chosen as his tests; but she knew the truth underlay his statement.
“You must decide between us, Barbara. I’m not afraid to have you decide, for you belong to me, and have always belonged to me from all the past ages. We used to be together in Sicily two hundred years ago, when you wore a fillet in your hair and stood on the marble steps in the blazing sunlight.”
“Beside the Fountain of the Laughing Rose?”
“Yes, my beloved. And our life will be just a song of laughing roses. Tell me, Barbara—tell me, my little girl that you care for me!”
“Oh, I do, Robert! You know I do. And yet—”
“But this is foolishness, dearest. Don’t say ‘and yet.’ Fie upon ‘and yet’! If you’ll wait a minute, I’ll get the Shakespeare concordance and straighten out that quotation. I rather think that we both ought to have said ‘but yet.’ So let’s settle it now, sweetheart. Say you’ll marry me, and live happy ever after.”
“Would I be happy, Rob, always and always?” Barbara’s eyes were very earnest as she looked at Lloyd.”
“Yes, my darling,” he replied with equal earnestness. “I can make you happy; no one else can. And I will. Come to me, Barbara, mine.”
For a moment the girl hesitated. Then she said lightly, relieving the strain of the situation: “I almost think I will. There’s nobody like you, Rob, nobody. But I’ll tell you what. Give me twenty-four hours to think things over. Then tomorrow, if I decide to marry you, I’ll telephone about noon and ask you to come at seven and take me out to dinner, instead of Mr. Hollister. Then you’ll know.”
“All right, my girl, I’ll go now and reserve a table for us.”
“Don’t be too sure,” said Barbara, but her smile was a merry one.
“I can’t help being sure of a dead certainty.” And Robert Lloyd went away without the slightest misgivings.
Next morning John Hollister called for a moment on his way down town. “I’ve engaged a table for tonight,” he said, “since you’re so anxious to dine at a public restaurant. But, Barbara, I want you to let the occasion be the announcement of our engagement.”
“But I’m not sure that I want it to be, John.”
“Yes, you are. I’m not going to have any more of this uncertainty. You belong to me, and you’re going to marry me! You fancy yourself interested in that Windsor-tied wandering minstrel Lloyd; but you aren’t. And the sooner you come to me and get out from under his romantic, sentimental influence, the better for all concerned. So I’ll call for you tonight at seven o’clock, and I’ll bring a diamond ring that will settle the matter once for all.”
“I’m not sure that I want to go out to dinner with you, John. Anyway, I won’t go with you unless I am going to be engaged to you. But I’ll let you know. Give me a few hours to decide. At noon, if I conclude to go with you, I’ll telephone you. If I don’t telephone, you’ll know I’m not going to dine with you, or marry you either.”
“What nonsense is this? But you can’t scare me. All right, my lady, I’ll wait until noon, and I’m not at all afraid but that I’ll hear the voice I love best in all the world calling to me.”
When Hollister had gone Barbara went to her room and thought it all over. Then she went down-stairs and talked to her uncle. “You see, Uncle Dan,” she said, “I was mistaken in thinking that any one man could have all the qualities that go to make up perfection; for those very qualities are contradictory. A man with Robert’s imagination couldn’t have the wonderful practical capabilities that John has. And a man of John’s strong character and unshakable opinions would be incapable of Robert’s lovely, gentle disposition and amiable temper. And so it’s only a question of which I want most, a stanch, faithful protector or a sympathetic, congenial companion. I would own Robert, but John would own me; and both those conditions are attractive.”
“I see it as you do, Barbara, and I also see by your manner that you’ve decided between them.”
“I have, Uncle Dan, and though I shall feel the need of the traits of the other man, I mean to put him entirely out of my mind and out of my life, and be a loving wife to my chosen husband.”
“Before I have nervous prostration, Barbie, do tell me which one it is.”
“I won’t tell you just this minute, Uncle Dan. I’m going to telephone to him now, and then I’ll come back and tell you how he stands the shock.”
In a few moments Barbara’s voice reached the man at the other end of the wire. “Seven-four-one-nine?”...“Oh, is this you, yourself?”...“Well, I only wanted to say that I wish you’d call for me about seven tonight.”...“Oh, you knew all the time I’d telephone, did you? Well, to be honest, I think I knew too”...“Until tonight, then.”...“Good-by.”
Esther Bailiff sat in a low chair in front of her particularly well-furnished toilet-table, and gazed meditatively in the mirror as she arranged he hair. Hers was not an easy task for Miss Bailiff’s hair was neither long nor plentiful, and moreover it was of a dull colorless hue and exceeding straightness.
But with an experienced touch she twisted and pinned and patted the intractable wisps into a fairly successful similitude of the style most recently smiled upon by fashion, and crowned her work with a jaunty little trinket of jeweled lace and tiny feathers. She then carefully applied to her face unguents from mysterious-looking glass boxes and deftly manipulated a downy powder-puff. A little later arrayed in an evening gown of embroidered chiffon, she again sat down and looked at her mirrored reflection.
With her chin resting on her hand in an attitude remindful of one of Raphael’s hackneyed cherubs she studied carefully her personal appearance.
“It’s utterly hopeless,” she said aloud, though there was no one to hear her but herself, “absolutely, entirely hopeless! There is no remedy. I have tried everything and everything has failed. I am defeated, I am doomed; and I am forced to live and accept my inevitable fate. I have philosophy; I shall accept it as gracefully as may be. But,” she exclaimed with a passionate gesture. “I wish I never had been born!”
It did seem hopeless.
Esther Bailiff’s ugliness was of a sort that goes to the bone. Her shapeless face seemed absolutely devoid of modeling; her small eyes were of a lackluster gray, ill provided in the matter of brows and lashes. Her nose was nondescript, and her mouth large, straight and uninteresting. Her complexion was, to put it charitably, impossible; and her high cheekbones and prominent ears accentuated a negative plainness into a positive ugliness.
Like her face, Miss Bailiff’s figure was far removed from all canons of art or beauty, flat-chested, large waisted, and with loosely-hung joints, every line seemed out of drawing.
But no one, friend or enemy, realized all this more than did Esther Bailiff herself, for she was a girl of acute and instant perceptions, and of absolute and intense appreciations. Moreover, she had a fine nature, a quick and clever intellect, and a most loving disposition. She was well-educated, accomplished and possessed of an innate graciousness mingled with a hearty love of fun.
But all these traits were warped and trammeled by her profound realization of her physical unattractiveness.
Not imaginary were her troubles; for her unerring intuitions told her only too truly how newly introduced acquaintances felt repelled even before she had spoken a word. And to speak often didn’t mend matters for so embarrassed and self-conscious was she that like the tenor in “Utopia” she really couldn’t do herself justice. Her practical commonsense judgment and her indomitable will kept her from utter breakdown in these trying circumstances; but discouraging repetitions had well-nigh worn out her patience and philosophy.
Had she been of less finely-wrought and sensitive fiber, or possessed of less mental power and worth, she might have ignored the cause of her unhappiness, or might have been happy in spite of it. But to her nature this was impossible, and instead she tried in every available way to remedy her misfortune.
Intelligently and diligently she studied books on “How to be Beautiful” she visited the best of those great ones who correct humanity’s physical defects by weird and patent processes; she faithfully practiced physical-culture exercises under the guidance of the best teachers; and she scorned no velvet creams or blooms of youth that might by any chance produce their advertised effects.
But it was all of no avail. Her face defied the manipulation of the masseuse, and her experienced tailor quailed before the exigencies of his client’s figure.
And so, on this particular evening, Esther Bailiff, carefully groomed and tastefully gowned, sat before her mirror and despairingly gave the death blow to her already invalid vanity.
Four hours later she sat there again—not smilingly disheveled and happily reminiscent, as were most of her girl friends returning after the same dance; but with her toilet still faultless, owing to the carefulness of its detail and her own somewhat quiet evening.
“It’s no use,” she said to her reflection, “You’re beaten, you’re vanquished, and you’ll have to give up the struggle. I’m sorry for you—oh, I am sorry for you! Life has so much in it that you want and crave with a passion that usurps your whole being, and that you could enjoy so much more than those little idiots that do get it. You want social life, you long for it; you want the airy persiflage, the quick-witted repartee and the clever, merry jest. You want to hear these things from others, and applaud them, and then you want to respond in kind, and have others applaud you. You want an audience, don’t deny it; you do! You want entertainment, yes; but you also want an audience, an admiring, enthusiastic audience, which you well know you could amuse.
“But you can’t have it, you can’t get it, because you’re so ugly that people hate to look at you—it fairly makes them crawl to look at you, and you know this, and it makes you embarrassed and awkward, and then you look either silly or sullen.
“But tonight was the worst of all!” she exclaimed, suddenly ceasing her apostrophe to the mirrored face, and speaking to her own heart.
“I was so anxious to meet Philip King. So long have I wanted to see him, to know him! Surely his poems were never appreciated by anybody quite as I understand and adore them. Every hue, every word, wakes an answering chord in my heart and I catch his subtle meaning. Of all modern poets he is the most to me. Not the greatest perhaps, as critics count greatness, but he sounds the human note in a brave, true way that means more than mere poetry, and I find it in all he writes. Surely my soul is tuned in harmony with his, for it throbs so responsively to his impulses.
“And then, tonight, when I was fairly quivering with joy at the thought of seeing him at last, when I was about to realize my dreams of meeting him and really talking with him, when for once I entirely had forgotten my physical self, he was presented to me, and I caught in his eyes the sudden, inevitable though involuntary look of repugnance, and my joy was gone.
“I know now how the lepers feel. My heart seemed to shrink to nothing. Mechanically I murmured a few inane commonplaces, and as soon as he decently could he excused himself, and now it all is over. This was a final test. I used every effort tonight to make myself as presentable as possible, and,” raising her face to the mirror, “you have heard the resulting. Crushing failure, irrevocable defeat, hopeless, lifelong despair.
“Henceforth I give up all hope of pleasure along these lines which are so attractive and congenial to me, and which are my soul’s birthright, though denied me by the irony of Fate. I am not morbid or bitter. I shall accept any gifts that the gods may grudgingly bestow; but I no longer shall keep up this weary, futile struggle against the inevitable.
“But I want it all—oh, how I want it all! Life, love, joy, happiness, these I crave. I have, I know I have, an especial, an unusual, capacity for all these things; and yet I am doomed to nothing—worse than nothing, a constant, insatiable hunger. Oh, it is cruel!” And bowing her head in her hands she cried as only a woman with a broken heart can cry.
The next morning Esther Bailiff rose, by no means a changed woman. Except in old-fashioned novels people’s natures do not change so suddenly as that. She rose with the same longing, the same certainty, the same despair, but where before the longing had been strongest, now the despair was paramount.
More to get away from the familiar scene of her defeat than for any other definite reason, she decided to visit Kate Morris for a few days. Announcing her visit by a telegram, she took an afternoon train and reached her friend’s house in time for dinner.
“You dear thing!” exclaimed Miss Morris, “I’m so glad to see you! I was going to a masquerade this evening; but I’ve such a fearful headache I’ve had to give it up; and so I’ll be delighted to have you here to entertain and amuse me. Unless,” with an air of decided negation, “unless you’d like to go to the party in my place.”
“No, I thank you,” said Esther Bailiff. “I’ve little use for parties. Where is it?”
“At the Merwin’s; but you don’t know them. Indeed, I doubt if you’d know any of the guests either. Philip King is to be there. You’ve heard of him?”
“Yes, I’ve heard of him,” said Miss Bailiff, with a secret, amused admiration of her own calm. “I’ve read his poems,” she went on, grimly enjoying the tormenting of her sub-consciousness.
“Oh, have you?” said Kate Morris, disinterestedly. “Well, he’s going to be there, and Miss Parsons the young playwright, and Mrs. Gordon the new soprano. Quite a list of celebrities, though as they’re all to be masked they might as well be commoners. Oh, my head is perfectly dreadful! I don’t know, Esther, as I can stand even you in the room.”
“Kate,” said Esther Bailiff, suddenly, “If that’s true—if, you don’t care especially for my company this evening, I believe I should like to go to the Merwin’s masquerade. Have you a costume?”
“Indeed I have, and it would disguise you perfectly—though none of them knows you anyway. But it is the loveliest Portia rig, like Ellen Terry wore, you know, all red, with a mortar board and a golden wig. Oh, it’s lovely! I wish I could go. But I can’t, and if you will go and wear the gown I’ll be delighted, for truly, Esther, dear, I couldn’t talk to you this evening.’
Almost tremblingly, Esther Bailiff dressed for the masquerade. No need now for lotions or curling irons, no occasion for studying color effects or considering accessories. Disguise, complete disguise, was the only end to be attained. Carefully she adjusted the curled blond wig, eagerly she donned the effective red gown and mortar-board, and then put on the red satin mask with its deep lace trill.
“Good-by,” she said as she looked in at Kate Morris’ door. “I dare say I’m foolish, but—I wanted to go.”
“Why shouldn’t you go?” said her friend heartily. “It’s the very thing. Have the best possible time, and don’t let anyone know who you are until unmask, oh, my head!”
“I’m so sorry!” said Esther, sympathetically. “I do hope it soon will be better. Don’t sit up for me.”
“Oh, I can’t sleep,” said Kate. “Tell James to wait for you and don’t come home till the last one. Have all the fun you can.”
The strangest sensations assailed the soul of Esther Bailiff as she sat in the Morris’ brougham going to the Merwin’s masquerade, and when a little later she found herself in the dressing room surrounded by chattering Pollys and Columbines, and silent Undines and Juliets all her nightmare of trouble slipped from her as a garment, and she stood masked, for once on an equal plane with her companions.
The bare idea intoxicated her.
She, Esther Bailiff, the ugliest woman in the world, was just now a peer of statuesque houris and piquant, bewitching beauties. The realization of this ran through her brain like fire. Impatiently she flung her wrap to the maid, and after a quick but thorough study of the mirror she ran gaily down the stairs to the already crowded drawing room.
“Portia,” announced a voice as she entered, and Esther Bailiff’s hour had begun.
Untrammeled at last by any thought of her appearance or of its effect on others, she gave her true self full play and was a fascinating, enchanting sorceress. Secure in the knowledge that excepting Philip King no one present had ever seen her or heard her voice, she abandoned herself to the spirit of the occasion, and scored a wonderful success by her merry badinage and playful flirtation.
Naturally enough, the men were irresistibly attracted to the charming Portia, and consequently the women were moved to decided, if unexpressed, envy.
Owing, no doubt to her natural poise and quick adaptability, Esther Bailiff did not have her head turned by this sudden and novel experience of flattery and attention; instead, it incited her to a pretty coquetry, and a mischievous daring which was, however, without a trace of boldness or hoidenism. Though no one seemed to know her, she mystified all her partners with clever implications that she was an old acquaintance, and she made engagements for future gaieties; yet to her vivacity she added a gentle reserve that tantalized while it charmed.
As she stood, leaning against a garlanded column, the semi circle before her included a Sir Walter Raleigh, a North American Indian, a Simple Simon and numerous nondescript cavaliers. Eagerly they addressed the unknown Portia, who answered them all with quick repartee and gay banter.
But when Sir Galahad joined the group she knew at once that Philip King had come to her. It was the supreme moment, and for the thousandth part of a second she wondered if she would be able to meet it. Then she knew, and with an assured gesture she turned and said carelessly:
“Ah, Sir Galahad, I’ve been waiting for you.”
“I am glad,’ said Philip King, simply; “it is delightful to be waited for.’
“Is it?” said Esther Bailiff, wistfully, “I didn’t know.’
“But you do know that this is our dance,” said King, and drawing her hand through his arm, he led her into the conservatory.
“A hackneyed thing to do I know,” he said; “but it pleases me to talk with you alone. Who are you?”
“How delightful of the Merwin’s to have a conservatory!” said Miss Bailiff, ignoring his question, and they seated themselves beneath the palms.
“Yes,” said Sir Galahad, in a tone of satisfaction. “I do like my surroundings to be appropriate and beautiful,”
“And your companions?” said Esther Bailiff.
“Certainly! Imagine a perfection of time and place spoiled by an imperfection in the loved one.”
“I can’t imagine it,” said Portia, tossing her blond head; it’s out of the picture.”
“Quite so,” assented Sir Galahad. “But now that all is in harmony, may we not enjoy it?”
“How do you know all is in harmony. You cannot be sure that I am beautiful enough to harmonize with these surroundings.”
“At this moment your face is not in the picture, any more than are the roots of the palms. And your red-satin mask is quite the perfection of all that a mask ought to be.”
“But if I was not masked, and was not beautiful, it would spoil the whole thing?” persisted Esther, inviting her own death-warrant.
“Oh, yes,” responded King, airily. “And as I am convinced that your beauty is of a heavenly order, I feel privileged to express myself thus freely.”
“But of course a heavenly order of beauty is a mere matter of opinion,” said Esther, in what she meant for a careless tone,
“Yes; but as only my own opinion is of any value to myself it is the same to me as a universal fact.”
“And what, in your opinion, is the highest type of womanly beauty?”
“I’ll tell you; but don’t mind if I don’t describe you exactly.”
“Oh, you probably will,” said Portia, with a saucy toss of her blond head.
“Very likely, well, then, I demand perfection of line. Color is all very well, but it is of secondary value. A woman’s face must have fine, pure lines or no amount of rosy cheeks and sparkling eyes can make her beautiful.”
“Not even three or four pairs?”
“Don’t be flippant. This is serious conversation.”
“It is, indeed,” said Esther, more gravely than the occasion seemed to call for. “And so I conclude that unless a woman has pure beauty of line and contour, with at least a general harmony of clear color, she can not hope for the admiration of Mr. Philip King?”
“You put it a trifle unpleasantly, but it is true,’ said Sir Galahad, with a courtly inclination of his handsome head. “However, I have many good friends who do not quite reach my ideal physical standards.”
“But they approach them. Have you ever seen a woman utterly outside the pale?”
“I never did, until last night,” said Philip King, gravely. “I wouldn’t mention it, except for your sudden question. I did meet a girl last evening, who was so far, so far, outside the pale that it really gave me a shock.”
“Was she a nice girl?” said Esther, in an even, not specially interested tone.
“I don’t know, I’m sure, I didn’t say more than half a dozen words to her. It was one of those hopeless, pitiable sights that impress you only with an insane desire to get away.”
“Weren’t you sorry for her?’
“Sorry? I never was so sorry for anyone in my life! But that couldn’t help her any. I only hope I never see her again.”
“Do you suppose she realized her own ugliness?”
“Probably not as I did, or you would, she seemed a stupid, awkward kind of person, without definite perceptions of any sort.”
“Why do you say ‘as I would’?”
“Because you would have seen her as I did, you would have felt the same distant pity and poignant aversion. If you ever mentioned her afterward it would be as I am speaking of her; not as a pathetic, spoiled life—though hers undoubtedly is that—but impersonally, as a unique instance of all that conduces to physical wrong-being. But let us drop this more than unpleasant subject, and come back to the present, which lacks no element of beauty, and has the added charm of mystery. I’m glad I don’t know you. I’m glad I have you yet to learn, and I foresee a long and delightful course of study.”
“I, too, am glad you don’t know me,’ said Esther; “but honesty compels me to state that I do know you. You are Philip King.”
“You are right,’ said Sir Galahad; “but that knowledge nearly spoils the dramatic situation. It is saved, however, by the fact that I do not know who you are, and shall not until supper-time.”
“No, not so,” said Esther Bailiff, slowly. “It is only from now until supper that you may know me.”
“Why?” said Philip King, mystified and interested by the serious tone in her voice.
“Because it is an occasion, a magic hour, a psychological moment, and it never will be repeated, but do not mind that. Live, live in the immediate present.”
“I am living,” said Philip King, catching the spirit of the situation; “yes, I certainly am living more melodramatically than ever I have lived before.”
“How strange,’ said the girl, musingly, “that a truly dramatic theme may be turned into melodrama by the fact that it is expressed.”
“Regardless of the mode of expression?” asked Philip King.
“No,” said Esther Bailiff, comprehendingly; ‘but the only interpretation that may express without belittling a life drama is not always at one’s service.”
“True,” said Philip King, “and yet they are the fortunate ones who realize that such an expression exists even though unattainable.
“No, no, you’re wrong! It is the unfortunates who have that sad and often disastrous experience.”
“How do you know these things,’ exclaimed Philip King. “What are you, witch, and why do you affect me so strongly, and so strangely?”
“I am a ‘Derelict,’” replied Esther Bailiff. “Listen,” and to the man’s amazement she quoted to him two stanzas of his own poem:
“Alike to her the seasons pass
With sunlight or with snow
Alike to her are dusk and dawn
And refluent ebb and flow
Of rain or shine she recketh not
Nor scent of pine or palm
And one to her the miracles
Of hurricane and calm
“Unneeded from the maintopmast
Her fluttering pennon sweeps
The Anchor from the cathead hangs
No hand the tiller keeps
No sailors man her creaking yards
No storms her ways restrict—
As on through wastes of billowy sea
She wanders derelict.”
The sadness of a whole life was in Esther’s verse as she said the last word, but Philip King laughed.
“Now I know you’re acting,’ he cried. “You think it clever to quote my own lines to me, and to pretend that they appeal especially to you.”
“They do appeal especially to me,” she insisted.
“Yes, because you’re receptive and responsive, and have a wonderful perception of subtleties; but not because the theme touches you personally. If I thought it did,” his voice changed utterly, “if the sadness in your voice was real—”
“What then?” said Esther Bailiff gravely.
“Then,” said Philip King, recklessly, “I should see to it that you learned the scent of pine and palm, and experienced the miracles of hurricane”
The fact that she had at last achieved her highest ambition, the fact that she was being spoken to personally, intimately, earnestly by Philip King, did not bewilder Esther Bailiff, as it would have bewildered a woman of less mentality. Fully appreciating the success and glory of it all, fully alive to the tragedy of the true situation, with her heart hungering to continue the conversation in the direction it had taken yet she was acutely aware that her moment had passed and all her cleverness would be required to make a graceful retreat.
To her came a vivid mental picture of Tantalus pushing the cup from him, and she was conscious of a fierce, passionate sympathy with his torture.
“Of course I am acting,” she exclaimed gaily, “but your poems are so intensely dramatic that they can make even a society woman act.”
“Thank you,” said King, with a distinct feeling of disappointment. He realized that something had suddenly gone out of the atmosphere and elusive as it was he determined to recapture it then or later.
“Just you wait my lady,” he said to himself, as Portia, flinging good-bys over her shoulder, walked away with a wooden Indian, “just you wait, until I see you without that aggravating mask. And it even had a fine gauze stretched over the eyeholes. I wonder what type her beauty is, unusual, I’m sure.”
But when the unmasking time came no Portia was seen among the motley crowd of characters. Esther Bailiff was being driven through the night back to her friend’s home. She had a vague, dull feeling that it was several days after the end of the world.
“I shall swear Kate to secrecy,” she said to herself. “And anyway they never will suspect her of knowing anything about it; for no one knew what her costume was to be, and I shall make her give it to me to keep. I shall go home tomorrow morning, and I shall never see Philip King again. But I have had my hour. I have had it! and,” exultantly, “with him. No one, no one, can ever take that from me! but—,” and again the picture of Tantalus burned itself into her brain— “I wish I had never been born!”
Although Margaret Henderson was a young woman who lived in direct disregard of the old advice, “Early to bed and early to rise,” yet was she healthy, wealthy and wise to an abundant and gratifying degree.
Her luxurious habits kept her in bed until the day had settled into its own groove and was smoothly running toward noon. But Miss Henderson’s early-morning hours were not always idle. Weighty questions were considered and momentous decisions arrived at while the curly blond head lay resting on the pillows. Then with the morning chocolate came the morning mail and pretty Miss Henderson smiled or frowned as she read between the lines of her social correspondence.
One morning one letter seemed to demand special attention. It was carefully read through four times, and each time the fair reader—well, giggled is the only word to express the amused manifestation of her sentiments. The note in question ran thus:
Lovely Peg: You are an imp of mischief, and I cannot stand for your pranks any longer. I’ve forgiven you and forgiven you, until the very act of forgiveness palls on my jaded palate. You seem to think you’ve got me under your thumb and can twist me round your little finger (and I must confess you’ve sized up the situation about right), only the worm is tired of turning, and he’s going away to live it down and out.
I’m leaving tomorrow at noon for wherever I can get tickets
farthest to. I shall not see you again, and this is as final as Patti’s
last farewell seems to be. The situation would be melodramatic were it not
the real thing. I shall always love you, of course, but it shall go without
saying. You are a false, fickle little flirt, and I don’t care who
knows it—which is fortunate, for whoever knows you is bound to discover
it sooner or later. So good-by, you rascally little sweetheart, and I hope
you’ll cry your big violet eyes out for me when I’m gone.
J. Francis Fleming.
Peggy Henderson’s big violet eyes seemed in no danger of being cried out, as she giggled over this characteristic note from her fiancé. To be sure, she had flirted outrageously at the party the night before, and Frank had evidently written as soon as he had left her and returned to his home. Well, of course it meant nothing serious, really, and a little tactful coaxing on her part would straighten matters out, she felt sure.
Only Frank was a determined old goose, after all, and if he really meant to go away, as he said, he’d be just foolishly stubborn enough to go without another word. That thought annihilated Miss Henderson’s giggles and even caused a premonitory mist in the violet eyes. She next went so far as to consider writing a tiny note herself, for immediate dispatching, and she noted with satisfaction that it was yet two full hours to noon.
As the first draft of a saucy little note began to form in her mind, she heard the bell ring. “Probably some one on an errand of no importance,” she said to herself; but her heart whispered: “Frank!”
A moment later her maid came into the room. “It’s Mr. Fleming, Miss Margaret,” she said. “And he begs pardon for calling so early, but he must speak to you just a minute, he says, on an important subject.”
“Good gracious, Lizette!” cried Margaret, scrambling out of bed, “give me my light-blue kimono. No, never mind doing my hair. Is my father in the house?”
“No, Miss Margaret, he’s gone down town.”
“Very well; these Turkish slippers will do.”
Thrusting her bare feet into the begilded little shoes and tying her kimono tassels as she ran, Margaret hurried downstairs to the library.
“Oh, Frank, how do you do?” she said. “What do you mean by calling so early? I never rise until noon. But as you’re leaving me forever at noon today, I’m glad to make an exception this morning in order to tell you good-by.”
“I apologize, Peg, truly I do. I ought to have waited until later in the day, but I just couldn’t. I’m nearly crazy!”
Frank was a tall, well-set-up man, with a fine face and a general air of being worth while. Even the fact that his hair was rumpled as if from a sleepless night and that he wore an old dressing gown badly frayed at the wrists did not detract from his air of self-respect.
But Margaret Henderson appeared not to notice anything unusual in his dress or demeanor, and she looked coldly indifferent as she haughtily responded:
“I am not at all interested in your mental condition; but if you really are crazy, and I believe you are, you’d better buy your tickets for Bloomingdale.”
An angry look came into Fleming’s eyes, but he said gently, “don’t be cruel, deary, you know I didn’t mean a word of that letter.”
Margaret settled herself comfortably in a chair and smiled a wicked little smile. “Oh, she said, “then even your assertion of undiminished affection for me was not true?”
“Oh, yes, that was true of course. Now, Peg, stop teasing. You lead me a life, goodness knows! but I couldn’t live a minute without you. Tell me you care, dear; tell me you’re glad I’m not really going away from you.”
Margaret turned in her chair to look at a trim parlor-maid who was dusting bric-a-brac at the other end of the long library. “Jane,” she said, “go down-stairs for a few minutes, will you? This is a private conversation.”
“Yes, Miss Margaret,” said the maid pleasantly, and she stepped softly from the room, closing the door behind her.
“You silly old dear!” said Margaret, resuming the conversation, “of course I’m glad you’re not going, but I never for a moment believed that you were.” As she spoke she playfully worried a silky-haired skye terrier with the toe of her Oriental slipper. Mischievously the little dog snapped at the slipper, drew it off and ran away with it.
“Naughty dog!” exclaimed Margaret, as she thrust her bare white foot comfortably into the deep fur of a bearskin rug. “Excuse me, Frank, that epithet was not meant for you.”
“I’d be glad if you really cared as much for me as you do for that foolish moppy dog of yours. But listen, dear; I’m in an awful hurry and I’ve only a few minutes to talk, the real reason for this early intrusion is to ask you if you don’t want to go for a little spin in “The Flying Dutchman.” She’s in great shape and it’s a perfect day for motoring. We’ll lunch at Felton Park.”
“When do you mean to start? Right away now?”
“Yes, right now. The machine’s at the door.”
“But I can’t, Frank. I’m—I’m not in proper raiment.”
“Oh, pshaw! what a fuss you are about clothes! Go as you are. Throw on your automobile coat and your motor-hood and come along.”
Miss Henderson giggled. “H’m, I don’t think I can quite do that. But if you give me twenty minutes, I’ll be ready.”
“Pooh! I know your twenty minutes. That means an hour and a half at least. Go as you are, Peg!”
Margaret ran her fingers through her long gold locks that waved far below her shoulders and said positively: “Can’t do it, Frank. But truly, I’ll be ready in half an hour at most.”
“I think you look lovely,” declared Fleming, smiling broadly at his own humorous remark.
“Oh, that’s such an old joke! However, since you think it’s so funny, I’ll remark on your personal appearance. I don’t think you’re looking especially gorgeous this morning.”
“No. This old dressing-gown is disgraceful, isn’t it? But I’ve had it for years, and I’m much attached to it. It—.”
“I’m not at all interested in the story of its life, and if you don’t say good-by pretty soon it will be noon before we start. We’ve talked more than five minutes already.”
“All right then. Good-by, little girl, good-by. I’ll call for you in exactly half an hour, and if you’re not ready I’ll go and invite Maudie Ellsworth instead.”
“You can’t scare me. Good-by.”
“Good-by, Peggy dear, consider yourself kissed.”
Miss Henderson tossed her lovely head and pouted provokingly. “Do you know,” she said saucily, “I don’t care at all for imaginary kisses!”
“Oh, don’t you? Well, when I see you again, we’ll make them real ones. Now skip! Good-by.”
“I do believe we talked overtime,” thought Miss Henderson to herself, and then setting the telephone back in its place on the library desk, she picked up her slipper, put it on and ran upstairs to dress for her drive.
How do you do, Mis’ Perkins? I’m right down glad to see you. I was just wishin’ somebody’d come in to set the afternoon. Hasn’t it cleared off beautiful after the rain yesterday? My, how it did rain yesterday, just the kind of day to stay in the house and sort rags or somethin’ dry like that! And contrariwise, I was to New York City, a trapesin’ round the metropolis in the mud.
You see it was this way—and besides, I just ruined my best shoes, and the curl’s all out of my feather. But Grace Nicholls, she’s, my great-niece, you know—she married one of those Nichollses of Hartford. Well, they’re stayin’ at the Waldorf for a spell, and she asked me to go with ’em yesterday for a sail on the Hudson. I don’t care none too much for steamboatin’ myself, but I’m right down fond of Grace, and I hadn’t seen her for sometime; so I said I’d go.
Now, well do I know the kind o’ meals a body gets to eat on them excursion boats, so I planned I’d carry a box of good things along with me. I know full well just how Grace would exclaim and say we’d dinner on the boat and all that; but I knew too just how glad she’d be to eat my fried chicken and sponge cake, and cute little sandwiches, instead of the watery soup and tough meat they give you on those floatin’ palaces.
Well, I just laid myself out, fixin’ that lunch. Grace’s husband, he’s awful citified, and I knew the idea of a box of lunch would shock him fearful; but if the lunch was only good enough, it’d mollify the shock, so I had just the best things, and I fixed it all up as dainty as a bride’s trousseau. The chicken was fried to just the goldenest brown, and the pieces were folded in oiled paper, and then in Japanese paper napkins. The sandwiches would melt in your mouth, and the angel’s food was a dream. Then I had deviled eggs, done awful fancy, like it tells how in the “Ladies Kitchen Daybook,” and cunnin’ little fringed papers around ’em. And I had a lobster salad that was like a picture by all the old masters. Well, as you can guess, that lunch filled quite a big box. I confess, I didn’t think there was so much of it, till I come to pack it up. But everything was so good I couldn’t bear to leave it out. So in they went, and then I wrapped it up most careful, in a clean, smooth brown paper, and a handsome cord tied around it.
It looked some like rain when I started, but not much. Still, I felt I had to take an umbrella, for I had on my best hat, bein’ anxious not to disgrace my city friends. Of course I had to carry a heavy shawl—I always want it on the boat—and I carried my black silk bag. To be sure, with all those things, the big box of lunch was quite a heft, but I didn’t mind, knowin’ how it would please them two young people.
Well, Mis’ Perkins, to make a long story short, ’fore I got to New York it was pourin’ cats and dogs. My, how it did come down! Of course I knew Grace and Roger wouldn’t go in that storm; but I knew there wasn’t nothing for me to do but to go on to the meetin’ place, and wait tranquil till I heard from ’em. I thought maybe Roger would meet there and tell me what to do. We was to meet at the ticket office on the pier where the excursion boat starts from.
Well, I hadn’t much more than got there, when a messenger boy came up to me. “Is this Mrs. Merriwether?” he says, touchin’ his cap most polite.
“Yes.” I says, wonderin’ how he knew me.
“Then this here note’s for you,” he says. “No answer.” He poked a letter into my hand, an’ went off a whistlin’.
I see right away it was Grace’s handwritin’, an’ I set down the lunch box an’ opened the note. It was from Grace, and it said that owin’ to the rain we wouldn’t go on the excursion, but for me to come right up to the Waldorf and spend the day with her. She apologized for not coming after me herself, but said for me to take a cab right from the pier and I’d have no trouble.
I ain’t much used to cabs, but gracious! I ain’t afraid of ’em. All you have to do is to tell the driver you won’t pay as much as he asks. Of course you do pay it, but it lets him know you ain’t a green hand. No, the cab part didn’t bother me none, but that lunch did. I couldn’t go up to the Waldorf luggin’ that enormous box of eatables, and I wanted to give it to some really deserving person and not to some worthless idler. In fact, it was enough for a whole starving family, if I could only find the right family. I felt like an organized charity, as I looked around for some worthy poor.
Of course there wasn’t nobody on the dock but the men workin’ there, an’ they all looked prosperous an’ well fed, and kind of cross and grumpy besides. I must say I like a cheerful, pleasant disposition in the people I cast my bread upon the waters to. But bein’ as there was nobody around there, I had to go out into the street to look up the right one. So I decided I’d dispose of the box first an’ then I’d take a cab and go on up to Grace’s. It was full early anyway to go to spend the day in the city.
But when I got out from under cover I had to open my umbrella, for it was still drizzling, and of course I had to hold up my skirt—I had on my second best Henrietta, and it has a silk drop—and with my bag and my shawl and that big box I was so ballasted I did hope I’d find the right charity patient right quick.
Well, the first one I saw that seemed about right was a woman newspaper seller. She was in a little booth, with her papers and magazines piled up in front of her. She was as neat and tidy as anybody could wish, and she was knitting, so I knew she was thrifty. I offered her the box, and told her it contained a lot of first class food, enough for her and her family.
Well, if you’ll believe me, Mis’ Perkins, that woman was mad as hops. She was Irish, and she berated me like I’d offered her a fearful insult. “Is it the likes o’ me to be takin charity?” she says. “Nobody can be dolin’ out food to Mary O’Flannagan,” she says, “while the’s fools livin’ to print newspapers an’ bigger fools to buy ’em! Take yer cold victuals to somebody as is too lazy to work for an honest livin’!”
Well, Mis’ Perkins, I was so surprised I was sort of stunned, for I hadn’t no idea of insultin’ the poor thing. I scudded away mighty quick, and as it was rainin some harder then, I got under the elevator road an’ stood there while I looked around for some one more thankful an’ willin’ to receive.
Soon I spied a ragged little chap, lookin’ sort of hopeless an’ disconsolate, and I thought if he had the usual allowance of brothers and sisters that lunch would bring tears of joy to their eyes. So I says, “My little man, are you one of a large family?”
“Nine brudders an’ nine sisters, mum,” says he, “an’ me fader is dead an’ me mudder is out o’ woik.’
“Then you’re just the boy I’m looking for,’ I said. “Here’s a nice box of lunch for you. Take it right along.”
Well, that boy he made no motion to take the box; he only leered at me rudely and said, “Aw gwan! Quit your kiddin’! I’m wise to dat kind er guff.”
I don’t know yet what he meant; but the more I explained that it was a box of good food that anybody might be glad to get, the more he jeered at it. And he talked so queer. He said, “Say, ain’y youse de poiple pansy? I ain’t hankerin’ fer yer old box’ I wouldn’t swap yer me college pin for it.” And then, when I assured him I didn’t want anything in return for it, he just said, “Ah, gwan, gran’ma! Tell de story of yer life an’what’s yer real name to somebody younger’n me.”
I never heard such talk. I didn’t more’n half catch what he meant; but I never could abide boys anyhow, so I looked around for a neat little girl. The first one I saw was a poor little Italian innocent. She wasn’t very clean; but I was gettin’ so wet standing there in the rain I was most ready to throw away that lovely lunch and go on up to Grace’s. Well, I said, “Here, little one, take this nice box of lunch home to your mama.”
She turned on me like a little fury. “It’s a lie!” she cried. “My Mama wouldn’t to let me take whole bunches of lunch off a lady! Think shame how you says! It ain’t no fer ladies to give lunches off on the street! Say ain’t that fierce! I tells you go away; you ain’t stylish!”
That child floored me. I decided I’d try a grown person with some sense, and as I saw a poor looking man passing, I offered the box to him. He looked to be an honest hard working fellow, and yet I quaked as he looked at me. He glared so that I felt as if I must be doing something dishonorable.
Then he said, “Do you mean to give it to me?” in such a tone that I realized it would offend his honest pride to be considered an object of charity.
So I said, “No, I mean to offer it for sale. You may have it for twenty-five cents, though of course it’s worth much more.”
Now, you know, Mis’ Perkins, I had no desire to make money off that poor man, but I just said that to make him feel more independent about it.
Well, he just glared at me again, and said, “Lady, you don’t fool me none; and you just move on, you and your precious bundle, or I’ll call a cop and run you in!”
What he meant, Mis’ Perkins, or what he thought I had in that box, I don’t know; but I can tell you I was scared. I was mad, too, the idea of me, Jane Merriwether, being threatened!
Well, what do you suppose I did next? I just went straight down to the ferry and crossed back over to Jersey. I was so mad I didn’t care if I did waste that whole box of food, and I determined to throw it into the middle of the Hudson River and then go back to New York in peace. So when we were half way across on the ferry, I pitched it overboard.
And Mis’ Perkins, it did seem as if the witches possessed that box of lunch, for instead of going into the water it landed plump on the lower deck. I was leanin’ over the rail to look after it, and the deck man who picked it up saw me, and in a few minutes he brought it up to me. He acted so as if he was doing me a big favor, and he stood around so expectant that I just had to give him ten cents.
My mind was made up then, and I concluded just to wait till I was the last one, an’ then calmly walk off that boat, leavin’ the box on the seat. I did so, and bless you! I hadn’t crossed the gangplank before that same deck man was chasin’ me with that old box. Of course I had to give him another dime that time. Then I did some mighty quick thinkin’, an’ a real good plan come to me.
By way of carrying it out, I took a cab at the ferry and started for the Waldorf; but I told the man to stop first at Blankenstein’s big department store. My plan was to buy a rug for the dinin’ room—I’ve been wantin’ one for quite a spell—an then have that box wrapped up with it and sent out home. I often have small parcels sent out that way, an’ they’re awful accommodatin’ about it.
Well, the plan was a fine one, except that the box had begin to look disreputable. You see, bein’ carried about in the rain so long an’ bein’ slammed down on the ferryboat deck, it was all muddy and wet, and the paper was torn in places. An’ then, somehow the dressin’ of the lobster salad had begun to leak through, and it did look fearful. However, I bought that rug. It wasn’t just the kind I wanted, but it was getting’ near noon, an’ I knew Grace would be worried, so I just took the first one I had eyes on that would do at all, an’ asked the clerk to send out that parcel too.
He looked at it kind of dubious, an’ then he even smelt of it, an’ he says, “Is this perishable goods, madam?”
Now, I won’t lie for anybody, an’ besides the condition of the box pretty much spoke for itself, so I says firmly and boldly, “It is.”
“Then,” he says, “we can’t send it for you.”
“Oh, never mind,” I says, quite cool an’ unconcerned like, though just boilin’ to think I’d bought that horrid homely rug all for nothin’; “I’d just as soon carry it.”
I marched straight out of that store to a cabman and told him to take me straight up to the Waldorf and to drive like mad. Then I gave the package a flip, an’ out it went. I sank back in them carriage cushions mightily relieved to be rid of it at last.
Well, Mis’ Perkins, when I stepped out of that cab at the hotel entrance, up comes runnin’ a little boy all out o’ breath, with that outrageous newspaper bundle. “I seen you drop it out of your cab, ma’am,” he said, “an’ I brung it to you.”
All the porter men an’ drivers an’ door openers was standin’ round, an’ I felt just too awful foolish an’ embarrassed for anything.
But I couldn’t stop to consider them—I was too near meetin’ Grace for any half way work. “Bubby,” I says, “I want to get rid of that bundle. Here’s a dollar for you, if you’ll take it away an’ dispose of it.”
“Sure!” he says, takin’ the dollar, an’ then winkin’ at the men standin’ around. “I’ll jest drop it in the rubbish can across the street which is pervaded for jest such goods.”
But just as the boy turned away, the thought of those dainty bits of fried chicken come back to me, an’ I couldn’t help sayin’, “You’d better look in that box before you throw it away.’
Then I straightened my bonnet again, an’ I went on in to see grace. And I was so serene and undisturbed seemin’ that she never once suspected what a morning I’d had.
I may as well own up that I have ever been an omnivorous reader of detective stories. But wait a minute—don’t let that prejudice you against me. Statistics prove that some of our most desirable citizens are addicted to the same vice; and I know of a luminous member of the English Parliament who neglected an important meeting of his peers to finish a thrilling murder yarn—and he was twice my age.
Well, anyway, the more I read, the more I felt sure that I was a Heaven-born detective, as omniscient as any, and that, given opportunity, I would deduce and detect and decipher with the best of them, and I was convinced that, compared to me, Sherlock Holmes would figure as a feeble-minded snail.
But never came opportunity. I was alert for a chance; but chance eluded me with the elusion of a cubest picture.
However, I am by nature optimistic; so as I walked along my usual morning route from my home to my office I quoth blithely to myself, “I believe something will happen today, something mysterious or thrilling.” I said this every morning to the same interested audience; so the act that something did happen is not so much a coincidence as a proof of the old saw, “All things come to him who waits.”
My daily way took me the whole length of Myrtle Avenue, the principal residential street of our lovely little village of Rosebrook. The residences were not pretentious; mostly shingly, greenish cottages or bungalowly effects; but all with acreage of veranda.
On one of the verandas, vine-trimmed and wicker-furnished, I saw a golden-haired young person seated on a top step, weeping as if her heart would break, if indeed it were not already broken. She wore a pink frock and a Higher Efficiency Apron of the intricate and enveloping type pictured in the Better Home magazines.
I hesitated, as any gentleman ought to. Should I intrude on her woe, or should I politely ignore it, and cross the street in order to pass by on the other side? But as I paused two blue eyes appeared above the handful of wet handkerchief, and their expression was so appealing that I fairly jumped toward her.
It was perhaps twenty feet from the sidewalk to the porch; but I stayed not for brake and I stopped not for stone, and I most certainly should have swum the East River if it had been in my way.
“What is it?” I cried. “Can’t I help you?”
“Oh, Sir—a thief—my—my gems! They are all stolen!”
Hah! My chance at last! “Your gems!” I exclaimed. “Stolen! Who took them?” These speeches were not altogether in accord with the technique of Poe, Doyle, and Gaboriau—but I was greatly excited.
“A horrid tramp! Oh, find my gems, or—or catch the awful man and pip—pup—punish him!”
“Fear not!” I cried dramatically. “I will track the miscreant to his lair! I will recover the gems.”
“You c-c-can’t,” she sobbed. “He r-ran away with them! Oh, Doodie will feel so sorry for me!”
She was growing hysterical, and I saw I must calm her with rational arguments. I took out a notebook.
“Madam,” I said, “unless you control yourself and answer my questions, I cannot help you to recover your lost property.”
“Or punish the thief!” she put in quickly; and I marveled at the spirit of revenge in this little, doll-faced Niobe.
“First, who is Doodie?” I asked, anxious to get her family history.
“He’s my husband,” she said, with the prideful air of a kitten who has just been elected president of something. “We’ve been married six weeks and two days and a half!”
“And his real name?”
“Mr. Merrivale Young. He’s cashier at the bank.”
“Yes, I know him by sight.”
“Oh, isn’t he beautiful?” and a rapturous smile chased away the tears for a moment.
“Beautiful!” I agreed. “But now will you describe your gems that were stolen? What were they? What size? What value? How many?” I always ask questions in bunches—like asparagus. I can’t help it. And I think one gets more and better answers that way.
“Oh, they were the finest I ever saw! Just one great cluster—a big one in the middle, and eight, a little smaller, all around it. I never saw such perfect gems as mine—and now they’re all gone—gone forever! Oh, Doodie!”
“How did it happen? When! Where did you keep them? Haven’t you a safe? Was the house unguarded?
“They were on a kik-closet shelf,” she began to sob again, “the kik-closet in the huh-hall.”
“Wasn’t it locked? Tell me the circumstances. How do you know it was a tramp? How did he get in? How—”
“Don’t talk so f-fast. You flutter me. Wait a minute and I will t-tell you. I was in the kitchen. I have studied Domestic Science, you know; so of course I do all my own housework.”
“All your own housework! You, such a slip of a —”
“Yes; but it’s no trouble at all, with the newfangled paper cookers and fireless napkins—oh, you’ve got me all confused! I mean—but, anyway, I was in the kitchen, and the doorbell rang, and I flew to the front door; for I thought it might be Doodie coming back to kiss me again, or something like that—and—boohoo! And there was an awful, horrible, big tramp!”
“Oh, yes, and frightful, and threatening! He said for me to give him something to eat, and b-be quick about it!”
“You poor little thing!”
“I didn’t dare refuse; so I went back to the kitchen to make him a sandwich, and—boohoo—when I came back he had gone, and the hall closet door was wide open—and I looked—and all my gems were gone! Oh, Doodie will feel so bad!”
I was terribly disappointed. I had hoped for a complicated case to solve by clever deductions, and here was a plain, simple jewel robbery, where even the thief was no mystery—though of course his identity was not yet established, and incidentally he had not yet been caught.
“I will find him and get back your property,” I said; but I felt little enthusiasm in the case, as a case. My enthusiasm was all for the pretty little victim—and it was doubtless misplaced at that, and would find little favor in the eyes of her Doodie.
“Oh, do you think you can find him right away?” she said dubiously. “You see, I expect an old schoolmate. She’s coming to lunch with me today, and I wanted her to see my gems. I know they’re finer than hers!”
“Well, I may not get them back in time for that. But,” and then I recollected my role, “let me look for clues.”
She took me at once to the hall closet, whose door stood wide open. A small safe was on the floor and above it were a couple of shelves.
“There’s my silver safe,” she said proudly. “It was a wedding present. Nobody knows the combination but me and Doodie. You see,” with a heavenly blush, “we use a little love word of our own.”
“Well, a tramp couldn’t know that, surely,” I returned. “And were your gems in the safe?
“No, they were on the shelf above.”
“Very careless of you.”
“Oh, don’t say that! I didn’t think—well, Doodie often tells me I’m careless—oh, he’ll be so sorry for me!”
“Of course he will. I’m sorry myself. What were your gems worth?”
“Doodie says they’re worth their weight in radium; but I think he means that for a joke.”
“I think so too; unless they were very large. Were they?”
“Well,” she considered prettily, “the whole cluster across was about this big,” and she held up two rosy forefingers at least six inches apart.
“What!” I exclaimed. “Were they Koh-i-nurs?”
“No, she said, looking puzzled, “they were mine.”
“But what a size! How big was each one?”
“About as big as a silver dollar,” and the blue eyes looked truthfully into mine.
“Whew! I guess I’d better go straight to Headquarters with this!”
“Then you can catch that tramp?” And the same blue eyes shone ferociously.
“I hope so, I’m sure. He never could dispose of such wonderful things as those!”
“Oh, don’t you think so?”
It might have been my imagination, but I thought I detected a note of disappointment in her tone. At any rate, it was mysterious.
“I’ll just look for clues first myself,” I said, “before the Headquarters men come in and muddle up the case.”
“Oh, look!’ she cried. “He left horrid finger marks on the white painted shelf! I must get my Leopard Spot Cleaner right away and wash them off.”
“No, no!” I prevented. “Oh, you little ignoramus, those are what we’ll catch him by!”
“Catch him by!” she marveled. “Oh can you? How in the world—”
“Why, I have to see if this fingerprint matches a recorded print in the Rogue’s Gallery.”
“Oh, yes, I see. Well, just take the shelf—”
Easily she removed the shelf from its cleats, and gave me the wide, white-painted boards bearing the tell-tale prints.
“Run!” she cried. “Hurry! Take that to Forequarters, or whatever you call it, and match it up with a villain, and put him in jail—in jail!” Her white teeth fairly gritted in her wrath at the wretched criminal.
“And see,” for I was still sleuthfully searching, “here are heel marks on your hall floor!”
Sure enough, the new and shiny parquetry showed distinct prints of nail studded heels.
“But,” I exclaimed, with a cautionary idea of heading her off, “I can’t take the floor with me.”
“Wait a minute,” she said capably, and snatching a pad and pencil from the telephone table she sat down on the floor cross legged, like a dainty little Turkess, and rapidly sketched an exact copy of the hallmark—I mean heel mark.
“There!” and she tilted her head entrancingly to one side, to view her work. “I am so glad that I took that ten-lesson course in Artistic Drawing by Mail! Now go and catch him and put him in jail.”
The story raised a hue and cry at Police headquarters, I can tell you! They took the cupboard shelf and the paper sketch and studied them with lenses and T-squares and things like that.
An alarm was sent out, and all three of Rosebrook’s police force were given instructions to hunt down the thief.
And he was soon found. Constable O’Flaherty telephoned very shortly that he had found the man lying alongside a fence in a vacant lot.
“Asleep?” the Sergeant asked over the telephone.
“No Sorr, devil a bit! He’s groanin’ sumpin’ fierce!”
“What’s the matter with him?”
“I dinnaw, Sorr. He’s beggin’ for a docther.”
Now Rosebrook boasted a recent acquisition of a small but very modern and up-to-date hospital. It had been built and furnished by the vigorous if not entirely harmonious efforts of the Improving Ladies Society, and it was just ready for its first patient.
Wherefore, its spick and span new ambulance was sent for the suffering denizen of the Underworld, and the afflicted one was arrested and succored at the same time.
Hurried to the hospital, he was put into one of the immaculate white beds, like a twentieth century Christopher Sly. The doctors triumphantly diagnosed his malady as acute and serious stomach trouble, and worked hard in their contradictory ways to save his life.
When they at last felt sure that they had vanquished the Rider of the Pale Horse the patient was too weak and ill to talk. But the inexorable arm of the law brought the white shelf and the pencil drawing to make the all-absorbing tests.
The prints were identical, both thumb and heel responding nobly, and the patient was a doomed man. But he was still too ill to be questioned; so Mrs. Young was sent for to identify him beyond all manner or possibility of doubt.
“That’s the man!” she cried, almost hysterical in her excitement. “That’s the thief who took my gems, even while I was getting him some food! Oh, what shall we do with him? There is no punishment bad enough!” She clenched her rosy, dimpled fists and stamped one of her tiny patent leather pumps.
“Don’t you think we had better send for your husband, Mrs. Young?” inquired the admiring Sergeant.
The doll face beamed. “Oh, please do! Can’t you? I thought the bank wouldn’t let Doodie out till closing time, or I should have telephoned him myself.”
“Oh, yes, the bank will excuse him on such am important matter.”
“Maybe they won’t think it’s so important,’ and the big blue eyes looked appealingly up into the grizzled face of the old Sergeant.
“I’m sure they will,” I said, determined to get into the game. “I’ll telephone at once.”
As the case was mine, detectively speaking, I wanted the glory of telling Mr. Young that I had succeeded in bringing it to a triumphant conclusion. To be sure, we didn’t have the jewels yet; but when the thief could be questioned of course he must tell where he had concealed them.
Even as I was getting the bank on the wire O’Flaherty came to me, looking mystified. “The guy’s came to,” he whispered, “and he vows he swallered thim jools.”
“What?” I cried. “Why, he couldn’t! They were enormous stones!”
“Says he did,” repeated the Irishman doggedly.
“Nonsense! He’s out of his head,” I said, and then as I heard the bank’s response I asked for J. Merrival Young, and got him. “Will you come over to the hospital?” I asked. “Your wife is here—”
“What?” Dolly! Oh-oh! What is it? Is she dead? Oh, tell me, Man! End my suspense—”
“Hush up!” I cried, angry at his spoiling my dramatic effect. “Mrs. Young is all right. But a thief entered your house this morning—.
“Entered the house! Oh, my poor little Dolly—poor little baby Dolly! She must have—”
“Will you keep quiet? I tell you your wife is all right. But the thief stole her jewels—”
“Stole what? My wife doesn’t have any jewels.”
“Yes, yes, her big cluster of large jewels.”
“What are you talking about? She doesn’t own any such thing!”
I was thoroughly scared. Could it be that naughty little popinjay had wonderful jewels, of which her husband knew nothing? But no, she had repeatedly referred to Doodie’s intense sympathy with her woe. Was her husband Doodie? Yes, she had said he was. And a bride of six weeks would scarcely be intriguing with another man. Could the little thing be crazy?
But while these thoughts raced through my brain I calmly said to the young gentleman, “Well, come over here, anyway,” and hung up.
The two Youngs met, and for a time there was nothing else doing. A reunion after years of absence couldn’t have been more touching. In each other’s arms they were lost to the world for twelve ecstatic minutes.
Then various onlookers said, “Ahem” and the pair reluctantly returned to earth.
“Now Dolly Ducky, what’s it all about?”
“Why, you see, Doodie,’ and she nestled closer into his arms, and stroked his pink, young cheek, “an awful tramp came, and scared your little Dolly Ducky mos’ to deff!”
“Lublums! The baddy man! We’ll have him put in jail—a big, black jail.”
“Yes, that’s just what I said. But—oh, Doodie Dumpkins, he stole my gems.’
“Oh, Dolly Winkums, did he? Those wonderful gems! He ought to have a life sentence! I suppose they wouldn’t give him a death sentence?”
“Oh, Doodie, they must punish him fearful, musn’t they?”
“Look here, Mr. Young,” and I admit I lost my patience at last, “you said your wife had no gems.”
“I beg your pardon, Sir, I said she had no jewels.”
“Hut-tut,” said the Sergeant sternly. “Be careful, Mr. Young! This is no time for quibbling.”
Dolly looked as if she would strike the speaker. “What do you mean?” she cried. “My Doodie isn’t quibbling!”
“What was stolen from you, madam?”
“My gems—my graham gems that I made for luncheon all myself—nine of ’em—in a pound pan—one big one in the middle, and eight littler ones all around—”
A perplexed-looking doctor came in. “The patient insists he swallowed those gems—,” he began.
But I heard no more. I was already in the street, and continuing my uneventful way to my office.
The members of the International Society of Infallible Detectives were assembled in their rooms on Faker Street. It was a very rainy day, and they were hoping against hope that a case worthy of their individual and concerted intellects might be brought to them. At last, as a last resort, Arsene Lupin said in despair to the president.
“Do look out of the window, Holmes! Most always when you look out you see a case approaching.”
With his somewhat hackneyed, bored shrug, Sherlock Holmes removed his pipe from his finely chiseled countenance and placed it carefully in an embroidered pipe rack given him by a grateful client, who was light complected and an Episcopalian, and whose missing pearls he had once found. Sauntering to the window, he looked saturninely out into a landscape of perpendicular wetness.
“It’s all right,” he said drearily. “She’s coming, a middle aged lady, not poor, but somewhat parsimonious, an antisuffragist, and a reader of ‘The Ladies Own Ledger’. She has lost an article of great value.”
But Holmes spoke slowly, and Watson had time only to breathe the first syllable of his trite and classical response, when the lady was ushered into the room.
Good afternoon, Gentlemen,” she said, sinking into a chair offered her by the blithe Watson.
President Holmes gazed at her, as if reading and translating her secret soul.
Lupin, Dupin, Lecocq, and Vidocq, who had risen, made right angular French bows, hands at hearts. The Thinking Machine kept his seat and gazed at her from his querulous blue eyes, his chin resting on his folded hands, which in turn rested on his knobbed walking stick, which in turn rested, of course, on the floor. Luther Trant fidgeted a little, and Raffles smiled ingratiatingly like the handsome dog that he was.
“I deduce it is raining,” said Holmes, looking sternly at his visitor.
“You knew that before,” observed Lupin, with a Gallic leer.
“But I ignored that,” declared Holmes, “and I deduced it entirely from the lady’s umbrella and rubbers.”
“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” exclaimed Watson., thrilled to the uttermost fiber of his appreciation.
“You have lost something, Madam,” said Holmes, shaking his saturnine finger at her.
“Good land, Sir! How did you know that? Was it in the papers?”
“No. But I’m sure you’re not mixed up in a murder case, and there’s no other crime except robbery; so I know it’s theft. The article you lost is—.”
“Oh, Holmes,” exclaimed the Thinking Machine querulously, “let the lady herself tell what she has lost! She knows more about it than you do.”
“I am not sure of that,” returned Holmes dubiously, a grim smile lighting up his dark face; “but go on, Madam, tell us what you do know, or think you know, of the case.”
“Well, Sir, you see I am a widow.”
“I deduced you were a widow,” put in Holmes, “as soon as I saw your wedding ring and your black cape veil.”
“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” observed Watson a trifle mechanically.
“You also deduced that she read ‘The Ladies’ Own Ledger’ ”, said Vidocq. “Can you prove that?”
Languidly Holmes lifted his weary forefinger and pointed to the jabot at the lady’s throat. Too true, it was made of a Turkish wash cloth, deftly plaited into shape, and worked in cute little designs with red marking cotton. It had been described in that very month’s paper, and they all knew it.
“And how did you know she was antisuffrage?” asked the thinking Machine.
“So many dinky frills on her petticoat, which I saw flipping about as she crossed the street.”
“And that she was parsim—.” But Lecocq’s rude speech was stayed by Raffles, who clapped his hands over the speaker’s mouth.
“Oh, fiddle strings!” cried Holmes. “If she had on such extravagant lingerie, she could afford a taxi, and as she didn’t have one, she—she was—walking for her health,” he concluded, as the lady stared straight at him.
“My name is Mrs. Plummer,” she began, “Mrs. Ezra J. Plummer. But I suppose, Sir, you would have known that too, if I hadn’t told you.”
“Of course,” responded Holmes carelessly. “Go on.”
“Well, I’ve lived alone ever since Ezra died, nineteen years come next June, and I’ve kept my house and home just as it always was. I ain’t great for changing my furniture with every whip around of the fashion. The plush chairs in my parlor are just as good now as the day we bought ’em; two of ’em red and three green and the sofa red. Black ebony frames, they have, picked out with gilt, and a neater suit ain’t to be found.”
“Charming set of furniture,” said Raffles politely. “Tasty idea that, of red and green alternating and you’ve lost these chairs, madam?”
“No, Sir, burglars don’t take chairs. What I’ve lost is a work of art, the chief ornament of my parlor, my choicest possession, a treasure, indeed!” Mrs. Plummer broke down completely and began to cry.
The four French gentlemen, being of sympathetic and emotional dispositions, wept also. The Thinking Machine wriggled uneasily in his chair.
President Holmes gazed out of the window with neatly folded arms. “A work of art!” he hissed. “Ha, a parallel case to the Mona Lisa! What was it, Madam, a picture, a statue?”
“Ah, how clever you are!” she exclaimed. “You’ve almost hit it. Try again!”
“A statuette, an antique, a curio, a bronze?” the eager detectives suggested one after another.
“No!” exclaimed Mrs. Plummer. “You’ll never guess! It was a Rogers Group.”
“Rogers Group! What is that?” asked Lecocq; for the fame of the great grouper had never penetrated his benighted land.
“Oh, Sir,” exclaimed Mrs. Plummer, “it was one of his choicest designs! It was ‘Weighing the Baby,’ and oh, if you could see the old doctor peering through his glasses, and the nurse with her clasped hands, and the infant ah, the infant! gone!”
Again she broke down and wept as women will, when babies are concerned. And the four Frenchmen sympathetically and copiously followed her lead.
“Ah, a kidnapping case!” exclaimed Luther Trant; while the Thinking Machine inquired tensely:
“How much did the baby weigh?”
But President Holmes interrupted. “Proceed, madam, to give us the details of the robbery.”
“Well, Sirs, it was this way, I went out to the Sewing Society this afternoon, and of course I locked the house all up as usual. The Rogers Group was in the parlor, on a marble topped table with a scarf of garnet plush. Sirs, every parlor window was protected by safety catches, and the front door was tightly locked; indeed, all the windows and doors were securely fastened.”
“In a word the parlor was hermetically sealed!” declared Luther Trant sententiously.
“Ha! Hermetically sealed!” cried Rouletabille. “That is all a case needs to make it interesting! Tell me more!”
“I left at two o’clock,’ went on Mrs. Plummer dramatically, “left at two, and when I returned at four that Rogers Group was gone! Not a vestige of it remained. Gone was the baby and the doctor, gone the scales and the nurse—gone!”
“Gone! Gone!” echoed Dupin, wringing his hands. He was often overwhelmed by excessive sympathy, as were the other French gentlemen.
“And the house hermetically sealed!” pondered Rouletabille exultantly. “There is no problem so delightful as that! Do you remember in ‘The Yellow Room’ there—.”
“Are there any clues?” asked President Holmes, deliberately cutting short Roly-Poly’s reminiscence.
“I don’t know, Sir,” replied the lady. “I’ve heard you mustn’t touch a body until the Coroner comes so I supposed it was the same with robbery. So I locked up the house again and hurried over.”
“Quite right,” returned the saturnine Holmes approvingly. “I’ll go there at once. Come, Watson.”
Though seemingly ignored, the others grabbed their hats and all burst out of the door at once, in true detective eagerness to be first on the scene.
The rain had stopped, so the party stepped briskly along the still wet pavements; and then, solemnly unlocking her front door, Mrs. Plummer ushered in the ten men.
“The room! Which is the room?’ asked Rouletabille hoarsely; for here was a case in which his very soul delighted.
“Here!” and Mrs. Plummer dramatically threw open the parlor door.
Too true, the bay window where for nineteen years the Rogers Group had proudly stood was empty. Gone indeed the priceless work of art! Gone the kind doctor, the proud nurse and the avoirdupoised baby!
“Ha! Footprints!” muttered President Holmes and in a trice he was down on his knees with magnifying glass, compass and T-square. But the magnifying glass was not needed; for the footprints were of goodly size. Carefully Holmes laid a diagram to scale, and with the help of some of the others a paper pattern was cut exactly like the footprints and a duplicate given to each member of the club. From these they were to trace the criminal.
“And we can do it!” said Vidocq assuredly.
“Well,” said Mrs. Plummer, as if the words were forced from her by a lashing conscience, “the footprints are mine. When I came in, it was some muddy—.”
“Why did you not tell us in the first place?” demanded Trant.
“Well, you see, I had on my old shoes, and they always were too big for me, anyway.”
“Fine example of the eternal feminine!” commented Trant. “But stay! The miscreant must have left fingerprints. I will photograph this plush chenille cover and these plush chairs in hope of getting his thumbprint.”
But the next few moments brought startling results. Dozens of fingerprints were found on the dusty surfaces of brackets and mantel. Then Raffles found a tuft of feathers, doubtless from a lady’s boa. The Thinking Machine found a handkerchief marked “G”; Dupin found an old letter, Vidocq an eyeglass case, and Lecocq a glove. Raffles found a gray barrette, and Holmes picked up a market list.
“Now, Gentlemen,” said the president, “you each have your separate clues. Go your ways, make your deductions, and meet tomorrow at our rooms, where I will show you the robber.”
The Infallible Detectives went their ways, secretly incensed at Holmes’ arrogance.
The next day at three o’clock they all trooped back to the rooms of their association, and each brought with him a lady, a citizen of the town.
“Ha!” exclaimed Holmes. “The villain seems to be plural.”
“And feminine,” added the Thinking Machine, looking askance at the buxom dame he had captured.
“First we must take all their pictures,” declared Holmes.
“We expected that,” said Mrs. Green, who had been identified by the “G” on her handkerchief, and was the spokeswoman for the party. “We put on our best clothes on purpose. Shall we be in a group, or single?”
The ladies fluttered about in pleasant anticipation of being photographed. The performance over, the detectives questioned their captives, whom they had easily identified by the various clues. Each one declared that she had been in Mrs. Plummer’s parlor between two and four o’clock the afternoon previous.
“Then, said Holmes, “do you confess that you purloined Mrs. Plummer’s Rogers Group?”
“We do!” exclaimed the ladies in a chorus.
“You admit that you took it with felonious intent, in other words you stole it?”
“We did,” declared the ladies unanimously. “And you can’t put us in jail for it, because we can prove that we were in the right.”
“Prove it,” said President Holmes.
“I am the president,” began Mrs. Green, “and these ladies are members of our Village Improvement Society. In the interests of our work we are often obliged to remove—.”
“Ah, yes,” exclaimed Holmes, “I quite understand quite, quite. Not another word, I beg of you, my dear Madam! All is understood. You ladies are excused, and Mrs. Plummer has no case, none at all. Good afternoon, Ladies.”
“Ah, yes, but say one moment,’ said Rouletabille, his eager eyes agog with intense interest. “Please, please, may I ask the solution of the only question that interested me in this case? How did you go into that hermetically sealed house?”
Mrs. Green looked at him pityingly. “Sir,” she said, “I took the key out from under the mat, and afterward replaced it.”
In their rooms on Fakir Street, the members of the International Society of Infallible Detectives were holding a special meeting.
“If any one of you,” said President Sherlock Holmes, speaking from the chair, “has any suggestions to offer—”
“My dear Holmes,” interrupted Arsène Lupin, “we don’t offer or accept suggestions any more than you do.”
“No,” agreed the Thinking Machine; “we merely observe the clues, deduce the truth, and announce the criminal.”
“What are the clues?” inquired M. Lecocq of the company at large.
Raffles looked gravely at the old gentleman and then smiled.
“The clues,” he said, “are the frame thrown down a back staircase, the wall vacancy in the Louvre, and the nails on which the picture hung.”
“Is the wall vacancy just the size of the ‘Mona Lisa’?” asked M. Dupin.
“That cannot be ascertained, since the picture is not available to measure by,” returned Raffles. “But the ‘Mona Lisa’ is gone, and there is no other unexplained wall vacancy.”
“The evidence seems to me inconclusive,” murmured M. Dupin. “Is there not a law concerning the corpus delicti?”
“That’s neither here nor there,” interrupted Arsène Lupin, and Raffles wittily observed, “Neither is the picture.”
Sherlock Holmes passed his white hand wearily across his brow.
“This meeting must come to order,” he said. “Now, gentlemen, you have heard a description of the clues—the discarded frame, the vacant space, the empty nails. From these I deduce that the thief is five feet, ten inches tall, and weighs 160 pounds. He has dark hair and one gold tooth. He is fairly healthy, but he has a second cousin who was subject to croup as a child.”
“Marvelous, Holmes! Marvelous!” exclaimed Dr. Watson, clasping his hands in ecstasy. “He is already the same as behind bars.”
“I don’t agree with you, Holmes,” declared Arsène Lupin. “It is clearly evident to me that the thief was a blond, rather short and thick-set, and looked like his great-aunt on his mother’s side.”
Holmes looked thoughtful. “I can’t think it, Lupin,” he said at last; “and if you’ll go over the clues again carefully, you’ll perceive your fallacious inference.”
“Munsterberg says,” began Luther Trant; but President Holmes cut him off, and said, with his saturnine smile, “Gentlemen, we must get to work scientifically on this problem. Unless we find the stolen picture, and convict the thief, we are not worthy of our professional fame. Now, how much time do you think we should take to accomplish our purpose?”
“I could find the old daub in a week,” said M. Dupin “you only have to reason this way. If—”
“There now, there now,” said the Thinking Machine, querulously, “who wants to hear another man’s advice? Let us all go to work independently of one another. A week will be more than enough time for me to produce both picture and thief.”
“A week, bah!” scoffed Raffles. “I can accumulate the missing canvas and the missing miscreant in three days’ time. I’m sure of it.”
President Holmes kept on with his saturnine smile, and said, “Arsène, how much time do you require for the job?”
“Two days and carfare,” replied Arsène Lupin. “And you yourself, Holmes?”
The smile of Sherlock Holmes became a little saturniner as he returned quietly, “I already know where it is; I’ve only to go and get it.”
“That isn’t fair,” broke in Luther Trant, cutting short Dr. Watson’s appreciative remark.
“Perfectly fair,” declared Holmes; “I’ve had no more advantage than the rest of you. We’ve all heard a list of the clues; I’ve deduced the solution of the mystery. If you other fellows haven’t, it’s because you’re blind to the obvious.”
“Always distrust the obvious,” began M. Dupin, didactically.
President Holmes paid his usual lack of attention to this speech, and went on:
“There’s no use of further conversation. We’re not a lot of consulting amateurs. We’re each famous, unique, and infallible. Let us go our various ways, work by our various methods, and see who can find the picture first. Let us meet here one week from tonight, and whoever brings with him the ‘Mona Lisa’ will receive the congratulations of the rest of us, and incidentally the offered reward.”
“Marvelous, Holmes! Marvelous!” cried Dr. Watson before any one else could speak.
But there wasn’t much to be said. Famous detectives are ever taciturn, silent, and thoughtful, but looking as if the universe is to them an open primer.
After saying good night in their various fashions, the detectives went away to detect, and Sherlock Holmes got out his violin and played “Her Bright Smile Haunts Me Still.”
A week slowly disengaged itself from the future and transferred its attachment to the past. Again the rooms in Fakir Street were cleared up nice and tidy for the meeting. Eight o’clock was the hour appointed, but no one came.
“Hah!” muttered Holmes, “they have all failed, and they dare not come and admit it. I alone have succeeded in the quest, I alone have the priceless ‘Joconde’ safe in my possession.”
“Marv—” began Dr. Watson; but even as he spoke the door opened, and M. Dupin entered, with a large canvas under his arm. The picture was wrapped in an old shawl, but from its size and from the size of the smile on Dupin’s face, even Watson deduced that the canvas was the one at which Leonardo had slung paint for four years.
“But, yes,” said M. Dupin, carelessly, “I have it. Only I will wait for the others, that I may display my prize amid greater applause than I expect from you, M. Holmes.”
Holmes’s smile was only slightly saturnine, but before he could make a caustic reply, Lecocq came in, bearing a large roll carefully wrapped in paper. He beamed genially, and then catching sight of the shawled object leaning against the wall, he frowned.
“What have you there?” he cried. “Is it perhaps the gilded frame for the picture I bring?”
Goaded beyond endurance by these scathing words, Dupin sprang to the shawl and tore it off.
“Behold the ‘Mona Lisa’! Found! Oh, the glory of it!”
“Ha!” cried Lecocq, and unrolling his roll, he, too, showed the original, the indisputably genuine Leonardo da Vinci masterpiece!
Holmes looked at the twin pictures with interest.
“They are doubtless the real thing,” he declared—“both of them. There is no question of the genuineness of either. It must be that da Vinci painted the lady twice.”
“Marvelous, Holmes! Marvelous!” chanted Watson.
But the two Frenchmen were not willing to accept Holmes’s statement. They were volubly quarreling in their own picturesque tongue, and the purport of their excellent French was that each believed his own find to be the real picture and the other a copy.
Into this controversy shambled the queer old figure of the Thinking Machine.
“Squabble if you like,” he shrilled at them. “It doesn’t matter which wins, for I have the real ‘Mona Lisa’ at home. I wouldn’t risk bringing it here. Both of yours are copies, and poor ones at that.”
Just then appeared Luther Trant, followed by three messenger-boys. Each bore a picture of the “Mona Lisa,” which he set down beside the ones already there.
“One of these is the real one,” declared Trant. “I hadn’t time to decide which, and my seismospygmatograph is broken. But I’ll find that out later. Anyway, it’s one of the three, and I’ve found it.”
Into the hubbub caused by this announcement Raffles bounded, his face shining with hilarity.
“I’ve got it!” he cried, and his followers entered.
There were five messenger-boys, whose burden aggregated eight “Mona Lisas”; three sandwich-men wore two “Jocondes” each; and two washerwomen brought a clothes-basket containing four.
“These are all vouched for by experts,” declared Raffles, “so one of ’em must be the real thing.”
“Oh,” said Arsène Lupin, sauntering in, “do you think so? Well, I have a dray below, piled up with ‘Mona Lisas’ for each of which I have a signed guaranty by the best experts.”
Sherlock Holmes stood looking on, his smile growing saturniner and saturniner.
“Now, gentlemen,” he said, in his most cold-chisel tones—“Now, gentlemen, will you please step into the next room?”
They stepped, but delicately, like Agag, for the floor was knee-deep in “Mona Lisas,” and as they entered the next room, behold, it was like stepping into a multiscope; for the four walls were lined—lined, mind you—with “Mona Lisas.” And every one—every single one—bore indisputable, indubitable, impeccable, incontrovertible evidence of being the real Simon-Pure article.
Quite aside from the chagrin of the detectives at knowing Holmes had outnumbered them, conceive of the delight of being able to gaze on scores of “Mona Lisas” at once! Remember the thrills that thrilled you when you stood in the Louvre and looked upon just one masterpiece of the great painter; then imagine those thrills multiplied until it was like fever and ague! It was indeed a great psychological moment.
“Are they all genuine?” at last whispered M. Dupin, while Raffles began to compute their collective value to collectors.
“All guaranteed by experts,” declared Holmes; and just then the telephone sounded.
“Mr. Holmes?” said the chief of police.
“Yes,” replied Sherlock, saturninely.
“I have to inform you, Mr. Holmes, that we have the ‘Mona Lisa.’ The thief, who is a paramaranoiac, has returned it to us, and confessed his crime. He is truly penitent, and though he must be punished, there will doubtless be found extenuating circumstances in his full confession and his return of the picture unharmed. I’m sure you will rejoice with us at the restoration of our treasure.”
“Huh!” said Holmes, a little more saturninely than usual, as he hung up the receiver, “when a picture has been restored as often and as poorly as that has, one restoration more or less doesn’t matter. Now, gentlemen, you will please begin to give me a successful imitation of a moving-picture show.”
Illustrations by Frederic Dorr Steele
Published in The Century Magazine May 1915
The members of the Society of Infallible Detectives were just sitting around and being socially infallible in their rooms in Fakir Street, when President Holmes strode in. He was much saturniner than usual, and the others at once deduced there was something toward.
“And it’s this,” said Holmes, perceiving that they had perceived it. “A reward is offered for the solution of a great mystery—so great, my colleagues, that I fear none of you will be able to solve it, or even to help me in the marvelous work I shall do when ferreting it out.”
“Humph!” grunted the Thinking Machine, riveting his steel-blue eyes upon the speaker.
“He voices all our sentiments,” said Raffles, with his winning smile. “Fire away, Holmes. What’s the prob?”
“To explain a most mysterious proceeding down on the East Side.”
Though a tall man, Holmes spoke shortly, for he was peeved at the inattentive attitude of his collection of colleagues. But of course he still had his Watson, so he put up with the indifference of the rest of the cold world.
“Aren’t all proceedings down on the East Side mysterious?” asked Arsene Lupin with an aristocratic look.
Holmes passed his brow wearily under his hand.
“Inspector Spyer,” he said, “was riding on the Elevated Road—one of the small numbered Avenues—when, as he passed a tenement-house district, he saw a clothes-line strung from one high window to another across a courtyard.”
“Was it Monday?” asked the Thinking Machine, who for the moment was thinking he was a washing machine.
“That doesn’t matter. About the middle of the line was suspended—”
“By clothes-pins?” asked two or three of the Infallibles at once.
“Was suspended a beautiful woman.”
“No. Do listen! She hung by her hands and was evidently trying to cross from one house to the other. By her exhausted and agonized face, the inspector feared she could not hold on much longer. He sprang from his seat to rush to her assistance, but the train had already started, and he was too late to get off.”
“What was she doing there?” “Did she fall?” “What did she look like?” and various similar nonsensical queries fell from the lips of the great detectives.
“Be silent, and I will tell you all the known facts. She was a society woman, it is clear, for she was robed in a chiffon evening gown, one of those roll-top things. She wore rich jewelry and dainty slippers with jeweled buckles. Her hair, unloosed from its moorings, hung in heavy masses far down her back.”
“How extraordinary! What does it all mean?” asked M. Dupin. ever straightforward of speech.
“I don’t know yet,” answered Holmes, honestly. “I’ve studied the matter only a few months. But I will find out, if I have to raze the whole tenement block. There must be a clue somewhere.”
“Marvelous! Holmes, marvelous!” said a phonograph in the corner, which Watson had fixed up, as he had to go out.
“The police have asked us to take up the case and have offered a reward for its solution. Find out who was the lady, what she was doing, and why she did it.”
“Are there any clues?” asked M. Vidocq, while M. Lecoq said simultaneously, “Any footprints?”
“There is one footprint; no other clue.”
“Where is the footprint?”
“On the ground, right under where the lady was hanging.”
“But you said the rope was high from the ground.”
“More than a hundred feet.”
“And she stepped down and made a single footprint. Strange! Quite strange!” and the Thinking Machine shook his yellow old head.
“She did nothing of the sort,” said Holmes, petulantly. “If you fellows would listen, you might hear something. The occupants of the tenement houses have been questioned. But, as it turns out, none of them chanced to be at home at the time of the occurrence. There was a parade in the next street, and they had all gone to see it.”
“Had a light snow fallen the night before?” asked Lecoq, eagerly.
“Yes, of course,” answered Holmes. “How could we know anything, else? Well, the lady had dropped her slipper, and although the slipper was not found, it having been annexed by the tenement people who came home first, I had a chance to study the footprint. The slipper was a two and a half D. It was too small for her.”
“How do you know?”
“Women always wear slippers too small for them.”
“Then how did she come to drop it off?” This from Raffles, triumphantly.
Holmes looked at him pityingly.
“She kicked it off because it was too tight. Women always kick off their slippers when playing bridge or in an opera box or at a dinner.”
“And always when they’re crossing a clothes-line?” This in Lupin’s most sarcastic vein.
“Naturally,” said Holmes, with a taciturnine frown. “The footprint clearly denotes a lady of wealth and fashion, somewhat short of stature, and weighing about one hundred and sixty. She was of an animated nature.”
“Suspended animation,” put in Luther Trant. wittily, and Scientific Sprague added, “Like the Coffin of Damocles, or whoever it was.”
But Holmes frowned on their light-headedness.
“We must find out what it all means,” he said in his gloomiest way. “I have a tracing of the footprint.”
“I wonder if my seismospygmograph would work on it,” mused Trant.
“I am the Prince of Footprints,” declared Lecoq, pompously. “I will solve the mystery.”
“Do your best, all of you,” said their illustrious president. “I fear you can do little; these things are unintelligible to the unintelligent. But study on it, and meet here again one week from tonight, with your answers neatly typewritten on one side of the paper.”
* * * * * *
The Infallible Detectives started off, each affecting a jaunty sanguineness of demeanor, which did not in the least impress their president, who was used to sanguinary impressions.
They spent their allotted seven days in the study of the problem; and a lot of the seven nights, too, for they wanted to delve into the baffling secret by sun or candlelight, as dear Mrs. Browning so poetically puts it.
And when the week had fled, the Infallibles again gathered in the Fakir Street sanctum, each face wearing the smug smirk and smile of one who had quested a successful quest and was about to accept his just reward.
“And now,” said President Holmes, “as nothing can be hid from the Infallible Detectives, I assume we have all discovered why the lady hung from the clothes-line above that deep and dangerous chasm of a tenement courtyard.”
“We have,” replied his colleagues, in varying tones of pride, conceit, and mock modesty.
“I cannot think,” went on the hawk-like voice, “that you have, any of you, stumbled upon the real solution of the mystery; but I will listen to your amateur attempts.”
“As the oldest member of our organization, I will tell my solution first,” said Vidocq, calmly. “I have not been able to find the lady, but I am convinced that she was merely an expert trapezist or tight-rope walker, practising a new trick to amaze her Coney Island audiences.”
“Nonsense!” cried Holmes. “In that case the lady would have worn tights or fleshings. We are told she was in full evening dress of the smartest set.”
Arsene Lupin spoke next.
“It’s too easy,” he said boredly; “she was a typist or stenographer who had been annoyed by attentions from her employer, and was trying to escape from the brute.”
“Again I call your attention to her costume,” said Holmes, with a look of intolerance on his finely cold-chiseled face.
“That’s all right,” returned Lupin, easily. “Those girls dress every old way! I’ve seen ’em. They don’t think anything of evening clothes at their work.”
“Humph!” said the Thinking Machine, and the others all agreed with him.
“Next,” said Holmes, sternly.
“I’m next,” said Lecoq. “I submit that the lady escaped from a nearby lunatic asylum. She had the illusion that she was an old overcoat and the moths had got at her. So of course she hung herself on the clothes-line. This theory of lunacy also accounts for the fact that the lady’s hair was down like Ophelia’s, you know.”
“It would have been easier for her to swallow a few good moth balls,” said Holmes, looking at Lecoq in stormy silence. “Mr. Gryce. you are an experienced deducer; what did you conclude?”
Mr. Gryce glued his eyes to his right boot toe, after his celebrated habit. “I make out she was a-slumming. You know, all the best ladies are keen about it. And I feel that she belonged to the Cult for the Betterment of Clothes-lines. She was by way of being a tester. She had to go across them hand over hand, and if they bore her weight, they were passed by the censor.”
“And if they didn’t?”
“Apparently that predicament had not occurred at the time of our problem, and so cannot be considered.”
“I think Gryce is right about the slumming,” remarked Luther Trant, “but the reason for the lady hanging from the clothes-line is the imperative necessity she felt for a thorough airing, after her tenemental visitations; there is a certain tenement scent, if I may express it, that requires ozone in quantities.”
“You’re too material,” said the Thinking Machine, with a faraway look in his weak, blue eyes. “This lady was a disciple of New Thought. She had to go into the silence, or concentrate, or whatever they call it. And they always choose strange places for these thinking spells. They have to have solitude, and, as I understand it, the clothes-line was not crowded?”
Rouletabille laughed right out.
“You’re way off, Thinky,” he said. “What ailed that dame was just that she wanted to reduce. I’ve read about it in the women’s journals. They all want to reduce. They take all sorts of crazy exercises, and this crossing clothes-lines hand over hand is the latest. I’ll bet it took off twenty of those avoirdupois with which old Sherly credited her.”
“Pish and a few tushes!” remarked Raffles, in his smart society jargon. “You don’t fool me. That clever little bear was making up a new dance to thrill society next winter. You’ll see. Sunday-paper headlines: Stunning New Dance! The Clothes-Line Cling! Caught On Like Wildfire! That’s what it’s all about. What do you know, eh?”
“Go take a walk, Raffles,” said Holmes, not unkindly; “you’re sleepy yet. Scientific Sprague, you sometimes put over an abstruse theory, what do you say?”
“I didn’t need science,” said Sprague, carelessly. “As soon as I heard she had her hair down, I jumped to the correct conclusion. She had been washing her hair, and was drying it. My sister always sticks her head out of the skylight; but this lady’s plan is, I should judge, a more all-round success.”
As they had now all voiced their theories, President Holmes rose to give them the inestimable benefit of his own views.
“Your ideas are not without some merit,” he conceded, “but you have overlooked the eternal-feminine element in the problem. As soon as I tell you the real solution, you will each wonder why it escaped your notice. The lady thought she heard a mouse, so she scrambled out of the window, preferring to risk her life on the perilous clothes-line rather than stay in the dwelling where the mouse was also. It is all very simple. She was doing her hair, threw her head over forward to twist it, as they always do, and so espied the mouse sitting in the corner.”
“Marvelous! Holmes, marvelous!” exclaimed Watson, who had just come back from his errand.
Even as they were all pondering on Holmes’s superior wisdom, the telephone bell rang.
“Are you there?” said President Holmes, for he was ever English of speech.
“Yes, yes,” returned the impatient voice of the chief of police. “Call off your detective workers. We have discovered who the lady was who crossed the clothes-line and why she did it.”
“I can’t imagine you really know,” said Holmes into the transmitter; “but tell me what you think.”
“A-r-r-rh! Of course I know! It was just one of those confounded moving-picture stunts!”
“Indeed! And why did the lady kick off her slipper?”
“A-r-r-r-h! It was part of the fool plot. She’s Miss Flossy Flicker of the Flim-Flam Film Company, doin’ the six-reel thriller, At the End of Her Rope.”
“Ah,” said Holmes suavely, “my compliments to Miss Flicker on her good work.”
“Marvelous, Holmes, marvelous!” said Watson.
Of all the unexpected pleasures that have come into my life, I think perhaps the greatest was when Christabel Farland asked me to be bridesmaid at her wedding.
I always had liked Christabel at college, and though we hadn’t seen much of each other since we were graduated, I still had a strong feeling of friendship for her, and besides that I was glad to be one of the merry house party gathered at Farland Hall for the wedding festivities.
I arrived the afternoon before the wedding-day, and found the family and guests drinking tea in the library. Two other bridesmaids were there, Alice Fordham and Janet White, with both of whom I was slightly acquainted. The men, however, except Christabel’s brother Fred, were strangers to me, and were introduced as Mr. Richmond, who was to be an usher; Herbert Gay, a neighbor, who chanced to be calling; and Mr. Wayne, the tutor of Christabel’s younger brother Harold. Mrs. Farland was there too, and her welcoming words to me were as sweet and cordial as Christabel’s.
The party was in frivolous mood, and as the jests and laughter grew more hilarious, Mrs. Farland declared that she would take the bride-elect away to her room for a quiet rest, lest she should not appear at her best the next day.
“Come with me, Elinor,” said Christabel to me, “and I will show you my wedding-gifts.”
Together we went to the room set apart for the purpose, and on many white-draped tables I saw displayed the gorgeous profusion of silver, glass and bric-a-brac that are one of the chief component parts of a wedding of to-day.
I had gone entirely through my vocabulary of ecstatic adjectives and was beginning over again, when we came to a small table which held only one wedding-gift.
“That is the gem of the whole collection,” said Christabel, with a happy smile, “not only because Laurence gave it to me, but because of its intrinsic perfection and rarity.”
I looked at the bridegroom’s gift in some surprise. Instead of the conventional diamond sunburst or heart-shaped brooch, I saw a crystal ball as large as a fair-sized orange.
I knew of Christabel’s fondness for Japanese crystals and that she had a number of small ones of varying qualities; but this magnificent specimen fairly took my breath away. It was poised on the top of one of those wavecrests, which the artisans seem to think appropriately interpreted in wrought-iron. Now, I haven’t the same subtle sympathy with crystals that Christabel always has had; but still this great, perfect, limpid sphere affected me strangely. I glanced at it at first with a calm interest; but as I continued to look I became fascinated, and soon found myself obliged (if I may use the expression) to tear my eyes away.
Christabel watched me curiously. “Do you love it too?” she said, and then she turned her eyes to the crystal with a rapt and rapturous gaze that made her appear lovelier than ever. “Wasn’t it dear of Laurence?” she said. “He wanted to give me jewels of course; but I told him I would rather have this big crystal than the Koh-i-nur. I have six others, you know; but the largest of them isn’t one-third the diameter of this.”
“It is wonderful,” I said, “and I am glad you have it. I must own it frightens me a little.”
“That is because of its perfection,” said Christabel simply. “Absolute flawless perfection always is awesome. And when it is combined with perfect, faultless beauty, it is the ultimate perfection of a material thing.”
“But I thought you liked crystals because of their weird supernatural influence over you,” I said.
“That is an effect, not a cause,” Christabel replied. “Ultimate perfection is so rare in our experiences that its existence perforce produces consequences so rare as to be dubbed weird and supernatural. But I must not gaze at my crystal longer now, or I shall forget that it is my wedding-day. I’m not going to look at it again until after I return from my wedding-trip; and then, as I tell Laurence, he will have to share my affection with his wedding-gift to me.”
Christabel gave the crystal a long parting look, and then ran away to don her wedding-gown. “Elinor,” she called over her shoulder, as she neared her own door, “I’ll leave my crystal in your special care. See that nothing happens to it while I’m away.”
“Trust me!” I called back gaily, and then went in search of my sister bridesmaids.
* * * * *
The morning after the wedding began rather later than most mornings. But at last we all were seated at the breakfast-table and enthusiastically discussing the events of the night before. It seemed strange to be there without Christabel, and Mrs. Farland said that I must stay until the bridal pair returned, for she couldn’t get along without a daughter of some sort.
This remark made me look anywhere rather than at Fred Farland, and so I chanced to catch Harold’s eye. But the boy gave me such an intelligent, mischievous smile that I actually blushed and was covered with confusion. Just at that moment Katy the parlor-maid came into the dining-room, and with an anxious expression on her face said: “Mrs. Farland, do you know anything about Miss Christabel’s glass ball? It isn’t in the present-room.”
“No,” said Mrs. Farland; “but I suppose Mr. Haley put it in the safe with the silver and jewelry.”
“I don’t think so, ma’am; for he asked me was he to take any of the cut glass, and I told him you had said only the silver and gold, ma’am.”
“But that crystal isn’t cut glass, Katy; and it’s more valuable than all Miss Christabel’s silver gifts put together.”
“Oh, my! is it, ma’am? Well, then, won’t you please see if it’s all right, for I’m worried about it.”
I wish I could describe my feelings at this moment. Have you ever been in imminent danger of a fearful catastrophe of any kind, and while with all your heart and soul you hoped it might be averted, yet there was one little, tiny, hidden impulse of your mind that craved the excitement of the disaster? Perhaps it is only an ignoble nature that can have this experience, or there may be a partial excuse for me in the fact that I am afflicted with what sometimes is called the “detective instinct.” I say afflicted, for I well know that anyone else who has this particular mental bias will agree with me that it causes far more annoyance than satisfaction.
Why, one morning when I met Mrs. Van Allen in the market, I said “It’s too bad your waitress had to go out of town to attend the funeral of a near relative, when you were expecting company to luncheon.” And she was as angry as could be, and called me an impertinent busy-body.
But I just had deduced it all from her glove. You see, she had on one brand-new black-kid glove, and the other, though crumpled up in her hand, I could see never had been on at all. So I knew that she wouldn’t start to market early in the morning with such gloves if she had any sort of half-worn black ones at all.
And I knew that she had given away her next-best pair recently—it must have been the night before, or she would have tried them on sooner; and as her cook is an enormous woman, I was sure that she had given them to her waitress. And why would she, unless the maid was going away in great haste? And what would require such a condition of things except a sudden call to a funeral. And it must have been out of town, or she would have waited until morning, and then she could have bought black gloves for herself. And it must have been a near relative to make the case so urgent. And I knew that Mrs. Van Allen expected luncheon guests, because her fingers were stained from paring apples, and why would she pare her own apples so early in the morning except to assist the cook in some hurried preparations? Why, it was all as plain as could be, and every bit true; but Mrs. Van Allen wouldn’t believe my explanation, and to this day she thinks I made my discoveries by gossiping with her servants.
Perhaps all this will help you to understand why I felt a sort of nervous exhilaration that had in it an element of secret pleasure, when we learned that Christabel’s crystal really was missing.
Mr. Haley, who was a policeman, had remained in the present room during all of the hours devoted to the wedding celebration, and after the guests had gone he had packed up the silver, gold and jewels and put them away in the family safe, which stood in a small dressing-room between Mrs. Farland’s bedroom and Fred’s. He had worn civilian’s dress during the evening, and few if any of the guests knew that he was guarding the valuable gifts. The mistake had been in not telling him explicitly to care for the crystal as the most valuable gem of all; but this point had been overlooked, and the ignorant officer had assumed that it was merely a piece of cut glass, of no more value than any of the carafes or decanters. When told that the ball’s intrinsic value was many thousands of dollars, and that it would be next to impossible to duplicate it at any price, his amazement was unbounded and he appeared extremely grave.
“You ought to have told me,” he said. “Sure, it’s a case for the chief now!” Haley had been hastily telephoned for to come to Farland Hall and tell his story, and now he telephoned for the chief of police and a detective.
I felt a thrill of delight at this, for I always had longed to see a real detective in the act of detecting.
Of course everybody was greatly excited, and I just gave myself up to the enjoyment of the situation, when suddenly I remembered that Christabel had said that she would leave her crystal in my charge, and that in a way I was responsible for its safety. This changed my whole attitude, and I realized that, instead of being an idly curious observer, I must put all my detective instinct to work immediately and use every endeavor to recover the crystal.
First, I flew to my own room and sat down for a few moments to collect my thoughts and lay my plans. Of course, as the windows of the present-room were found in the morning fastened as they were left the night before, the theft must have been committed by someone in the house. Naturally it was not one of the family or the guests of the house. As to the servants, they all were honest and trustworthy—I had Mrs. Farland’s word for that. There was no reason to suspect the policeman, and thus my process of elimination brought me to Mr. Wayne, Harold’s tutor.
Of course it must have been the tutor. In nine-tenths of all the detective stories I ever have read the criminal proved to be a tutor or secretary or some sort of gentlemanly dependent of the family; and now I had come upon a detective story in real life, and here was the regulation criminal ready to fit right into it. It was the tutor of course; but I should be discreet and not name him until I had collected some undeniable evidence.
Next, I went down to the present-room to search for clues. The detective had not arrived yet, and I was glad to be first on the ground, for I remembered how much importance Sherlock Holmes always attached to the search. I didn’t really expect that the tutor had left shreds of his clothing clinging to the table-legs, or anything absurd like that; but I fully expected to find a clue of some sort. I hoped that it wouldn’t be cigar ashes; for though detectives in fiction always can tell the name and price of cigar from a bit of ash, yet I’m so ignorant about such things that all ashes are alike to me.
I hunted carefully all over the floor; but I couldn’t find a thing that seemed the least bit like a clue, except a faded white carnation. Of course that wasn’t an unusual thing to find, the day after a wedding; but it was the very flower I had given to Fred Farland the night before, and he had worn it in his buttonhole. I recognized it perfectly, for it was wired and I had twisted it a certain way when I adjusted it for him. This didn’t seem like strong evidence against the tutor; but it was convincing to me, for if Mr. Wayne was villain enough to steal Christabel’s crystal, he was wicked enough to manage to get Fred’s boutonniere and leave it in the room, hoping thereby to incriminate Fred. So fearful was I that this trick might make trouble for Fred that I said nothing about the carnation; for I knew that it was in Fred’s coat when he said good-night, and then we all went directly to our rooms. When the detective came he examined the room, and I know that he didn’t find anything in the way of evidence; but he tried to appear as if he had, and he frowned and jotted down notes in a book after the most approved fashion.
Then he called in everybody who had been in the house over night and questioned each one. I could see at once that his questions to the family and guests were purely perfunctory, and that he too had his suspicions of the tutor.
Finally, it was Mr. Wayne’s turn. He always was a nervous little man, and now he seemed terribly flustered. The detective was gentle with him, and in order to set him more at ease began to converse generally on crystals. He asked Mr. Wayne if he had traveled much, if he had ever been to Japan, and if he knew much about the making and polishing of crystal balls.
The tutor fidgeted around a good deal and seemed disinclined to look the detective in the eye; but he replied that he never had been to Japan, and that he never had heard of a Japanese rock crystal until he had seen Miss Farland’s wedding-gift, and that even then he had no idea of its great value until since its disappearance he had heard its price named.
This sounded well; but his manner was so embarrassed, and he had such an effect of a guilty man, that I felt sure my intuitions were correct and that he himself was the thief.
The detective seemed to think so too, for he said at last: “Mr. Wayne, your words seem to indicate your innocence; but your attitudes do not. Unless you can explain why you are so agitated and apparently afraid, I shall be forced to the conclusion that you know more about this than you have admitted.”
Then Mr. Wayne said: “Must I tell all I know about it, sir?”
“Certainly,” said the detective.
“Then,” said Mr. Wayne, “I shall have to state that when I left my room late last night to get a glass of water from the ice-pitcher, which always stands on the hall-table, I saw Mr. Fred Farland just going into the sitting-room, or present-room, as it has been called for the last few days.”
There was a dead silence. This, then, was why Mr. Wayne had acted so embarrassed; this was the explanation of my finding the white carnation there; and I think the detective thought that the sudden turn affairs had taken incriminated Fred Farland.
I didn’t think so at all. The idea of Fred’s stealing his own sister’s wedding-gift was too preposterous to be considered for a moment.
“Were you in the room late at night, Mr. Farland?” asked the detective.
“I was,” said Fred.
“Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
“You didn’t ask me, and as I didn’t take I saw no reason for referring to the fact that I was in the room.”
“Why did you go there?”
“I went,” said Fred coolly, “with the intention of taking the crystal and hiding it, as a practical joke on Christabel.”
“Why did you not do so?”
“Because the ball wasn’t there. I didn’t think then that it had been stolen, but that it had been put away safely with the other valuables. Since this is not so, and the crystal is missing, we all must get to work and find it somehow before my sister returns.”
The tutor seemed like a new man after Fred had spoken. His face cleared, and he appeared intelligent, alert and entirely at his ease. “Let me help,” he said. “Pray command my services in any way you choose.”
But the detective didn’t seem so reassured by Fred’s statements. Indeed, I believe he really thought that Christabel’s brother was guilty of theft.
But I believed implicitly every word Fred had uttered, and begging him to come with me, I led the way again to the sitting-room. Mr. Wayne and Janet White came too, and the four of us scrutinized the floor, walls and furniture of the room over and over again. “There’s one thing certain,” I said thoughtfully: “The crystal was taken either by someone in the house or someone out of it. We’ve been confining our suspicions to those inside. Why not a real burglar?”
“But the windows are fastened on the inside,” said Janet.
“I know it,” I replied. “But if a burglar could slip a catch with a thin-bladed knife — and they often do — then he could slip it back again with the same knife and so divert suspicion.”
“Bravo, Miss Frost!” said Mr. Wayne, with an admiring glance at me. “You have the true detective instinct. I’ll go outside and see if there are any traces.”
A moment later he was on the veranda and excitedly motioning us to raise the window. Fred pushed back the catch and opened the long French window that opened on the front veranda.
“I believe Miss Frost has discovered the mystery,” said Mr. Wayne, and he pointed to numerous scratches on the sash-frame. The house had been painted recently, and it was seen easily that the fresh scratches were made by a thin knife-blade pushed between the sashes.
“By Jove!” cried Fred, “that’s it, Elinor; and the canny fellow had wit enough to push the catch back in place after he was outside again.”
“I said nothing, for a moment. My thoughts were adjusting themselves quickly to the new situation from which I must make my deductions. I realized at once that I must give up my theory of the tutor, of course, and anyway I hadn’t had a scrap of evidence against him except his fitness for the position. But, given the surety of burglars from outside, I knew just what to do: look for footprints, to be sure.
I glanced around for the light snow that always falls in detective stories just before the crime is committed, and is testified, usually by the village folk, to have stopped just at the crucial moment. But there wasn’t a sign of snow or rain or even dew. The veranda showed no footprints, nor could the smooth lawn or flagged walks be expected to. I leaned against the veranda railing in despair, wondering what Sherlock Holmes would do in a provoking absence of footprints, when I saw in the flower-bed beneath several well-defined marks of a man’s shoes.
“There you are, Fred!” I cried, and rushed excitedly down the steps.
They all followed, and, sure enough, in the soft earth of the wide flower-bed that surrounded the veranda were strong, clear prints of large masculine footgear.
“That clears us, girls,” cried Janet gleefully, as she measured her daintily shod foot against the depressions.
“Don’t touch them!” I cried. “Call Mr. Prout the detective.”
Mr. Prout appeared, and politely hiding his chagrin at not having discovered these marks before I did, proceeded to examine them closely.
“You see,” he said in a pompous and dictatorial way, “there are four prints pointing toward the house, and four pointing toward the street. Those pointing to the street are superimposed upon those leading to the house, hence we deduce that they were made by a burglar who crossed the flower-bed, climbed the veranda, stepped over the rail and entered at the window. He then returned the same way, leaving these last footprints above the others.”
As all this was so palpably evident from the facts of the case, I was not impressed much by the subtlety of his deductions and asked what he gathered from the shape of the prints.
He looked at the well-defined prints intently. “They are of a medium size,” he announced at last, “and I should say that they were made by a man of average height and weight, who had a normal-sized foot.”
Well, if that wasn’t disappointing! I thought of course that he would tell the man’s occupation and social status, even if he didn’t say that he was left-handed or that he stuttered, which is the kind of thing detectives in fiction always discover.
So I lost all interest in that Prout man, and began to do a little deducing on my own account. Although I felt sure, as we all did, that the thief was a burglar from outside, yet I couldn’t measure the shoes of an absent and unidentified burglar, and somehow I felt an uncontrollable impulse to measure shoes.
Without consulting anybody, I found a tape-measure and carefully measured the footprints. Then I went through the house and measured all the men’s shoes I could find, from the stable-boy’s up to Fred’s.
It’s an astonishing fact, but nearly all of them fitted the measurements of the prints on the flower-bed. Men’s feet are so nearly universal in size, or rather their shoes are, and too, what with extension soles and queer-shaped lasts, you can’t tell anything about the size or style of a man from his footprints.
So I gave up deducing and went to talk to Fred Farland.
“Fred,” I said simply, “did you take Christabel’s crystal?”
“No,” he answered with equal simplicity, and he looked me in the eyes so squarely and honestly that I knew he spoke the truth.
“Who did?” I next inquired.
“It was a professional burglar,” said Fred. “and a mighty cute one; but I’m going to track him and get that crystal before Christabel comes home.”
“Let me help!” I cried eagerly. “I’ve got the true detective instinct, and I know I can do something.”
“You?” said Fred incredulously. “No, you can’t help; but I don’t mind telling you my plan. You see I expect Lord Hammerton down to make me a visit. He’s a jolly young English chap that I chummed with in London. Now, he’s a first-rate amateur detective, and though I didn’t expect him till next month, he’s in New York, and I’ve no doubt that he’d be willing to come right off. No one will know he’s doing any detecting; and I’ll wager he’ll lay his hands on that ball in less than a week.”
“Lovely!” I exclaimed. “And I’ll be here to see him do it!”
“Yes, the mater says you’re to stay a fortnight or more; but mind, this is our secret.”
“Trust me,” I said earnestly; “but let me help if I can, won’t you?”
“You’ll help most by not interfering,” declared Fred, and though it didn’t altogether suit me, I resolved to help that way rather than not at all.
* * * * *
A few days later Lord Hammerton came. He was not in any way an imposing-looking man. Indeed, he was a typical Englishman of the Lord Cholmondeley type, and drawled and used a monocle most effectively. The afternoon he came we told him all about the crystal. The talk turned to detective work and detective instinct.
Lord Hammerton opined in his slow languid drawl that the true detective mind was not dependent upon instinct, but was a nicely adjusted mentality that was quick to see the cause back of an effect.
Herbert Gay said that while this doubtless was so, yet it was an even chance whether the cause so skilfully deduced was the true one.
“Quite so,” agreed Lord Hammerton amiably, “and that is why the detective in real life fails so often. He deduces properly the logical facts from the evidence before him; but real life and real events are so illogical that his deductions, though true theoretically, are false from mere force of circumstances.”
“And that is why,” I said, “detectives in story-books always deduce rightly, because the obliging author makes the literal facts coincide with the theoretical ones.”
Lord Hammerton put up his monocle and favored me with a truly British stare. “It is unusual,” he remarked slowly, “to find such a clear comprehension of this subject in a feminine mind.”
They all laughed at this; but I went on: “It is easy enough to make the spectacular detective of fiction show marvelous penetration and logical deduction when the antecedent circumstances are arranged carefully to prove it all; but place even Sherlock Holmes face to face with a total stranger, and I, for one, don’t believe that he could tell anything definite about him.”
“Oh, come now! I can’t agree to that,” said Lord Hammerton, more interestedly than he had spoken before. “I believe there is much in the detective instinct besides the exotic and the artificial. There is a substantial basis of divination built on minute observation, and which I have picked up in some measure myself.”
“Let us test that statement,” cried Herbert Gay. “Here comes Mr. Wayne, Harold’s tutor. Lord Hammerton never has seen him, and before Wayne even speaks let Lord Hammerton tell us some detail, which he divines by observation.
All agreed to this, and a few minutes later Mr. Wayne came up. We laughingly explained the situation to him and asked him to have himself deduced.
Lord Hammerton looked at Arthur Wayne for a few minutes, and then said, still in his deliberate drawl: “You have lived in Japan for the past seven years, in Government service in the interior, and only recently have returned.”
A sudden silence fell upon us all — not so much because Lord Hammerton made deductions from no apparent evidence, but because we all knew Mr. Wayne had told Detective Prout that he never had been in Japan.
Fred Farland recovered himself first, and said: “Now that you’ve astonished us with your results, tell us how you attained them.”
“It is simple enough,” said Lord Hammerton, looking at young Wayne, who had turned deathly white. “It is simple enough, sir. The breast-pocket on the outside of your coat is on the right-hand side. Now it never is put there. Your coat is a good one — Poole, or some London tailor of that class. He never made a coat with an outer breast-pocket on the right side. You have had the coat turned — thus the original left-hand pocket appears now on the right side.
“Looking at you, I see that you have not the constitution which could recover from an acute attack of poverty. If you had it turned from want, you would not have your present effect of comfortable circumstances. Now, you must have had it turned because you were in a country where tailoring is not frequent, but sewing and delicate manipulation easy to find. India? You are not bronzed. China? The same. Japan? Probable; but not treaty ports — there are plenty of tailors there. Hence, the interior of Japan.
“Long residence, to make it incumbent on you to get the coat turned, means Government service, because unattached foreigners are allowed only as tourists. Then the cut of the coat is not so very old, and as contracts run seven or fourteen years with the Japanese, I repeat that you probably resided seven years in the interior of Japan, possibly as an irrigation engineer.”
I felt sorry then for poor Mr. Wayne. Lord Hammerton’s deductions were absolutely true, and coming upon the young man so suddenly he made no attempt to refute them.
And so as he had been so long in Japan, and must have been familiar with rock crystals for years, Fred questioned him sternly in reference to his false statements.
Then he broke down completely and confessed that he had taken Christabel’s crystal because it had fascinated him.
He declared that he had a morbid craving for crystals; that he had crept down to the present-room late that night, merely to look at the wonderful, beautiful ball; that it had so possessed him that he carried it to his room to gaze at for awhile, intending to return with it after an hour or so. When he returned he saw Fred Farland, and dared not carry out his plan.
“And the footprints?” I asked eagerly.
“I made them myself,” he explained with a dogged shamefacedness. “I did have a moment of temptation to keep the crystal, and so tried to make you think that a burglar had taken it; but the purity and beauty of the ball itself so reproached me that I tried to return it. I didn’t do so then, and since —”
“Since?” urged Fred, not unkindly.
“Well, I’ve been torn between fear and the desire to keep the ball. You will find it in my trunk. Here is the key.”
There was a certain dignity about the young man that made him seem unlike a criminal, or even a wrong-doer.
As for me, I entirely appreciated the fact that he was hypnotized by the crystal and in a way was not responsible. I don’t believe that man would steal anything else in the world.
Somehow the others agreed with me, and as they had recovered the ball, they took no steps to prosecute Mr. Wayne.
He went away at once, still in that dazed, uncertain condition. We never saw him again; but I hope for his own sake that he never was subjected to such a temptation.
Just before he left, I said to him out of sheer curiosity: “Please explain one point, Mr. Wayne. Since you opened and closed that window purposely to mislead us, since you made those footprints in the flower-bed for the same reason, and since to do it you must have gone out and then come back, why were the outgoing footprints made over the incoming ones?”
“I walked backward on purpose,” said Mr. Wayne simply.
Appeared in Adventure Magazine, October 1911
BERT BAYLISS was the funniest detective you ever saw. He wasn’t the least like Vidocq, Lecoq or Sherlock, either in personality or mentality. And perhaps the chief difference lay in the fact that he possessed a sense of humor, and that not merely an appreciative sense, either. He had an original wit and a spontaneous repartee that made it well-nigh impossible for him to be serious.
Not quite, though, for he had his thinking moments; and when he did think, he did it so deeply yet rapidly that he accomplished wonders.
And so he was a detective. Partly because it pleased his sense of humor to pursue a calling so incongruous with his birth and station, and partly because he couldn’t help it, having been born one. He was a private detective, but none the less a professional; and he accepted cases only when they seemed especially difficult or in some way unusual.
As is often the case with those possessed of a strong sense of humor, Bayliss had no very intimate friends. A proneness to fun always seems to preclude close friendships, and fortunately precludes also the desire for them. But as every real detective needs a Dr. Watson as a sort of mind-servant, Bert Bayliss invented one, and his Harris (he chose the name in sincere flattery of Sairey Gamp) proved competent and satisfactory. To Harris Bayliss propounded his questions and expounded his theories, and being merely a figment of Bayliss’ brain, Harris was always able to give intelligent replies. Physically, too, young Bayliss was far from the regulation type of the prevalent detective of fiction.
No aquiline nose was his, no sinister eyebrows, no expression of omniscience and inscrutability. Instead, he was a stalwart, large-framed young man, with a merry, even debonair face, and a genial, magnetic glance. He was a man who inspired confidence by his frankness, and whose twinkling eyes seemed to see the funny side of everything.
Though having no close friendships, Bayliss had a wide circle of acquaintances, and was in frequent demand as a week-end visitor or a dinner guest. Wherefore, not being an early riser, the telephone at his bedside frequently buzzed many times before he was up of a morning.
Every time that bell gave its rasping whir Bayliss felt an involuntary hope that it might be a call to an interesting case of detective work, and he was distinctly disappointed if it proved to be a mere social message. One morning just before nine o’clock the bell wakened him from a light doze, and taking the receiver, he heard the voice of his old friend Martin Hopkins talking to him.
“I want you at once,” the message came; “I hope nothing will prevent your coming immediately. I am in Clearbrook. If you can catch the nine-thirty train from the City, I will meet you here at the station at ten o’clock. There has been murder committed and we want your help. Will you come?”
“Yes,” replied Bayliss. “I will take the nine-thirty. Who is the victim?”
“Richard Hemmingway, my lifelong friend. I am a guest at his house. The tragedy occurred last night, and I want you to get here before anything is touched.”
“I’ll be there! good-by,” and hanging up the receiver, Bayliss proceeded to keep his word.
“You see, Harris,” he said, silently, to his impalpable friend, “Martin Hopkins is a gentleman of the old school and a man whom I greatly admire. If he calls me to a case requiring detective investigation, you may be sure it’s an interesting affair and quite worthy of our attention. Eh, Harris?” The imaginary companion having agreed to this, Bayliss went calmly and expectantly on his way.
At the Clearbrook station he was met by Mr. Hopkins, who proposed that they walk to the house in order that he might tell Bayliss some of the circumstances.
“Mr. Hemmingway was my oldest and best friend,” began Mr. Hopkins, “and, with my wife and daughter, I’ve been spending a few days at his home. He was a widower, and his household includes his ward, Miss Sheldon, his nephew, Everett Collins, a housekeeper, butler, and several underservants. This morning at six o’clock, the butler discovered the body of Mr. Hemmingway in his library, where the poor man had been strangled to death. Clapham, that’s the butler, raised an alarm, at once, and ever since then the house has been full of doctors, detectives and neighbors. We are almost there now, so I’ll tell you frankly, Bayliss, that I sent for you to look after my own interests. You and I are good friends, and you’re the best detective I know. The evidence seems, so far, to point to some one in the house, and among those addle-pated, cocksure detectives now on the case it is not impossible that I may myself be suspected of the crime.”
“What!” cried Bert Bayliss in amazement.
“Just that,” went on the old man, almost smiling. “Hemmingway and I have had large business transactions of late, and as a big bundle of securities has disappeared from his safe, it may look as if I had a hand in the matter.”
“I can’t quite take that seriously, Mr. Hopkins, but I’ll be glad to look into the case and perhaps I can give justice a boost in the right direction. You’ve no further hints to give me?”
“No, the hints all point one way, and you’ll discover that for yourself soon enough.” They walked together up the short path that led to the house of the late Richard Hemmingway.
CLEARBROOK was a small settlement of well-to-do society people, who wished to live near but not in New York. The houses were rather pretentious, with well-kept grounds, and picturesque flower-beds, but Bert Bayliss paid little attention to the landscape as he hurried to the Hemmingway mansion. Once in the drawing-room, Bayliss was presented by Mr. Hopkins to his wife and daughter, also to Miss Sheldon and Mr. Collins.
It was surely a tribute to the young man that all these people, who were fully prepared to treat the detective with a supercilious hauteur, were won at once by his affable and easy demeanor and involuntarily greeted him as a man of their own class and standing.
Mrs. Estey, the housekeeper, was also in the room, and at the moment of Bayliss’ arrival, Coroner Spearman was about to begin his preliminary queries of investigation. Quite content to gain his knowledge of the case in this way, Bayliss settled himself to listen.
“Harris,” he said silently to his faithful friend, “these are all refined and sensitive people, but, excepting Mr. Hopkins, not one shows a deep or abiding grief at the death of this gentleman. Therefore I deduce that with most of them the loss is fully covered by inheritance.”
“Marvelous, my dear Bayliss, marvelous!” replied Harris correctly.
At the command of the coroner, Clapham, the butler, was summoned to give his account of the discovery of the body.
“I came down-stairs at twenty to six, sir,” said the pompous but deferential Englishman, “and it would be about six when I reached the master’s library. The door was closed, and when I opened it I was surprised to find one of the lamps still burning, the one by the desk, sir. By its light I could see the master still sitting in his chair. At first I thought he had come down-stairs early, to do some work; then I thought he had been working there all night; and then I thought maybe something was wrong. These thoughts all flew through my mind in quick succession, sir, and, even as I thought them, I was raising the blinds. The daylight poured in, and I saw at once my master was dead, strangled, sir.”
“How did you know he was strangled?” asked the coroner.
“Because, sir, his head was thrown back and I could see black marks on his throat.”
“What did you do then?”
“First I called Mrs. Estey, who was already in the dining-room, and then, at her advice, I went to Mr. Collins’ door and knocked him awake. He hurried downstairs, sir, and he said―”
“Never mind that. Mr. Collins will be questioned later. ”
“Harris,” said Bayliss silently to his friend, “that coroner is no fool.”
“No,” said Harris.
“If that is all the account of your finding of Mr. Hemmingway’s body,” continued Mr. Spearman, “tell us now what you know of Mr. Hemmingway’s movements of last evening.”
“He was in his library all the evening,” said Clapham. “He went there directly after dinner, and gave me orders to admit three gentlemen that he expected to call. He told me, sir, that I need not wait up to let them out, as they would stay late, and he would see them to the door himself. The three gentlemen came, sir, between nine and ten o’clock. They came separately, and after I had shown the last one into Mr. Hemmingway’s library I did not go to the room again—until this morning. I went to bed, sir, at about eleven o’clock, and at that time they were still there, as I heard them talking when I left the dining-room, sir.”
“Good servant, Harris,” commented Bayliss; “if this household is broken up, he’ll have no trouble in finding a new situation and yet—is he just a trifle too fluent?”
“Perhaps,” said Harris agreeably.
Mrs. Estey simply corroborated Clapham’s story, and was followed by Everett Collins, who had been the next to appear upon the scene of the tragedy.
Bayliss looked at this young man with interest. He was not of an attractive personality, though handsome and well set up. He had the physical effects of an athlete, but his face was weak and his glance was not straightforward.
“He impresses me as untrustworthy,” Bayliss confided to Harris, “and yet, confound the fellow, there’s something about him I like.”
“Yes,” said Harris.
Mr. Collins had little to say. He had been wakened by Clapham from a sound sleep and had hastily run down-stairs to find his uncle indeed dead, and evidently strangled. As to his own movements the night before, he had spent the evening out, had returned at about half-past eleven, had let himself in with his latch-key and had gone to bed. He had noticed that the library door was closed, and he could not say whether any one was in the room or not.
Miss Ruth Sheldon testified to the effect that she had played bridge with Mr. and Mrs. Hopkins and Miss Ethel Hopkins until about eleven, when they had all retired. The Hopkins family corroborated this, and all agreed that they had heard no sound of any sort down-stairs after reaching their rooms.
“It was Mr. Hemmingway’s habit,” volunteered Miss Sheldon, “if he had late callers, to let them out himself, to close the front door quietly after them, and then to go up to his room with great care in order not to disturb any of us who might be asleep. He was most thoughtful of others’ comfort, always.”
THE members of the household having been heard, Mr. Spearman turned his attention to some others who sat in a group at a small table. One of these was the lawyer, Mr. Dunbar. He simply stated that he had full charge of Mr. Hemmingway’s legal affairs, and was prepared to make an accounting when required. But he added that his client’s business with him was not extensive, as the late financier was accustomed personally to look after all such matters as did not require actual legal offices.
Mr. Hemmingway’s private secretary, George Fiske, testified that he was in the habit of coming to Mr. Hemmingway’s home every day from ten o’clock to four. He had left as usual the day before, at four o’clock, and knew of nothing unusual regarding his employer or his business matters at that time. Fiske had been sent for earlier than usual on this particular morning but could throw no light on the affair. He knew the three men who called, and they were three of the richest and most influential citizens of Clearbrook, who were more or less associated with Mr. Hemmingway in some large financial interests. As a confidential secretary, Mr. Fiske courteously but firmly declined to go into details of these matters at present.
There seemed to be no reason to suspect any one whose name had been mentioned so far, and the coroner next turned his attention to the possibility of an intruder from outside, who had forced an entrance after the three gentlemen had departed and before Mr. Hemmingway could have left his library.
But investigation proved that the windows were all securely fastened and that the front door shut with a spring lock which could be opened only from the outside by a latchkey. No one, save those who were already accounted for, possessed a latchkey, and as no doors or windows had been forced, it began to look to the coroner as if the evidence pointed to some one inside the house as the criminal.
The doctor declared that Mr. Hemmingway had died between twelve and one o’clock and the three men who had called, being asked over the telephone, asserted that they left the house about midnight. One of these, Mr. Carston, had tarried after the others and had talked a few moments with Mr. Hemmingway at his door, but though this would seem to make Mr. Carston the last person known to have had speech with the dead man, nobody dreamed for a moment of suspecting him. Bayliss’ eyes traveled over the assembled listeners.
“Pshaw,” he said silently to Harris, “there are too many suspects. Granting the criminal was in the house, it might have been any of the servants, any of the guests, the ward or the nephew. Every one of them had opportunity, for, apparently, after midnight the callers were gone and every one in the house was sound asleep except the victim and the criminal. But the fact of strangulation lets out Mrs. and Miss Hopkins, who are too slender and delicate for such a deed. That big, athletic Miss Sheldon might have done it, had she been inclined; that gaunt, muscular housekeeper could have accomplished it; and as to the men, young Collins, old Mr. Hopkins and that complacent butler are all capable of the deed, physically. So, Harris, as we’ve heard the facts of the case, we’ll now hunt for clues and theories.”
“Marvelous, Bayliss, marvelous!” breathed Harris with deep admiration.
REACHING the library, Bayliss found the Precinct Inspector busily going through the papers in Mr. Hemmingway’s desk. Inspector Garson had heard of the clever Bert Bayliss and was glad to meet him, though a little embarrassed lest the city detective should look upon his own methods as crude.
With the coroner’s permission the body of the dead man had been removed, but otherwise no changes had been made in the room. Bayliss glanced interestedly about. There were no signs of a struggle. The position of several chairs showed the presence of callers who had evidently sat around in conversation with their host. The desk, though not especially tidy, showed only the usual paraphernalia of a man of business.
By themselves, in an open box, had been laid the articles taken from the dead man’s pockets. Bayliss looked at, without touching, the watch, the bunch of keys, the knife, the pencil, the pile of small coins and the handkerchiefs, which, together with a few papers, comprised the contents of the box.
Then Bayliss looked swiftly but minutely at the desk. The fittings of handsome bronze were of uniform design and rather numerous. Every convenience was there, from pen-rack to paste-pot. There were a great variety of pens, pencils and paper-cutters, while many racks and files held a profusion of stationery, cards and letters.
Yet everything was methodical; the plainly labeled packets of letters, the carefully sorted bills and the neat memoranda here and there, all betokened a systematic mind and a sense of orderly classification.
“The motive was, of course, robbery,” said the Inspector, as several others followed Bayliss into the library, “for though everything else seems intact, a large bundle of securities, which Mr. Dunbar knows were in Mr. Hemmingway’s safe last Friday, are now gone.”
“Oh, those,” said George Fiske; “I didn’t know you looked on those as missing. I have them at my own rooms.”
“You have?” said the surprised Inspector. “Why did you not state that fact when interviewed by Mr. Spearman?”
“Because,” said the young man frankly, “I didn’t consider that the time or place to discuss Mr. Hemmingway’s finances. I was his confidential secretary, and though prepared to render an account at any time, I am careful not to do so prematurely. The bonds in question are at my home because Mr. Hemmingway gave them to me last Saturday to keep for him temporarily. Here is a list of them.”
Fiske took a card of figures from his pocket-book and handed it to the Inspector, who glanced at it with satisfaction and approval.
“You did quite right, Mr. Fiske,” he said, “and I’m glad the securities are safe. But then what in your opinion could have been the motive for the deed of last night?”
Fiske made no reply, but the expression on his face seemed to imply, against his will, that he could say something pertinent if he chose.
“Might it not be, Harris,” whispered Bayliss, “that that young man overestimates the confidentialness of his secretaryship at this crisis?”
“H’m,” said Harris.
Meanwhile the Inspector was rapidly looking over a sheaf of opened letters, each of which bore at its top the rubber-stamped date of receipt.
“Whew!” he whistled, as he read one of these documents. He then looked furtively at George Fiske, who was occupied with some clerical work which had to be done at once. Without a word Inspector Garson handed the letter to Bert Bayliss, signifying by a gesture that he was to read it.
After a glance at signature and date, Bayliss read the whole letter:
Sunday Afternoon, September 9th.
My Dear Mr. Hemmingway: After our talk of yesterday morning, I feel that I must express more fully my appreciation of your declaration of confidence in me, and my gratitude therefor. I was so surprised when you asked me to act as executor of your will that I fear I was awkward and disappointing in my response. But, believe me, dear sir, I am deeply grateful for your trust in me, and I want to assure you that I shall perform all the duties of which you told me, to the very best of my ability, though I hope and pray the day is far off when such need shall arise. I am not a fluent talker and so take this means of telling you that a chord of my nature was deeply touched when you asked me to assume such a grave responsibility.
I am, of course, at your service for further discussion of these matters, but I felt I must formally assure you of my gratitude for your kindness and of my loyalty to your interests.
As to the revelation you made to me, it was so sudden and such a surprise, I can not bear to think your suspicions are founded on the truth; but as you requested, I will observe all I can, without seeming intrusive or curious. I have in safe keeping the papers you entrusted to my care, and I hope our present relations may continue for many happy years. Faithfully yours, George Fiske.
With his usual quick eye for details, Bayliss noted that the letter was dated two days before (that is, the day before the murder, which occurred Monday night); it was postmarked at the Clearbrook post-office Sunday evening, and had therefore, been delivered to Mr. Hemmingway by the first post Monday morning. This was corroborated by the rubber stamped line at the top of the first page, which read: “Received, September 10.”
The letter was among a lot labeled “To be answered,” and it seemed to Bayliss a very important document.
“I think,” he said aloud to the Inpsector, “that we would be glad to have Mr. Fiske tell us the circumstances that led to the writing of this manly and straightforward letter.”
George Fiske looked up at the sound of his name. “Has that come to light?” he said, blushing a little at being thus suddenly brought into prominence. “I supposed it would, but somehow I didn’t want to refer to it until some one else discovered it.”
“Tell us all about it,” said Bayliss, in his pleasant, chummy way, and at once Fiske began.
“Last Saturday morning,” he said, “Mr. Hemmingway had a long talk with me. He expressed his satisfaction with my work as his secretary and kindly avowed his complete trust and confidence in my integrity. He then asked me if I would be willing to act as executor of his estate, when the time should come that such a service was necessary. He said it was his intention to bring the whole matter before his lawyer in a few days, but first he wished to be assured of my willingness to act as executor. He told me, too, that he would add a codicil to his will, leaving me a moderate sum of money. All of this was on Saturday morning, and when I left at noon, as I always do on Saturdays, he gave me a large bundle of securities, and also his will, asking me to keep them for him for a few days.”
“You have his will, then?” asked Inspector Garson quickly.
“I have; and also the bonds of which I have given you a memorandum. They are all at your disposal at any time.”
“Then Mr. Hemmingway died without adding the codicil to his will in your favor,” observed Bayliss.
“Yes,” replied Fiske, “but that is a minor matter in the face of the present tragedy.”
Bayliss felt slightly rebuked, but he couldn’t help admiring the manly way in which Fiske had spoken.
“And this conversation occurred on Saturday,” went on Mr. Garson. “You took occasion to write to Mr. Hemmingway on Sunday?”
“I did,” agreed Fiske. “I was so surprised at the whole thing that I was unable to express myself at our interview. I am always tongue-tied under stress of great surprise or excitement. So I sat down Sunday afternoon and wrote to Mr. Ilemmingway. I mailed the letter Sunday evening and he had already received it when I reached here on Monday morning, at ten o’clock, as usual.”
“Did he refer to your letter?” asked Bayliss.
“Yes; he said he was glad I wrote it, and that he would answer it on paper that I might also have his sentiments in black and white. Then he said we would discuss the matter more fully after a day or two, and we then turned our attention to other matters.”
“And this revelation he made to you?” queried Inspector Garson, running his eyes over the letter.
Mr. Fiske hesitated and looked not only embarrassed but genuinely disturbed.
“That, Mr. Garson, I want to be excused from telling.”
“Excused from telling! Why, man, it may help to elucidate the mystery of Mr. Hemmingway’s death!”
“Oh, I hope not, I hope not!” said Fiske, so earnestly that both Bayliss and the Inspector looked at him in surprise.
“You do know something,” said Mr. Garson quickly, “that may have a bearing on the mystery, and I must insist that you tell it.”
“It is because it may seem to have a bearing that I hesitate,” said Mr. Fiske gravely. “But, to put it boldly, as I told you I am not fluent under stress of excitement; in a word, then, Mr. Hemmingway implied to me, that—that he had a half-defined fear that sometime his life might—might end suddenly.”
“In the way it did?”
“Yes, in that way. He feared that some one desired his death, and that was the reason he asked me to care for his will and his valuable securities for a few days.”
“Why were these things not in a safety deposit vault?” asked Bert Bayliss.
“They have been; but a few days ago Mr. Hemmingway had them brought home to make some records and changes, and as it was Saturday he could not send them back then, so he gave them to me. I have a small safe at home, and of course I was willing to keep them for him.”
“Then Mr. Hemmingway feared both robbery and murder,” said Bayliss, and Mr. Fiske shuddered at this cold-blooded way of putting it.
“Yes, he did,” said the secretary frankly.
“And whom did he suspect as his enemy?”
“That I hope you will allow me not to answer”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fiske,” broke in the Inspector, “but you have knowledge possessed by no one else. You must, therefore, in the interests of justice, tell us the name of the man whom Mr. Hemmingway feared.”
“The man,” said George Fiske slowly, “is the one who inherits the bulk of Mr. Hemmingway’s fortune.”
“Everett Collins, his nephew?”
“His wife’s nephew,” corrected George Fiske. “Yes, since I am forced to tell it, Mr. Hemmingway feared that Mr. Collins was in haste to come into his inheritance, and—and―”
“You have done your duty, Mr. Fiske,” said Inspector Garson, “and I thank you. I quite appreciate your hesitancy, but a crime like this must be punished, if possible, and you need not appear further in the matter. After your evidence the law can take the whole affair into its own hands, and justice will be swift and certain.”
THE law took its course. Although circumstantial evidence was lacking, the statement of George Fiske and the undoubted opportunity and evident motive, combined, caused the arrest of Everett Collins.
The will, when produced, left nearly all the estate to him, and as he was known to be a thriftless, improvident young man, the majority of those interested felt convinced that he was indeed the villain.
The property of the late Mr. Hemmingway, however, was of far less amount than was generally supposed, and also, the large fortune which he had in trust for his ward, Miss Sheldon, had dwindled surprisingly. But this, of course, was in no way the fault of the nephew, and it was thought that Mr. Hemmingway had perhaps been unfortunate in his investments. George Fiske became executor, as desired by the late millionaire, but probate of the will was deferred until after Everett Collins should have been tried at the bar of justice.
Collins himself was stubbornly quiet. He seemed rather dazed at the position in which he found himself, but had nothing to say except a simple assertion of his innocence.
“And he is innocent, Harris!” declared Bert Bayliss soundlessly. “No villain ever possessed that simple straightforward gaze. Villains are complex. That man may be a spendthrift and a ne’er-do-well, but I’ll swear he’s no murderer, and I’ll prove it!”
“Marvelous, Bayliss, marvelous!” said Harris.
Bayliss had come to Clearbrook on Tuesday, and on Wednesday Collins was arrested.
On Wednesday afternoon Bayliss shut himself up alone in the library to clue-hunt, as he called it. Acting on his conviction that Collins was innocent, he eagerly sought for evidence in some other direction. Seating himself at Mr. Hemmingway’s desk, he jotted down a few notes, using for the purpose a pencil from the pen-tray in front of him.
He looked at the pencil abstractedly, and then he suddenly stared at it intently.
“A clue!” he said mentally to Harris.
“Hush, don’t speak,” though Harris hadn’t. “I sure have a clue, but such a dinky one! ”
He looked at the pencil as at a valuable curio. He glanced about the desk for others, and found several. In a drawer he found many more. They were all of the same make and same number, and while those on the desk were all more or less well sharpened, those in the drawer had never yet been cut.
“Oh!” said Bayliss, and putting carefully into his pocket the pencil he had used in making his notes, he began scrutinizing the waste-basket.
There were not many torn papers in it, but the top ones were letters, envelopes or circulars, each torn once across. On top of these were some chips of pencil cedar and a trifle of black dust.
As if collecting precious treasure, Bayliss, with extreme care, lifted out the top layer of torn envelopes and, without disarranging the tiny wooden chips and black lead scrapings, laid all in a box, which he then put in a small cupboard and, locking its door, put the key in his pocket. Then he returned to the desk and picked up the packet of letters which had been received on Monday and from which Mr. Fiske’s letter had been taken. There were about a dozen of them and he looked with interest at each one. Every one was cut open the same way, not by a letter-opener, but with shears—a quick clean cut, which took off a tiny edge along the right-hand end. Each was stamped at the top with the rubber “Received” stamp in red ink.
“Clever, clever villain!” mused Bayliss. “I say, Harris, he’s the slickest ever! And nobody could have found him but Yours Truly.”
“Marvelous!” murmured Harris.
Then straight to Inspector Garson Bayliss marched and asked to see the letter that Mr. Fiske wrote to Mr. Hemmingway.
Receiving it, he stared at it steadily for a moment, then, going to the window, scrutinized it through a lens.
Moved by an excitement which he strove not to show, he returned it to Mr. Garson, saying: “You’ve no doubt, I suppose, as to the genuineness of that letter and all that it means and implies.”
“No, I haven’t,” said Mr. Garson, looking straight at the young man. “I have wondered whether there could be anything wrong about Fiske, but that letter is incontrovertible evidence of his veracity.”
“Why couldn’t it be faked?” persisted Bayliss.
“I’ve thought of that,” said Mr. Garson patiently, “but it’s too real. Whether it was written Sunday or not, it was positively posted Sunday evening and it was positively delivered to Mr. Hemmingway Monday morning. The postmark proves that. Then Mr. Hemmingway opened it, for it is cut open precisely the way he cuts open all his letters, and he dated it with his own dating-stamp, and put it with his lot ‘To be answered.’ Can anything be more convincing of Fiske’s good faith?”
“And yet,” said Bert Bayliss, “it is a faked letter, and George Fiske’s the murderer of Richard Hemmingway!”
“My dear sir, what do you mean?”
“Just what I say. Richard Hemmingway never saw this letter!”
“Can you prove that?”
“I can. Look at the envelope closely with this lens, in a strong light. What do you see between the letters of Mr. Hemmingway’s name?”
“I see”—the Inspector peered closer— “I see faint pencil-marks.”
“Can you make out what they spell?”
“No— yes— ‘G-e-o’— is it ‘George Fiske’?”
“It is, though not all the letters are discernible. Fiske wrote this letter on Sunday and mailed it on Sunday, but—he addressed it to himself, not to his employer.”
“Why?” exclaimed Mr. Garson in amazement.
“Listen. He addressed it with a very soft pencil to himself, and traced the address very lightly. It reached his boarding-house Monday morning, of course, and then he erased the pencil-marks and boldly wrote Mr. Hemmingway’s name in ink. Then he cut off the end, in precisely the way Mr. Hemmingway opens his letters, and put the whole thing in his pocket. All day he carried it in his pocket (I am reconstructing this affair as it must have happened), and at four o’clock he went home with the missive still there.
“Late Monday night he returned. After the three visitors, had left, he strangled Mr. Hemmingway. You know he’s an athlete, and his employer was a frail old man.
“And then he used the rubber stamp on his own letter and tucked it into the bunch of ‘To be answered.’ Then he rifled the safe, with Mr. Hemmingway’s own keys, turned off all the lights but one and swiftly and silently went home to bed. The rest you know.”
“Mr. Bayliss, I can scarcely believe this!” said Inspector Garson, fairly gasping for breath.
“What, you can’t believe it when the villain has written his own name as damning evidence against himself?”
“It must be,” said the Inspector, again scrutinizing the faint trace of pencil-marks. “But why did he do it?”
“Because he wanted to be executor and thus be able to convert into cash the securities he has stolen.”
“He returned those.”
“Only a few. Oh, it was a clever and deep-laid scheme! Fiske has quantities of bonds and other valuable papers entirely unaccounted for and which, as sole executor, he can cash at his leisure, all unknown to any one.”
“How did you discover this?”
“By the simplest clue. I chanced to notice on Mr. Hemmingway’s desk a pencil, freshly sharpened, but sharpened in a totally different way from those sharpened by the man himself. I looked at all the other pencils on his desk, at the one taken from his pocket and at one in his bedroom—they are all sharpened in exactly the same way, with numerous long careful shaves, producing a whittled pyramid. The pencil I spoke of—here it is—is sharpened by only five strong, clean cuts, making a short exposure of cut wood, quite different from the long point of wood in the others. Then I looked in the waste-basket, which at your orders had not been touched since the discovery of the crime, and on top I found the chips and lead-dust of this very pencil. They were on top of some torn envelopes whose postmarks proved they had come in Monday evening’s mail, which reaches the Hemmingway house about six-thirty. Hence, whoever sharpened that pencil did it after six-thirty o’clock Monday night, and before the discovery of Mr. Hemmingway’s dead body.”
Mr. Garson listened breathlessly. “And then?” he said.
“And then,” went on Bayliss, “I looked around for some pencils sharpened like that, and found several on and in Fiske’s desk in the library. The pencil might have been borrowed from Fiske’s desk, but it was sharpened right there at Mr. Hemmingway’s desk after half-past six o’clock. Fiske, as you know, testified that he left at four and did not return until Tuesday morning.”
BAYLISS’ deductions were true. Confronted suddenly with the story and with the traced envelope, Fiske broke down completely and confessed all. He had been planning it for weeks, and had the decoy letter ready to use when Mr. Hemmingway should have a large amount of bonds in his own home safe. The whole story of the Saturday morning interview was a figment of Fiske’s fertile brain, and of course Mr. Hemmingway had no suspicions of his nephew. Fiske had known of the expected callers, had watched outside the house until the last one went away and then, running up the steps, had stopped Mr. Hemmingway just as he was closing the door and requested a short interview. Innocently enough Mr. Hemmingway took his secretary into the library, and, while waiting for his fell opportunity, Fiske talked over some business matters. While making a memorandum, Mr. Hemmingway broke his pencil point, and, unthinkingly, Fiske obligingly sharpened it.
“And to think,” murmured Bayliss to Harris, “that little act of ordinary courtesy proved his undoing!”
“Marvelous, Bayliss, marvelous!” said Harris.
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