an ebook published by Project Gutenberg Australia

Title: Murder at the Casino
Author: Carolyn Wells
eBook No.: 2300911h.html
Language: English
Date first posted: 2023
Most recent update: 2023

This eBook was produced by: Walter Moore

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Murder at the Casino

Carolyn Wells



Chapter 1. - Renny’s Eyes
Chapter 2. - Love’s Young Dream
Chapter 3. - The Marriage Tables
Chapter 4. - A Mexican Honeymoon
Chapter 5. - Renny Sees the Bull Fight
Chapter 6. - Back in Banbury Gardens
Chapter 7. - Making Up
Chapter 8. - Enter a Relative
Chapter 9. - At the Fair
Chapter 10. - Tragedy and Mystery
Chapter 11. - A Perturbed Community
Chapter 12. - Remsen Loses His Temper       
Chapter 13. - Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Chapter 14. - The Kitchen Knife
Chapter 15. - Renny Accepts the Situation
Chapter 16. - Fleming Stone Takes the Case
Chapter 17. - Facts and Fancies
Chapter 18. - Stone Learns a Few Things
Chapter 19. - Fleming Stone Carries On
Chapter 20. - Miller Takes a Hand
Chapter 21. - A Very Slender Clue
Chapter 22. - Inquiries and Opinions
Chapter 23. - A Little More Evidence
Chapter 24. - The Confession

Chapter 1
Renny’s Eyes

There was a young lady whose eyes
Were unique as to color and size;
    When she opened them wide,
    People all turned aside,
And started away in surprise.

Which immortal stanza, by the late Edward Lear, aptly describes our heroine, Renny Loring.

Don’t think it’s queer that a heroine should be called Renny. It was inevitable. The child’s mother admired the name of Renee, and gave it to her daughter, and, the American language being what it is, the girl was called Renny by nine-tenths of the people who spoke to her at all. And it suited her. She had none of the dignity that should belong to a Renee or an Irene, but her gay charm and happy nature well became a Renny.

Now twenty, and orphaned, the girl lived with her brother and his wife.

Big, good-natured Byron Loring thought this arrangement ideal, but his wife, Christine, accepted the situation only under protest.

Less than a dozen miles, as the crow flies, from New York City, the crow would, if he flew in the right direction, find himself in that lovely bit of Westchester County which is called, and rightly enough, Banbury Gardens.

Why Banbury, is not generally known, but why Gardens is self-evident.

The small community was what the Tour-Books call a restricted residential district, and the restricted residents were very proud of it.

The Loring place was among the most attractive estates and though not immense was large enough for landscaped grounds and picture vistas.

Christine could have been very happy here, had it not been for her bothering sister-in-law.

For Renny was a bother. Careless, lawless, happy, she had an uncanny way of doing whatever she pleased and making it seem as if that were the only thing to do.

Her brother, whom the sentimental mother had named Byron, kept peace in the family. He adored both his wife and his sister, and would listen to no criticism of either by the other. He always got Renny out of her scrapes, he always persuaded Christine to overlook the child’s mischief, and, generally speaking, a good time was had by all.

To go back to Renny’s eyes.

The color was unique because though brown, it was such a warm, living brown, shining with the light that never was on sea or land. And the size was simply just as large as eyes could be without being too large.

So, there you have Renny’s eyes. They could beam, twinkle, shine or glitter as occasion required, and they could come wide open with a suddenness that would startle the most phlegmatic observer and send him away in surprise, if that was her intention.

Unlike the late Miss Anna Held, she could make her eyes behave in any way she chose and she knew many ways to choose from.

For the rest, the little face was piquant, lovely and appealing, and Renny was the sweetest flower in Banbury Gardens.

Her manners were natural and charming, now and then showing the undeniable fact that she was self-willed and determined. But her smile was irresistible, and seldom indeed did she fail to have her own way.

An English poet wrote some verses about ‘A frank and free young British maiden.’

That line will go for Renny. She was American to the tips of her polished finger-nails, but she was frank and free to a delightful, if surprising degree.

Just now she was holding converse with one Andrew Remsen, who was big, stalwart and forceful looking, but who was in that deplorable condition known as ‘wax in her hands.’

He had often confided this fact to her, he had tried hard to induce an enthusiastic response, but though at times she had seemed gentle and yielding, oftener she would deride or spurn his avowals.

Yet Drew Remsen was a fine figure of a lover. He was a handsome chap, with good features, clear blue eyes and a smile that Renny said was just like that of the Mona Lisa. This did not offend the giant whose powerful masculinity could laugh at any allusion to effeminacy. And too, it was true. A hovering smile on his beautiful mouth and a meaningful look in his eyes had crashed the heart of many a supercilious glamour girl.

But when Renny would smile on him the glamour girls were all forgotten.

Yet Renny had no real claim to supremacy in the Banbury Gardens crowd.

She was pretty, but not a beauty; she was a charmer but not an enchantress; she had a way with her, but she was no siren.

And still, she was the only girl in the world for Drew, and he wanted her to believe it and act upon that conviction.

Innumerable times he had told her this, and she had interrupted him, she had begged the question, she had changed the subject, she had laughed at him, she had even run away from him, but the next time he found opportunity, he began all over again.

And this afternoon, with his unfailing hopefulness, he was trying to persuade her to stop her foolishness, to know her own mind and to admit that she loved him and wanted to marry him, more than anything else in the world.

“But that isn’t true,” she said, her eyes vigorously emphasizing her words. “I don’t want to marry you the leastest mite.”

“What do you want, then? Here for years you’ve been leading me on.” This didn’t offend her at all; she smiled at him sympathetically. “And you’ve no right to do that unless you care for me. What do you think you are, anyway?”

He looked at her accusingly.

“I’ll tell you what I am,” she said, suddenly, “I’m not such a paragon as you sometimes tell me I am. In fact, I’m a Cinderella. I have no fortune, I have no home, even, except by my brother’s kindness and his wife’s sufferance—”

“Renny! stop, you can’t mean that! Aren’t you happy with Byron and Christine? You never hinted that before.”

“And I’m not hinting it now. Anyone would know that a girl can’t enjoy dependence on her brother and his antagonistic wife. Christine hates me and I hate her. She makes me feel that I am a Cinderella, and if she doesn’t make me sit in the ashes, it is not because she wouldn’t like to do so.”

“Darling! and I never knew! Chuck it all, Renny. Come to me, and you shall have a home of your own as good as Christine reigns over. Marry me at once, dear, and get away from that woman!”

“Have you forgotten your Fairy Tale Book?” Renny said, quite unmoved by his wholehearted offer. “Don’t you remember that to Cinderella there came a prince?”

“I’ll be your prince! I’ll give you a carriage and glass slippers, that’s all I can remember of the old story. I’ll be a prince to you and a fairy godmother and the whole outfit. Oh, Renny, let’s!”

She looked at him appraisingly.

“You’re a good sort, Drew,” she said, slowly, “and I hate to hurt your feelings. But princes are born, not made, and you are not of royal birth.”

“Don’t be silly! I suppose you’re not speaking of real titles, borne by foreigners—”

“No, of course not. I mean the prince every girl dreams of, who will, sooner or later, come into her life and claim her for his own.”

“And here I am.”

“Not good enough.” Renny smiled at him. “You are a fine man, a good looker and a dear friend. But you are not a prince.”

“You mean I am not your prince. I suppose you will admit there are others.”

Remsen said this, not at all seriously, but because he had to bridge over until he could get his wits about him.

What did Renny mean? And in his heart he knew.

“I see,” he said, and put into the two words the pent up bitterness of his whole nature. “I see, you have fallen for that rakehell, Talbot!”

Renny’s eyes came into play, and so enraged was Andrew Remsen that he met them squarely.

The two were sitting on some big rocks, which, in a mad chase for the picturesque, had been thrown into a woodsy spot down in the back stretches of Byron Loring’s garden.

Remsen had risen and was glaring at the girl.

She allowed her eyes to grow cold, like a burnt out fire, and said:

“You have, of course, a right to use any language you please, but that does not accord with your usual good taste.”

“Go to hell,” said Remsen with still further disregard of his alleged choice of language and, carefully selecting his proper gait, he strode away.

“It had to come,” she said to herself. “Now it’s over, and I’m glad of it.”

She still sat on the rock, musing over the anticipated glories of her life with Nicholas Talbot, millionaire and man about town—many towns.

Suddenly, Remsen stood before her again.

His anger seemed gone; he was looking at her beseechingly, pleadingly.

“Renny,” he said, “Renny, darling—my love, my idol, don’t, don’t make a fool of yourself!”

“I don’t, often,” she returned.

“I know you don’t, so cut it all out. You don’t know Nicholas Talbot, he is the—”

“Oh, drop it, Andrew! It is a poor way to plead your cause—vilifying another man! Speak for yourself, John, if you must, but give over throwing dirt at a man you are jealous of!”

“But I tell you, Renny, you don’t know the man!”

“Even so, I don’t want to learn about him from you —you unjust, prejudiced, underhanded defamer of character!”

“Renny, I’m ashamed of you! Drop that absurd attitude, drop it, I say! What does Byron say about this thing? Does he know of it?”

Renny’s eyes shone.

“He does by now,” she said, looking rapturous. “Nick’s going to see Byron this afternoon, and I suppose he’s in the house now.”

“I’m going to stop it! This must not go on. You don’t know, girl, what that man is!”

“I do know it is not your affair! How dare you suggest that you have any right to interfere in my plans? My brother is my guardian, not you.”

“But Byron doesn’t know what I do, about—”

“Drew, stop it. You have lost your senses. Don’t be a fool! If there is anything about Nick to be known, trust Byron to discover it. Why get yourself disliked and perhaps insulted by sticking your finger in the pie!”

“You want to marry him, Renny? You want to throw me over? Are you just a heartless coquette? A jilt?”

“Don’t you dare talk to me like that! We never were engaged. I never said I would marry you, and you know it!”

“You would have if that scum hadn’t come along! You did care for me, you do care for me, but he has dazzled your vision with his riches and his pretended grandeur—”

“Go away now, please, Andrew. I am going back to the house.”

Renny’s eyes opened wide, and, unable to disregard their command, Remsen did go away and Renny did go back to the house.

She walked slowly anticipating the joy awaiting her. She knew that her brother and sister-in-law favored the rich and important Nicholas Talbot, only lately come to live in the Gardens.

Renny had not liked the man at first, but his immediate interest in her and his whirlwind wooing which quite took her off her feet, had caused her to realize his masterful nature and soon convinced her of his desirableness as a husband.

He had an appointment with Byron that afternoon, and Renny had divined that she would be the subject of their conversation.

She walked on, under the trees, and as her thoughts wandered to Drew Remsen, she wondered if she had been unfair to him. True, there had never been a spoken vow between them, but she well knew that if Talbot had not made his devastating entrance into her life, she would soon have been Remsen’s affianced bride

She was sorry for Drew, he was such a big, splendid thing, but Nick Talbot’s audacious qualities and a certain power of ascendancy which he invincibly possessed, quite overshadowed the tacit claims of the younger suitor.

Renny was a dear, but she was ambitious. Many of her intimates were working desperately though secretly to secure Nick Talbot as a permanent possession, but Renny had made no effort, felt no longings, yet the prize had fallen into her lap.

Talbot was twice her age. Renny well knew that Who’s Who declared him forty, which, some ill-natured people said, was not entirely accurate.

A sudden mental picture of Drew’s happy youthful face, and careless graceful manner gave her a moment’s pause, then, with wide open eyes, she went on to meet her fate.

The house was prodigally supplied with porches and verandas, and Renny walked half way round it before she saw her brother and Talbot sitting in a vineclad portico, evidently in amity and regaling themselves with the offerings of a small portable bar.

“Here’s the girl,” cried Byron, as both men rose to greet her, and Renny, quite aware of her own importance, accepted their attentions and let her eyes carry to Talbot a message which was, to say the least, beguiling.

“This man,” Byron began, jocosely, “this man, Renny, wants to steal from me my little sister! What do you think about that?”

Renny was no Victorian miss, and she said, looking frankly at Talbot, “I think it would be fine.”

“You brick!” exclaimed the suitor, “I like your straightforward ways! We’ll leave the matter of affectionate endearments until we can be alone. You give me your hand and heart?”

He held out his hand and Renny laid hers in it, without affectation but with a pretty old-time grace.

Talbot was enchanted. He was old enough to object to ultra-modern ways and though up-to-date, he had little sympathy with slang and bad manners.

The man’s forty years had been busy ones. He had been through the grind of business, the vicissitudes of fortune, the gratification of success, the freedom of action and the enjoyment of pleasure. He was highly educated, widely read and had traveled extensively.

And now, he had no notion of settling down to a quiet life. But a new interest had come to him, a sudden infatuation for that wisp of femininity, that wayward, winsome slip of a girl called Renny! Of all ridiculous names surely the worst!

Christine made her appearance, amenities were spoken and all was merry as the prospective marriage bell.

Talbot once called the girl Renee, but she made a face at him, and he did not do it again.


Chapter 2
Love’s Young Dream

After Talbot had gone away the Lorings held a jubilee.

That is, the two older members of the family were jubilant, but Renny was not, noticeably, in gay mood.

“You dear child!” Christine exclaimed, embracing the girl with fervor.

But Renny opened her eyes wide, and Christine knew that she must step warily, for it was not easy to pull the wool over those acutely perspicacious orbs.

“Oh, yes,” the mocking voice agreed, “I’m a dear child, now that I have contracted a brilliant alliance— I think that is the phrase. And you ought to be grateful, for I did it for you. I know you want me off your hands, you and Byron both.”

Byron made no contradiction and said only, “Yes, you are a handful, and I willingly turn my charge over to Talbot. He is a first class chap, and I don’t see how you ever caught him.”

“I didn’t! He caught me, and I’m not at all sure that I’ll stay caught.”

“Yes, you will. You can’t fool us, Renny, you’re as much elated as we are.”

“But, Byron, he’s so old—”

“Nonsense, girl, don’t be silly! He’s just forty, and that’s far from old.”

“It’s a perfect age,” Christine said, not remarking that neither she nor her husband had yet reached thirty. “I do hope you’re not maudling after that Remsen boy!”

Byron laughed out.

“I wouldn’t call that stunning looking and perfectly poised young giant a boy! But, Renny, dear, he is far from—er—plethoric.”

“I know—I know—” Renny said, quickly, “and don’t worry, Christine, I’ve already forgotten the boy you speak of. I am going to marry the nabob, and with all his worldly goods he will me endow. Where do you suppose we shall live?”

“Wherever you like, of course,” Christine assured her. “But make your plans ahead. Tell him at once where you want to live and what you want to do. It may not be quite so easy to dictate later on.”

“I know all those things, Christine, and I’ve decided most of them already. You see, he owns some of the stately homes of England, and when the war is over, we’ll go there. He wants to take the Van Pelt house, here in the Gardens, till we decide where to build.”

“Odzookums! Renny, you have struck it rich! I’m proud to be your brother! You’re a real Cinderella!”

“Oh, I don’t know. Nick doesn’t look a bit like a prince.”

“Princes aren’t always young fellows. He seems very princely to me.”

“I know, Christine, but you are not marrying him. You wouldn’t have taken Byron if he had been twice your age!”

“If you feel so strongly about it,” Byron said, “give it up, Renny. You are not married yet. An engagement can be broken. Say the word, and I’ll tell Talbot the crushing news.”

“No, you’ll do nothing of the sort. I went into this thing with my eyes open, and I’ll carry it through.”

“Shall you be married soon?” asked Christine, who was beginning to feel a little in awe of this new Renny, who was so decided in her decisions and opinions.

“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t care much. I want to have a pretty wedding. I’d like it out of doors, but that would mean waiting till next summer.”

“Lord, don’t do that!” Byron cried, “you might lose him!”

“No chance,” and Renny smiled, well knowing her powers of enchantment.

After dinner, Talbot presented himself again.

“Just came round to make sure the lady hasn’t changed her mind,” he said gayly, as he entered the living room.

“Indeed, no,” Christine helped along. “The lady thinks you are her fairy prince, the hero of her dreams.”

“Oh, no, she doesn’t!” Renny contradicted. “You’re a good sort, Nick, but you’re too old for a fairy prince.”

“Not so, at all. Years have fallen from me, since I’ve known you. Better be careful lest I return to childhood.”

Renny almost said something about second childhood, but she knew her cues, and she looked at him and smiled, as she murmured, “Yes, you speak truly.”

This charmed Talbot, and he bade her come out with him to see the moon rise, and to hasten lest they be too late.

“There is no moon tonight,” said Byron, after the two had left the house.

“No,” Christine agreed, “it’s in apogee or perihelion or something. I like that man.”

“He’s all right, I think,” Byron spoke soberly, “but there are hints of his lurid past.”

“As Renny insists, he is not young, and what can you expect of a millionaire’s past?”

“I’ve found nothing very dreadful, so far. I shall have a straightforward talk with him, and I daresay he will satisfy my stipulations.”

“About money?”

“Good Lord, no! We don’t have settlements in this country. At least, I shan’t ask for anything like that. But I want to feel that Renny’s interests are secure, whatever comes with time.”

“There’ll be a divorce some day,” Christine said, sapiently. “Nick will be a good husband, but Renny won’t stand curbing. So, look ahead, when you talk business with him.”

“It’ll probably be all right,” Byron told her, as he picked up his interrupted newspaper, “and that young Remsen is only a bank cashier.”

“We haven’t heard the last of him yet; I hope he’ll let Renny alone.”

“It’ll more likely be the other way. If there’s trouble there, Renny will be the one to make it.”

“Only too true,” came the sage response.

Across the terraces and on to the copse of conifers, went the betrothed pair.

Renny, for the first time in her life, was a little at a loss how to begin conversation.

But it was all attended to.

“You see,” Talbot began, “you have accepted me but I have no right to accept you. I am too many years older than you and that we can’t change. But if you feel the least desire to be free of your bondage, you have only to say the word and I will give you up. Renee, you precious child, I love you with my whole heart, with my whole soul, and for that very reason I will not hold you against your will. Do you want back your troth?”

“No, and no, again,” she said, purposely putting a delicious little tremor in her soft voice.

“You perfect thing! My lovely—come to me!”

He held open his arms, and Renny took a step forward, and as he drew her to him, she heard a soft, happy little sound in his throat, that was not a laugh, but a rapturous expression of his bliss and hers.

It was an hour later that he took her back to the house.

“Here’s your sister,” he called out to Byron. “And what do you think? She says she’ll stand by her promise, though I felt it my duty to offer her freedom.”


“Why, because of the discrepancy in our ages, to be sure.”

“That doesn’t matter a bit,” Renny said, smiling. “Mr Petersen is fifty and he was married last week.”

Talbot gave a low whistle.

“Well,” he exclaimed, “I am glad there is somebody I’m not older than!”

Later on, the two men had a talk regarding ways and means.

Byron discovered that his sister’s fiance was generous and kind in every way, and a firm friendship was begun.

“You have no family?” Byron asked. “There is a man who lives with you?”

“Yes, Rudd. He is my confidential secretary. But he is more than that, he is my adviser and assistant in many ways, and he is my friend; if ever a man answered to the name of Fidus Achates, it is Caleb Rudd.”

“You speak highly of him.”

“He well deserves it. He has been with me for nearly twenty years. We have lived in many countries, for I have been a globe trotter, and of late we have lived in New York and Florida. I met Renny in New York, that is why I came here for a stay at the Inn.”

“You have relatives?”

“Practically none. A few distant cousins, whom I almost never see. But I must tell you this. I have been married.”

“I didn’t know that. Have you told Renny that?”

“No, and I want your advice about it. It was long ago, when I was nineteen. I was appropriated by a wise and wicked woman, three years older than I, who married me out of hand.”

“What happened next?”

“Very little. I wouldn’t live with her, of course, and my father took hold of the matter, bought her off, and there was a definite and complete divorce. I never saw her again, and she died within the year. I felt no desire to marry again, and never should have thought of doing so if the little witch, your sister, hadn’t taken me captive. She didn’t know she was doing that, bless her heart, but I am her willing slave, and I can’t quite believe yet the joy that has come to me. But don’t you think we can spare her the distress of hearing the sordid story I have just told you? Since you know about it, and know that it is all a bit of the dead past, may we not let it remain buried and not bring it back to grieve Renny’s pure soul?”

“She is not entirely unversed in the ways of the world—”

“Yes, yes, I know the wide knowledge young people possess today. But general knowledge of that sort affects them but slightly, whereas if it had to do with those they love, it might prove a thorn in the flesh. I will take your advice, but I think we should protect her from any possible blot or blur on her happiness at this time. And she is happy; she does love me. I learned that tonight, in the short time we were alone. Why introduce a jarring note?”

“You’re right, Talbot. It shall be a sealed book so far as she is concerned.”

“Yes, let it be so. My act was the foolishness of extreme youth, coerced by the evil spirit of a blase world-worn woman.”

“We will consider it all past history. You will tell me all, names and full details, and—it shall never be learned from my lips.”

“Good for you, old chap. Now as to the wedding. If Renny agrees, I’d like to be married this fall and take a run down to Mexico. There are so few places now available for honeymoons, and Renny has never seen Mexico. Then we would come back and plan to build a house here, keeping my apartment in New York also. All this subject to Renny’s wishes.”

“Sounds good to me. You fix it up with her, and I’ll stand by.”

And thus was Renny’s future agreed upon by those who held her destiny in their hands, or thought they did.

The next day Talbot came over to take Renny to see the Van Pelt house.

It seemed to the Lorings, all three of them, that the man had changed a trifle in his demeanor. Whereas, the night before, his manner had shown a hint of the suppliant, he now seemed to dominate the situation.

Without any dictatorial air or any effect of managing, he had everything his own way and made arrangements himself.

A tall, well set up man was Nick Talbot, always perfectly dressed, and with perfect manner. Never making himself prominent, he was yet never negligible, and wherever he went, it was known that he was there.

It was his definitive way that made him a power. He announced his plans, large or small, and then proceeded at once to carry them out, and others, unquestioningly fell into line.

His deep-set dark eyes, under heavy brows, had a compelling force of their own, and though the man had seemed pliant the night before, he was now suavely indicating his wishes.

“You and I, Renny darling,” he said, gently, “will go a little ahead, and have a glimpse of the place by ourselves. Then Byron and Christine will follow shortly, and we will settle it all this afternoon.”

His tone seemed to forbid objections, but no one had any to make, so the plan was tacitly accepted.

“A little—instructive?” Christine said, after the two had left.

“I don’t think he means to be bossy, but he is in the habit of giving orders, I daresay. Nothing to cavil at, and I am more than glad that Renny has done so well for herself. She seems very happy.”

“Superficially, yes,” Christine returned.

Talbot and Renny walked proudly along the flowery paths of Banbury Gardens. The Van Pelt house was the largest and most important of all the dwellings and Renny almost felt daunted at the idea of commanding a home like that. Almost, but not quite. Wasn’t she achieving all her ambitions at once, and should she stagger at any greatness? Assuredly not.

“In the house,” Talbot said to her, you will meet a man named Rudd. He is my right hand man. Not a servant, oh, no, but my confidential secretary and confidential friend. He lives with me wherever I am, and should I ever lose him, I would be lost myself.”

“And what do I do with him?” Renny smiled.

“Nothing, except to be kind to him. Let him see that you understand his position and do not look down upon him.”

“Indeed, I shall not look down upon a friend of yours!”

“No. And he is in all respects worthy to be called a friend. You will not be thrown with him much, of course, but I want you to understand him.”

They went in the big house, and Renny darted from one room to another, with little squeals of joy.

“Oh, Nick,” she cried, “it is too perfect! Do take this house, and never think of building another! It couldn’t be improved upon!”

The house was fully furnished, but they would be allowed to retain only what they wanted.

The owner, who had had to move to California because of his wife’s ill health was willing to sacrifice the house on any terms.

Mrs Van Pelt had died, and her husband wanted never to return to the home where he had lived so happily for a long time.

“It’s providential!” Renny said, as she heard the story. “You must take it, Nick! It’s just right and I shall be very happy here.”

“That’s all I want, my darling, the house shall be yours.”

She went to him, a little timidly, and gave him the first unasked-for kiss he had yet had from her. And he thought the great house but a small return.


Chapter 3
The Marriage Tables

Mr Caleb Rudd was introduced to Renny.

Remembering Nick’s request she smiled prettily at the man, who gave her a kindly smile in return.

Rudd had a handsome face, which always seemed about to break into a smile, if indeed, it were not already smiling.

Thick, soft black hair, with a bit of curl to it. Not large, but very black eyes, under strongly marked brows, held a permanent twinkle, and looked at the world with a sideways gaze, that combined irony and good nature. Had he chosen to wear the turned up moustache and small imperial in which Franz Hals delighted, Rudd would have been a perfect model for The Laughing Cavalier.

His face was round and though of average height, he weighed more than he should have done. His excuse was that he was fond of the pleasures of the table, and that, as he lived in dread of his patron’s dismissing him at any moment, he naturally made hay while the sun was still shining.

The fear of Talbot’s dismissal of his invaluable aid, was the merest persiflage, and Nick only smiled when Rudd thus explained his over-weight. And, too, the vigorous exercise of the gourmand kept his weight within reasonable limits.

Not an athlete, but an expert at swimming, fencing or dancing, a good tennis player and fine archer, Rudd held his own in the Banbury Gardens Country Club.

He had lived with Talbot many years, and there was yet to be one unpleasant word between them. Nick declared he could not live with anyone, except in complete amity, and Rudd detested petty bickerings.

Wherefore, Rudd gave his best efforts to the management of the millionaire’s estate, and Talbot paid him gladly an enormous salary, happy in the knowledge that everything was attended to concerning his financial affairs. Nor was Talbot ignorant of any point about the accounts.

Rudd showed him the statements and balance sheets and Nick scanned them rapidly and very knowingly. Never an error, but now and then a matter to be discussed and decided by the clear brains of the two men interested.

And they were chums as well as friends. Not so much Damon and Pythias as two cronies of similar tastes, who went their ways together or separately, as occasion called for. They had never declared they would die for one another, indeed, each would have jibbed, had such a thing been demanded.

Of course, Rudd knew all about Nick’s engagement, and he greeted Renny with his best show of bonhomie and compliment.

“Half my life gone with never a glimpse of you,” he bewailed; and then with a merry laugh, “but God be praised, I come of a long-lived family.”

“So do I,” said Renny, “I foresee we shall be friends.”

“That, of course,” Rudd looked serious. “But more than that, Miss Loring, I want you to feel that if ever you need assistance, in any way, you must call on me.”

“You are omnipotent?”

“Not quite that,” Nick made the answer, “but, Renny, he is a tower of strength in any sort of trouble, and—”

“Why, Nick Talbot!” Renny’s eyes opened wide, “do you mean to say that after I am married to you, there will be any possibility that trouble of any sort can come near me?”

“Not likely!” and unheeding Rudd’s presence, Talbot took the girl in his arms and soothed her pretended fears.

“Don’t be embarrassed, Mr Rudd,” Renny said, managing to extricate her face from Nick’s smothering embrace. “You know this demonstrative era won’t last forever.

“Till death do us part,” Talbot declared, kissing her again.

“Bless you, my children,” and Rudd raised his hands as in benison.

“He means it, too,” and Nick nodded at his friend.

“Perk up now,” Rudd went on, “I see Miss Loring’s relatives coming in the gate and we mustn’t shock them.”

“No one who knows me is ever shocked at anything I do,” Renny said, composedly, and then Christine and Byron came in.

Soon Rudd was showing them over the house, Talbot detaining Renny by an advisory glance.

“You have an uncanny influence over me,” the girl said, as the others left them alone. “I have never obeyed anyone before in all my life.”

“You have never really belonged to anyone before. I am your lord and master, and you are my submissive slave.”

Renny looked up defiantly, but met a glance and smile that conquered her independence and she flung herself into his arms.

“Nick, you are a darling, and I trust you with my life’s happiness.”

“I am going to make your life’s happiness for you. You don’t yet realize how happy you are going to be. Come along now, and let us see what our prowlers are up to.”

They found the others in the great drawing room, and Christine was directing Rudd, who, with a yardstick was making measurements and jotting down notes.

“A marvelous house, Renny,” Christine said. “But there must be a balcony in this ballroom. I can’t understand why there isn’t one. But it can easily be arranged. Mr Rudd is taking measurements.”

“Thank you ever so much, Christine,” Talbot said, taking Rudd’s papers and putting them in a table drawer. “It shall be attended to. Now we’re in conference, Byron, let’s settle on the date for the wedding. As Renny often reminds me, I am not a young man, and naturally, I’m afraid to wait too long, lest she throw me over entirely!”

“Sound argument,” Renny approved. “I’ll choose the day myself, and I say Christmas Day. That’s three months away, and Nick can’t grow much older in three months, can he?”

“I shall grow younger,” Talbot declared, “that is if I don’t die, waiting for you!”

Christine sighed. “I wish our house were larger, for the wedding,” she said. “I can’t ask more than a hundred.”

“Nelly Frome was married at the Club House,” Byron reminded them, suggestively.

“Well, I won’t be,” and Renny’s eyes flashed. “That doesn’t at all suit my idea of the proper thing.”

“She’s right,” Talbot concurred. “She must be married from her home. If you want to wait until next summer, dear, you can have the reception out on the lawn—”

“Oh, yes,” Renny cried, “let’s do that!”

Nick looked amazed. He had not expected this serious acceptance of his would-be jest.

“Perhaps, Renny,” he said very calmly, “you would rather postpone the wedding altogether.”

Renny looked at him, her head on one side, and she seemed to ponder. Then, “No,” she cried, “I don’t want to do that—I love you too much!”

She went to him and gave him her hand. His face cleared and he smiled again.

Then there was much planning and discussion of this and that and at last the three Lorings went home, quite content with the outlook.

“You’ve a fine future before you, Renny,” her brother told her, “if you don’t muff the ball. But don’t seem to jump at a chance of postponing the wedding! Those bluffs sometimes prove boomerangs.”

“You are older than I am, Byron, but I am wiser than you. Don’t tell me how to conduct my own love affairs.”

“All right, saucebox. Now, as I am giving you your wedding, I think I may tell you that I don’t want you to invite all of the Banbury Gardens residents. Have the house comfortably filled, but not crammed. Get it?”

“Yes, but Christine will advise me about those things.”

As Christine fully intended to direct the wedding from start to finish, in person, she smiled at Renny and changed the subject.

There was much to be done. Renny’s trousseau had to be adequate to the high position she was to hold as Talbot’s wife.

She and Christine attended to all these things without friction and Byron paid the bills without murmur.

Indeed, he paid them willingly, and would have done so had they been even larger. For though he loved his sister, and had done his best for her, she was a responsibility, and at times a torment.

Renny had always been a problem child, and her parents had been no more able to cope with her wilful ways than had her brother. So he welcomed his coming freedom from her care and feeding, and prayed that nothing might prevent the wedding.

Yet the prayer of another human soul, not far away, was that the wedding might be prevented, and that soon.

Andrew Remsen rebelled at Fate. Though not promised, he had looked upon Renny as his own present sweetheart and future wife.

To be thrown over for the sake of Talbot’s wealth and prestige had enraged him against both the man and the girl.

So furious he was with Renny that he made no effort to see her for many days. Then his longing overcame him, and wandering by the Loring place, and seeing her in the hammock under the trees, he could stay away no longer so he leaped the hedge and stood before her.

“Hello, Drew,” she said, in an indifferent tone.

“Hello, Ren. Get up out of that thing, I want to talk to you.”

“A little more persuasion is needed,” and Renny turned her eyes back to the book she held.

“You shall have it,” and Andrew Remsen lifted her bodily from the hammock and stood her on her feet, as if she had been a doll.

She said nothing, but began to smooth down her crumpled ruffles.

He watched her, and at last she turned her eyes slowly toward him.

“Go on,” she said, “get it off your chest.”

“I would be glad to,” he said, angrily, and then, softly, “but I can’t say what I am thinking, when you look at me like that.”

“Then I’ll say it for you,” her face hardened again. “You want to tell me that I have treated you abominably. But I have not. I was never engaged to you, I never told you I would marry you! When Mr Talbot asked me to be his wife, I broke no faith with anyone by saying yes. You have no right to blame me—it is nothing to you!”

“Nothing to me? When I have loved you as long as I have known you? When I have lived in the hope that you would one day be my wife—and now, now, in spite of all that has been between us, you say I cannot blame you for turning to another man! I do blame you! You have played wantonly with my love, and you toss it away as a thing of no value. I cannot feel surprised, for I know how you worship money and publicity—”

“Stop that!” Renny’s eyes blazed. “You go too far! I may have hurt your feelings but you shall not say I am a fortune-hunter—a gold-digger! You did not use those words, but that is what you meant.”

“It is! It is exactly what I meant; and it is true. If you are not marrying Talbot for his wealth and prominence, what are you marrying him for?”

“I suppose it does not occur to you that I love him.”

“It does not! A man twice your age, an old Lothario—” Renny broke into laughter.

“Don’t be silly!” she said, quelling her merriment. “But to call a man of Nick’s talents and prestige such names is only to make a fool of yourself!”

Remsen knew that most of their crowd would agree with her; he knew Talbot’s standing and reputation; and he knew that some stories he had heard about the man were entirely false. He changed his tactics.

“Never mind him, Renny. Think of us—think of me. Don’t you know how I love you? Don’t you know I can’t bear the thought of losing you? Oh, Renny, stop! you must! I call you, my heart calls to yours—”

“I know, Drew, I know.”

“You do know! You know you don’t love him and you do love me, and you won’t be any more than married to him before you’ll realize it, and then, then—it will be too late.”

Renny’s eyes were soft and luminous.

“Maybe I do love you—maybe I love you too much to marry you! You don’t really want me— I am not a good sort. I am fickle—”

“You are not fickle, not by a damn’ sight! You love me with all your heart, but you want his money and you want to share his popularity! You think that will make you happy—well, it won’t.”

“Do you know, you talk just like a Sunday-school book. I can’t help thinking that I am the one to judge what will make me happy. Nor is it strange that I shall expect happiness with Nick Talbot. I know something of his love-making, and with him it is an art. I can’t say that of yours.”

Remsen was white with fury.

“Will you explain what you mean?”

“Certainly. You know how to kiss a girl, and that’s about all. There are finer points. Perhaps you couldn’t even understand them. Here is one. Endurance makes a lover. Don’t look supercilious. You probably think you have endured enough. But this is what I mean. Yesterday, in the car, he held my hand for nearly an hour, without fidgeting or letting go.”

“You must have been cramped when it was over!”

“That’s just it. We weren’t at all. His clasp was so leisurely, so natural, so happy, that it was easier not to move.”

“I don’t get it.”

“Of course you don’t. You never could understand. You would have had to point out something, or feel for your handkerchief or scratch your neck or point to something by the roadside—what’s the use, Drew, you don’t get it, and you can’t. In a thousand ways like that, love-making becomes an art, and you know nothing of art. You do not even interest me.”

“It doesn’t matter. You love me and you will yet be mine—not his! Remember that!”

“No, I do not love you, Drew. If I ever have, or if I ever thought I did, you have killed it by the way you are talking now. Can I love a man who tries to bully me into it?”

“You can and you do. Here’s the proof. If Talbot were to lose all his wealth over night, if tomorrow found him penniless and in debt, would you marry him?”

Only a moment Renny hesitated, and then said, while her face turned scarlet, “Of course I would.”

“You lie and you know you lie. But I shall yet make you mine. When is this sale of a good girl to a bad man going to come off?”

There was no reply to this, and Drew said, more gently:

“When is the wedding to be, Renny?”

“On Christmas Day.”

“Oh, there’s lots of time between now and then for something to happen to prevent it! I shall pray for the happening.”

And Remsen laughed and leaped the gate and was gone.


Chapter 4
A Mexican Honeymoon

Notwithstanding Andrew Remsen’s prayers, nothing happened to prevent or delay the wedding of Renny and Nick on Christmas Day.

Under Christine’s generalship the occasion was both smart and delightful.

The house and its enclosed verandas were crowded, the decorations of Christmas holly and bridal lilies were entirely harmonious, the orchestra was a famous one and the feast Lucullan.

Andrew Remsen stayed away from the festivities, but Renny was too busy with guests and reporters and photographers to lament his absence.

And then the married pair were whisked off to New York, and next day took a plane to Mexico, the land of sunshine and flowers. Reaching Mexico City about noon on Thursday, they went at once to the Hotel Maximo, where a suite was engaged for them.

Caleb Rudd was with them, for Talbot never stirred a step from his own door without his shadow. Yet the shadow possessed almost magic powers of knowing when to absent himself and could appear and disappear with the surprising skill of a magician’s rabbit.

Renny had no objection whatever to Rudd’s presence on their wedding trip, for the fact that she was a bride was lost sight of by her in the more wonderful realization that she was free. Free from censure by her brother and his wife; free to have her own sweet way in everything.

Too, she remembered, she had the adoration of a prince among men, unlimited spending money and the world at her feet. For, already she had read admiration in the glances cast upon her by both visitors and natives of this fascinating joy-offering land.

And Talbot was an adorable lover. A bit too insistent, now and then, but laughing Renny learned to evade his over-frequent caresses without offending him.

Caleb Rudd kept unnoticed watch, and shook a dubious head.

But most of their time was spent in visiting places or scenes of Renny’s choosing. Each morning a few moments spent with a descriptive folder resulted in a trip, long or short, easy or tiresome, as she decreed.

Sometimes Rudd would go along, sometimes not; sometimes there would be a party, for they made a few acquaintances.

After a fortnight, Nick rebelled.

“Renny,” he said, “you are on a honeymoon, not a tour. You rush around to all these places just like a tourist, bound to see everything in the guide-book.”

“Why not?” and Renny opened her eyes at him. “Look here! This is a quotation from Will Rogers on a folder. ‘Quaint Mexicana! There is more quaintness and different things to see in Mexico than in the whole of Europe!’ And I propose to see them.”

“Don’t say quaint! I detest the word.”


“Sounds like a young lady’s tea room.”

“Now you’re silly! I just guess Will Rogers knew what words to use! But of course when he said that, he was a much younger man than you are now. I don’t want to wear you out, if you’d rather stay quietly here, I can go by myself. But I have to see the Pyramids and the Cathedral and the Floating Gardens, and a fiesta and a bull-fight—oh, and Nick, darling, I must go to Oaxaca!”

“What for?”

“And you must go with me.”

“What’s there?”

“Why, you said you were glad to know there is something living that is older than you, and, at Oaxaca there is a tree that is the oldest living thing in the world! It was three thousand years old when Christ was born, and so it’s very old by now!”

“Renny,” and Talbot’s voice was stern, “one more whack from you about my advancing years, and you shall be put in durance vile, if you know what that is!”

“I don’t,” and she went on munching her Mexican sweetmeats.

“It means that you shall not step outside this hotel until we start for home. You shall go to see no sights, hear no music, watch no dances, but stay in these rooms a prisoner—with me.”

Renny was a little frightened, for Nick had sounded very much in earnest, and she had ragged him unmercifully about his age. But she saw a way out.

“Oh!” she breathed, as if saved by grace, “with you! Then I shouldn’t mind any prison! You frightened me! I thought you meant to shut me up alone!”

It worked very well. Her infatuated husband gathered her into his arms and asked her where she wanted him to take her first.

“Hoping I intrude,” said a quiet voice, and Rudd came into the room.

“You can’t intrude,” Nick told him, smiling at him.

“Why do you love Mr Rudd so much?” Renny asked, curiously. “I don’t think he’s so great.”

“Oh, yes you do, but you feel you must dissemble. And anyway, “Rudd went on, “I have reason enough to love Nick, but he has small reason to love me. It’s a case of Mary and the lamb.”

“No,” and Talbot spoke seriously. “Perhaps it’s fifty-fifty. You see, I once had a chance to do a favor for Cale, and ever since he has devoted his life to mine. Preposterous over-payment!”

“Now we’ve gone so far, we’d better finish.” Rudd gave his friend a devoted smile. “You see, Renny, the favor that Nick did for me was to keep me out of prison.”

“Did you deserve prison?” Renny asked, coolly.

“No,” said both men at once, and then Talbot said: “I’ll finish the story. You see, Rudd was unjustly accused, and it was so cleverly managed, that it was difficult to find out the truth. But we found it.”

“You found it,” Rudd put in. “If you hadn’t, I’d be languishing in prison now, and you’d be feeding me through the bars.”

“What was the crime?” Renny asked. “Was it murder? It always is in the stories.”

“No, indeed. It was embezzlement, on a large scale. The thief managed to make it look like Cale’s work, and as he was a clever thief, and had a clever accomplice, they did make it look pretty black for my friend. But, you see, I knew Cale was not capable of such wrong-doing, and I went to work to find the criminal, and I found him—that’s all.”

“Not all; you’ve neglected to tell of the trouble you had, of the dangers that threatened you. You ran the risk of being arrested yourself—”

“Well, it’s past history now. I am glad I could help you, and glad I did help you. And since then, you’ve done nothing but help me. Now, the amenities are settled, where shall we go today?”

“To the bull-fight!” Renny said, promptly.

“No, my child, you are not going to any bull-fight at all. Such things are not for nice little girls—”

“But I’m not a nice little girl!”

“I’ll say you’re not! You’re a spoiled child. But whatever you are you’re going to no bull-fight while you belong to me!”

“How much does it cost to get a divorce?”

“More than you ever saw. But you may go to a bull-baiting. They’re much the same.”

“Oh, then that will do! And you’re a darling, you were just teasing me, weren’t you?”

“Girl-baiting, yes. Come on, then; get into your togs and we’ll go to market and buy things.”

Renny’s maid came, a handsome, swarthy Mexican girl, with long dark eyes and long dark hair and a face that showed how greedily the Mexicans grasped at the customs of the tourists. Vermilion was daubed on her cheeks and lips, and on her finger-nails. Her eyebrows were unnecessarily penciled, and her whole effect was exaggerated and absurd.

Renny, herself exquisitely made up, delighted in this flamboyant creature, and bought for her the gimcrack earrings and bracelets in which she delighted. Her name was Anita and she adored her vivacious young mistress.

Her amorous glances were wasted on Nick but he couldn’t help seeing her and sometimes smiled at her. Rudd destested her and often hinted that Renny might better employ an American maid.

But Anita was deft and skillful, and Renny had taken a fancy to her.

“You are a picture!” Nick said, as Renny appeared, ready to start. “The loveliest one in the world!”

“Not quite that,” Rudd put in, a bit rudely. “But picturesque in a charming way. You know how to dress.”

“Yes, I do.” Renny said, complacently. “I don’t take advice from anybody.”

She wore a tailored white silk suit, and a broad white Panama hat. For her no native headgear, and no string bag. Though scouring the market from end to end she was never of it, she was aloof, apart.

Like a butterfly she went from one vender to another, always hoping yet seldom finding anything she cared to buy. Everything was offered her, from masks to sandals, from pigs to postcards, from beads to blankets, but the most persistent vender could be hushed when Renny opened her eyes at him.

Both Nick and Rudd laughed in glee to see her dart from one pile of goods to another, buy something, and hurry on, leaving them to pay for it and send it to the hotel.

She bought filigree trinkets for Anita, some bright scarves for herself, paused for a few chances at a gaming table, and then made for the merry-go-round. She sprang on one of the moving animals, a bull, and whirled round to the wails of a calliope.

Then, dismounting she told Nick she was ready to go to see the bull-baiting.

“For that, there must be a Fiesta,” Nick said, idly gazing at her.

This was the beginning of the third week of their honeymoon. The first week had been a time of bewilderment for Renny. She could not understand. She had to get accustomed to so much. The second week she was a little cowed. Nick, while her devoted slave, was also her lord and master, and she had to realize it.

Now, in the third week, she was no longer bewildered or cowed but she was far from being entirely happy. She was indulged, spoiled and petted, but there was something missing. Something that she had expected but which hadn’t as yet materialized.

One day, in Nick’s absence, Rudd taxed her with this. She said, suddenly, “How did you know?” and then, recovering herself, she opened her eyes wide at him, and left the room.

He never asked again, but she thought he was a little more gentle with her, a little less outspoken.

Now, in answer to Nick, he said, “There is always a Fiesta somewhere. Not a big one, but always a little local affair. Shall I make discovery of same?”

“Yes; I think I saw a notice—”

“I know!” Renny broke in. “There’s one in Tuxedo —a good one. Let’s go!”

Renny called all Mexican towns Tuxedo.

“Because,” she explained, “they mostly begin with T, and they all have an x in them.”

Rudd, being all-powerful, discovered a Fiesta not far away, and they started off at once.

“Why, it’s a play!” exclaimed Renny as they reached the place. “I don’t want to see a play—I couldn’t understand a word!”

“Have to have the play first,” Rudd told her. “And you must see it. It’s the old historical show, you know, Moors and Christians. You’ll like it.”

But Renny didn’t like it. The Moors were rigged out in sort of bloomer garments, of lovely pale colors, with lace ruffles at the knees. They had high paper helmets and gay colored scarves, of which Renny coveted each and every one. She adored scarves and had collected dozens already.

The Christians wore short white dresses with blue ribbon bows. Their paper crowns were decorated with blue feathers and every actor carried a machete.

The musicians played some execrable music as the dancers marched around and sang. Then a pink and blue saint, with big wings and a wig made prophecies and Pilate and Santiago flourished their brave weapons in a sort of dancing sword play.

It did seem rather silly and Renny was bored.

Then came the bull-baiting and she waked up a little. It was not at all like a bull-fight, but merely some rough riding at a young bull.

The toros, in pink and blue and lavender shirts teased the bull a little and at last one of them coiled a rope and threw him. The others came up and had some sport with the not over-interested animal, who would then run off and be replaced by another bull.

The audience applauded and howled, but there was little real enthusiasm, and suddenly Nick realized that Renny was not by his side.

They had not been able to get seats all together, and he thought she had gone over to sit by Rudd. He didn’t like it and went after her.

But Rudd sat alone, and said he thought Renny was with Nick.

The two men were alarmed. There was no telling what Renny had done or might do.

“The place isn’t dangerous,” Rudd said, thoughtfully. “The people are all in holiday humor and Renny is quite capable of taking care of herself.”

“Not in Mexico,” Nick declared, and his voice shook.

Rudd gave him a glance and then said, “We’ll find her,” in his most matter-of-fact way.

Their search was determined and forceful, but not encouraging. Everybody was interested and polite and would-be helpful, but there was no definite way to look. The authorities were unattainable and the guardians of the peace were lost in the crowds of merrymakers. The Fiesta was at its height, and the heights of Fiestas are not safety zones.

Talbot was beside himself. Accustomed to have things go the way he directed, it always angered him to have anything mar his plans.

And he feared for Renny. He scorned Rudd’s assurance that her dignity and self-possession would bring her safely through.

At last his fear for the girl overcame all else and he lost his fierce anger and seemed to collapse in a conviction that Renny was lost to him forever.

Rudd took the helm.

“Sit down there,” he said, sternly. “Don’t move from that seat until I return. I will find Renny, I will bring her back in safety, only—if you will promise me to let nothing tempt you or force you to leave that chair.”

Nick would not agree until Rudd had sat himself down with the vow that he would not seek Renny unless the promise he asked should be made.

At last Talbot yielded, he made the promise and Rudd knew he would keep it.

But as the searcher started on his quest, he knew not which way to turn or how to proceed.


Chapter 5
Renny Sees The Bull Fight

It was in their suite at the Hotel Maximo that Rudd had left Talbot with orders to stay there, and Nick had no inclination to disobey.

He had searched with Rudd for the girl, and he was convinced that he had hampered rather than helped Rudd’s progress. In fact, Rudd had told him so, and now Talbot was content to sit and wait, at least for a time. How long he would stay put he did not know.

Caleb Rudd was an amazingly clever man. But he well knew that the situation was alarming. He felt entirely certain that Renny had disappeared of her own volition, and he did not fear that she was in any danger. But unless she was found, danger might come to her, and too, he feared for his friend. Talbot was already on the verge of a nervous breakdown yet he was unwilling to have the matter taken to the police. Renny was, in all probability, safe and sound in some out of the way place she had desired to visit. Never would it occur to her that her absence would cause trouble or grief. She thought of no one but herself, of no one’s happiness but her own.

But these facts did not help Rudd. Nor did he walk about the streets and the markets aimlessly. He tried to deduce, like any detective, where Renny would go, but no inspiration came to his aid. He was a clever man, he had a fine brain and a splendid education. But hunting for a missing lady was outside his experience. He did not despair, he had often accomplished what had seemed the impossible. And he would do anything for Nick.

Their friendship was ideal. Not at all emotional, rarely was a word of affection spoken between them; but each knew, beyond all doubt, that the other would never fail him, never disappoint him in the least particular, and their mutual loyalty could be trusted to the last degree.

No faintest notion entered Nick’s head that Rudd would ever take any undue interest in Renny, and no ghost of an idea occurred to Rudd to do such a thing. He looked on Nick’s wife as no concern of his, and while he did not greatly admire her, he thought her a pretty plaything, and he now devoted all his efforts to the finding of the girl.

Renny’s departure from her husband’s side had not been spectacular, nor had she found it difficult to accomplish her purpose.

She had sat a long time at the play of the Moors and Christians. The acting was execrable, and the whole movement slow and tiresome. Two or three times Renny had left her seat and gone outside for an orange or a sweet lime or an ice. She always returned in a few moments, refreshed and smiling, and Nick thought she was enjoying herself.

And she was.

There was a big handsome man in the row behind them, and once or twice he made bold to smile at her as she looked around,—and Renny was always looking around. Nick was getting used to her restlessness and only laughed at it.

The next time, Renny smiled back at the handsome face, and was greatly surprised at what followed.

Of his costume she could see clearly only his hat, a sombrero of rose-hued felt, heavy with silver lace, and a glimpse of a fringed leather jacket.

The thick black eyebrows lifted and the black eyes darted a meaning glance. The meaning was not hard to grasp, and the glance was luring and imperative.

Renny took no second thought. A quick look at Nick showed him rapt in his attention to the play, which had reached its only approach to a thrill, and she slid out and away, noiselessly, without his notice.

Unhurriedly, she left the building, and found herself in the crowded street, the handsome stranger at her side.

“Sure was I you come,” he whispered, as he clasped her elbow protectively, for the crowd was jostling.

“I didn’t come to see you!”

“No—that, of course. But—”

“Who are you? How dare you speak to me?”

“Dare? When your eyes called to me! When your eyes said, ‘I will that we meet—now!’ That your message was.”

“Are you a Mexican?”

“I am. But I speak the English. And note, I do not say, ‘I spik Inglese’! I do not talk pigeon. It is my way not.”

“You mix up your sentence forms.”

“Now and then. It makes nothing. Come, tell me, why are you ever and ever with the old one—or the other old one? Are they your father?”

“Forget them! I just ran out a minute for a breath of air. I am sick of Moors and Christians both.”

“But well I know what you want. You want to go to see the bull-fight. I will take you. With me you go.”

“Like fun I do!”

“Come, let us be gay. The Old Two, they will not that you go. Must you be tyrannized then?”

“’Fraid I must. And now I must go back.”

“Not, oh, not that. Look you, Lady, you want see bull-fight. This your one chance, your only chance. You go?”

Whether it was the realization that here was her last chance, or whether it was the hypnotic power of the deep set eyes, black but luminous that made her do it, Renny said, “I go.”

“That is well. Will he kill you?”

“Probably. How do we go? Where is it?”

“But the smallest distance. We go in the most little car.”

“It’s at Tuxedo, I suppose. Every place is Tuxpan or Tixtla—”

“Or Tlaxcala or Taxco or Texcoco—”

“Or Texcola or Taxicabbia. Come on, let’s go.”

“How you hasten. But we start.”

Renny never did learn his name. For some unknown reason she chose to call him Bartolo, and he made no objection.

The girl was in throes of delight. She had won her point, she was having her way and nothing could stop her now. She by no means forgot or evaded the knowledge that the hour of reckoning must come. She knew that she would go back to Talbot, and that the occasion would be something like an unprotected Daniel stepping into the lions’ den. She knew that cajolery and blandishment would avail her nothing and just what would happen she could form no idea. Nor did she try.

She did not even feel that Rudd could get her out of this scrape, as he often did. But her thoughts were interrupted by Bartolo, saying, “We are here. Will you alight?”

Her first impression was that of disappointment. The scene was little different from all the others, and there was no more grandeur or gayety than elsewhere.

“There is the ring,” he told her, “where the bull-fight will be made. I will get good seats.”

Seats were nearly all gone and at a premium, but Bartolo’s capability and experience were successful, and their seats were of the best.

“Shall I give you some money?” Renny asked.

“Yes,” he said, in a matter-of-fact way. “You will pay the expenses and after it is over, you will give me what small guerdon you will.”

As for the Fiesta, as with all shows in Mexico, the key word was delay. There was one long wait after another, separated only by brief and not very interesting dances. Renny grew tired of it all, and fell into conversation with her picked up cavalier. But that soon palled, for it was plain to be seen that his only interest lay in the line of amorous hints and suggestive glances. These Renny nipped in the bud, and the way she opened her eyes at him quelled his advances, at least for a time.

As her wide open eyes began to startle him less each time, the bull-fight at last got started.

To Renny’s disappointment it seemed to her commonplace.

A bull was turned into the arena, and allowed himself to be assailed by the lancers, who were on horseback. These were called picadores, but seemed pale beside Renny’s already pictured imagination.

Then came the banderillos who plunged into the bull’s hide darts with fireworks and flags attached to them. These Renny thought silly.

“Where are the toreadors!” she cried. “Like those in the opera?”

“Not toreadors more,” Bartolo explained. “Matadors now. Here now they be.”

But the matadors with their long straight swords and long sticks, with bits of red silk attached, were far from fulfilling Renny’s vivid flights of fancy.

At the actual death of the animal, she hid her face in her scarf and demanded to be taken home at once.

Even Nick’s rage—and subsequent making up— would be better than this stupid show.

It wasn’t really a top drawer performance.

But it was the best Bartolo could do. He had tried for a better one but this third class affair was the only one available, and he thought Renny would not know the difference.

And too, he had thought the girl would prove more amenable to his tender glances, to his low voiced suggestions. The game was scarcely worth the candle with a haughty beauty who opened her eyes wide at meaning looks from his amorous eyes.

“This is all rot,” said Renny, at last. “I go home now. Take me to the Hotel Maximo, at once!”

“That can’t do, my Lady,” Bartolo drawled, his insolent eyes smiling at her.

“Why not? How dare you question my orders? To the hotel, this very minute!”

“Not so, pretty one; we are going to the dance hall.”

Renny opened her eyes very wide and stamped her foot.

“That we are not! You are to take me home this minute, or I go by myself!”

Bartolo laughed outright.

“Go by yourself! You court disaster? You wish destruction?”

“I can take care of myself. I am in no danger.” This was sheer bravado as Renny was more frightened than she had ever been in her life. But thought to bluff it through.

Bartolo spoke gently.

“Do not be the little fool. I will direct. We go first to an eating-booth. You are famished.”

“I am not! And I will not eat with you. Take me home, my husband will pay you.”

“That will he—when he gets the chance. Not eat? Then we will drink. We will have pulque—much pulque.”

Even more than the words the man’s blazing eyes frightened Renny, and she was desperate.

She chanced to be holding in her hand a necklace of glass beads she had bought for Anita, and the beads were not round, but sharply pointed and thin. She flung the trinket full into Bartolo’s face, with all the force she could command, and then she ran as fast as she could fly.

A pair of strong arms caught her, and she found herself in the grasp of Caleb Rudd.

“Oh! Oh!” she moaned, her fierceness all gone, “take me home, take care of me—this place is terrible!” Rudd called a cab, and in a moment they were rolling toward the hotel.

Not a word was spoken, and Renny’s quick glances showed her a strange face beside her. Rudd had never looked like that before.

“That place was terrible,” she repeated.

“You will find the Hotel Maximo more terrible, I’m thinking.”

“Nick is furious, then?”

“That is grave understatement.”

Renny’s spirits rose. She had entire faith in her ability to quell Nick’s fury.

“Oh, well,” she said, petulantly, “it’s his own fault. He wouldn’t take me to see the bull-fight, and I was bound to see it. It was a washout, anyway.”

Rudd made no reply to this and there was silence the rest of the way At the hotel steps Renny sprang out of the cab, and leaving Rudd to settle with the man, she flew up to their apartment. It was Renny’s nature to face the worst and at once.

Smiling, she opened the door, and ran to Nick, who stood in the middle of the room, flinging herself upon him.

But instead of a man she seemed to strike a stone image.

Starting back from the rigid form, she looked upon his face and screamed out in terror. His expression was that of a madman, his eyes glared at her in flaming wrath and his ghastly white face seemed that of a murderer.

Renny stepped back, with a feeling of faintness, but she forced her pluck to the utmost, and said:

“Pipe down, Nick, dear! Here I am, all safe and—”

She never finished her sentence, for he gave a sound like the growl of a wild beast, rushed at her, and grasped her two wrists with wrenches that nearly broke them.

“So you defy me!” he cried. “So you dishonor me, you desert me, you dare to disobey me! Where have you been? What disgrace have you brought upon me?”

Rudd appeared and answered this question.

“She has brought no disgrace on you,” he said, sternly. “Renny was in danger, and by good fortune I happened to be in time to save her.”

“Yes,” Renny said, taking Nick’s hand, “Rudd came along just at the psychological moment—”

“Leave the room!” said Talbot to his friend.

“Oh, no,” Rudd smiled, “don’t fire me.”

Talbot spoke in a strange, almost sepulchral voice, “I have never before given you an order, Rudd, and I never shall again. Leave the room.”

Rudd went out, closing the door after him.

“Now,” Nick turned to Renny, “and mind you speak the truth,—where did you go?”

Renny, having had time to think, had decided on her course.

“I went to see the bull-fight,” she said, calmly.

“After I ordered you—”

“Are you a Turk? Am I your slave? Don’t you dare take that attitude toward me! I am your wife and I obey you in all reasonable matters, but when you deny me a simple pleasure, for no reason whatever, I do not obey you. Remember that in future, Mr Nicholas Talbot!”

“Wretch!” he cried. “You have no sense of honor; you know nothing of faith and loyalty—stand away, lest I treat you as you deserve!”

“Nick, dear, what do you mean by this? Surely you are not in earnest—”

“Try me but one step farther, and you will see whether I am in earnest or not! Keep your distance, or I cannot control myself! You and Rudd. What were you doing down in the low places? No! do not tell me, I know only too well!”

“Hush! I will not stand it! Mr Rudd saved me from a most unpleasant interview with a Mexican ruffian. If you want the truth, ask him.”


Chapter 6
Back In Banbury Gardens

“Well,” said Byron Loring to his wife, as he folded up the letter and returned it to its envelope. “Renny’s marriage has certainly turned out well. I half feared that she would resent Talbot’s dictatorship. Renny is not fond of being told what to do.”

“Nor does she take it meekly from Nick Talbot,” Christine returned. “You only read the girl’s letters on the surface, I see between the lines, and there is trouble coming to that precious pair. You know, he reads every letter she sends us, and she has to be discreet.”

“What has she to be discreet about? She married him for his money, we all know that, but she is getting what she wanted. He fairly loads her down with gifts, he lets her do whatever she pleases,—”

“She doesn’t love him.”

“Renny is not the sentimental sort. I know her better than you do, and love is not a dominant part of her nature. The only rift in the lute that I feared was the ever present Rudd. Most brides would object to a third party.”

“She doesn’t mind him a bit,” Christine declared, “and he is so capable and tactful, he takes care of them both. He worships Nick, and I think he likes Renny, though he sees through her.”

“She’s not hard to see through, but I hope he doesn’t advise or criticize my sister!”

“Oh, he’s not like that. He’s really Nick’s body-servant, he does things that it would bother Nick to attend to. I mean mind-servant, I think, for he writes Nick’s letters, even personal ones, and keeps his accounts and attends to all business matters. He directs all the employees of the Talbot estate. I thought Rudd would object to Renny, but he treats her like any other bit of valuable bric-a-brac that Nick might bring home.”

“You surely find a great deal between the lines of the letters that come from Mexico.”

“Such is the power of the feminine mind. Now, as the letter you hold tells you, they will be back here tomorrow, and then you can judge for yourself how nearly right I am.”

“Are you going to see that the house is opened up and ready for them?”

“My dear Byron, don’t you know our friends the Talbots better than that! The house will be ready for them by the orders of the omnipotent Rudd, and I think likely that personage came today to be sure that all is well.”

“You’re clairvoyant, Christine, and I think you are probably right. I admit I’m ashamed of myself to say it, but I am glad that my small sister is going to her own palatial abode and not coming here.”

“Yes, you ought to be ashamed, but we must remember that she is happier to go there than to come here. Renny is a dear child, but hard to live with, and I ought to know!”

“She’ll be changed a bit after four weeks in Mexico. Think she’ll be the Grand Lady of Banbury Gardens?”

“Of course she will. And she can carry it off. Her dinner parties will be superb. Wonder what part Drew Remsen will play?”

“Oh, Remsen; he’s forgotten Renny and he’s all for Ruth Hanna now. I hear they are together all the time.”

“Ruth Hanna! If so, then he’s just trying her out as the opposite of Renny. There couldn’t be two girls more different.”

“How different? They look much alike to me.”

“Byron, you are too absurd. Renny is the smartest, trickiest little rascal that ever breathed. Ruth Hanna is good and noble and all that, but she is dull as ditch-water.”

“She has that Madonna type of face, that is very lovely to look at.”

It so happened that at that very moment Andrew Remsen was looking at Ruth Hanna’s face and thinking that it was very lovely to look at.

He had taken her home from a dance and had gone into the house with her and they stood in the dimly lighted hall to say good night.

It was a Madonna face that looked out at him from the folds of a hooded cape, of the blue color that the old painters loved.

Azure eyes looked up at him, and a soft voice said:

“I didn’t say you could come in with me—”

“I didn’t ask you,” he said, watching her little smile in reply.

And then, pushing the hood back from the tousled gold curls, he said:

“But I am going to ask you something.”

“No, don’t!” Ruth whispered, “oh, don’t!”

“Silly child, you don’t even know what I want! Well, I want you—all for my very own—say yes, Ruth, darling, say yes!”

She was in his arms now, her head lay on his breast, and her eyes were closed.

Remsen was at a loss to grasp her meaning. Did she mean yes, or didn’t she?

But he had one rule for girls. When in doubt, kiss her.

So he kissed her, and so effectively that she opened her eyes, not wide, as Renny did, but just enough to see him, and she said, as was to be expected, “Don’t!” Getting her meaning, he kissed her again, and then he said:

“Now are you ready to say yes?”

“Yes,” Ruth said, shyly, and Remsen was ashamed of himself that he wished there had been a little more enthusiasm in her tone.

Again she hid her face in his overcoat, which was far from a downy pillow.

“This is no place for us,” he said, gayly, and he led her into the library, closed the door and turned on the light. Then he threw off his overcoat and divested her of her long blue cape.

“Now,” he said, “come to my arms and let’s get engaged properly. Will you marry me, dear? I love you.”

Ruth hadn’t come to his arms but he got her there, and then instead of nestling properly in his embrace, she squirmed uncomfortably.

“You don’t know your lines, honey,” he said gently, “this is where you tell me you love me.”

“Oh, yes, I do.”

“And you will marry me?”

“I don’t see—how I can.”

“Now that’s a nice speech! And why can’t you, pray?”

“I don’t want to tell you.”

“Then it’s some fool reason. Tell me at once.”

“I think Renny wouldn’t like me to.”

Whatever Drew expected to hear, it was not that. “Don’t be silly!” he said, and shook her a little. “What on earth has Renny got to do with it?”

“She made me promise not to.”

“She did!” He was silent a moment and then said, slowly, “that must have been long ago, when she thought she liked me.”

“Yes, it was.”

“Well, forget it. Renny is joined to her idol, let her alone. There’s no one in the world, my Ruth, but just you and me. Will you remember that?”

“Yes, Drew; and now you go home. If you haven’t changed your mind, come round tomorrow night, and we’ll talk about it.”

And shortly, Andrew Remsen was on his way home, and Ruth Hanna sat down and cried.

The next day Renny came back from Mexico.

They came by plane, and Rudd had arranged to have Talbot’s own car meet them in New York.

As the Lorings had surmised, Rudd came up the day before, and everything was ready for the arrival of the Talbots.

As the car came within a few blocks of the house, Renny suddenly screamed to the chauffeur to stop, pulled down the window and called out:

“Drew! Oh, Drew!”

Remsen looked and saw Renny’s little head out of the car window, and heard her imperative, “Come here! Come here!”

He went, and with a cry of delight she kissed him soundly, grasped both his hands and turned to Talbot.

“See, Nick, see! Here’s old Drew! Give him a shake and then we’ll go on. How did you happen to be right here, darling? I believe you were waiting for me!”

“How are you, Remsen?” Nick growled, and then said quickly, “Go on, Mercer,” to the chauffeur.

Rudd was waiting for them at the house, or perhaps this contretemps might have been avoided, or, perhaps not.

“No, no, my Nixy,” Renny said, her eyes dancing, “you’re not to scold your lawful wife just at the moment we reach our home! I see your scoldy eyes—stop it now, and beam at me!”

It would have been a hard-hearted husband who could have scolded Renny then. Her piquant little face glowed with joy and she flung her arms round Nick’s neck in a burst of real affection.

He recognized its worth, and his anger at the Remsen chap was forgotten.

At the house, Byron and Christine were awaiting them, and Rudd like a hovering angel, saw to it that everything was as it should be.

Renny was in her element.

“How am I, as a matron, Byron?” she asked, as she put on a dignified air for half a minute.

“Not so good,” he returned, “but I hope you’ll learn to do better. Not likely, though. A tomboy cannot be a gracious hostess. Why did you ever marry her, Nick?”

“She suits me,” the bridegroom said, “her hostess gestures shall be what she chooses to make them, and her guests will soon be trying to copy them.”

“Oh, Nixy, what a lovely speech!” and Renny threw her arms round him; “isn’t he perfect, Christine? There never was such a man!”

Talbot, entirely unembarrassed, was so happy at this burst of affection that he beamed like a Chessy cat.

The Lorings stayed for dinner, and Renny diverted them all with her stories of Mexico and its delights.

“I think Mexico is overrated,” Rudd said. “At least, it seemed to me a tawdry piece of business. Of course, to people on a honeymoon—”

“That’s pretty true,” Talbot agreed. “If I’d been there without Renny, I could have seen and admired the whole place in forty-eight hours.”

“Including Anita?” Renny smiled at him.

“Who’s Anita?” asked Christine.

“Nick’s maid,” said Renny. “Well, that is, she was called my maid, but—”

“But she was everybody’s maid,” Rudd broke in. “I declare that Mexican woman was as good as any valet I ever saw.”

“And a picture to look at,” Renny went on. “Nick wanted to bring her home with us, but I knew she couldn’t get along with our sort of servants. But now I’ve got used to having a maid, I must get me one here.”

“I’ve engaged one for you,” Rudd said. “If you don’t like her don’t keep her.”

“Isn’t he the First Gold-Stick in Waiting!” Renny exclaimed, but she gave him no further thanks. Rudd was to the Talbots not a man but an institution. He and Nick were friends but they were not mentally congenial, for Rudd had little education and no knowledge of literature and the arts. Indeed, his life was just one never ceasing effort to do anything he could for the man to whom he felt he owed so much. Rudd’s idea of his debt to Talbot may have been exaggerated, but it was sincere and was the foundation stone of his whole character.

When Renny was brought into the home, Rudd felt that he had now more ways to please his friend, and he endeavored to serve or amuse her in any way he might.

There was no slightest degree of the servant and master feeling between the two men. They were friends, and though Rudd’s position was that of confidential secretary, he filled that and many other confidential posts.

It was during the evening that Christine spoke of Drew Remsen’s very evident attentions to Ruth Hanna.

Renny’s eyes opened a little, and Talbot said, crossly:

“Remsen? That’s the chap that Renny kissed today in a way—well, in a way I wish she’d kiss me.”

“Why, Nick, dear, I have to kiss you more dignifiedly, ’cause you’re so much more dignified and older.”

Renny looked like a sweet sorrowful penitent who was willing to mend her ways, but Nick knew better.

“Hereafter, you will refrain from kissing anybody, in any manner, except myself and your brother and his wife.”

“Now will you be a good girl, Renny?” asked Byron. “And I’ll help. I’ll let you kiss me as often as you like.”

“And me, too,” Christine put in, smiling. “But really, Ren, you must leave out Drew or Ruth Hanna will have something to say to you.”

“Don’t be silly,” and Renny’s eyes opened very wide. “I give my kisses where I choose; they are my own.”

But after the guests were gone and Renny and Nick went upstairs, she went to his room, and by word and deed gave him fully to understand that her kisses were all and only for him, that she wanted to kiss no one else in the world ever, that the nonsense with Drew that afternoon was no more than a mere handshake, and that it should never be repeated. So definite and emphatic were these statements that Talbot believed them implicitly and declared himself a brute to have said anything to hurt his precious darling little bride.

And when the little bride left him and went to her own room, she sat down by the window and looked out.

Sheerly by intuition, she knew that Drew Remsen would be down there, and he was.

Scarce daring to whisper, she said, “Oh, Drew, what are you doing there?”

“Waiting to see you look out,” he said. “You are alone?”

“Y—yes, but—”

In less than a minute he was up the porch column, and on the tiny balcony outside her window. Then his arms were round her and he was kissing her fiercely, madly.

“I didn’t know—” he whispered, “until this afternoon, when you kissed me, I didn’t know what we are to each other. But now I know and you are—you must be mine—oh, Renny, how could you marry him? But you will get a divorce, and then—”

“Drew, have you lost your mind?”

“Yes, yes, and my senses, and my honor—you shall be mine if I have to kill him!”

“Hush, oh, hush! someone will hear you!”

And someone did, and Talbot’s voice said coldly: “Come in here, Remsen.”

At once, Drew stepped over the low window sill and faced Nicholas Talbot.

Renny, between the two men, was at her wits’ end. No words could do any good, no action that she could think of, would do any good.

But whatever she did must be done to Nick, not Drew.

She stepped toward her husband, her hands clasped, her eyes tear-filled, and said softly, “Nick, listen to me—”

He struck her. With the flat of his hand he struck her face, and she fell back, as Drew rushed at Talbot.

With a blow he felled Nick to the floor and was about to batter him, when Rudd appeared and pulled Remsen back.

“Go,” Rudd whispered to Drew, “go, right now!” Renny knelt beside her prostrate husband.

“You’ve killed him!” she wailed to Drew.

“I hope I have!” Drew turned, and went out of the window and home.


Chapter 7
Making Up

The next morning Renny lay in her bed, looking up at the Interior Decorated canopy of pale blue silk that had been wished on her, and wondering just how she would better handle her admirable but troublesome husband.

As if in answer to her thoughts, Parker, the maid Rudd had engaged for her, brought word that Mr Talbot desired to see her as soon as convenient.

“Very well, Parker, tell him that I will see him in the morning room soon—no, don’t say soon, say presently. Presently is a useful word, it can mean almost anything. Tell him that, Parker, and then come back and assemble me for the interview.”

When the maid returned, Renny was already at her dressing table, doing things with an unusually reddish pink rouge.

By careful scrutiny, she had discovered the merest tinge of color on the cheek that Nick had slapped the night before. By an artistic intensifying of this reddened spot and leaving the other cheek pale, she had produced an excellent imitation of the effect of a brutal insult she had received from her lord and master.

Parker’s expressions of dismay at this eccentric procedure were coldly set aside by Renny, who then selected a chiffon negligee of palest chartreuse, a color especially becoming to her dark beauty.

Then, adding a gently pathetic expression to her lovely face, she went downstairs to keep her appointment.

Her ‘presently’ had meant a really long wait, and Nick Talbot was in a high state of impatience when she at last appeared.

But Renny had builded well, and the sight of that discolored cheek caused him to lose all thought of anger against her and to feel himself the vilest wretch on earth.

Had he really so lost his senses as to strike that lovely child, for whom he would, or thought he would, have laid down his life!

“My darling, my precious one, can you ever forgive me?” he cried, in very real and earnest agony, and drew her to him, careful not to touch the injured cheek.

Carefully Renny picked her words, deciding that his deep contrition gave her full scope, and she murmured:

“You were like a very devil, Nick, but my love can forgive much. Yet to strike your Renny, your own little bride—”

“Don’t, my darling, don’t put it into words—”

“And not only me, but Andrew! You had no reason to hit him—”

“He hit me—”

“It’s all the same. Now, don’t let’s have melodrama, but let’s fix up this matter once for all. Drew did nothing wrong in coming to my window. It was you who asked him to come in. You know he’s a mischievous sort, full of fun and joking. He just wanted to say howdy to me, and he took that way—”

“He’d better not take that way again!”

“Oh, Nick, don’t scold me—I can’t bear it—” she turned her reddened cheek so he could see it better, and he melted again.

“My poor darling,” he said, as he gently touched a finger-tip to the crimson patch.

“Oh, don’t touch it,” she cried, “even your light, loving touch is agony. Do you think it will be permanent? Shall I always have it like it is now?”

“Oh, no, your healthy skin will heal rapidly, I am sure. But we’ll call the doctor, to be on the safe side.”

“Wait a day or two, for that. It may get better of itself. Now, Nick, as to Andrew.”

It was then that Rudd came into the room.

“How do you feel, old chap?” he said to Nick. “That was a fair punch the fellow gave you.”

“How do you know?” asked Renny.

“I had the honor of putting the wounded champion to bed after the fray.”

“Are you hurt, Nick?” Renny asked, without, however, any note of anxiety in her voice.

“Not badly enough to go to the hospital,” he answered, “but old Rudd thought Miller would handle me too wuffly, and so he took over. What’s on your mind, Rudd?”

“The Remsen feller. Now look here; every so often I have to give you two children a homily, and this is one of the times. And you are to listen, not with angry hearts and prejudiced minds but with common sense. You two are here now, in this big house, and you are going to be tops in this small but very swagger community. Such a position calls for dignity and decorum, if you have any notion what those words mean. But anyway, you must not let a young noodle like Drew Remsen jostle you off your perch. If he carries on with Renny, even in the mildest way, there’s going to be gossip, and—I will not allow it.”

“And what have you got to say about it?” Renny said, pertly.

“He has everything to say about it,” Nick declared. “You don’t understand, Renny dear, but as my wife you have to preserve a more careful manner than when you were a debutante. Don’t argue that, just remember it. You are quite right, Rudd, and we must be careful in our treatment of Drew Remsen. You, darling,” he drew Renny closer to him, “will, I know, obey me as to your acquaintance with him. We must not cut him from our list of friends, it would not look well. I agree, Rudd, that we are the principal citizens of this very restricted district, and that means that we must impose some restrictions on ourselves.”

“I’m tired of this conversation, may I go, please?” and Renny tried to rise.

“No, you may not,” Nick told her, “until you give me your promise never to see Andrew Remsen alone. Never to see him at all, unless casually, in a crowd. You promise this?”

“Yes, indeed; I promise. It’s beastly mean of you, for he is a splendid dancer, and I love to dance with him, so you cut me out of a lot of pleasure. But what do you care for my pleasure? Why did you marry me anyway? You should have married some old maid or some widow, who would sit by the fire and darn your socks! You had no right to take a young girl, who wants fun and entertainment and—”

“There’s something in that,” Rudd said, seriously, “but, remember, Renny, you chose this life and now you must live it. You’ve no grievance, really; here you are with a devoted husband, a splendid house, all the money you want, and you cannot have these without giving something in return.”

“You keep out of this, Mr Caleb Rudd! What I give to Nick is his affair, not yours, and first of all, I give you obedience, don’t I, you old Booful?” With a smile that would have tamed the Nemean Lion, she insinuated herself into his embrace, and Talbot held her close.

“You’re a scallywag,” he said, “and the only obedience I ask of you is for your own good.”

“How I hate things that are labeled, ‘for my own good’! But I’m going to be the First Lady of Banbury Gardens, I can tell you that, and if that means cutting the acquaintance of nice young men, who know how to dance and make love and all that, why, I agree to cut them.”

“How do you know these young men can make love so well?” Nick was gay now.

“Well, I don’t exactly know—but I can easily find out.”

“Don’t you dare try it! Now you’re reinstated as Queen of the World, don’t put your scepter in jeopardy again.”

“I don’t know what jeppidy means, but if I am Queen of your heart, that’s all I ask,” and Renny’s angelic smile would have carried conviction to the sternest judge who ever sat on a bench.

With Andrew Remsen it was also the morning after the night before.

He awoke to the realization that he had made an infernal fool of himself. And as his thoughts came tumbling rapidly, he discovered he was furiously angry with three people, namely, Mr Talbot, Mrs Talbot and Miss Ruth Hanna. His ire, in each case, was unjust. He should have been angry with only one human being, his blameworthy self.

But his reflections being what they were he began to plan what he must do with each of his three problems.

First, he must go to Nick and make a manly apology. Not an easy job, all things considered.

Then, he must settle Renny with a few coldly polite words, and cut her out of his life entirely and forever.

Then there was Ruth.

This thought not only angered but hurt. He had to realize that he had been a cad and a scoundrel, and those words were not often applicable to him.

He had forgotten, or at least had neglected to go to see her last night after he had promised to do so.

Ruth would never forgive him, and another poignant hurt was that he knew he wouldn’t care much if she didn’t.

Andrew Remsen was not, at heart, a gay lothario, and he had thought himself properly in love with Ruth Hanna, but when Renny had leaned out of the car window and kissed him, though really in a spirit of hilarious excitement rather than affection, it had made him realize that she was the one love of his life.

But that did not release him from his obligation to Ruth.

She had told him to come to see her the next night if he had not changed his mind! And he had changed his mind. So much so that the very idea of marrying Ruth seemed to him an utter impossibility.

But why not? He certainly couldn’t marry Renny. Nick Talbot was not the man to grant his wife a divorce for the simple reason that she preferred another man.

It was a godawful mess, any way you looked at it. And Drew felt no pleasure in anticipating his session with Talbot, and less still in his interview with Ruth. Of Renny he dared not think.

What was there about that child that made him willing to lie down and let her trample on him, if she wanted to? To obey her slightest wish, to fulfill her most desperate command?

He must go away; he could not trust himself to see Renny again.

But first, there were two important duties to attend to, and Remsen was no shirk.

Along toward noon, he walked over to the Talbot house, and saw Renny through a window, in the conservatory, which was full of gay blooms.

There was an outside door, and Renny opened it, saying, “Come in, Drew,” and then whispering, “Play up!” with a look that made him understand Nick was in the next room.

“You did cut up a silly trick last night,” she went on, in a carrying voice, “climbing up the pillar just to show off your athletics. And all you had to tell me was that you are engaged to Ruth Hanna. You could have told me that anywhere.”

Drew played up.

“I know,” he said, half laughing, “but the sight of that tremendous column reminded me of my boyhood days. You know Uncle Perry used to live here, and I just wanted to see if I could make it. How did you hear about Ruth and me?”

“Grapevine telegraph. And I think it’s great. She’s just the one for you. I like her better than any girl I ever knew.”

Talbot walked in then.

“If your errand was a bit of gossip,” he said, “maybe I owe you an apology, Remsen.”

“Not for last night’s dust-up,” Drew returned, “but perhaps for calling ‘a piece of gossip’ what to me is a streamer headline!”

“And so you’re engaged to little Ruth. All my congratulations.”

“I’m engaged, but she’s still coyly holding off a little. All girls do that, don’t they, Renny?”

“Oh, yes, but it will be all right. And she is so pretty.”

“Yes, isn’t she! that lovely calm face, like a Greuze picture.”

“Pipe down, Remsen,” Nick said. “Raving over a loved one’s ringlets isn’t done any more.”

“Oh, all right. But you know how this sort of thing makes you feel! That’s why I kissed Renny last night, and I would have kissed you, if you’d been a little less of a firebrand.”

“Forget it, forget it all—bother, there’s my private telephone! ’Scuse, please.”

Nick went away, and as Remsen came nearer to Renny, she waved him back, saying, in a very low voice, “Don’t be a fool! I saved you that time, I doubt I can ever do it again. Don’t dare speak a word that Nick mayn’t hear; he is not as happy about it as he seems. Are you really engaged to Ruth?”

“I don’t know. I’ll have to see her again before I can tell you. And I’ll have to see you again, before I can tell her.”

“Good by, Drew,” Renny said, rising, and just as Nick came back to them. “I’ll think about the Fair, and let you know. I must see what Nick says about it.” Taking the not very guarded hint, Remsen went away, and Talbot, said, slowly, “I concluded to let last night go by. It suits my purpose so. But if you give a repeat performance, I shall, er, take notice of it. Now what’s all this about a Fair?”


Chapter 8
Enter A Relative

“Well, I’ll tell you.” Renny’s quick mind knew it was best to get as far away as possible from all thoughts of last night, and she welcomed this chance. “It’s the regular Charity Fair, they have it every year, you know, in the Casino. We all work awful hard and we make a lot of money for charity. And it’s fun, too.”

“What part do you take?” Nick spoke without enthusiasm.

“Not any, if you don’t want me to.”

Renny’s eyes were half-way open, and she looked like a docile child.

“Of course I want you to. I’ve heard of these Fairs, they’re famous. We must do our part.”

“Oh, will you be in it, too? Then it will be fun! We must make up a real novelty. What shall it be?”

“You’ll be hard put to it to think up a novelty,” Rudd advised them. “Everything has been done.”

“You think up a plan,” Nick said. “Here’s a chance for your ingenuity. Suggest something.”

“I think it would be useless to try for a fantastic novelty. It seems to me your best bet would be something that would be picturesque and attractive and would not require too much fussing.”

“Such as?”

“A Mexican Fiesta.”

“Perfect!” cried Renny. “I can see it all! One of the little fiestas, with all the fixings, and we can use all the junk we brought home, and send for more if we need it. And if it isn’t all exactly right it won’t matter much; those who haven’t been to Mexico won’t know and those who have, won’t care. You’re splendid, Rudd, at thinking up things! Won’t it be fun, Nick? I’ve been in lots of the fairs, but always before as one of the helpers, waitress or chorus girl or something. Now, I can have one of the principal booths, can’t I, Nick?”

“As principal as we can make it. What are the outstanding details of a Fiesta, Rudd?”

“Costumes, music and dances. You won’t attempt a drama?”

“I suppose not. An Adam and Eve might catch on, but we couldn’t attempt a Moors and Christians…”

“Oh, don’t have any of those drama things,” Renny begged, “and you’ve left out the eating. That’s the Mexicanest part, and that’s what would make the money.”

“She’s right,” Rudd nodded, “but could we make the things? If you order them they won’t be fit to eat.”

“I know, and I can teach cook to make enchiladas. I picked up a lot about Mexican cookery.”

“So did I,” and Rudd looked a trifle shamefaced.

“Oh, Rudd’s a born cook,” Talbot declared. “Whatever he ate in Mexico, he can make.”

“Then that’s all right,” and Renny opened her eyes wide with delight. “We won’t have a drama, they’re a bore anyhow. But we’ll have a few first-rate dances. The jarabe, of course, and Rudd can be the charro. And we’ll have the sandunga—oh, we’ll fix those all up. And Mexican music, of course. You know all about that, Nick, and you brought home lots of their queer instruments. Shall we have real Mexican girls and young men, or our own crowd, fixed up?”

“Our own people, of course,” Nick told her. “We don’t want those brown folks around!”

“They’re not all brown,” Renny contradicted. “Some of them have a lovely ivory skin, like Anita—you remember Anita, Nick?”

As Talbot said nothing, Renny repeated her question.

“Yes, I remember her,” and Talbot could not prevent the crimson flush that rose to his face.

“Good heavens! Darling, you needn’t blush so about it! You liked her, didn’t you? Did you ever kiss her?”

“Shut up, Renny,” said Rudd. “Those are privileged communications.”

“I don’t know what those big words mean, but I guess I’ve got a right to ask my own husband anything I want to. Nick, can you look me in the eye and say you never kissed Anita?”

Nick looked at his wife. The thing was absurd, but he scorned lying, and yet it seemed the only way out.

So he said, “No, I never did,” and his tone was so forced and so unconvincing, that Renny gave a peal of laughter.

“You darling!” she cried. “Don’t ever try to lie on the witness stand or you’ll find yourself in jail. All right, then, we’ll let it go at that; you do as you like in these matters, and, of course, I can have the same liberty.”

Talbot was filled with wrath, but he felt it wiser not to carry on the subject just then. He returned to the discussion of the Charity Fair, and Renny wondered whether she had won out or not.

Rudd wondered, too. Sometimes he thought that deeply as Nick adored his wife, the time might come when his long-tried patience might give way and a terrible scene would ensue. He thought of warning Nick regarding this, but it was a delicate matter and since the Drew Remsen affair had passed over so easily, perhaps it was wiser to let well enough alone.

Later that afternoon, Renny, picking up a kitten to cuddle, threw herself down in a hammock in the sun-room to think over some plans for the Fiesta. The warm room and the purring kitten against her ear made her drowsy, but though she was not asleep, her eyes were closed, when she heard a strange, but an attractive voice say, “If you are asleep, I have a right to kiss you—there is a law to that effect.”

Renny was enchanted with the situation, and entirely mistress of it. She kept her eyes closed, and said, slowly: “I am not asleep, but I am not going to open my eyes, so you may as well go away.”

“Don’t you want to know who I am?”

“Not in the least.”

“But I may be a tramp.”

“Then go on with your tramping and don’t bother me.”

Just here, Renny heard Nick’s step outside the room, and as it suddenly paused she knew he was listening.

“Because,” she said, to the voice, “my eyes are very beautiful, and when I open them, people all fall in love with me. My husband can’t abide that, so just lemme-lone, please.”

“Renny! behave yourself!” Nick’s voice was laughing, though stern. “Trask, old fellow! when did you come?”

“Oh, long ago. I’ve been standing here looking at this lady. Does she belong to you?”

“Very much so. Renny, put on a proper smile and greet your cousin—is it cousin, Steve?”

“From the tone you use toward her, I fancy the lady is your wife. In that case, Uncle Nicholas, she must be my aunt. How do you do, Aunt?”

“Don’t be silly. Renny, this is my nephew, Stephen Trask, which makes him your uncle. Shake hands with your Uncle Steve. Do not kiss him.”

“You see, he is fussy about kisses,” Renny smiled at the visitor. “About other people’s, not about his own.”

The look Nick gave her frightened her a little, but Trask took up the talk.

“I’m glad to be here, old boy. I walked round the house, because it looked so attractive, and this door seemed to be a bit ajar, so I just stepped in. I didn’t mean to intrude.”

“Oh, that’s all right,” Renny said, graciously. “Have you come to stay?”

“For a time, if you’ll have me. I would have let you know, Nick, but I came unexpectedly. I can go to the Inn or what have you?”

“I have a warm welcome for you and plenty of rooms,” said Talbot cordially, for he was fond of this young man.

In fact Trask was Talbot’s only relative, and had reason to think he was to be Nick’s heir. But that was before Nick married, and it seemed likely that property arrangements might now be changed.

Stephen Trask had not come to see about this matter. He was a fine worthwhile young man, and trusted that his uncle would treat him fairly.

Rudd, he knew would be remembered in Nick’s will, but he was not a relative, though a warm friend.

Trask had come partly because he was in the neighborhood and because he heard enough about his uncle’s new wife to make him curious to see her.

Had he been asked concerning this latter reason, he would have replied, ‘the half has not been told.’

For Renny, in the hammock, half asleep, with the kitten nestled to her cheek had seemed to him a picture unparalleled in any museum.

But Trask was intuitive, and he paid no more attention to his hostess than courtesy required, for he had quickly discovered that his respected uncle had acquired or perhaps developed a latent Othello complex, which it were not wise to monkey with.

Wherefore the canny Trask divided his conversation amiably between the two and when Rudd appeared, treated him with a like manner of conversational chaff.

He knew Mexico and was ready to suggest and assist in their charity enterprise.

Later he was installed in a delightful suite of rooms and invited to make his visit as long as he wished.

Nick Talbot was really fond of him, as the only son of his only brother, and he meant to find out the young man’s circumstances before finally deciding on his inheritance.

Ever since Talbot’s marriage he had meant to make a new will, which should include Renny in her due and proper proportion.

His lawyer had spoken to him about this a few times, and then had asked Rudd to speak to Nick. But Rudd, at the lightest mention of the subject had received such a rebuff that he told the lawyer he would never refer to it again.

Stephen Trask, naturally, could say nothing to his uncle on such a subject as this, but he resolved that after a time, if Talbot did not bring up the subject, he would himself do so. He was not unduly grasping, this Trask chap, but he thought it only fair that he should know how matters stood.

He threw himself, heart and soul, into the making of the Fiesta. He declared he should make a Floating Garden, which would be the eighth wonder of the world.

Nick fell in with this plan, and they all worked on it.

Rudd was fertile of suggestion as to building and Renny had full sway in the matter of decorating.

The Floating Garden was started with an old scow, which was soon made beautiful with gay paint put on in Mexican designs. A truly magnificent canopy surmounted it, made of Mexican fabrics and embroideries. Tables were set out with Mexican pottery, and would offer the best Mexican food at the Fair, so Rudd declared. And the flowers, Nick had promised to see to it personally that their Floating Garden should warrant its name, and should show a profusion of flowers, fresh and blooming every day.

True, the Floating Garden had to float on land, not water, but it would be so attractive that nobody would care.

The three men and Renny were most enthusiastic about the affair, and were determined to give it just as much real Mexican atmosphere as they possibly could.

Renny cut and planned costumes for her dancing girls, and with Rudd, designed the suits for the men.

These were all made by capable hands and of correct pattern and material, for whatever Nick Talbot undertook, he carried through perfectly.

Nick was no fancy dancer, but Trask could perform any caracole invented for the foot of man.

Rudd was a good dancer, but cared little for it, yet, as he had in his memory all the details of the Mexican dances, he was invaluable as a teacher. There must be two or three special dances, the famous ones of the Fiestas, and of course, Trask and Renny must dance them. Nick didn’t mind, he had seen the Fiestas, and the dancing seemed to him like puppets stalking about.

So it was decided that Renny and Trask should learn the jarabe and the mariachi which were the most picturesque as well as the easiest to learn. They required special costumes, which were at once set in preparation.

These two dances were performed to the music of a stringed instrument called the mariachi, a sort of Mexican harp, on which Rudd had learned to play with a fair degree of excellence and a decided Mexican twang.

Renny’s costume, which was a real Poblana dress from Mexico, was a full red skirt with a green yoke, spangled all over with a white silk low-cut blouse embroidered with beads of all colors; and a flame-colored rebozo, so fine it was like a whiff of fire.

Steve Trask, as the charro, was gorgeous in long, tight leather trousers, covered with silver buttons and chains, a soft leather jacket, braided in silver and gold and a gorgeous serape.

For a charro, in full dress for his dance is a magnificent affair, and Nick had sent instructions that everything coming from Mexico for this occasion must be of the best and finest.

Wherefore, Trask, trying on this magnificence, was so pleased with his appearance that he demanded a dress rehearsal then and there.

Renny soon got into her costume, and the two were as fine a pair of dancers as ever stood under Mexican skies.

The jarabe is a sentimental dance, and before it is begun, there must be sung a song which is said to set the mood. The song, which tells of the love of two turtle-doves, runs, “See the emotion with which they are trembling—billing and cooing with love—ah, the kiss is only the net, would I could drink the river—”

The man, with his hands behind him, dances round the girl, with short, birdlike steps. She in a smaller circle, comes near and draws away, smiles, and coquettes alluringly. This is all, and the scene winds up with a sort of waltz movement.

Talbot watched the performance, holding himself together by sheer willpower. Rudd, watching, wondered whether it would be better to omit the rehearsal of the second dance. There were but two.

“Come on,” cried Trask, “hurry up, Renny! I have an engagement, and I want to get away.”

The other dance was also a romantic pantomime of the birds, but in this one the man was haughty and uninterested. The coquettish girl was luring, then daring, and the rhythm of the song was coaxing and seductive as the dancing became more and more persuasive and acquiescent.

It was a beautiful picture.

Renny, in this dance, wore a simpler frock and a red rose in her tangled curls. Trask, too, wore a plainer garb, of plaited white linen, a small Jalisco sombrero and a brown serape. They were like real people, and the wailing strains of Rudd’s mariachi cast a witchery of romance over the two seemingly heartbroken lovers.

Talbot stared at them, his face went white, and he rose and left the room, slamming the door behind him.


Chapter 9
At The Fair

The music of the mariachi stopped suddenly, the dancing ceased and the three left in the room looked at one another in consternation.

Trask was very near Renny, and by an uncontrollable reflex action of his muscles, he gathered her into his arms and kissed her. It seemed the only thing to do.

Rudd’s face did not change at sight of the two, indeed, it already expressed the lowest depths of despair, the absence of all hope.

He spoke mildly:

“Mr Trask, I think you do not realize just what has happened. Mr Talbot has reached the end of his patience and his temper. He has been getting more and more disturbed all through this dance and he was positively beside himself with rage and jealousy, when he ran from the room.”

“It’s absurd,” said Trask, scornfully. “A man like that ought not to be at large! He ought to be shut up!”

“No, Steve,” Renny said, “Nick can’t help it. We ought never to have undertaken this dance. Isn’t that so, Rudd?”

“Yes, but having undertaken it, you ought to have carried it off more theatrically, more in burlesque. But you two put your whole soul in your acting, and made it seem passionately real. I don’t know why you did that. You were not rehearsing for a great tragedy on the stage, it is merely a foolish little story, as they dance it in Mexico. They do it like puppets, you did real acting; why did you?”

“I never thought a thing about it,” Renny declared. “I just tried to sing nicely and look pretty.”

“You succeeded too damn well!” Trask told her. “Your pretty acting fired me to act, too, and my acting was in earnest.”

“Let up on that, Trask,” Rudd spoke sharply now. “This is no time for philandering. Renny, you are up against it. I can’t help you this time. I’ve tried to pull you out of scrapes until Nick has told me never to do it again.”

“Oh, Rudd, don’t say that! Of course you will help me. And I didn’t do anything wrong—what did I do?”

“Oh, you only made up to Trask, like a siren in the old mythology book. The dalliance of your eyes, the caresses of your smiles, the wooing of your every gesture were enough to set your partner afire—and did.”

“And did,” echoed Trask. “You talk like a poet or something, Rudd, but you speak true talk. That’s what happened, and of course, I played up. I suppose Nick took it all in, and with his Othello complex—”

“Othello didn’t know what jealousy meant, compared to Nick Talbot’s wisdom on the subject. But the thing is, what are we going to do?”

“My advice,” Trask stated, with an air of calm decision, “is to treat the matter lightly. Renny and I did nothing wrong, and if Nick wants to kick up a fuss over it, let him kick.”

“No,” Renny was crying now, “I’ll have to do it. You don’t understand, Steve, these things have to be settled. Rudd, you will help, won’t you?”

“I would, but I’ve worn out my welcome as a peacemaker. And I truly think you’ll do better alone, this time. There’ll be lots of these occasions before the Fair is over, and I’ll stand by. But this is your personal affair, and I think you can put it over. Don’t blame Trask too much, just call him an innocent bystander.”

“Blame me all you like, Renny. Tell old Nick I’ll leave any minute, if he says so.”

Trask couldn’t bring himself to see the matter as the other two did. He was entirely ready to apologize, if Nick wanted him to or thought he ought to.

“I have a plan,” Renny said, rising, “I’m not sure it’s a good one, but I’ll try it out. If you hear my frantic shrieks, come to my aid.”

She found Nick where she knew he would be, in a small study that was one of his favorite rooms.

She had taken off the Mexican costume and put on a simple little evening gown. She entered the room casually and smiling, and then, as she sat down on the big arm of the modernistic chair he was in, she looked more serious, and said:

“Oh, Nick, darling, Steve is awfully offended and he’s going home, right off! He says he’ll leave any minute you say. Dear, why did you slam out of the room like that?”

“I couldn’t stand it to see that brute making love to you before my eyes!”

“But it was the play! Don’t people always act in plays? And I’ll give up the whole thing if you want me to. I wish you could take the part, but you don’t dance well enough. Now, we’ll leave those two dances out entirely. But do you want Mr Trask to go away? If not, you’ll have to ask him to stay on. He didn’t say so, but I know he thinks you treated him a bit rudely. Don’t you want to be nice to him now, and let it all blow over? You’re such a just, fair-minded man and you always do the right thing.”

“You’re a dear little peacemaker, Renny, and I suppose I ought to fix it up with Trask. And go on with the dances. I want you to have them, but, my darling, couldn’t you make the love scenes a little less realistic? A little more make-believe, you know.”

“Well, of course, it would spoil the artistry, but if you want me to, I’ll be more wooden.”

“Then you wouldn’t be praised for your beautiful work! Oh, dear, this world is awful hard on husbands with beautiful wives!”

“Not if they trust in their beautiful wives’ love and faith,” Renny whispered. And then the game was won and Nick promised her that she might play the part of a Mexican parrot or toucan or whatever bird she was supposed to represent, in any way she chose to cavort herself.

They went back to find a calm and equable Trask awaiting them, and a slightly nervous Rudd.

Nick’s first words cleared the air.

“Trask,” he said, “my apologies. I have a rotten way of losing my temper, though I do try to control it. Stay with us, and let’s make the Fair a success by our talents and efforts. Righto?”

“Sure! What’s the use of being relations if we can’t have a flare-up now and then?”

And the easy-going Trask took this to mean he was at liberty to play up the Mexican birds in any way he chose, and he did so. But somehow it was managed that the rehearsals were held when Talbot was not at home.

Renny was trying hard to be a model wife. Not that she approved of model wives, especially, but she was learning how very exclusively Nick considered her his property and how easily he became annoyed or worse, if she paid the slightest attention to any other man.

She was beginning to think she just couldn’t continue to live with him. Rudd was the only one he trusted her alone with. And well he might, for Rudd had never given Nick’s wife one admiring glance, had never said to her one word that Nick might not have heard and welcomed. If ever a man was devoted, heart and soul, in the best and finest way, to another man, it was Caleb Rudd to Nick Talbot.

This devotion was never expressed in words, seldom shown in visible acts, but the friendship was there, strong, firm and dependable when wanted.

Renny liked Rudd very much indeed, as E. P. Roe said to Opie Read, but she never felt the least impulse to flirt with him. When they chanced to be alone together, their talk was varied and interesting, never forced and never personal.

“Have you never been in love, Rudd?” she said once. “No, Renny, the opportunity never came my way,” he returned, with a smile, and the subject was never raised again.

But he did permit himself to warn her of dangers that might impend.

Taking a chance when they were waiting for Nick to come home from a Directors’ Meeting or something of the sort, he said:

“Have a care, Renny, of the Remsen lad. Remember the night he came here.”

“He’s safe enough; he’s engaged to Ruth Hanna.”

“They’re not really engaged, he’s playing fast and loose with her. He’s a bad hat, is Remsen.”

“I like him.”

“I know you do, that’s why I’m begging you to keep out of his way.”

“But I can’t, Rudd. Not entirely. I’m to do a dance with him at the Fair. Quite a separate thing from our dances, you know. Mrs Appleton asked me and I couldn’t refuse.”

“Does Nick know it?”

“I don’t think so; but he won’t mind, since it’s in Mrs Appleton’s booth. She’s head of the whole thing, you know.”

“Well, tell him, anyhow, Renny. Don’t spring it on him at the Fair, or he’ll go berserk.”

“What’s berserk?”

“You’ll find out if you give Nick a surprise of that sort. Here he comes, you can tell him now.”

The car came to the house, and Nick was soon with them, but Renny said no word of her dance with Drew Remsen. She found it difficult to bring up the subject, and she had in her mind a half-formed plan to give up the dance with him. She’d wait a day longer and think it over.

It was Thursday now, and the Fair was to open on Saturday night.

On Friday she spoke to Mrs Appleton about the matter and that lady said, “Oh, no, indeed, I can’t let you give it up. I couldn’t train anyone else for it now. It’s too late.”

“But, Mrs Appleton, I’m afraid my husband won’t like the costume. It is very scanty, you know.”

“Why, my dear, all you wear is practically that Spanish shawl, but it is very large, yards and yards of material in it, and so fine you could draw it through a —well, a barrel hoop, anyway! And I’m going to drape you myself, your husband will adore you in it! No, no, don’t dare mention making any change, I’m nearly frantic already with changes!”

So what could Renny do? Nothing but leave the matter on the knees of the gods and hope the gods would be kind to her.

She was growing more and more afraid of Nick, his jealousy was getting unbearable and also unreasonable, and she told Christine one day that she wished a magic carpet would come and carry him away so far he would never come back.

Christine was duly shocked and scolded Renny for not more greatly appreciating the good fortune that had come to her and bade her be careful how she roused a jealousy of such strength.

She concluded her homily by begging Renny, for heaven’s sake, to be careful at the Fair, for while it was bad enough for Nick to give way to tantrums in his own home, to make a scene at the Fair would be infinitely worse.

“I can’t help it,” Renny said, almost in tears, “I don’t do anything.”

“It’s those eyes of yours,” Christine opined. “In that fool dance you’re going to do for Mrs Appleton—I saw the scarf—you’d better wear a veil.”

“I know Nick will hate that dance—”

“It isn’t his hating it, but he’ll probably play Samson and tear down the pillars of the hall.”

But Renny had no intention of wearing a veil to prevent a spectacular Samson act, and she went on trusting to luck.

And when at last Saturday night came, and they were all ready to start for the great festival, Talbot seemed as mild as a lamb, and even imbued with a spirit of merriment.

“Put a little dignity into your dancing, Renny,” he told her, “you don’t want to give a hoyden effect.”

“She’ll do it all right,” Trask said, for he was getting tired of hearing Nick instruct Renny.

“Then I’ll give my advice to you,” Nick said, a touch of sternness in his voice. “Put a little more dignity into your own performance, and curb your tendency to amorous gestures and tones. They are uncalled for and they greatly mar the picture.”

Trask was tempted to make a sharp retort, but decided against it, and only said, “I’ll try, Uncle Nick,” in a childish voice, which didn’t help matters much.

They were in the car, and after they reached the Fair, they separated, the dancers to their dressing rooms and the others greeting friends here and there.

In her Mexican garb, Renny came out and walked about among the crowd. The center of a group, in no time, she saw Drew Remsen coming toward her and unable to help it, she smiled at him.

The welcoming smile, and the bewitching costume bowled him over completely, and he grasped her arm and led her to one of the dancing platforms.

“Oh, take me back,” she gasped, “Nick will see us and he’ll kill you!”

“Let’s hide, then,” and he drew her aside to a small anteroom which chanced to be empty. He closed the door and stood against it.

“Renny,” he began, “it won’t do! You know it! We can’t live without each other. I tried to care for Ruth, but just one look from under your long lashes, one tiny smile from your perfect lips, and I am done for! I must and will have you, Renny, no matter what I do to get you!”

“Don’t be silly, Drew! And let me out of here, you’ve spoiled my head dress already. And remember, you belong to Ruth and I belong to Nick, and there can be no more—no more of anything between us, not even friendship. It’s too late for that, Drew. Open that door, and then stand back, while I go out alone. Don’t disgrace me!”

“Not tonight—but after that—”

Renny stepped out, as from a dressing room, touching her head dress and patting a curl into place.

“Where’s Nick?” she asked Rudd, as she met him outside the door.

“He said he wanted to run over to the library to meet Van Dusen, who has an old before-the-flood coin, and they’ve got to hobnob over it. Said he’d be back for your dance. Everything all right?”

“Yes, indeed, but I want you to—”

What she wanted him to do, Rudd never knew, for several men claimed Renny as a dance partner, though she declared she had engaged herself to none.

“You promised me the first, and you know it!” a determined voice said, and as the speaker almost whirled her off her feet, Renny was forced to pay attention to the steps she was supposed to take.

“This must be a quick one, Louis,” she said; “I’m due for my dance in five minutes.”

“Five minutes is quite a bit of a while,” her partner said, “more than I hoped for. Is your Bluebeard husband here?”

“In person. So behave yourself prettily. Now, take me to the dressing room; I hate to be tardy.”

“All right, but you’ll give me some more later. Why, what’s the matter?”

There was a commotion in the room, the club watchman was there, speaking to Mr Appleton, and Renny and her partner drew a step nearer to listen.

“Yes, sir,” the man was repeating. “It’s Mr Talbot, and he’s stone dead, no mistake about that, sir. Outside the window, sir, you come with me.”


Chapter 10
Tragedy And Mystery

Lewis Appleton was a capable man and a wise one.

But his “Hush, man, speak lower!” had little effect on Fenn, the watchman. He tried to subdue his voice, but the big, burly fellow was more excited than he had ever before been in his life, and he couldn’t suppress his turbulent nerves, though he did try.

Appleton realized the situation, saw the frightened faces round him and heard one or two faint screams.

Though aware of the necessity for haste, he took time to step up on a chair and say a few words, begging the audience to be quiet and preserve self-control until it could be known whether there was any real cause for alarm.

Then he went with Fenn, and they quickly left the building.

The watchman led the way round the corner of the big Casino, and toward a small window that looked in upon a dressing room that opened on the small stage that would present the fancy dances. There were some people on the stage, but the two men did not look at them, as Fenn stopped beside the huddled figure on the ground beneath the window, and turned on his flashlight.

“Nick Talbot!” said Appleton, as if just learning the truth. “And murdered! What must we do first?” It was like the man that his mind turned to duty before thinking what this death must mean to many people.

But Fenn could not evade the personal touch.

“Ain’t it awful, Mr Appleton, to see him a layin’ there like that! An’ see the blood all over him!”

“He has been stabbed,” Appleton said, stooping down to look. “The knife is still in the wound—he was struck in the neck, see—must be a long blade. Don’t touch it, Fenn, let’s get the Medical Examiner as quick as we can. You go and call the Westchester Police, and they’ll notify the District Attorney. Then you find Mrs Appleton, and you tell her the whole story. But tell her to confer with Granger, and they two must decide what to do about closing the Fair, or—or whatever they think best. Go to it, and get a couple of local chaps to come here and be with me. Things will be moving shortly.”

Fenn hurried away, and Appleton again examined his dead friend, as much as he could without handling the body.

Under the window grew a lot of small young conifers, and Talbot had fallen or been flung into the very midst of these. He lay among the green boughs, on his back, but twisted over to one side, and his overcoat collar was stained with blood.

Looks like the work of a thug, Appleton thought, no decent feller, however angry, would have pitched him galley-west like that. Wonder if he had much on him. Must have been robbery or else some disgruntled communist who resented Nick’s wealth. Wish somebody’d come.

And then a young policeman came, running. Another followed, and Appleton was glad to give over his watch.

It was a beautiful night, one of the mild ones that sometimes come in late February, and the moon was just beginning to disappear beyond the wooded horizon. But though there was no cold wind Appleton was chilled through, and gladly went into the Casino for some cheer.

On the very doorstep he met the Medical Examiner, Doctor Lindsay, and they went in together. Hatton, who was Nick’s doctor, greeted them, and Appleton introduced the two and left them to work together, while he went in search of his wife.

“Most complicated affair,” said Doctor Hatton, wringing his nervous hands. “What are we going to do?”

“Oh, just the usual procedure,” Lindsay returned. “Where is he? Who is in charge, anyway?”

“I don’t know—perhaps I am. But I know nothing about it. I haven’t seen Nick Talbot for a long time. Where’s the District Attorney? Lane ought to be here.”

“You can’t get people in a minute, late at night, too. He’ll turn up soon.”

Appleton, meantime, had found his wife, and said, quickly:

“Where can we be alone?”

“Come up on the stage,” she told him, “there’s no one there now.”

She dismissed a couple of scene-shifters and a prompt-boy, and then turned to her husband.

“Talbot is dead,” he said, “murdered. The Fair must be stopped at once—”

“Impossible! We can’t do that!”

“We must do that. The place must be vacated and closed as fast as possible. The police are already in charge, we have nothing to say about it.”

“Then I must get busy. I will take care of the girls and the musicians. Someone must get the Women’s Committee together; Mrs Loring will be helpful, she always is.”

“Think, Milly. Mrs Loring is the sister of Talbot’s wife—”

“Oh, yes—sister-in-law. We can’t ask her for help. Get me Mrs Gorham, then, and we’ll take care of our part. Go on, Lewis, and get your own committee in council. You’ll have things to decide!”

“The one thing positive is that the Fair must close. Talbot is our star citizen, the richest and most generous man of the Gardens. Think what he has given to this Casino! The new shooting gallery, the bowling alley, the—”

“I know, and you’re right, we couldn’t go on with this thing and Nick Talbot murdered! Will there be inquests and those things?”

“I don’t know, dear. The District Attorney will see to all that. I’ve never had any experience in a murder case—”

A messenger came for Appleton, and he went off at once. His wife, a handsome woman, took a moment to plan, and then went to her strange duties.

Lane, the District Attorney, arriving, had sent for Appleton, as the Head of the Fair, and with the Chief of Police and the Captain of the Homicide Squad, a meeting was held in a room commandeered for the purpose.

As was his habit, Lewis Appleton took charge of the meeting. He was a man who always took charge of anything he ran into.

“I trust you all agree with me, gentlemen,” he began, “that the Fair must be closed immediately. We cannot allow such a lack of respect for Nicholas Talbot’s memory as to keep this thing going a minute longer than it will take to stop it.”

“That will take a bit of time,” Lane said. “The police will have to clear the place in their own way, and that means slow going.”

“It’s this way, Mr Appleton,” Chief Brady spoke up, “we have to go by our rules, and we’ve got to have the name and address of everybody that goes out of this building tonight. We’ll put plenty of men on it and we’ll be as fast as we can, but it’s got to be done.”

“Yes, yes, Chief, you’ll find no obstacles in your way to carry on your routine work. But it isn’t the general crowd I’m thinking about, it’s the family, the relatives.”

“I don’t know of any relatives Talbot has except his wife, a pretty little piece. She is Byron Loring’s sister. I’ve seen her and Talbot over in White Plains, but nobody was with them.”

“But he has relatives, Lane,” Doctor Hatton said. “A nephew is living at the house now, or visiting. I don’t know which. And there’s another chap there, I think he’s a relative of Talbot, too.”

“No, he isn’t,” Appleton declared. “He’s Nick’s friend, and he lives there, but he’s not related. Mighty fine chap, too, and what say we call him in here, instead of the nephew. We’ve got to talk to some of the family, and I don’t think it’s right to call in the widow —where is she? has she gone home?”

“Why not call in Byron Loring?” Lane proposed. “He’s Talbot’s brother-in-law, and it seems sort of proper.”

So Byron was called in, and he nodded a sort of greeting and then sat down without saying a word.

Lewis Appleton spoke. “Mr Loring,” he said, “we are uncertain how to proceed. Doctor Lindsay, the Medical Examiner, wishes to make his report, but we hesitate to intrude upon Mrs Talbot, and we are asking your advice.”

“I hope you will not trouble my sister with questions tonight, if it can be avoided. She is, of course, the head of the Talbot family, now, but I have been her guardian ever since our parents’ death, and I trust you will let me relieve her at this time as far as possible.”

“All right, Loring,” and Lindsay assumed a businesslike attitude. “My findings are that Nicholas Talbot died suddenly, from the stab of a sharp blade of a long knife. The weapon was left in the body, but it has now been extracted, and seems to be just an ordinary kitchen knife, the kind, I think, that is called a slicer. Further than that we have no definite clues. We shall, of course, have to question all the members of Mr Talbot’s household, and we must interview Mr Trask and Mr Rudd tonight, but we will not talk with Mrs Talbot until tomorrow, if you so advise. Where is the lady now?”

“She is in one of the small rooms that adjoin the stage. She is with my wife, and some other friends. My sister is not at all hysterical or unnerved; she has a nature that rises to an emergency, though she may collapse afterward. It is just possible that she may prefer to talk to you tonight.”

“Then, if you think it would be all right, let’s talk to her now.”

“I don’t know. Suppose I go and ask her.”

“Yes, do that,” and Lindsay indulged in a hope that he might get through with his part in the matter tonight, and not have to come over again.

Loring found Renny sitting beside Christine. She had been crying, but she was quiet now, and listened to what Byron had to say.

She thought a moment, and then said, “Yes, Byron, I think I would rather meet them right now, and have it over with. Oh, I suppose they may want to see me again, but I’m all keyed up now, and tomorrow, I’ll be a limp rag. Come on, take me there.”

“No, Renny, don’t see them tonight,” Christine begged her, for she knew that Renny was keyed up, and that was far from the best mood in which to hold the proposed interview.

“Oh, Christine, don’t scold me now! You know how nervous and upset I am, and you just make me more so! You ought to give me my own way now if ever! Isn’t that so, Byron? Stand up for me, Byron, dear, your own little sister—you’ve always been so good to me.”

“Better let her go, Chris,” Loring told his wife. “I hate to cross her just now.”

He had his way, and Christine looked her disapproval as the two left her and went to the ordeal.

The District Attorney led the inquiry.

“I am very sorry to ask you questions,” he said, gently, after Renny was comfortably placed, and sat, looking like a stricken angel, “but I assure you I shall ask only the most necessary ones.”

“No,” she said, her lovely face striving to look brave. “No, Mr Lane, don’t spare me. Remember anything I can do for my husband or for his memory I will do gladly. Ask me anything you wish, however personal or confidential.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that, but I fear to harrow your feelings too much for your endurance.”

“Don’t think of that, just go on.”

“Well, then, tell me just where you were when you first heard the news of your husband’s death?”

This was so different from what Renny had expected to be asked, that she stared at him first and then opened her eyes wide.

And this being Robert Lane’s first sight of this phenomenon, he all but made an appropriate exclamation. But he conquered his feelings and waited quietly for her answer.

“I—I can’t think, exactly,” Renny said, and quite truly. “I was dancing with somebody, just a little round dance, you know, not on the stage, but it was almost time for my stage dance, and I know I said to him— but I can’t think who he was—I said that I must hurry to the dressing room or I’d be late, and I’m never late for anything. Am I, Byron?”

But Lane went right on.

“Never mind, just now, Mrs Talbot, who it was, what did you hear then?”

“Why that’s when I heard—oh, I remember now, who it was! It was Louis Alger, how stupid of me to forget!”

“Mr Alger was with you when you heard the news?”

“Yes, that’s what I told you. It was a sort of porter talking, I think—”

“It was the Casino watchman. What did he say?”

“Oh, how can I tell you? He said—he said Mr Talbot was dead, and there was no doubt about it! That’s what he said. If I had believed it, then, I think I should have screamed—but, you see, I didn’t think it was true—”

“Why didn’t you?”

Again the brown eyes opened wide at him. “Why, because it seemed too absurd. I had just seen Nick a few minutes before and to be told a thing like that, of course, I didn’t believe it! But soon I had to believe it.”

“What made you believe it?”

“Everybody was talking of it. And Mr Appleton stood up on a chair and said it was true.”

“What did you do then?”

“I went to my brother. He is all I have left, now, you see. Do you want to ask me anything more?”

“Yes, Mrs Talbot. Who do you think could have killed your husband?”

“I have no idea, Mr Lane. I suppose it must have been some of those bad men who hate rich people. You know what I mean, Reds, they call them, I think.”

“Had Mr Talbot ever been threatened by any such people?”

“Not to my knowledge. But if he had been, he would not have told me. He never said anything that would frighten or alarm me.”

“Then if he feared trouble with some bad men, you knew nothing of it?”

“I did not. Perhaps Mr Rudd could tell you about that.”

“Who is Mr Rudd?”

“He is a friend of Nick’s, and he lives with us.”

“Is he a relative?”

“Oh, no. They are just firm friends. I don’t know how Mr Rudd will stand this awful thing that has come to us. Please let me go, now, I am beginning to lose my grip.” Big tears were running down Renny’s cheeks, but Lane held her a moment longer.

“Mrs Talbot, as the Medical Examiner has made his report, I now turn over the body of your husband to you. Where do you want it taken?”

“Home, of course.” Renny seemed surprised.

“No, dear,” Byron said, “it would be better to send it to the Mortuary Parlors, down near the church, you know.”

“Oh, yes, I went there once. It is a lovely place. Do that, Byron, look after it, will you? And I can go there to see him, can’t I? You must excuse me, Mr Lane, but these things are all new to me, and I don’t quite know how to act.”

“Don’t worry, my dear,” said Doctor Hatton, coming to her. “I will run in to see you tomorrow, and I know your brave heart will carry on.”

“Thank you, everybody—please take me away, Byron.”

The brother and sister went off and the District Attorney and the Medical Examiner were at last left alone together.

“Where more is meant than meets the ear,” said Lane.

“Still waters run deep,” said Lindsay.


Chapter 11
A Perturbed Community

It is hard for the general inexperienced public to realize the multifold duties of the police immediately after a murder.

Many members of the Homicide Squad itself are handicapped by indecision, not what to do, but what to do first. The investigators are trained to an orderly routine, but when a case is complex, its scenes various and its motives unknown, when a hundred traces or indications are calling at once for instant attention, discernment and wise judgment are necessary to a right procedure.

And this case of Nicholas Talbot was bewildering Chief Brady, who wanted to do right and do it quickly.

He wanted to get through with the Casino and get over to the Talbot house, which was calling to him across the Gardens.

By Herculean efforts he did get the people out of the Casino, a big place, with its endless chain of rooms and halls, balconies and galleries.

His faithful men tallied the names and addresses of the vanishing crowd, and then were set to work scouring the place for clues or for evidence of any sort, which was not readily found. Plenty of lost objects were garnered, fans, bags, compacts, handkerchiefs, cigarette cases and such, and these were carefully filed, but they meant nothing as yet.

The principals of the various committees were held and questioned, but could tell little of interest. A few had noticed the members of the Talbot household, here and there, but their behavior was in no way unusual.

The kitchen quarters were ransacked in an endeavor to learn if the fatal knife had belonged there. This could not be decided, for the myriad knives found were partly the Club property and partly brought in from restaurants and other supply sources and ranged from the humblest wooden handles to monogrammed silver or ivory.

Brady himself looked after the protection of the place where Talbot’s body had lain. He ordered it fenced around, and covered securely with strong, durable material that would keep out the weather and also any possible marauders. Two men were to guard it day and night, until ordered off.

Day was almost breaking when Brady went home, but he had to be back there early, and he was always better for a short sleep.

So the sun had to rise without the Chief’s help, and it dared to shine sharply in at the windows of Renny Talbot’s sleeping room.

It found that young woman wide awake, and also with her brown eyes wide open, as she tried to realize what it all must mean to her.

The night before, Byron and Christine had come home with her, after vainly trying to make her spend the night with them.

Mrs Golder, the worthy Talbot housekeeper had begged to be allowed to assist her to get ready for bed, but Renny declared she wanted nobody, but just her own little maid, Minty, who could do everything for her.

Mrs Golder understood and arranged that Renny should have her way.

“And why not?” she asked of her friend, the butler, after he had let out the Byron Lorings. “She’s to have everything just as she wants it, as long as she can, and that may not be long, poor child!”

Golder had resented Renny’s advent, after her many years of looking after Nick’s bachelor establishments. But Renny won out, by her sweet ways and really kind heart, and the housekeeper was now her devoted slave.

And the lady possessed a marvelous degree of perspicacity. From the very first, she had read Renny almost exactly right, and the few mistakes she made, she was not aware of. She understood and approved Renny’s attitude to everybody under the Talbot roof. To Nick and to his visiting friends, to chance guests and to the servants. And most of all, to herself. She did not consider herself a servant, and she appreciated and admired Renny’s exact standpoint, halfway between mistress and friend, and she marveled that the girl could command it so perfectly.

So Renny lay there, in the sunlight, unheeding the light taps she heard on her door at intervals. Minty, bless her heart, was trained to tap lightly, and, if not invited in, not to try again for a while.

But at length, there came a more decided rap, which, Renny knew was Mrs Golder’s.

“Come in,” Renny called, and the housekeeper obeyed.

“Your brother is downstairs,” she said, “and he says you must get up and come down because some men are coming to talk to you. He wants to see you now—”

“Yes, I do,” and Byron came in. “I’m sorry for you, Renny, you know that, but really you must try to forget yourself a little, and remember, if you can, your duty to Nick.”

“What do you mean?” Renny sat up in her bed and opened her eyes at him. “I never neglect a duty!”

“You don’t quite know, my child, what you are up against. They are trying to find out who killed Nick, and naturally they want to see what you can tell them.”

“Oh, that. You just tell them, Byron, that I haven’t the least idea who did it, if I had I’d tell them frankly.”

She rolled over again, and Byron went to her and gave her a good shake.

“Get up, and don’t be such a silly. I don’t see how Nick ever put up with your stupidity and ignorance!”

“He liked it.” Renny flung back the bedclothing. “Go on, now, just push that bell for Minty. I’ll be down in a few minutes.”

“See that you do!” He kissed her, for he really loved his foolish little sister, and went out as Minty came in.

“Anything white,” Renny said, and the girl brought her a plain tailored white crepe.

“Black beads?” Minty asked.

“No, nothing like that. Give me just a little coffee.”

In a few minutes she was down in the morning room, and found Rudd was waiting for her. She took the hand he held out, and meeting the glance from his clear blue eyes, she said, “I am so sorry for you,” in real sincerity, and he knew it.

He only said, “I am sorry for you, Renny, too. I hope I can be of help.”

“If you can’t, nobody can.”

Then she turned to Trask, and said, “You, too, have lost a good friend,” and he replied, “Yes, we all have.”

Each felt relief that these necessary words had been spoken, and no further expressions of sympathy were called for.

Then she turned to Byron, saying, “I thought you said the whole police force was down here, waiting to arrest me.”

Byron looked at her, and then spoke sternly.

“I am sorry, Renny, to speak before our friends here, but I must insist that you stop that light way of talking. I am trying to think it is because of the sudden tragedy that has come upon you and has disturbed your poise. It is not your way to show such bad taste.”

This time Byron had struck the right note.

“I’m sorry, By. You are right, and I think it is because I have lost my mental balance somehow. I won’t do it again. Tell me what will happen. Who will come here and what will they look for? You know they can guess people by fingerprints nowadays. Will they take ours?”

“Perhaps. But mostly, dear, they will ask you questions about Nick. If you know the answer, tell it truly. If you don’t, then say so, don’t make up or exaggerate.”

“All right. I know all about Nick that there is to know, and there is nothing bad. Will they ask things about me? Must I tell those?”

“Make it your general rule to tell the truth. It’s the best way. But if asked anything you really don’t want to tell, you can say so and they may let you off it.”

“You’ll do all right, Renny,” Trask put in. “I’m only afraid you’ll try to rag ’em. Don’t do that. It’s poor taste.”

“Is it?” and Renny turned to Rudd.

“Yes,” he said, gravely, “anything is poor taste, except to answer clearly and truly. But I think you won’t be bothered much. I doubt they’ll try to heckle you.”

And then they came. The case had been put in the capable hands of Inspector Craven and his young assistant, Detective Sergeant Flint. They came together to make their first call on the principals of this important homicide.

After learning one another’s identities, the Inspector began.

He had a fine shape and a fine face, but the latter was marred by a pair of what could only be called gimlet eyes. Black they were, and piercing but more than that, they seemed to have a dreadful way of reading another person’s thoughts. Renny perceived this at once; after a second glance, Rudd became aware of it, but Byron never noticed it at all.

In fact, Byron Loring wouldn’t have cared if everybody in the world had read all his thoughts; indeed, he would have been rather proud of such a performance. But the good-looking Craven seemed to have not the slightest curiosity concerning Loring’s most secret hopes or fears.

This strange man was, to all appearance, most fascinated by Trask’s intelligent face. And Steve seemed aware of it. His eyes were alight with information, his face shone with knowledge and he seemed scarce able to keep his mouth shut until he should be asked to pour forth his mental treasures.

Craven looked at him twice, before he made his opening remark. The first time he looked puzzled and the second time he smiled.

“I believe, Mr Trask,” the Inspector said, “that you are the nearest living relative of the late Mr Nicholas Talbot?”

“Don’t you count his wife?”

“I am speaking of the Talbot family, of blood relations; are there any nearer than yourself? Do you know of any?”

“I do not; and Nick didn’t either. I’ve heard him say if he had any other kin, he’d like to look ’em up and pal with ’em.”

“You know, that as to yourself you are Nicholas Talbot’s nephew?”

“Oh, yes; I am the only child of his only brother. Don’t you call that heir presumptive?”

“Not in this country. Also, Mr Talbot left a will. You were on good terms with your uncle?”

“The best. But I didn’t call him uncle. We were chums.”

“I see. He had many friends?”

“Oh, yes, a great many.”

“And enemies?”

“He was not a man to have what you would call enemies. If anyone did anything that displeased him, he simply let that person alone. He didn’t pick a quarrel with him.”

“You know some of these among his social acquaintances?”

“No, I don’t. If there were such, he kept the matter to himself. He seldom talked against anyone.”

“Yet he had one enemy who hated him enough to kill him. He was not the sort of man to commit suicide, was he?”

Trask stared at the speaker.

“Don’t be silly!” he said, with a look of scorn. “Can you imagine a man in full health and strength, rolling in wealth, and having just achieved a beautiful young wife, wanting to leave all this happiness? Also, as I understand it, the fatal wound is not indicative of suicide. Is it?”

“The idea has been suggested.”

“Then whoever suggested it would better think again. There is probably no man on the face of the earth who had less reason to kill himself than Nick Talbot!”

“Then we have to search for an enemy. Do you know of anyone with a grudge against him? Unjust, perhaps, but revengeful. Has he discharged servants, who resented it? Has he offended any of his casual acquaintances? Could he have had a secret enemy who threatened him, in revenge for some past injury?”

“I know of no such instances,” Trask said, “and I think there have been none.” He had suddenly become quieter and less inclined to talk.

The Inspector turned to Rudd.

“Can you tell me anything bearing on the matter?” he said. “I am told you are Mr Talbot’s confidential secretary, and I am sure you recognize that on such an occasion as this, no information should be withheld that might assist our investigation.”

“I do realize that, Inspector, and I am entirely willing to tell you anything I know. As secretary, my post is a sinecure, for since Mr Talbot retired from business, there is little clerical work to be done. He has an agent who attends to the management of his securities and such things. I have been in the habit of writing letters for him, keeping his personal and household accounts and acting as go-between to the numerous people who do not know him but continually write to him or try to see him.”

“Mr Talbot was a most generous man?”

“He was, indeed. But his benefactions were made with care and thought, they were not given out indiscriminately.”

“And could this at some time have aroused someone to enmity, because of unsatisfied demands?”

“It could; but never to my knowledge has it done so.”

“Has anything, to your knowledge, occurred, that could have made someone feel intensely angry with Mr Talbot, or Mr Talbot with him, that might have led eventually to this tragedy?”

The black eyes were watching Rudd’s face with a hawk-like intensity, but they saw no hint of hesitation in the blue eyes that met them squarely as Rudd said, firmly, “Nothing, Inspector.”

But though Rudd showed no least tremor of emotion at the question, Inspector Craven heard a sudden irrepressible little gasp, and turned quickly to see Renny sobbing into a big chiffon handkerchief.

“I w-wish you’d st—top!” she said. “I can’t stand it to hear you talking about my husband like that! He was a perfect angel, he had no enemies, everybody loved him and he was good to everybody.”

“Tell me more about him,” said the tactful Inspector, who was quick to see a chance. “Tell me some little personal things,” his voice was gentle now. “Did you give him a ring, when you were married?”

“Why, no,” said Renny, surprised. “He gave me one. He didn’t like rings on men, and yet he had one that he always wore. He said it was his good luck piece.”

“What kind was it? Did he have it on last night?”

“I didn’t notice, but he must have had it on, he never takes it off. It is a scarab ring. It is set with a real scarab, that he brought from Egypt himself. Rudd didn’t like the ring, but I did.”

“Why didn’t you like it, Mr Rudd?” and Craven turned to him.

Rudd smiled a little. “I suppose it was prejudice,” he said. “It came from a king’s grave, and I dislike those dug-up treasures. And it is of an unpleasant greenish blue that suggests mold and decomposition and—oh, well, I just didn’t enjoy looking at it. But I didn’t really mind it. Several times Nick offered to leave it off, but I wouldn’t let him. Is it of importance?”

“Only that Mr Talbot’s ring was not on his finger when he was found.”

“How very strange! that looks like robbery, the thing was of value.”

“It is strange; we’re hoping it’s a clue, but if so, it’s a blind one. It seems to lead nowhere—as yet.”


Chapter 12
Remsen Loses His Temper

“Isn’t a clue often blind at first, and becomes more and more indicative as it is further investigated?” Rudd asked, speaking seriously. “It does look like robbery, and yet, even though a valuable antique, that would hardly be known to the average robber. And a man who could realize the fact that it was an antique gem, would scarcely be in the class of murderous bandits. Has the ring been found?”

“Yes, and oddly enough, it was found right in the place where Mr Talbot’s body was lying. It must have been under him when he died.”

“That is really strange,” Trask declared. “What do you make of it, Inspector?”

“It is puzzling. If the killer drew it from the dead man’s finger it looks as if he was interrupted or frightened before he could get away with it. Yet we know of no one who witnessed the crime, or saw anyone trying to get the ring. I think we must decide that the murderer did try to pull the ring off and did get it off, and then was frightened and dropped the ring in panic.”

“Is the ring mine?” Renny asked, with a wistful look.

“Yes, Mrs Talbot, it will be handed over to you later on, after we have made our investigations. Do you know how Mr Talbot came by the ring?”

“I don’t, but I have always supposed he bought it. He bought a great many things in Egypt, curios and such, and I think this was just one of them.”

“Do you know there is an inscription inside it?”

“No, I didn’t know that. What is it?”

“It is in old Egyptian text, and it says—do you know what it says, Mr Rudd?”

“Yes, Mr Talbot told me. He said it is a good luck ring, and the legend inside is, roughly translated, ‘Wear me and be safe.’ ”

“I wonder if someone translated that for Mr Talbot and translated it wrongly, either in ignorance or on purpose. For I have taken it to the Metropolitan Museum and had it translated, and I am told on the highest and most impeccable authority, that the translation is, ‘Who weareth me will know violent death.’ It is hard to be sure, but I think Mr Talbot believed the beneficent inscription, and that later, only yesterday, in fact, he learned the true translation, and that being attacked, he tried to get the ring off, and did so, but it was too late, and he dropped the ring under him, where it was later found by the detectives.”

“It’s too dreadful,” cried Renny, who was sobbing in Byron’s arms. “Don’t tell any more, I can’t stand it!”

“I think you may be excused, Mrs Talbot, and your brother, too. I have your testimony, and if need be, I will talk with you again. Mr Rudd, where were you when you first heard the news of Mr Talbot’s death?”

Detective Flint came in just then and took a seat as he listened for Rudd’s reply.

“I was just coming out of the Cinema Room. No, I am not a Movie Fan, I seldom go to see them, but, as you probably know, last night there was a showing of that new lighting effect, I forget the name of it, but I am much interested in that sort of thing, and I wanted to see it. I was there at the beginning and I stayed to the end. It was a splendid exhibition. The place was crowded, although you had to have reserved seats, and coming out we were in a regular jam. It was then that I heard someone say that somebody had been killed. I didn’t believe it at first, and then I kept hearing more and more details, and at last I heard Nick’s name connected with it. Even then, I couldn’t believe it was a true story, and I pushed through the crowd and I ran into Trask, and he told me. But I knew Nick had gone over to Mr Van Dusen’s to see a rare coin he has just acquired. It was almost time for Renny’s character dance, and I knew Nick would be back in time for that. You see, I just couldn’t believe he was dead. Nobody seemed to know anything about it, and nobody could answer my questions. Trask knew no more than I did, positively; he had only heard wild reports and idle speculations.

“But when Mr Appleton stood up on a chair and told us the facts, I could doubt no longer.”

“What did you think?”

“I don’t know what I thought. My mind flew back to twenty years ago, when Nick and I first met. I’m not going to bore you with my life story, but when I was in the very depths of danger and distress, Nicholas Talbot came to my aid and not only saved my life but my honor, my reputation and my happiness. All I have and all I am I owe to him. It would take too long to tell it, but Trask here, will vouch for my word and tell you I speak the truth.”

“Indeed, yes,” Trask said. “And Rudd is too modest, he has done as much for Nick as Nick has for him. And if ever there were two men, since the days of Damon and Pythias, who knew the meaning of friendship in its last and best degree they are the men. I know, for a fact, that either would have laid down his life for the other, and now such an occasion can never happen.”

Caleb Rudd looked up with a sad little smile.

“Don’t overdo it, Trask,” he said. “It is true enough, Inspector, but one doesn’t want it told with such emphasis. I thank you, Trask, and if Nick were here he would agree to all you say. Now, let us lay that aside, and turn our thoughts to the present. Ask me all the questions you like, Inspector, disregarding what you have been told about my friendship with Nick. If you want facts, I will say I sat in the cinema show, from ten-thirty to eleven. I was in an end seat of the third row. I wanted to be near, to see the lighting. It is a new and marvelous invention. As soon as the show was over everybody rose, and of course, everybody tried to push out of the doors at once. The result was a jam, which straightened itself out slowly but surely. At first, I was trying to look for Nick; he is always getting lost in a crowd, but as I heard what people were saying, and then heard what Mr Appleton said, I put all my efforts toward finding out what I could about Nick, and what had happened to him. I knew he had gone over to Van Dusen’s to see a coin, and I couldn’t help thinking he was there yet and all this fuss was a mistake.”

“Who spoke to you first about it?”

“Appleton. I met him on the steps, and he told me. I ran right back to where he said Nick was, and I saw him. There were two policemen on guard, and I asked them a few questions, but they knew nothing except that they had been told to stay there. I couldn’t do anything to help, so I went back to the Fair rooms, to see if I could do anything for Renny. But Byron and Christine were with her, so she didn’t need me. I ran across Drew Remsen and Ruth Hanna. We fell a-talking, and I must say Remsen showed real feeling and was genuinely sorry.”

“Why shouldn’t he be?”

“Oh—oh, well, he and Nick are not exactly what you call hand and glove.”

“Don’t mistake that speech, Inspector,” Renny said. “There was a time when Nick and Drew weren’t such awful good friends, but they got over that and buried the hatchet.”

“Was it much of a hatchet?”

“No,” said Rudd, “nothing that couldn’t be settled in a few minutes. Have you seen Remsen, Inspector? But he wouldn’t know anything more than anybody else. I think it’s no use your quizzing and questioning. Our Nick wasn’t killed by any of his friends or foes in his own set. He was done in by a wicked robber, and you ought to see that yourself!”

“I should like to see it myself,” said Inspector Craven.

Renny jumped up and stood before him, her eyes opened wide.

“Do you mean to say you believe my husband was killed by someone he looked upon as a friend? Someone, perhaps in this room? Someone he cared for and was loyal to?”

“It may have been, may it not?”

“No! It may not! Have you lived your sticky life without ever finding a friend, a dear friend, a devoted friend? Do you believe such a one would kill you! Kill you for no reason whatever! No one had any reason for killing Nicholas Talbot! There was no reason—there could have been no reason, yet you sit up there and say, ‘It may have been.’ Oh, I hate you!”

Rudd went over and sat by Renny, saying gently, “Don’t talk like that, dear, about our Nick. Let us try to make some plans. Can you think when you would want to have the funeral? I don’t want to grieve you, but if you could make a suggestion. Or would you rather see Christine first?”

“Christine has nothing to say about it. But I’d like to see Byron.”

“If you please, Mrs Talbot, I must ask you to postpone the making of your plans a little longer. I am a very busy man, and I have given over this morning to these questions I want to ask of you. I fear I must insist on taking your time for a while longer. As you may or may not know, we detectives have to investigate certain points which we call clues.”

“Oh, I know all about clues, Inspector. Just ask me your questions.”

“Very well; one of our most important clues is Mr Talbot’s ring. As you know I told you the inscription inside it really reads, ‘Who weareth me will know violent death.’ ”

“Yes, I remember, but it doesn’t seem to matter to me. My Nick is dead, and I don’t believe he died because he wore a ring with a silly curse in it.”

“I don’t either, Mrs Talbot, but I want to tell you more about the ring. Here it is.”

Craven took from his pocket the ring that had been worn for many long years by Nick Talbot.

“Oh, do you carry it around like that! Don’t! You might lose it!”

“No, I shan’t lose it. Now look at it closely. You know how to open it?”

“Yes, of course. Just press the spring—so.”

“Righto! But there is another spring that will open another hiding place. Do you know that?”

“No, there isn’t any other.”

“Does anyone here know of another secret place in the ring?”

All said no, and the Inspector then opened, by means of an even tinier spring, another cavity, which showed some microscopic engraved words.

“Who can read this?” he asked.

“I can,” Trask declared, taking a document microscope from his pocket.

“Read it out,” Craven said, and Trask obeyed. This message was not in Egyptian, but of a later date, and engraved in exquisite Italian characters. He read it first in that language, and was at once urged to put it in English.

Trask was a linguist, and he read it out clearly.

“Wear this ring until one you love betrays you.” Renny’s eyes opened wide and then as suddenly closed and she dropped her face on her crossed arms.

“This discovery is of the gravest importance, as you can all understand,” the Inspector said. “Mrs Talbot, does it seem to you to indicate any one of your husband’s best friends?”

“Certainly not,” and Renny raised her head and looked at him with a quiet disdain. “Mr Talbot did not know that inscription was in the ring.”

“How do you know he didn’t?”

“For two reasons: one, because if he had known it he never would have worn the ring, and the other because if he had known of it he would have told me about it. My husband told me everything, and we talked over everything together. And also, Mr Craven, there is what I think is called internal evidence.”

“And just what do you mean by that?”

“I mean that Mr Talbot was a man of the highest honor and also of the most infinite loyalty. I am sure he did not know of that second inscription. If he had known of it he never would have worn the ring. For that second inscription would have implied to Mr Talbot that someone he loved could betray him. This he would never allow; his faith in his friends was so absolute, so perfect that to him that inscription would seem a doubt, and he would have thrown the ring into the ocean before he would have worn it. No, Nick never knew of that secret inscription, it was put there by some previous owner of the ring, who knew little of love and loyalty. Of course, it could have been that a lover gave it to his love, meaning that he was the one she loved, and that ‘until he betrayed her,’ meant never or the same as eternity. But no true lover would word it that way.”

“You know a lot about love, Mrs Talbot.”

“Yes,” said Renny, calmly, “I do.”

“Perhaps you have some discarded lovers of whom Mr Talbot might have been jealous.”

“Perhaps I have.” Renny was still calm.

“Will you name some?”

Renny opened her eyes very wide at him.

“I suppose, Inspector, you policemen have a textbook of some sort that tells you what you may and may not do. Please bring it, next time you come and show me the rule that says you may insult a lady, in her own home. Good morning.”

Renny walked, she didn’t run, but she was out of the room before Inspector Craven could get his mouth open for a retort.

The Inspector cleared his throat with a sound that definitely expressed his opinion of women.

“As if I would insult her, the pretty little thing!” he said. “But I know that even a bride may be subject to the attentions of past lovers who are in depths of dark despair because she is lost to them forever. And not infrequently the little bride is flattered by these attentions and—the fat is in the fire.”

“All that cannot be said of Renny,” Rudd observed. “She is staunch and loyal to her heart’s core. I was with them on their honeymoon, and Renny’s devotion to her husband was a lovely thing to see. Not that she ever paraded her affection or even showed her happiness, but her every thought was for him or of him, and their love was ideal.”

“But I didn’t mean,” Craven said, “that Mrs Talbot might kill her husband! I meant the rejected lover felt hatred not toward the lady, but toward the man.”

“That is a situation often met in song and story,” Rudd said, “but I think it is seldom found in conditions today. The modern pair, if ill-assorted get a divorce or separation, but I have never seen a case of murder because of incompatibility.”

“That’s so,” Trask agreed, “and the reason is, the modern young husband, if he finds he has drawn a blank, is too wise to put the hangman’s noose round his neck or to engage a reserved seat up at Sing Sing.”

“Speaking of reserved seats, Mr Rudd,” said Craven, “who sat next to you in the cinema theater, at the Fair?”

“I’ve no idea. He was a plump, shortish man, who seemed greatly interested in the performance. We exchanged a few words on the well arranged room and as to the wonder of the new light that we were to see. He seemed rather scientific and used good language. And then the show began and we talked no more.”

“Did you talk with him after?”

“No. We were separated in the crowd, which had begun to be excited.”

“Do you know his name?”

“Oh, no, we didn’t get chummy enough for that.”

“That’s all, then. Thank you, Mr Rudd.”


Chapter 13
Ashes To Ashes, Dust To Dust

The funeral services for Nicholas Talbot were carried out with the same dignified elegance and good taste as his house was run.

Had he been there himself to look after things, they could not have been more to his mind.

The flowers were of the best, yet not too many nor of a fragrance too overpowering; the music was heavenly, and by the best known artists; yet there were not too many numbers.

The services were stately, as became a man of Talbot’s worth and prominence.

And when it was over, and the casket was sent away to be placed in the old family vault, the lawyer requested them all to come and listen to the reading of the will.

It was a long process, for many bequests and annuities were told of and many unexpected legacies were announced.

Oddly enough, Renny had never heard the reading of a will.

Her short and irresponsible life had seldom had occasion to come in contact with matters of business and not often had she been called upon to make a decision of any importance.

It was with a feeling of curiosity that she walked by Byron’s side, and took the chair designated for her in the library.

The lawyer, Mr Atwater, rather to Renny’s surprise, paid but slight attention to her; but this neither annoyed nor offended her. The whole performance was a novelty to her, and she had but slight interest in the matter.

Nor did she give much thought as to what portion of Talbot’s wealth should be bequeathed to her. She wanted to live luxuriously, but she had little love of display, and, too, she felt that whatever Nick had decided for her was unquestionably right.

She grew restless as she had to listen to the long details of various bequests. It seemed to her that the points need not have been set forth so fully, and she felt a longing to get out of doors into the bright cold winter air.

There were Charitable Institutions, Educational Fellowships and Religious Societies that all were generously remembered, and it seemed to Renny that the instructions were so definite and complete they could be used successfully by a schoolboy.

Many friends were given individual gifts, of surprising size, and the little settlement of Banbury Gardens was lavishly dowered.

And, then, when Renny felt she could not keep awake any longer, she learned the final decrees.

After the household servants were amply provided for, it was stated in the simplest terms, that such residuary fortune as might be left of Nicholas Talbot’s estate, should be apportioned thus: One-half to his beloved wife, Renee Loring Talbot; one-quarter to his cousin, Stephen Trask, and one-quarter to his dear friend, Caleb Rudd, whom he had long held in deepest affection and respect.

The amounts represented by these fractions were pretty well known to those in the room. After certain expenses and taxes were paid, Renny would have well over twenty millions and the two men each half of that.

Byron and Christine, who had each had a pleasant remembrance, asked Renny to go home with them for dinner and she agreed to do so.

“We’ll have to decide what we are going to do,” Renny said, looking at Rudd and Trask. “You two—”

“Time enough, Renny,” Rudd said, “to think of those things. Suppose we three just stay here as we are until we get through with the police proceedings, which are not going to stop right away.”

“Oh, Rudd! Must that go on?”

“I think you want it to,” said Rudd, very gently. “We can’t let our Nick go unavenged, if we can possibly help it.”

“Well, come along, now, Ren,” Byron said and it was odd to note the respect in his voice, since his sister had become a lady of wealth and importance.

“But let’s speak of it a little,” Rudd said, a quiver in his gentle voice. “It seems to me, that time is of the greatest value just now. We must push on the police work, or lose all we have already done. Now, why can’t we three live here for a while, just as we did when Nick was with us. Mrs Golder would continue on as housekeeper, I’m sure, or if Renny would rather stay with her brother, Trask and I can carry on here. Don’t look like that, Renny, I only meant that it might be pleasanter for you at the Lorings’ and I know you want the police work to go on.”

“What do you want to do, Rudd?”

“Find the man who killed my friend, and see to it that he pays the penalty for his crime.”

“But that wouldn’t bring Nick back to us, so what good would it do?”

“If that’s the way you look at it, it would do no good to you. But I feel differently about it. Would you rather that I went to live in some other house—or at the Inn?”

“What makes you think you can find the criminal?”

“I think I can try, and I know I am going to try. Oh, Renny, have you no heart?”

“That isn’t heart, that is only wicked revenge.”

“Don’t talk that way,” Byron said, “you know nothing about these things, and I think you’d better come and stay with us for a few weeks, and then I’m sure I can teach you a little. Do come, dear.”

Renny opened her eyes at him.

“I don’t understand you, Byron. Please try to realize that I am no longer a child. I am a married woman, a widow, and I have a right to live my life as I choose.”

“You sure have houses enough to live in,” Trask said. “This one, the big apartment on Park Avenue, that enormous Adirondack camp, the hunting box in Alabama, the dude ranch in Wyoming, and each of them tops in every way! Now, it would be perfectly right for you to go to— Gosh! I forgot the Florida house! You go there and take some nice sweet lady with you, and stay two or three months. Then come back and pick up your life and live it bravely and finely.”

“Steve, you talk like a minister.”

“I know, but when these shocks come they make you feel as if you ought to be more like a minister. I wish I could preach a sermon to you that would do you some good!”

“It would seem that I was the one to be comforted— instead of that I just get scolded.”

“No, Renny, we’re not scolding you,” Rudd declared. “Now, look here, use your common sense. Nick was my dearest friend, and now that he has been taken from me I am going to try to find the fiend who did it. If you or Trask or both will help me, I shall be only too glad, if not I must go it alone.”

“Do you know how to do it?” asked Renny, gravely.

“How to find him? I can only try. But you know the first way is to find clues and find what they mean. We may get some help that way and we may not. Then there is the police work. That is of great help. But, it is difficult. It calls for skilled detectives and wide experience. But the trick is to try all these ways one after the other. It will be discouraging, but detective work is just one discouragement after another. What say, Renny? Have I made it seem too hard? Do you want to try?”

“You’ve made it seem pretty hard. I don’t mind hard work, but your discouraging songs are not pleasing to the ear.”

“All right, child. We’ll begin and if we get on at all, you can come in. How’s that, Trask?”

“Look here, Rudd, I’m no shirk, but we don’t know how to do this detective hodge-podge, and we’d only waste our time? Isn’t that so?”

“Not to me. Nothing that I can do to help find the villain who killed Nick is a waste of my time. But I’m not asking you. You do just as you like.”

“That’s all right, Rudd,” Byron said, speaking slowly and thoughtfully. “But you must realize that it isn’t up to you to say just what the proceedings shall be. A police case is managed by the police, just as a legal case is managed by a lawyer or a theater by a manager. You won’t have to tell the police what to do, they’ll tell you. Now, I’m going home. You coming, Christine? You, Renny?”

But just then Flint, the young Sergeant came in.

“I say,” he began, “do any of you people know anything about knives? There’s a man in the kitchen, not the butler, an under-feller of some kind, and he says this is a perfectly good knife and it has a coca-cola handle.”

“What kind of lunatics make up your staff, Renny?” Byron asked.

“You’re the lunatic, By,” and Renny laughed at him. “Let me see the knife, Mr Flint, please. Yes, this handle is real cocobolo wood. It isn’t rare, you know, but you don’t always get the real stuff. Did you find it in our kitchen?”

Flint looked a little embarrassed.

“Well, yes, ma’am, I did. The cook said it was just an old thing that had been there for years, but that it was a good knife yet?”

“Let me take it,” said Rudd. “Yes, it’s a cocobolo handle, all right, but you don’t cut with the handle! What about the blade?”

“It’s a stainless steel blade, I know that,” Christine offered proudly. “Why are we making such a fuss over the old thing?”

“We’re not,” Flint said, carelessly. “Mrs Talbot, won’t you come for a bit of a walk with me? It’s lovely, out in the sunshine.”

“Glad to, Byron, touch that bell for Minty.”

And in a few minutes, Renny, wearing a chinchilla wrap, with toque to match, was leading Flint through the alleys of snow-laden conifers.

“Wonderful home,” Flint was saying, with sincere admiration, if not much originality.

“Oh, no!” Renny said. “Good enough, of course, but wait till you see what I’m going to build!”

“Modernistic jiggery-pokery, I suppose.”

“Just for that I shan’t let you ever see into the room that is going to be my very own!”

“All right; if I shall never see it, tell me a little about it.”

“Just a little, then. The walls will be of glass bricks and the furniture, gold lame, stretched over chromium frames. Then a large, but low glass table, for books and flowers. You go in the room through a thin black curtain, shot with gold—”

“And how do you get out, that would interest me more?”

“You say that to be funny, but it isn’t.”

“The room is, though. Now, Mrs Talbot, we are not here to be funny and I am truly shocked that you talk and act as gayly as you do. But never mind that. Is it true that you take no interest in learning anything you can about that kitchen knife? Is it true that you do not care whether it is the knife that killed your husband, or not?”

“I will not answer such useless questions as that. If you want to ask me anything sensible, I will answer.”

“Very well, then. Did you ever see that knife before?”

“Not to my knowledge.”

“Do you ever go into your own kitchen?”

“No, why should I?”

“I have been brought up to think every woman should be the queen of her own kitchen.”


Renny’s voice was so foolishly scathing, that Flint wanted to laugh, but he had other questions to ask.

But Renny got ahead of him.

“Do you know, Mr Flint, what is the first thing I am going to buy when I can get my money?”

“Assuredly I do not; how could I know?”

“Well, it’s going to be a rug of ostrich feather and marabou. Won’t that be beautiful?”

“You read about that in a book! I read it in the same book. Why don’t you get some original things. You read about your glass room, too. Now, Mrs Talbot, do help me a little. Remember, to help me is to help find the murderer of your husband. You are willing?”

“Oh, yes, indeed. But you ask such foolish questions.”

“Tell me something about Mr Rudd. They have been friends a long time?”

“Oh, yes. I have never known such devoted friends.”

“They had similar tastes?”

“Usually, not always. But they just seemed to think whatever each other did was just right.”

“Did you think so?”

“I didn’t think much about it. They thought all I did was right, and that was enough for me.”

“Did you love your husband?”

“I suppose you don’t know that such questions are not asked. You are so very ignorant. But since you have asked, I’ll tell you that I did love him very much. He was very dear and lovable, more so than strangers sometimes thought. And he was so good to me.”

“And do you love Mr Rudd?”

“Me! Love Rudd!” Renny’s eyes opened so wide that Mr Flint was frightened. He had never seen anything like it before.

“Pardon me, I pray. As you say, I don’t know much. I have gathered an idea somehow—I really don’t know how—that young ladies, even young married ladies, do love more than one man at a time.”

“Those are things we don’t talk about in good society. Now, Mr Flint, you tell me things. Do you think you can discover who killed Mr Talbot? Do you think Mr Craven can discover?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Because I think it ought to be known, I think we ought to find it out. And I think the murderer ought to be, what do they call it? Electricated?”

“I’m glad you feel the murderer should be punished. Why did you change your mind?”

“I didn’t change my mind. You misunderstood me. You mistook what I said.”

“You mean when I thought you were gay and thoughtless?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean. And when you thought I could love another man—beside my own beloved husband! Now, do you think the police can solve the case, the police here in Westchester County? or do you think we ought to have someone else; you know, the sort of smart ones they have in the library books?”

“Sherlock Holmes?”

“He’s dated, isn’t he? But I know one, a real live one, that I can get, and nobody else can.”

“Who is he?”

“His name is Mr Stone. He has solved wonderful cases. One was the Forrest case.”

“Viv Forrest,—the fencing tragedy? Yes, Stone’s a great detective. But the police seldom invite a P. I. to work with them.”

“What’s a P. I.?”

“Private Investigator.”

“Oh, I see. I guess I spoke out of turn! Forget it.”

Chapter 14
The Kitchen Knife

As Sergeant Flint and Renny walked back to the house, he said, a little abruptly:

“Where are your kitchens and pantries and such places?”

“Why, I thought you had just visited them, looking over the knives!”

“Yes, I did. But I want to go again, and have you go with me. And I don’t know the way from the outside.”

“Come along, then; this way does it. What do you want me to do?”

“Just try to find out more than I did. I’ll ask the questions, and you chip in, now and then.”

“I’ll try. Here’s the butler’s pantry, we’ll go in this way.”

They found the second butler, Johnson, on duty, and Flint began to question him about the knife.

“What is it you want me to tell you, sir?” he asked.

“Were you on duty that night that Mr Talbot died?”

“Yes, sir, I was on pantry duty.”

“Just what did you have to do?”

“Make sure that every dish was properly prepared and garnished before it was taken to the dining room.”

“Did you have occasion to use that knife that Inspector Craven showed you this morning, and which belongs here?”

“Yes, sir, I did use it.”

“What did you do with it after you finished using it?”

“That’s the queer thing, sir. It disappeared, all of itself!”

“Did you leave this pantry at all?”

“Oh, yes, sir; I was in and out, and one time I went to pick it up from where I had left it, and it just wasn’t there.”

“Now, are you sure that the knife you are telling me disappeared, is the same knife that the Inspector showed you this morning?”

“I am, sir. I know it, because it has brass rivets to hold the handle to the blade. We have no other knife just like that.”

“It is an old knife?”

“Yes, sir, but a better blade than many of the new ones.”

“Then, from what you say, you must assume that some person came in here and took the knife during one of the moments you stepped out.”

“I don’t like to say that, sir.”

“Why not?”

“Because I didn’t see anybody coming or going, and I don’t want to accuse anyone unjustly.”

“Accuse him of what?”

“Well, sir, there is much talk in the servants’ hall, and they do say that is the knife that Mr Talbot was killed with.”

“You didn’t take it out with you, yourself, and leave it somewhere, unintentionally?”

Here Renny decided it was her turn to speak.

“Take my advice on that question, Johnson,” she said, in a kind but decided manner. “Say, yes, you could have done that. For, you could, you know, even if you don’t remember doing it, you might have. And then you are accusing nobody in particular. But if you vow that you didn’t take it out, unthinkingly, then, you are accusing yourself, and I know you are innocent, but you will get yourself in a lot of trouble. Isn’t that so, Sergeant Flint?”

“We want Johnson to tell the truth, and if he doesn’t remember taking the knife out of the room with him, I doubt if he did take it, for he seems very clear-headed and honest.”

“Thank you, sir. I can truly say I did not take the knife out of the room with me—only, then how did it get out?”

“Someone else took it out, Johnson,” Renny said to him, “and we have to find out who it was. Come on, Sergeant Flint, we must report to the Inspector.”

To Renny’s surprise, Craven listened to her story of Johnson and the knife, with interest, but with no great enthusiasm.

“I’ve talked with that Johnson, myself,” he said, “and I don’t think he had any hand in the murder nor any reason for it. The whole staff of servants here are of long standing, and they seem devoted to the master and mistress, and entirely obedient to Mrs Golder, the housekeeper, who is, really the head of the house. The knife is doubtless from the butler’s pantry here, but to my mind that does not suggest a Talbot servant as the criminal. Rather, indeed, the reverse. As to how the knife was taken from the pantry and by whom, I wish we knew and the knowledge might or might not be helpful, but we must get along without it. And I cannot feel that a knife from the Talbot pantry implies a murderer from the Talbot household. I’m going over to see Van Dusen. He was the last, so far as I know, to see Talbot alive, except, of course the murderer. Want to go, Trask? Rudd?”

Both men declined, but to everybody’s surprise, Renny said she would like to go.

“But I thought Nick went to see Mr Van Dusen’s old coin at the Library,” she said. “If it’s at the house, I want to go. I like Mrs Van Dusen.”

It was the house they were going to, and Flint saw no objection to Renny’s going too.

“I want to get out of our house, all I can,” she said, as they went along. “I feel so depressed in there. Mr Rudd tries to be nice, but he bores me, and Mr Trask is just silly.”

“You are severe,” Craven told her. “I think they are two fine men, and I don’t wonder Talbot liked them as friends.”

“Oh, they’re all right,” Renny said, “but I just want to see some different people from them and my relatives once in a while. There’ll probably be some at the Van Dusens’, there always are.”

Mr Van Dusen welcomed Renny kindly, and Mrs Van Dusen was charming.

There were a few guests there, and they all treated Renny with such gentle kindliness that she was glad she came. She expected Christine would chide her when she heard of it, but she took the chance.

Mr Van Dusen could give the Inspector no news of Nick Talbot’s last hour with him. He showed the old coin and told how much Talbot was interested in it. But Talbot had interrupted his talk about coins, to return to the Fair, where his wife was to give a solo dance, which he must not miss.

“Was Mr Talbot wearing a bluish green scarab ring!” Craven asked.

“Oh, yes; I have never seen him without that ring on.”

“Then you didn’t look inside it?”

“No, somebody asked him to take it off, and he said he would some other time, but just then he must hurry away.”

“Yes,” Renny said, “he was hurrying to see my dance. I was with Louis Alger and I had just told him it was time for me to go to the stage, when we heard that awful man, a watchman or something, telling everybody that Nick was dead.”

“You poor dear child!” and Mrs Van Dusen put her arm round her.

She knew the girl was playing for sympathy, but she had plenty and to spare, so she gave it.

“I want to see Alger,” Craven broke in. “Where does he live?”

“He will be over here soon,” Van Dusen said, “any time now. He is more or less of a numismatist and he likes my lot.”

“Who doesn’t?” asked Rip Harley, who confessed openly to envy of Van Dusen’s coins and curios. “I say, Van, I saw a marvelous cat’s-eye the other night. Saw it on a chap’s hand, at the Fair. It was set in very heavy, plain old gold, splendid thing! Anybody else would have mucked it up with a diamond or a couple of pearls. Wonder who he was?”

“What did he look like?” Renny asked.

“Tall, heavy, rather like one of the less celebrated presidents.”

“With kindly black eyes?” Renny asked him.

“Yes, I think so; but I couldn’t tell much about his looks as I sat next to him in the dark.”

Inspector Craven looked up.

“Were you in that new-fangled cinema show at the Fair?” he asked.

“That’s just where we were. I didn’t know the man’s name, don’t know it yet, but he had on that wonderful ring, a real cat’s-eye, and I only had a glimpse of it before the lights were put out. When the lights were on again, and we were coming out, it was too crowded to see anything. And then, too, we heard, just then, about the awful tragedy.”

“Who told you?” asked Craven.

“Nobody and everybody, Inspector; we asked people and received no answers. Of course we were separated at once by the crowd, and I never saw my cat’s-eye man again.”

“I think he must have been Mr Rudd,” Renny told him; “a great friend of Mr Talbot’s and mine, and who lives with us. He does look like one of the old presidents, it’s Franklin Pierce.”

“Yes, it is. I recognize the likeness now you name it. And you know the history book says, ‘Franklin Pierce was handsome, graceful, well-dressed and a notable orator.’ I think he was the Clark Gable of his day; his picture looks like it.”

“I’ll tell Mr Rudd all this, it ought to make him vain, but it won’t,” Renny said, smiling.

“You let me take you home, it’s getting late anyhow, and then perhaps I can see that ring again.”

“We can try it, if you like, but he may not be at home. If he is home, though, he’ll be wearing it.”

“Let’s go,” and soon the two were walking together like old friends.

“When I get to be elderly, I’m going to set up a ring,” Harley told her. “Of course, everybody hates jewelry on men, but a ring, in later life, is, I think, permissible.”

“A fine, dignified ring,” Renny agreed, “yes. My husband wore a scarab. But it was a very valuable one, a historic gem.”

“You have it?”

“The Inspector has it. You see, it was found under Mr Talbot, and I believe that makes it a clue.”

“Found under him? You don’t mind speaking of it, do you?”

“No, not to you. How could that make it a clue?”

“I doubt if it does, really. But if there was robbery, why would the thief leave the ring? Was anything else taken?”

“No, nothing. That’s what bothers the Inspector so. I can understand it, but they won’t accept my theory.”

“What is your theory?”

“That somebody wanted that ring, and struggled with my husband to get it, and did get it off, but Mr Talbot fought for it, and then the thief stabbed him, and he fell, and died, right on the ring. The thief, frightened, ran away—maybe he heard someone coming—he must have been scared off, because he left the knife in the wound.”

“He was stabbed in the neck?”

“Yes, in the corroded artery, or something like that. Here we are, let’s go in this way.”

They found Rudd in a glass sun porch, and Renny introduced her new friend.

“Since your ring is a cat’s-eye, I could see it in the dark,” Harley said, “but I’d like to see it again.”

“Of course,” and Rudd drew the ring from his finger. “It is a fine specimen, not of any stupendous money value, but unusual in its opalescent reflections, like those of a cat’s eyes. Turn it slowly.”

Fascinated with the stone, Harley turned it and moved it from side to side admiring its coruscations.

“What’s it made of?” asked Renny.

“Of a chrysoberyl found in Brazil and Ceylon, which when properly cut has great chatoyancy.”

“If you talk like that I’m going away! What is chatootlecy?”

“Don’t expose your ignorance,” Rudd said, grinning at her, “chatoyancy is a play of colors or lusters seen in real cat’s eyes in the dark, or in some sorts of silks.”

“Oh, then I know. You mean changeable silks. They don’t have them now, but I have an old dress that was grandmother’s, made of it.”

Flint had lost no time in telling the Inspector about the man who sat next to Rudd at the Cinema, and with equal despatch, Craven had learned where Rip Harley could be found, and he at once betook himself to the Talbot house.

“I’m checking up a little,” he began, “as to where everybody was at the time of Mr Talbot’s death. I’m rather hoping you two can tell me of seeing somebody besides one another.”

“Poor place to see anyone, in that Cinema show,”

Harley reminded him. “I doubt if I should have noticed my next seat neighbor, if it hadn’t been for his ring.”

“Were the seats reserved?” asked Craven.

“Yes,” Rudd told him, “mine was C-1, I chose a near position so I could see the new process lighting.”

“And I had the next seat, C-3,” Harley said. “But I didn’t choose it, for I know little about lighting processes. I took that seat because it was the only decent one left.”

“Have you your seat-check stubs?” Craven asked, casually.

“I don’t know,” and Rudd looked surprised. “I usually stuff them in my pocket. Probably it’s there yet.”

“I have mine,” Harley said. “I generally keep the things for a time—I don’t know why—but I’m methodical that way.”

“I’d like to have them both to add to my collection,” the Inspector smiled. “No hurry about it, hand them to me any time. As I see it then, you two alibi each other. Mr Rudd, you can swear that Mr Harley sat by your side all through the cinema show?”

“I can most certainly do that. We didn’t talk any, for there was no intermission. But Harley was there.”

“And you, Mr Harley, can vouch for Mr Rudd’s continual presence beside you, all during the show?”

“Yes, Inspector. And I can tell you that my attention to the performance was greatly interrupted by my frequent glances at his cat’s-eye ring. The place was not pitch dark all the time, it had lighted moments now and then, and on those occasions I feasted my eyes on the beautiful gem.”

Rudd had quietly sent a servant to bring the ticket stub from his waistcoat pocket, and now it was brought.

“There you are, Inspector,” Rudd said, “and it’s a wonder the thing hasn’t been thrown away. I very seldom keep them.”

“I’ll see that you get mine,” Harley promised.

He rose to go home, and, still holding the cat’s-eye ring, he said to Rudd, “You have given me great pleasure, and I thank you.” He then returned the ring to its owner, politely took leave of Renny and the rest, and went away.

“He’s too short for his weight,” commented Flint, as Harley could be seen walking down the path, “but I hear he’s a most clever electrician. They say he had lots to do with the arranging of that show, yet he never put in a bid for praise.”

“I like him,” said Renny. “He said Rudd is handsome, graceful and well-dressed.”

“My child,” said Rudd, gravely, “the truth is not to be spoken at all times.”


Chapter 15
Renny Accepts The Situation

The dull days dragged along. Renny mourned for Nick Talbot, in a perfunctory sort of way, more because she thought she ought to do it, than because of deep grief.

She had loved Nick, because he was so good to her, and let her have her own way in everything. But she was not inconsolable. She only wished the time would come when she could do as she liked, do as other people did, and be part of the world again. She had to obey Christine in these matters, for Byron told her she must do so.

She had referred the question to Rudd, hoping he would be more lenient, but he was of no help.

“Child,” he said, “I’m sorry. I know just how you feel, how you are restless and need distraction. But, just now, you must really watch your step. The eyes of your friends are upon you, so are the eyes of society. You cannot ignore these. To arouse criticism just now, would spoil your whole life, injure your good reputation. You must content yourself with simple pleasures and do nothing conspicuous. But, good gracious, Renny! think how young you are! Only twenty, and after a year or less, you can return to your beloved gayeties and vanities. I suppose you don’t miss Nick at all.”

Rudd said this so simply and sincerely, she answered him in the same way.

“Yes, I do. I loved Nick very much—you know that; but now he is gone and it is because I miss him so, that I am so miserable.”

Rudd pretended belief. “Yes, of course,” he said. “I wish I could do something to amuse you. Do you think Christine would let me take you to New York some night, to a show or a club?”

“No, I know she wouldn’t. And, too, Rudd, there are those tiresome police people. They’re popping in and out all the time. When will they let up on us?”

“Not until they consider the case finished. Be careful what you say to them, too.”

“What do you mean? I haven’t done anything wrong! I’m not afraid of the police!”

“Of course not; but try to have a little sense! You know that everybody in this house will be suspected, or, at least questioned. They’re not through quizzing you yet.”

“Are you talking seriously, Rudd?” Renny suddenly looked at him in a sort of horror.

“Yes, I am. The widow of a rich man is always a suspect, and next come his friends and his housemates.”

“Then you and Steve are in it with me,” she said, carelessly.

“Don’t be frivolous about it; we do not have to be guilty to be suspected, you know, and to be put through very dreadful experiences.”

“No, I won’t frivol. Say, Rudd, do you think anybody else, outside this house could be suspected? Innocent, of course, but—like you said.”

“Yes, Renny, that could easily come to pass.”

She sat up straight in her chair, and assumed a new dignity.

Her black frock with white facings was very becoming to her, and her cheeks reddened as she tried to say what was in her mind.

But she failed to utter a word and Rudd helped her out.

“Are you thinking of anyone in particular, dear? But I know you are. And let me give you one piece of most serious counsel. If your name and that of Andrew Remsen come into this thing together, you will face grave disaster. Keep away from him, dear child, I beg of you.”

Renny tried to speak independently, but her voice trembled.

“I don’t expect to see him, Rudd; I haven’t seen him since the—the night of the Fair.”

“And you mustn’t. You’re a child in many ways, Renny, but you must understand the danger of any gossip about you two.”

“Heavens and earth, Rudd! You don’t think either he or I killed Nick, do you?”

“Of course I don’t! But there may be people who do think so.”

“The police?” Renny spoke in a scared whisper. “They have the notion in their mind already. They are watching both you and Remsen. I think you’d better know this, so I tell you frankly.”

“Do you suppose Drew knows it?”

“Knows what?”

“That the police suspect him?”

“I didn’t say they suspect him; if they did, they’d probably arrest him. I said the notion was in their mind. It’s up to him—and you—to see it doesn’t go any further.”

“Byron is going to try to persuade them to let me go away for a time, to California, maybe.”

“Do you want to go?”

“No, because I’d have to go with Christine. I’d like to go with you.”

“I fear that couldn’t be managed. And I doubt Craven would let you go so far away.”

They separated then, and Renny drifted into the pleasant sun parlor, and threw herself in a long basket chair.

Rudd had frightened her, as he meant to do, for it was true that even in the restricted social district of Banbury Gardens, there were certain beautiful ladies and a few well-dressed men, who would be quite ready to blow at a little flame started by a hint that now Renny was free, rich and nearly twenty-one. Or, even a hint that Drew’s engagement to Ruth Hanna had not been actually announced.

Renny thought little of public criticism, but just now, she was suffering from some very real pangs of remorse.

She was remembering distinctly one night in Mexico, when she had promised Nick she would never voluntarily see Remsen again, and also, that she would never think of him.

She remembered how serious Nick was and how he believed her promise.

But—a promise to a dead man—did that count?

For Renny had been thinking a great deal of Drew Remsen, of late, and she had been thinking, too, of almost the last words she had heard him say:

“I must and will have you, Renny, no matter what I do to get you!”

And that was before Mr Appleton had made the announcement of Nick’s death.

She didn’t believe for a minute—of course she didn’t —that Drew would do anything of that sort, but he had spoken in such a tense, desperate voice, that it had frightened her at the time and ever since.

Had anybody overheard those words? There were so many people about, so many temporary dressing rooms and cubicles put up for the actors and dancers—but no, she was right there herself, and she saw no one near.

Could Rudd suspect Drew? No, Rudd was too guileless himself and too generous-minded to think such a thing. Rudd had an angelic temperament and never believed evil of anybody. But in case of Nick! That would be quite different! Yes, indeed, if Rudd had the least suspicion that Remsen had done any harm to Nick—to Nick, of all people in the world, then Rudd would have ferreted out the truth.

Perhaps he was doing so. Perhaps that was why he warned Renny about any association of her name with Drew’s.

She heard her name spoken, in a light, careless voice:

“Hello, Renny! May I come in?”

It was Remsen, at the door, which was on the latch, as always, and he was coming in.

Renny always thought quickly. Now she remembered Christine had told her that when she met Remsen, as she must, sooner or later, to treat the meeting lightly. To be polite, but not chummy, gracious but not over cordial.

And now the time had come, and Renny obeyed Christine.

“Oh, hello, Drew. Yes, come in, of course, I expect my friends to call on me. How are you?”

She had left the basket chair and now sat gracefully straight in a smaller porch chair.

She scarcely dared look at him, he was so like the old Drew she had known so long. That hectic few minutes at the Fair, they had both been in fancy costumes, and seemed like different people.

But she conquered her excitement, and said:

“I get awfully tired of the house, but Christine won’t let me go anywhere. So I take it in my stride. Of course, I’ve lots to do.”

“I know, Renny dear. And how are things going? Any new developments? Are you bothered much by the Force?”

“Oh, they come and go. I like Mr Flint; and I like the Inspector, too, but he hasn’t much sense of humor.”

“I doubt if they study it in their curriculum. Yes, Flint’s a bright boy, but he hasn’t got anywhere yet.”

“How can he? He can’t find any—what do you call ’em—clues?”

“That’s what always stumps the police people. They say clues do no good, and then when they can’t find any they growl—oh, Renny, what made you do it?”

“What?” Renny jumped to her feet and stood staring at him.

“Gracious!” he understood, “I didn’t mean why did you kill Nick, but why did you marry him?”

“I think you know,” she said in a low tone.

“Yes, for money and position. Well, you have them, now.”

“What use are they to me now?”

“Don’t try to bluff me. You don’t mean that without Talbot his worldly goods are of no use to you!”

“I don’t know what I mean.” Renny began to lose her self-control. “But I am not happy—”

“Of course you aren’t, just now. But the clouds will lift, and the skies will brighten, and then—”

“And then?”

Renny was determined she would not look at him, but her cast down eyes, and the long lashes trembling on her cheeks proved too much for Remsen, and after a silent instant she was in his arms, shaking with mingled happiness and fear.

Then her senses returned, she said, sharply, “Stop!” and his arms fell at once.

“We mustn’t be fools, Drew,” she said, with a sad little smile, “and if I’m the only one with wisdom, I must use it for us both.”

“But you do love me!” he whispered. “You’ve told me now, and nothing else matters. Tell me you’ll marry me some day, far away though it may be, but some day!”

“Drew, you’re crazy! Don’t talk like that. And straighten yourself out, you’re all frowsy looking.” She ran her fingers through his tousled hair, and he gave her a warning look.

“That way madness lies,” he said, softly. “I think I’ll go home now, and come again soon. Better so.”

“Yes. But wait just a minute. No, don’t touch me. Listen. Drew, there are people in the town or in the police or both, who think that either you or I killed Nick. Don’t rage, I’m telling you so you can think it over and remember it, when—well, remember it all the time.”

Remsen went off without another word, and Renny watched him as he walked down the path. How fine he looked, upright, honorable, manly—yet, was he these things?

In her heart she felt that he was; that he had always loved her and only her, and that now she was free to be his—

Free? Was either of them free? Both were in danger of accusation of crime, both were in honor obliged to consider Ruth Hanna, both—

Renny turned round and picked up the morning paper, which she had been reading when Drew came. In a few moments she threw it down again, and went to her own private telephone. A very short conversation ensued, and then she rang for Minty.

“I’m going to New York on an errand,” she said to the girl. “Call Doane, and tell him to have my little car round in fifteen minutes. You will go with me. Give me something all black, but pleasing to the eye.”

Minty always understood Renny’s dress requirements, and within twenty minutes they were on the road.

“We are probably followed,” Renny said, to her chauffeur, “but it is all right.” She gave the address and then sat in thoughtful silence, until the car stopped at the city home of Fleming Stone.

“Stay in the car, with Doane, Minty,” Renny said. “I’ve no idea how long I shall be here. Keep within call.”

Ushered into Stone’s reception room, she found him waiting there for her.

“Mrs Talbot,” he said, his keen gray eyes looking pleased at the simplicity of Renny’s appearance and manner. “What can I do for you?”

“You can save me, I hope,” she said, without a hint of theatricalism. “I am accused, or soon shall be, of a crime of which I am entirely innocent. I want you to prove my innocence. I know you can prove it, because it is true, and I will help you all I can. But I am ignorant and inexperienced in these matters and I know you are the greatest authority. You have read, perhaps, of the death of Nicholas Talbot?”

“Yes, Mrs Talbot, I have. What do you mean, exactly, when you say you are accused?”

“I mean, that while the police have not as yet arrested me, or even hinted at such a thing, I know it is in their mind, and soon the blow will fall. Mr Stone, I did not kill my husband, but I cannot expect you to believe my word. If I had killed him, of course, I should say I had not. That is plain common sense. I have no witnesses, and there is a clue that is against me.”

Without staring, Stone watched her very closely. This seemed to him a new opening, and he was interested. “Will you explain your reference to a clue?”

“Why, he was killed with a knife from our kitchen, a knife I like to use, and, though I denied knowing the knife, I am sure they will find that out. But there is much to be told, and if you cannot take the case, I ought not to impose upon your time.”

Renny then opened her eyes at him, not wide, but just the right distance, and thereby won the day.

Fleming Stone had never before been offered such an argument as a beautiful young widow, accused of murdering her husband, calmly stating her innocence and apologizing for the intrusion on his time.

“Your husband was older than you?” he asked, looking thoughtful.

“Yes, about twice as old.”

“Then, there is a young lover in the case.”

“Yes, but he was there before I married Mr Talbot. I do not think he is the murderer, but if I did think so, I should say I didn’t. Wouldn’t anybody?”

“Most people, I think. I will take your case, Mrs Talbot. May I come tomorrow, and stay somewhere near you?”

“Come tomorrow, and stay in my house. Good afternoon, Mr Stone.”


Chapter 16
Fleming Stone Takes The Case

Fleming Stone came the next day in time for lunch.

Rudd met him, and then Mrs Golder took over and saw to it that he was settled in properly, and in due time he went down to the morning room and joined the others at cocktails.

Stone was an affable sort and made friends with the greatest of ease.

There was no reference made to the reason for his being there until luncheon was over, and they all sat in the big living room.

“I think we needn’t go over what is sometimes called the history of the case,” he said, looking at Renny, as at his principal. “I have read the details, of course, and while they were probably not entirely true, as stated, they do not interest me so much as your own personal beliefs and opinions. I should like to begin with a straightforward question. Will you each tell me, honestly, who you think is the most likely person or persons to suspect. I know this sounds crude, but it will give me a starting-point, and may lead to some discoveries. Mrs Talbot, will you answer first?”

“I have thought from the beginning, and still think that Mr Talbot was not killed by anyone of his own class—his own associates. I think some low-down, wicked enemy did it. I know little about Mr Talbot’s business affairs, but I do know he has had some disgruntled men to deal with, who refused to meet his terms. Mr Rudd can tell you all these things, but I know that my husband realized that his life was in danger, yet he would not—would not—oh, what do I mean to say, Rudd?”

“I think you mean that Nicholas Talbot would meet demands of justice, but he would not make further concessions than he deemed right, because of veiled threats that were made against him.”

“And you think, Mrs Talbot, that at last one of these threats was carried out?”

“Yes, Mr Stone, I do; not because I know of any definite instance, but because the explanation is plausible; and to imagine for a moment that Nick was killed by someone of his friends or acquaintances is out of the question. He was a most friendly man. Always square and very generous. But you know all this. You asked my opinion and I have given it.”

“Yes, Mrs Talbot, and thank you. Your husband was much older than yourself, I believe?”

“Yes, he was forty and I am twenty.”

“Had he been married before?”

“Oh, yes; his first wife died before I was born.” Concealing his surprise, Rudd looked at her.

“Who told you that, Renny?” he asked.

“Who could have told me but Nick? Of course, he told me. But Byron knew it before. I mean, before we were married.”

“Tell me, Mrs Talbot,” Stone went on, “when did you see Mr Talbot last, alive? I am sorry to ask you these questions, but—”

“But that’s what you are here for; yes, I know, Mr Stone, and it’s all right. I want to help you all I can. I never know anything about time, but that night we all went over to the Fair together, I mean, Mr Rudd and Mr Trask and Nick and myself. Well, almost as soon as we got there I had to get dressed for my Mexican dance. It takes quite a time to fix it and I couldn’t dress before I left here. The drive over would have quite spoiled the freshness of the costume.”

“I see. So you separated from your party almost at once?”

“Yes; Mr Trask had to get into his Mexican rig, too, we were to dance together. I went off to the ladies’ dressing room, leaving Nick with the other men, and —and that was the last time I saw him alive.”

Renny’s voice failed her, and Trask took up the story.

“I went then, too. The men’s dressing rooms were in a separate building, and as I went off I heard Nick tell Rudd that he was going—”

“Suppose you tell what he said, Mr Rudd,” Stone suggested.

“Yes. Talbot said to me that he was going to run over to Mr Van Dusen’s to see the wonderful old Greek coin that he has just acquired. Talbot had thought the coin would be exhibited at the Library, but he found it was at the Van Dusen house, and that was only a few steps. He said he would have ample time to go there and be back for Renny’s dance. I was anxious to see the cinema show that was on at the same time, so Nick hurried off to go to the Van Dusen house and I went at once to the cinema show. I had a reserved seat, and I reached it just as the show began. You see that gave Talbot nearly half an hour for his run over to Van Dusen’s, and Renny half an hour to do her dressing, and me half an hour for the show. I mention these as it may help you with your timetable. I don’t know where Trask was.”

“Yes, I am very glad to get some stated times, for most people have small notion of when anything happens. Where were you, Mr Trask?”

“Dancing on the general dance floor. I can tell you the names of the girls I danced with but I have no idea of the time. Next thing I knew was the announcement of Mr Talbot’s death, by Mr Appleton, who stood on a chair and told the news.”

“I shall see Mr Appleton, of course. And other members of the Club. And Mrs Appleton and some other ladies of the committees. As you must see, there is much to be done. This is what is called a widespread case. A close case is where the murder is committed in a house with few inmates—”

“Or in a locked room,” said Trask, speaking seriously.

“Yes, those conditions make it easier, as a rule. Now, tell me please, somebody, where was Mr Andrew Remsen at this time we are speaking of?”

The glance Stone threw at the men did not leave him unaware of the sudden and vivid blush that stained Renny’s face.

Both Rudd and Trask sat silent, and in a moment Renny spoke, with a slight tremor of embarrassment. “I had help with my dressing and was ready a little sooner than I expected. I stepped outside the dressing room, and I saw Mr Remsen there. I said only a few words to him, for several men came up and asked me to dance. I did dance a little with Mr Alger, and it was while I was with him that we heard Mr Appleton’s announcement.”

“Mr Remsen was not with you then?”

“No, I don’t know where he was.”

There was a silence then, and after a moment Stone said:

“I saw in some paper a reference to a ring that Mr Talbot was in the habit of wearing. I should like to be told about that.”

“Let me tell you,” said Rudd, seeing that Renny’s calm was really disturbed. “Talbot had a valuable bluish green scarab ring. He almost always wore it, but of late it seemed a little loose on his finger, and he sometimes left it off, saying he must have it looked after by a jeweler. He wore it to the Fair, and it was found under his dead body. This does not seem strange, when we know the ring was a little loose. It may be that the murderer undertook to steal the ring, and was frightened away and dropped it, or there may have been a tussle between Nick and his attacker, and the ring just slid off his finger. I can’t see that the ring is a clue in any way, but if you can, Mr Stone, do tell us what you see in it.”

“Not much at present, Mr Rudd, but I like to get my facts together and then sort them out and see what I can make them mean. And Mrs Talbot, perhaps you will tell me about the knife that you consider a clue.”

“Oh, yes, I will.” Renny was quite herself again. “The knife is not here, the police people have it. But it is just an ordinary kitchen carving knife, a slicer. It is always very sharp, because it takes a keener edge than some of the others do. I always use it, when I have anything to do in the kitchen. By the way, Mr Stone, I don’t always tell the truth, you know. I do on important matters or to important people. But I told that silly young Flint inquisitor that I never went in my own kitchen. Really, I often do.”

“Why did you tell him that?”

“Because he would harp on the knife, and it is a waste of time to harp on that knife. It is our kitchen knife, and if it was used to kill Mr Talbot, then it was taken from my kitchen for the purpose. Now, if that is so then that kitchen knife is an important clue, one worthy the attention of you or some other real detective, and not one to be fiddled with by young Mr Flint.”

Stone looked at Renny a moment, then he said, “You were wrong to tell a lie to the police. It should not be done. But I will admit that I shall be glad to take over the matter of the knife by myself. It may mean nothing in particular and it may mean a great deal, but I hope to find out. Am I to hope you propose to tell me the truth—in important matters?”

“I shall have to. If I didn’t, I know you would worm it out of me.”

“Indeed I should. Mr Rudd, you are wearing an unusual ring. Is it historic?”

“No. But it is a fine specimen of cat’s-eye.” Rudd took it off and passed it over to the detective.

“Yes, indeed it is. A gift?”

“Yes, from Nick Talbot. If you care to hear it, some time I will tell you the tale of our friendship, but now, I will only say that we have been friends for more than twenty years, and without a break. Even when he took unto himself a wife, it didn’t upset things, did it, Renny?”

“No, Rudd; but then I am a very nice person.”

“Truetalk, my child. But what am I going to do with you now?”

“I suppose I shall have to go back to my brother.”

Rudd smiled to himself; he well knew this was the very last plan she would follow. And he knew, too, they must separate. Renny, with her wealth and position could now make her life what she wished it to be, and, naturally there would be no place in it for Caleb Rudd.

He was going to miss Nick very much. They had been friends in every sense of the word, and now he must find new interests. But time enough for those thoughts; there was much to be done first.

“I haven’t asked you much, Mr Trask,” Stone was saying, when Rudd brought his thoughts back to the present situation. “I believe you now represent the head of the Talbot family.”

“Yes, I suppose so; that is, if there is any family and if it has any need for a head.”

“Have you no relatives?”

“None nearer than some far distant cousins, farther distantly removed.”

“The late Mr Talbot was fond of you, I take it.”

“He liked me well enough, and I liked him. He was really a topping good fellow, but he seldom let himself go. He was not exactly selfish, but self-centered. If he had Renny and Rudd with him, I think he would never have cared to see anyone else. I don’t mean this against him, I only mean he was no mixer. He was a good sport, he liked to travel, he liked to go to places that he liked to go to, but he was indifferent to most things.”

“Yes, I gathered much of that from the stories I read in the news. Now, as to his papers, I may say private papers and important documents, they are in his lawyers’ hands?”

“No, Mr Stone,” Caleb Rudd answered, “they are all here in this house, and in my charge. They are at your disposal whenever you want them and also ready for examination, if desired, by Nick’s lawyers, the firm of Barnes and Barnes. You see, I am really his confidential secretary as well as his private secretary, and he had no secrets from me. Nor from anyone. His books and papers can be easily looked over by expert accountants, if advisable, all, of course, under the management of Barnes and Barnes.”

“I know the firm,” Stone said, “and, of course, Mr Rudd, I have no occasion to inquire into those matters unless they should in some way affect my own work, which is simply and solely to discover who is responsible for the death of Nicholas Talbot. So far I see no reason to assume a motive which has any connection with financial affairs, but, of course, some such theory may present itself. Just now, I want to become acquainted with those nearest to Mr Talbot in his daily life.”

“We’re all right here,” Renny said. “Nick had other acquaintances, but no other close friends.”

“Yes, I begin to realize that. And from what you have all told me, I am forming a picture of the man in my mind, which I daresay is not far from the truth. Would it surprise you very much if I said I would like to meet Mr Loring?”

Renny opened her eyes wide at him.

“Byron!” she said. “Why, of course you can meet him, whenever you like. He knows nothing about Nick, and he knows nothing about Nick’s death—”

“But he knows something about you,” Stone smiled at her.

“Yes, but not as much as these people here do. And not nearly as much as I know about myself.”

“I can well believe that,” Stone spoke decidedly. “I realize already that you know yourself very well indeed, which is far from being the case with everybody. Shall we take a walk over to your brother’s right now? Or would you rather someone else showed me the way?”

“No, I’ll go,” and Renny’s voice, though sweet and affable as ever, had a new note in it.

As was his intention, Fleming Stone had his way, and they started on the short walk to the Loring house.

“Tell me,” he said, “what is it about your brother that you don’t like?”

Renny gave him a comprehending glance.

“His wife,” she replied calmly. “You see, Byron and I could get along beautifully if it were not for her.”

“What type is she?”

“Wise and handsome. Critical and dictatorial. Resentful of my unwillingness to obey her advice, and—envious of my wealth and position.”

“Clearly put. I’ll see if I think it is correct. Now, listen, and obey my advice. I want to have a pleasant, and straightforward interview with your brother and his wife, and I want you to show interest and take part in the conversation, but—” he turned to look at the lovely face of his companion, “don’t talk too much.”

Renny looked straight ahead, and was silent for a moment. Then she smiled a little, and giving him a look of perfect understanding, she said, quietly, “I won’t. And —thank you, Mr Stone.”

And soon they turned in at the entrance to the Loring house.


Chapter 17
Facts And Fancies

Byron was cordial in his greeting of Fleming Stone; Christine not quite so much so.

It jarred on her ideas of fashionable conduct to have a Detective calling upon her. She was polite, but her manner was a little distant, and she looked out of the window when she should have been looking at her visitor.

Byron, however, made up for her lack of attention. “I’m glad you’ve come, Mr Stone,” he said, sincerely. “If anybody can get my sister out of this fix, you can.”

“We’re not going to say Mrs Talbot is in a fix,” Stone returned. “She is certainly in trouble and in grief, but not in difficulties.”

“Then you don’t know all there is to know.” Byron was an outspoken sort. “To be sure, there has been no definite accusation, but I have heard hints and murmurs of suspicion that are far from agreeable to hear.”

“Perhaps, since you have mentioned them, you will tell me what they are.”

“Yes, Byron,” said Christine, “you wanted to tell these things to Mr Stone, and now you have a chance.”

“Very well, then, Stone—and Renny can hear this, too.” Loring looked at his sister with affection but also with reproach. “As you may or may not know, Mrs Talbot threw over another suitor when she accepted Nick Talbot. The other suitor, Remsen, greatly resented this, and it has pleased some people in this community to say that his resentment rose to such a height that he may properly be considered as the criminal in the case.”

“You are making very grave assertions, Mr Loring.”

“I make no assertions, Mr Stone, except to say that I have heard those hints from members of our community.”

“If the hints, as you call them, were definite enough, should you not have reported them to the police? The retaining of important knowledge is a dangerous thing in a murder case.”

“But it isn’t knowledge!” Christine said, quickly. “It was the merest suggestion that because Mr Remsen had been a friend of Renny’s, he might have killed the man she married. A most ridiculous idea, you must admit!”

“Ridiculous isn’t the word, Christine,” Renny said, quietly. “It is a wrong statement, and a wicked one for anyone to make, for Mr Remsen is engaged to Ruth Hanna, a lovely girl, whom I know very well.”

“I heard they were engaged,” and Byron looked deeply distressed. “If so, that makes the matter all the worse. I know Remsen, and he is a wild, impulsive sort, and has always been in love with Renny. When she married, he took up with Ruth Hanna, but as soon as Renny came back here—look here, Mr Stone, I am not telling you these things as facts, I am letting you know about them so that you can make your investigations. Don’t cry, Renny, nobody is blaming you. But if there is any suspicion due toward Drew Remsen, it is better that Mr Stone should know it, and see what he can learn about it. You see that as I do, don’t you, Stone?”

“I suppose it is true,” Christine answered her husband, as she often did. “But, Mr Stone, whatever you do by way of investigating these stories about Drew Remsen, can’t it be done secretly—I mean, privately? Must everybody know all about our affairs?”

“I think that, too,” and Renny smiled at Stone. “And after all, Drew Remsen isn’t our affair. Can’t you just go to him, Mr Stone, and ask him to tell you the truth? I know you can depend on his word.”

“Not always do I get my information from a man’s words, Mrs Talbot. But a man’s expressions of face, gestures of hands or fingers, sudden silences or hesitations are all as indicative as his words. I shall see Mr Remsen, and learn what I can from him. You see, Mr Loring, I have talked with no one as yet, outside the family. And I have not yet seen the police. There is much questioning to be done before I can form definite opinions.”

“I fancy you’ll get your questioning done and form your opinions in short order, once you get started. You have a quick mind, and with your experience, I feel sure—”

But Stone took little interest in Christine’s sure feelings, and he gently interrupted her, saying:

“Mrs Loring, I want to ask you and your husband a few questions, not in the presence of your sister. Mrs Talbot, will you run along home, and tell Mrs Golder I will be there by lunch time.”

Renny was quite willing to do this, for she felt little interest in Christine’s fancies, and she was glad to go off by herself.

Her life was not at all happy at present. She had tried picking up old acquaintances that she had dropped since her marriage, but while they were kind and gay, they kept referring to the tragedy, or, worse, talking to her about Drew Remsen, and she longed for the time when she could go away somewhere. Even a trip with Christine would be better than this lonesomeness.

She idly wondered what Mr Stone wanted to talk to her relatives about. But she didn’t care much, and she walked back home without meeting anyone she knew.

Mr Stone knew very well what he wanted to talk to the Lorings about and he began at once.

“I wish you would tell me if there is the least reason to consider the matter of Mr Talbot’s first marriage, in connection with his death.”

“I have often fancied that there might be something of that sort,” Christine said, “but when I mention it, Byron won’t listen to such an idea.”

“Of course not,” Byron agreed, “since it is only an idea. Only one of your fancies, Christine, with nothing at all to base it on.”

“Did either of you know Mr Talbot’s first wife’s people?”

“Oh, no,” and Byron smiled. “You see, Talbot was twenty years older than Renny, and thirteen years older than I am. Talbot comes of an old Southern family, and the girl, who was three years older, practically kidnapped him. He married her all right, but his father took the matter in hand, and easily bought off the girl’s father, and secured a divorce for the young couple. It was quickly hushed up, and when Talbot asked me for Renny’s hand, he very honorably told me all about it, and asked if I didn’t think we might continue to keep it a secret from her. I certainly did think so, and how Renny first learned of it, I’ve no idea. But somehow she did, and she asked Nick, and he told her the truth. I don’t think she minded it specially, and I’m very sure she never told anyone about it, until Inspector Craven asked her if Nick had been married before. It was a natural enough question, it seems to me, and I think it need go no further. But, when you speak of the family of the girl in connection with Nick’s murder, are you following up anything you have heard about it?”

“Nothing at all definite. I am forty-six, myself, and I have an indistinct recollection of reading, a good many years ago, a story of a happening like that you tell of. It was in Charleston, and I was down near there at the time, and it may or may not have been the same case. I remember the name of the girl was Prall, but I didn’t remember the man’s name.”

“Yes, it’s the same case, then,” Byron told him. “The girl Nick married was a Prall. But she died within a year of their divorce, and I can’t see any reason for digging up the matter unless you have some real facts to go upon.”

“I haven’t. And I do not propose to dig up the matter. But I do not feel it quite right to forget it entirely. Rest assured, however, that I shall not mention it without using the utmost discretion. And may I ask you both to keep the matter a secret. Did you mention it to Renny, Mrs Loring, before she asked her husband about it?”

Christine said nothing for a moment, and then, remembering that Renny might have told Stone she did, she said, with an attempt at carelessness, “I don’t remember doing so, but—I may have—”

“Why Christine,” her husband exclaimed, “you know I told you emphatically, not to let Renny know! How could you do that?”

“I don’t know that I did, I can’t remember everything! And as Mr Stone said, it can’t make any difference now that the girl is dead.”

“I didn’t quite say that,” Stone said, gravely. “You know those Southern families have strange notions of revenge and sometimes their hate lasts for years. I shall most certainly look into it. If you were so anxious to keep the matter quiet, Mrs Loring, why did you speak of it to your sister-in-law at all?”

“I fancy I have a right to speak to my family as I choose,” and Christine tried to make a laughing voice take away any serious intent.

“Please don’t speak of it to anyone else, or to Renny again. Such hints, however slight, fly like the winds and scatter trouble oftener than you’d think. Mr Loring, do you think Mr Rudd knows more about this matter than you do? I mean of any possible late developments?”

“I’ve no idea, Mr Stone; I’ve never mentioned it at all to Rudd. But doubtless, he knows all about it, though it happened before he and Talbot became such inseparable friends.”

“He’s a fine man, it seems to me.”

“He is an exceptional man. Not brilliant, not even talented, but a wonderful friend; staunch, loyal, true and devoted. I truly believe if Rudd had had the chance he would have laid down his life for Nick’s, if it could have been done.”

“I believe Talbot saved him from some trouble—”

“Yes, it’s too long a story for full details, just now, but Rudd was absolutely innocent, proved so, by Nick’s exertions. Had Nick not taken up the matter Rudd would have been imprisoned for ten years. Embezzlement it was, and the clever villain that did it was so diabolically smart, that he made it appear to be Rudd’s wrongdoing, and only Talbot was shrewd enough to see the truth and save Rudd. They were all in the same building, a big drug manufactory, and all had great responsibilities, and great opportunities for deviltry. But Talbot saw through the villain, and acted just in time to set things right.”

“And the bad man, what became of him?”

“I see what you mean, but no chance. He was put in prison, and died there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Nick told me. But you can’t think that he wasn’t dead, and after all these years he got out and came up here and killed Nick!”

“Up here? Was all that in Charleston, too?”

“No, it was in some Southern state, but I forget which one—if I ever knew. Go to Rudd for all that data. But I feel sure he knows all the details of the bad man’s fate, and if he could have any suspicion of his killing Nick, he would have told of it by this time.”

“Yes, no doubt. Well, if I’m going to make good my promise to be home at lunch time, I must go now. Good morning, Mrs Loring; do come to see Renny occasionally, she is very lonely these days. Good day, Loring.”

Stone walked away, feeling sure that he had left an angry husband and a delinquent wife behind him, but he couldn’t help it. And if what had been said should have the result of preventing Christine’s further revelations of Talbot’s earlier life, it was all to the good.

He was walking quickly but he heard even more rapid footsteps behind him. Then somebody caught up with him, and a young man fell into step as he joined him.

“I’m Andrew Remsen,” said a pleasant voice, “and I want to know Mr Fleming Stone.”

Stone gave him a quick glance before he answered. He liked the man’s voice, he liked his smile, but there was something about his manner that seemed a little forward, and that was a trait Stone did not like. Remsen caught it all.

“You think I’m fresh,” he said, and his manner was courteous. “I don’t mean to be, but I sort of felt if I waited to be introduced to you, I might wait a long while.”

“And you don’t want to wait? Why not?”

“May I be frank?”

“Please do.”

“Well, then, I know you are here to look into the mystery of Nick Talbot’s death. And I know that sooner or later you will want to quiz me on the subject.”

“And why the haste in that matter?”

“There are several reasons. One is that when I expect an unpleasant session, I like to have it and get it over. Another is, that if you quiz me as I suppose you intend to do, I may give you some information that will help you or save you some trouble. Shall I go on, or do you want me to leave you?”

“I want you to leave me in about one minute, for I promised to be at the Talbot house at luncheon time, and here we are at the gate.”

“Go on.”

“If we can make an appointment, I will give you the interview you ask for.” Stone spoke more genially now.

“Good for you! You fix the time and place.”

“Some time tomorrow? In the afternoon? Now you say where?”

“Will you come to my home? I have a pleasant back veranda, all my own, and we can stay there until we get tired of one another.”

“That suits me. Are you prompt?”

“On the dot.”

“Then let us say three o’clock, sharp.”

“Righto! Good morning, Mr Stone.”

They were just at the Talbot gate, and Stone went in, while Remsen cast an envious glance after him.

“Who in the world were you walking home with?” asked Trask, as Stone came in.

“A young fellow named Remsen.”

“That’s what I thought. Where did you pick him up?”

“He overtook me on the road, and we came along together. He seems a pleasant sort.”

“He is,” said Renny. “I like him a lot. That is, I used to. But now he’s engaged to another girl.”

“Then keep away from him. Why, if I were engaged to another girl, and you came along, now and then, that other girl would soon get very jealous.”

“Why, Mr Stone, I’d no idea you could make such flirtatious speeches,” Renny cried, laughing up at him.

“Tell me, is he really engaged to this Miss Hanna or not? I hear different reports.”

“So do I,” Renny said, carelessly. “It’s hard to tell when people are engaged and when they aren’t.”

“She’s a friend of yours?”

“Oh, yes, ever since our school days.”

“They cannot have been long ago, for you.”

“No. You see I only went through the Primary Department and then I knew it all!”

“Sometimes I think you did,” said Stone.


Chapter 18
Stone Learns A Few Things

Stone kept his appointment with Andrew Remsen promptly, and the two, having settled themselves comfortably on Andrew’s vaunted back veranda, fell easily into conversation.

“I had intended seeing the police people today,” Stone said, “but you came along and were so wheedlesome, here I am instead.”

“The police will keep,” Drew told him, “and they don’t know much any way.”

“How do you know that?”

“Well, they have interrogated me, and in my opinion, they don’t know how to ask questions in a way to get information.”

“And in my opinion, they got a good deal more information than you imagined they did. Policemen don’t wear their brains on their sleeves.”

Drew gave him a comprehending look.

“There’s something in that. And I’m not really sharp, myself. Well, then, when you do see the police, you can get from them a lot that they got from me, when I wasn’t looking.”

“Yes, if it’s worth while. I doubt if they have definite suspicions as yet. The case does not look to me like an easy one to solve.”

“Yet the conditions are simple. Renny Loring and I have been in love for years. Along comes Talbot, and gets her away from me by reason of his great wealth and position and general attractive qualities.”

“He had those?”

“Oh, yes; I’ll hand it to Nick for affability, charm and, well, let us say, glamor. Anyway, Renny fell for him in a minute, and she tossed me over and married him, before I realized what she was about. Not that it would have made any difference if I had known.”

“And then, you felt like killing him or her or both?”

“Exactly. And would have done so, only I knew I’d get caught, as I probably shall, anyway.”

“Meaning you run a chance of undeserved punishment?”

“A very strong chance. Everybody knows how I felt toward Talbot for stealing my girl, and naturally, when he is killed, they look round for me.”

“Are you under surveillance?”

“I’m not sure they call it that, but I can’t move without the police knowing it.”

“Do you want to move without their knowing it?”

“Well, I’d like to go to see Renny, without being checked up.”

“You still care for her?”

“Do I? Yes, Mr Stone, I do. And I’m sorry for her. She was bedazzled by Nick’s money and power, and now she’s bewildered by all this trouble and publicity that has come to her, and—why, of course, I still care for her.”

“What about Miss Hanna?”

Remsen turned red, and looked very much embarrassed.

“I think she understands,” he said, slowly. “She and I are not definitely engaged, you see, and now that Renny is free, she says that it’s only right I should go back to her—”

“And I’d say she is well rid of you! You throw her over for your old love, who has come back to you with a fortune, giving not a thought to Miss Hanna’s feelings in the matter.”

Drew glared, but spoke quietly:

“You think she could be happy, married to me, knowing that I loved Renny and have always loved her a thousand times better than Ruth?”

“Oh, no; I only said that to see how you’d take it. And, too, you youngsters take these affairs lightly. I daresay if a rich and glamorous man came along and offered for Miss Hanna, she’d throw you over for him, too.

“I’d not be greatly surprised. Yet Ruth loves me far more than Renny does or ever did. You see the girls are so different. Ruth is full of what I think are called ‘good, sterling qualities,’ and Renny is just a bunch of fascinations and contradictions.”

“And lacking in constancy and truth.”

“You’ve found that out already? But, Mr Stone, I doubt you’re so deeply interested in these young ladies. I thought you came over here to see if you could cast me for the murderer’s part in the Talbot tragedy.”

“I did; and I’d like to ask you a few questions about it, and get serious replies.”

“Go to it.”

“Where were you, exactly, when you first heard the news of Mr Talbot’s death? You were at the Fair, I think? But just where?”

“Why, I don’t know. I was on the dancing floor, but that’s a big place. And, at that, it was crowded. I was dancing with Gloria Adams, when I first heard someone say, ‘Yes, a man has been killed.’ I didn’t think anything of it, for I assumed it was some bit of foolery, perhaps someone practicing a line for the play, and then, I heard it a second time. I heard Trask say, ‘Well, somebody is dead, and they say it is Mr Talbot.’ I knew Trask wasn’t fooling, his voice was frightened rather, and I thought if anything had happened I’d better look out for Miss Adams. So I took her to her mother, and then I saw Mr Appleton get up on a chair, and I heard what he said, and I knew it was true.”

“What did you do then?”

“Nothing, at first. I was sort of dazed, and I looked around at the crowd, and they all seemed to be dazed, and some of the girls were hysterical. And then I went to look for Renny.”

“Not Ruth?”

“Ruth wasn’t with me, I mean I hadn’t taken her to the Fair, and my first thought was of Renny.”

“Did you find her?”

“No, she was with Christine, somewhere.”

“And after that?”

“Well, of course, the Fair disintegrated. I think some people got away, though the police came soon, and they were very strict. Everybody was talking, but it wasn’t a noisy crowd. They all talked in low, scared voices, and most of us were allowed to go home, after we gave our names and addresses. But you’ve heard the story of it all, of course, and there’s little to tell.”

“I’ve heard only what the family have told me. But I can’t expect to be told the things I want to know. Who is your pet suspect?”

“Some outsider, of course. Someone who had it in for Nick, because of ructions we know nothing about.”

“Business matters?”

“Workmen’s bothers, more likely. Talbot was a most generous chap, but he had a strong sense of justice, and he’s had quite a lot of building done around the place, and I’ve heard rumors of dissatisfied painters or road-makers or something like that.”

“But Talbot wouldn’t have to do with the workmen personally.”

“Dunno. I tell the tale as ’twas told to me. And I sure have no suspect among the people we know. Banbury Gardens residents are not murderers.”

“Villains grow on every soil. And I think I’ll go along now, and thank you for your story.”

“You believe me, don’t you?”

“Practically, yes. Maybe a few mental reservations, but they may be wrong on my side.”

“Come back, if I can help you further.”

“I will, indeed. And I think you may expect me back.”

“Now what did he mean by that?” thought Drew, as Fleming Stone walked away.

Inspector Craven had made an appointment for Stone, and the detective wondered how he would be received. The police of different places, naturally showed him different attitudes, and he was hoping that the present officers would be to his liking.

He was not disappointed, for Craven was of a cordial nature, and Sergeant Flint, being consumed with curiosity to learn what the great detective was like, curbed the recitation of his own beliefs and opinions.

Only those two were present, at first, though others were called later.

The general facts known had been mentioned and discussed, when Flint spoke out boldly, showing a trace of impatience.

“We’ve mushed these things over and over, Mr Stone, till we know them by heart. I mean the carving knife and the scarab ring and all those so-called clues. But what we want to get at is—people. Not only who could have used the knife and who could have pulled off the ring, but who did do it. That’s the thing! And that’s what I’m hoping you can tell us, right off the reel.”

Stone was familiar with this gambit. How often had a police sergeant, jealous of Stone’s powers and insulted at his presence, tried to annoy him by assuming that he had only to ask a few questions and give them the answer to their problem. Unveiled sarcasm, unpleasant innuendo had all been hurled at Fleming Stone by lesser detectives, and he had become entirely undisturbed by them, and showed no annoyance at them.

“It may be so,” Stone said, quietly, “and it may take us more time than we think.”

“I understood you visited Mr Remsen just before you came here,” Flint continued.

“Yes, I did.”

“Well, then, Mr Stone, can you have talked with him and not have felt sure that it was his hand that used that fatal knife?”

“Yes, I managed to accomplish that feat, Sergeant Flint.”

The Sergeant looked at Stone with such a contemptuous smile, that Stone said afterward, he was tempted to lay down the detective business at once and forever. “So you’re sure he was not the murderer, already?”

“Oh, no, I didn’t say that. I said, I do not feel sure that he was. I gather that you suspect him.”

“I’ll say I do! I more than suspect him.”

Inspector Craven hushed Flint with a glance, and began to talk himself.

“Have you heard, Mr Stone, about the remark Remsen made, shortly before Mr Talbot’s death?”

“No, I haven’t. Is it indicative of his guilt?”

“Well, see what you think. It seems that Renny and Drew Remsen were together somewhere in the Casino, and somebody overheard them quarreling, or at least arguing. And as Remsen went off and left her, he said, angrily, ‘I must and will have you, Renny, no matter what I have to do to get you.’ And then ten or fifteen minutes later, Talbot’s dead body was found.”

“There!” triumphed Flint. “What do you say to that, Mr Stone?”

“Several things. First, who gave out this story?”

“It came pretty straight,” Craven said. “It was Mr Trask who heard Remsen make that speech, and he told it to me.”

“Stephen Trask, the man who lives at the Talbots’?”

“Yes, sir. And a fine chap he is. He and Mr Rudd both live with Mr Talbot, and as Trask told that tale, you can believe every word of it. I asked Rudd privately if he could corroborate it, but he only said Trask hadn’t told it to him. But he said he knew Trask for a truthful man, and would believe anything he said.”

“Yes,” Stone agreed. “I can size up character fairly well, and I give those two men their diplomas.”

“Then it’s fairly certain, I should say, that young Remsen did say that to Mrs Talbot, shortly before the murder.”

Stone looked at the Inspector, not gravely, but with a glance that was almost quizzical.

“Do you read Detective Stories, Craven?” he said. “What they call shockers or thrillers?”

“Not often. I get enough of murder at first hand. But Flint, there, he’s keen for them. He reads about a dozen a week, I’d say.”

“Oh, not as many as that, Mr Stone, but quite a few.”

“Then you’re well up in their routine. Now, did you ever read one in which the penniless nephew has a quarrel with his rich uncle, and someone outside the room hears the young man threaten to do for his uncle?”

“Oh, yes, that was in ‘Mortimer’s Threat,’ a bully book.”

“And did you ever read one where a man threatens to kill a woman’s husband, because of jealousy?”

“Several. That was the plot of ‘Who Killed Moran?’, I remember.”

“Yes. Well, in these books we’ve mentioned, did the threatener make good his threat? Was the man who killed Moran the one who threatened to do so?”

Flint thought a few moments, and then admitted that he could remember no story in which the man who made the dire threat proved to be the murderer.

“But that doesn’t prove anything,” he said, in a grumbling way.

“No, nor does your statement that Remsen threatened to have Renny, no matter at what cost, prove that Remsen murdered Talbot.”

“It goes a long way toward it.”

“But if you’re in the Swiss mountains and try to jump across a deep crevasse, and if you jump short and fail to reach the other side, your going a long way toward it doesn’t help much.”

Sergeant Flint left the room.

Craven laughed. “Don’t mind him,” he said, “he’s a quick-tempered fellow, though one of the best. Now, see here, Mr Stone, why don’t you suspect young Remsen of this crime?”

“Principally because I think it too soon for me to do that. I have talked only with the Talbot family and Remsen himself, and you, and I think I need the opinions of more people before I make a definite decision. I have only started on the case, I haven’t even been round to the Casino yet. Give me a few days, Inspector, before you demand an opinion. I may come round to your Remsen suspect, and if so, Flint can have the joy of arresting him. But we’ll see.”

Stone walked slowly back to the Talbot house.

He had no suspect, as yet.

What evidence he had heard against Remsen was insufficient for him to call the man a murderer. Of course, he would look into the matter more deeply, and he might denounce Remsen after all.

Of Byron and Christine he had no faintest suspicion, any more than he had of the occupants of the Talbot house, from Renny herself, down to the newest scullery maid.

He felt an odd sort of disappointment at the lack of possibilities, but there were still friends and enemies of Nick’s to be considered, and much more information to be gathered.

And there was Ruth Hanna. Not that he had any reason to think she killed anybody, but she seemed a peculiar personality and he might learn something from her.

And he couldn’t entirely disregard that speech of Remsen’s that Trask overheard.


Chapter 19
Fleming Stone Carries On

That same evening the three men sat in Nick Talbot’s study.

This was a cozy room, between the library and Nick’s office. The office, of course, was largely Rudd’s domain, and all the necessary management of Talbot’s investments and securities was carried on there. Rudd had a competent stenographer, but no other assistant, except as the lawyers came over now and then.

Many times Talbot had offered to relieve Rudd of the work and responsibilities of his position, but his offers were declined.

“When I get so old I make mistakes,” Rudd would reply, “then I shall resign, but not before.”

That time had not come, so everything went on as usual, and when Nick’s sudden death brought the lawyers to look into his business affairs, they found at their disposal what they said was the most perfectly kept set of books and files they had ever seen.

Rudd did not care for praise, it was his nature to be exact and methodical, and for that very reason he was not overburdened with work.

He had enjoyed the feeling that he was of real help to the man he loved so well. Their friendship had been flawless, and differences of opinion were argued out, always to the satisfaction of both sides.

Their tastes were similar, but not identical. Rudd was more of an outdoor man and belonged to the Athletic Club and went hunting with friends in the Adirondack and sailing with friends who had yachts.

Nick found pleasure in bridge games and billiards, with just enough golf to keep him fit. After Nick’s marriage there was little change in these things. And when Trask came, the general harmony continued. Each of them did as he chose, and the three men were always ready to fall in with any plans Renny might make for them. But now, Renny could not make plans for them.

Christine was very strict as to what she might or might not do, and only just now had conceded that Renny might once in a while have two or three of her friends in of an evening.

Not more than enough for a bridge game, and not certain of the gayer young people whom Christine banned.

Of course, Remsen was among these and some others who had been Renny’s chums before her marriage.

“I’m sorry,” Christine had said, and sincerely, “but, dear, you have to be careful. I will not have you talked about more than you are already and you ought to see this for yourself. I’ve been thinking about your having another woman with you, or perhaps Byron and I might stay with you for a time. But Mrs Golder is a lady, and I can trust her to do the right thing. She must always be in and out of the room when you have company.”

“Yes, she always is, Christine, and she is really a perfect chaperon.”

“I know. And the two men there are not in love with you and never will be. Though be careful Steve Trask doesn’t court you for your fortune.”

“Don’t be silly. I want to be proper and all that, but I do get so bored and lonesome. I miss Nick awfully. Mr Stone is nice, in fact he’s rather a chaperon in himself, but he’s sort of poky.”

“Listen to anything he tells you, Renny. You don’t seem to realize that dreadful things may happen yet. Keep friendly with Mr Stone, whatever you do. And if you have a few friends come to see you, never discuss things with them. If they show curiosity, don’t ask them again. Oh, I think Byron and I would better go and stay with you, or, you come over here for a while.”

“No, Christine, let me stay in my lovely home. I’ll do just as you tell me, and I won’t flirt with anybody.”

“You’d better not! Don’t you know you are watched all the time? If you go to New York in your own car, you are followed.”

“Am I really!” and a dangerous smile came into the girl’s eyes.

But Christine could read her.

“Stop it!” she cried. “You’re thinking you’ll go off in your car and lead your followers a dance.”

Renny blushed, for Christine had read her thoughts. “Oh, no,” she sighed, “I wouldn’t do that. There wouldn’t be much fun in it.”

“Don’t look for fun in your life very soon, Renny. You are a thoughtless child, but you may have a very unpleasant awakening.”

“I don’t want any more unpleasantness, and you’re not much of a comforter. Won’t Mr Stone soon find out who killed Nick, and then won’t they arrest the man, and it will be all over?”

“Let us hope so,” and Christine was moved by the pathetic little face. “I’ll take you to New York some day soon, and we can go to the Flower Show or something.”

Renny didn’t state her reaction to this suggestion, but she left her sister-in-law, with a new resolve to be very circumspect as long as it was necessary.

Her pleasure-loving nature couldn’t help looking forward to the time when all the police business would be over, and she could take up her social life again, mistress of herself and her home.

Rudd and Steve Trask would go somewhere else to live, and as a widow she didn’t see any need of a chaperon, but anyway, Mrs Golder was all right.

On this particular evening, Renny had asked three young people in for a card game, but she wasn’t enjoying it much. Nor were they, for it was hard to avoid the subject of the tragedy and impossible to speak of it.

Across the house and far down the hall, the three men in the study were far from avoiding the subject that filled all their minds.

“I see no reason,” Stone said to Trask, “why I should not tell you that the Inspector told me of something you overheard Remsen say, not long before the death of Talbot was discovered.”

“I hope he told it to you correctly,” Trask said. “Repetitions are not always verbatim.”

“I know; that’s why I wish you would tell me the story yourself.”

“Of course, I will. I’ve mentioned it only to Craven. Even Rudd hasn’t heard it.”

“Go on, then; tell us both.”

“Here it is, then. I was looking for Renny, as we were soon to do our Mexican dance together. The Casino has a small stage, you know, and two tiny dressing rooms. They don’t use it much, except for musicales. So, for the Fair, they had put up four or five temporary partitions, making sort of dressing rooms for the performers. I heard Renny’s voice coming from one of these rooms, it had no ceiling, and she was evidently angry with somebody, but she was half laughing, too. She was saying, ‘Will you move away from that door and let me out of here!’ And the man she spoke to, replied, ‘I must and will have you, Renny, no matter what I do to get you!’ And then she came out.”

“Did she see you?”

“No, I had stepped around the corner.”

“She saw me,” Rudd said. “I happened to be there, as she came flying out of the little room. She said, ‘Where’s Nick?’ and I told her that he had gone over to Van Dusen’s house to see some coins. And then she said she wanted me to do something for her, but what it was I never heard. For just then some young men crowded round her, asking her to dance and she danced away with one of them.”

“And who was it in the little dressing room with Renny?” Stone asked.

“Since Craven has told you, it’s no secret,” Trask said. “It was Andrew Remsen. I didn’t see him, but I knew his voice.”

“I saw him,” Rudd told them. “He came out a moment after Renny had gone off to dance. But it seems to me—”

“What seems to you, Mr Rudd?” Stone asked.

“It seems to me that I should want more evidence than that, before I suspected a man of murder.”

“But the circumstances,” Trask argued. “For a man to say a thing like that, and then in about fifteen or twenty minutes the one he threatened is found dead— well, it looks glum to me.”

Stone looked at the two men.

The face of the younger one seemed to show a scorn for any mind that would not immediately connect the threat and the deed, and feel sure of the criminal.

But the older face, and it seemed to Stone that Rudd had suddenly acquired a deeper line in his brow, and a sadder look of compassion in his eyes, showed less certainty of the proof offered, as he said:

“I understand how it strikes you, Trask, but I don’t see it quite the same way.”

“How do you see it, Mr Rudd?”

“For the love of Mike, Stone, don’t Mister me! I haven’t been called Mr, except by servants or strangers for years.”

“All right, Rudd,” and Stone smiled, “then give us your view.”

“It can hardly be called a view, it’s more just a feeling. You see, young Remsen has been in love with Renny, since they were schoolmates, and when she married Nick it hit him very hard. But not hard enough to make him commit a murder, I’d say. I didn’t hear his words, but as Trask tells them, they sound to me more like a burst of envious anger than an intent of winning Renny by the dubious method of murdering her husband.”

“I agree with that,” Stone declared, “and I think we must all agree that it was an impulsive speech, and therefore not the result of a settled purpose to kill Talbot, for that he would scarcely care to announce so plainly. But, at the same time, we have to allow that Remsen had motive and opportunity, which usually count for something. I suppose no one knows just where Remsen went after Renny left him.”

“I haven’t heard anyone say,” Rudd told him. “I went right on to the Cinema room then, and was only just in time for the beginning of the show.”

“And he sat next to Rip Harley,” Trask told Stone, “so those two alibi each other.”

“Don’t use that word in my connection, son.” Rudd smiled at Trask. “I don’t need an alibi to prove I didn’t kill Nick, and it jars on me to hear it.”

“Oh, that’s all right, I wish I had an alibi myself.”

“Where were you at the time?” asked Stone.

“Oh, dancing around with different girls. But I don’t know anything about the time, and the girls couldn’t alibi me—”

“Rudd is right, that is an unpleasant word and has no use in connection with you two men. I’d like to hear Renny’s version of what Remsen said.”

“Ask her right out. Renny’s a straightforward little piece. She’ll answer you willingly enough. Poor child, I’m awfully sorry for her.”

“We all are,” Rudd said, “but she’ll get over it. And I mean no unkindness; but she is very young, and she has an unbounded love of life and gayety, and after a time she will find herself. Just now she is bewildered, and she has nothing to do that she likes to do, and it makes her restless.”

Just then Renny came along.

“May I come in?” she said, looking round the half open door.

“Yes,” said Stone, putting on a businesslike air, purposely. “Come right in, we want you for a witness.”

“I’ll be it. Anything is better than playing bridge with folks you don’t like. Which is the witness chair?”

Stone pointed to a big easy chair, and Renny put herself carefully into it.

She was all in white and made a picture in the dark, deep-tufted chair, sitting stiffly, yet gracefully, as she tried to look like a witness.

“We are not making believe,” said Stone, “this is the real thing. Will you tell us what it was that Andrew Remsen said to you as you left him in a small dressing room, the night of the Fair?”

For once, Renny almost lost her poise. But only almost. She caught herself and then she opened her eyes wide at Stone and was pleased to see that this almost made him lose his poise.

Having gained her advantage, she spoke at once.

“Of course, I will, as nearly as I remember it. You see, Mr Stone, Mr Remsen is foolishly jealous of my husband, and he bears me a grudge for marrying him, because he thinks I was engaged to him. I never was, to my own mind, but anyway, the speech you probably mean is that he said, ‘that he would yet have me, no matter what he had to do to get me.’ Now let me tell you, very seriously, Mr Remsen did not mean that as it might sound. He was beside himself in jealous rage, and he forgot it the next moment.”

“How do you know that?”

“Because I know my Andrew. And also, because, after I married Mr Talbot, Mr Remsen became engaged to another girl.”

“Miss Hanna?”


“Are those two really engaged?”

“So far as I know, and so far as I care. Those two are nothing to me, and as soon as you can get this case settled up, I mean to go away where I shall never again see anybody I have known in this place.”

“You know positively nothing about Mr Talbot’s death that you have not told?”

“Of course not. What could I know?”

But there was a quiver in Renny’s voice that clearly was not from grief or sorrow, it was distinctly a quiver of fear.

Stone went, like Agag, very delicately.

“There might be some little thing, that you forgot to mention. Mr Talbot had never expressed to you any fear of violence coming to him, from someone who might feel anger toward him?”

“Oh, no, but if he had feared such a thing, he would never have spoken of it to anybody. Nor would he really feel fear. That man never knew what it was to be afraid.”

“Yet he had an enemy.”

“A coward and a sneak. No man that Nick Talbot ever knew as an equal would have struck him in the back! Would he, Rudd?”

“No, Renny. All Nick’s friends or acquaintances were decent people. If one of them had killed him, he would have been struck from the front.”

“You think then, Rudd, that it was some laborer or workman—?”

“Yes, Mr Stone, or some leader of those people who wanted to stir up some revolutionary trouble. That is the only logical reason for his death that I can think of. I quite agree with Renny that the angry speech Remsen made, meant nothing really. Young people of today think nothing of saying ‘I could kill him!’ when they mean just nothing at all. I am not saying that exonerates Remsen, but I say that to my mind it is no proof of crime.”

“Of course not,” Renny agreed. “I’m all through with Drew Remsen, he has another girl, but I’ll tell you right now, Mr Stone, he never killed my husband.”


Chapter 20
Miller Takes A Hand

The next morning, Stone sat in what he called his thinking room. He had a pleasant suite of rooms in the Talbot house, and of them he liked best this small room which was fitted up as an office or study, and where Fleming Stone was wont to sit and think over his problems.

He had come to the conclusion that this case of Nick Talbot was not progressing as rapidly as he would like, and he felt he must get some new information. To be sure, he had been on the case but a few days, but it was not going at a promising rate.

Miller came in then, and Stone saw at a glance that the man had something he wanted to say.

Miller had been Talbot’s valet, and with some assistants, he also looked after the comfort of Rudd and Steve Trask.

Now, that Stone was in residence, Miller adopted him, and attended to his belongings and his wants in just the capable but unobtrusive way that Stone was accustomed to get from his own man, Kent. But this morning there was more on Miller’s mind than valet service.

“What is it, Miller?” Stone said, helpfully. “Let’s have it.”

“Well, there is something, sir—”

“Yes, I see that. Sit down there, and tell me.”

“Thank you, sir. You know Mr Remsen?”

“Andrew Remsen? Oh, yes. That is, I’ve met him; of course, I don’t know him well.”

“No, but I do and I think I ought to tell you something.”

“Then tell it, Miller. Go right at it, and put it through as directly as you can.”

“They—the police people, are thinking Mr Remsen, maybe killed Mr Talbot.”

“I think they have some suspicion, but they are far from certain.”

“Yes, sir; and their suspicion is because of something Mr Remsen said at the Fair, the night Mr Talbot was killed.”

“What did he say?”

“I don’t know just the words, but he said to Mrs Talbot that he would have her yet, no matter how he managed it.”

“You have the gist of it. Who told you?”

“It’s general gossip, sir; more than one person has told me. But never mind that, I want to speak of another time, when Mr Remsen said almost the same thing—and I heard him.”

“You heard Remsen say something to whom?”

“To Mrs Talbot ”

“Tell me the story.”

“It was the day they came home from Mexico. That night, I was in Mr Talbot’s room, fixing him for the night. Mrs Talbot had been in the room but she had gone to her own room. The door between was a little open, and I heard Mr Remsen talking to Mrs Talbot.”

“Was he in her room?”

“He was outside her window, on a little balcony. He had shinned up a porch pillar to get there.”

“Did you hear any words?”

“I did, Mr Stone. Mr Talbot couldn’t hear them, he had stepped into his bathroom, and the water was running into the tub. But I heard Mr Remsen say, ‘You shall be mine, if I have to kill him!’.”

“You think he was speaking of Mr Talbot?”

“I know he was. And later Mr Talbot heard him, and he called out, ‘Come in here, Remsen’.”

“What did Mr Remsen do?”

“He stepped over the window sill and came on in to Mr Talbot’s room—I saw it all.”

“What happened?”

“He knocked Mr Talbot down, and Mrs Talbot screamed out, ‘Oh, you’ve killed him!’ ”

“Go on.”

“And Mr Remsen said, ‘I hope I have,’ and then he went back through Mrs Talbot’s room, and out the window, and slid down the pillar, and went home.”

“And what was the result of all this?”

“It seemed to be hushed up. I don’t know about that, but Mr Rudd can tell you. He came in while the two men were fighting. He told Mr Remsen to go home and he told Mrs Talbot to go to her room, and then he put Mr Talbot to bed himself, me helping, what I could.”

“And why are you telling me all this, Miller?”

“Because it seemed to me I ought to tell somebody, and I’d rather tell you than the Inspector.”

“Why not have kept it to yourself?”

“Mr Stone, if Mr Remsen did kill Mr Talbot, this might be evidence against him.”

“Do you want evidence against him?”

“Only if he is the criminal. I’ve told you this because I know you will attend to it right. If I told the police, they’d make a rush at Mr Remsen and maybe arrest him offhand. But I know you’ll do the right thing, and I wanted you to know.”

“All right, Miller. I believe you acted on right judgment, and I will think it over before I do anything definite about it. Are you staying on here?”

“I hope so. Mr Rudd likes my ways, and Mr Trask puts up with me.”

“Mr Trask isn’t satisfied?”

“Oh, well, you know what the younger men are. Mr Rudd, he’s just like Mr Talbot, but Mr Trask, he’s a bit more for modern ways.”

“I’m glad you told me your story, Miller. You haven’t told anyone else?”

“Not a soul, sir. But it gives you a sort of side line on Mr Remsen, doesn’t it?”

“Yes, it shows how high-tempered he is. But nothing in it to indicate that he killed Mr Talbot. However, I’m glad you told me about it, and I’ll speak of it to Mr Rudd. We’re going over to see the Casino this morning, and probably Remsen will be mentioned.”

Fleming Stone had asked Rudd to take him to the Casino rather than go alone, because he felt that the older man’s deeper feeling and wiser judgment might possibly be of some assistance to him.

They went inside first, and Stone noted the positions of the stage and the dressing rooms, the dancing floor and the restaurant with interest, though they gave him no definite information.

“I don’t expect to learn anything from looking round here,” Stone said, “but I like to know the scene. Is this the Cinema room?”

“Yes,” and they stepped inside. “Here’s where I sat,” Rudd went on, “and that young Harley sat next to me. It was an interesting picture, but I cared more to look at the new lighting experiment. And, think of it, Mr Stone, as I sat in that end seat, my friend, the only human being I ever really cared deeply for, was being killed not fifty feet away from me!”

“You have my sympathy, Rudd,” and Stone spoke earnestly, “and I mean to do all I can to avenge that deed. Did you know where he was at the time?”

“I supposed he was over at the Van Dusens’. He was, a few minutes before, you know.”

“Yes, do you mind going with me, outside—by the window—”

“Where he was killed, you mean? Of course, we’ll go there. Come this way.”

In a moment, they stood looking at the place where Talbot was struck down. It was roped off and small stones indicated where the head and feet had been.

“What’s this little twig stuck in the ground for?” the detective inquired.

“That’s where his ring lay. I don’t know why they make such a point of that ring, it doesn’t seem to me any sort of clue.”

“Nor to me. A scarab, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, and a valuable one. The police have it now. I never admired it specially, but Nick was fond of it.”

“It was loose on his finger?”

“Yes, but not loose enough to drop off. I’m sure of that. So someone must have pulled it off his finger, intending to steal it, and then must have been frightened by the watchman’s approach and ran off without the ring.”

“But it seems from the position of the twig that the ring was found directly under his body.”

“Yes, it seems so. Do you mind if I go away, Stone. I can’t stand it! You see, Nick was so powerful, so strong. How could anybody overcome him?”

“But you know it was somebody who came up behind him. He had no chance to resist. Come on, Rudd, I’ve seen enough.”

“Have you learned anything?” The two men walked away.

“Nothing definite. But a few things to think over. I do a lot of armchair work in my profession.”

“Do you think you can succeed here? I’m no more revengeful than most, but I would like for you to find the man who killed my friend.”

“I’ll do my best! That’s all I can promise. Now, you go your ways, Rudd. I’ve another errand.”

They separated and Stone went to call on Ruth Hanna.

He knew nothing at all of the girl, but that she was more or less engaged to Remsen, and he greatly desired to make her acquaintance.

Ruth was at home, and though surprised, she welcomed Stone gracefully and they sat down in the living room of the Hanna house.

“But you’re the detective, aren’t you?” and Ruth had a frightened look in her blue eyes.

“Yes, but detectives don’t bite.”

“What do they do?”

“They come to visit nice young ladies, and ask them questions.”

“And do they expect the young ladies to answer the questions?”

“They hope they will, especially if their answers will help people they care for.”

“Would mine do that?” Ruth whispered, and there was a quiver in her voice.

“Yes, I think so. Is there anyone you want to help?”

“I would be glad to help anyone who needed it.” Ruth spoke calmly now, and rather seemed to resent Stone’s suggestion.

“I will be frank, Miss Hanna. I would like to ask you a few questions concerning Mr Remsen, if you are willing I should do so.”

“Of course I am. What can I tell you?”

“First, then, are you and he engaged?”

“I can’t tell you that.”

“Is it a secret?”

“No, it is not a secret, but I don’t know myself, whether we are engaged or not.”

“That seems odd. Did he ask you to marry him?” Stone spoke thus bluntly, for he could see Ruth was under a mental strain of some sort, and he hoped to help her.

“Yes, he did.”

“And did you say yes?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Then why is there any room for doubt?”

“Because I mean to break off the engagement.”

“Does Mr Remsen agree to that?”

“He says not, but it must be broken all the same.”

“Because he is suspected of being responsible for Mr Talbot’s death?”

“No!” and Ruth’s blue eyes seemed to blaze at him. “He never killed Nick Talbot! Who says he did?”

“I haven’t heard anyone say so. I am told it is a rumor.”

“And you believe rumors? Is that the way you do your work?”

“We may not believe a rumor, Miss Hanna, but we have to make sure that it is false. That’s why I came to you.”

“Yes, I can tell you that it is false! Drew Remsen has his faults. But a murderer! Never!”

“What makes you so sure?”

“Because I know him so well. Is there no one whom you feel sure—sure that he could not commit a murder?”

“Yes, I do know a few people of whom I feel sure in that respect. But tell me then, why you are not going to marry Mr Remsen?”

“Because he doesn’t love me enough.”

“You’re sure of that?”

“I am sure he loves someone else better.”

“You mean Renny Talbot, I think. And it seems to me you are wise not to marry a man who does not love you best in all the world. Or even if you only think that is so. You would never be happy with him. But make certain, Miss Hanna. Personally, I am not at all by way of thinking that Mrs Talbot intends to marry Mr Remsen, either now, or in the future. I am emboldened to tell you this, for I think you will understand that I am only trying to help you. I like Remsen, he has fine qualities. And though he is just now fascinated by Mrs Talbot, you would make him a far better wife. You are not angry at my plain talk, are you?”

“I am not. But I don’t know why I am not. If anybody else talked to me as you are doing, I should think he was crazy.”

“No, I am not crazy. I talk to you straightforwardly, because I see that you can take it. Very few could. Now, Miss Hanna, tell me why you are so positive that Remsen could not have killed Talbot.”

“Because I know him very well—very well indeed. And I know that supposing he had done such a deed, he would not ask Renny to marry him afterward.”

“I think you are entirely right, and I think that is true logic. I do not think Remsen committed murder, but if he had, I know he would not ask his victim’s wife to marry him. You are a brave girl, Ruth Hanna, to see that so clearly, and to tell me so plainly. And it is the truth. And my advice to you is to stand by Andrew Remsen. He is going to need your faith and loyalty if he is accused of crime, and you must give it to him. Believe in him, my dear child; let the matter of your engagement wait over until things are settled. He will not want Renny, he will want you. I am saying nothing against Renny, she is a dear and a sweet. But you are a woman and a fine one and I am proud to know you.”

“You overwhelm me, Mr Stone, with praise that I do not deserve. But I thank you for the help and courage you have given me. I shall have to think it all over before I make any decisions, but I am glad of what you have told me. Will you go now, please?”

“Yes, I will go now, and God bless you for a brave girl”


Chapter 21
A Very Slender Clue

Fleming Stone possessed what is sometimes called a photographic mind, but what is really a photographic memory.

It is of no great use to take a mental snapshot of things you see, but it is often very useful to have a mental cinema record of them.

And when the detective was in his deepest dilemmas, he would sit down by himself, and endeavor to learn from his store of brain pictures some hint that might prove helpful in his work.

The Talbot case was proving to be a most annoying puzzle.

Stone had been over and over his list of possible suspects without getting any new light on their possibilities.

He had no reason whatever to suspect any person he had spoken to since he came to Banbury Gardens. Family, friends and neighbors alike, gave him no smallest, tiniest point on which to hang the faintest suspicion of guilt.

He was sure that Andrew Remsen had not committed the crime, and he was about to begin an intensive campaign of investigation among the laboring men. He had learned from the police that, while it was kept down, and was dealt with secretly, there was a rising spirit of rebellion and antagonism between workmen and employers that might, at any time, break out in an overt act.

But to Stone’s mind, it didn’t make sense.

Nicholas Talbot had not been overbearing or belligerent in his attitudes, although his overseers and even his lawyers had been obliged to settle some alleged grievances.

Nor could he think of any reason why Talbot’s friends or acquaintances should have enmity for him.

Stone was sure the crime was the result of some old-time episode which Talbot had thought forgotten, and which suddenly brought him the vengeance of a forgotten or a scorned foe.

With Talbot’s life before he married Renny, Stone was entirely conversant. Beside all that Rudd had told him, and all that Byron Loring had related, Stone had received information from a famous and far reaching Detective Agency, which guaranteed Talbot’s life upright and blameless from all sins against law and order.

It corroborated in full the story of Rudd’s unjust accusation of wrong doing, and of Talbot’s earnest and successful efforts to prove his friend’s innocence.

Nor were these plain facts all that Stone had learned. Other and far more private agents had delved into the personal affairs of the two men, and had given them a clean bill of decency and honor.

Talbot’s early marriage was recorded, exactly as Stone had already heard it told.

In fact he proved to his own satisfaction that the friendship of the two men was just what it seemed, gratitude and devoted service on one side and appreciation and a fine friendship on the other.

Then had come Renny.

Reason seemed to point to the fact of Renny’s arrival as a possible factor in the murder of Nicholas Talbot.

But unless that meant Remsen was the murderer, it seemed to Stone to mean nothing. Doubtless Renny had had any number of admirers before her marriage, but no one of them had been mentioned in connection with the crime.

To be sure, an undiscovered and unsuspected murderer was a possibility but far from a probable fact.

The only loophole for such a suspicion to get in, was the scene of the crime.

Anybody so minded could have waylaid Talbot on his arrival at the Casino after coming from the Van Dusens’ house.

Stone’s reconstruction of that scene proved to him that Talbot came alone, and that he paused to look in at the window, doubtless to see if the dance was yet in progress.

Anybody could have been in waiting, with the knife in readiness, and could have stabbed Talbot from the back, as he stood watching.

In such case, he would have fallen, just as he did, and the murderer could have gone his ways unseen.

This mental picture Stone was studying, as he sat thinking.

And as he saw it, he said to himself, if that’s all there is to it, what about the ring?

Plenty of suppositions; that Talbot hit out at his attacker, and the ring, being loose, fell off. Again, that Talbot fell, and the greedy criminal tried to rob the dead of the only valuable in sight.

But these thoughts did not appeal to Stone.

He wanted a more definite and convincing reason for the presence of the ring where it was found.

He had learned the history of the ring; Talbot had bought it in Egypt. It was guaranteed to have been taken from the tomb of Tutankhamen, but Nick had always declared that he took the guaranty with a grain of salt. He was willing to agree that it might have been a possession of the great monarch, but he would not agree to any such certainty.

Experts had opined both for and against, but Talbot only laughed and wore the ring without care as to its origin. It was a fine scarab and that was enough.

Stone kept on wondering how the ring was transferred from its wearer’s finger to the ground, and suddenly he had the glimmer of a gleam of an idea. But it was so vague, even nebulous, that he turned his mind to more rational thoughts.

That fellow, Harley, now,—he, the police had said —was terribly interested in Rudd’s ring, the cat’s-eye. But that was no reason why he should be interested in Talbot’s ring. Yet a scarab was as valuable as a cat’s-eye, and sometimes more so. A wild-goose chase, of course, but Stone decided he would like a chat with Harley. The thing was to find the man, for he had made only a short visit in the Gardens, and had long since departed.

But as Stone mused there came to him a feeling that the name was not entirely strange to him.

Where have I known Rip Harley? he thought, the remembrance of the name growing more clear.

I have never known him, but I have seen him, or heard of him, in some especial way. Oh, Memory dear, do come along and help me now! I am positive I saw Rip Harley in some play—or—some parlor entertainment.

Barbara! Barbara!!

Who is Barbara, what is she, that I connect her with Rip Harley? Was he, or is he a movie actor?

But those two names I saw together, I most surely did, in a newspaper I was reading—where!—when?

No, it wasn’t a newspaper, it was a smaller sheet— sheet of music? No. Programme? That’s it! I certainly remember seeing the names of Rip Harley and Barbara on the same page—now, what’s the name of that Shaw play? Major Barbara! It must have been some private theatrical or something of the sort. Harley isn’t an actor, or I should have heard of it.

And I was in some very smart place—a big house— lots of rooms, lovely gardens, gay people. Did I go to the play? No, or I should remember it better.

I’ve seen Major Barbara on the stage, with real players—this must have been an amateur show.

I can see the paper as clearly as if it were in front of my eyes now! Barbara was in much larger letters than Harley, and there was quite a list of names—but it doesn’t seem right—it isn’t right.

What other Barbaras do I know? Barbara Frietchie. No, I can’t connect her with Rip Harley. Wonder what the chap’s real name is.

Oh, there’s Chesterton’s “Ballad of Saint Barbara.” A gruesome thing as I remember it. And small chance of Harley being mixed up with that.

And yet—oh, thank you, thank you, Memory dear, at last I have it! Yes, yes,—Santa Barbara, not Saint Barbara!

And I know just where I was! At the beautiful Hotel Samarkand, with its fairy-like flower gardens and picture pools. It all comes back to me.

And a very simple connection.

I was reading, not a programme, but the leaflet published by the hotel, and of course, there was Santa Barbara up at the top, and under it a list of the new arrivals that day, and in that list was Richard Harley, and I’ve heard up here that Rip’s name is by rights, Richard.

But, after all, what does it get me?

Perhaps, just a very small perhaps, I can learn what I want if I take a run down to Santa Barbara. How I’d love to do that! But not at this crisis. When, as and if I ever get a vacation that’s where I’ll go, though.

It is lovely, and the old mission and all the picturesque alley-ways—I’m glad I thought of it.

But I can’t go now. After all, I doubt Rip Harley would help me much. I almost wish I hadn’t got that little germ of an idea in the back of my mind. It can’t be true, I must give over thinking of it. I wonder if there is a link who can tell me where Harley got his nickname. And why do I want to know? But I do. Wonder if Trask would know. I’ve asked him about it, but maybe Santa Barbara would stir his memory.

No, I’ll do it myself. I’ll get the hotel on long distance—very long!

It took some time, but at last Fleming Stone was connected with the night clerk of the Hotel Samarkand in Santa Barbara.

His first questions brought informative answers.

Yes, the night clerk was well acquainted with Mr Harley, and also, he was ready and willing to talk.

Yet the conversation was not a long one. When Stone asked the question as to how Harley came by that odd nickname, the voluble clerk said:

“I’m not quite sure, but it was while he was in college. He was fond of staying up late nights, and therefore, was often sleepy or drowsy in his classes the next day. His chums exaggerated this trait, and called him Rip Van Winkle, and the name stuck. He’s a first-class feller, though.”

“Yes, I’m told so by many. Well, I guess I’ll drop off the wire. It’s two A. M. by my watch, though I suppose your timepieces are all about eleven o’clock last night.”

“Just what they are. We have a lot more time than you do.”

“Yes, but do you improve it?”

“You can’t improve anything in Santa Barbara!”

“I agree to that! And I’ll be out there as soon as I can get around to it.”

Late though it was, Miller was waiting to put Stone to bed, and he told him that Mrs Talbot and Mr Trask had gone out and had not yet returned.”

“Pretty late,” Stone said, “but Mrs Talbot needs no chaperon. I would speak to her brother about it, but he has no rule over her. And she carries a sound head on her pretty shoulders. I say, Miller, give me an extra nap in the morning. Don’t disturb me before nine, anyway.”

“Very good, sir.”

Miller disappeared and Stone fell asleep at once.

But when, it seemed to him, he had been in bed less than five minutes, he was conscious of somebody shaking his arm to waken him.

“Lemmelone,” he remarked, more in sorrow than in anger. “You know I told you, Miller—”

“Yes sir, I know, but listen here, sir. You must get up at once. Here sir, put on your clothes as I pass them to you.”

“I’ll be damned if I will. What time is it?”

“It’s just gone six, sir. Now, Mr Stone, just listen. Mr Trask is dead.”

Stone didn’t say “What?”

He shook himself out of bed, and took his clothes as Miller handed them to him.

“Where is he?” he said next.

“On the floor, sir, in his own bathroom.”

“Run along, Miller, I’ll get myself there. They may need you.”

But Miller tarried and then took Stone to the scene of the tragedy.

The little room seemed full of people, but Stone passed them. He knelt by the contorted body of Stephen Trask, bent his face over the dead face and said, “Cyanide.”

And then the police made their appearance.


Chapter 22
Inquiries And Opinions

Stephen Trask’s pleasant suite of rooms, held a bedroom, dressing room and bath, and, also a spacious and well furnished sitting room, which Trask called his playroom.

It was in this room that Inspector Craven and his Sergeant Flint, held their inquiry.

Both these men felt an embarrassing need for “the man of the house.”

Mrs Talbot was not visible, and Craven sent an imperative message to her.

“Do go, Miller,” he said, for he knew the valet, “to Mrs Talbot’s room, and ask her to come here at once. If she is not ready, bid her come as soon as possible.”

Miller went on his errand, and Craven looked at his audience.

It was small, consisting only of Rudd, Fleming Stone and a troubled looking man who wore the blue denim garb of a workman.

“Who first discovered Mr Trask’s body?” Craven asked, looking at this man.

“I’ll say I did, sir,” he made answer.

“Just who are you?”

“I’m the janitor and electrician, sir. My name’s Swenson, and I have all charge of the electricity, heating, air conditioning and such matters for the house.”

“At what time did you find Mr Trask?”

“Musta bin just after five o’clock.”

“What were you doing up in the rooms at that hour?”

Swenson looked a little offended, but he said, respectfully enough, “It is part of my duty to keep an eye on the plumbing fixtures and such things, and if I’ve a washer to put on in the private bathrooms, I do it at an early hour, when I know I won’t be bothering anybody.”

“Right?” asked Craven, looking at Rudd.

“Perfectly right. I have nothing to do with household matters, but I have often seen Swenson around in the halls as early as five o’clock.”

“Are you, then, an early riser?”

“Well, yes, at times. You could meet me in the halls at all sorts of odd hours.”

“For what purpose?”

“I am an astronomer, Inspector, and on occasion I view the heavens to see what the planets are up to now. The great windows in these halls offer fine views to a student of astronomy, and I enjoy them greatly.”

“Were you around studying the planets last night, Mr Rudd?”

“No, they are staging no great act just now.”

“I see,” and Craven turned back to the janitor. “When you entered Mr Trask’s bathroom—you found him?”

“Just as you see him now, sir. Crumpled all up, like. I was that dazed, I couldn’t think what to do. I couldn’t refer the matter to Mrs Golder, as we do most things. So I went to Mr Rudd’s rooms and I woke him up and told him. He put on his dressing gown and went back with me, and then he said, “Get hold of Miller, and then tell him to bring Mr Stone. So I did, and then I was dismissed. But they told me to stand by, so here I am.”

“Who was the last person to see Mr Trask alive, last evening?” Craven asked, generally.

It was Rudd who replied.

“Last evening,” he said, “Mr Trask and Mrs Talbot went to a party together. I do not know at what time they came home.”

“Mrs Talbot is the person I want to see!” Craven said, “and I insist that she be brought here now!

Minty came, then, bringing her mistress. Renny looked very lovely, in a soft white frock. She was crying, but she managed to open her eyes wide at the Inspector. But he had learned to discount that performance, so it brought her nothing.

“Good morning, Mrs Talbot,” Craven said. “I’m sorry, but I shall have to ask you a few questions about this new tragedy that has come to your household.”

“Of course, Inspector, I am quite at your service.”

“When did you first learn of Mr Trask’s death?”

“When your message was brought me, a short time ago.”

“You didn’t know of his death last night, then?”

“Was he dead last night? Not when I left him.”

“At what time did you leave him?”

“Very shortly after three this morning.”

“You two had been out together?”



“At a place called Lake Como. It is a new and very beautiful skating rink. I was glad to see it. I do not go out often.”

“And you walked home?”

“Yes, it is but a short distance.”

“Where did you leave Mr Trask?”

“We walked up the broad staircase together, and then he turned toward his apartments, and I went on to mine.”

“Did not Mr Trask walk to your door with you?”

“Why, yes, I believe he did.”

“And then did you walk back with him to his door?”

“I may have done so.”

“Were you in deep or important conversation?”

“I suppose I may say yes to that. We were quarreling.”

“An important quarrel?”

“To him, not to me. It is one we have often had before. Are these questions necessary, Inspector?”

“I think so. Have you any objection to telling what the quarrel was about?”

“I have, yes, but if you insist upon it, I will tell you.”

“I’m afraid I must insist.”

“Well, then, Mr Trask was asking me to marry him.”

“That does not seem likely to lead to a quarrel.”

“No, but he has asked me so many times, and I have invariably refused, I feel I have the right to resent his insistence. It was not really a quarrel, of course, merely a tiff, such as we have had many times before, on the same subject.”

“You did not wish to marry him?”

“I certainly did not, and I told him so as plainly as I know how.”

“Mrs Talbot, do you know what cyanide is?”

“Cyanide potassium? oh, yes, Mr Trask often asked me to buy it for him.”

“And did you buy it?”

“No, the chemists won’t sell it. And I daresay Mr Trask didn’t mean it. But when I would refuse his pleas, he would pretend he was going to commit suicide. He would say, ‘Renny, run down to the drug store and buy me a man’s size dose of cyanide potassium! I must end it all!’ When he got to that stage we both began to laugh. But I tried to buy the stuff once—I thought I’d call his bluff—and the druggist told me to try a candy store.”

“And you quarreled with him last night—”

“Only because of his persistence. Why should I be subjected to an annoyance like that, if I could stop it?”

“But could you stop it?”

“Oh, I don’t know. I told him last night, if he asked me again, I wouldn’t let him live in my house. I’m sorry now, that I was cross with him!”

Renny broke into uncontrollable sobbing, and Rudd spoke for her.

“It is all true, Inspector. Stephen adored her, and he has told me that he would never stop trying to win her, until she actually married someone else. He had a very persistent nature, and he just wouldn’t give up.”

“I see,” said Craven, though he had never had an experience of this kind before. “Now, Mrs Talbot,” he went on, “Mr Trask’s death was, beyond all doubt, the result of a dose of cyanide. Do you suppose that he procured it himself, and took it purposely?”

“No!” said she, explosively. “Steve never did such a thing! His cyanide talk was all poppycock, all joking! Of course he didn’t kill himself! He was too fond of life for that. Why, he was just going to buy a grand new car, and he had just decided to keep a valet.”

“He was a rich man?”

“More or less,” said Renny, indifferently. “He was my husband’s only relative. That’s why he lived here.”

“You enjoyed the party he took you to last evening?”

“Some. But I would not care to go there again.”

“Why not?”

“The atmosphere was not exactly what I am accustomed to. It was what is called a wild party. But I wanted to try it once.”

“Then, as I understand it, you saw Mr Trask alive for the last time this morning, a little after three?”

Renny nodded, and Craven went on to ask each one present where he was at that time.

Both Rudd and Fleming Stone declared they were in bed and asleep.

Swenson the electrician, made the same statement. He said his working hours began at five, and he took all the sleep he could get before that.

Minty said that Mrs Talbot had come to her rooms, soon after three o’clock, and though she seemed a little tired, she was not cross or annoyed in any way. Minty had put her to bed and she had dropped asleep at once. Then Minty had gone to her own room and had gone to bed herself, not awakening until summoned by Miller.

“Would it be possible,” Craven asked, “for an intruder to have entered the house and have committed this crime? Is there a watchman?”

“It would be quite possible,” Rudd answered him. “There is no watchman exclusively for this house. The town has a police guard. Outside doors and windows are usually locked, but I’d say a determined marauder could force an entrance.”

“I think that was the way of it,” Flint said. “There can be no suspicion of anybody inside this house. The servants are a fine class, and Mr Trask was friendly with all of them. He was of a generous nature, and never imposed on their service. How about the young men he was chumming with last night? Would you suspect any of them, Mrs Talbot?”

“I don’t know them well enough to judge that,” Renny said. “I think the wicked man who killed Steve was the same sort of man that killed my husband. Those bad people who make strikes and things.”

“We have to consider the weight of the evidence,” Craven said, a little sententiously. “I can only state positively that Mr Trask came to his death by means of poison administered through the mouth at the hands of some person or persons unknown. I shall lock up the bathroom for further investigation, and I must ask you all to remain in the house in case of further inquiry. Go to your breakfast, now, those who wish, and I shall ask your hospitality.”

The policemen were sumptuously fared, and then Byron Loring and Christine came.

Rudd had sent for them, because he deemed it the right thing to do. He had no desire to dictate or even to attend to things, but he thought word ought to be sent to Renny’s relatives, so he sent it.

Christine’s nature was the sort that resents misfortune. Her first greetings to Renny showed a feeling that it was all her fault.

“Now, Renny,” she said, in a tone deeply reproachful, “what have you done now, to bring trouble and disgrace on the family?”

Craven had hurried through his last delicious cup of coffee, in order to hear what Mrs Loring had to say.

For he well knew that Christine would not hesitate to suspect Renny of implication in this new disaster, if she wanted to do so.

And down in the bottom of his justice-loving heart, the Inspector himself suspected Renny Talbot. He took her stories of the night before with several grains of salt, for he could not understand why a marriage proposal should not be accepted or rejected as definitely and finally as an invitation to dinner.

She had ample opportunity, that was certain, and though motive might seem lacking, still, he remembered hearing that Renny would inherit Trask’s fortune, should he die unmarried.

“He was not sure about this, but he had heard something of the sort, and it was doubtless true. To be sure, Renny was rolling in riches already, but he had been told, as to those wealthy ones, the more they had, the more they wanted. So, he wondered if he would find a sympathizer in Christine.

But Renny took the situation into her own hands.

She opened her eyes at Christine, who was still under the influence of that gesture, and said, with the air of a tragedy queen:

“Christine, one more speech like that from you, and you go out of this house forever! How dare you say what you did? I bring trouble on this house? Do you mean that I killed Steve Trask, Nick’s relative, and my dear friend! Is there no one to take my part? Byron, have you lost all love for your sister? Rudd, I am sure you will stand my friend—”

“Forever, Renny,” and he crossed the room and stood beside her. “But quiet down, my dear,—nobody has accused you of anything. You are nervously excited, and it won’t do. Christine, can’t you be decent to this child, for once? Whatever you meant, you seemed to say that it was Renny’s fault that death has again visited this home.”

“No, no,” Byron came to his sister, and put his arm round her. “Chris didn’t mean anything, Renny dear. Forget it, we’re all a little upset.”

But Christine made no advances, either apologetic or affectionate.

“What is your theory, Mr Stone, about this new crime?” Byron put his question with a slight air of patronage, as who should say, “Now, do some tricks for the ladies.”

“I am reserving my opinions, Mr Loring. I do not make snap judgments.”

“And quite right, too, Mr Stone. Doubtless, to that you owe your brilliant success.”

“Doubtless,” said Fleming Stone, and Byron Loring never had felt smaller in his life.

Then Christine asked Renny to take her up to her rooms, and the two went off together, and Christine cried and put up a generally fine show, and there was a making-up of sorts.

Loring made friends with the Inspector, and Rudd and Fleming Stone went out on a side porch for a smoke.

“Have you any sort of steer?” Rudd asked the detective.

“Not to call a steer—so far, I am only counting up the things that must be true, and they are so painfully few.”

“I don’t see how you know where to start.”

“I don’t.”


Chapter 23
A Little More Evidence

That afternoon Craven, with Rudd and Fleming Stone looked over Trask’s papers.

Stone was not surprised to find them all in perfect order, for he had an idea that Rudd acted as secretary to the young man, as he had to Nick Talbot.

“Yes,” Rudd said, when this was mentioned, “you see, I am a born secretary, I can’t keep my hands off other people’s accounts and balances.”

Craven nodded his head. “I know,” he said, “Mr Rudd’s aid was invaluable in settling up the Talbot estate. And here is Mr Trask’s will.”

He picked up an important looking document.

“Yes,” Rudd agreed. “Read it out, Craven, it is no secret.”

The will, in so far as it was a will, for it was an informal paper, though duly signed and witnessed, provided that in the event of Stephen Trask dying without having been married, and not engaged to any lady at the time of his death, he bequeathed all his worldly possessions to Mrs Talbot and to Mr Rudd in equal shares.

With the will was a notation, describing his investments and holdings. Also it gave all information as to his lawyer, his bankers, his Safe Deposit Box and such matters, in the most full and clear manner.

“Good business man, Trask,” said Craven.

“With some assistance,” Stone added, smiling at Rudd.

“It was a pleasure to help the boy,” Rudd stated. “He was so grateful, and quick at figures, too. Well, shall we lock up Trask’s desk, and give the keys to his lawyer?”

“I’ll take charge of all that,” Craven said. “Was Mr Trask a rich man?”

“All the Talbot tribe are rich,” Rudd told him. “Now, I don’t want what he has left to me, and I propose to endow a school or something of the sort, that can bear Trask’s name.”

“Why don’t you want the money?” Flint inquired, with an expression of incredulity on his young face.

“Because I have enough without it. No one could live with Nick Talbot and not have opportunity to save. His generosity was unbounded, and my own wants are simple.”

Rudd spoke sincerely and with a far-away look in his eyes, as if thinking of his many years with Talbot.

“You two were great friends, weren’t you?” Flint went on. “I’ve heard you went with him on his honeymoon!”

“You heard correctly. I tried to go in the role of courier or dragoman, or something of that sort, but those two good sports set me on a pedestal as Friend of the Family, so I tried to live up to that. We had delightful times, and I can be trusted to know the rules in most situations.”

“I believe you,” said Flint, sincerely.

That afternoon, Fleming Stone, in his pleasant sitting room, pondered deeply over the very small clue, which he believed in, not implicitly, but persistently. He meant to carry on, until he either proved his clue of value or was forced to the conclusion that it was no good.

This meant some tall thinking and some low-down inquiries.

He admitted to himself that his idea was merely an idea, of no weight or measure, but it was a possibility. And he had often seen a sprouting possibility flower into a solemn fact.

So he concluded to investigate thoroughly his vague and intangible little clue. He could hope to get no light on it under the Talbot roof, and he wondered how far afield his quest would take him.

On his own private telephone, which was safe from all intrusion, he made two or three calls, and then prepared to go out.

He ordered the little car, which was always at his disposal, and a smart young chauffeur awaited his orders.

But before leaving the house, he went for a last look at the body of Stephen Trask. Flint unlocked the bathroom door for him, and Stone asked to be left in the room alone.

Flint was very jealous of Stone, not of his presence there, but he had hoped to learn some of his tricks. He had visioned himself chatting with the great detective and flattering him until he disclosed his methods and how he worked them. But Stone had seemed almost ignorant of Flint’s identity, and though always courteous, he offered no opportunity for a chummy chat.

As Flint unwillingly closed the door behind him, he saw Stone go to the chiffonier and from its top drawer take a fresh handkerchief, presumably Trask’s, and saw no more. Now, what in the world would he do that for, the lesser and greatly perplexed detective asked himself.

Evidently Stone knew what he wanted. He knelt beside the dead man, looked into his mouth and using the handkerchief wiped off the rather large and very well-kept teeth. Placing the handkerchief in an envelope, he put it in his pocket and went down to the car.

He gave orders for New York City as rapidly as might be, and Berman, the chauffeur, took him at his word.

It was a beautiful drive, and Stone reached the city, refreshed and avid for further work.

He went first to a large chemical laboratory, and by virtue of his well known name, received immediate attention.

He turned the handkerchief over to the proper operator, and asked that it be carefully and thoroughly analyzed.

Sooner than he had thought possible, results were put before him.

He was informed that there was found upon the linen positive traces of cyanide and small quantities of tooth paste.

“Could you tell me the brand of tooth paste?” Stone asked further.

“As it happens, I can. Though it is not possible in all cases. This is the Smiler tooth paste, patented about a year ago. It was a success at once probably owing to its absurd name and the picture of the very much smiling girl that advertises it. It is a good paste, one of the best, and it has one small ingredient found in no other that I know of. That is why I am so certain of my statements.”

Stone thanked him warmly, paid his fee, and taking the report given him, he went his way.

His way led him to the Waldorf Hotel.

There he found Mr Harley, who was staying over a day or two between trains, as Stone had found out from Mr Van Dusen over the telephone.

The young man was cordial and pleasant and Stone told him frankly that he had come for information.

“I’m just full of it,” said Harley, gayly. “What do you want to know first?”

“Cast your mind back to the night of the Casino Fair, when you saw the new process lighting in the cinema room.”

“It’s back there, but I didn’t see an awful lot of the new process.”

“Why not? Did you fall asleep?”

“Now, who’s been telling you tales of me? Or do you know my name?”

“I know you’re called Rip Van Winkle, for reasons.”

“Right enough. And I don’t mind admitting that I did drowse in that hot, stuffy, dark little room! And I soon discovered I’d seen most of those films before.”

“I don’t blame you for drowsing, then. Did you ever hear of Dave Fothergil?”

“Never did. Who is he?”

“Well, he may have sat next to you that night at the Cinema.”

“Don’t think so. Mr Rudd sat next to me.”

“I mean on your other side. Mr Rudd had an aisle seat.”

“Yes, that’s right. I didn’t notice the chap on the other side of me. What did you call him?”

“Fothergil—Dave Fothergil.”

“No, I don’t know the name. Never heard it before.”

“Then you don’t remember his climbing over you and Rudd, to get out?”

“No, I don’t. Sorry—did you want me to remember?”

“Rather—yes. But it doesn’t matter. You remember Rudd going out?”

“Oh, yes. He just stepped out for a second—right back. But Fothergil? Does he say he knows me?”

“He thinks you may not remember him. He was with you in Santa Barbara.”

“At the Samarkand? No, no, I don’t think so. There was no Fothergil there, to my knowledge. I always remember names.”

“Well, no matter. Has anybody else been asking you about Dave Fothergil climbing over you to get out?”

“No. Or, wait a minute—yes. Steve Trask asked me something of the sort. Only he didn’t say Fothergil, I’m sure of that.”

“Have you heard about Trask?” Stone asked, sure that he hadn’t.

“No, what about him?”

“He was killed last night, or early this morning.”

“No! poor Steve. Was he in some of those queer joints he favors?”

“He had been to Lake Como.”

“I advised him not to go to those places. But he seemed to like them.”

“He wasn’t killed there, he was killed at home. So far as we know. But we know little about it as yet. Read the evening papers. I must go now, and thank you lots for your patience with me.”

Stone returned to the car, and bade the chauffeur go back home at once.

As Stone got out of the car, at the Talbot house, the Inspector met him, and asked for a word with him.

“Of course, Craven, come right along up to my rooms.”

“Thank you, sir; may we take Flint?”

“Sure. What is it? a caucus?”

“I hope so.”

“All right, go into that room, and I’ll be with you in a moment.”

The moment was a short one, and Stone reappeared, with Miller, and, to the surprise of his guests, asked them what they would drink.

“W—we are on duty,” stammered Flint, but Stone shook his head.

“Not exactly,” he said, “and, too, I’ve had a long drive and I could do with a swallow.”

The matter settled, Stone brought out some fine cigars, and the three sat round a small table.

“Now, then,” he said, “perhaps we can get together on this thing.”

“That’s what we want,” stated Craven. “You see, sir, we know your powers and your reputation, and we feel that you—”

Craven was so utterly at a loss how to choose his words, that Flint spoke up quickly:

“We feel, Mr Stone, that if you know anything, you ought to tell us.”

Stone smiled at the young face, timid yet determined.

“You are inexperienced in the ways of personal investigators, Mr Flint, if you think we discuss our findings. We may do so, after results are reached, but seldom before. However, let’s talk the case over. You have your suspect, Inspector?”

“I’m sorry to say I have. To my mind nobody could have killed Trask except Mrs Talbot. She was having a desperate quarrel with him, they were by themselves, late at night, she has an ungovernable temper, and she is impulsive enough for anything.”

“And how do you think she killed him?” Stone looked grave.

“She forced or persuaded him to eat something into which she had introduced cyanide. Don’t ask me where she got the poison, I don’t know. But a pretty woman can get anything.”

“That is very nearly true, but I must ask you to dismiss Mrs Talbot from your mind as the criminal, for she did not kill Stephen Trask. The cyanide was put into Trask’s tube of tooth paste, and when he brushed his teeth, he almost instantly dropped dead.”

“That would have been a clever way to do it,” and Craven looked distinctly incredulous.

“That would have been the only way to do it, and that is the way it was done.”

“But his brush and tube of paste were found undisturbed on the glass shelf in his bathroom, we examined them carefully, and the housemaid verified it.”

“You did not examine far enough, you stopped too soon. I have discovered the facts. I have no supernatural powers, nor even superior understanding, but the poison had to be administered that way, and it was. Of course, duplicate tubes and brushes were used. Earlier in the evening the murderer replaced Trask’s own tube of paste with the one he had poisoned, and later, switched the tubes back again, and replaced the used brush with a clean one. These things are all kept in stock by the housekeeper, and are at the disposal of all guests. The Smiler tooth paste is used by all the household, and is bought in quantities. We must deduce a clever murderer, for the poisoned tube had to resemble the other as to how far down it had been used and all that. All was attended to, and the facts passed unnoticed.”

Then Stone told of the results of the laboratory analysis, and his two listeners were, perforce, convinced.

“And,” he concluded, “if you will come over here tomorrow morning, and bring a couple of policemen on the side, I think I can deliver the criminal into your hands.”

“He means the lady,” said Craven to Flint, as they went away. “More than ever I am convinced that it was Mrs Talbot.”


Chapter 24
The Confession

Next day the sun rose clear and bright, but Fleming Stone woke, with feelings of sadness and depression in his soul.

Never, in his experience, had he felt such dread of what the day would bring forth.

He went down to breakfast, and found Rudd still at the table. It was the habit of the men to breakfast downstairs, while Renny followed her own sweet will. Sometimes she breakfasted in her own rooms and sometimes she came down and sat at table with the men.

This morning, she appeared soon after Stone, and sat beside him.

She looked like a flower in her white frock, but she was thin and pale. Her troubles had told on her, and she longed every day for Nick’s strong, helpful ways and never-failing love.

She had made up her mind to one thing. She could not endure the strain of another of those house funerals, with its overpowering scent of massed flowers, and its mournful, wailing music.

Christine had agreed with this, and Steve’s funeral services would be held at the Mortuary Chapel, and he would be buried beside Nick.

As she toyed with a cup of coffee, she saw Byron and Christine coming to the house.

“Why are they here so early?” she cried.

“I invited them,” Stone said, “and I wish you’d all come into the morning room.”

Both Renny and Rudd rose and followed him, looking rather amazed.

But Fleming Stone had his work cut out for him, and he was no shirk.

Byron and Christine were already there, and then came the Inspector and Sergeant Flint.

“I invited these people,” Stone said, as he and Miller arranged the chairs a little, “because I wish to make my report. Mrs Talbot requested me to investigate the untimely death of her husband, and before I had entirely done so, the death of Mr Trask occurred. As I have discovered the killer of both these men, I must report to Mrs Talbot, and I wish the rest of you to hear it also.”

“Do I understand you have solved both the murders?” exclaimed the Inspector, and at Stone’s nod, Craven called out, “Foster!”

A young man came in from the hall, and his notebook and pencils proclaimed him an official stenographer.

“I am infinitely grieved at the report I must make,” Stone began.

He did not sound as if making a speech, or even a report, he seemed about to tell some sad story.

“But,” he went on, “murder is a crime and crime must leave sadness in its wake. I have found out, beyond all possibility of mistake or error, who killed Mr Talbot and Mr Trask, for it was the same hand that felled them.”

“If you know so well, then tell us who it was!” Craven was not intentionally rude, but he didn’t believe Stone did know as much as he pretended, and Craven wanted to find out.

“I will tell you, in good time,” Stone returned, quietly, “but first I want to give the criminal an opportunity to confess. The murderer is in this room with us, and if a confession is desired, it may be made.”

There was no response to this, but everybody looked at everybody else.

Craven, who prided himself on his ability to read faces, gazed at one face after another, round the small room, but he was completely baffled.

Rudd’s eyes, showed the same honest, fearless look they always wore.

Renny’s lovely face was startled, frightened, alarmed, but showed no hint of guilt.

Byron Loring looked odd. He gave the Inspector a furtive glance and then evaded his return stare.

Christine was in a daze.

It was hard for her to believe she was in a murder case! That she, the fastidious society leader, was sitting with policemen and detectives and—a criminal!

Craven sat in stern arraignment. Nothing like this had ever happened to him before, and he couldn’t foresee the outcome.

Flint, eyes staring, lips parted, looked like a half-wit, who could hear but not understand.

Stone went on.

“The killer must have had motive and opportunity. Everyone in this room had opportunity, but who had motive? You do not know, but I will tell you. The motive was not a strange or unusual one. The same person killed both Mr Talbot and Mr Trask. And, as is so often the case with a second murder, it was committed because the victim had discovered the criminal and so had to be silenced.

“Mr Trask was killed by the introduction of cyanide into his tube of tooth paste. This was very cleverly done. While Mr Trask was at the Lake Como party, the murderer went to his bathroom and replaced his tube of paste and his toothbrush by others exactly like them. Thus, Trask must put the cyanide preparation in his mouth. An hour or so later, the murderer returned, found Trask dead, restored the original tube and brush, and took away all signs of the crime. I know all this to be true, and I offer the murderer another chance to confess, before I mention any name.”

“I have something to tell you,” Rudd said, looking round at the expectant faces, “but I do not want to tell it before these ladies. It is not a pretty story, but it is enlightening. Renny, will you and Mrs Loring please leave the room, for a few minutes?”

Impelled by Rudd’s earnest gaze, Renny rose at once, and Christine went with her from the room.

Rudd looked round at the men who were his audience, and then said:

“This is my confession. I am the murderer of both those men. You may take me on that simple statement, or, if you wish, I will tell you my story.”

“I, for one, would be glad to hear your story, Mr Rudd. I admit you have greatly surprised me, and I can’t help the feeling that you are trying to shield someone else.” This from Craven, who was very agitated, and who kept glancing toward the door through which Renny had gone.

Rudd looked at the speaker calmly.

“No,” he said, “no, Inspector, take your suspicions entirely away from Mrs Talbot. I alone am the evildoer. I will try to explain.”

There was something compelling in Rudd’s attitude, something thrilling in his voice that arrested their attention, and the men stared at him.

But he went on quietly, in a narrative way, and they listened.

“You must know,” he began, “that Nick Talbot and I were very close friends. He had saved me from prison, when I was unjustly accused of a crime that I did not commit. For him I felt not only the deepest gratitude but intense admiration and sincere affection. I am sure there were never two friends more congenial than we were, or two who understood one another better. There was no love in our relation, but a deep, firm respect and friendship.

“When Nick told me he was to be married, I rejoiced for him and with him. I offered to leave his home, but he wouldn’t hear of it, and insisted that I remain as before.

“And then Renny came. I cannot tell you what happened, but the first moment I laid eyes on her, I saw no one else afterward. She, all unknowingly, took possession of me, I lived only for the times I might be with her. I never showed it, that I am sure of, but my life was absorbed in her. I was Nick’s private secretary, I went on with the work, no one knew my secret, and I vowed no one ever should.

“I went with them on their wedding trip to Mexico. I was guide, courier, attendant, friend, all in one. But the lure of the place was too much for me. The atmosphere, the flowers, the music, the climate all played their parts, and my adoration of Renny turned to passion. I fought it, I thought again and again I had conquered it, only to find I had not.

“She never knew, Nick never knew. I could be sure of that from their natural unembarrassed attitudes. They both felt for me the most perfect friendship and had no deeper thought toward me. I trusted myself, I was sure I could carry on and never let them know.

“Then we came here to live, and I saw Renny in her own home, a lovely chatelaine, a perfect wife, and— murder entered into my heart.

“I put it from me and it returned—a thousand times I told Nick I must go away and live by myself. The dear fellow only laughed at that, and had no suspicion of the truth. Renny didn’t love him, not as I could make her love me—and I had to have her. I knew with Nick dead, she would turn to me, and I would charm her and win her.

“Once decided, I turned all my energies toward making it a successful murder, and had it not been for our Mr Stone, I should have carried it off.”

“Are you a man or a demon?” cried Loring, unable to keep still.

“Hush,” Rudd said, quietly, and went on. “Yes, I killed my chum, my pal, my friend—the only friend I ever had. I did it cleverly, but, it seems not cleverly enough. How did you guess it, Mr Stone?”

“I didn’t guess, I thought it out. I admit it was a difficult problem. But when you pinned your alibi so definitely on the man who sat next to you in the Cinema room, and he declared you had not left his side, I had to look into that carefully. And I found that Mr Harley has a habit of falling asleep in a hot, stuffy, dark room, and therefore he did not know it when you slipped out and carried out your deadly plan, returning quickly, and unseen.”

“Yes, that was the way of it,” said Rudd, so calmly, that Stone wanted to strangle him, but he was not through with him yet.

“Go on,” Stone said, sternly, “and by that time Trask was living with you?”

“Yes. And by accident Trask had his suspicions aroused about me. He knew of Harley’s habit of sleeping at any uninteresting part of a stage performance and he put two and two together, much as Mr Stone did, but not so positively and definitely. And, like the good fellow he always was, he came to me with his story instead of going to Craven.

“I laughed at his fears and convinced him of my innocence, but I knew he would not stop there and I realized that he was a menace that must be got rid of. It had to be, and I had to contrive this second murder right under the very nose of the greatest detective of our time. And I did. I planned the perfect crime, but who can plan against the perfect detective?”

Stone, who was watching Rudd intently, took no notice of this speech and Craven, still bewildered, said: “Where did you get the cyanide?”

“Brought it from Mexico. You can get anything in Mexico if you know where to look for it. And now you all see why I couldn’t tell this story before Renny. Her brother may tell her as much as he sees fit of it all. But the less she knows the better. She has her life before her, many happy years of it. And to save her further grief and shock, and leave her with one less sad memory, I shall step out right here and now.”

Only Fleming Stone realized what Rudd was about to do, and when he saw Rudd’s left hand go to his mouth, as his right hand picked up a glass of water from the table, the detective made no move. It was too late, and beside, Stone felt it was better so. It did save Renny the pang of living through Rudd’s incarceration and execution.

In a few moments the cyanide performed its task and Caleb Rudd was a dead man.

Stone rose, gave a nod to Byron Loring and the two men left the room.

They found Renny and Christine waiting for them, and sitting down, Fleming Stone gave Renny his report in the gentlest way he could command.

She listened, then gave way to a crying spell of real grief, and afterward became calm and self-possessed.

Stone, his work finished, was leaving at once.

Craven, full of curiosity, tried to detain him.

“I can give you five minutes, Inspector,” the detective said. “What is it you want to know? I must not miss my train.”

“How did you catch on to Mr Rudd’s affection for Mrs Talbot. He never showed it.”

“A passion such as he felt could not be concealed from a close observer. The first time I saw them together, I noticed his determination not to show it. He would turn his back sometimes when she came into the room, happy and smiling, and behind his back I could see his clenched hands. He tried to conquer it, but it was too strong for him.”

“He ought to have gone away.”

“Of course he ought. And when he suggested it, Talbot would make him stay. It is a strange case, but I understand it.”

“What about the knife that killed Talbot?”

“It was a knife from the house, all right. Rudd could easily manage that.”

“How did he carry it to the Fair?”

“I looked over his clothes. The overcoat he wore that night has a long narrow pocket made to hold a knife. He bought the coat in Mexico.”

“And nobody caught on to that!”

“Nobody suspected Rudd. Nobody investigated him. Another clue he gave me was his saving his seat stub in the cinema room. I found out he never saved seat stubs, yet this was saved and produced in evidence. Surely that pointed to an alibi! Oh, one has to notice small things. I had to run down Rip Harley, and invent a mythical friend, one Dave Fothergil, before I could be sure about his fondness for catnaps. Now, I must go. Good by, Craven, and good luck to you.”

“Same to you, Mr Stone.”

Stone went thoughtfully up to his rooms, found Miller had everything packed and looked after, and with a last look from his windows out on the beautiful gardens, he went down to the waiting car.

The three Lorings were in the hall to say good by, and the parting was formal.

Then Christine led the others to the drawing room and they sat down there.

“Now, Renny,” Christine said, “for the present you will have to come to us, or we will come here, whichever you prefer. Here you are, with several beautiful homes, you are your own mistress and you have all the money in the world. What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know,” said Renny, and she opened her eyes wide at Christine.


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